NEW DELHI: It is very rare when a show of lights and sounds penetrates the body and also leaves one bristling with patriotism. The Beating Retreat ceremony at Vijay Chowk on Saturday evening was one of those rare moments.
Under a partly cloudy sky, with the sun on the verge of disappearing, a thousand bandsmen wove a magical musical evening in Lutyen's Delhi, bringing an end to the Republic Day celebrations.
On the first sounds of drums, the tricolour was unfurled and the grand square began reverberating with the notes of the national anthem.
With President Pratibha Patil taking her seat and behind her the three Service chiefs firmly placed, the massed bands marched down the slopes of Raisina Hills, cushioned on both sides by the magnificent North and South Blocks.
The national flag fluttered in an animated motion with the gentle breeze playing on it. The next one hour was filed with moments like these with pipes and drums, brass bands, buglers, trumpeters, drummers and bagpipers creating a stupefying spectacle.
With a mix of slow and fast marches, the bandsmen in vivid reds and greens, and saffrons and blues marched in unison to the beats of military tunes. They walked with measured precision, broke into separate lines to weave exhilarating shapes and merged again to become one.
They slowed down when the notes went low, and moved swiftly with a flash as the notes went north.
Conceived by the Indian Army's Major Roberts in the 1950s, the Beating Retreat ceremony portrays the rich military customs and warfare practices, when soldiers were recalled to their camps at sunset from the battlefield.
The Saturday ceremony was exceptional in more ways than one. It probably radiated more Indian flavours than ever with the martial bands playing mostly Indian compositions. As many as 19 of the 25 performances were composed by Indian musicians.
The two tunes, "Gajraj," composed by Captain Mahendra Das, symbolising the fanfare associated with elephants and "Reshmi" - a silky melody, were played for the first time at a Beating Retreat ceremony.
Just four popular tunes by foreign musicians were retained, interspersed twice with "Fanfare", a collage by buglers, and the "Drummers' Call", a traditional performance only by the drummers.
A total of 12 army bands and four each of the navy and air force, apart from 15 pipes and drums bands, 72 buglers and 12 trumpeters, in their traditional finery performed at the ceremony.
The last 15 minutes of the ceremony were the most spellbinding of the entire ceremony. The moving "Abide By Me", most widely known as Mahatma Gandhi's favourite hymn, set the tone for the mind numbing moments to come.
With the buglers sounding the "Retreat", the flag was lowered and the packed audience stood up to soak the patriotic fervor in the air.
With the soul-stirring sounds of "Sare Jahan Se Acha", the bands started marching up the stunning Raisina Hill.
Just when you think it's all over and start processing the newly constructed rich memories of a true spectacle, thousands of electric bulbs decked up on Rashtrapati Bhavan, the secretariat blocks and the parliament complex come alight in a flash.
The audience was knocked over and a marathon applause followed. The crowd kept sitting for a few empty moments, hypnotised by the dazzling show of light and the rousing notes of the retreat music.
It is very rare when a show of lights and sounds penetrates the body and also leaves one bristling with patriotism. The Beating Retreat ceremony at Vijay Chowk on Saturday evening was one of those rare moments.