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Decoding the Republic Day Parade

Richa posted on 23 January

By Rashi Wadhera

In our current climate, with all the animosity Delhi is harbouring against the system, Republic Day might serve as a reminder of the perceived lack of progress our country has made since its inception as a republic. The 26th marks the day the Constitution of India came into force and the country formally adopted a democratic system of government, giving more hope than fundamental rights. It’s 64 years later; on the precipice of our 65th Republic Day, although the mood isn’t celebratory, we decided to focus on the good. We all have opinions, suggestions for improvement and candles to participate with at the next protest. But how many of us arm ourselves with information about our country’s journey, its traditions and tribulations?

The parade is the main event of India’s Republic Day celebrations; to showcase cultural diversity with tableaus representing ever state, display arms and a chance for soldiers in the army, navy and air force alike to get their moment in the sun. Of course it conjures up way too many memories of being forced to tune into Doordharshan at eight am. Young and disinterested, the Parade was lost on us, and all our knowledge came from the satin-clothed, dramatic reenactments our beloved schools put up for us. Although it doesn’t change our current scenario, in the spirit of patriotism and in memory of our forefathers who gave us this country, here’s what no special assembly told you about the parade!

1. Prior to the parade, the Prime Minister of the country {still Manmohan Singh} along with the chiefs of Army, Navy and Air Force and the defence minister pay homage to fallen soldiers from our struggle for Independence at the Amar Jawan Jyoti {the flame of the immortal warrior} and signs the visitor’s book, followed by observing silence for 2 minutes. Bugles announce his arrival, along with the reversal of arms {signifies a country at peace} and the entire ceremony runs on a strict timeline. If you walk right up to the India Gate, you’ll notice it bears inscriptions of over 10,000 soldiers, all of whom lost their lives in the Northwestern Frontier in the Afghan war of 1919.

FACT: The Amar Jawan Jyoti’s flame is kept alive through the year as a reminder of their immortality by virtue of their bravery. It was lit after the Indo-Pak war in 1971 and has been burning ever since.

2. After the India Gate ritual, the President arrives, accompanied by the Chief Guest of the occasion, this year the Japanese Prime Minister. For the first time in decades, a Japanese leader will be attending as chief guest. PM Shinzo Abe's attendance will add substance to Indo-Japanese ties and global partnerships. The President’s Bodyguard {PBG} escorts them on horseback, in ceremonial regalia. Raised in 1773, the President’s Bodyguard is the oldest and senior most regiment of the Indian Army. Pandit Ravi Shankar’s tune, Swagatam, originally composed for the Asian games in 1982, is played for when the president arrives with the chief guest. It is supposedly the only welcome song besides Vande Mataram now played as a welcoming tune for dignitaries and office holders.

FACT: Much to Buckingham Palace’s dismay, the Changing of the Guard ceremony, done by the PBG, is open to public every Sunday at 10:00 am at the forecourt of Rashtrapati Bhavan. All you have to do is produce photo ID at Gate no 2, near the PM’s office.

3. The President unfurls our tri-coloured flag, accompanied by the National Anthem. A 21-gun salute is given to the president and the National Flag as the PBG renders a National Salute. Shortly after, you’ll get to spot some MI-17 helicopters {just a type of chopper, but sounded so American drama movie-esque} throwing petals over the audience.

FACT: The 21-gun salute custom stems from naval tradition. A warship would fire its cannons harmlessly out to sea until all ammo was exhausted, as a sign of non-hostile intent and to prove it was disarmed. During British rule, India developed a system of hierarchical gun salutes. The British Monarch was given a 101 Imperial Gun Salute, while Indian counterparts were given 21.

4. The President of India awards the Ashok Chakra, Param Vir Chakra and Kirti Chakra as medals honouring military excellence, during the parade. The Param Vir Chakra is the highest military decoration awarded for the highest degree of valour, in the presence of the enemy. The Ashok Chakra, the peacetime equivalent, is an Indian Military decoration award given for bravery, valour or self-sacrifice other than in the face of the enemy. The Kirti Chakra, also an Indian Military decoration award, is second in order of precedence of peacetime gallantry awards, given after the Ashoka Chakra. Both may be awarded to military or civilian personnel, including posthumously.

FACT: Ashok Kamte, the Additional Commissioner of the Mumbai Police who lost his life in the 2008 Mumbai Terrorist Attacks, was awarded the Ashoka Chakra posthumously in 2009.

5. The President also awards 24 Indian children annually with the National Bravery Award, on the eve of Republic Day, to celebrate regular acts of courage. The award is given across 5 categories to children between the ages of 6 and 18 {at the time of the act of bravery} and comprises a medal, certificate and cash prize. The Government of India and the Indian Council for Child Welfare present the award, and recipients make the trip down Rajpath on elephants.

FACT: In 1957, Jawaharlal Nehru was watching a show at the Ramlila grounds when a fire broke out. He was witness to a 14-year-old scout, Harish Chandra Mehra, saving the lives of hundreds of people. This incident inspired the then Prime Minister to honour children’s acts of bravery with the National Bravery Award, which has continued ever since.

6.  The parade kicks off with military marching contingents, covering all three services and other paramilitary forces. This is your chance to stand up, take notice and salute our soldiers, who have perhaps one of the most under-appreciated jobs. As part of marching contingents, you’ll also witness the 61st cavalry regiment, along with the President’s Body Guard, parade in full dress uniform, in what is considered the largest assemblage of traditional cavalry still to be seen in the world. The Border Security Force parades on Camels {all of which have to be males, the camels that is}, a feature very unique to the Delhi parade.

FACT: The 61st Cavalry regiment is believed to be the largest non-ceremonial horse-mounted cavalry remaining in the modern world. Although primarily performing ceremonial duties, they may also be deployed for police roles or internal security.

7. The Army Services Corps Motorcycle display team, The Tornadoes, shows off their biking skills with gravity-defying stunts and mind-blowing manoeuvres, all the while being bike-borne! The Indian Air Force {IAF} concludes the parade with a spectacular Fly-Past. With much pomp, pride and precision, the planes fly at an average speed of 240-320 km/hr. and will revive even the faintest heart. With a mixed bag of planes, choppers and fighter planes, keep looking up for the Trishul, Vertical Charlie and Chakra formation.

FACT: The Tornadoes hold the Guinness Book of World Record and Limca Book of Records for most people on one motorcycle!

8. Republic Day is actually a three-day ceremony, ending in the Beating Retreat on the 29th of January at Vijay Chowk, flanked by the north and south block of the Rashtrapati Bhavan. Performed by the bands of the three wings of the military, the Beating Retreat sees a mixture of popular tunes played on pipes, drum bands, buglers and trumpets. The beating retreat officially marks the end of Republic Day.

FACT: Abide with me, the Christian Hymn, is one of the most popular songs played by the combined bands of the Indian Armed Forces during Beating Retreat and is said to be one of Mahatma Gandhi’s favourite songs.

Tickets for the parade are priced between INR 150 and 300 for reserved seating and between INR 10 and INR 50 for unreserved seating.

Tickets for the Beating Retreat Dress Rehearsal on 28th January are priced at INR 50 and INR 20. There is no reserved seating.

For where to pick up tickets, click here.