Wagah Crossing Border Ritual

For the past 60 years, a strange yet fascinating nightly border-closing ritual takes place in one of the world's hottest borders, the Indo-Pakistani border, at Wagah Crossing (the only road border between the two countries):

As twilight approaches and the gates are about to close between India and Pakistan, the guards on either side face off in an elaborate show of martial bravado and chest-puffing that nonetheless includes that most basic of fraternal gestures: the handshake.

Hundreds of spectators from both countries cheer as their men in uniform strut, goose-step and stamp their feet like impatient bulls. Individual guards on either side break ranks and power-walk toward one another as if to collide head-on, but stop just short of the line dividing their homelands and glower fiercely through their mustaches.

Patriotic songs boom through loudspeakers as the national flags are lowered at exactly the same speed and the gates finally swing shut.

The tightly choreographed ceremony is part colonial pomp, part macho posturing and part Monty Python's Ministry of Silly Walks. The rowdy tourist crowds eat it up.

Link (Photo: Aman Sharma/AP) - Thanks Daniel Kim!

Here's a video of the Wagah border closing ceremony:

YouTube Link

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This is something thats happening for a long long time. And until now the real significance has escaped me, even though being an Indian. However, its quite funny :) . I believe it not to be racist but a way of showing that things are not alright between the two countries. And it has become a tourist spectacle right now and I am sure both countries don't want to stop this right now...maybe waiting for the other country to take the first step.
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This is seriously scary stuff sometimes. While things are relatively calm between the two countries, rituals of this sort can be a 'peaceful' way to express their unhappiness with each other without bloodshed. The trouble is that, if the political situation gets too hot, the grandstanding and posturing can easily turn into a riot, with uncontrollable individual violence.

It does remind me of any number of nature shows with ritualized combat between competing animals. Lots of bristling and puffing to show who is boss, with only occasional actual full-contact action. Come to think of it, any crosstown high school football game in the South probably has a similar feel, except without guns.

In any case, I imagine the participants are quite conscious of the need to put on an authentic show of bellicosity and face-saving gestures for the benefit of the fans. They seem to work hard to make sure that the people on their side of the fence are satisfied that national pride and dignity are preserved, while maintaining strict symmetry with the other side to keep things from going overboard.
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