The Battle of Saragarhi was fought during the Tirah Campaign on 12 September 1897 between British Indian Army and Afghan Orakzai tribesmen.
‘Saragarhi’ is the extraordinary history of 21 Sikh soldiers of the 36th Sikh regiment who fought the battle with 10,000 Afghans and successfully held their own for days against the Afghans. Till ultimately, they all laid down their lives in commitment to their duty. Each man said to take ‘sawa lakh’ Afghans single-handedly before he died.
The Sikhs, led by Havildar Ishar Singh, decided to battle till death, in what is regarded by some military historians as among history’s great last-stands.
Facts of the Battle of Saragarhi are regarded fairly correct because of Gurmukh Singh signalling situations to Fort Lockhart by heliograph as they occurred.
- Around 9:00am, around 10,000 Afghans reach the signaling post at Saragarhi.
Sardar Gurmukh Singh signals to Col. Haughton, situated in Fort Lockhart, that they are under attack.
- Colonel Haughton states he cannot send immediate help to Saragarhi.
- The soldiers decide to fight to the last to prevent the enemy from reaching the forts.
- Bhagwan Singh becomes the first injured and Lal Singh is seriously wounded.
- Soldiers Lal Singh and Jiwa Singh reportedly carry the dead body of Bhagwan Singh back to the inner layer of the post.
- The enemy breaks a portion of the wall of the picket.
- Colonel Haughton signals that he has estimated between 10,000 and 14,000 Pashtuns attacking Saragarhi.
- The leaders of the Afghan forces reportedly make promises to the soldiers to entice them to surrender.
- Reportedly two determined attempts are made to rush open the gate, but are unsuccessful.
- Later, the wall is breached.
- Thereafter, some of the fiercest hand-to-hand fighting occurs.
- In an act of outstanding bravery, Ishar Singh orders his men to fall back into the inner layer, whilst he remains to fight. However, this is breached and all but one of the defending soldiers are killed, along with many of the Pashtuns.
- Gurmukh Singh, who communicated the battle with Col. Haughton, was the last Sikh defender. He is stated to have killed 20 Afghans, the Pashtuns having to set fire to the post to kill him. As he was dying he was said to have yelled repeatedly the Sikh battle-cry “Bole So Nihal, Sat Sri Akal” (Shout Aloud in Ecstasy! True is the Great Timeless One). “Akal,” meaning Immortal, beyond death, the Supreme Creator God unbound by time and non-temporal.
Having ruined Saragarhi, the Afghans switched their focus to Fort Gulistan, but they had been delayed very long and supports came there on the night of 13–14 September, before the fort, could be conquered.
The Pashtuns afterwards accepted that they had lost about 180 killed and a lot more wounded over the engagement in opposition to the 21 Sikh soldiers.
600 bodies are claimed to have been seen all over the damaged post when the relief party appeared (even so, the fort was retaken, on 14 September, by using intensive artillery fire, which may have caused many casualties).
The total casualties in the entire campaign, including the Battle of Saragarhi, numbered at around 4,800.
All the 21 Sikh non-commissioned officers and soldiers of other ranks who laid down their lives in the Battle of Saragarhi were from Ferozepur district in Punjab(India) and were posthumously awarded the Indian Order of Merit, the highest gallantry award of that time, which an Indian soldier could receive by the hands of the British crown, the corresponding gallantry award being Victoria Cross. This award is equivalent to today’s Param Vir Chakra awarded by the President of India.
The names of the 21 recipients of the gallantry award are:
- Havildar Ishar Singh (regimental number 165)
- Naik Lal Singh (332)
- Naik Chanda Singh (546)
- Lance Naik Sundar Singh (1321)
- Lance Naik Ram Singh (287)
- Lance Naik Uttar Singh (492)
- Lance Naik Sahib Singh (182)
- Sepoy Hira Singh (359)
- Sepoy Daya Singh (687)
- Sepoy Jivan Singh (760)
- Sepoy Bhola Singh (791)
- Sepoy Narayan Singh (834)
- Sepoy Gurmukh Singh (814)
- Sepoy Jivan Singh (871)
- Sepoy Gurmukh Singh (1733)
- Sepoy Ram Singh (163)
- Sepoy Bhagwan Singh (1257)
- Sepoy Bhagwan Singh (1265)
- Sepoy Buta Singh (1556)
- Sepoy Jivan Singh (1651)
- Sepoy Nand Singh (1221)
The epic poem “Khalsa Bahadur” is in memory of the Sikhs who died at Sargarhi.
The military action at Saragarhi is taught to students the world over and particularly to students in France.
Saragarhi Day, is a Sikh military commemoration day celebrated on 12 September every year to commemorate The Battle of Saragarhi.
A tablet erected in the memory of these brave men. The tablet reads;
“The Government of India have caused this tablet to be erected to the memory of the twenty-one non-commissioned officers and men of the 36 Sikh Regiment of the Bengal Infantry whose names are engraved below as a perpetual record of the heroism shown by these gallant soldiers who died at their posts in the defense of the fort of Saragarhi, on the 12 September 1897, fighting against overwhelming numbers, thus proving their loyalty and devotion to their sovereign The Queen Empress of India and gloriously maintaining the reputation of the Sikhs for unflinching courage on the field of battle.”
Saragarhi Day in the UK commemorated each year on its battle honour day by the British Armed Forces.
The British and Indian armies’ polo teams commemorated the battle in 2010, by holding the Saragarhi Challenge cup and raising money for the British Asian Trust, one of the Princes Charities.
People will see the history of valour and supreme sacrifice of Great Indian Soldiers in an upcoming movie “Sons of Sardaar” featuring Ajay Devgn as Havildar Ishar Singh.
Unveiling @SonsOfSardaar My tribute to Warriors of Saragarhi: A tale of Rage, of Love, of Bravery. #SonsOfSardaar pic.twitter.com/kjI44uCvzI
— Ajay Devgn (@ajaydevgn) July 29, 2016