From times immemorial, music has been an integral part of welcome arrangements and royal affairs. The Rashtrapati Bhavan or the President’s residence is no anomaly to this practice. It has been a hub of a vast variety of musical performances in the honor of the guests, to welcome dignitaries from across the world, to bid them a memorable farewell or any national-level high profile function or event. Here’s how music found a home at the President’s residence! Read to find out.
Saakshi Priyadarshini | BeatCurry Team
The Rashtrapati Bhavan has a long and rich history of hosting music and musicians, which doesn’t only account for Indian classical music, but music genres and forms from various other cultures on the globe. One can easily associate the identity of the grand residence with its long history of hosting and propagating tasteful music.
THE HISTORY OF JAZZ MUSIC IN RAISINA HILLS
We all know and understand that Jazz is a fairly foreign form of music, most prevalent in America and Europe, characterized by African-American music communities and their music. It was first initiated in India by the then president, K.R. Narayanan, who was so impressed by Jazz music presented during his visit to Port Blair, that he decided to form his own President’s Naval Jazz Band. The Jazz band also performed for the US president, Mr. Bill Clinton when he had visited India and stayed at the Rashtrapati Bhavan.
American President Bill Clinton visited India in March 2020. A Jazz performance from the Naval band got him very excited. Jazz has been limited before independence, but later, it got infused with several significant elements for Indian music. This led to the production of a great bouquet of Western and military music in India. The president hosts various banquets in honor of the dignitaries. Jazz and other western music from their country/culture are played much to their delight.
President Bill Clinton meeting the Indian armed forces in Rashtrapati bhavan
THE HISTORY OF INDIAN CLASSICAL MUSIC
While the Rashtrapati Bhavan leaves no stone unturned while entertaining the guests through phenomenal music, it is famous for grand stagings of Indian Classical music as well. Be it a formal gathering, a function, or a celebration to mark a great event, Classical music has been an integral part of the sanctity and glory of such affairs and history goes a long way back.
Pandit Chhannulal Mishra at the Rashtrapati Bhavan
Vidushi Girija Devi at the Rashtrapati Bhavan
Pandit Rajan-Sajan Mishra at the Rashtrapati Bhavan
The state of Indian Classical music faced immense turmoil and decline under the rule of the Britishers after the fall of the royalty in India. Earlier such music was regularly presented during darbar gatherings which could no longer happen. This music later became a carrier of the nationalist movement as Vishnu Digambar Paluskar sang the Vande Matram at various places in India to spark democratic feelings under imperial rule.
Pandit Vishnu Digambar Paluskar performing during young days
Post independence, our first president, Shri Rajendra Prasad continued the tradition where he invited Hindustani Classical musicians to perform at the Rashtrapati Bhavan. The most famous and prominent gems of Indian classical music have graced the bhavan’s stage, such as Pandit Ravi Shankar, Ustad Bismillah Khan, Ustad Vilayat Khan, Pandit Omkarnath Thakur, Pandit Jasraj, Pandit Shivkumar Sharma, Vidushi Girija Devi, Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia, brothers Pandit Rajan-Sajan Mishra and many other legends of Indian Music.
President APJ Abdul Kalam playing the Saraswati Veena
President A.P.J Abdul Kalam, a huge patron of music, fond of playing the Saraswati Veena, immensely contributed towards the dissemination of Indian Classical music, such as ‘Indradhanush’ an initiative that gave a fillip to Indian arts and music. Since then, Rashtrapati Bhavan has hosted many great musicians such as performances by Ustad Amjad Ali Khan, Pt. Hariprasad Chaurasia, Vidushi Girija Devi, Pt. Jasraj, Pt. Shivkumar Sharma, Pt. Rajan and Sajan Mishra, Channulal Mishra and among many others.
A more recent act was by Sarod maestro, Amjad Ali Khan, that enthralled the President Ram Nath Kovind, back in 2018.
President Rajendra Prasad along with Indian Classical Maestros
BEATING THE RETREAT CEREMONY AT THE RASHTRAPATI BHAVAN
After the festivities of Republic Day, the guest of honor is given a farewell in a special ceremony called ‘Beating the Retreat’. It is essentially a grand musical affair and display of Martian, Patriotic and great music from both India and the guest country to which the dignitary belongs to. For an hour, the various field musicians and army bands present their songs while marching at varied paces to show triumph, courage, and sheer talent.
Songs like ‘Kadam Kadam Badhaye Ja’, ‘Abide With Me’ and a soulful musical rendition of ‘Saare Jahaan Se Achha’ is also played as the President’s bodyguards retreat to Raisina Hills after the farewell, as the ceremony concludes with an air of patriotism and chest filled with pride for the great country we live in. Each year, something or the other is added as an extra element to make the ceremony memorable.
A still from Beating the Retreat ceremony
At dawn and dusk, the tunes of Reveille and Retreat are played while the flag is hoisted and lowered respectively, signifying the beginning and end of the day. Whenever the president pays homage to the fallen soldiers, the soft, solemn tune of ‘Last Post’ is played followed by the tune of ‘Rouse’ that marks the return of everyone to their respective duties. Even the corridors of the monument reverberate with special tunes, songs, and music prepared through an enthralling collaboration between Sangeet Natak Academy and Rashtrapati Bhavan. The music hails the finesse of the Hindustani and Carnatic classical Indian music.
Military bands playing patriotic tunes
All in all, we can figure out that Rashrapati bhavan’s heart and soul lived in the musical world. It doesn’t differentiate between the form of music or the place from where it originates. It just knows how to celebrate the very existence of music and respect its history. We all can fully entrust Rashtrapati Bhavan to be the epitome that carries the musical history forward, as time passes, year by year.
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