Punjabi and Sufi music legend Sartaaj has visited our Saragarhi: The True Story media partners KTV to film scenes for his new music video. We’re honoured to have presented him a DVD of our film by our Creative Director Manpreet Singh Talwar, who’s nominated for 2 awards at the Nice International Film Festival! Enjoy the film Sartaaj ji
We’re proud to announce that Capt. J. Singh-Sohal will be delivering a guest lecture at the prestigious United Services Institute (USI) of India in a month’s time about the Battle of Saragarhi.
The talk will take in the untold but true story of the battle, as well as showcase for the first time moving footage of the modern site – which will be revealed in full in the forthcoming documentary “Saragarhi: The True Story”.
If you’re interested in attending the talk in New Delhi on Weds 23 August get in touch with us via firstname.lastname@example.org.
We’ll share more details of the talk and hopefully a video also on this website. Here’s a taster image of the ruins of Saragarhi from the film footage:
On Sunday 4th June, we were invited to the fantastic Anglo-Sikhs Wars exhibiton in Leicester to make a presentation about what happened after the fall of the second Sikh Empire.
“After Annexation: Frontier Defence to the last stand at Saragarhi” was presented by writer and filmmaker J. Singh-Sohal (pictured) and delved into how the Sikhs went from being the fiercest of British foes to the staunchest of allies.
It took in not only the development of the Sikhs in the various units that were raised to serve on the North West Frontier, but the current context of Islamist terrorism which we see – which has some similarity to what led to the tribal uprisings of 1897.
The talk covered the battle of Saragarhi in depth, through photographs and eye witness accounts of the heroism on the Samana.
The audience also had a chance to handle the rifle used by the Sikhs – the Martini Henry Mk IV.
Thanks to the organisers Sikh Museum for putting together such a fantastic exhibition and series of talks.
*** Watch “Saragarhi Live: Amritsar Memorial – click here ***
We continued our trip in India with a visit to Amritsar, the holy city of the Sikhs. It is well known that the city is home to Sri Harimandir Sahib (the “Golden Temple” herein GT) and Sikhs make regular pilgrimage to it to take a dip in the holy water. It is also known that opposite the most sacred of sites for Sikhs is the Sri Akal Takht, the Sikh parliament if you like, where political edicts governing the faith and community are discussed and issued.
But Amritsar is a special place for many many more reasons, for the city also hosts a wide variety of shrines and sites associated with Sikh history, from the recently restored Loh Garh fort built by the 6th Guru Hargobind Sahib ji in the mid 17th century to defend Amritsar, through to the locations within the GT complex in which Sikh warrior saints Baba Duleep Singh ji and Baba Gurbakhs Singh ji laid down their severed heads AFTER battling on whilst decapitated against Mughal forces!
Saragarhi Memorial Gurdwara Amritsar
Many visitors to the holy city will not know of the significance of another memorial shrine built in the heart of Sikhdom. This is the Saragarhi Memorial Gurdwara (seen to the left). It is now dwarfed by a hostel for foreign visitors built around it, a travesty as the memorial was originally placed in a nice garden (as was the one at Ferozepur which is still maintained). But there should be no excuse to not know about or visit this place – it is right opposite the main Saragarhi car park which most visitors use!
It’s sad to see this memorial shrine in its current state and the proximity of other buildings on the new Heritage walkway which leads to the GT. My only hope is that the authorities, who are still undertaking some building around the new walkway, might use the empty land to the left of the Gurdwara to create some greenery where visitors can sit, discover and contemplate the bravery of the Sikhs on the Samana in 1897.
The Saragarhi Memorial Gurdwara has a fascinating history which deserves wider recognition. It was unveiled in April 1902, during the special time of Vaisakhi when the Khalsa brotherhood was created by Sri Guru Gobind Singh ji. Vaisakhi is a time of gathering for Sikhs, to become like the Guru and take initiation into the Khalsa brotherhood and to abide by a code of ethics and conduct (for more info I recommend reading Sikh Code of Conduct).
It is not surprising that the unveiling took place at this time, it’s a simple and effective information campaign (more in a future blog post). The British were seeking to use the battle to inspire greater contribution of Sikhs in the British Indian Army, particularly on the frontier. Making the connection to the founding principles in the creation of the Khalsa by opening the memorial Gurdwara at this time created a strong sense of Sikh belief and empowerment – for the use of the British. But how useful it indeed proved, when the Great War erupted 12 years later.
The memorial unveiling in April 1902
With this in mind then back to the unveiling (seen left), the Commander in Chief of Punjab General Sir Arthur Power Palmer, unveiled the monument saying that it was created to show 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 unveiling was attended by dignitaries and a guard of honour of the 36th Sikhs was formed.
The General finished by saying that this memorial was: “erected at the headquarters of the Sikh religion, in order that as long as the British rule lasted the brave Sikh soldiers of the King might realise that their deeds would never be forgotten.”
I’m pleased to say that in Britain today, through the work we’re doing with the British Army, we have put remembrance of Saragarhi and how it can inspire acts of public service back onto the agenda – read more about Saragarhi Day 2016 here.
The memorial contains tablets on each of the four walls, and much like the Saragarhi monument at Ferozepur, they are each written in English, Punjabi, Hindi and Urdu. On the Amritsar tablet, the inscription reads: “The Government of India have caused this memorial to be erected to the memory of the twenty-one non-commissioned officers and men of the 36th Sikhs whose names are engraved below as a perpetual record of the heroism shewn by these gallant soldiers who died at their posts in the defence of the frontier fort of Saragarhi on the 12th September 1897 fighting against overwhelming numbers thus proving their loyalty and devotion to their sovereign the Queen Empress of India and gloriously maintaining the reputation of the Sikhs for unflinching courage on the field of battle.”
Jay Singh-Sohal at the Saragarhi Memorial Gurdwara Amritsar: click to watch “Saragarhi Live”
Then, much like the tablets at Ferozepur, follow the regt number, rank and names of the 21.
Some observations on the wording on the tablets:
1 – explicit credit given at the onset that the memorial was funded and built by the Government of India – British India
2 – stating of ‘loyalty and devotion’ to Queen Victoria, certainly not the motivating factor behind their heroics so we can accept this statement as part of the information campaign at the time to show how brave and loyal men should behave towards the Crown. It worked, and this is seen in the ways the native Raja’s and leading Sardars worked to prove their loyalty to the government – we’ll detail more on this in a future post. BUT this sentiment towards colonial India is now a contentious one which many Indians would not warm to
3 – the belief that in death the 21 maintain the reputation of the Sikhs ‘for unflinching courage’ is a strong sentiment which cuts to the core of the Khalsa spirit, the belief in standing for a just cause and fighting (much like Baba Deep Singh and Baba Gurbakhs Singh, mentioned earlier) against the greatest of odds. This can and does inspire Sikhs to serve the greater good.
I end by sharing my experience of visiting the memorial and speaking to the granthi (priest) on duty at the time. He was very warm and even made us a nice cup of tea while we worked!
We also managed to get enough of a wifi signal to conduct our first foreign Saragarhi Live! You can view the clip of me explaining the memorial via this link here or clip on the photo to the left.
It was on a recent research visit to St Luke’s Church in South Kensington that I was struck by just how much of our imperial history is hidden away.
Plaques in remembrance of the men and regiments of the Punjab Frontier Force, originally placed in churches in Kohat and Peshawar, were brought back to the UK when India and Pakistan gained independence in 1947. Perusing through the names of the officers who fought on the frontier with Afghanistan during the punitive campaigns of the late 19th Century I was surprised to see just how many had survived that harsh rugged terrain only to die in Flanders during the Great War.
As Remembrance Day approaches, I think of those men of the Punjab Frontier Force who are largely forgotten but whose heroism and devotion to duty deserves to be rediscovered and retold to new audiences.
I also continue to think of my own communities connection to the conflict and the Sikhs who fought, which has inspired me and should embolden us all to undertake greater public service in Britain.
In 1914 when war engulfed the world, the call to fight for Britain went out across India and in undivided Punjab young men of all religious denominations stepped forward to serve. Sikh, Hindu, and Muslim men joined to serve side-by-side in the Punjab regiments, while class-based units of Sikhs also saw a groundswell of enthusiastic volunteers.
Those SIkhs who joined did so to fight and prove their worth, as befitting a warrior race. They were pragmatic and pioneering and had no hesitation in believing that the cause was a just one.
They had grown up on chronicles of how their forefathers had fought to defend their lands against foreign invaders (including at one time the Brits in the Anglo-Sikh wars) and through their devotion to a just war made a name for themselves. They too yearned this glory, to be remembered in war ballads and stories to be passed on to the next generation.
So it was no surprise that at the onset of war in 1914, the rallying cry of the Sikhs was the loudest amongst all the native tribes of India, of which they were a minority. Despite being only one per cent of the population of undivided India at the time they made up 20 per cent of the army in action: 124,245 Sikhs fought as part of the British Indian Army during the conflict, plus several thousands more as part of the Imperial Service’ Troop raised by the princely states, such as Kapurthala and Patiala.
Their motivation in serving was suitably summed up by signaller Kartar Singh who wrote from the western front in January 1916: “We shall never get such another chance to exalt the name of race, country, ancestors, parents, village and brothers, and to prove our loyalty to the Government. I hope we shall renew our Sikh chronicles.”
From Flanders to Mesopotamia, Gallipoli to East Africa, Egypt, Jerusalem, Persia and in little-known missions such as in Tsingtao in China and Trans-Caspia in Turkmenistan; wherever they went the Sikhs lived up to their martial traditions and their remarkable deeds of bravery were amply rewarded.
Between 1914 and 1919, 29 per cent of all Indian Orders of Merit (second to the Victoria Cross) went to Sikhs, as did 24 per cent of all Indian Distinguished Service Medals awarded. They gained 22 Military Crosses and a host of European gallantry awards such as the French Croix De Guerre, Romanian Order of the Crown, and Russian Cross of St George.
For a landlocked people, the war and service to the British took the Sikhs far and wide; it instilled in them the confidence to spread their wings, be pioneering, see the world and to settle outside of the Punjab in greater numbers. The clearest indication of the success of the diaspora is seen here in Britain today where Sikhs are visibly noticed in every industry and profession, contributing to the economy and sharing their wealth with those less fortunate.
We can never forget that it Is the courage and conviction of the Sikh soldier from whence it all stems. The loyal, confident Sikh, ever zealous about his role in the world, inspired by his faith and identity to do good, to stand and be counted. The Sikh whose creed instils a natural bearing for truth, justice and freedom; who would fight for his beliefs and that of others to uphold the name of his Creator and the traditions of his brotherhood.
We can reflect upon the courage of such heroes to refresh our own belief in pursuing truth and truthful living. This remembrance, let us be inspired by the devotion and selfless commitement of men of all faiths and backgrounds who served Britain on the frontier and in the First World War.
In their sacrifice and our shared history we find more that unites us than divides, which can only inspire us to undertake greater acts of public service in all its forms.