EXPLAINED National

The history of the Beating Retreat ceremony

New Delhi: President's bodyguards after rehearsals for the Beating Retreat ceremony ahead of Republic Day, at Vijay Chowk in New Delhi, Monday, Jan 24, 2022. (PTI Photo/Shahbaz Khan)(PTI01_24_2022_000253B)

New Delhi: President's bodyguards after rehearsals for the Beating Retreat ceremony ahead of Republic Day, at Vijay Chowk in New Delhi, Monday, Jan 24, 2022. (PTI Photo/Shahbaz Khan)(PTI01_24_2022_000253B)

The story so far: This year’s Republic Day parade on January 26 and the Beating Retreat ceremony on January 29 have generated a lot of attention and discussion for a variety of reasons. In India, the latter ceremony traces its origins to the early 1950s when Major Roberts of the Indian Army developed a unique ceremony of display by the massed bands, according to the Defence Ministry.

What are the origins of the Beating Retreat?

Beating Retreat is a centuries-old military tradition going back to the days when troops disengaged from battle at sunset. According to the website of the Royal Irish Virtual Military Gallery, orders from James II’s army, dated June 18, 1690, directed drums to beat a retreat at night and, in 1694, William III’s army also ordered this:“The Drum Major and Drummers of the Regiment which gives a Captain of the Main Guard are to beat the Retreat through the large street, or as may be ordered. They are to be answered by all the Drummers of the guards, and by four Drummers of each Regiment in their respective Quarters.”

In the past, as soon as the buglers sounded the ‘retreat’, troops ceased fighting, sheathed their arms and withdrew from the battlefield. It is for this reason that the custom of standing still during the sounding of the ‘retreat’ has been retained to this day. Colours and standards are cased and flags lowered at ‘retreat’.

“Drumbeats recall the days when troops, billeted in towns and cities, were recalled to their quarters at an appointed time in the evening. Based on these military traditions, the ceremony of Beating Retreat creates a mood of nostalgia for the times gone by,” a statement from the Defence Ministry said.

How is the Beating Retreat in India conducted?

The ceremony is conducted every year on January 29 at Vijay Chowk to mark the formal conclusion of the Republic Day celebrations. The ceremony is graced by the President of India as the Supreme Commander of the armed forces. It is marked by the lowering of flags at dusk. A series of lights illuminate the outlines of the Rashtrapati Bhavan, North Block, South Block and Parliament House. It is an event much awaited by the public and always inspires awe. For a long time the bulbs were sodium bulbs which in the last 5-6 years have been replaced with multi-colour LED lights.

How has the ceremony evolved?

For a long time, it was only the Services bands that took part in the ceremony in line with military traditions. It was only recently that the musical bands of the Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF) and the Delhi Police were included.

The list of tunes for the Army is selected by the Ceremonial Welfare-I directorate and the respective branches in the Navy and Air Force. The list is then compiled by the Adjutant General’s branch and a presentation is given tothe Principal Personnel Officers Committee (PPOC) . A final decision on the list of tunes is takenby PPOC, according to an officer who was involved in the process earlier. Until last year the ceremony came to a close with ‘Abide With Me’, the popular 19th century Christian hymn, followed by the ever-popular tune‘Sare Jahan se Acha’, which was played as the bands marched out. However, this year ‘Abide With Me’has been dropped and a popular Indian tune‘Ae mera watan ke logon’, which was composed by C. Ramachandra for which Kavi Pradeep provided lyrics, has been included. Also, all the tunes this year are Indian to coincide with the 75th year of Independence, defence officials said.

The officer cited earlier said the endeavour is always that a maximum number of Indian tunes are included except a few tunes like ‘Sare Jahan se Acha’and‘Abide With Me’which has been dropped this year. In general most tunes are repeated for more than 5-6 years before being changed, the officer added.

In the last few years, in addition to military instruments like pipes and drums, traditional Indian musical instruments have also been included.

This year, 44 buglers, 16 trumpeters and 75 drummers will enthral the audience during the Beating Retreat. In a first this year, there is a drone show with over 1,000 drones built by an Indian start-up as well as a laser projection.


Our code of editorial values

This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor

Printable version | Mar 25, 2022 7:27:00 am | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/the-history-of-the-beating-retreat-ceremony/article38327698.ece