India caps week of ‘Beating Retreat’ military display with drone show

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India ended a week of military pageantry on Saturday with a synchronized drone display showcasing its homegrown tech industry, in patriotic celebrations marking a milestone in the country’s independence history.

Drones form a shape of the Indian flag during the Beating the Retreat ceremony in New Delhi, India, January 29, 2022. (Reuters)
Drones form a shape of the Indian flag during the Beating the Retreat ceremony in New Delhi, India, January 29, 2022. (Reuters)

A thousand aircraft flew in formation in the night skies above the capital New Delhi, flashing the saffron, white and green of the national flag, before rearranging themselves into a silhouette of independence hero Mahatma Gandhi.

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The light show closed a series of extravagant sunset troop maneuvers for India’s Beating Retreat, a music-filled drill ceremony for soldiers returning to base that has its origins in 17th-century British military tradition.

Members of the Indian military band take part in the Beating the Retreat ceremony in New Delhi, India, January 29, 2022. (Reuters)
Members of the Indian military band take part in the Beating the Retreat ceremony in New Delhi, India, January 29, 2022. (Reuters)

It is staged each year three days after the country’s annual celebrations to mark the anniversary of India’s 1950 republican constitution.

The event has special significance this year as the nation of 1.4 billion people prepares to mark 75 years since the end of British colonial rule in August.

The Indian Defence Ministry and Home Ministry buildings are illuminated during the Beating the Retreat ceremony in New Delhi, India, January 29, 2022. (Reuters)
The Indian Defence Ministry and Home Ministry buildings are illuminated during the Beating the Retreat ceremony in New Delhi, India, January 29, 2022. (Reuters)

This year’s Beating Retreat sparked a minor controversy over the decision by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s predominantly Hindu government to drop the Christian hymn “Abide With Me” from the ceremony’s featured songs.

The hymn, said to be a favorite of Gandhi, was dropped because it was a sign of the country’s colonial past, media reports said, quoting government sources.

The song had been a permanent fixture of the ceremony since 1950.

It has been replaced by a patriotic song dedicated to Indian soldiers who died in a brief border war with China in 1962.

India's Defence Minister Rajnath Singh greets Prime Minister Narendra Modi as he arrives to attend the Beating the Retreat ceremony in New Delhi, India, January 29, 2022. (Reuters)
India's Defence Minister Rajnath Singh greets Prime Minister Narendra Modi as he arrives to attend the Beating the Retreat ceremony in New Delhi, India, January 29, 2022. (Reuters)

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