Home History Battle Of Saragarhi - The Untold Story of 21 Brave Indian Soldiers

Battle Of Saragarhi – The Untold Story of 21 Brave Indian Soldiers

People in India know more about the Spartan battle of 300 thanks to the movie by the same name than the battle of Saragarhi. However things may change after the Akshay Kumar starrer ‘Kesari’.

The Battle of Saragarhi is considered to be one of the greatest last stands in not only Indian history but that of the world.

It is a real story of 21 soldiers of the 36 Sikh Regiment’s bravery and valour when they took on 10,000 Afghans in the Battle of Saragarhi.

About The Battle of Saragrhi

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The battle was fought on 12th September 1897 in Tirah region of North-West Frontier Province, now in Pakistan.

Saragarhi was an important post that was created to connect British India forts of Lockhart and Gulistan on the border areas of Afghanistan.

The post was prone to attacks from hostile Afgan forces on Indian borders. After failing in small skirmishes along the border Afghans assembled a lot of fighters from various tribes.

Afghans finally attacked with 10,000 soldiers. Unbelievably, the Sikh soldiers who were guarding the post chose to face them instead of retreating!

The detachment at Saragarhi had 1 NCO (Non-Commissioned Officer) and 20 ORs (Other Ranks) and commander Havildar Ishar Singh was the leader of this unit.

The Sikh knew that the mud walls of the post wouldn’t stand for long and soon they will be exposed to the brutal might of Afghans. By the time the mud walls fell, the 21 brave hearts had repulsed two attacks from the Afghans.

Against All The Odds Were The Sikh-Indian soldiers in the Battle of Saragarhi

Brave Sikh Indian Soldiers of Saragarhi

The odds were striking. It would have taken more than just courage to face such a challenge where death was certain.

Even in Thermopylae, the Greeks had an outside chance because they were fighting in hilly terrain with narrow passage shielding them from facing too many at a time. But at Saragarhi, it was facing off in the open.

The ratio of Sikh to Afghan soldiers was 1:476 and even Alexander the Great would have had second thoughts about this challenge. But the Sikhs who believed they could fight just followed with conviction.


A Day of Extreme Bravery in The Battle of Saragarhi

Battle of Saragarhi


The morning of 12 September 1897 brought with it an army of 10,000 Afghans. Around 9 am, Sardar Gurmukh Singh signalled to Col. Haughton in Fort Lockhart, that they were under attack. But the Colonel pleaded helplessness in sending reinforcement at such a short notice.

The soldiers decided to fight. Surrender would have probably saved their lives, but it would have made the fall of Fort Lockhart certain.

Soon the battle began and Sepoy Bhagwan Singh became the first casualty followed by a brutal assault on Sepoy Lal Singh. The injured Lal Singh and Jiwa Singh dragged the dead Bhagwan Singh back to inner layers of the post.

Far from the post, Col. Haughton could see the Afghans attacking Saragarhi. He knew that it was a matter of time before the Afghans would rout the post and kill all soldiers. Afghans too were aware of a certain victory and tried to entice the Indians to surrender.

But the Indians kept firing at Afghans. The Sikh successfully repulsed two Afghans attacks to rush open the gates of the post. As a result, Afghans broke the wall and got in.

Hand to Hand Combat

Soon the battle, which was being fought with guns, turned into hand to hand combat. Ishar Singh, ordered his soldier to remain in the inner lines and decided to take on the Afghans himself.

The battle was intense as the menacing Afghans were too strong in numbers. At last Gurmukh Singh, the soldier who communicated and narrated the battle to Col.

Haughton said that since their number where shrinking quickly, he will have have to leave the communication set and play his role of a soldier. He went out to fight in the battle along with his fellow soldiers.

Col. Haughton could only hear the Sikhs shouting their battle cry, “Bole So Nihal, Sat Sri Akal”.

But slowly the sounds died along with the 21 bravehearts who kept 10,000 Afghans a bay for almost three hours. As a result Col. Haughton got time to get reinforcements and Fort Lockhart was defended.

The Braves of Saragarhi, Recognition and Awards

After the battle, Col. Haughton narrated the heart-wrenching story of the battle to the top brass of British Indian Army.

As a result, all 21 soldiers were awarded the prestigious Indian Order of Merit Class III award.

It was also for the first time in history, that each and every member of the unit won the gallantry awards for a single battle.


Remembrance and legacy

Saragarhi Memorial Gurdwara, built in 1904

The epic poem “Khalsa Bahadur” is in memory of the Sikhs who died at Saragarhi.

The battle has become iconic of eastern military civilisation, the British Empire’s military history and Sikh history.

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.


Comparisons with Battle of Thermopylae (300 Spartans)

Comparisons with Battle of Thermopylae (300 Spartans)

The battle of Saragarhi is frequently compared to the Battle of Thermopylae, where a small Greek force faced a large Persian army under Xerxes I in 480 BC.

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. However it is only now that people have become more aware probably due to cinematic adaptation of the battle.

This tale of bravery in extreme situration should however retold and celebrated.


Saragarhi day

Even today, 12th September is celebrated as the Saragarhi Day in honor of the sacrifices made by those 21 brave soldiers and it’s observed as the Sikh military commemoration day. Three Gurdwaras – Saragarhi, Ferozpur, and Amritsar have been made to commemorate their sacrifice.

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