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Why ‘Beating Retreat’ this time will be different from the past

In a first, a 3-D anamorphic projection will also be organised while Indian tunes based on classical ragas will be the flavour of ceremony at Vijay Chowk

This year the traditional ‘Beating Retreat’ ceremony is transforming to ‘Beating Advance’, as it heralds India’s advance into the next generation of high-tech warfare. A Thousand Drones Show lasting 10 minutes promises to be the showstopper of the ‘Beating Retreat Ceremony’ on 29th January.

The centuries old military tradition of ‘Beating Retreat’, with the sounding of bugle call of ‘retreat’, accompanied by lowering of the flag, signalled troops to cease fight, disengage from battle, and sheath their arms, at last light (just after dusk).  The bugle call traditionally was accompanied by beating of drums signalling the soldiers to return to their billets. Even till this day, this custom is scrupulously followed in military cantonments, as soldiers stand still while the retreat is sounded, in honour of the flags being lowered, and colours & standards being cased.

Many countries have ceremonies associated with ‘Beating Retreat’. In the UK, ‘Beating Retreat’ takes place on two successive evenings in June. A colourful pageant of military music and precision drill carried out by the Mounted Bands of the Household Cavalry and the Massed Bands of the Household Division. Canada holds a Fortissimo Sunset Ceremony, a military concert and sunset ceremony. The event offers performances by military brass bands, pipes and drums, guest musicians, and the soldiers of the Ceremonial Guard. There are similar ceremonies in Australia, New Zealand, and Jordan.

In India, the Beating Retreat ceremony commenced in 1955, with Major Roberts of the Indian Army, orchestrating the display by the massed bands of the Indian Army, Navy and Air Force. The ceremony held at Vijay Chowk in Delhi on 29 January every year, marks the close of the Republic Day Celebrations.


The pageant commences with the arrival of the President, the Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, in a cavalcade trooping down the gentle slope of the Raisina Hill to the Vijay Chowk Square, escorted by the President's Bodyguard (PBG), the elite horse Cavalry Regiment of the Indian Army.

The ceremony is known for the moving performance by the massed pipes and drums, the brass bands of the three services, and lately the police bands. The ground is resplendent with the pride of the military bands.  The grand finale is the lowering of the National Flag at Sunset, synchronous to the beating of drums, and the buglers call of ‘Retreat’. As daylight recedes, the Rashtrapati Bhawan, North & South Block, and the Parliament are lit-up, making for a majestic spectacle. Spectators and participants alike, retreat homewards with nostalgia, with the assurance that the celebrations will return the next year.

Beating Retreat this year promises to be a fusion of tradition with future, with two additions – a projection mapping show to commemorate 75 years of independence, and a drone show. 

Given the growing popularity of drones for combat and logistics alike, the swarm of 1000 drones making multiple formations over the Raisina is momentous. Just as one of the most exciting points of the Republic Day Parade was the flypast with 75 aircrafts of the Indian Air Force, the drone show, developed by an Indian Start-up, promises to be the high point of the ‘Beating Retreat’ ceremony, perhaps signifying ‘Beating Advance’ into next generation warfare, where intelligent drones may reshape the battlefield. This civil military interface also augurs well for aggregating capabilities. A harbinger of ‘Winning India’s Wars with Indian Solutions’.

(The author is former Deputy Chief of Army Staff and Kashmir Corps Commander, and Member, National Security Advisory Board. The views expressed are personal and exclusive to India Narrative)

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