Battle of Saragarhi

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Guru Gobind Singh
Sikh Regimental Insignia
Dehi Shiva Bar Mohe Ihe, Shubh Karman Se Kabhun Na Taron

Na Daron Ari Son Jab Jai Laron , Nischey Kar Apni Jeet Karon

O God, give me these boons
that never shall I shirk from doing good deeds
that never shall I fear when I go into battle
And that with surety I shall attain victory.

by Sri Guru Gobind Singh - the motto of the Sikh Regiment
Deh Shiva Bar Mohe Eha

Battle Cry: Bole So Nihal, Sat Sri Akal (He who cries God is Truth, is ever victorious).

The map of the Nothwest Frontier Province

Saragarhi is the incredible story of 21 men of the 36th Sikh Regiment (currently the 4th Sikh Regiment) who gave up their lives in devotion to their duty. This battle, like many others fought by the Sikhs, highlights the heroic action by a small detachment of Sikh soldiers against heavy odds. This encounter took place on 12 September 1897 in the Tirah region of North-West Frontier Province (now in Pakistan, which then formed part of British India). In keeping with the tradition of the Sikh Army, they fought to the death rather than surrender.

The Battle at Saragarhi is one of eight stories of collective bravery published by UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization). It has been mentioned as one of the five most significant events of its kind in the world which includes the Battle of Thermopylae associated with the heroic stand of a small Greek force against the mighty Persian Army of Xerxes I in 480 B.C.

The Background

The 36th Sikhs were raised in 1887 at a time when Russian expansion was feared and the North-West Frontier needed strong fortification. Their brief history is notable for one action that ocurred in 1897 when the regiment defended the Samana Ridge against a huge army of Pathans. Many acts of great bravery were performed by soldiers of the 36th during a few days in September of that year, most notably at Saragarhi.

The British colonial rulers had constructed a series of forts to control the NWFP (North West Frontier Province - today a state in Pakistan) and to provide security to troops against marauding tribesmen and their lashkars (large body of troops). Most of these forts had initially been built by Maharaja Ranjit Singh as part of the consolidation of the Sikh empire in Punjab and the British added some more. The British had only partially succeeded in gaining control over this region, consequently, skirmishes and sometimes serious fights with the tribals were a frequent occurrence. However, the NWFP was a good training ground for the Indian Army to hone its skills and techniques.

Two such forts on the Samana ridge of the Hindukush & Sulaiman ranges that is Fort Lockhart and Fort Gulistan were a few miles apart. Since these forts were not inter-visible, a signalling relay post called Saragarhi was located mid-way on a bluff to provide heliographic (A heliograph is a simple device for sending Morse code using a mirror catching the sunlight) communications between them. This post or picket had been fortified to provide safety and protection to the signalling detachment. In 1897 there was a general uprising in the NWFP engineered by Afghans as part of their policy, which came to be known as the 'prickly heat policy' to direct the wrath of the tribals against the British. In this uprising, Mullahs (Muslim religious leaders) played a prominent role. It was the duty of the 36th Sikh to occupy Gulistan and Lockhart forts. On 3rd and 9th September 1897, Orakazai and Afridi lashkars attacked Fort Gulistan. On both occasion the attacks were beaten back. A relief column was sent from the fort to assist in beating back these attacks.

The Battle

The burnt-out interior of Saragarhi where the bodies of 21 brave men of the 36th Sikhs were found on the 14th September after the seige on 12th.

The relief column from Lockhart on the return trip reinforced the signalling detachment at Saragarhi making its strength to 1 NCO (Non-Commissioned Officer) and 20 ORs (Other Ranks). In a renewed effort, on 12 September 1897, hordes of tribesmen laid siege to Fort Lockhart and Saragarhi, with the aim of overrunning the latter and at the same time preventing any help from the former. The Commanding Officer of 36th Sikh, Lt. Col. Haughton, was at Fort Lockhart and was in communication with the Saragarhi post through helicograph. The defenders of Saragarhi under the indomitable and inspiring leadership of their detachment commander, Havildar Ishar Singh, resolved to defend their post in the best tradition of their race and regiment. They were not there to hand over the post to the enemy and seek safety elsewhere. Havildar Singh and his men knew well that the post would fall, because a handful of men in that make-shift fort of stones & mud walls with a wooden door could not stand the onslaught of thousands of tribesmen. These plucky men knew that they will go down but they had resolved to do so fighting to the last.

From Fort Lockhart, troops and the Commanding Officer could count at least 14 standards and that gave an idea of the number of tribes and their massed strength against the Saragarhi relay post (estimated at between 10,000 to 12,000 tribals). From early morning the tribals started battering the fort. The Sikhs fought back valiantly. Charge after charge was repulsed by the men of the 36th Sikh. The tribal leaders started to make tempting promises so that the Sikhs would surrender. But Havildar Singh and his men ignored them. For quite some time, the troops held their own against the determined and repeated attacks by the wild and ferocious hordes. A few attempts were made to send a relief column from Fort Lockhart but these were foiled by the tribals.

Cairn on the Site of Saragarhi Post

At Saragarhi, the enemy made two determined attempts to rush the gate of the post and on both occasions the defenders repulsed the assault. While the enemy suffered heavy casualties, the ranks of the defenders too kept dwindling as the fire from the attackers took its toll and their ammunition stocks were depleting. Unmindful of his safety, Sepoy Gurmukh Singh kept signalling a minute-to-minute account of the battle from the signal tower in the post to Battalion HQs. The battle lasted the better part of the day. When repeated attacks failed, the enemy set fire to the surrounding bushes & shrubs and two of the tribesmen under cover of smoke, managed to close in with the post's boundary wall in an area blind to the defender's observation and rifle fire from the post holes. They succeeded in making a breach in the wall. This development could be seen from Fort Lockhart and was flashed to the post.

A few men from those defending the approaches to the gate were dispatched to deal with the breach in the wall. This diversion by the enemy and the defenders' reaction resulted in weakening of the fire covering the gate. The enemy now rushed the gate as well as the breach. Thereafter, one of the fiercest hand-to-hand fights followed. One of the Havildar Singh's men, who was seriously wounded and was profusely bleeding, had taken charge of the guardroom. He shot four of the enemy as they tried to approach his charge. All this time, Sepoy Gurmukh Singh continued flashing the details of the action at the post. Beside this the Commanding Officer of 36th Sikh and others at Lockhart Fort also saw his unique saga of heroism and valour unfold at Saragarhi. The battle had come too close for Sepoy Gurmukh Singh's comfort, so he asked Battalion HQs for permission to shut down the heliograph and take up his rifle. Permission was flashed back. He dismounted his heliograph equipment, packed it in a leather bag, fixed bayonet on his rifle and joined the fight. From this vantage point in the tower he wrought havoc on the intruders in the post. He died fighting, but took 20 of the enemy with him.

The ruins of the Saragarhi signal post, defended to the last by Havildar Ishar Singh and his 20 men of the 36th Sikhs. Fort Lockhart is on the skyline, left centre. Circa 1887.

The tribals set fire to the post, while the brave garrison lay dead or dying with their ammunition exhausted. Next morning the relief column reached the post and the tell tale marks of the epic fight were there for all to see. The tribals later admitted to figure of a miniuim of 600 - 1400 were dead and many more wounded. This episode when narrated in the British Parliament, drew from the members a standing ovation in the memory of the defenders of Saragarhi. The story of the heroic deeds of these men was also placed before Queen Victoria. The account was received all over the world with awe and admiration. All the 21 valiant men of this epic battle were awarded the Indian Order of Merit Class III (posthumously) which at the time was one of the highest gallantry awards given to Indian troops and is considered equivalent to the present-day Vir Chakra. All dependants of the Saragarhi heroes were awarded 50 acres of land and 500 Rupees. Never before or since has a body of troops - that is, all of them won gallantry awards in a single action. It is indeed a singularly unique action in the annals of Indian military history.

Wahe Guruji Ka Khalsa, Wahe Guruji Ki Fateh!

In their Memory

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 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."

  • 165 Havildar Ishar Singh
  • 332 Naik Lal Singh
  • 834 Sepoy Narayan Singh
  • 546 Lance Naik Chanda Singh
  • 814 Sepoy Gurmukh Singh
  • 1321 Sepoy Sundar Singh
  • 871 Sepoy Jivan Singh
  • 287 Sepoy Ram Singh
  • 1733 Sepoy Gurmukh Singh
  • 492 Sepoy Uttar Singh
  • 163 Sepoy Ram Singh
  • 182 Sepoy Sahib Singh
  • 1257 Sepoy Bhagwan Singh
  • 359 Sepoy Hira Singh
  • 1265 Sepoy Bhagwan Singh
  • 687 Sepoy Daya Singh
  • 1556 Sepoy Buta Singh
  • 760 Sepoy Jivan Singh
  • 1651 Sepoy Jivan Singh
  • 791 Sepoy Bhola Singh
  • 1221 Sepoy Nand Singh

Above article extract from

Record from "The London Gazette" published on 11 February 1898

Main article: Saragarhi mentioned in the London Gazette

Quote from "The London Gazette"...

3. The Governor-General in Council desires especially to express his admiration of the brilliant defence of Fort Gulistan by the 36th Sikhs, and of the post of Saragarhi by a party of twenty men of the same regiment under the command of Havildar Ishar Singh, who died fighting to the last, displaying a heroic devotion which has never been surpassed in the annals of the Indian Army.

4. The Commander-in-Chief deeply regrets the loss of the garrison of Saragarhi, a post held by 21 men of the 36th Sikhs and wishes to record his admiration of the heroism shown by these gallant soldiers. Fighting against overwhelming numbers they died at their post, thus proving their loyalty and devotion to their Sovereign while upholding to the last the traditional bravery of the Sikh nation.

Remembrance and legacy


To commemorate their bravery, three gurdwaras were erected — one at Saragarhi, the venue of the battle, the second at Firozpur called the Saragarhi Memorial and the third here at Amritsar, called Gurdwara Saragarhi. The memorial at Amritsar was unveiled on February 14, 1902.

Gurdwara Saragarhi, Amritsar: This is situated just opposite the Government Higher Secondary School, Town Hall, Amritsar, it was built in the memory of the non-commissioned officers officers and men of the 36th Sikhs whose names have been engraved on a marble stone fixed on the wall of the gurdwara as a perpetual record of heroism shown by these gallant soldiers. They died at their posts in the defence of the frontier Fort of Saragarhi on 12th September, 1897, fighting against an overwhelming number of Pathans. (above entry from:

Saragarhi Memorial Gurudwara at Firozpur was been built in the memory of 21 Sikh soldiers of the 36 Sikh Regiment who fell in heroic defence of Fort Saragarhi in Wazirstan on September, 12 1897 while defending the fort against an attack of ten thousand Pathans. The memorial Gurdwara at Ferozepur was built at a cost of Rs, 27,118 by the Army Authorities to honour these brave soldiers. The gurudwara was declared open in 1904 by Sir Charles Pevz, the then Lieutenant Governor of Punjab. Every year on September, 12 a religious congregation is held in the morning while reunion of Ex-servicemen in the evening.


The battle has become iconic of eastern military civilization, British empire military history and Sikh history.[1] The modern Sikh Regiment continues to celebrate the day of the Battle of Saragarhi each 12 September as the Regimental Battle Honours Day. To commemorate the men the British built two Saragarhi Gurudwaras: one in Amritsar very close to the main entrance of the Golden Temple, and another in Ferozepur Cantonment, which was the district that most of the men hailed from.

In the 1999 Kargil Conflict, the Sikh Regiment went into action against Pakistan. Two battalions of the Sikh regiment- 8 Sikh and 14 Sikh subsequently took part in fierce and bloody fighting along the razor sharp crags and peaks of the Kargil mountains. 8 Sikh took Tiger Hill, whereas 14 Sikh fought at ChorbatLa. The Sikhs were again highly outnumbered, and before the fighting began, officers and men of the Sikh regiment had remembered Saragarhi and taken a vow to uphold the traditions of the Sikh martial heritage.

In Indian Schools

The Indian military, in particular the Indian Army have been pushing for the battle to be taught in India's schools. They want it taught due to the heroism shown by the Indian soldiers to acts as inspiration for young children – in the field of bravery. The situation was made more embarrassing by observations such as the following, printed in the Punjab's longest-established newspaper, The Tribune in 1999: "the military action at Saragarhi is taught to students the world over and particularly to students in France."[2] Although it is not clear exactly how widely the the story was taught in France (it is not on the current national school curriculum there[3]) the news was enough to provoke political debate, and the battle has been taught in schools in the Punjab since 2000[4]:

The decision to include the battle story in the school curriculum was taken last year during a public rally presided over by the Punjab Chief Minister, Mr Parkash Singh Badal. Following this, the State Government had issued a notification that the battle story should be included in the school curriculum from this session. There had been a constant demand from the Sikh Regiment and various ex-servicemen’s associations that the battle be included in the school curriculum. A similar request had also been put forward to Mr Badal during the battle’s state-level centenary celebrations at Ferozepore in 1997. A subsequent letter sent to the Punjab Government by the Saraghari Memorial and Ethos Promotion Forum had also urged the State Government that the battle has many inspiring lessons for children. On hearing the acts of valour, the British Parliament had then risen in unison to pay homage to the fallen soldiers. The unique battle is also taught in schools of France and figures as one of the eight collective stories on bravery published by the UNESCO.

Saragarhi Day

Saragarhi Day, is a Sikh military commemoration day celebrated on the 12th of September every year to commemorate The Battle of Saragarhi.[5] Sikh military personnel and Sikh non-military people commemorate the battle around the World every year on September 12th. All units of the Sikh Regiment celebrate Saragarhi Day every year as the Regimental Battle Honours Day. Saragarhi Memorial Gurudwara (temple) was built in memory of the 21 Sikh soldiers that fought at The Battle of Saragarhi.[6]

Saragarhi and Thermopylae

The battle has frequently been compared to the Battle of Thermopylae, where a small Greek force faced a large Persian army of Xerxes (480 BC).

The ratio of the defending to the attacking force of ca. 1:476 (21 vs. 10,000) at Saragarhi, is reminiscent of the 1:285 ratio at Thermopylae (300 Spartans & 6,700 Greeks vs. 0.8 to 2.1 million). Based on modern estimates, the Persian Army numbered 150,000–200,000[7], producing a ratio of 1:29.

It is important to note that during the Battle of Saraghari, the British did not manage to get a relief unit there until after the 21 had fought to their deaths. At Thermopylae, the 300 Spartans also stayed after their lines had been breached, to fight to their deaths.


Imperial War Museum

on 1 November 2001

Letter from PM Tony Blair.Click to enlarge

The Imperial War Museum in London was the venue for the Second Annual "Portraits of Courage" Lecture hosted by the Maharaja Duleep Singh Centenary Trust. MDSCT Trustee, Daljit Singh Sidhu Introduced the lecture, saying that when topic of the lecture, which conveys the bravery and valour of Sikhs in the battlefield, was chosen over two years ago it was not thought that it would have so much relevance to the current World situation. The Battle of Saragarhi was fought on the undivided India's North West Frontier with the modern day Afghanistan.

Robert Crawford the Director General of the Imperial War Museum welcomed Cabinet Office Minister Rt Hon Charles Clark MP and representatives of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the American Embassy and English Heritage and all those present to the Museum and introduced the speaker, Viscount John Slim OBE DL.

Saragarhi, a communications post was beseiged by over 10,000 tribesmen with only 21 soldiers, all Sikhs, of the 36th Sikh Regiment. The battle of Saragarhi Hill fought on 12 September 1897 has been cited by UNESCO as one of the five most significant events of its kind in World history. When news of the battle reached London both Houses of Parliament gave a rare standing ovation in honour of the 21 Sikhs who died holding the post.

Viscount Slim, who was born in Queta and spent over 20 years living in India said: "You are never disappointed when you are with Sikhs". While at school in Dheradoon he was regarded as a good boxer, he was only ever beaten once, by a Sikh (but the Sikh did not tape down his Kara as he was supposed to!). He is still in touch with that Sikh and he remains one of his closest friends. He said that he knew many British Officers who had such a close affinity with their Sikh soldiers that they felt that they were also Sikhs alongside them. He himself used to wear a "pagri" (turban) because you feel silly wearing a "topi" (hat) when all those around you are in their "pagris".

Viscount Slim described what he thought the state of mind of the soldiers would have been in the fort. As a soldier you always pray when you are frightened, you pray that you have faith and that if you do die that you will go to a better place. In the 1940's, when he was in India, "there were different places of worship, but when the bell rang you just went to the nearest, whether it was a gurdwara, church or whichever faith".

He spoke of the extrovert reputation of Haveldar Ishar Singh, the soldier in charge at Saragarhi. He was probably told to stay in the post and fight to the death and he would have positively said Yes asking no questions. The soldiers did not have machine guns, but just 21 rifles and an unknown amount of ammunition.

The signaler, Gurmukh Singh, must also have been a remarkable character. It was his job, using a heliograph to send messages to and from the two forts Lockhart and Gullistan (see map). A heliograph is a simple device for sending Morse code using a mirror catching the sunlight. He would signal all day and signaled though the battle. One of the messages sent by Ishar Singh was "Down to half strength, but now each man has two rifles". The last message sent was "The enemy are inside now, request permission to stop signaling so I can join the fight". But he did not just throw down the heliograph, he packed it into its case before leaving his post.

Viscount Slim ended by saying: "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"

Rt Hon Charles Clark then took to the stage and read out a message from the Prime Minister and said that the PM is very committed to the aims of the MDSCT of bringing together history and culture. He took the opportunity to thank the Sikh community for their important contribution to today's British Society and said that Sikhs play a critical and much valued role in British Society. Referring back to Daljit Singh's comment about voice of the Sikh Community in Britain not being heard, he stated: "I give you an absolute assurance that your voice is being heard".

The evening was ended with the Director of Projects at the MDSCT, Harbinder Singh Rana, thanking all those who helped make the event such a successful one.

Above quoted from

Soldiers of the 36th Sikhs stand on the wall of the ruined building of Saragarhi which was burnt by Pathan tribesmen. 21 of their colleagues died after the Pathans poured into the breach made by a few men dislodging stones causing the wall to collapse. The collapsed corner can be seen on the left of the picture.

SARAGARHI, BATTLE OF, a heroic action fought by a small detachment of Sikh soldiers against heavy odds, took place on 12 September 1897 in the Tirah region of NorthWest Frontier Province (now in Pakistan). The heroes of Saragarhi, barely 21 in number, belonged to the 36th Sikhs, since redesignated as 4th Battalion of the Sikh Regiment of the Indian Army. During a general uprising of the turbulent Pathan tribals of Tirah in 1897, the battalion was deployed to defend Samana Ridge, a hill feature 8 km in length separating the Kurram and the Khanki valleys. The headquarters and four companies were located in Fort Lockhart at the eastern end of the ridge and the other four companies in Fort Cavagnari, commonly known as Gulistan, at its western end, with several smaller outposts at different strategic points. Saragarhi was a small picket perched on a rockyrib cropping up transversely across Samana Ridge halfway between Fort Lockhart and Gulistan preventing direct communication between the two bases. Overlooking both the wings, Saragarhi, manned by only 20 sepoys (riflemen) and one noncombatant sweeper under the command of Havildar (sergeant) Ishar Singh, was tactically a vital post for communication which in those days was possible only through visual signalling. The Orakzai andAfridi tribesmen, several thousand strong, attacked Gulistan twice on 3 and 9 September but were repulsed with heavy losses on both occasions. Chagrined at the reverses, they looked for a smaller target to ensure easy success. On the morning of 12 September 1897, they fell upon Saragarhi, a small square, stone block house, and surrounded it making any reinforcement to the besieged impossible. Havildar Ishar Singh and his men, undaunted by the hopeless situation they were in, fought back with grim determination. The incessant fire from the besiegers took its toll, and after a 6hourlong battle, the only soldier left alive was the signaller, Sepoy Gurmukh Singh, who had meanwhile kept the battalion headquarters informed about the situation through messages flashed by flag. At last asking for permission to stop signalling he took up his rifle to join combat. He fell fighting singlehanded. The valour and tenaciousness of the Saragarhi soldiers won wide acclaim. Each of them was posthumously awarded Indian Order of Merit (I.O.M.). Their nextofkin were each granted Rs 500 in cash and two squares (50 acres) of land. Their battalion, 36th Sikhs, also received Battle Honours. A memorial in the form of an obelisk standing on a base built with stones from the Saragarhi post was raised at the site by the government while memorial gurdwaras were built with public contributions at Amritsar and Firozpur. The Sikh Regiment celebrates 12 September every year as Saragarhi day.

The battle of Saragarhi fought by 36th Sikh (now 4 Sikh) in 1897, is an epitome of Valour, Courage, Bravery and Sacrifice. Havildar Issar Singh with 21 Other Ranks made the supreme sacrifice repulsing 10,000 of the enemy. This sacrifice was recognised by the British Parliament, when it rose to pay its respects to these brave young soldiers. All 21 were awarded the Indian Order of Merit (IOM), the then highest decoration for the Indian soldiers. This 'Kohinoor' of the Sikh Regiment is one of the ten most famous battles of the world. Even to this date, this battle forms part of the school curriculum in France. 12 September 1897, the day of the Battle of Saragarhi is celebrated as the Regimental Battle Honours Day.

The Battle of Saragarhi fought by men of 36th Sikhs in 1897, is an epitome of raw courage, sheer grit and unshakable determination. Saragarhi was a small signaling post located between Fort Lockhart and Fort Gulistan on the Samana Ridge in the N.W.F.P. On September 12, 1897 about 10,000 Afridis and Orakazais tribesmen swarmed towards Saragarhi, while another group cut off all links from Forts Gulistan and Lockhart. For the next six hours the small detachment of 21 men led by Havildar Ishar Singh stood firm and repulsed all attacks. With passage of time the ranks of the Sikhs started getting thinner and their ammunition was running out. But they never faltered and continued to punish the enemy. The enemy succeeded in making a large breach in the outer wall and swarmed in, the Sikhs fought to the last man. When the news of the battle reached London, the British Parliament rose to give a standing ovation. All the 21 men were given the posthumous award of Indian Order of Merit, Class 1, (IOM). This was the highest gallantry award given to Indian ranks in those days and was equivalent to the Victoria Cross. All dependants were given two squares of land and Rs. 500 as financial assistance and memorials were built at Ferozepore and Amritsar. The award of so many posthumous IOMs to a single group of men in one day was something unheard of and remains unparalleled in the annals of military history. After Saragarhi the tribesmen then attacked Fort Gulistan, which was held by 160 men of 36th Sikh. The fort held out until relief arrived. A group of Sikh soldiers in a daredevil attack managed to capture 3 Afghan standards ( flags). 30 IDSM's were won by the defenders of Fort Gulistan.In 1901 another battalion, composed entirely of Jat Sikhs was raised and it came to be known as 47th Sikhs (later 5 Sikh).

The Saga of Saragarhi

The Saga of Saragarhi by Satyindra Singh*

September 12, 1897 is a day that needs to be recalled with intense pride, not only by the Indian Army but for the whole nation. But sadly, one discovers that whilst this battle of epic dimensions is taught to children in France, and is one of the stories of collective bravery published by UNESCO, it finds at best, peripheral mention in our history volumes for our children and future generations to draw sustenance from.

A foreign journal has mentioned that Saraghari is one of the five most significant events of its kind in the world beginning from the saga of Thermopylae associated with the heroic stand by a small Greek force against the mighty Persian army led by Xerxes in 480 B.C. The name of Thermopylae has passed into the history of mankind and has inspired heroism of every kind and a name which will indeed ever be associated with self-sacrifice. Saraghari epitomises self sacrifice by a very small band of our own soldiers barely a century ago.

Lt. General Harbaksh Singh, a distinguished soldier of yesteryear, who has done the nation proud in the War of 1965, and has been a colonel of this regiment, loaned me some records and journals in which there is invaluable material on the Saraghari saga and I draw sustenance from these and some other records, including the volume, “Saraghari Battalion - From Ashes to Glory”! In one of the these journals is recorded the Saraghari speech by the former President Zakir Hussain (then Governor of Bihar) delivered at the Sikh Regimental Centre, Ranchi on September 12, 1961. As Dr Zakir Hussain said on the occasion : “The mind travels back to the day, sixty four years ago, this day in 1897. On this fateful day, on a rugged, inhospitable ridge of the forbidding terrain, a brave little band of twentyone Sikhs stood its ground steadfastly to the utter last, in the midst of a swarming sea of hostile assailants, and bore unmistakable witness to the gallantry and honour of the Indian Army. It is an episode that we remember today - but it is nonetheless an historic event in the annals of our Army, rich with lessons of unsurpassed gallantry, self-effacing loyalty and unconditional allegiance to the call of duty.

“It was at dawn this day that the Orakzai and Afridi tribesmen, over 20,000 in number, who had been repulsed a few days earlier from Fort Gulistan, surrounded the little picquet post at Saraghari, thus severing Fort Gulistan from Fort Lockhart. No aid could be sent to the isolated picquet. The brave band of Sikhs in the picquet post put up a heroic fight. Very small in number, and with but limited ammunition, they kept the ever-swelling hordes at bay most of the day, inflicting heavy losses on them..... The brave little band of Sikhs, under Havildar Ishar Singh, to the last man but one, fell or were mortally wounded. Only Gurmukh Singh the signaller, was still alive. Cool and collected in this moment of imminent danger, face to face with certain death, this gallant soldier, with utter dedication to his duty, which was his worship, signalled to Fort Lockhart : “The enemy are in. Shall I go on signalling or shall I take a rifle?" He did take his rifle, and after all had gone never to return, he alone continued to defend the guard-room and shot twenty of the enemy. The enemy set the place on fire, and the bodies of the twentyone gallant Sikhs (including an equally gallant safai Karamchari, as also Havildar Ishar Singh, dead or dying were consumed in the flames. Yes, their bodies, but not their souls. For are these heroes really dead? No, they live on, more alive than any of us, they live in our hearts and urge us on to heroism and gallantry....."

When the news of the battle was flashed to London, the British Parliament rose to give a standing ovation when the story was related to a packed and emotion filled house. All the twenty-two brave heroes were awarded the Indian Order of Merit (IOM) posthumously. The award of twenty two IOM in one day, the highest gallantry award given to the Indian ranks those days, and equivalent to Victoria Cross (Param Vir Chakra) was something unheard of and remains unparalled in the annals of military history.

There are many lessons to learn. Firstly, see how these heroes were honoured and see how our pot-bellied and scam stained politicians honour our gallant heroes now; the comparisons are starkly revealing. Secondly, this great battle and supreme sacrifice need to find a place in our history volumes. Thirdly, some of our national leaders should annually participate in honouring them. There is much more awareness required at the national level of such great - and now forgotten - events.

Finally, of the two shrines (historical gurdwaras at Amritsar and Ferozpur) to commemorate the gallantry of these twenty-two immortals, the one at Amritsar deserves greater attention and sanctity, like the one in Ferozpur. The Amritsar shrine is surrounded by dhabas and shops and other encroachments. The one at Ferozpur, which is looked after by the Sikh Regiment, is appropriately honoured. Let the ‘managers’ of the Amritsar shrine also hand this Memorial over to the Sikh Regiment.

Times of India

on SEPTEMBER 11, 2003

FEROZEPUR: Saragarhi Memorial Gurudwara had been built in memory of 21 Sikh soldiers of the 36th Sikh Regiment, who fell in heroic defence of Fort Saragarhi in Wazirstan on September 12, 1897, while defending the fort against an attack of ten thousand Pathans.

The 36th Sikh Regiment was raised at Jalandhar on April 1887 under the command of Colonel Cook. In January, 1887, the Regiment was sent to fort Lockhart, of which Saragarhi and Gulistan were important posts. On the morning of September 12, about ten thousand pathans surrounding Saragarhi and taking position within one thousand yards of the fort and opened fire. There were only 21 Sikh soldiers in the fort, who returned fire as outside help was not possible.

Sepoy Gurmukh Singh heliographed to his Commander Colonel Naughten, that their fort had been attacked by the enemy. On receiving order from the Commander, these soldiers continued to return fire. The battle continued for seven hours and then the Sikhs fell one by one.

At about 2 PM the Garrison began to run out of ammunition and a request was made to the Colonel for more supply. No supply came out but soldiers were told to stick to their guns. In the meantime, the Pathans asked the Sikhs soldiers to surrender but they preferred to die fighting.

In the end, the leader of the brave band, Hawaldar Ishar Singh was left alone. With consummate coolness, regardless of the bullets whistling around his head, Hawaldar Ishar Singh had kept up heliographic communication with Fort Lockhart.

According to a contemporary Army Authority, Hawaldar Ishar Singh, the only man alive and unwounded out of the little band, taking his rifle placed himself in the front of a doorway leading from the room, into which the enemy had forced their way, prepared to sustain the fight alone, calmly and steadily.

He loaded his rifle and delivered the fire. Unconquered even in death, the Sikh War cry rang from his dying lips in defiance of the foe. "Then followed silence, broken only by the crackling of flames.

This memorial Gurudwara at Ferozepur was built at a cost of Rs. 27,118 by the Army Authorities to honour these brave soldiers. The Gurudwara was declared open in 1904 by Sir Charles Revz, the then Lieutenant Governor of Punjab. An ex-servicemen rally on the Saragarhi day is organized on September 12, every year, here at the Saragarhi Gurudwara complex.

Above quoted from

Battle of Saragarhi remembered

Tribune News Service, Ludhiana, September 15 2003

“Exactly 105 years back, on this day, 21 gallant soldiers, with an equally brave non-combatants of 36 Sikh (now 4th Battalion - the Sikh Regiment) in a unique battle, repulsed many an attack of thousands of well-armed hostile tribesman on Samana Ridge in the North West Frontier Province of then undivided India. The battle continued for well over six hours and one by one the defenders fell fighting at their post but did not surrender. It is one of the finest examples of collective bravery in the annals of military history.”

It was on September 12, 1897, that 21 men under the able leadership of Hav. Ishar Singh, fought the battle of Saragarhi repulsing thousands of ‘Afridis’ and ‘Orakzais’ tribesman for over six hours, depicting unflinching loyalty and devotion to their duty, exemplary collective bravery and utter disregard to own safety.

“When the news of the bravery displayed by the Saragarhi battle heroes was flashed to London, the British Parliament gave a standing ovation in a packed house and the fighting qualities displayed by the defenders of ‘Saragarhi post’ received the highest praise all over the world. All the 21 combatant soldiers of the Saragarhi battle were posthumously awarded ‘Indian Order of Merit’, the highest gallantry awards given to Indian soldiers in those days, equivalent to Victoria Cross (VC) at that time and Param Vir Chakra (PVC) of the present day independent India. A rare and unparalleled achievement in a single battle.”

To commemorate the 106th anniversary of Saragarhi Day, a guard of honour of 152 Infantry Battalion (Territorial Army) Sikh, a newly raised battalion of Sikh Regiment based in the city presented arms at the Saragarhi Memorial, constructed at Jhattan, near Raikot, in this district, the birthplace of Hav. Ishar Singh. A large number of people from all walks of life were present on the occasion.

Above quoted from

They dared to defy

Queen meeting Col Akhe Ram and other dignitaries, October 1997

The Tribune by Pritam Bhullar Sunday, October 4, 1998

WHAT has passed off almost unnoticed this year is the Saragarhi Day which fell on September 12. Of the myriad examples of rare bravery is that of the battle of Saragarhi. It is a tale of 21 heroes who thought nothing of their lives when it came to their devotion to duty. Each one of them preferred death to surrender.

Saragarhi was a small communication post on Samana ridge in the North Western Frontier Province (NWFP). The post commander was havaldar Ishar Singh, who had 20 men under his command. To attack the post, the tribals started gathering on September 10, 1897. On the morning of September 12, when their number rose to a few thousands, they launched an attack on the post. The Sikhs fought valiantly by repulsing charge after charge by the tribals.

Finally, the number of the defenders dropped to a single man i.e. Sepoy Gurmukh Singh. Shouting Wahe Guruji ka Khalsa, wahe Guruji ki fateh, he fought like a ferocious tiger till he fell to join his comrades in death.

This memorable act of conspicuous bravery and reckless courage evoked public appreciation. The British Parliament gave a standing ovation to the undaunted heroes and an immediate award of IOM was announced for each one of them. The dependants of the Saragarhi heroes were given two "morabbas" (50 acres) of land and Rs 500 each.

The British also declared September 12 as a regimental holiday for all the regiments enlisting Sikhs. Three memorials, one each at Ferozepore, Amritsar and Saragarhi, were raised in the memory of these heroes. The Saragarhi Day continues to be celebrated by the Sikh Regiment.

The Saga of Saragarhi

  • From The Sikh Review: September 1992. by Khushwant Singh

the 12th of September every year marks the anniversary of Saragarhi, one of the most moving episodes in the annals of our military history. Not many of the present generation of Indians will have heard of Saragarhi; so I take the libery of writing about it. In this little outpost 21 Indian jawans fought back a lashkar of 10,000 tribemen. And died to a man without surrendering their outpost.

Saragrahi was, as the name signifies, a tiny fortress in no-man’s land in the Hindkush and Sulaiman ranges. The region was inhabited by fierce, lawless tribes whom both the Afghan and the British governments paid a sort of blackmail tax to keep them peaceful. The Afghan government exploited Pakhtoon nationalist sentiment and religious fanaticism of the tribesmen against the English who had introduced "idolatreous Hindus and the hated Sikhs" into the homelands of the Pathans.

This was known as the "prickly hedge policy" of turning the tribesmen against the British so that they did not give the Afghans any trouble. It paid handsome dividends as the tribesmen kept harassing British-Indian troops, while leaving the Afghans alone.

British policy wavered between aggressive inroads into tribal territory and buying peace by regular payments to villagers to guard caravan routes. In 1879 the British led an expedition into Orakzai territory. The Orakzai tribe retaliated by ambushing isolated British units wherever and whenever they could. This undeclared was went on for 11 years.

In January 1891, Brigadier General Sir William Lockhart took a punitive expedition through Orakzai territory and destroyed many villagers in the Khanki valley. The Orakzais capitulated and agreed to let the British build three outfield posts on Samana Ridge and link them to the neighbouring Morangai Valley by road. Two months later they changed their minds and decided to have another go at British-Indian forces. On 24th March they suddenly attacked an escort party of the 29th Punjabis and the 3rd Sikh Frontier Force, killed 14 men and wounded seven.

The next day they rushed picquets at Sangar and Gulistan. All the victims of the surprise attack on Gulistan were Sikh soldiers. The tribesmen drove a herd of cows to the post. The Sikh abstained from firing on cows and fell victim to the ruse practiced on them.

A full-scale war began with tribal lashkars attacking British-Indian outposts all over the NWF Province. Samana Ridge, Kohat and the Khurram Valley were defended by the 36th Sikhs, a unit raised from Ferozepur in 1887. Three fortresses which came under heavy attack from Orakzais and the Afridis were Fort Lockhart, Gulistan and Saragarhi. Of these, Saragarhi was only a picquet with a signal tower which maintained the heliographic communication with the other two. All around the three was thorny scrub littered with large boulders which provided cover for the besieging tribesmen. The garrison in Saragarhi consisted of 21 men under the command of the Havaldar Ishar Singh. The tower was manned by a solitary signaller Gurmukh Singh.

The tribesmen came on with full force and killed most of the 21 defenders. The defenders ran out of ammunition. The six who remained decided to make their last stand in the mess. Tribesmen threw burning faggots of bushwood into the mess and set it on fire. The six men fixed bayonets on their rifles, rushed out and were killed to a man. Only Signaller, Gurmukh Singh, remained in the tower.

The last message from Saragarhi which flashed across with the sunbeams was: "People say one’s brothers are like one’s own arms. If you were our brothers, you would have seen our plight and helped us with ammunition. But it was beyond your power: the enemy has blocked all the roads. Brothers, we have served our Guru and our Emperor and now we take leave of you for ever."

Gurmukh Singh asked for permission to close the signal post. The permission was flashed back from Fort Lockhart. Gurmukh Singh dismounted his heliograph equipment, packed it in a leather case and fixed his bayonet on his rifle.

The tribesmen did not want to lose more men in hand to hand fighting and set fire to the tower. Gurmukh Singh perished in the flames shouting at top of his voice, "Boley so nihal, Sat Sri Akal."

Above quoted from [

The Battle of Saragarhi

Of courage and bravery

A tale be told

Long forgotten, brought forth

From the memories of the old.

Of 21 men who

Died at duty's call

Who laid down their lives

And let not the fort fall.

'Twas the year 1897

The Battle of Saragarhi was waged,

10,000 Afghans, 21 Sikhs

Yet for hours the battle raged.

Outnumbered and surrounded

And still the men fought on

With a stubbornness and pride for which,

The Sikhs have long been known.

Charge after charge was repulsed

And nary a bullet was wasted

And though the battle was lost,

It was victory that the men tasted.

Now, the defenders ranks were dwindling

And the ammunition would soon be over.

The wall was breached; the gate was rushed,

It was the final hour.

Hand-to-hand fighting followed

As the men fell one by one

And each took sawa lakh with him

Before he was done.

A handful of men, a fort of stones,

Mud walls and a wooden door

But when the last man had fallen,

aleast 600 of the enemy were dead,

The wounded many more.

Under Havildar Ishar Singh,

They fought to the last man, last breath

They'd promised their all to the motherland

And fulfilled the promise with their death.

And the world stood up to honour

The heroic deeds of 21 men

That challenged the annals of history

To tell of more glorious action, if it can.

Today we forget our history

As we sway to foreign music and dance

While they teach the Battle of Saragarhi

To the students in far off France.

And we know not the men of Saragarhi

While the UNESCO includes their tale

In the 5 most significant events of its kind —

Collective bravery on the highest of scale.

And we remember not the men of Saragarhi-

The men who took a stand.

And we care not for the men of Saragarhi

Who laid their lives for our land.

— Ganeev Kaur Dhillon, Class 12, Carmel Convent School, Chandigarh.

Read these Battle of Saragarhi Books

  • Saragarhi Battalion: Ashes to Glory by Kanwaljit Singh and H.S. Ahluwalia, New Delhi : Lancer International, 1987 (ISBN 8170620228)
  • Of blood red in olive green: Himmat Singh Gill [1]
  • Valour and Sacrifice: Famous Regiments of the Indian Army, India, Allied Publishers (1990) ISBN 817023140X

See also


  1. ^ Singh, Kanwaljit & Ahluwalia, H.S. Saragarhi Battalion: Ashes to Glory, India, Lancer International (1987) ISBN 8170620228
  2. ^ Robin Gupta An epic performance: A slice of history Chandigarh, The Tribune (20 March 1999)- accessed 2008-04-19
  3. ^ French Education Ministry website- accessed 2008-04-19
  4. ^ Title: Recounting battle of Saragarhi Author: Vijay Mohan Date:2000-04-05 accessdate:2007-11-01}}
  5. ^ Title: Recounting battle of Saragarhi Author: Vijay Mohan Date:2000-04-05 accessdate:2007-11-01}}
  6. ^ Sharma, Dinesh K. The legend of Saragarhi Memorial Gurdwara, Times of India (11 Sep 2003)- accessed 2008-01-25
  7. ^ accessed 2008-01-25
  • A1. St. Nihal Singh, India`s Fighters. London, 1914
  • A2. The Spokesman Weekly. Delhi, 20 September 1971
  • A3. Portrait in Courage. D.G.P.C., Delhi

* Saragarhi da Judh

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