THE story of the battle of Saragarhi is one that makes one proud of belonging to humankind. Saragarhi was a small picquet, near Lockhart fort, in the North West Frontier Province. Several such small fortresses and picquets had been built by the legendary Maharaja Ranjit Singh to safeguard the NWFP, from tribes of Pathans and Afridis, who were said to be excellent warriors but terribly cruel and merciless in their killings. On September 12, 1897, 21 Sikh soldiers of the then 36th Sikh Regiment were besieged by 10,000 Pathans and tribesmen. The military action at Saragarhi is said to have lasted for the better part of that fateful day. On a Pathans word of honour, the Sikh Jawans were offered safe passage on the condition that they surrender their picquet without resistance. But these soldiers true to their religion, their race and their commitment to duty spurned the offer, for it was clear to them that they had not been posted to Saragarhi to surrender it, but to safeguard its battlements for the motherland.
In the overall ring of protection created by the British in that region, tribesmen engaged the 21 soldiers in battle and the military action lasted throughout the day. The Pathans fell like ninepins under the leadership of Havaldar Isher Singh. However, the soldiers, guarding Saragarhi picquet, were steadily overwhelmed by the marauding hordes and they gave up their lives for the Empire and the country, one by one. Finally when 20 of the 21 soldiers had laid down their lives or lay dying, Gurmukh Singh who was at the heliograph sought permission from the British Commander to close down the heliograph and join the battle. Methodically, thereafter, Gurmukh Singh put away the heliograph in a leather bag. He then fixed a bayonet to his rifle and, loudly invoking the name of God and proclaiming "Wahe Guru da Khalsa - Wahe Guru di Fateh", he charged out of the picket and killed between 20 and 40 soldiers of the enemy camp, in what appears to have been a miraculous act of courage.
The battle of Saragarhi has been rated by military experts as an epic example of collective bravery, which has few parallels in the history of the world. Indeed, the battle of Saragarhi and the dedicated courage displayed by soldiers of the Sikh regiment put to disadvantage the bravery witnessed in the battle of Xerxes and the battle of Thermoplaye. What inspired these men to raise themselves to these unbelievable acts of courage, well above the call of duty and the natural instinct for self preservation, is beyond ones imagination.
While most of the Sikhs, who engaged the Pathans in battle, were from Ferozepore district, a few were from the princely riyasat of Faridkot. Raja Shri Balbir Singh of Faridkot had the following paens of praise incised on the walls of the Saragarh Memorial Gurdwara, built partially out of the funds made available by Victoria Regina, Queen Empress of India, at the turn of this century.
"Khalsa is he who
The dead heroes of Saragarhi have captured many a imagination. While leading a humdrum existence, there are but a few episodes that make one want to live life bravely. The Saragarhi saga reminds one that the brave die only once, while the feeble-hearted die many deaths. Memorials were built to the heroes of Saragarhi at Ferozepore, Amritsar and an obelisk was raised in their memory by the British at Saragarhi. It is, however, distressing that most people are not aware of the great moments witnessed in the battle of Saragarhi.
The Pioneer then
published from Allahabad, first brought to the notice of
the world the unbelievable acts of bravery of the
Saragarhi heroes. Each jawan of the then 36th Sikh
Regiment was posthumously honoured by Empress Victoria
with the order of merit, then the highest award. The
military action at Saragarhi was officially brought to
the notice of the British monarch and both the House of
Lords and the House of Commons, whose members gave a
standing ovation in recognition of the bravery of these
heroes. It is not without reason then that the military
action at Saragarhi is taught to students the world over
and particularly to students in France.
| Chandigarh Heartbeat | Good Motoring and You | Dream Analysis | Regional Vignettes |
| Fact File | Roots | Crossword | Stamp Quiz | Stamped Impressions | Mail box |