The Defence Ministry has reportedly dropped Abide With Me, a Christian hymn, from tunes that will be played at 2020’s Beating the Retreat ceremony. The ceremony takes place annually on January 29 at Vijay Chowk in Delhi as a marker to end Republic Day celebrations for the year.
Reporting this development, The Hindu said that this is the first time since 1950 that the tune will not be played as part of the ceremony. Abide With Me was written by Henry Francis, a 19th century Scottish poet, and composed by William Henry Monk.
A Defence Ministry official reportedly said that while there is a review of tunes every year, this year, the focus is more on adding Indian tunes. Another official stated that there are 30-35 tunes played for the ceremony, and it is normal procedure to review the sequence of the tunes and add new ones. The decision of what tunes will be played lies with the Adjutant General’s branch of the Army headquarters, in consultation with the Ministry of Defence, where the latter has the final say.
Another official however stated that there had been an increased focus over the last few years on replacing ‘western tunes’ with Indian ones, and also addition of Indian instruments.
It is also likely that Vande Mataram will be included in the Beating the Retreat tunes this time around.
Abide With Me usually marks the end of the 45-minute ceremony, following which Saare Jahaan Se Accha is usually played by the bands.
While there has been no official communication on these developments, Defence Ministry sources have confirmed them to The Hindu as well as The Print. A source quoted in the latter also said that this could mark the gradual “Indianisation” of military music. The source added that not everyone in the military is happy about these developments, as a military ceremony is supposed to be with military bands as opposed to sitars and Indian tunes.
The Beating the Retreat ceremony has its roots in the centuries-old tradition when the troops stopped fighting, sheathed their weapons and left from the battlefield to come back to their camps when the Retreat was sounded. The Indian ceremony is from 1950 when Major GA Roberts from the Grenadier battalion of the Indian army was told to put together a ceremony of display by the massed bands. Conducted on January 29 in India every year, the ceremony starts with the arrival of the President with his/her bodyguards. Then the military bands perform the tunes selected before the President and other dignitaries.