RUNNING COMMENTARIES ON INDIA GATE
By Brigadier Chitranjan Sawant,VSM
I have had the privilege of doing running commentaries on the Amar Jawan ceremony at the India Gate on the Republic Day for 44 years. Indeed it has been a rewarding experience for me, especially when the listeners and viewers make appreciatory comments. The electronic media, both radio and TV, have been inviting me year after year to be there on every 26th January early morning come rain come shine.
IMPORTANCE OF INDIA GATE
India Gate in New Delhi is a War Memorial situated on the Raj Path, formerly known as the King’s Way. It was built by the British Government of India for the brave dead of the First World War and the Third Anglo-Afghan War. A million Indian soldiers and pioneer labour had participated in the Great War fought from 1914 to 1918 in Europe. 70,000 of them did not return home as they made the supreme sacrifice. The India Gate War Memorial was built for them from 1921 to 1931 at a cost of Rupees six lakh. It was the Duke of Connaught who had laid the foundation stone on 10 February 1921. After a decade when the war memorial was ready, Lord Irwin, the then Viceroy of India inaugurated it on 12 February 1931.
A singular point to notice on the war memorial is names etched all over high walls of 13516 brave war dead who found no final resting place nor were cremated. The last rites were not performed as their mortal remains were not found.
In his inaugural speech Lord Irwin profusely eulogized the chivalry of the Indian soldiers who fought like lions wherever they were deployed East or West. Those chivalrous soldiers added a new chapter in the book of bravery of Indian men who bore arms.
On the top end of the India Gate is a huge cauldron where oil was filled and wicks lighted at night on ceremonial occasions that could be seen from miles around the capital of India.
The engraving on the Face of the Top reads thus:
TO DEAD OF THE INDIAN ARMY WHO FELL AND ARE HONOURED IN FRANCE AND FLANDERS MESOPOTAMIA PERSIA EAST AFRICA GALLIPOLI AND ELSEWHERE IN THE NEAR AND FAR EAST.
IN SACRED MEMORY OF THOSE WHOSE NAMES ALSO ARE RECORDED AND WHO FELL IN INDIA ON THE NORTH WEST FRONTIER DURING THE THIRD AFGHAN WAR.
Right below the massive arch of the INDIA GATE is located a square platform with a reversed rifle holding a helmet on the butt as a symbol of SHRADDHANJALI to the Indian soldiers, sailors and airmen who fought and fell defending the motherland, Bharat. On the platform facing the Rajpath are engraved words AMAR JAWAN in Devnagari script.
In December 1971 the Indian Armed Forces had decisively defeated the Pakistan Armed Forces and the latter surrendered unconditionally to the former on 16 December 1971 at the Ramna Race Course in the afternoon. Many officers and men of India had made the supreme sacrifice to win the war and dismember Pakistan. Thus was born Bangaladesh.
Amar Jawan has a Jyoti that burns 24 by 7 and pays homage to the brave war dead.
The Amar Jawan was built in January 1972 well in time for the Prime Minister of India, Smt Indira Gandhi to pay homage to the AMAR JAWAN who was martyred and lives in our thoughts even today.
AMAR JAWAN CEREMONY
Just a year after the inauguration of the new war memorial to the martyred Jawans of free India, I stepped in as a commentator. I found the ceremony emotionally moving and prompted me as a commentator to mentally travel all around the country where memorials were raised to the fallen brave and quote from their epitaph. I dived deep into the literature to quote lines penned by great writers admiring the bravery of our men in arms who rose in nation’s estimation by braving danger to their lives beyond the call of duty. To tell you the truth I too felt inspired to pick up my rifle with a bayonet fixed on it and charge into the bunkers and trenches of the enemy lines to put them to sleep for ever.
I invariably quoted a Greek Ode translated into English that ran thus
“ HOW CAN A MAN DIE BETTER
THAN FACING FEARFUL ODDS
FOR THE ASHES OF HIS FATHERS
AND TEMPLES OF HIS GODS “
There is no doubt in the fact that it moved audiences wherever they were. A few confided that tears rolled down their cheeks when they heard the description of the Amar Jawan and what the great writers had penned for the Immortal Soldier.
It would be appropriate to write here the lines that I verbally lifted from an epitaph in the cemetery at Kohima in Nagaland where many war dead of the Eastern Theatre who fought and fell against the advancing Imperial Japanese Army:
“ WHEN YOU GO HOME
TELL THEM OF US AND SAY
FOR THEIR TOMORROW
WE GAVE OUR TODAY.”
I never forget to quote the Hindi poet, Makhan Lal Chaturvedi who expressed the longings of flowers to be strewn on the path where patriots proceed to battle to make the supreme sacrifice for the motherland. The original lines in Hindi run thus:
“ mujhe tod lena vanmali,
Us path per dena tum phenk,
Matrubhumi per sheesh chadhane,
Jis path jayen veer anek.”
The words inspire, the thoughts inspire, the anecdotes inspire. There is a tradition in Russia that newly married couples visit a war memorial and seek blessings of martyrs that their sons and daughters grow up to be brave like them and ever be prepared to make the supreme sacrifice for the Nation.
Of course, year after year most of the commentators get a feedback that the present Amar Jawan should be replaced by a massive War Memorial befitting to the wisdom and valour of the Bhartiy Jawans whose bravery is second to none. It is hoped that the people who matter will heed to the call of people and raise a YUDH SMARAK for the Brave Dead of Bharat.
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