The Battle of Saragarhi

UNESCO has selected the best 10 wars of the history and one of them is Battle of Saragarhi. I am not sure why our school books mentions only about the wars which we lost.

The funny thing is Our Indian schools have forgot to mention about this war in our school books but the Government of  France has included this war incident in their national school of curriculum.The military action at Saragarhi is taught to students the world over and particularly to students in France.

This is a real incident, where only 21 Indian soldiers fought with 10,000 Afghan and Orakzai tribesmen and finally we won that war.

Battle of Saragarhi - Forgotten wars of the Indian history:

The Battle of Saragarhi, one of history's most famous last stands, was fought during the Tirah Campaign on 12 September 1897 between twenty-one Sikhs of the 4th Battalion (then 36th Sikhs) of the Sikh Regiment of British India, defending an army post, and 10,000 Afghan and Orakzai tribesmen. The battle occurred in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, now part of Pakistan, which then formed part of British India.

The contingent of the twenty-one Sikhs from the 36th Sikhs was led by Havildar Ishar Singh. They all chose to fight to the death. Sikh military personnel and Sikh civilians commemorate the battle every year on 12 September, as Saragarhi Day.

Situation :

Saragarhi is a small village in the border district of Kohat, situated on the Samana Range, in present day Pakistan. On the 20th April 1894, the 36th Sikh Regiment of the British Army was created, under the command of Colonel J. Cook. In August 1897, five companies of the 36th Sikhs under Lt. Col. John Haughton, were sent to the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, stationed at Samana Hills, Kurag, Sangar, Sahtop Dhar and Saragarhi.

The British had partially succeeded in getting control of this volatile area, however tribal Pashtuns attacked British personnel from time to time. Thus a series of forts, originally constructed by Maharaja Ranjit Singh, Ruler of the Sikh Empire, were consolidated. Two of the forts were Fort Lockhart, (on the Samana Range of the Hindu Kush mountains), and Fort Gulistan (Sulaiman Range), situated a few miles apart. Due to the forts not being visible to each other, Saragarhi was created midway, as a heliographic communication post. The Saragarhi post, situated on a rocky ridge, consisted of a small block house with loop-holed ramparts and a signalling tower.

A general uprising by the Afghans began there in 1897, and between 27 August - 11 September, many vigorous efforts by Pashtuns to capture the Forts were thwarted by 36th Sikh regiment. In 1897, insurgent and inimical activities had increased, and on 3rd and 9 September Afridi tribes, with allegiance to Afghans, attacked Fort Gulistan. Both the attacks were repulsed, and a relief column from Fort Lockhart, on its return trip, reinforced the signalling detachment positioned at Saragarhi, increasing its strength to one Non-Commissioned Officer (NCO) and twenty troops of Other Ranks (ORs).

On September 12, 1897, 10,000 Pashtuns attacked the signalling post at Saragarhi, so that communication would be lost between the two forts.

The battle :

Details of the Battle of Saragarhi are considered fairly accurate, due to Gurmukh Singh signalling events to Fort Lockhart 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 the open gate, but are unsuccessful.

  • Later, Fort Lockhart 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 regimental battle-cry "Bole So Nihal, Sat Sri Akal (He who cries God is Truth, is ever victorious).

  • Having destroyed Saragarhi, the Afghans turned their attention to Fort Gulistan, but they had been delayed too long, and reinforcements arrived there in the night of 13-14 September, before the fort could be conquered.

  • The Pashtuns later admitted that they had lost about 180 killed and many more wounded during the engagement against the 21 Sikh soldiers, but some 600 bodies are said to have been seen around the ruined post when the relief party arrived (however, the fort had been retaken, on 14 September, by the use of 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.
Comments about this war :

"The British, as well as the Indians, are proud of the 36th Sikh Regiments. It is no exaggeration to record that the armies which possess the valiant Sikhs cannot face defeat in war" - Parliament of the United Kingdom

"You are never disappointed when you are with the Sikhs. Those 21 soldiers all fought to the death. That bravery should be within all of us. Those soldiers were lauded in Britain and their pride went throughout the Indian Army. Inside every Sikh should be this pride and courage. The important thing is that you must not get too big-headed it is important to be humble in victory and to pay respect to the other side." - Field Marshal William Joseph Slim, 1st Viscount Slim

Commemorative tablet :

"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 defence 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."

Order of Merit :

All the 21 Sikh non-commissioned officers and soldiers of other ranks who laid down their lives in the Battle of Saragarhi 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:

1.Havildar Ishar Singh (regimental number 165)

2.Naik Lal Singh (332)
3.Lance Naik Chanda Singh (546)
4.Sepoy Sundar Singh (1321)
5.Sepoy Ram Singh (287)
6.Sepoy Uttar Singh (492)
7.Sepoy Sahib Singh (182)
8.Sepoy Hira Singh (359)
9.Sepoy Daya Singh (687)

10.Sepoy Jivan Singh (760)

11.Sepoy Bhola Singh (791)

12.Sepoy Narayan Singh (834)

13.Sepoy Gurmukh Singh (814)

14.Sepoy Jivan Singh (871)

15.Sepoy Gurmukh Singh (1733)

16.Sepoy Ram Singh (163)

17.Sepoy Bhagwan Singh (1257)

18.Sepoy Buta Singh (1556)
19.Sepoy Jivan Singh (1651)
20.Sepoy Nand Singh (1221)
21.Sepoy Bhagwan Singh (1265)

Sources : Wikipedia and Google


  1. Its a heroic deed which every patriotic indian should imbibe to follow. Death is only once that too when it comes for the cause of saving their motherland its invaluable.
    Jai Hind


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