Aparna Menon writes about the symbolism and scintillating performances of the Beating Retreat Ceremony.
In the days of yore, the blowing of conch shells or the playing of ‘turhi’ at sunset signified “Beating the Retreat”, which meant that the battle was called off for the day. Over a period of time, the conch shells were replaced by the bugle. Bugles and drums were preferred as they could clearly be heard over the din and noise of battle.
As soon as the buglers sounded the retreat the troops ceased fighting, sheathed their arms and withdrew from the battle field. It is for this reason that the custom of standing still during the sounding of the ‘Retreat’ has been retained to this day. Colors and standards are cased and flags lowered at ‘Retreat’.
Based on these military traditions, the ceremony of Beating the Retreat creates a mood of nostalgia for the times gone by.
Photo source: Twitter
Martial music played a vital role in motivating men on the battlefield and was played on all occasions, happy or sad, in victory or in defeat. These instruments played and continue to play an important role, not only in battle but also in day-to-day military life.
Today, military bands, made up of both the brass bands and the pipe bands, play an inspiring role in all activities of the Armed Forces as well as the Para Military Forces.
No military function is complete without a band display.
Video credit: Youtube
Every year on the 29th of January, the Republic Day Celebrations in India come to an end with a scintillating display by the Indian Military Bands at Vijay Chowk, New Delhi. “It is an honor for any military man to be a part of this function, which is attended by the President and people from various parts of the country,” says Hony Capt Mohanan Nair, an erstwhile Bandmaster of the Indian Army.
“Military Bands across the world comprise Brass Bands and Pipes Bands. The Brass Bands have instruments like the trumpet, the clarinet, the trombone, the saxophone, the flute and the cymbals, apart from the bugle and the drums. The pipe band has instruments like the bagpipes, the single tenor drums, the base drum, the highland snare drums and the bugles,” says Col LJ Celestine, a retired Army officer and historian.
“Indian Martial music, which once comprised of only Western tunes, has over the years been successful in introducing Indian tunes to its list. Patriotic songs, National songs and even folk songs have been added to the vast repertoire. Apart from jazz, rock and waltz numbers, Indian classical pieces and Indian film hits are played beautifully by our bands,” adds the retired Band master with pride.
This year, for the first time in the history of the ‘Beating the Retreat’ ceremony, the Central Armed Police Force band and the Delhi Police band participated at Vijay Chowk.
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A Jazz symphony orchestra and an Indian Classical instruments Sinfornietta, of the Indian Army, were also part of this culminating event of the Republic Day celebrations.
The ceremony began, as always, with the Fanfare by the Buglers. The Massed Bands marched into Vijay Chowk playing the musical rendition of the Hindi song ‘Kadam Kadam Badhaye Ja’. This was followed by a display by the Pipes and Drums bands playing songs like ‘Senani’, ‘Loundens Bonnie woods and Braes’, ‘The Hill road to Linton’ and ‘Mili Juli’.
The Tri Services Military Band, the Indian Classical Instruments Sinfonietta and the Jazz Symphonic Orchestra enthralled the audience with ‘Agyat Youvana’ a jugalbandi (medley) piece which sounded very different when played at Vijay Chowk. This was followed by the Tri Services Military band playing ‘Grandeur’, ‘Redetzky’ and ‘Pankhida’. The Police Band, the Airforce Band and the Navy Band then marched onto centre stage individually playing numbers like ‘Samvidhan’, ‘Galaxy Raiders’ and ‘Jai Bharathi’.
‘Bharat Humko Jaan Se Pyara Hai’ was then played by the Indian Classical Instruments Sinfonietta and the Army Band played ‘Sam Bahadur’, ‘Dola re Dola’ and ‘Taquat Watan ke hamse Hai’. Following this, the Jazz symphony orchestra played ‘Salaam to the Soldiers’. This was followed by ‘Marching through Georgia’ played by the Massed Bands which included the CAPF Band and the Delhi Police Band playing along with the military bands.
The drummers then had their share of glory, giving the audience a treat with their drumming skills. As always, the Hymn ‘Abide with Me’ was played beautifully, indicating the end of the show. Finally the ‘Retreat’ was sounded and all the flags were lowered. The Bands marched out of Vijay Chowk playing ‘Sare Jahan Se Achha’.
To enhance the experience for everyone present at Vijay Chowk, there was a Spyder Camera installed for the first time. This camera was able to transmit a 360 degree view of the ceremony which was beamed onto three large LED screens around the venue. For the first time again at Vijay Chowk, there was an extremely effective sound system, along with mixers, collar mikes and speakers.
We have around 50 Brass Bands and 400 Pipe Bands in India. They take part in various National and International music festivals and competitions and ceremonies. They are doing very well in earning a name for the country. India holds the record of having the largest number of military bands in the world, which play the largest number of tunes too.