New Delhi, Jan 29 (IANS) For once it was not bitterly cold and the warmth added to the ambience as a thousand bandsmen of the armed forces Tuesday wove elaborate patterns to rousing music at the Beating Retreat ceremony, marking the end of the Republic Day celebrations.
The setting couldn't be more perfect.
Under a clear blue sky, with the tricolour waving languidly in the gentle breeze on the vast stage at the foot of the Raisina Hill that houses the Rashtrapati Bhavan and the imposing Secretariat blocks, the hour-long ceremony unfolded with a judicious blend of Indian and western marches that had the audience in raptures.
So cold has it been in the past that a three-sided screen has had to be erected to protect the president from the breeze. That wasn't necessary Tuesday as President Pranab Mukherjee arrived for his first Beating Retreat ceremony.
As it happens at the Jan 26 Republic Day parade, there was plenty of contrast on view from the cream breeches, red tunics and blue turbans with gold-white-blue trims, the green trousers and red tunics of the tankmen, the olive green and orange uniforms of the infantry and the maroon uniform of the veterinarians.
Against this were the black uniforms matched with white belts and lanyards and white caps of the navy and the blue of the air force.
The masssed bands set the tone for the ceremony as they marched down Rajpath to a rather unusual arrangement of "Kadam Kadam Badahe Ja" that was a blend of military and symphonic styles. It went down extremely well.
As the massed bands halted the pipes and drums peeled off with a medley of quick and slow marches that included "Bala Sepaiah", "Suman Sarila" and "Pulkat Himalaya", etching out squares, triangles and circles on Vijay Chowk and rounded off by a deft display of stick work by the kettle drummers.
It was then the turn of the navy and air force to take centre-stage.
They quickly had the audience eating out of their hands with an extremely peppy rendition of "Through the Great Ocean", followed by "Astronaut", a quick march, "Evening Breeze" a slow march and "The Admiral's Insignia" that involved some intricate forward and backward movements.
The sun was slowly setting as the army brass band moved forward with a haunting version of George Frederick Handel's "Scipio", a slow march featuring the woodwinds echoing a theme etched out by the brass.
It was then the turn of the massed bands to come forward for one last time. They did so with the grandios "Sher-e-Jawan" and the "Drummers Call" that involved staccato beats on the kettle drums that rose to a cresendo and tapered off to a single drumbeat.
Then came the moment that everyone was waiting for: "Abide With Me", Mahatma Gandhi's favourite hymn that had the bells in the belfry of the North Block taking up the theme essayed by the brass.
The "Retreat" was sounded, the national flag was lowered and the principal conductor for the evening, Lt Commander S.K. Champion, sought permission to take the bands back.
This granted, the bands wheeled around and marched up Raisina Hill to the soul-stirring "Saare Jahan Se Aach".
As the bands crested the hill and the music became a mere echo, tens of thousands of bulbs on the Rashtrapati Bhavan, the two Secretariat blocks and Parliament House came alive, evoking "Ooooh" and "Aaaah " from the audience.
Another Beating Retreat had ended, with the promise of more to come next year.