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Battle of Saragarhi: Background, Events, Outcome

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battle of saragarhi

On 12th September 1897, about 21 Sikh soldiers from the 36 Sikh Regiment, led by Havaldar Ishar Singh, bravely defended the Saragarhi army post against over 10,000 Afridi and Orakzai tribesmen. Rather than surrendering, they chose to fight to the end, displaying extraordinary courage and selflessness. This historic battle is revered as a bold demonstration of selfless sacrifice and unwavering dedication to duty.  The Bollywood film, Kesari was based on the battle of Saragarhi. 

Battle of Saragarhi Overview
Battle Took Place On12th September, 1897
PlaceSaragarhi
Fought Between Sikh Soldiers Vs Afridi and Orakzai Tribesmen
Won ByOrakzai and Afridi Tribesmen

Background of the Battle of Saragarhi

In the Samana mountain range, a small village named Saragarhi is located in the Kohat district of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan. The 36 Sikh Regiment ( at present the 4th Battalion of the Indian Army) which was earlier a part of the British Indian Army, was established in 1894 by Colonel J. Cook. The region was affected by ongoing conflicts between the British and Pashtuns, with the Samana Hills being a particularly volatile area where tribal Pashtuns frequently attacked British posts.

Credits – Greater Kashmir

The British acquired certain parts of the region and efforts were made to consolidate the two forts, Fort Lockhart on the Samana Range and Fort Gulistan on the Sulaiman Range. These forts, however, were not visible to each other. To have secure communication between them, a strategic post was set up at Saragarhi. It is a rocky ridge located midway between the two forts, using the technique of heliography. Heliography is a technique which was used for sending signals by reflecting sunlight. Saragarhi held importance for the defence of the entire region. The post consisted of a small blockhouse enclosed by walls and a signalling tower.

Also Read – Battle Of Diu: Background, Event, Outcome & More

Event of the Battle

On the morning of September 12, 1897, the Saragarhi post was attacked by over 10,000 Pathans of the Orakzai and Afridi tribes.

  • The Saragarhi post was usually guarded by 40 soldiers, but during the battle, only 21 soldiers were present for its defence.
  • Additionally, there was a non-combatant named Daad, who was stationed to assist the troops. The tribes strategically aimed to isolate the two forts by severing the communication lines between them, effectively disrupting the connection between Fort Lockhart and Saragarhi.
  • They demanded the surrender of the 21 soldiers of the 36 Sikh Regiment who were guarding the post.
  • Despite being outnumbered and cut off from reinforcements, Havaldar Ishar Singh and the Sikh soldiers chose to fight to the end. 
  • The Sikh soldiers at the Saragarhi post used bolt-action rifles in their defence. Despite being outnumbered and cut off from reinforcements, Sepoy Gurmukh Singh managed to send signals to Colonel Haughton at Fort Lockhart requesting reinforcements.
  • However, due to the post being surrounded by tribesmen, Colonel Haughton was unable to send help. 
  • The soldiers at the Saragarhi post were vastly outnumbered, facing a ratio of 1:500, and had limited ammunition, with about 400 rounds per soldier.
  • Armed with bolt-action rifles and limited ammunition, they bravely held their ground, inflicting heavy casualties on the enemy. 
Credits – Sikhi Wiki

The battle lasted from 9 AM until evening, with the Sikh soldiers displaying outstanding courage and determination. Sepoy Gurmukh Singh was the last surviving soldier, who valiantly fought off the attackers before sacrificing his life. Although the Saragarhi post was ultimately destroyed, the Sikh soldiers’ heroic stand bought valuable time for reinforcements to arrive at Fort Gulistan, preventing its capture by the tribesmen.

Challenges Faced by Soldiers in the Battle of Saragarhi 

The Battle of Saragarhi was a challenge for the 21 Sikh Soldiers. These challenges include –

  • The overwhelming odds they faced, with 500 Pashtun tribesmen for every Sikh soldier.
  • Additionally, they were equipped with basic Bolt-Action rifles and had limited ammunition, estimated at around 400 rounds per soldier. 
  • The soldiers were also without hope for reinforcements or support from nearby forts, as the attempts to send help by Commanding Officer Colonel Haughton were thwarted by the tribes. 
  • Furthermore, the Saragarhi post, constructed of stone and mud with wooden doors, was insufficient to withstand the attack of the thousands of tribesmen.

Also Read – Battle of Aliwal: Background, Events, Outcome

Outcome of the Battle

The Battle of Saragarhi resulted in – 

  • The deaths of all 21 defending soldiers, while the Afghan forces also suffered heavy casualties. 
  • The soldiers’ bravery and sacrifice were acknowledged by the British, who posthumously awarded them the Indian Order of Merit, the highest gallantry award for Indian soldiers at the time. 
  • Every year on 12th September, Saragarhi Day is commemorated by the Indian Army’s 4th battalion of the Sikh Regiment to honour the soldiers. 
  • Additionally, a commemorative tablet was placed at the Battle of Saragarhi site to pay tribute to the courageous soldiers. 

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This was all about the Battle of Saragarhi. For more content related to the different states of India, visit our articles like this, you can get Study notes on the Modern History of India here. Also, you can visit our general knowledge page on Indian History!

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