Sunday, 31 August 2014

Lore of the Jullundur Brigade

Column within the Indian Army Memorial at Neuve Chapelle.
On lower part of the memorial is inscribed in English 'God is One, His is the Victory’, with similar text in Urdu, Hindi and Gurmukhi.

The 8th (Jullundur) Brigade, which was part of the 3rd (Lahore) Division that fought during World War I, showed exemplary courage.

ALMOST exactly one hundred years back, the Indian Army was drawn in to the vortex of the most terrible war mankind had known, after Germany invaded Belgium on August 4, 1914, which was followed by Britain’s ultimatum the same day. Two days later, the Government of India offered a corps of two infantry and two cavalry divisions for service "wherever required".

The Indian Army was then largely committed on the North West Frontier but remarkably, just 20 days after the commencement of war, the first Indian combat troops of the 3rd (Lahore) Division had sailed from Karachi and Bombay westwards, vanguard of the million more who were to follow. Instead of Egypt, however, the Indian Expeditionary Force were diverted to France where the British Expeditionary Force were shattered and exhausted after two months of bitter fighting against the German Army's overwhelming numbers.

Among the Indian Corps was a unique formation, the Indian Army Memorial at Neuve Chapelle, which was part of the 3rd (Lahore) Division and destined for glory in war. This brigade essentially comprised three battalions, which were the 1st Manchesters, 47th Sikhs, and 59th (Scinde) Rifles Frontier Force. Also included were troops from the State Forces, particularly Patiala. Other battalions were attached for short periods but the core three regiments, which still remain today are, respectively, the 2nd Battalion, the Duke of Lancasters’ Regiment of the British Army, 5th Battalion the Sikh Regiment of the Indian Army, and the 1st Battalion (Scinde) Frontier Force Regiment of the Pakistan Army. Once a year, boundaries are forgotten, and former officers from all three regiments share memories in honour of that close association of the past. The story of how a seven-year comradeship turned into a lifelong association is almost a contemporary Buddhist parable – with a strong message.

Map of the Neuve Chapelle battle area

Recalled is this 100-year-old association of ‘blood brothers in arms’, the troops having lived together in peacetime while stationed in Jullundur in the Punjab and then fighting together during the Great War of 1914-1918.

In 1911, the Manchester Regiment were grouped together with 47th Sikhs and 59th Frontier Force to form the 8th Brigade, based in Jullundur. The peaceful pre-war years provided them with enough leisure time to play football and cricket against each other, and participate in other social activities such as drama clubs, and concerts. When war broke out in August 1914, the Jullundur Brigade sailed out, initially to Egypt in defence of the Suez Canal. but shortly thereafter it was re-embarked for Marseilles in France and thereafter to the frontlines in Northern France where a desperate defence was being made against the formidable foe whose grand plan was to sweep the exhausted British and French Armies, reach the Channel ports and declare victory. This was not to be and this was largely due to the incredible fighting spirit of the Indian Corps.

Over the next seven months, the Jullundur Brigade fought in the severe battles of Ypres, Neuve Chapelle, Festubert and The Loos offensive and greatly distinguished itself. Thereafter, in the winter of 1915, the Jullundur Brigade, as part of the with rest of the Indian Corps, moved to Mesopotamia (today’s Iraq). Over the next two years it took part in the gruelling campaign which eventually resulted in defeat of the Turkish Army. Their final theatre of war was Palestine, where the coup-de-grace was delivered to the Ottoman Empire. The Jullundur Brigade returned to India in 1918, the three battalions having been together in the same brigade, in war and peace for seven years, an incredible and unmatched record.

Subedar Major Thakur Singh Bahadur of the 47th Sikhs, who was among the first to receive the Military Cross for gallantry in action, on October 27, 1914 at Neuve Chapelle.

One particular action took place on October 28, 1914, when two companies of the 47th Sikhs with two companies of Sappers & Miners without any artillery support, carried out an audacious attack to recapture Neuve Chapelle from the Germans, essentially the 16th Bavarian Infantry Regiment among whose rank and file was one Corporal Adolf Hitler.

Covering the 700 yards of open ground between them and Neuve Chapelle by rushes alternating with fire, the four companies reached the ruins of the village. Casualties were numerous but the excellence of their fire control saved much heavier loss. The Indians drove out the Germans by close hand-to-hand fighting.

From the Regimental record : "When our men were about 100 yards from the outskirts of the village, the Germans in the front trenches began to bolt, pursued by the gallant Sikhs and Sappers with the bayonet, a few being killed and others captured. The Indians then tore on into the village. Sikhs and Sappers mixed together, and worked in parties up the streets, under a furious fire from the roofs of buildings.

The houses were cleared after desperate hand-to-hand fighting in which a man of the 47th is reported to have captured 3 Germans out of 8, having previously killed the other 5. From another house, the 47th recovered a wounded British soldier and 2 wounded Germans. The latter were searched, and one of them lifted his voice and wept bitterly, evidently thinking that our men were feeling for a soft place in which to insert a bayonet, until comforted by a stalwart Sikh who patted him kindly with the words ‘Be not afraid’."

A man at the Indian Army Memorial holds a photograph of his grandfather who was killed in action in October 1914

On reaching the cross roads in the centre of the village, the troops came under frightful machine gun fire. Captain McCleverty, always in advance, cheered on his men, dashed across the roads, the rest following close on his heels but he was shot dead at a corner by a German concealed few yards away. Losses were rapidly becoming serious from enemy fire in the houses and several machine guns posted out-side Neuve Chapelle. The Indian troops had even penetrated to the eastern and northern borders where they were met by heavy fire and counter-attack after counter-attack was launched against them.

"The blood of our men was up and nothing could stop them. After a prolonged and ferocious struggle, the whole of the main street was captured." The Germans held on and each house formed a small fortress which had to be stormed before further advance could be made. The Sappers & Miners were also taking terrible losses, especially their officers, charging with valour ahead of the men.

The fighting went on, counter-attack following counter-attack, the German's using the bodies of their own dead as cover. Major SR Davidson of the 47th Sikhs was collecting his men for a final charge when the Germans came on in overpowering numbers from the north and east and at the same moment, the machine gun fire re-doubled its fury down the main street. Without immediate reinforcements, the position of the 47th was now quite untenable as their losses had been heavy. Thus Major Davidson was compelled to give up all he had won at such fearful cost, and retire, the line lying over some 500 yards of open ground, exposed to a tornado of shell and machine gun fire and the bodies of the gallant Indians soon lay thick on the ground. Eventually, the remains of the two companies of the 47th got back to comparative safety, but only 68 out of the gallant 289 actually collected on the La Bassee road.

As Lieut-General Sir James Willcocks, commanding the Indian Army Corps in France, wrote, "The 47th Sikhs were raised in 1901 and have no battle honours on their colours. Throughout its service in France, this magnificent regiment never failed to answer all calls. Its reputation would be secure and its right to fight with the best British troops would be established, if based only on the record of Neuve Chapelle, but this action was only one of many in which the 47th distinguished themselves. The history of the Indian Army contains few nobler pages than that of the 28th October 1914."

The blood brothers were to be brought together 75 years later by the idea of Major General Mohindar Singh Chopra, whose part in establishing the Wagah border on the GT Road between Amrtisar and Lahore in October 1947 is also part of history. As the senior most pre-partition Frontier Force officer of the Indian sub-continent, he was invited by his old paltan, the 59th Scinde Rifles Frontier Force, to visit them at Bahawalpur. At the formal dinner that took place, the 59th’ Jullundur Brigade trophy, a reminder of the past togetherness, was displayed and this inspired the three regiments to connect again. The old affiliations were re-established with the formal approval of HM the Queen and the three governments involved.

The great friendship and liaison, which existed between these three battalions, had contributed largely to the magnificent reputation gained by the Jullundur Brigade. To commemorate such splendid association, three identical centre-pieces had been ordered from the Goldsmiths and Silversmiths Company, the centre-piece consisting of a triangular column rising from a triangular base, surmounted by a winged figure of Victory. At each corner of the base there is a silver model of a soldier of each battalion – an Englishman, a Sikh, a Punjabi-Musalman.

Each battalion is now in possession of one of these centre pieces, presented by the remaining two battalions. In 2014, or 95 years after the event, the trophies are proudly displayed by the three battalions, now part of three different armies in Britain, India and Pakistan.

Pushpindar Singh Chopra, Tribune India, Sunday, August 31, 2014

Saturday, 9 August 2014

Maharaja Ranjit Singh to Guru Teg Bahadur, records and relics kept at Gaya

Depiction of Guru Tegh Bahadur

Vyjayanti Mala Bali, the accomplished actress of the 1970s, was stunned when a Pundit in Gaya charted out her entire family tree in considerable detail. So was Sunil Dutt.

Neither had any idea that their family tree went such a long way over 300 years. In fact, they had heard about relatives on whom they had little detail. But here, meeting the Dadhiwale family of Gayawal Pandas brought them face to face with their family members they have never known!

Gayawal Pandas are a celebrated breed who have extensive details on the family tree of the rich and famous from all parts of the country. If you are digging for your ancestral roots, Vishnupad Mohalla is the place where you are most likely to find it. The Gayawal Pandas have employed specialists for ages to list details of pilgrims visiting the shrine city during the historic world famous Pitripaksh Mela beginning on  September 8 each year on the eve of the Mahalaya, and the onset of the 10-day Durga Puja. Meet Heera Nath Jee Dadhiwale, the Gayawal Panda whose fathers have preserved the records of thousands of pilgrims who have visited the city in the last 300 years.

His family’s clients have included even royal families of united Punjab, including Lahore and parts of Pakistan. And, the family library has preserved the records of Maharaja Ranjit Singh of Punjab, Guru Teg Bahadur, the ninth Guru of the Sikhs, apart from the erstwhile kings and queens of Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh.

This family also has the Hukmnama of Aurangzeb and Shahjehan, the Mughal emperors, besides the handwritten Hukamnama of Guru Teg Bahadur—the most prized possession of the family.

“We learnt many pages of history from our forefathers who also passed on their skills on how to preserve the Tamra Patras, palm leaf scrolls and later the paper registers. The tradition continues even today. Our Katibs (script writers) are well versed in noting down every detail of the families that visit Gaya to offer Pinda for the salvation of their ancestors’ souls, the ritual performed only in Gaya, the Moksha Dham (salvation Place),” said Dadhiwale Pandajee.

Anil Kumar Ojha, Hindustan Times  Gaya (Bihar), August 04, 2014

Sunday, 3 August 2014

Sikh Studies Conference provides insights on new research.

Sikh Studies Conference at Imperial College, London 

 August 2nd, 2014

The first Annual Sikh Studies Conference, Imperial College, London brought together scholars, artists and documentary makers to showcase their work related to the Sikh faith. It was organised by Dr Kamalroop Singh and Ragi Harminder Singh Ragi.

The focus of the conference was unity and the different lectures focussed on this them. The conference was split into four distinct areas: Sikh Scripture, Performance and Society, Film and Art, and Current issues.  Prof Upkar Singh OBE, introduced the event and was in charge of proceedings.

Prof. Upkar Singh

The Keynote Speech was given by Prof Pashaura Singh, Professor at University of California, Riverside, USA. He discussed how certain translations of Gurbani can be distorted without considering the whole context of a shabad. He gave an overview on Sikh Studies in the USA and stressed on the number of different chairs in the USA and the question was posed as to why the UK did not have any.

Prof. Pashaura Singh

Continuing on the theme of scriptures, Sikh Scholar Gurinder Singh Mann, Leicester went through rare 18th century sources and gave an Historical analysis on the Dasam Granth. Clearly showing that scholars had missed these important texts he emphasised how important they were to understanding the role of Guru Gobind Singh's bani. This was followed by Dr Kamalroop Singh's presentation-Dasam Granth Sahib Textual History. Singh used subject matter from his PHD thesis to discuss how early pothis and manuscripts of the Granth has been over looked, together with explaining the transmission of the Guru's bani. The theme of Guru Gobind Singh's Durbar was extended by Satnam Singh-Denmark in his Court Poetry of the Tenth Guru. Evaluating the work of Pyara Singh Padam, Satnam showed the immense number of translations undertaken by the Court poets of the Guru.

The second session Performance and society began with Harjinder Singh Lallie, University of Warwick who discussed The Performance of Kirtan. He used a number of classical Kirtan samples from well know Kirtanis from different kirtan gharanas (schools) to act as case studies which highlighted the structure of a Kirtan performance. This was followed by Ragi Harminder Singh who gave an overview of the Panjab Cultural Association project of cataloguing of Kirtan recordings. His team of musicians undertook renderings of shabads from Guru Granth Sahib and Sri Dasam Granth Sahib.

Ragi Harminder Singh and team

Rav Singh gave a unique view of Sikh History in London by adopting the famous London Monopoly board to provide a fascinating account of Sikh and Anglo-Sikh history.He showed how Sikh history could be seen throughout many locations in London. Davinder Singh in his Gurmat Psychology explained how the human mind has made incredible advances in the fields of science, technology, medicine, engineering yet remains profoundly ignorant of the development, evolution and transformation of the Human mind.

The last theme focussed on Film and Art.  Eric Schlaflang-Saving Our Girls - Foeticide gave an understanding on how deep rooted this problem is. Navdeep Singh Kandola's showed footage from his Nihang Singh Documentary considering how the Akali Nihangs need to be given more exposure so that they could be better understood and some of the myths associated with the warriors of Guru Gobind Singh could be eliminated. Jason Askew Anglo-a specialist in military and historical artwork gave an overview of some of his paintings depicting the Anglo-Sikh wars, Sikh soldiers in the World Wars and also depictions of 1984. 

The last presentation was given by Captain Harjot Gill in his Sikh Identity and the Armed Forces. He cited examples of how there was a need for uniformity within the British Military. He also ended the conference by thanking all the speakers and attendees.

The videos of the conference will be made available on the website in due course. 

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Baba Baghel Singh: Sikh Heritage museum opens

Union Finance and Defence Minister Aurn Jaitley at the heritage museum, Bangla Sahib Gurudwara in New Delhi on Saturday.

Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley inaugurated the Baba Baghel Singh Sikh Heritage Multimedia Museum at Gurudwara Bangla Sahib in New Delhi today. To showcase the broad perspective of Sikh heritage and teachings of the Sikh Gurus, Vikramjit Singh Sahney, the chairman of the Sun Foundation, has established the Baba Baghel Singh Sikh Heritage Multimedia Museum in memory of his late father, Gurucharan Singh Sahney.

In this endeavour, he has been supported by the Delhi Sikh Gurudwara Management Committee (DSGMC).

The museum is named after Baba Baghel Singh, a Sikh warrior who conquered Delhi in 1783, according to a press release on the event.

While addressing the gathering of devotees, Sahney said, "The lives and times of Sikh Gurus have left an indelible imprint on mankind. The museum portrays the teachings of Sikhism."

Painting depicting Baba Baghel Singh at the Red Fort, Delhi. 

Speaking on the occasion, Jaitley said Sikh religion is full of sacrifices for the country and it preaches universal brotherhood and secularism.

Manjit Singh, the DSGMC president, said that the museum will showcase the values of Sikh religion which preaches peaceful coexistence.

Tribune News Service, New Delhi, July 26

Saturday, 19 July 2014

Restoration work at Golden Temple continues

A view of the damaged gold work on the roof of the Golden Temple’s first floor which is undergoing restoration. 

Restoration of gold work begins at Golden Temple; to take 2 months 
Experts use special 22 carat gold paint for the project

Restoration work on the interiors of the first floor of the sanctum sanctorum at the Golden Temple has entered a crucial phase with experts starting work on the damaged gold work. In the previous phase of restoration, the conservation experts had restored the precious art work on the walls of the first floor.

Though the restoration of art work had finished last month the restoration of gold work took some time to take off as the gold paint required for it was not available. Sources said it was a special gold paint manufactured by a European firm. It is 22 carat gold and 10 gm of this paint costs around Rs 1 lakh. The gold work inside the shrine has suffered damage with the passage of time as also due to rising pollution. It has witnessed flaking as well as tarnishing at various spots. Besides, the gold work has also been painted with other colours in few areas apparently during a ‘sewa’ performed in the past.

The gold work is primarily on the roof and the arches of the holy shrine. The experts engaged in the work are also doing documentation alongside the restoration work. They could be seen photographing and videographing the entire process. Incidentally, the documentation work was also done prior to the start of the restoration work last year.

Sources said the restoration of gold work on the first floor of the Golden Temple is expected to take around a couple of months. The gold work had already undergone the cleaning process during the initial phase of restoration. The effort initiated by the SGPC by roping in experts has infused a fresh lease of life into the wall paintings which have regained their pristine grandeur. The wall paintings on the first floor involved the most intricate work and it took the team almost six months to restore it.

There was considerable flaking in some areas and subsequently artists were engaged to “reconstruct” the lost part of the wall paintings, while taking a clue from the existing pattern. The restoration work was preceded by compilation of a detailed damage assessment report in which the entire wall paintings were documented. It took the experts around a couple of months in preparing this report before they could finally embark on the project in December last year. Significantly, this is the first time ever that the restoration work on the interiors of the shrine is being done.

The gold-plating and the artwork inside the Golden Temple was done during the era of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. The interiors of Sri Harmandar Sahib boast of rare architecture comprising ‘mohrakashi’, ‘tukri’ and ‘gach’ work. Earlier, the gold plates on the outer walls of the shrine were first replaced in 1999 after a gap of 170 years.

The SGPC entrusted the task of regilding the domes and upper portion to UK-based Guru Nanak Nishkam Sewak Jatha in February, 1995, and its completion coincided with the tercentenary celebrations of foundation of Khalsa Panth in 1999.

Bold endeavour

The restoration of gold work took some time to take off as the gold paint required for it was not available
Sources said it was a special gold paint manufactured by a European firm
The gold-plating and the artwork inside the Golden Temple was done during the era of Maharaja Ranjit Singh

Perneet Singh, Tribune News Service, Amritsar, July 18

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Sikh scholar discusses the history of the Akali Nihangs

New Walk Museum and Art Gallery, Leicester, UK on 13th July 2014 hosted a lecture on the Akali Nihangs. This was part of the exhibition: Sikh Fortress Turban running until 17th August 2014.

The talk was announced by Daljit Singh Makan who works with various organisations and groups to promote the Sikh faith.  The speaker was Historian and Author, Gurinder Singh Mann, himself from Leicester. The talk considered the role of the Sikh army from the inception in the 17th Century to the role played by the Sikhs under Guru Gobind Singh.

Daljit Singh Makan introduces Sikh Scholar Gurinder Singh Mann

Mann using rare sources and anecdotes showed how the Akalis were initially formed under Baba Buddha and Guru Hargobind. The development continued under Guru Gobind Singh who on initiating the Khalsa wore the blue attire. Using the Rehtanamas, verses from Bhai Gurdas 2nd and the Sri Sarbloh Granth, Mann showed how the terms Akalis and Nihang were similar and dissimilar.  

Using verses from the Sri Dasam Granth Sahib, Mann showed how the word Nihang was deployed by Guru Gobind Singh in his compositions. The knight-errants or Akalis of valour who held sway in the eighteenth century was a story of courage, wisdom and battle tactics. The warriors discussed including Nihang Baba Gurbaksh, Nawab Kapur Singh, Jassa Singh Ahluwalia and Baba Deep Singh. As well how the Akali Dals developed under the Misl system under Buddha Dal and Taruna Dal.

The relics of Baba Deep Singh 
Mann also showed frescoes of the Akalis in different locations in India. He also made the valid point that Sikhs were depicted incorrectly by modern painters and by using frescoes and historical texts a better analysis could be used. The vocabulary or Nihang Singh di Bole was also discussed and how this was developed by the Khalsa under testing times.

Leading up to the British period, the role and significance of Akali Phula Singh was elaborated on. The territorial gains made by Maharaja Ranjit Singh rested on many occasions the deeds of the Akali Nihangs. 
It was also shown by Mann, the contribution of the relatively unknown Baba Hanuman Singh who fought in the Anglo-Sikh wars and courted martyrdom after his Akalis were betrayed in Patiala. It was also at this time that the Akalis suffered huge losses and after the annexation of Punjab the Akalis faced further persecution by the British. With the advent of the Akali Dal-political party and the coming of the SGPC, the Akalis lost many of their Gurdwaras. 
Frescoe showing Guru Gobind Singh and his Akalis

In modern times the Akalis have much to contribute however at the same time they need to explain their maryada and traditions as they are misunderstood by the Sikh masses. Mann did a great job in showing the Akali Nihangs in a great light. The lecture was followed by questions where Mann explained how the Akalis did not enlist into the British Army and as a result did not fight in the world Wars. Mann also gave information on the Akali Turbans as well as explaining the role of the Sikh Misls. Mann thanked Malika Krammer (Curator) and the New Walk Museum, the British Museum and Daljit Makan.

The lecture was appraised by Sikh and non-Sikhs alike that were in attendance. It is a credit to the New Walk Museum that an exhibition and lectures on the Sikhs are taking place at public institutions where non Sikhs can gain a better understanding of the Sikh faith.

Forthcoming from the Gurinder Singh Mann is the book Akali Phula Singh and his Turban.


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