There are a lot of things of our history that we Indians remember, from the ancient myths to the iconic happenings across time.
However, in the midst of all this, there are also those small stories that get buried under the big ones that can teach us a thing or two.
One such would be the epic Battle of Saragarhi, that happened on 12th September, 1897.
Now you might think, a lot of battles have happened in India, so what’s memorable here?
The truly unique and historical part of this battle was that mere 21 Sikh soldiers successfully held off almost about 10,000 Afghans.
When Did This Battle Occur?
The battle is often titled as one of the greatest last stands in history, where 21 soldiers of the 36th Sikh Regiment, under the then British Indian Army, held off more than 10,000 Afghans and killed about 600 of them.
The historic event took place in the Tirah region of the current Pakistan’s North-West Frontier Province.
The station of Saragarhi apparently connected Gulistan and Lockhart, both British India forts and was placed at the border areas of Afghanistan.
As per sources, the area was often being attacked by Afghans who were hostile towards the Indian borders. But it was truly something unexpected when almost 10, 000 of them marched down the borders, intent on finishing their perceived enemy.
At that point of time, the Saragarhi detachment had 20 ORs (Other Ranks) and 1 NCO (Non-Commissioned Officer) with the leader of the unit and the person who eventually lead the regiment being Havildar Ishar Singh.
The Pashtun tribesmen, attacked the city at around 9 am in the morning on 12th September, 1897 and to everyone’s astonishment, instead of retreating, the 21 soldiers decided to go into battle with them.
Why Is It So Iconic?
Allegedly it is said that every 1 Sikh soldier faced about 476 Afghan soldiers and most of it was out in the open with not much of a cover.
The regiment’s mud huts gave way quickly but not before the Sikh soldiers were able to hold off 2 attacks from the Afghans.
According to sources, Ishar Singh had even sent a signal, using heliograph, to Lt. Col. Haughton, stationed at the Lokhart fort asking for backup.
However, there simply was not enough time to prepare the troops, and instead the 36th Sikh Regiment were ordered to hold position. The soldiers accepted this order and decided to go into battle with the enemy.
After getting into their position, the soldiers awaited Ishar Singh’s orders and once the enemy was at a distance of 250 meters, they opened fire.
The enemy attacked them from all directions and the soldiers held up till about 3 hours of fighting. After that, about 12 of them were killed and only 10 were left standing.
But even in light of all the things that worked against them, running out of ammunition, injured soldiers, the brave Sikhs still managed to defend their post for almost 7 hours.
As per sources, the last remaining soldier, Sepoy Gurumukh Singh while being the youngest of them all managed to kill as many as 20 enemy soldiers.
It is said that their valiant act allowed the British to send in other troops who could then effectively fend off the enemy. Had it not been for the 21 Sikh soldiers, or had they retreated, the Afghans could have brought more damage than imagined.
Tragically though, all the Sikh soldiers died in the battle with not even a single survivor. The entire troop was later on posthumously awarded the Indian Order of Merit, one of the highest gallantry award in existence as a way to pay tribute to the martyred soldiers.
Apparently, after learning of the whole thing, the British commander-in-Chief said that, “Fighting against overwhelming numbers they died at their post, thus proving their loyalty and devotion to their sovereign, while upholding the traditional bravery of the Sikh nation…”
Even Queen Victoria offered her respect to the brave soldiers and said that, “Splendid behaviour of the Sikhs in defending the fort for 30 hours.”
It is a shame really that not many people of India know of this iconic battle, but the British till date celebrate this event.
In 2015 on the anniversary of the battle, the 21 Sikh soldiers were also commemorated by the Armed Forces at the Armoury House in London.
About time that we all wake up and take inspiration from these courageous soldiers who did not bend in the face of such adversity.
Perhaps that is why it’s good to see news of such stories being adapted into films like Kesari (by Dharma Productions starring Akshay Kumar & Parineeti Chopra) which shed light on these unsung heroes and give them the attention they deserve.
Image Credits: Google
Find the blogger @chirali_08