They say that after creation, God had some pieces of stone and rock left. And so, He created Afghanistan. It is a cruel and unforgiving land. Since time immemorial, it has also been the gateway for invaders and adventurers, one often masquerading as the other, who have galloped down these passes in search of gold and glory into the fertile plains beyond, in the land known as India.

They say that only the iron will and sagacity of Maharaja Ranjit Singh could subdue the Afghans. But the ruler of the Sikh Empire died in 1839, and the predatory tribes started nibbling at the fringes. His successors were not of the same stuff as the Maharaja. And the British, as it is well known, are nothing if not persistent.

The Tirah Campaign was yet to gather full momentum, and the British considered the North West Frontier areas of be of strategic importance. These tribal badlands were almost impossible to control. The Pathans were a volatile warrior race, and would only understand the language of force. And for that, forts built by Maharaja Ranjit Singh, now controlled by whoever fielded greater numbers, would have to be physically occupied.

The winter of 1897 was slowly approaching and the September evenings had started becoming cooler. They were not chilly yet. That would come later. The Afghans had declared war.

Fort Lockhart was situated on the Samana Range of the Hindu Kush Mountains. A few miles apart stood Fort Gulistan on the Suleiman Range. Both forts were strategically important for the British. As luck would have it, they were not in line of sight. The forts were “blind” to each other. So a small heliographic communication post was created in between the two, so that Fort Lockhart and Fort Gulistan could talk to each other. There was nothing special about this post, just a large mud house block with ramparts and loopholes. On the roof stood a signaling tower.

The most innocuous and ordinary places sometimes make history; they have this unique capacity to make mortals walk with the gods.

The date was 12 September 1897, and the nondescript communication post was Saragarhi.

36th Sikh Regiment of the British Indian Army was tasked with defending the forts. The Sikhs repulsed multiple attacks by the Pathan tribesmen. On 3rd and 9th September Afridi tribesmen attacked Fort Gulistan. Both attacks were beaten back by the Sikhs. In between, Saragarhi was reinforced with more troops. It now had one Non Commissioned Officer and twenty Other Ranks.

The Afghans realized that Fort Havelock and Fort Gulistan were “blind” to each other. They would not fall. The only way to defeat them was to cut off all communication between them and isolate them.

On 12 September 1897 at about 0900 hrs, more than ten thousand armed Orakzai Afghan tribesmen attacked Saragarhi. Defending Saragarhi were Havildar Ishar Singh and twenty jawans of 34th Sikh Regiment.

Sepoy Gurmukh Singh, the signaler, immediately informed Lt. Col. John Haughton, the Commanding Officer of 34th Sikh Regiment, that they were under attack. The CO responded by saying that he was unable to send reinforcements, because he had none to send. Haughton would later go on record to say that he estimated the enemy strength to be between ten thousand and fourteen thousand attackers.

At that point, Havildar Ishar Singh and his men took a decision. There would be no retreat, no surrender. The Sikhs would embrace martyrdom. They would fight where they stood, and they would die where they fought.

Sepoy Bhagwan Singh was the first to be martyred. His body was taken to the inner part of the post. The Afghans howled in bloodlust. The Sikhs stood firm. Twice, the Afghans attacked the main gate and were driven back, with massive casualties.

So great was the Afghan onslaught that a part of the wall of the post caved in. A few Sepoys, who were in the outer circle, engaged in a fierce hand-to-hand fight with the enemy. Havildar Ishar Singh ordered his men into the inner sanctum of the post, while he alone faced thousands of enemies all alone.

Soon, the inner wall of the post was also breached and all the defenders, but one, were martyred.

Sepoy Gurmukh Singh was the last man holding the post. He quickly signaled to Lt. Col. Haughton that he was the last man standing, and that he be allowed to stop signaling and join the battle. The CO gave permission. Gurmukh Singh packed his equipment with great love and care, in his brown leather case. Then, he jumped into the fray. He killed twenty of the enemy before the enemy set fire to the entire post.

As Gurmukh Singh fought, his skin burned, and as his skin burned, he shouted the old war cry of the Sikhs, “Bole So Nihal, Sat Sri Akal”. They say that Gurmukh Singh was fighting even when his body had caught fire. Gurmukh’s screams rent the air as the enemy surrounded him.

Soon, there was silence. The brave twenty-one lay martyred.

As the Afghans prepared to attack Fort Gulistan, they came under heavy artillery fire from the British post. The brave twenty-one had bought precious time for the reinforcements to arrive. And they had paid for it with their blood.

The relief party arrived and Saragarhi was retaken on 14 September.

Afghan casualties were approximately 180 killed and thousands injured. This was the damage inflicted by Ishar Singh and his brave men. When artillery fire opened up, a total of over 600 enemy bodies were recovered.

In an anti-climax, in the middle of battle, the Orakzai Afghan Chief, Gul Badshah offered amnesty, safe passage and gold to the Sikhs. He said that the Afghan’s fight was not with the Sikhs, but with the British. Gul Badshah said that the Sikhs could leave in peace. The Sikhs predictably refused.

Many of you may ask why the Sikhs fought for the British. Did the British not enslave us Indians?

The Sikhs at Saragarhi did not fight for the British. They fought for their own honour. That is why they did not withdraw to safety, even after being given every opportunity to do so.

The Sikhs fought so that they would be remembered as men. They chose martyrdom because in the Sikh tradition, death is preferable to dishonor. That was all that there was to Saragarhi; honour of the coat of arms, loyalty to the regiment and the Sikh warrior tradition. For this, the brave twenty-one defied the might of ten thousand Orakzai tribesmen.

Chirian te mein baaz tudaun,

Tabe Gobind Singh Naam kahaun.

When I make sparrows fight with hawks

It is then that I will uphold my name of Gobind Singh.

This is what happened in Saragarhi. The sparrow fought the hawk and forever passed away into the mists of legend.

All the twenty-one martyrs were awarded the Indian Order of Merit, the highest gallantry award that could be given to an Indian. The corresponding gallantry award for the British at that time was the Victoria Cross. The highest award now is the Param Veer Chakra.

The Sikhs were always renowned as great warriors, but after Saragarhi, something changed. These brave twenty-one ensured that whenever the name of Sikh warriors was taken, it would be taken with reverence and awe.

Havildar Ishar Singh

Naik Lal Singh

Lance Naik Chanda Singh

Sepoy Sundar Singh

Sepoy Ram Singh

Sepoy Uttar Singh

Sepoy Sahib Singh

Sepoy Hira Singh

Sepoy Daya Singh

Sepoy Jivan Singh

Sepoy Bhola Singh

Sepoy Narayan Singh

Sepoy Gurmukh Singh

Sepoy Jivan Singh

Sepoy Gurmukh Singh

Sepoy Ram Singh

Sepoy Bhagwan Singh

Sepoy Bhagwan Singh

Sepoy Buta Singh

Sepoy Jivan Singh

Sepoy Nand Singh

34th Sikh Regiment is now 4th Battalion, The Sikh Regiment of the Indian Army.

The Sikh Regiment retains the DNA of Havildar Ishar Singh and his lion hearted twenty. It retains its tradition of never giving in to fearsome odds.

The sparrow still fights the hawk.


Major Gaurav Arya (Veteran)

17 Battalion, The Kumaon Regiment (Bhaduria)

#MajorGauravArya #IndianArmy #Saragarhi #TheSparrowAndTheHawk #adgpi #TheSikhs




Author: Major Gaurav Arya (Veteran)

Soldier. That’s all.

18 thoughts on “THE SPARROW AND THE HAWK”

  1. Superb Major Saab…!! Thanks a lot for sharing this. We do not get to read it in academics or any news channel or history channel show a episode of it. But as i know you, the next episode of Patriots will be On SIKH Regiment.
    JAI HIND Major Saab Waiting for your next episode.


  2. Thanks it was an Inspiring read.
    But it is sad the fact remains that the people like Arun Gauli’s would be filmed and tried to be made Hero. We always made to remain suckers reading only such history and our culture that would suit the regime and/or that which may be considered important to become money earners, doctors, engineer, lawyers, etc etc.
    Thanks again. Waiting for next post.


  3. Till now i have heard of only Rezang la and that also during my chidhood days………..happy to read such brilliant last man standing of sikhs…….. JAI HIND


  4. MGA,I remember you had written earlier that Indian Army soldiers embrace martyrdom owing to their own heroism.From Saragarhi to Rezang La and now things haven’t change one bit, right? What a remarkable story, should be the folklore the nations sings.Guessing there would be many such stories that make the glorious history of Indian Army. Thank you, MGA, and the article, as always,was great.


  5. Happy Birthday, MGA. Here’s to a fabulous day and many many amazing years. May you always have all that you wish for. Have fun!! And MGA, always remember, the best is yet to come. Cheers, Neethu


  6. 28.9.2017

    good evening sir,

    just saw this on my email.nice one, as every article of yours that I’ve read.


    rupal vasavada

    On Sep 11, 2017 23:23, “MAJOR GAURAV ARYA (VETERAN)” wrote:

    > Major Gaurav Arya (Veteran) posted: “They say that after creation, God had > some pieces of stone and rock left. And so, He created Afghanistan. It is a > cruel and unforgiving land. Since time immemorial, it has also been the > gateway for invaders and adventurers, one often masquerading as the o” >


  7. MGA, Good Luck to you. As always, rock the talk. Have a great day. May the force be with you, always! And MGA, hope soon you would make a trip across the pond too!!


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