New Delhi: India’s national song Vande Mataram could replace popular Christian hymn Abide With Me to conclude the Beating Retreat ceremony on 29 January this year.
Abide With Me, an English hymn, was known to be a favorite of Mahatma Gandhi. It traditionally concludes the annual 45-minute performance of military music as the last event of the Republic Day celebrations at Vijay Chowk in the national capital.
While there has been no official word on it yet, at least two sources in the government told ThePrint that the move has come due to an increased focus on Indian tunes at the event. New tunes are added and old ones are removed every year. This change is a part of that, they said.
“There is an increased focus on more and more Indian tunes,” said a source in the government.
A second source said it could be part of the gradual “Indianisation” of military music, particularly the tunes played at the ceremony.
These tunes are decided by the ceremonial and welfare directorate under Adjutant General’s branch of the Army headquarters, in consultation with the Ministry of Defence. The latter’s decision is final.
“Beating the Retreat has gradually been ‘Indianised’ by the infusion of certain non-military instrumental displays such as sitar as well as Indian tunes. Not everyone in the military is happy about this meddling as it is supposed to be a military ceremony with military bands,” the second source added.
Changes in recent years
During the Narendra Modi government’s first Republic Day celebrations in 2015, Indian classical instruments made a debut during the Beating Retreat ceremony. In that year, sitar, santoor and tabla were heard for the first time.
In 2018, 25 of the 26 tunes used in the ceremony were composed by Indians. The only ‘English’ composition was Abide With Me.
Not just Beating Retreat, the Republic Day parade in 2019 also saw the first original martial tune in independent India based on classical music, called Shankhnaad. The tune glorifies the achievements of the Mahar Regiment.
The Beating Retreat signifies the military tradition dating back centuries, when troops stopped fighting, sheathed their arms, withdrew from the battlefield and returned to their camps at the sounding of the Retreat.