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Battle of Saragarhi

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Battle of Saragarhi
Part of Tirah Campaign
Date12 September 1897
33°33′15″N 70°53′15″E / 33.55417°N 70.88750°E / 33.55417; 70.88750Coordinates: 33°33′15″N 70°53′15″E / 33.55417°N 70.88750°E / 33.55417; 70.88750

United Kingdom British Empire

Afridi and Orakzai tribesmen
Commanders and leaders
British Raj Havildar Ishar Singh  Gul Badshah
Units involved
British Raj 36th Sikhs Afridis and Orakzais
21[1] 6,000[2][3] - 10,000[4][5] (estimated)
Casualties and losses
21 killed [1] 180 killed, many wounded[2][6]*
* 600 Afghan bodies were found at the battlefield. Some of them were killed by the artillery fire from the British Indian relief party that recaptured the fort.[7][8]
The map of the battle site

The Battle of Saragarhi was fought before the Tirah Campaign on 12 September 1897 between the British Indian Empire and the Afghan tribesmen.[9] It occurred in the North-West Frontier Province (now Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan). Sikh soldiers fought on behalf of the British Indian Army against Pashtun Orakzai tribesmen.

The British Indian contingent comprised 21 Jat Sikh[8] soldiers of the 36th Sikhs (now the 4th battalion of the Sikh Regiment), who were stationed at an army post and were attacked by 10000 to 12,000 Afghans. The Sikhs, led by Havildar Ishar Singh, chose to fight to the death, in what is considered by some military historians as one of history's greatest last stands.[10] The post was recaptured two days later by another British Indian contingent.

The 4th battalion of the Sikh Regiment of Indian Army commemorates the battle every year on 12 September, as Saragarhi Day.[11]


Saragarhi was a small village in the border district of Kohat, situated on the Samana Range, in present-day Pakistan. On 20 April 1894, the 36th Sikhs of the British Indian Army was created, under the command of Colonel J. Cook.[12] It was entirely composed of Jat Sikhs.[8] In August 1897, five companies of the 36th Sikhs under Lieutenant Colonel John Haughton were sent to the northwest frontier of British India (modern-day Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) and were stationed at Samana Hills, Kurag, Sangar, Sahtop Dhar and Saragarhi.

The British had partially succeeded in getting control of this volatile area, but tribal Pashtuns continued to attack British personnel from time to time. Thus a series of forts, originally built by Ranjit Singh, the 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. Fort Lockhart is located at 33.5562N 70.9188E.[13] 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 and 11 September many vigorous efforts by Pashtuns to capture the forts were thwarted by the 36th Sikhs. In 1897, insurgent and inimical activities had increased, and on 3 and 9 September Afridi tribesmen, allied with the 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 three non-commissioned officers (NCOs) and eighteen other ranks (ORs).

The battle

Sikh soldiers, c. 1890

Details of the Battle of Saragarhi are considered fairly accurate, because Gurmukh Singh signalled events to Fort Lockhart by heliograph[14] as they occurred.[12]

  • Around 09:00, approximately 6,000–10,000 Afghans reach the signalling post at Saragarhi.
  • Sepoy Gurmukh Singh signals to Colonel Haughton, situated in Fort Lockhart, that they are under attack.
  • Haughton states he cannot send immediate help to Saragarhi.
  • The soldiers in Saragarhi decide to fight to the last to prevent the enemy from reaching the forts.
  • Sepoy Bhagwan Singh is the first soldier to be killed and Naik Lal Singh is seriously wounded.
  • Naik Lal Singh and Sepoy Jiwa Singh reportedly carry the body of Bhagwan Singh back to the inner layer of the post.
  • The enemy breaks a portion of the wall of the picket.
  • Haughton signals that he has estimated that there are between 10,000 and 14,000 Pashtuns attacking Saragarhi.
  • The leaders of the Pashtun 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, Havildar 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.
  • Sepoy Gurmukh Singh, who communicated the battle to Haughton, was the last surviving Sikh defender. He asks for permission to close the heliograph and take up his rifle.[15]
  • 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!" ("One will be blessed eternally, who says that God is the ultimate truth!").

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 captured.[1] The Pashtuns later admitted that they had lost about 180 killed[16] and many more wounded[17] during the engagement against the 21 Sikh soldiers, but some 600 bodies[8] 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,[7] which may have caused many casualties). The total casualties in the entire campaign, including the Battle of Saragarhi, numbered around 4,800.

Commemorative tablet

The inscription of a commemorative 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.

Order of Merit

The 21 Sikh non-commissioned officers and soldiers who died in the Battle of Saragarhi were from the Majha region of Punjab and were posthumously awarded the Indian Order of Merit, at that time the highest gallantry award which an Indian soldier could receive. The corresponding gallantry award was the Victoria Cross. The 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][18]

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

Remembrance and legacy

Saragarhi Memorial Gurdwara, built in 1904

The epic poem "Khalsa Bahadur" is in memory of the Sikhs who died at Saragarhi.[19]

The battle has become iconic of eastern military civilisation, the British Empire's military history and Sikh history.[20] The modern Sikh Regiment of the Indian Army continues to commemorate the Battle of Saragarhi on 12 September each year 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 Firozpur Cantonment, in the district that most of the men hailed from.

In Indian schools

The Indian military, in particular the Indian Army, has 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 act as inspiration for young children. There were articles like these, 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."[21] Although there seems to be no evidence for this claim (it is not, for example, on France's national school curriculum[22]) the news was enough to provoke political debate, and the battle has been taught in schools in Punjab since 2000:

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 Saragarhi 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.[23]

Saragarhi Day

Saragarhi Day
Official nameSaragarhi Day
Observed byIndia[5] (also observed by Sikhs worldwide)
Typenational & international
SignificanceHonors the 21 military Sikh soldiers who died at the Battle of Saragarhi
ObservancesParades, school history projects, government buildings
Date12 September (or nearest weekday)
Related toRemembrance Day

Saragarhi Day is a Sikh military commemoration day celebrated on 12 September every year to commemorate the Battle of Saragarhi.[5] Sikh military personnel and civilians commemorate the battle around the world every year on 12 September. All units of the Sikh Regiment celebrate Saragarhi Day every year as the Regimental Battle Honours Day.

Saragarhi Day in the UK

The first recorded public discourse on Saragarhi was delivered by Viscount Lord Slim in 2001 when he delivered the annual Portraits of Courage lecture at the Imperial War Museum. This was hosted by the Maharaja Duleep Singh Centenary Trust. In May 2002 the Prince of Wales inaugurated the Jawans to Generals exhibition which featured a section on Saragarhi. The exhibition successfully toured the UK and was seen by over 100,000 visitors. Saragarhi was introduced back into the UK by writer and filmmaker Jay Singh-Sohal and the British Army with the launch of the book Saragarhi: The Forgotten Battle in 2013 at Old College Royal Military Academy Sandhurst.[24] It has since been commemorated each year on its battle honour day by the British Armed Forces. In 2014 the commemoration also took place at Sandhurst at the Indian Army Memorial Room. In 2015 it took place at the Honourable Artillery Company in London,[25] where it is also due to take place in 2016.

Various senior ministers and armed forces generals have paid tribute to Sikh service by mentioning the story of Saragarhi. In April 2016 the Defence Secretary Michael Fallon MP made mention as a special Vaisakhi event at the Ministry of Defence. In June 2016 the Chief of the General Staff Sir Nick Carter did the same at a special British Sikh Association dinner.

Comparisons with Thermopylae

The battle has frequently been compared to the Battle of Thermopylae, where a small Greek force faced a large Persian army under Xerxes I in 480 BC.[20] In both cases, a small defending force faced overwhelming odds, fighting to the last man and inflicting an extremely disproportionate number of fatalities on the attacking force.

In popular culture

In September 2017, Saragarhi: The True Story, a documentary by UK-based journalist-filmmaker Jay Singh-Sohal, was screened at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire to mark the 120th anniversary of the epic frontier battle.[26]

A TV series, 21 Sarfarosh - Saragarhi 1897 aired on Discovery Jeet from 12 February 2018 to 11 May 2018 starring Mohit Raina, Mukul Dev, and Balraj Singh Khehra.[27][28][29]

As of December 2017, there are three Bollywood films being produced regarding the battle:

With regards to speculation about multiple films being made about the battle, Hooda stated: "It is good because there were 21 Sikh heroes in that battle and each one of them deserved to have a movie made on them. So actually there should be 21 films made on them."[36]


  1. ^ a b c d "No. 26937". The London Gazette. 11 February 1898. p. 863.
  2. ^ a b Chand N. Das (1984). Traditions and Customs of the Indian Armed Forces. Vision. p. 35. OCLC 11252358. On September 12, 1897, the signal post at Saragarhi was assailed by about 6,000 tribesmen. [...] The tribesmen's casualties were very heavy and they admitted to have lost 180 killed and many more wounded.
  3. ^ Rinaldo D. D'Ami (1968). World Uniforms in Colour. Patrick Stephens. p. 80. ...Saragarhi, whose garrison of twenty men fought till death against a horde of six thousand Orakzais mountain tribesmen.
  4. ^ The Tribune Online Edition (15 April 2007). "Of blood red in olive green". The Tribune. Retrieved 1 November 2007.
  5. ^ a b c Tribune News Service (14 September 2005). "Battle of Saragarhi remembered". The Tribune. Retrieved 5 November 2007.
  6. ^ The Sikh Courier International Volumes 38-42. Sikh Cultural Society of Great Britain. 1998. p. 48. The tribals later admitted to a figure of 180 dead and many more wounded. Some of the details of the closing phases of the fight were pieced together from, the heliograph messages, what could be seen from fort Lockhart and the tribals.
  7. ^ a b "The Frontier War," Daily News, London (16 Sep 1897)
  8. ^ a b c d Sharma, Gautam (1990). Valour and Sacrifice: Famous Regiments of the Indian Army. Allied Publishers. p. 185. ISBN 978-8170231400. Retrieved 22 February 2019.
  9. ^ Stewart, Jules (15 August 2011). On Afghanistan's Plains: The Story of Britain's Afghan Wars. I.B. Tauris.
  10. ^ Pandey, Geeta (5 December 2011). "India polo match honours Sikhs' 1897 Saragarhi battle". BBC News. Retrieved 19 July 2012.
  11. ^ Singh, Jaisal (13 September 2014). "The 21 Sikhs of Saragarhi" – via Business Standard.
  12. ^ a b Pall, S.J.S. "The story of Valiant Sikhs", Amritsar, B. Chattar Singh (2004) p. 98
  13. ^ "Fort Lockhart Geo Location".
  14. ^ "Defense of Saragarhi PosT". Camperdown Chronicle (Vic. : 1877–1954). National Library of Australia. 5 December 1907. p. 6. Retrieved 1 September 2014.
  15. ^ Katoch, Dhruv C (Spring 2012). "The Battle of Saragarhi" (PDF). Scholar Warrior. New Delhi: Centre for Land Warfare Studies (CLAWS): 144–149. ISSN 2319-734X.
  16. ^ Major General Jaswant Singh Letter to H.M. Queen Elizabeth II Archived 12 October 2007 at the Wayback Machine Institute of Sikh Studies (1999) - accessed 2008-03-30
  17. ^ Subramanian, L. M. (2006). Defending Saragarhi, 12 September 1897, Bharat Rakshak. Accessed 21 April 2016.
  18. ^ Regimental numbers from photo of Saragarhi memorial plaque
  19. ^ Singh, Gurdev (1995). Harbans Singh (ed.). The Encyclopedia of Sikhism (2nd ed.). Patiala: Punjabi University, Patiala. Archived from the original on 3 September 2011.
  20. ^ a b Singh, Kanwaljit & Ahluwalia, H.S. Saragarhi Battalion: Ashes to Glory, India, Lancer International (1987) ISBN 81-7062-022-8
  21. ^ Robin Gupta An epic performance: A slice of history Chandigarh, The Tribune (20 March 1999) - accessed 2008-04-19
  22. ^ French Education Ministry website - accessed 2008-04-19
  23. ^ Vijay Mohan (5 April 2000). "Recounting battle of Saragarhi". The Tribune. Retrieved 1 November 2007.
  24. ^ Singh-Sohal, Jay (15 April 2016). "The army is not to blame for a lack of diversity – communities must step up". The Telegraph.
  25. ^ "Armed Forces commemorate the Battle of Saragarhi".
  26. ^ Saragarhi saga captured on film
  27. ^ After Roadies, city lad to appear in TV show on Battle of Saragarhi
  28. ^ "Here're some exclusive pictures from the sets of Contiloe Pictures' 'Battle Of Saragarhi'!". 18 September 2017.
  29. ^ "Now, the Battle of Saragarhi on TV". Mumbai Mirror.
  30. ^ "Ajay Devgn shares Sons of Sardaar: The Battle of Saragarhi first look; Diwali 2017 release planned".
  31. ^ "Ajay Devgn: Saragarhi is set to happen but in the next three or four years". Mumbai Mirror.
  32. ^ "First look of Battle of Saragarhi out. Can you guess who is the actor?". 1 August 2016.
  33. ^ "Vikramjeet Virk: My character in Battle of Sarahragrahi is like 'Bhishma Pitamah'".
  34. ^ a b "Randeep Hooda's next on Battle Of Saragarhi to kick off in Punjab next week, Danny Denzongpa joins cast". Pune Mirror.
  35. ^ "Akshay Kumar, Karan Johar 'proudly present' new film Kesari, based on Battle of Saragarhi". Times Now.
  36. ^ "Randeep hooda says battle of saragarh not shelved".

Further reading

  • Saragarhi and the Defence of the Samana Forts by Amarinder Singh, New Delhi: Bookwise (India) Pvt. Ltd., 2017 ISBN 978-8187330677
  • Saragarhi: The Forgotten Battle by Jay Singh-Sohal, Birmingham: Dot Hyphen Publishers, 2013 (ISBN 978-0957054073)
  • Saragarhi Battalion: Ashes to Glory by Kanwaljit Singh and H.S. Ahluwalia, New Delhi: Lancer International, 1987 (ISBN 81-7062-022-8)
  • Sharma, Anuj Harshwardhan (2017). Against All Odds at Saragarhi. New Delhi: Star Print-o-Bind. BO77C94TXJ (Amazon India) – via Amazon. A novel on the subject.

External links