Today, (Sunday, 12 September) marks the 124th anniversary of the Battle of Saragarhi fought between the British Indian Army's Sikh Regiment and Afghan tribesmen.
What happened? The 1897 battle, which occurred in a tiny village in the then North-West Frontier Province (now Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan), was fought between the British Indian contingent comprising 21 Jat Sikh soldiers of the 36th Sikhs (now known as Indian Army's 4th Battalion) who were stationed at an army post and were attacked by 10,000 to 12,000 Afghans.
Led by Havildar Ishar Singh, the Sikhs chose to fight to death, in what is touted by some military historians as one of history's greatest battles, and has been compared to the Spartans' heroic last stand at the battle of Thermopylae in 480 BC between Ancient Greek city-states led by King Leonidas I of Sparta, and the Achaemenid Empire of Xerxes I.
However, one major difference between the two events is the number of actual defenders: 21 fought valiantly at Saragarhi, while the Spartans were accompanied by over a thousand "irregular troops".
Saragarhi is the only instance in the history of warfare where 21 soldiers were posthumously awarded with Indian Order Merit, the highest award given to Indian soldiers at the time (equivalent to today's Param Vir Chakra)
Why was Saragarhi important? The British manned a series of posts, originally constructed by the great Sikh Emperor Maharaja Ranjit Singh during his Western campaign, along the Hindu Kush ranges. The British later took these over. Saragarhi was a communication relay post between Fort Lockhart and Fort Gulistan (also known as Fort Cavagnari) in the Sulaiman Range of the NWFP. It was vital to ensuring the survival of these two forts and the defence of the region.
Why their achievement is celebrated: The soldiers managed to keep the Afghan attackers at bay for an entire day. This bought time for the two other forts to be reinforced and were able to defend themselves upon coming under attack.
Every year, 12 September is observed as the Regimental Battle Honours Day of the Sikh Regiment of the Indian Army.
Pop-culture adaptations: Both Saragarhi and the Battle of Thermopylae have been adapted for the silver screen (the Akshay Kumar-vehicle Kesari in 2019 and the Frank Miller-helmed 300 in 2007 starring Gerard Butler-Lena Headey) and their stories retold in a slew of books (both in the historical and historical fiction genre).
A TV show based on the 1897 battle is also in the works with TV production house Contiloe Entertainment working on the show for Discovery channel.
Amarinder Singh pays tribute:
Captain Amarinder Singh on Sunday paid homage to the bravehearts:
Pay homage to the 21 soldiers of 36 Sikh (now 4 Sikh) who chose death than surrender in the face of attack by more than 10,000 Pathans. Iconic #SaragarhiBattle fought this day in 1897 would always remain etched in the annals of military history as an epitome of valour & heroism. pic.twitter.com/Lqfm6FPNyd
— Capt.Amarinder Singh (@capt_amarinder) September 12, 2021
With inputs from PTI