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Abide with me, Gandhi’s favourite Christian hymn, dropped from Beating Retreat again

The hymn had been played every year during the ceremony since 1950 but dropped in 2020 and reinstated last year after its exclusion created a furore

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The Christian hymn ‘Abide with me’, played since the proclamation of India as a republic at the Beating Retreat ceremony that coincides with the eve of the assassination of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, has been dropped from the list of tunes for the second time. The hymn does not figure among the 26 tunes for the Beating Retreat shared with reporters. It has been a regular feature in the band since 1950.

This comes a day after the controversy over the moving of Amar Jawan Jyoti from India Gate, where it existed since Indira Gandhi’s era, to the new National War Memorial. Before the Indira era, India Gate was dedicated to Indian soldiers who served the British imperial force in World War I and other battles.

In 2020, the plan to drop ‘Abide with me’, known to be Gandhi’s favourite, irked the left, the woke, a large section of Muslims and Christians who thought this was yet another instance of the Narendra Modi government’s ‘intolerance’. The next year (last year that is), ‘Abide with me’ was reinstated, putting to rest all speculations.

‘Abide with me’ by Henry Francis Lyte was set to the tune of Eventide by William Henry Monk.

Gandhi’s favourite Christian hymn

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, oh, abide with meSwift 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 meI 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 meHold 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
Abide with me, abide with me

The Beating Retreat is performed every year on 29 January with military bands performing on Rajpath as the sun sets over Raisina Hill. It marks the end of the Republic Day celebrations. The event this year will witness the participation of 44 buglers, 16 trumpeters and 75 drummers.

Over the last few years, Indian compositions have made their way into the military bands that earlier mostly played British martial tunes.

The ceremony will begin with Fanfare by Buglers, followed by Veer Sainik by the Massed Bands and six tunes by the Pipes and Drums band. Bands of the Central Armed Police Forces will play three tunes, followed by four tunes by the Air Force Band, which will include a special Ladakoo tune, by Flight Lt LS Rupachandra.

The Band will play four tunes, after which the Indian Army Military Band will play three tunes — Kerala, Siki A Mole and Hind Ki Sena. The Massed Bands will play three more tunes near the end, including Kadam Kadam Badhaye Ja and Drummers Call.

This year, Lata Mangeshkar’s song ‘Ae mere watan ke logon’ — dedicated to the Indian soldiers left to fend for themselves in areas bordering China by the Jawaharlal Nehru government — was on the list of tunes other than military compositions.

While Allama Iqbal’s ‘Saare jahan se achchha’ will be the last composition to be played this year, it remains to be seen how long the Modi government tolerates the advocate of Pakistan.

Beating Retreat marks the end of nearly week-long festivities of Republic Day, which used to begin on 24 January earlier, but starting this year, they will begin on 23 January, the birth anniversary of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose. This year, the country is celebrating the 125th birth anniversary of Bose.

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