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VANDE MATARAM, the national song of India that is Bharat, made a debut in the Beating Retreat ceremony 2012. It was a treat to hear the instrumental music of the national song at the Vijay Chowk, New Delhi for the first time on 29 January 2012. What a peasant delight that the Indianisation of the musical ceremony of an hour took a step forward and rendered  the instrumental version of Vande Mataram on Shahnai and Tabla. The audience thought that it was recorded music but it was not so. Both the Shahnai and Tabla players sat in an invisible corner at the end of the North Block and mesmerised  the music-loving crowd of spectators. The additional effect of music came to life through a judicious use of microphones producing the desired level of sound and echo.

It may be mentioned here for the benefit of connoisseurs of military music that all tunes included for the annual feature, Beating Retreat at Vijay Chowk, are played LIVE. No recorded music is used and none goes on the air.


Beating Retreat has an interesting history and the tradition has been passed on from  generation to  generation. The young soldiers, sailors or airmen chosen to be players of their respective bands consider themselves a privileged lot because they are given the latest instruments to practise. Thereafter they become privileged members of the goodwill delegation visiting foreign countries to perform in public parks there. The exchange of military bands strengthens the mutual relationship and minimises the possibility of hostilities.

In Bharat right in the battles fought in the Mahabharat, fighting took place from sunrise to sunset. The battle came to a sudden halt with declaration of a cease fire through sounding of trumpets, conch shells, drummers’ calls or any other pre-determined sound that was loud enough to be heard in every corner of the battlefield. The arrows came off the bows, swords were sheathed and all fighters returned not only to their respective camps but also visited the enemy camps to compare notes and listen to senior  warriors  about the strategy employed  and likely changes to be  made the following day. The bitterness of battlefield disappeared and bon-homie of the large families  of Kauravas  and  the Pandavas  returned to be in evidence. Of course, with the Sunrise next morning  the battle began as usual. At sunset when the cows go home, Beating Retreat brings the battle to  a close for the night  once again.

Indeed that fascinating tradition of Beating Retreat faded into oblivion as the modern warfare goes on incessantly. Now Beating Retreat is only a ceremony of military music played by military bands. It is a grand spectacle held all over the world and is presided over by the Head of the State. In India Beating retreat was institutionalised in early 1950s and it is the President of India who is the Guest of Honour. The ceremony is so popular that unprecedented crowds turn up for the rehearsals and the ticketed shows. The distinguished Indians and foreigners go to see the grand spectacle on the 29 January with members of family in tow. The children and youth like the military music immensely


The Beating Retreat in India in the early Fifties had western tunes on its list of musical score. However, over a period of time it was noticed that the young generation sat through rather glumly because they were not in touch with the English music or the British army music traditions. Since the idea was to attract the youth to the Armed Forces and also build a friendly relationship between the soldier and the civilian, it was decided to introduce Indian Ragas and other light music tunes that the military bands could play.

Raga Yaman took the lead and was immensely popular among the large audiences that came from all walks of life. It was military music based on Hindustani Sangeet that worked wonders. The Indian ears relished the new inductee tunes. The process kept on developing. However, it was the Indian tune set to the western musical instruments. The Innovators thought that there was room for more innovation here too. They got going and achieved the desired results.

Came Beating Retreat 2012 and brought in its wake more innovations. Of the 27 compositions played by the military bands of the Army, the Navy and the Air Force in an hour long ceremony, as many as 14 had been composed by the Indian musicians. The number of English and other European composers was gradually receding in the background and now it was well pronounced.

VANDE MATARAM played on the exclusively Indian musical instruments like the Tabla and the Shahnai walked away with the cake. The vast crowd assembled at the Vijay Chowk on a sunny Sunday afternoon was just  thrilled The long applause in the form of hearty clapping by one and all including children bore  testimony to immense popularity of Vande Mataram rendered on Indian musical instruments at Beating Retreat. The national song of India has an emotional appeal to the Indian audiences. Singing Vande Mataram, men and women had fought for independence and drove the foreign rulers from our soil and now hear it in the bastian of western music was a treat. Those who were there and heard the Vande Mataram will cherish the memory of those moments for many years to come.

Among the Hindi song-tunes newly introduced was VIJAYEE HIMALAYA.The highest peak of the world, Mount Everest nests in the Himalayas. Further, at the end of Beating Retreat year after year, when the combined bands are marching away on the Raisina hills, the tune played is: Sare Jahan Se Achcha, Hindostan Hamara. That song composed by poet Iqbal and set to band tune by A. Lobo also mentions the Himalayas as our sentry and the Defender. Thus the emotional appeal did strike a chord.

Indeed the evergreen tune played year after year is ABIDE WITH ME. The tune and its rendering are an instant success. This hymn made a debut as a Christian prayer but also became an instant hit in Beating retreat and military tattoos. The sound and the echo of tubular pipes coming from a little distance with military musicians hidden from view, a kind of divine touch is added to the musical rendering. When Monk had set it to tune acceptable as military music he did not think that the song’s popularity will cross many barriers of race, religion and region and stay on top of popularity for ages.

The audience conceded that being there at Vijay Chowk, New Delhi for Beating Retreat was indeed a divine experience.


Brigadier Chitranjan Sawant,VSM


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