City Hangout – Change of Guard, Rashtrapati Bhawan
The Raisina show.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Sleekly muscled. Powerful. Well-groomed. These were some of the assertions made in a letter sent by Rashtrapati Bhavan in December 2012.
The invitation to The Delhi Walla was for a preview of the “revamped and relocated” Change of Guard ceremony.
As promised, the caparisoned horses were sleekly muscled, powerful and well-groomed, and the ceremony “visually appealing”.
Like most of the general public, I was largely under the impression that the gates at the top of Raisina Hill are opened only for Very Important People. Not true. The Change of Guard ceremony has been open to the public since 2007. And President Pranab Mukherjee, I was told, is keen to ensure that the vast grounds of his official home are as accessible to the public as is feasible. In keeping with this, the event is now held in the forecourt.
The ceremony is practised around the world, most famously at London’s Buckingham Palace, where a tourist can pose with a poker-faced grenadier wearing a bearskin.
The Change of Guard at Rashtrapati Bhavan lasts about half an hour; earlier it used to be 45 minutes. It now features an equestrian display by the President’s Bodyguard (PBG) regiment—all its members are taller than 6ft—in their ceremonial regalia. The Army Brass Band is not averse to a popular reworking of the traditional. The band’s playlist includes film composer A.R. Rahman’s version of Vande Mataram— Maa Tujhe Salaam.
Expect all the embellishments that are customarily attached to such spectacles: flashing swords, lances, bugles, ear-piercing roll-calls, and much stamping on the ground—hard enough to raise clouds of dust (that settled down on my jacket).
The horses have a certain haughty grandeur, dressed in their ornamental finery, apart from shabracks and white brow bands.
In the end, when the audience stood up in attention to sing the national anthem Jana Gana Mana, it appeared as if we were in a different land, and not belonging to a republic besieged by inflation, recession, corruption and a million other ‘ions’.
The ceremony is held every Saturday at 10am (timings change in summer) and is open to the general public. Entry is from Gate No. 2 near the Prime Minister’s Office. Carry a government-approved photo ID card. The gates are closed after a crowd capacity of 200 is reached. Nearest Metro Station Central Secretariat
The pomp and the pretension