Beating the Retreat


'Beating Retreat' or 'Beating the Retreat' is a military ceremony dating back to the 16th Century and was originally used in order to recall nearby patrolling units to their castle


Beating the Retreat was originally known as 'Watch Setting' and was initiated at sunset by the firing of a single round from 'the evening gun'.

An order from the army of James II of England dated to June 18, 1690 had his drums beating an order for his troops to retreat and a later order, from William III in 1694 read "The Drum Major and Drummers of the Regiment which gives a Captain of the Main Guard are to beat the Retreat through the large street, or as may be ordered. They are to be answered by all the Drummers of the guards, and by four Drummers of each Regiment in their respective Quarters."

In India Beating the Retreat officially denotes the end of Republic Day festivities. It is conducted on the evening of January 29, the third day after Republic Day. It is performed by the bands of the three wings of the military-the Indian Army, the Indian Navy and the Indian Air Force. The venue is Raisina Hills and an adjacent square, flanked by the north and south block of the Indian Parliament. The Chief Guest of the function is the President of India who arrives escorted by the President's Body Guards, a cavalry unit.

The ceremony starts by the massed bands of the three services marching in unison, playing popular marching tunes like 'Colonel Bogey' and 'Sons of the Brave'. This is followed by the bands marching forward in quick time, then breaking into slow time and then into the compound march involving movements to form intricate and beautiful patterns. The military band again breaks into quick time and goes back to the farthest end of Raisina Hills. Then the Pipes and Drums of the Indian Army play traditional Scottish tunes and Indian tunes like 'Gurkha Brigade' and 'Chaandni'. This band also does a compound march. The last bands to perform are the combined bands of the Navy and the Air Force. This part of the ceremony ends with their compound march.

The three band contingents march forward and take positions close to the President's seat. The drummers give a solo performance known as the 'Drummer's Call'. A regular feature of this pageant is the last tune played before the Retreat. It is the famous Christian hymn 'Abide with Me', composed by William H Monk. The chimes made by the tubular bells, placed at quite a distance, create a mesmerizing ambience. This is followed by the bugle call for Retreat and all the flags are slowly brought down. The band master then marches to the President and requests permission to take the bands away and informs that the closing ceremony is now complete. The bands march back playing the popular martial tune 'Saare Jahan Se Achcha'. As soon as the bands cross Raisina Hills, a spectacular illumination display is set up on the North and South Blocks of the Parliament building.