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Goodbye `Abide with Me’

For the first time since 1950, the country will miss the tubulur bells that reverberate the North and South blocks on the historic Raisina Hills and as the hymn ‘Abide with Me’ is played out at the Beating Retreat ceremony, marking the closure of the Republic Day celebrations. The hymn `Abide with Me”, said to be a favorite of Mahatama Gandhi, is set to be replaced by Vande Mataram at the ceremony this year.

Written by Scottish poet Henry Francis Lyte in 1847, the song has been an annual feature at Beating Retreat ceremony year after year which swathes the Rashtrapati Bhawan atop the Hill. The hymn draws its opening words from the Bible, Luke 24:29, “Abide With Us, for its toward evening, and the day is spent.

It’s last but one verse draws from the Bible again, 1 Corinthians 15:55, “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?”  But that is only an incidental detail. The verse has grown from out of human loss, deprivation, sorrow, Lyte, it is said, wrote it after visiting a dying friend, as Lyte sat beside him, kept saying “Abide with me.” The song wafts on its tune, Indeed, without that tune, the song would have lain on paper. The melody composed by William Henry Monk in 1861 goes by the name of ‘Eventide’ meaning, evening, And if the song has to be among the world’s most moving hymns, that tune has to be among the most heart-wrenching melodies.

‘Abide With Me’, for the last half-a-century, became Beating Retreat’s most memorable passage. As the last note of the hymn subsides, the bells from the Church of Redemption, nearby, peal in pure pathos, The experience is deeply moving.  It is said when Mahatma Gandhi visited the kingdom of Mysore in 1934, the hymn was played by Mysore Palace Band and became his favorite and was propagated by the Father of the Nation.

             Abide with me,

             First falls the eventide,

             The darkness deepens,

             Lord, with me, abide,

             When other helpers fall

              and comforts flee,

              Help of the helpless,

              Oh, abide with me,

The words are universal, the tune human.  The somber tune, which came to India via the British will see an end this year. Just before dusk falls on January 29 every year, as soon as the buglers sound the retreat and the tricolor is lowered at the Beating Retreat ceremony to mark the conclusion of Republic Day celebrations. The great hymn will be taken out of the sequence of music at Beating Retreat on January 29, 2020.

By TIS Staffer
the authorBy TIS Staffer

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