A grand parade showcasing India's military might, vibrant economy and rich diversity marked the 59th Republic Day on Saturday, with President Pratibha Patil becoming the first woman to take the salute.
From early morning, a mass of humanity thronged Rajpath, the magnificent two-mile boulevard that stretches from the Rashtrapati Bhavan to the India Gate war memorial, and also all the way to the Mughal Red Fort in Old City to witness the 105-minute event on one of the coldest Republic Days in recent memory.
Swathed in woollens of all varieties, from Patil's beige-coloured long coat to jackets, shawls and even blankets, the spectators watched in awe as war machines like tanks rolled down along with marching contingents of the three wings of the military, paramilitary forces, colourful floats and school students.
<b1>Nearly 7,000 men, women and school students took part in the parade, watched keenly by French President Sarkozy, the guest of honour who arrived on Friday on his maiden visit to India that included a quick trip to the Taj Mahal.
Ahead of the parade, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh drove down to India Gate to pay homage at the memorial to the Unknown Soldier. He returned to the saluting dais at Rajpath to receive President Patil, the supreme commander of the armed forces, as well as Sarkozy.
A variety of new equipment like an indigenously developed Experimental Tank, the awesome T-90 Main Battle Tank (MBT) and a mobile launcher for the BrahMos supersonic cruise missile was on display for the first time at the parade.
Among the other equipment to be seen was a 12-barelled Smerch rocket launcher, a Tanguska air defence gun, a Sarvatra bridge-layer tank, an upgraded 155mm Soltom howitzer and a mobile system to enable the conduct of network centric warfare.
Interspersed between these and the marching contingents was a dazzling array of military bands playing rousing music to add to the grandeur of the occasion.
Following them were 1,900 cadets of the National Cadet Corps from the four corners of the country. Some marched in contingents of 12x12 while others were dressed in traditional costumes showcasing different dance forms of India.
This set the stage for a cultural pageant featuring 26 floats mounted by 16 states, nine central ministries and the Central Public Works Department (CPWD), which stole the show with its floral depiction of the Red Fort.
Among the others that stood out were one from Jammu and Kashmir recreating a tulip garden and another from Meghalaya on the theme of "Beautiful Butterflies".
Bringing up the rear were some 1,800 schoolchildren from the capital staging a variety of folk and traditional dances.
A hugely popular daredevil display of motorcycle riding by Border Security Force personnel and a flypast featuring Sukhoi Su-30 combat jets, Il-76 heavy lift transporters and a Mi-26, the world's largest helicopter, provided the grand finale.
Before the start of the parade, President Patil posthumously awarded the Ashok Chakra, the country's highest award for gallantry during peacetime, to three army personnel: Col Vasanth V, Capt Harshan R and Naib Subedar Chuni Lal, all of who were killed in counter-insurgency in Jammu and Kashmir.
Vasanth's widow Suhasini, Harshan's father K Radhakrishnan Nair and Chuni Lal's widow Chintha Devi received the awards to thunderous applause.
Like in the past, the Delhi Police, reinforced by paramilitary troopers, were on high alert to prevent any terror attack. A close watch was kept on small hotels in the city, landlords were asked for details about their tenants and cyber cafe owners were asked to maintain a record of their customers.
Several roads in and around the India Gate - a British-built World War I monument - were sealed off even as the deployment of paramilitary forces at the airports and Delhi Metro stations was scaled up.
The airspace over the national capital was closed for the duration of the parade to prevent the possibility of aerial attacks.