Republic Day and the Beating Retreat Ceremony – A Grand Show on the Bedrock of the Constitution of India

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Republic-Day
Image – Public.Resource.Org/Flickr

I often wonder what it must be like to witness the first Republic Day parade back in 1950. Yes, there are photographs of it that one can view anytime, but what I really would like to fathom is the extent of the emotions. The grandeur and sense of patriotism is usually high when one watches the Republic Day parade every year. The preparation, the meticulous detailing and the national strength in terms of defense and cultures is visible on full display.

As a kid and also today as an adult, there is often a surge of a bond or connection with the motherland that comes to surface while watching a few sections in particular of the parade. The scenes at Amar Jawan Jyoti or the unfurling of the National Flag or the air show are some moments that can bring a feeling of national fervor. The Ashok Chakra, Kirti Chakra and other awards by the President sometimes makes one wonder if as a nation we were really worth the many sacrifices that soldiers and their families gave for the sake of sovereignty and safety. The cultural tableaus of each state are informative and colorful and remind us of our classic tenet, Unity in Diversity. Hence the Republic Day parade is a show of our might, team efforts, discipline, traditions, cultural aspects, bravery etc. But what is the significance of the day and why is it celebrated on 26th January. A little more on that.

History and significance of Republic Day

Republic Day - History and significance
Image- Ramesh Lalwani/ Flickr

India gained independence on 15th August 1947. Under the British Commonwealth of Nations, India was an independent dominion but the British monarch was still the official head of the state. But it was after the constitution was officially implemented on 26th January 1950 that India truly became a democratic republic and federal state. The President was from then on the official head of state.

However, the drafting process of the constitution took a couple of years. Under the acumen of B R Ambedkar who was the chairman of the Drafting Committee the constitution of India was drafted and finally adopted on 26th November 1949. But the constitution came into effect all throughout the country on 26th January 1950. Dr. Rajendra Prasad became the first President of the nation and the Constituent Assembly henceforth became the Parliament of India.

The constitution of India is the longest hand written constitution in the world. The 2 original handwritten copies in English and Hindi are preserved in the Parliament of India. On 24th January 1950 copies of the handwritten constitution were signed by 308 members of the Constituent Assembly.

But why was the day 26th January chosen as the day of adopting the constitution? There is a bit of history to this too.

On 26th January 1929

Republic Day – On 26th January 1929
Image- Ramesh Lalwani/ Flickr

It might be surprising but the demand for complete independence was for the very first time declared in 1929. During the Lahore session Jawaharlal Nehru was elected as the president of the Indian National Congress. And it was here that a resolution was passed for ‘Purna Swaraj’ or complete independence. Initially the general sentiment of the people and the INC was to demand for a ‘dominion status’ where the British monarch would continue to be the head of the state. However, Jawaharlal Nehru along with Subash Chandra Bose opposed those within the party and demanded for complete independence.

On 31st December 1929, the tricolor was hoisted by Nehru on the banks of the River Ravi and the idea of ‘Purna Swaraj’ demanded. The date set for complete independence then was 26th January 1930. Since then the 26th of January has been celebrated as the ‘Purna Swaraj Diwas’. However, it took the nation another 17 years to achieve this goal, but it was befitting to implement and celebrate the Republic of India on 26th January, the date that was set by the leaders more than a decade back.

In fact, according to historian Ramachandra Guha, freedom came on a day ‘that resonated with imperial pride rather than national sentiment.’ This was because the British chose 15th of August as it coincided with the anniversary of the Japanese submitting in World War II to the allied forces. But on the adoption of the constitution in 1949 many believed that the document should be celebrated on a day that had national significance.

The first Republic Day 1950

Republic Day – The first Republic Day 1950

The first Republic Day was celebrated on 26th January 1950. The parade was held at the Irwin Amphitheater that was later renamed to Major Dhyan Chand Stadium. The parade however, went on till Red Fort. The Chief Guest to grace the occasion was the President of Indonesia Sukarno. The parade included marching bands and various performances.

Republic Day Facts

Republic Day Facts
Image- Wikimedia

Though we see the parade every year, not many of us are aware of some of the detailing, minutest planning and traditions that are a part of the Republic Day celebrations. Here is taking a look at some of the most interesting facts.

  • From 1950 to 1954 the Republic Day parade was held at the Irwin Amphitheatre, Kingsway, Red Fort and Ramleela Maidan. It was 1955 onwards that Rajpath (then known as Kingsway) became the permanent venue of the parade.
  • The 21 gun salute is given by 7 cannons of the Indian Army. The time of the gun salutes matches exactly with the National Anthem. So the first shot is fired when the anthem begins and the last one at the end of 52 seconds when the anthem ends.
  • The regiments participating in the parade were informed in July the previous year. They practice for almost 600 hours before performing on Republic Day.
  • Each army personnel participating in the parade goes through 4 levels of investigation. Their arms are checked to make sure they are not loaded.
  • The armored vehicles and tanks are all kept at a special camp near India Gate. The vehicles go through various levels of check, usually 9-10 before they appear as part of the parade.
  • The tableaus move at a speed of 5 km/hr. The drivers can only see the path through a tiny window.
  • For rehearsals each group covers a distance of 12 km. However, on the day of the parade they cover a distance of almost 9 km.
  • The aircrafts participating in the parade take off from different centers but reach at the Rajpath on the fixed designated time.
  • Republic Day celebrations are in fact, not a one-day event. It is a three-day celebration that begins on 26th January and ends on 29th January with the Beating Retreat ceremony.
  • During the Beating Retreat, Gandhi’s favorite song ‘Abide With Me’ is played.

The Beating Retreat ceremony

Republic Day - The Beating Retreat ceremony
Image- Public.Resource.Org/Flickr

Though the Republic Day parade and celebrations on the 26th of January are the main highlight and attraction of the day, the Beating Retreat ceremony definitely holds its own charm.

It marks the official end of the Republic Day celebrations and is conducted in the evening of 29th January. The bands of the three wings of each military wing – the Indian Army, Indian Navy and Indian Air Force perform the ceremony. From 2016 onwards bands from the Central Armed Police Forces and Delhi Police also participate.

The Beating Retreat takes place at Raisina Hills and the adjacent Vijay Chowk surrounded by the North and South Blocks and the Rashtrapati Bhavan at the end of Rajpath.

The first Beating Retreat ceremony took place in 1950 where Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip visited India for the first time after independence. However, the Chief Guest of the ceremony is the President of India. The ceremony begins with the arrival of the President amongst the sounds of the trumpets. The National Anthem and unfurling of the flag follows the National salute. There are also popular marching tunes that are played in the ceremony. The last tune is however; ‘Abide With Me’ and the bugle call at sunset is when all the flags are brought down slowly. The ceremony is closed and the bands march back playing the famous Saare Jahan Se Achha. As the President leaves the National anthem is played once again and the President receives the last or final salute by PBG or President’s Bodyguard.

Republic Day
Image- Pixahive

The Republic Day celebrations are, of course, the most prominent in Delhi. However, parades and celebrations are held across the states. The Chief Ministers and ministers of different states attend the parade in their respective cities.

The grandeur of Republic Day reminds of the military and cultural prowess of the nation. For a country that fought hard for complete freedom, the Republic Day festivities are a befitting way to celebrate the momentous occasion. It not only is a way to showcase the country’s capability to the world. But also a medium for the citizens of the nation to understand the importance of our constitution. It took over two years to draft the fundamental document that acts as the bedrock of our rights and liberties. And hence, underneath the display of opulence and might, lies the foundation of what every Indian, whether as a citizen or government, needs to hold very dear and close to their hearts.

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