Written by Ratnadeep Banerji Sunday, 19 February 2012 09:58
Saragarhi Challenge Polo Cup-2011
114 years ago in 1897, under the British flag, 21 Sikhs fought to death against 10,000 Afghanis in the Battle of Saragarhi. Sikh military personnel and Sikh civilians commemorate this battle every year on 12th September as Saragarhi Day. Saragarhi Challenge Polo Cup has been instituted in 2010 by the Anglo Sikh Heritage Trail, a UK based charitable body to commemorate the desperado fighters when the match in its inaugural edition was played in London and the second edition happened in 2011 in New Delhi.
Saragarhi in present Pakistan is a small village on the Samana Range in the Khyber-Pakhtunwa of the Hindu Kush Mountains. A general uprising by the Afghans began in 1897 between 27 August and 11 September. There were many vigorous efforts by Pashtuns to capture Fort Lockhart and Fort Gulistan, both the forts were constructed by Maharana Ranjit Singh. Saragarhi post on a rocky ridge consisted of a small block house with loop-holed ramparts and a signalling tower. It was created between the two forts as a heliographic communication post.
Afghan efforts were thwarted continually by the 36th Regiment of the Bengal Infantry, especially assigned to protect these forts. On 3rd and 9th September, Afridi tribes in connivance with the Afghans attacked Fort Gulistan. Both the attacks were repulsed. However, on 12th September, a swarming number of 10,000 Pashtuns inflicted the Tirah campaign upon the signalling post at Saragarhi so that the communication would be lost between the two forts. Details of the Battle of Saragarhi are fairly accurate, owing to Gurmukh Singh signalling events to Fort Lockhart as they occurred.
The leaders of the Afghan forces reportedly made promises to the soldiers to entice them to surrender. But to no avail. The 21 Sikhs put up a stiff resistance. Finally the Saragarhi post was destroyed by the Orakazi tribesmen. Gurmukh Singh, the signalling man was the last soldier to be killed, is believed to have killed 20 Afghans. But the battle of Saragarhi delayed the subsequent attack on Fort Gulistan and by then British reinforcement had arrived and the fort was retained. Fort Lockhart had been breached but taken back and 21 sikhs played a major role in the battle. The Pashtuns later admitted that they had lost about 180 people, however 600 dead bodies were found. The total casualties in the entire campaign, including the Battle of Saragarhi, numbered around 4,800.
The British Army and Indian Polo team (comprising of its Sikh members – the Sherdils) indulged in a great game of Polo, Saturday afternoon, as an enthusiastic crowd watched the Indian team emerge winner 7-3. The annual Saragarhi Challenge Cup was held at the Jaipur polo grounds, New Delhi. Captain of the team, Col Sandhu, scored three goals for his team, while Angad Singh and Jai Shergill pitched in with two each to make it a comprehensive win for the Indian team against the touring British side. For the British Army, Captain of the side, Ben Vestey was the leading scorer with 2 goals.
"The fact that we are playing this for a reason, for a celebration of one of the greatest acts of bravery, makes today's match even more special. But don't think we considered this a friendly... we took our polo very seriously, but the Indian emerged winner on the day.", said Capt Ben Vestey, member of the British army team.
A wisp of memory holds out polo had a déja vu with New Delhi going back to 1922 when winter polo was played on the occasion of Prince of Wales' visit to India. The final match was played in front of the Red Fort between Patiala and Jodhpur before a crowd of 100,000 people.