Archive: Jun 2013

  1. Canon at Saragarhi Gurdwara, Ferozepur

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    My last post, about losing the heritage of Saragarhi, was met with much response, negative and positive towards the issue of Punjab losing it’s history.

    But I re-iterate what I said earlier, appreciating heritage and the memorials to those who fought and died is crucial not just for us but future generations.

    Establishing fact and researching deeper into historic events to find the truth is also key.  I feel privileged in being able to do this with my journalistic skills, military know-how and understanding of Sikh faith and values.

    I recommend that you all also try and discover more about Sikh heritage – ask questions and read more.

    It’s something I regularly do, and here is a point in case.

    The the state of the Saragarhi memorial in Ferozepur brought much joy, kept in much better condition than the 1901 memorial in Amritsar and a thriving Gurdwara where langar is served and visitors regularly attend.

    But my attention was drawn towards the canon placed at the four entrances to the Gurdwara.

    What were they?  Where were they from?  And how did they get to the memorial?

    With help from Neil Carleton, an expert on historic gun pieces, I can shed some light on these canon, and hopefully raise more factual awareness about something which you might take for granted at the memorial.

    Here is the paragraph from my forthcoming book “Saragarhi: The Forgotten Battle”:

    “Outside the memorial are placed canon at each of the four entrances; one light 6-pound field gun and two 9-pound wheeled carriage guns.  The latter is an example of a bronze field gun which saw service in the East India Company during the Anglo-Sikh Wars, a rare treat as these were melted down for scrap metal and replaced by iron and steel artillery pieces from the 1860’s.  The lighter gun is dated 1856 and from its inscription we can tell it was built by Captain A. Broome who was in charge of the British gun foundry at Cossipore on the Hooghly river near Calcutta.  It is possible that these treasured pieces saw action against the Sikhs and during India Mutiny, but now in a twist of irony they stand as guardians to the sacred Sikh scriptures placed inside the Gurdwara.”

    Please do, as always, message me and comment here on these posts.  But also, should you find yourself in Punjab, make a pilgrimage to the Saragarhi memorials in Amritsar and Ferozpur – in remembrance to those who fought on the Samana and their enduring legacy.

    PS – if you are quoting this post, as some websites are, please make sure you attribute it properly!

  2. Losing Saragarhi’s Heritage

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    It was with much sadness that I saw the below scene of the Saragarhi memorial in Amritsar.

    This was the memorial created after the battle in which 21 Sikhs heroically stood to the last against 10,000 Afghan tribesmen on the frontier.

    Their last stand, chronicled in my next book, cemented the reputation of Sikhs as brave and loyal soldiers of the British Empire.  A reputation still remembered to this day, albeit not as much as it should be.

    This post is about the decline of Indian (specifically Punjabi) heritage.

    The memorial Gurdwara was unveiled on 16th April 1902 by General Sir Arthur Power Palmer, the Commander-in-Chief, who said:  β€œThe memorial is the outcome of the spontaneous appreciation of the gallantry of a representative detachment of the Sikh nation, proving that they possess one of the finest of soldierly characteristics – namely, that they prefer death to surrender.”

    The names of the 20 Sikh soldiers under Havildar Ishar Singh were written onto plaques outside the front door leading to the Guru Granth Sahib, the names were to:  “…be kept as an example to others, in order to show how brave men should behave when facing fearful odds.” said Power Palmer.

    So it’s very sad then that the memorial is falling into a dilapidated state.  It needs repairs and freshening up, as does the grounds around it.

    But rather than preserving this memorial, the SGPC (in charge of Sikh shrines) seem more interested in building accommodations for foreign devotees (Sikhs and non) who visit the holy city of Amrtisar.  The building which looms over the memorial is such a hostel, which will no doubt when complete dwarf the Saragarhi memorial.
    This is a surprise, as in recent years Saragarhi seems to have made a resurgence as a story of bravery, with Sikhs trying to bring back awareness of it through various means, the SGPC commissioning artwork and a cartoon book on the story being released.
    But the state of the old memorial is an example of Punjab losing it’s physical heritage, which are being bulldozed and replaced with western-friendly facades.

    In this instance, the memorial hasn’t suffered that fate (yet) – but awareness of historic actions which the Sikhs were involved in are in danger of being forgotten if not becoming merely political ploys for the establishment.  The lessons they contain and the context of their history are seen as no longer relevant.

    Power Palmer, in 1902, also stated that the memorial was erected at the headquarters of the Sikhs so that:  “…as long as the British rule lasted the brave Sikh soldiers of the King might realize that their deeds would never be forgotten.”
    Perhaps its because of this connection to Empire that the memorial has been forgotten about?  Can Sikhs no longer feel proud of their contribution during the history of British India?  Is it too difficult given the independence movement?  Is it too embarrassing for ruling elites to propagate?  Or simply a fruitless endeavor?  Or do the simple folk who have little reading of such history simply not care?

    I, for one, take a lot from the story of Saragarhi – but then I am a British Sikh and feel a connection between it and the subsequent heroics during the World Wars and then the migration and integration of Sikhs in Britain thereafter.

    Whatever the outlook, heritage groups are missing in this equation – where are they?  Are there any in India who’ll work to fund repairs at the memorial?  The UK-based heritage groups seem more interested in posh polo matches, is the story of Saragarhi becoming abused for others gain?  What about groups in the USA/Canada, where there are a lot of Sikhs?  I’d like to know your views …

    My hope is that someone will take this post to heart to work to restore the memorial.  But the effort must come domestically within India, there is not much we in the diaspora can do – money is not the answer to everything, as Sikhs abroad seem to be thought of as cash cows by our Indian cousins.

    Rather, Indians in India MUST work to protect our memorials, such as Saragarhi, for generations to come. If it was in my back yard, I would! 

    To conserve our heritage we must embrace it and radiate it’s significance to those who can see, feel and taste its presence.  The old adage stands, we shape our buildings and thereafter our buildings shape us.
    I feel like I’ve done my part by writing a book about the factual story of Saragarhi and its significance, to be released in September 2013.

    It’s now for others to take it and the story of Saragarhi to ensure it is not forgotten, but that the heritage connected to it is also not lost.

  3. What to call my Saragarhi book

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    During my research into “Saragarhi” I thought long and hard about what to call the book.

    Is it a lost battle?  Is it a true narrative of events?  Is it about the politics of the Raj or the Sikhs?

    The original concept for my work was about the “21 Sikhs” and the last stand at Saragarhi – but with its proven hard to tell the stories of the individuals involved at the battle because so little primary material exists.

    I went for “The Forgotten Battle” because the events of Saragarhi have been largely lost to mass public consciousness.

    It fits my theory also, that the myth of the battle and the falsities that have cropped up are now more well known than the actual fact of what happened at Saragarhi.  This involved the wrongful claims that the battle was ranked by UNESCO, that news of the event raised a round of applause in the Commons.  There are more also.

    Saragarhi is a forgotten battle for another reason, for access is no longer possible to the area where it took place.  To discover more about the battle and why it took place, we need an appreciation of the geography of the land and the significance of the communications post.

    This is detailed in my book which will be released in September 2013.