Saturday, May 24, 2003
T A K I N G   N O T E 

War memorials: Installing the spirit of selfless sacrifice
Harwant Singh

"They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old

Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn

At the going down of the sun and in the morning

We shall remember them."

— Laurence Binyon

Jhaggar Singh Memorial at Kapurthala
Jhaggar Singh Memorial at Kapurthala

THE decision to build a war memorial at the bougainvillea garden at Chandigarh has not come a day too soon. The need for a War Memorial at Chandigarh was felt for a long time, but both bureaucratic initiative and the will was lacking. Chandigarh serves as a hub for three important states whose contribution towards defence of the country, more so after Independence, has been commendable. Hence, there was a need to place it in the city.

Interestingly, though Punjab has been the scene of innumerable battles, there was no custom or practice of raising memorials to commemorate battles or remember those who had laid down their lives in them. The practice of raising war memorials was first introduced in India by the British. They started with the raising of obelisks connected with the Anglo-Sikh wars. Before Independence, the Indian states too had raised a few obelisks and memorials to honour their soldiers who fought in various wars and made great sacrifices.


Subsequent to the construction of Anglo-Sikh war memorials (in the form of obelisks) at the sites of these battles in Punjab, the other major war memorials to come up during the British period were at Ferozepore and Amritsar, to mark the battle of Saragarhi. In fact, there are in all four memorials dedicated to the battle of Saragarhi. There is a cairn at the site of the battle with the names of all 21 defenders of Saragarhi engraved on a stone plaque, an obelisk at Fort Lockhart on the Samana Ridge in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) and a memorial (shrine) each at Ferozepore and Amritsar. The Pioneer of Allahabad was the moving spirit behind the raising of a memorial to honour the defenders of Saragarhi. For the construction of the memorial at Ferozepore, stones from walls of the Saragarhi post were brought. The memorials at Ferozepore and Amritsar were constructed through private contributions, to which the Queen of England also contributed from her private accounts.

Ferozepore also has a memorial pillar, dedicated to the officers and soldiers of units that moved out of this cantonment to take part in World War I. Over 900 men and 36 officers who moved out of this station died in the war.

A memorial service being held at Tirah Campaign Memorial, Kapurthala, before Partition
A memorial service being held at Tirah Campaign Memorial, Kapurthala, before Partition

After Independence, the need to raise a suitable war memorial at Ferozeshahr, to commemorate the Anglo-Sikh wars, was felt. Not in a thousand years had the Indian soldiers faced a foreign invader with so much resolve, grit and valour. It was another matter that victory eluded the Punjab armies for no failing of the soldiery. Such a memorial had to capture the spirit and verve of the times, the sanctity of sacrifice and Punjabis’ love for freedom and the valour of its soldiery, so abundantly displayed during the Anglo-Sikh wars. Instead what was raised was a typical government building of poor design. Then there is a stunted pillar in black stone, with a poorly engraved plaque, which reads: "Dedicated to the Nation by Shri Sanjay Gandhi at a mammoth meeting, presided over by Giani Zail Singh – April 11, 1976."

At Kapurthala there are Jhaggar Singh Memorial and Tirah Campaign Memorial. The French sculptor, Monsieur Albert Duval, was commissioned to cast a life-size statue of the Kapurthala state forces soldier, which was later installed at Jhaggar Singh Memorial. Capt Jhaggar Singh and all his 13 men had laid down their lives in blocking the enemy’s advance. The memorial is dedicated to these brave men. The second memorial is dedicated to the Tirah Campaign ( 1897 ) in which the Kapurthala contingent had played a sterling role.

One of the over thousand memorials at Gettysburg
One of the over thousand memorials at Gettysburg

Though there are a few small memorials in Punjab, including the one at Patiala, the need to raise a state-level war memorial was felt and, consequently, the district war memorial at Jalandhar was converted into a state war memorial. Besides the main building in red and white on a hexagonal base, there is a 50-foot-high column (obelisk) in white marble and red sandstone placed on a hexagonal platform. Sacred earth from all the villages of the district was laid under the column. The names of all martyrs from the district are engraved on the sides of the hexagonal base. Once the memorial was redesignated as a state memorial, the names of all PVC and MVC recipients from Punjab were added.

Maharaja Ranjit Singh War Museum has been constructed near Ludhiana, on the GT Road. It houses an APC, a naval ship, on its lawns. Two smaller memorials have been built along the boundary wall. While the main building has on display portraits of senior officers of the defence forces from Punjab and those of gallantry award winners, there are also some weapons and uniforms on display. On the path leading to the museum, you have a statue of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. Inappropriately placed, the statue is poorly made. The museum is visited by few people.

A memorial has also been constructed at the headquarters of 11 Corp at Jalandhar in the memory of those from the Corp who laid down their lives during the 1965 and 1971 wars with Pakistan. There is also the Western Command memorial at Chandimandir. Both these memorials are well constructed and well maintained. There is also a well-kept memorial at Panchkula.