There are stories and there are stories worthy of being called Epic. The battle of Saragarhi was coined by UNESCO as one of the eight great stories of collective bravery in human history. A story of action, bravery, pride and valour. It is not a story of fictionalised kings and princes, but of 21 Sikhs of the 36th regiment of the British army (now the 4th battalion of the Sikh regiment of the Indian Army). 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. It is the story of those men who refused to give up in the face of adversity and certainty of imminent death. This battle, like many others fought by the Sikhs, highlights the heroic action by a small detachment of Sikh soldiers against heavy odds.
A battle that they eventually WON, despite the odds, ensuring that their “last stand” is never forgotten in history! In fact, in terms of the ratio on the odds faced,only a few battles come close to this one, where all of 21 Sikh soldiers were up against approximately 10,000 to 14,000 (1:500) Afridi and Orakzai tribes of the Pashtun. 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). The 21 soldiers died at their posts in the defence of the frontier Fort of Saragarhi, fighting against an overwhelming number of 10,000 Pathans.
To commemorate their bravery, three gurdwaras were erected — one atSaragarhi, the venue of the battle. The second, at Ferozepur called theSaragarhi Memorial, since this was the district that most of the men hailed from. And the third, at Amritsar, called Gurdwara Saragarhi, which is very close to the main entrance of the Golden Temple.
There are many aspects of the battle that make it unique. One is the tactical part: soldiers led by Havildar Ishar Singh did not panic and made the most of their ammunition to inflict the maximum casualties on the enemy. Second is the lesson in valour it offers. These soldiers upheld to the highest standards the core values of the British Army – courage, discipline, respect for others, integrity and loyalty in the face of grave odds. Fighting to the last man, the soldiers have created the lasting legacy of Sikh bravery and valour on the battlefield.
It’s been 120 years but the story of valour of these 21 Sikhs certainly lives on! Salute!