Over 3,000 children standing in the formation of a fluttering national flag cheered loudly as tri-coloured balloons soared high in the grey skies during India's Independence Day celebration in New Delhi - symbolising the nation's spirit.
Friday morning dawned amid apprehensions about the weather. Grey skies appeared to pose a threat to the celebrations at the majestic 17th-century Red Fort from where successive prime ministers have addressed the nation on this day since independence in August 1947.
However, the weather gods were kind and although a little humid, the morning's events unfolded as per schedule. Also, unlike other years, the little army of school students did not complain of heat, hunger and thirst.
"This year we had no problem at all. We all were praying that there should be no rains. Everything went smoothly and we are very happy and proud," said Guarav Kumar, student of a state-run school who was participating for the second time.
Priya Malhotra, a Class 9 student of a private school, said: "We were given breakfast in the morning soon after we arrived here for the function."
School children and the National Cadet Corps (NCC) cadets had worked hard for this big day and were at the venue long before any of the other guests.
Dressed in saffron, white and green, the children performed for an hour. Old favourites like "Mera rang de basanti chola" and "Sarforshi ki tamanna ab hamare dil main hai" were among the various songs performed by the young ones.
"We have been preparing for the Independence Day for the past 15 days and feel proud to be a part of the function," said 12-year-old Dimple, a Class 6 student of Ramjas School.
The children stood tall with pride as political leaders, diplomats and others who attended the function watched the national flag being hoisted, followed by a 21-gun salute. The national anthem was heard with rapt attention.
Soon after, there was an overpowering silence in the audience.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's inspiring address to the nation, delivered in crisp Hindi, evoked loud and frequent applause. He spoke about unity, terrorism, global warming and the economy, and had the undivided attention of all - except a few fidgety hands among the children who tried fanning themselves in the muggy weather.
"Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's speech was very encouraging, he has asked us to respect the elders and help the underprivileged. We are very delighted and are going home with a beautiful lesson," said Rakesh Sharma, an NCC cadet and Class 8 student of a government school.
The enthusiasm of the children reached a peak when the prime minister asked them to repeat "Jai Hind" three times after him.
Leading the gathered crowd thereafter, they sang the national anthem, as the national flag fluttered in the breeze in harmony.
Soon after this, a group of students chanted "Singh is king", lines of a popular Bollywood song.
"For us Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is a real king. He is a source of inspiration and guide to us. I am proud that I came here to participate in the function," said Aisya, Class 8 student of Zeenat Mahal School in walled city of Delhi.
As the last bars of the national anthem were being sung, hundreds of tricolour balloons, tied with the national flag, soared in the sky, reminder of India's free spirit.