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Mahatma Gandhi’s Favourite Hymn ‘Abide With Me’ Dropped From Beating Retreat

The hymn was said to be one of the favourites of Mahatma Gandhi, as it symbolised the connection between man and his maker, and is often played at military ceremonies to symbolise the soldiers' call to the divine.

Indian Armed Forces Band during rehearsals for the Beating Retreat ceremony ahead of Republic Day, at Vijay Chowk in New Delhi. (PTI Photo)

Hold 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 lyrics to the hymn Abide with me composed by Francis Lyte and sung or played to the beat Eventide composed by William Henry Monk captures the plea of a person imploring the divine to abide with him in his moment of despair, suffering or difficulty. The hymn was said to be one of the favourites of Mahatma Gandhi, as it symbolised the connection between man and his maker, and is often played at military ceremonies to symbolise the soldiers’ call to the divine. For every beating retreat ceremony as the bugle sounds the post and as the day gives way to the hues of a late evening, the solemn sounds of the hymn have had enthralled generations.

The hymn Abide with me has been performed at every beating retreat since 1950 and would usually form the conclusion of a hefty effort of military brass bands and pipes enthralling and entertaining all. This year the government in its wisdom has decided to do away with the hymn from the retreat ceremonies and it will now be a distant blip in our memories.

In Pics | Rehearsals for Beating Retreat Ceremony

The beating retreat ceremony is largely a colonial legacy symbolising the end of the Republic Day festivities and marking the retreat of the marching contingents to their home bases. At the retreat, bands, pipes and percussionists drawn from the three services, put their musical genius to the test with marching beats and music that lifts our collective spirit.

In ancient times, armies would march to the tunes of the bands and even though the modern Army has done away with the fanfare, the bands and pipes form an integral part of life in the uniform. The first step that a soldier takes in uniform is often on the parade ground and to the tune of a band playing in sync.

ALSO READ: R-Day Parade To Have 25 Tableaux, 16 Marching Contingents, 17 Bands

This year at the retreat ceremony, the list of compositions includes several stirring ones like Jai Janam Bhumi and Veer Sainik that promise to stir the feeling of patriotism within the listener, but surely the beautiful lilt of Abide with me played as the troops begin their final foray from Rasina hill will be missed.

The complete list of events which will be part of the Republic Day celebrations.

Predictably, the Hymn being left out has caused a debate on social media. Last year as well, the Hymn was initially left out of the ceremony only to be included in the final programme after many in uniform spoke strongly for it. The Armed Forces are steeped in tradition and the old soldiers would prefer that the ceremony honour the departed soldier with the hymn, but perhaps change is the only constant that holds true.

For the generation that will not hear the hymn performed it would be wise to tune in to YouTube and soak in the tradition of Abide with me.