An episode of courage and sacrifice that is still remembered annually in India

Saragarhi: an epic battle of 21 brave Sikh soldiers against more than 10,000 enemies

In the history of humanity there are notable examples of unequal battles, such as the famous Thermopylae or the also famous Battle of Wizna in 1939.

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An unequal battle in British North India in 1897

Today I want to talk about one of those unequal battles that, due to geographical and cultural distance, is little known in the Hispanic world: the Battle of Saragarhi in 1897. This combat took place within the framework of the Campaign of Tirah, which pitted the Afghans against the British Indian forces between 1897 and 1898. On September 12, 1897, a force of between 10,000 and 12,000 Afghans invaded northwestern India, heading against the fort of Saragarhi, defended by 21 Sikh soldiers from the British Army.

Reenactors in the uniforms of Sikh soldiers from the British Army during the First World War (Photo: First World War in Focus).

Sikhism, a religion of brave warriors

I make a parenthesis in the story to make a small note about Sikhism, a curious monotheistic religion that has its spiritual center in Amritsar, in northern India . One of the distinctive elements of the Sikhs, and for which many people often confuse them with Muslims, is that they wear a turban called dastar, within which they tie their hair, since they cannot be cut. Sikhs always carry three objects with them: a kanga (the name they give to a small comb that they usually wear inside their turban), an iron bracelet called a kara and an iron dagger called kirpan. It must be said that Sikhismis a religion of brave warriors, who have served in the British Army and are serving today in the Indian Army. They fought with courage in the two world wars, suffering tens of thousands of casualties, because unlike the rest of the soldiers, they never wear a helmet, but rather their turban.

Image from the Indian film "Kesari" (2019), about the Battle of Saragarhi.

A heroic resistance with no chance of victory

But back to Saragarhi. The defenders of that fort knew that they were not going to receive reinforcements. There were 21 against more than 10,000. They had no chance of victory. But they were Sikh soldiers, known for their sense of honor and courage. Without fear of death and without showing the slightest complaint, those 21 brave men prepared to defend those walls to the death, to give time for reinforcements to arrive at the Gulistan fort, located a few miles away. there and with which the 21 Saragarhi Sikhs were communicating, until the last moment, thanks to a heliograph. Against all odds, the 21 Sikh soldiers managed to repel the first attack by the Afghans, inflicting numerous casualties on them with their rifles and swords.

The epic battle of Havildar (Sergeant) Ishar Singh Image, the commander of the Saragarhi Sikh soldiers, against the Afghan attackers. Poster of the Indian movie "Kesari" (2019).

The battle cry of the last survivor after taking 40 enemies ahead

The fight was fierce. Little by little, the defenders of the Saragarhi fort fell , until finally the Afghans managed to break down the gates and storm the position, killing all but one of the Sikhs. From one of the towers in the position, the sepoy Gurmukh Singh, the only survivor, reported what had happened to the Gulistan fort through his heliograph and asked permission to take his rifle. After receiving that permission, he put away the heliograph, took his rifle and managed to kill 40 attackers, events observed from a distance from the Gulistan fort. The Afghans finally decided to set the tower on fire. Gurmukh died uttering the Sikh war cry: "Bole So Nihal, Sat Sri Akal!" (He will be eternally blessed who says that God is the ultimate truth).

Their sacrifice was not in vain: they saved their companions from the Gulistan fort

Thanks to the heroism of those 21 brave Sikh soldiers, reinforcements arrived on the night of September 13-14 before the Afghans managed to take Gulistan fort. With their sacrifice, those 21 brave men had saved their companions. When the reinforcements arrived at the Saragarhi fort, in addition to the bodies of their fallen comrades, they found more than 600 corpses of Afghans who had been killed by the defenders.

The 21 were posthumously awarded the Indian Order of Merit, the country's highest military award, the only time in history that it has been awarded individually to all participants in a battle. Currently, every September 12, the Sikh Regiment of the Indian Army celebrates Saragarhi Day, with which they honor the memory of their fallen brothers.

The YouTube channel Yarnhub posted an excellent computer recreation of this epic battle:


Main photo: NDTV. Image from the Indian film "Kesari" (2019), which addresses the events of the Battle of Saragarhi.

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