Drums as loud as thunderclaps and then as soft as psalms, the sounds of the shehnai matching tunes with that of bagpipes, all heralded the close of Republic Day celebrations with the “Beating Retreat” ceremony at Vijay Chowk held against the backdrop of the majestic Rashtrapati Bhavan here on Sunday.

In days gone by, the “Beating Retreat” was sounded by the buglers as a signal to soldiers engaged in battle to cease their fighting, sheath their weapons and “retreat” from the battlefield. The bugle was also used in military towns to recall soldiers to their quarters in the evenings.

“Beating Retreat” to symbolise the end of India's 63 Republic Day celebrations started with the arrival of the Army, Navy and Air-Force chiefs who stood smartly side by side, waiting to welcome President Pratibha Patil. Meanwhile, bejewelled camels took their positions atop the ramparts of the South and North blocks. The distant sound of horses' hooves started getting louder and the President's entourage, including her 46 bodyguards mounted on beautiful brown and white horses, arrived.

The President took her place in front of the defence chiefs, behind whom sat Vice-President Hamid Ansari, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and United Progressive Alliance chairperson Sonia Gandhi.

The singing of the National Anthem and the unfurling of the Tricolour signalled the start of a spectacle that held the audience spell-bound for the next one hour.

The show started with the bugles and was followed by ‘Parameshwar,' ‘General Tappy' and other marches performed by a massed band of all the Defence forces. Dressed in garbs of green, red and brown, the men's movements that had elements of dance invited a lot of applause from the audience. The Navy band in blue with white boots and black soles that showed whenever they marched in high steps had audiences gasping.

Four men, similar in size and bearing, had the task of carrying back and forth, the podium for the conductor of each band to stand on before and after a performance. This they smartly did, with matching steps that never fell out of place and always drew claps and cheers from the audience.

The ceremony had for the first time introduced sounds from traditional Indian instruments like the shehnai, which was sounded from speakers attached to the ramparts of the North and South block buildings and was set against the beating of drums.

However, it was the traditional ‘Drummers Call,' in which the drum beats oscillated between soft and loud within seconds, with drummers throwing their sticks in the air and marching back and forth, that had the large number of children in attendance shrieking with delight.

After the excitement of the drums, the mellifluous ‘Abide with me' performance by the massed band was joined by church bells coming from the direction of the North block building and this signalled the end of the ceremony.

The National Anthem was played and the Tricolour was lowered. The President's magnificent bodyguards arrived again and made a graceful exit with the President.

However, the best part was not yet over. Just as people were shuffling to get out of the enclosure, a collective gasp broke out from the audience as the North and South blocks lit up with yellow light, providing a fitting ending to the grandeur associated with Republic Day.

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