Saragrahi and Thermopylae are two battles one famous and known, Thermopylae and the other Saragrahi relatively unknown. Both these battles invite comparison as a tribute to the bravery of man. The battle of Saragrahi took place on 12 Sept 1897, while the battle of Thermopylae is dated 480 BC. Both battles involved a small force facing a much larger force and being annihilated in the process.
Greek emperor Xersis the son of Darius had wished to add Greece to his empire. Much of the account of this battle is credited to Herodotus, while the credit for the record of the battle at Saragrahi goes to signalman sepoy Gurmukh Singh who was the last man killed by the Afghans. The Saragrahi battle involved a force of 21 Sikh soldiers led by Havildar Ishwar Singh facing a Moslem tribal horde of nearly 10,000 Afghans, while in the battle of Thermopylae in the final phase 300 Spartans faced an Iranian force of 100,000. Figures can be disputed, but the fact remains that in both battles a small force faced an inordinately large force with ferocious bravery. The battle of Saragrahi had its origin in 1897, when the Afridi and Orkazai tribesmen of the North West frontier revolted against British rule. Anticipating such a problem the British had renovated two forts earlier used by Hari Singh Nalwa at Lockhart and Gulistan. The two forts were connected by a small heliographic communication post. This post was made of stone and brick and was so made that it could be defended. It was manned by soldiers of the 36th Sikh Regiment.
The Afghan tribe’s men mounted an assault at 9 am and the battle raged for 6 hours. Repeated requests to the Sikhs to lay down arms were spurned. The Officer Commanding Col Haughton at Fort Gulistan could not come to the rescue, as he himself was besieged. He came later and drove out the tribal Afghans, but as he reached the fort all he could see were the dead bodies and the burnt out fort. In 6 hours of intense fighting the Afghans lost over 1000 dead, before they could subdue the fort.
All 21 Sikhs died fighting, with Sepoy Gurmukh who had been signaling the conduct of the battle being the last to die. The House of Lords and House of commons paid tribute to the valiant Sikhs and to a thunderous ovation the entire house stood up to honor the Sikhs. All the soldiers were awarded the Indian Order of Merit, the highest military honor of the day. This battle is certainly the peer of Thermopylae.
Like Saragrahi the location of Thermopylae had great strategic importance. It commanded the pass through which one goes from Thessaly through Lokris and into Boeotia. An invader could be held at the pass and made to go back. King Leonidas of Sparta led the Greek army which had about ten thousand warriors to face Xersis. Xersis with a force of about 200,000 waited for 4 days for the Greeks to surrender before mounting his assault. In the battle the Greek tactics were simple they made a strategic retreat and when the Persians entered the pass they were attacked by the Greeks and annihilated. The Persian assaults failed repeatedly, till a traitor named Ephialtes told Xerxes of an alternate route around the pass. The Greeks were thus likely to be encircled. Leonidas quickly ordered a withdrawal and he along with 300 warriors faced the massive Persian force.
This is the essence of this battle 300 against a hundred thousand. They all died but insured that the Persians were delayed long enough for The Greek army to make an organized retreat. Both the battles are recorded instances of great bravery. It is important that historians also lay stress on the battle at Saragrahi, which is equally important as a saga of bravery like Thermopylae.