Not many know why we celebrate Republic Day on 26th January every year in India. Similarly, even fewer people know that a Christian hymn written by a Scottish poet is played during the Republic Day parade because it was Mahatma Gandhi’s favourite.
To answer the first question, we celebrate the Republic Day because that is the day when the Indian Constitution came into force. 26th January 1950 was the very first time when India celebrated becoming a ‘republic’. A republic is a country where the supreme power is not in the hands of a monarch but in the hands of the people.
Now let’s talk about the Christian hymn. The name of the hymn is ‘Abide With Me’ written by Scottish Anglican Henry Francis Lyte who wrote it in 1847. Some three weeks after writing this, Lyte passed away. The composition which is sung on 29th January during the ‘beating retreat’ by the combined bands of the Indian armed forces to mark the end of the Republic Day celebrations at Vijay Chowk, New Delhi is done by W.H. Monk in 1861 – to the tune of the hymn ‘Eventide’.
The hymn is a prayer to God to stand by during darkness and light – throughout life. These are the words of the hymn:
Abide with me; fast falls the eventide;
The darkness deepens; Lord with me abide.
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, O abide with me.
Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day;
Earth’s joys grow dim; its glories pass away;
Change and decay in all around I see;
O Thou who changest not, abide with me.
Not a brief glance I beg, a passing word,
But as Thou dwell’st with Thy disciples, Lord,
Familiar, condescending, patient, free.
Come not to sojourn, but abide with me.
Thou on my head in early youth didst smile,
And though rebellious and perverse meanwhile,
Thou hast not left me, oft as I left Thee.
On to the close, O Lord, abide with me.
I need Thy presence every passing hour.
What but Thy grace can foil the tempter’s power?
Who, like Thyself, my guide and stay can be?
Through cloud and sunshine, Lord, abide with me.
I fear no foe, with Thee at hand to bless;
Ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness.
Where is death’s sting? Where, grave, thy victory?
I triumph still, if Thou abide with me.
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.
The hymn is also known to be George V’s favourite and is played on various occasions. When Mahatma Gandhi visited the Kingdom Mysore the hymn was played by the Mysore Palace Band. It is unbelievable but is said that during the sinking of the Titanic, the Titanic’s band played the hymn. It was also played during the funeral of President Richard Nixon in the United States.
The hymn has been used in various movies and TV series as well.
Do listen to it this year on January 29.
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