The vibrant tapestry of India's military prowess, woven with its economic progress and rich cultural diversity, was showcased on the historic Rajpath in New Delhi on Wednesday as the country celebrated the 56th Republic Day amid tight security.
President A P J Abdul Kalam took the salute of the impressive and elegant parade, watched by chief guest Bhutan King Jigme Singye Wangchuk, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the entire top political and military brass.
On display during the scaled-down parade were the most sophisticated weapon systems and fighters, like Agni, Prithvi and BrahMos missiles, T-90 tanks, advanced light helicopter Dhruv, unmanned aerial vehicle Searcher MK-II and Sukhoi-30 MKI fighter jets.
The army presented breathtaking performances on motorcycles, and fighters displayed spectacular acrobatics overhead.
Tableaux of various states and departments and cultural pageants by school children enthralled the audience.
Twenty-two tableaux, presented by 15 states, four ministries and three government departments, took part in the parade. Last year, the number was 28.
However, the tableaux of several states could not find place in the parade, which was curtailed to one hour and 38 minutes from its normal duration of two hours and 10 minutes.
The tsunami disaster cast its shadow on the parade, as Tamil Nadu did not participate in it.
The event commenced at Amar Jawan Jyoti at the India Gate, where the Prime Minister led the nation in paying homage to the country's martyrs.
The President escorted by 46 bodyguards of the oldest mounted regiment of the world that was raised in 1773, arrived at the saluting dais.
The President was accompanied by Bhutan King. They were joined by Bhutan Crown Prince Dasho Jigme Gesar Namgyal Wangchuk.
A 21-gun salute boomed and an advanced light helicopter and three Mi-17 choppers zoomed past showering petals on dignitaries and hundreds of people.
The parade then commenced. The General Officer Commanding of Delhi area, Major General Thomas Mathew, led it.
Immediately behind the Parade Commander came winners of the highest gallantry awards - Param Vir Chakra, Ashok Chakra and Victoria Cross.
After the gallantry award winners came the mounted column of 61 Cavalry, which was followed by mechanised columns.
The state-of-the-art T-90 tanks of the 12 Armoured Regiment, boasting an advanced fire control system with missile firing capability and a thermal imager to engage ground and aerial targets up to five km range, led the mechanised columns.
The 'Airborne Gunners', with a dismantled 105 mm Indian Light Field Gun with parachutes ready to be dropped from an aircraft, came up behind it.
Then came the indigenously developed Prithvi, Agni-I and Agni-II missiles and the Air Defence Weapons System Tunguska.
Two logistical equipment, the indigenously developed Mat Ground Surface Class 70, which can lay tracks on the most difficult terrain in minutes, and the Danish-made Hydrema Demining Vehicle, were included in the Republic Day Parade for the first time.
The Mobile Satellite Terminal, used for communication for disaster management, the ZU 23mm Twin Gun and the indigenously developed infantry combat vehicle BMP-II were also showcased.
As the sophisticated weapons and equipment went past the saluting base, three Dhruvs, used for battlefield tactical support, flew overhead.
The mechanised columns were followed by the marching contingents of the army. It consisted of officers and jawans from the Brigade of Guards, Punjab Regiment, Grenadiers Regiment, Jat Regiment, Sikh Regiment, Dogra Regiment, Bihar Regiment, Mahar Regiment, Jammu and Kashmir Light Infantry, 8 Gorkha Rifles and the Territorial Army.
Marching contingents from the air force, navy and various para-military and auxiliary civil forces, including the Border Security Force, Assam Rifles, Coast Guard, Central Reserve Police Force, Indo-Tibetan Border Police, Central Industrial Security Force, Sashastra Seema Bal, Railway Protection Force, Delhi Police, National Cadet Corps and National Service Scheme, also took part in the parade.
The air force showcased its sophisticated unmanned aerial vehicle Searcher MK-II and MI-25 attack helicopter, while the navy tableaux depicted the circumnavigation of INS Tarangini and its expedition to Mount Everest.
The supersonic cruise missile, BrahMos, jointly developed by India and Russia and now being inducted into the Indian Navy and Army, was the showpiece of the Defence Research and Development Organisation column.
The state-of-the-art integrated electronics warfare system Samyukta, the armoured engineer reconnaissance vehicle and multi-barrel rocket launcher 'Pinaka' also formed part of the DRDO column.
Cultural pageant followed the showcasing of the military might.
One of the most endearing events of the Parade followed next. Nineteen children - 14 boys and five girls the recipients of the National Bravery Award, rode on caparisoned elephants.
About 1,500 boys and girls from schools in Delhi and outside presented song and dance items highlighting the country's rich cultural heritage.
Then followed a daring display on motorcycles by 94 riders of the Army Service Corps 'Tornadoes' on 30 silver machines.
One of the highlights of the show came towards the end when advanced aircraft, including the Sukhoi-30 MKI, Jaguars and MiG-29, thundered overhead in complex formations.
An IL-78 and two SU-30 MKI aircraft demonstrated air-to-air refuelling, the second time this has been done during a Republic Day Parade.