New Delhi, Dec 8 : To the haunting strains of "Auld Lang Syne", the President's Bodyguard, the oldest regiment in the Indian Army, resplendent in their red tunics, cream breeches and black boots, rode off toward Rashtrapati Bhavan to mark a new era in the Change of Guard ceremony every Saturday that will now be more public-friendly.

And, what better setting can there be than to sing the national anthem while gazing at the tricolour languidly fluttering in the breeze high above the presidential palace?

"Previously, the ceremony was held in three parts and lasted 45 minutes. The president (Pranab Mukherjee), in keeping with his image of a people's president, felt we needed to compact it and make it more public-friendly," the president's press secretary, Venu Rajamony, said at a media preview of the event Saturday.

"Therefore, the ceremony has been shifted to the forecourt of the Rashtrapati Bhaven and pared down to 30 minutes. It will begin at 10 a.m. every Saturday and open to 200 members of the public, including foreigners, on a first-come-first-served basis," Rajamony added.

The Changing of Guard cerremony is a major tourist attraction at many capitals around the world. Perhaps the best known are the ceremonies at London's Buckingham Palace and Washington's Arlington National Cemetry.

An equestrian display by the President's Bodyguard (PBG) has also been incorporated to add to the ceremony's visual appeal.

The ceremony begins with the PBG, astride their caparisoned, sleekly-muscled, powerful and well-groomed steeds advancing from behind the Jaipur to the tune "Maa Tujhe Salaam" and lining up on either side of the forecourt just before the black iron gates of Rashtrapati Bhavan.

The old and the new guards then advance from the left and the right. They exchange compliments and salutes, undergo inspections, nominate sentries and hand over the "keys" for the coming week before marching off to the soul-stirring "Saare Jahan Se Aacha".

That's the signal for the PBG to commence its equestrian display - a perfect example of training, balance and timing, red and white pennants fluttering from lances gleaming in the sun, to a medley that includes the peppy "Spanish Gypsy Dance".

The horsemen then ride off as the national anthem is played.

While the PBG is permanently stationed at the Rashtrapati Bhavan, the army guard battalion is rotated every three years. The 28th battalion of the Madras Regiment has currently been assigned the role and every week a new contingent is assigned for guard duties, which are largely ceremonial since it is the Delhi Police that is largely responsible for the security of Rashtrapati Bhavan.

Raised in 1773, the PBG is the Indian Army's seniormost regiment. Its officers and men are excellent horsemen, capable tankmen and paratroopers. It has een action at Chushul in 1962, in the western theatre in 1965 and during Operation Pawan in Sri Lanka in 1988.

PBG personnel have also served in UN peacekeeping operations in Somalia, Angola, Sierra Leone and Sudan.

The 28th battalion of the Madras was initially raised in 1942 and was initially deployed in the Persian Gulf. Demobilised in 1946, it was re-raised in 1976 and since then has served with distinction in all types of operational environments, including high altitude, Line of Control and counter-insurgency and anti-terrorism operations.


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