Enthralling melodies permeate the air at 'Beating the Retreat'

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New Delhi, Jan 29 (UNI) The haunting, plaintive strains of Mahatma Gandhi's favourite hymn 'Abide with Me' -- underscored by bells chiming from a distance -- today created a hush as twilight stole across the majestic Raisina Hill, marking the grand finale of the Republic Day celebrations.

The hymn is a permanent fixture in the repertoire at Beating the Retreat, an unforgettable ceremony portraying the rich heritage of military customs and traditions, held three days after the Republic day at Vijay Chowk, in shadow of the hill.

This year's ceremony, made more distinctive by being the first to have a woman head of state presiding, comprised over 500 musicians from 29 armed forces bands -- 12 brass bands and 15 pipes and drums bands of the Army and a band apiece from the Navy and the Air Force -- apart from buglers.

President Pratibha Patil was the chief guest at the ceremony, which was also attended by Vice-President Mohd Hamid Ansari, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Defence Minister A K Antony, UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi, the three service chiefs -- Gen Deepak Kapoor, Admiral Sureesh Mehta and Air Chief Marshal F H Major, and other distinguished personalities.

The display featured an endearing melange of rousing quick marches, soulful slow marches, and the spirited keening of the pipes -- redolent of the glens and lochs of the Scottish Highlands as well as the equally rich musical traditions of India's own hill and desert dwellers -- by the military bandsmen, resplendent in their scarlet tunics, save the green-adorned representatives of the Rifle Regiments.

Though this year's ceremony featured no new compositions, it was the old familiar tunes of yesteryears' Beating the Retreats that enthralled and entertained the audience.

The massed bands marched in from the majestic backdrop of Raisina Hill -- silhouetted against the Rashtrapati Bhawan, amid the armed camel-mounted riders keeping a silent watch on the terraces of the North and South Block -- to the strains of quick march 'Cariappa,' honouring the Army's first Indian chief, who left an indelible mark on the force and laid its foundations of professionalism, modernity and apolitical nature.

They yielded place to the pipes and drums, which played six unforgettable melodies, including the quick march 'Gorkha Brigade', the evergreen 'Kesaria Bana' (based on an old Rajasthani melody), the delectable 'My Home', the intricately-stepped stately strathspey 'Cutty's Wedding' and interweaving reel 'The Kilt is My Delight', before marching out to popular pipe tune 'The Bonawe Highlanders.'.

The combined Navy-Air Force Band, starting with the rousing fanfare 'Everest', marched into on the tune of the quick march 'Life on the Ocean Wave.' The bands halted in the centre of Vijay Chowk, and formed a heart pattern as they played 'Millenium Flight Fantasy', slowly transforming into a 'chakra'.

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