At independence, though the complexion of the army changed, old institutions were modified and retained, some new traditions were created. For instance, the JCO’s (Junior Commissioned Officers, such as Subedars and Risaldars) were originally a bridge between British officers and their men in India as VCO’s. But they were retained by the armies of India and Pakistan, addressed as ‘sahab’ and are still entitled to salutes, unlike their counterparts in the Navy of the Air Force. After independence, General Cariappa, the first Indian chief of India’s army, initiated the tradition of the JCO’s being invited to the otherwise off-limit premises of their Officer’s Mess, to join their officers for a drink. And the officers reciprocated by inviting their JCO’s for a drink to their mess, on Republic Day.
Traditions however, are sacred to the Indian army, many inherited from the days of the Raj. Infantry and cavalry (now known as armoured) regiments are in particular a repository of traditions. They both have Colonel’s of the Regiment, often their senior most serving officer, who in yesteryears wore the Colonel’s rank, when visiting their units, even if they were Generals.
Since the CO then was a Lieutenant Colonel, this worked well. But while each cavalry regiment had its own crest and a Colonel Commandant, infantry regiments (earlier made up of two to four battalions; with many now, having more than 20 units) had and still have one Colonel Commandant and one crest. The Punjab Regiment is however the only Infantry regiment anywhere, to have as its insignia, the Galley (a yesteryear ship). It was awarded in recognition of its willingness to go overseas, as its Battalions had fought eight overseas campaigns between 1761 and 1824. Others, crest apart — with the Khukri being common to all Gorkha regiments — wear a coloured lanyard to show their regimental affinity. But only those units whose predecessors did exceptional deeds of valour, can wear them on their right shoulder, and proudly call themselves ‘Royal’, while other units in the same regiment wear it on their left shoulder. However, the entire Regiment of Artillery, and not individual units, wears lanyards on the right, unlike individual infantry battalions.
This tradition apart, there are Regimental traditions as well. For instance all battalions of 5 Gorkha Rifles, still keep the buckles of their web belt, four fingers apart from the central hook of the belt. This tradition comes from their service in the early 19th century in Waziristan on the Afghan frontier, where the troops used to keep an ammunition clip of rifle bullets (with 5 bullets in each clip) tucked into either side of their belt buckle for an emergency. This reserve of ammunition helped the unit repulse an attack in the 3rd Anglo- Afghan War, when the unit run out of ammunition. And some individual units have their own quirks. At 4 Raj Rif, the portrait of Major Outram, its founder, is still wished first by its officers when entering their Mess, before they exchange greetings with others! But common to all, is the tradition of the Adjutant at IMA, Dehradun, marching atop his horse into the Chetwode building to the tunes of ‘auld lang syne’, after the passing out parade, after a tradition inherited from the British, when the IMA was established in 1932.
In the early 1900’s Major Frederick ‘Boy’ Browning (later a Lieutenant General and famous for warning Montgomery, that “Field Marshal, you are going to bridge far”) as General Thimayya’s Adjutant at RMA Sandhurst, decided to enter the RMA’s main building on horseback, during a parade to protect his uniform, when faced with unexpected rain! His superiors, amused by his panache, made this into a tradition.
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