New Delhi: A musical potpourri was on offer on Friday evening at Beating Retreat ceremony that brings the curtain down on the annual Republic Day celebrations, but the jury’s out on whether it worked.
For instance, the individual elements of some of the compositions were brilliant in their own right but extremely out of place at what is essentially a military ceremony that dates back hundreds of years when opposing armies laid down their arms at sunset to regroup on the morrow.
Change has been constant at the ceremony over the last few decades with western marches fading away to be replaced by Indian composition but never was the transition as drastic as this time around. Two full-fledged Indian-style orchestras – complete with sitars, flutes and tablas, as also the western double bass – attempted to blend with bass brands for an output that didn’t gell most of the time.
There were, of course, exceptions as “Taaqat Watan Ki Humse Hai” burst on the scene midway through the hour-long ceremony interspersed with snatches of “Vande Mataram and “Ai Mere Watan Ke Logon” that actually brought the house down.
Then, the traditional roll on the kettle drums was also given an Indian touched and this would have worked in a concert hall but not at the grand Vijay Chowk venue of Beating Retreat ceremony.
Thankfully, certain things didn’t change and were restored to the originally. “Abide with me”, Mahatma Gandhi’s favourite hymn, brought the proceedings to an end before the Retreat was sounded, the tricolour lowered and the massed bands marched up Raisina Hill to the strains of “Sare Jahan Se Aachha” and thousands of light bulbs came alight on Rashtrapati Bhavan, the North and Blocks, the Parliament House complex and adjacent buildings to the regulation “oohs and aahs” from the spectators.
A particularly poignant moment comes during the music when a set of bells in the belfry of the North Block answers the theme etched out by the euphoniums, bass trumpets, recorders and flutes. Over the years, a variety of other instruments have been used, including of the electronic variety, and this had often ended in making a mish-mash of things. Thankfully, the bells were back this time.
Even so, the transition to the gentle and soothing “Abide with me” from the martial music was usually through a cradle song, generally the Ladakhi “Seiki Aamo Le”. But this time it came straight after “Drummers’ Call” which has one all charged up and it can take some time for the hymn to sink in.
There was even more from the past: “Kadam Kadam Badaye Ja” that marked the entry of the massed bands for the ceremony and enduring marches like “Jai Bharati”, “Galaxy Raiders”, “Radetzky March”, “Marching Through The Georgia”, and “Admiral Ensign-II”.
For the record, 20 of the 26 performances this year were by Indian composers. Fifteen Indian Army brass bands, 18 pipes and drums bands from various regimental centres and battalions participated in the ceremony, besides one band each from the Indian Navy and the Indian Air Force.
The ceremony began with the arrival in state – in a coach and six – of President Pranab Mukherjee, who was welcomed by Vice President Hamid Ansari, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar and other senior officials. The President departed in similar fashion at the conclusion of the ceremony.
Former prime minister Manmohan Singh, union ministers, Congress president Sonia Gandhi and a host of dignitaries were also present at the ceremony.
As the crowds headed home, one thought remained: It’s no doubt necessary to experiment but if it didn’t work, would the old order, if nothing else, partially, be restored next year? One sincerely hopes so.