21 Sikh Warriors

TAKE A KNEE and take some notes, behold, The Battle of Saragarhi, 12 September 1897, Tirah, North-West Frontier Province, British India (modern day Pakistan). 21 Sikhs of the British Indian Army, against 10,000 Afghan Pashtun’s.

The Battle of Saragarhi was fought before the Tirah Campaign on 12 September 1897 between 21 Sikhs of the 36th Sikhs (now the 4th Battalion of the Sikh Regiment) of British India, defending an army post against 10,000 Afghan and Orakzai tribesmen, other estimates put the opposition force above 13,500+. The 21 Sikhs defending against a massive border incursion while positioned in sentry defense of the foremost positioned tiny garrison on the line.

At 0900 on 12 September, the 10,000 Afghan’s under cover of pre-dawn darkness initiated their attack against the Sikh held garrison. The defending Sikh’s relay a message to their British higher headquarters and inform them a massed attack is underway. The British Army replies, indicating they cannot form a reinforcement and essentially communicate the 21 Sikh’s are on their own against 10,000 scream and attacking Pashtun commanders and fighters armed with heavy artillery and rifles.

The initial Pashtun assault commences with heavy, accurate artillery strikes to prominent fortifications. The following events are taken as verbatim accounts of the battle’s development as they were in real time personally communicated via signals chronologically by the Sikh warrior and one of the 21, Gurmukh Singh who fought in, observed, coordinated and reported the play by play of the battle throughout the day. At 0930 the initial Pashtun assault is driven back violently by Sikh rifleman positioned upon the fort walls who kicked over Pashtun assaulter ladders and drove cyclical murderous rifle fire within the dense hoard below them targeting the tops of heads. Over 3,500 Pashtun’s are driven back while the Sikh’s reportedly killed so many bodies, in many places they fell upon each other measuring over 10 feet in height.

At roughly 1015, the Pashtun’s end the attack and dispatch a herald before the fort’s defensive walls under white flag of truce and begin to communicate conditions to include acceptance of surrender would come with safe passage and a reward or riches. This gesture is promptly rejected via intensive Sikh fires targeting not the only heralding messenger but effectively the distant Pashtun line inciting them to fight which they do, and are promptly again driven to a forced retreat after losing considerable numbers in open ground by effective devastating Sikh bolt action rifle fires. The Pashtun’s respond with a 90 minute barrage of artillery fires, destroying two observation towers and within this time around mid afternoon encircle the cubical fortification and begin setting fires to wooden reinforced entry portals and sally ports.

By 1500 hours a breach had occurred, allowing the Afghan’s to flood the inner quadrangle and allowed surviving Sikh defenders to leap upon them screaming, shirtless and knives drawn from the height of the fort’s inner perimeter catwalks and a lengthy cataclysmic orgy of primitive and profound hand to hand combat ensued. The Sikh’s slashed throats and stabbed vital organs of their attackers, commandeered the rifles of the dead and unloaded into the teeth of the assaulting Pashtun’s. Gurmukh Singh, who communicated the battle in it’s entirety by signal with nearby British Col. Haughton, who was without sufficient reinforcements and unable to assist, was the FINAL Sikh defender. He is stated to have killed 20 Afghans, the Pashtuns having to set fire to the observation post to kill him. He lept while burning, knife drawn and fell into the writhing mass of Pashtun’s. As he was dying he was said to have yelled repeatedly the Sikh battle-cry “Bole So Nihal, Sat Sri Akal” (Shout Aloud in Ecstasy! True is the Great Timeless One). “Akal,” meaning Immortal, beyond death, the Supreme Creator God unbound by time and non-temporal.

The following day when thousands of British Army reinforcements arrived and successfully repelled the Afghan’s, exactly 21 Sikh MEN were found, most shirtless, all knives drawn from hip sheaths, and covered in blood surrounded by over 600 dead Afghan fighters. Not a single, not ONE SINGLE ROUND remaining was discovered in any Sikh ammo carrier, magazine, nor rifle itself. All munitions, including the reserves were categorically expended during the battle in it’s entirety per each Sikh Warrior to the last, fucking MAN.

All of the 21 Sikh non-commissioned officers and soldiers of other ranks who laid down their lives in the Battle of Saragarhi were posthumously awarded the Indian Order of Merit, the highest gallantry award of that time, which an Indian soldier could receive by the hands of the British crown, the corresponding gallantry award being Victoria Cross. This award is equivalent to today’s Param Vir Chakra awarded by the President of India.

They the 21 were ALL born in Majha region of Punjab. The names of the 21 recipients of the gallantry award are as follows:

Havildar Ishar Singh (Regimental number 165)
Naik Lal Singh (332)
Naik Chanda Singh (546)
Lance Naik Sundar Singh (1321)
Lance Naik Ram Singh (287)
Lance Naik Uttar Singh (492)
Lance Naik Sahib Singh (182)
Sepoy Hira Singh (359)
Sepoy Daya Singh (687)
Sepoy Jivan Singh (760)
Sepoy Bhola Singh (791)
Sepoy Narayan Singh (834)
Sepoy Gurmukh Singh (814)
Sepoy Jivan Singh (871)
Sepoy Gurmukh Singh (1733)
Sepoy Ram Singh (163)
Sepoy Bhagwan Singh (1257)
Sepoy Bhagwan Singh (1265)
Sepoy Buta Singh (1556)
Sepoy Jivan Singh (1651)
Sepoy Nand Singh (1221)




Eric graduated with honors in 2004 from the The Citadel, the Military College of South Carolina, Charleston, SC, USA. He was then commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant, United States Marine Corps the same year, completed multiple combat deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan as a Counterintelligence / Human Source Intelligence Officer and later as a Case Officer and Active Duty Special Agent with the Naval Criminal Investigative Service. Eric honorably discharged as a Captain after 8 years’ service in 2012.


  1. Thank you Eric!! It appears the Sikhs are celebrated more abroad than in India. Thank you for your just recognition!!

  2. Thank you for writing this article piece. At least you present some information that many people including Americans had no clue about.

  3. An amazing story! I spent 9 years in the Us Army and never heard this story, nor have I ever heard of such bravery. Thank you for sharing! Ill be sharing your story on Facebook. Everyone should hear about these brave men and the ignorant need to be educated about the difference between the Sikh and Muslims.

  4. Very well written Eric.

  5. Thanks Eric….. It is still considered as greatest ever last stand in the history…. Height of leadership, courage, vellore shown by all 21 warriors…. Salute to them & salute to you….

  6. Thanks for writing this article Eric. All the best.

  7. Very good article

  8. Eric,
    Firstly, thanks to you and to all those who served our country and many who gave their lives for us. And also, thank you for writing this wonderful heartwarming piece of gallantry. You have the knack of transporting us to the scene with your beautiful words. I was repeatedly reminded of the battle of Saragarhi by my parents. In fact, we have a Saragarhi Gurdwara in Ferozepore, my hometown which was a famous garrison then.
    My grand uncle- my grand dad’s cousin- Hardip Singh Malik was the first Sikh RAF pilot in World War I.

  9. Hi all, I am a Canadian born Sikh. My parents both moved from India to Canada when they were young, obviously moved here for a better life, and a better world to raise their children.

    Eric Kirsch, first off thank you for bringing this story of valour to light. It is an epic tale which my grandfather who was a medic in the British Indian Army also often told me of the fight that these 21 men had the ” kahunas ” to stand up and battle with 10,000 versus. Dave Hampton, to understand this story and try and relate it would help if you heard of the struggle that Sikhs faced in those days. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sikhism is a good place to start. Sikhism is based on very basic principles such as service to mankind, to uphold honour/valour, to never opress anyone regardless of class, colour,sex, and so-on. Once you have a good background on Sikhs I think you will understand why now in the USA there is a campaign to differentiate Sikhs from Muslims. I DO NOT AGREE WITH THESE CAMPAIGNS!

    These new campaigns go directly against the fundamental teachings of our Guru’s. The only reason our Guru’s created the Khalsa Panth was to battle oppression of all kinds and to serve the human race. The thing majority of people are blind to see these days is that majority of humans CAN coexist. The real enemy should be a Muslim just because he prays to Allah, or a Christian because he prays to Jesus. What drives hatred is the political agendas of the people. It is those peoples such as presidents, dictators, so called “aid agencies”, biased news outlets, and sadly even our own pastors, imams, guru’s that have had to adapt to the violent world we live in.

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