As the great day approached, Indians thanked their varied gods and rejoiced with special prayers, poems and songs. Poetess Sarojini Naidu set the theme in a radio message: "Oh lovely dawn of freedom that breaks in gold and purple over the ancient capital o . .!"
Blessing with Ashes. Even such an agnostic as Jawaharlal Nehru, on the eve of becoming India's first Prime Minister, fell into the religious spirit. From Tanjore in south India came two emissaries of Sri Amblavana Desigar, head of a sannyasi order of Hindu ascetics. Sri Amblavana thought that Nehru, as first Indian head of a really Indian Government ought, like ancient Hindu kings, to receive the symbol of power and authority from Hindu holy men.
With the emissaries came south India's most famous player of the nagasaram, a special kind of Indian flute. Like other sannyasis, who abstain from hair-cutting and hair-combing, the two emissaries wore their long hair properly matted and wound round their heads. Their naked chests and foreheads were streaked with sacred ash, blessed by Sri Amblavana. In an ancient Ford, the evening of Aug. 14, they began their slow, solemn progress to Nehru's house. Ahead walked the flutist, stopping every 100 yards or so to sit on the road and play his flute for about 15 minutes. Another escort bore a large silver platter. On it was the pithambaram (cloth of God), a costly silk fabric with patterns of golden thread.
When at last they reached Nehru's house, the flutist played while the sannyasis awaited an invitation from Nehru.
Then they entered the house in dignity, fanned by two boys with special fans of deer hair. One sannyasi carried a scepter of gold, five feet long, two inches thick. He sprinkled Nehru with holy water from Tanjore and drew a streak in sacred ash across Nehru's forehead. Then he wrapped Nehru in the pithambaram and handed him the golden scepter. He also gave Nehru some cooked rice which had been offered that very morning to the dancing god Nataraja in south India, then flown by plane to Delhi.
Later that evening Nehru, and other men who would be India's new rulers on the morrow, went to the home of Rajendra Prasad, president of the Constituent Assembly. On his back lawn four plantain trees served as pillars for a temporary miniature temple. A roof of fresh green leaves sheltered a holy fire attended by a Brahman priest. There, while several thousand women chanted hymns, the ministers-to-be and constitution-makers passed in front of the priest, who sprinkled holy water on them. The oldest woman placed dots of red powder (for luck) on each man's forehead.
Tryst with Destiny. Thus dedicated, India's rulers turned to the secular business of the evening. At 11 o'clock they gathered in the Constituent Assembly Hall, ablaze with the colors of India's new tricolor flagorange, white and green. Nehru made an inspired speech: "Long years ago we made a tryst with destiny, and now the time comes when we shall redeem our pledge. . . .At the stroke of midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom."