Saturday, January 29, 2022

'Abide With Me' at Beating Retreat

Beating Retreat is a 17th century British military tradition wherein bands perform as a signal for the troops to return to their castles, and end military operations for the day.

India's Republic Day, celebrated on the 26th of January, marks the final severing of British administrative control over the nation in 1950. 

The event formally concludes three days later, on the 29th, with the Beating Retreat ceremony at the expansive boulevard of Vijay Chowk. Bands from the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Central Armed Police Forces, besides buglers, and pipes and drum bands feature on the occasion.

It's a spectacular musical extravaganza which I think everyone must see it at least once in their lifetime. I went to New Delhi to see it in 2014. Unfortunately, I don't have photos of the ceremony since mobile phones were banned because of security reasons.

(You will find at the end of the post, the recording of the live telecast of the entire one-and-a-half-hour long ceremony of last year. Every year, the pattern is more or less the same. This year's event begins today at 5 p.m. IST. It will be telecast by all news channels and streamed live on Doordarshan, the national broadcaster.) 

ABIDE WITH ME

Abide With Me is a hymn written by an Anglican poet, the Rev. Henry Francis Lyte in the 19th century. It's a prayer to God to be present all through life and its trials. 

Every year, the Beating Retreat ceremony ends with the bands playing Abide With Me. But, this year, the world famous tune has been dropped.

The hymn is said to be a favourite of Mahatma Gandhi, and its exclusion instantly became controversial and hit international headlines. 

There were no official explanations, but spin doctors attributed it to the government's decision to play only Indian tunes at the function, this time. There are periodic changes to the ceremony to make the traditionally British Army practice, more Indian.

Incidentally, last year too, Abide With Me was initially dropped. But after protests, the government included it.

Though the government can rightly take credit for executing many constructive, development-oriented policies and projects, it has also been equally proactive in junking many traditional practices, sometimes not in a very complimentary manner.

So, I am not surprised Abide With Me won't be heard today evening. But, I think it could have stayed.

BEATING RETREAT 2021

Here's a recording of the live telecast of last year's Beating the Retreat. The commentary is alternately in English and Hindi. 

Abide With Me comes at 1:11:42 (Perhaps, the last time it's played at this event.)

Since it's such a long event, I have given below the timestamp of some of the significant moments.

04:10 - Introduction

11:10 - Arrival of the Prime Minister

14:19 - President arrives at Vijay Chowk

20:40 - National Salute - the National Anthem

22:40 - Various bands start marching in.

25:32 - Tunes by the Pipes and Drums Band

31:20 - Tunes by the CAPF Band

38:15 - Tunes by the Air Force Band

47:28 - Tunes by the Naval Band

56:20 - Tunes by the Army Band

1:06:55 - Tunes by the Massed Band

1:07:45 - Drummers Call by Massed Band

1:11:42 - Abide With Me played by Massed Band

1:15:03 - Retreat by buglers; lowering of the National Flag

1:17:10 - Bands retreat to the tunes of Sare Jahan Se Accha

1:20:10 - Buildings light up

1:21:08 - President's Body Guard arrives to escort the President to Rashtrapati Bhavan. 

LYRICS OF ABIDE WITH ME

Abide with me; fast falls the eventide;

The darkness deepens; Lord with me abide.

When other helpers fail and comforts flee,

Help of the helpless, O abide with me.


Swift to its close ebbs out life's little day;

Earth's joys grow dim; its glories pass away;

Change and decay in all around I see;

O Thou who changest not, abide with me.


Not a brief glance I beg, a passing word,

But as Thou dwell'st with Thy disciples, Lord,

Familiar, condescending, patient, free.

Come not to sojourn, but abide with me.


Come not in terror, as the King of kings,

But kind and good, with healing in Thy wings;

Tears for all woes, a heart for every plea.

Come, Friend of sinners, thus abide with me.


Thou on my head in early youth didst smile,

And though rebellious and perverse meanwhile,

Thou hast not left me, oft as I left Thee.

On to the close, O Lord, abide with me.


I need Thy presence every passing hour.

What but Thy grace can foil the tempter's power?

Who, like Thyself, my guide and stay can be?

Through cloud and sunshine, Lord, abide with me.


I fear no foe, with Thee at hand to bless;

Ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness.

Where is death's sting? Where, grave, thy victory?

I triumph still, if Thou abide with me.


Hold Thou Thy cross before my closing eyes;

Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies.

Heaven's morning breaks, and earth's vain shadows flee;

In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.

22 comments:

  1. Hari OM
    You have been polite, Pradeep-bhai; rather it has been solidly dropped due it's overt Christian reference. The India Gandhi envisaged respected and nurtured all traditions - but he, himself has been disrespected by the current regime... it would not be hard to see this military tattoo (for that is what it is) becoming ever more akin to marches such as seen in Russia and China. This century has a long way to go... YAM xx

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    1. Hi Yamini - It was indeed said that the hymn was dropped because of its Christian link. I didn't mention that in the post because I don't really know whether that was the prime motive; though of course, I know, when you put two and two together, it does seem to make sense.

      I don't think any political party for that matter truly respects Gandhiji in practice. It's all just lip service! You can see that great man's ideals and value systems being trampled over, all over the place.

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    2. I am here in the US, but I am knowledgable of him, and I respect what he stood for, his personal courage and bearing

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  2. Interesting ceremony. It's funny how things that may not have a great connotation are still held on to. I guess it's how you look at it.

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  3. This a a great video, I enjoy marching bands, the historic Beating of the Retreat, the colorful uniforms, the silhouettes of men seated on camels and I listened to Abide With Me. Shocking to me that Abide With Me was dropped recently as Gandhi appreciated it.

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    1. Hi Terra - Even I love military bands. My favourite is Pipes and Drums. I too didn't like Abide With Me being dropped.

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  4. I was not aware of this but I really dont like when important traditions are dropped.

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    1. Thank you, Pooja for dropping by and for the comments.
      Yes, the hymn could have been retained. There wasn't any compelling reason to drop it.

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  5. Dropping Christian references seems to be very fashionable these days Pradeep. I don't think our world likes to acknowledge a higher power or to keep traditions that don't fit with their world view. It's such a shame when beautiful hymns are lost to time and this is another example of that. Still an amazing performance though.

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    1. Hi Leanne - It's always good to tread a new path. But for that, there is not always a need to junk everything that is old.
      Ideally, there should be a mixture of the old and the new. There is some charm in those age-old practices when they are retained. It's also about remembering our heritage and the values they embody.
      What is truly great will always survive for ages. They are beyond the ephemeral joys brought about by worldly creations.

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    2. Leanne, you said it before I got here to say the same, in essence.

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  6. I think, the Saare jaahan se aacha that came after abide with me was much more livelier. Musically, I don't think it's a big loss.

    Destination Infinity

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    1. Hi Rajesh - Saare jaahan se aacha really peps you up and infuses so much of energy!

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  7. Hi Pradeep - I spotted this ... but hadn't realised how much the hymn was involved with Gandhi, nor this tradition in India. I love the hymn - but it was the only piece I could play! I am not musical ...

    Thanks for such a fully detailed post ... cheers Hilary

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  8. I have attended the “Beating the Retreat” ceremony in Delhi a few years ago. Very impressive. I often wondered why we follow the British tradition even after attaining independence 75 years ago. If India can detonate nuclear bomb, they can certainly come up with our own ceremony.

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    1. Hi SG - Thanks. Glad you have been to that event. Indeed it's quite impressive.
      We can't let go of all the legacy that we have inherited, can we?
      D​irectly or indirectly, they are bound to be there with us.
      Some that are harmless can be kept. There is some charm associated with it.
      Some that are wasteful can be junked. That frees up space for innovation.
      Some can be improved for contextual finetuning. That makes it contemporary.

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  9. I'd get why people might want to drop the hymn, but there are those who just do not like change for any reason. If something is tradition, it must stay, no matter what. Not really a view I agree with, though.

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  10. It's always hard when traditions we are fond of are dispensed with. However, it's also a good idea to be selective and to keep what is of value. A beautiful hymn. I am not religious at all, but I find many hymns inspiring. Thank you, Pradeep

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  11. Dear Pradeep,
    Thank you for sharing the lyrics of the hymn here.
    All that needs to be said has been said already in all the comments above.
    Personally, I'm saddened to see how quickly and methodically the country of my birth is changing into a place I hardly recognise any more.
    "The darkness deepens" indeed.
    It's my naïve wish that the sentiments of hope, respect for all and human-kindness is practised in an inclusive way rather than exclusively to suit the current political narrative--but, even as I type these words out, I know how 'outdated' I sound.

    One can only hope for good sense to prevail.

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  12. O!Pradeep. An enchanting post with the video and of Beating the retreat and the lyrics of abide with me. I hve copied the link to watch it again.

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  13. What a fascinating post. Thank you!

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