Flanked by the North and South Block on either side — with camel regiment station on the terraces — and the majestic Raisina Hill as the backdrop, Vijay Chowk witnessed a host of Indian and western martial tunes creating an altered state of consciousness, which will be remembered by those who witnessed the evening.
The ceremony did not sound like a colonial remnant, but was an hour of nostalgia with some of the finest musicians dressed in fatigues. Fourteen military bands and 17 pipe-and-drum bands from a number of regiments and battalions, and Indian Navy and Air Force bands performed to a semi-packed house.
After President Pranab Mukherjee, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, UPA chief Sonia Gandhi and the three defence chiefs arrived at the venue, the trademark bugle call — a regular when honour music for a distinguished gathering is played — was made. This was followed by a compound quick march forward to the popular patriotic tune Kadam kadam badhaye ja by the massed bands.
The pipe-and-drum bands followed with a host of tunes, all by Indian composers. “All of them are extremely creative boys and add a lot to the choreography,” said Lt Cdr S K Champion, principal conductor of the ceremony. He said over the years, the strict military bands have become more flexible about the music at the ceremony.
“It used to be extremely sedate, but this year’s ceremony was more upbeat. People like it that way,” Champion said.
A lot of Indian martial music is based on and inspired from British tunes as it is more harmonic and energetic than others. “These tunes are extremely dynamic. So most Indian martial tunes work on the British format,” he said.
The highlight of the evening was a composition titled The Admiral’s Insignia, which had a slew of drums and cymbals play simple binary forms of fantasia music and the echo effect created by way of Dhola re Dhola composed by Major General K N Bhatt and Major N Hussain.
The same tune was played from different parts of North and South Block, providing the awed audience with unique reverberations in an open space. The acoustics and tuning, which is a major issue at most open air gigs, did not bother the ones marching in perfect consonance as they played the combat hymns to perfection.
As the sun went down, all the bands marched back to Professor Lobo and Iqbal’s Saare jahan se achcha accompanied by a flypast by the Indian Air Force.
The famous hymn Abide with me was the indicator of the ceremony’s completion as the flag came down and the Rashtrapati Bhavan was lit up to a thundering applause.