November 12, 2011 admin

Amarpal Sidhu’s recent travelogue tells the story of these monuments and their current state:

By their own admission, the fiercest battles the British fought to gain their hold on the subcontinent were fought in the Punjab. Today, the memorials built to commemorate these battles lie in ruins. Hard fought contests at Mudki, Ferozeshah, Budhowal, Aliwal and Sabraon were followed by the virtual annexation of the Punjab although the Second Anglo-Sikh war would finally put an end to the  Lahore state.

Around 20 years after the war, the British erected monuments at four of the sites. Budhowal, one of the smaller encounters which ended in a Sikh victory was not commemorated. Similar in style to each other although having their own character, each monument is comprised of a column encircled by a small square garden with a small square flat-roofed caretaker_s hut in one corner. There is little else to remind one of the fierce encounters that took place there. However the scene which met the two armies 150 years ago may not be much different from now. The villages near where the encounters took place remain small as in 1846, the land is flat and the battlefields are prime The Sikh Bulletin  K. T. F. of N. A. Inc. 3524 Rocky Ridge Way, El Dorado Hills, CA. 95762 13 farming land with corn fields stretching to the horizon.  However any entrenchments or fortifications that would have been built long been lost to the farmers plough. British maps interestingly show nullahs (water channels) and some of  these still exist today along with new ones leaving natural  trenches that would no doubt have been used. Any traveller to these battlefield sites will have no problem finding the monuments when they reach these villages as the  locals are well aware of where the monuments lie. The sheer size and well built nature of the monuments means they are still intact after 150 years despite little interest by the Indian  Government although all now require some care and attention at various points.


The first battle of the war took place just north of the village of Mudki in the district of Ferozepur. The outer facade of this structure is now crumbing away at the base. The monument has plaques written in English, Persian and Punjabi. The date of erection is clearly shown on a plaque as 1870, 25 years after the battle. The outer brickwork at the base is very much exposed now with many bricks missing and cracks developing at the base. The caretakers hut in the rectangular plot seems to have been repaired. One can imagine a garden surrounding the structure during British times. A pathway leads from the entrance at the roadside to the monument with a small wall topped with barbed wire marking out the plot. Although neglected, it is fortunately not getting any unwelcome attention either with any signs of graffiti or malicious damage. Visitors would be well advised to visit the local Gurdwara (Shaheed Ganj Mudki) a short way down the road towards the village which holds scenes of the battle and the treacherous part played by the Sikh commanders and chat with local elders about this battle.


The monument at Ferozshah stands in the southwest of the  village of Ferozeshah which is itself a little bit off the GT road. The memorial here has a slightly different style, the column and base being triangular in shape but of the same order of length as at Mudki. A space at the base must have held a plaque however it has been replaced with a poor clayed one with "Ferozeshah" written in large letters. The remains of the original plaque are nowhere to be seen. The base of the monument seems to be in slightly better shape with none of the missing bricks and cracks apparent in the mudki one.

At Ferozeshah, a Gurdwara now stands proudly next to the monument.The monument actually stands in the southwest corner of the village where the fighting was the fiercest.  Close to the village now stands the AngloSikh War memorial museum. Anyone visiting Ferozeshah should visit the museum to see a fairly extensive array of hand weapons from the battles. Signs of neglect are apparent though with swords and muskets carrying an appreciable layer of rust. The museum is also doing little to maintain the cannons marking the entrance to the museum, one of which now lies on its side after the collapse of one of its gun carriage wheels. Despite the decay aroud them, guardians of the museum are quick to stop visitors from taking pictures The Sikh Bulletin K. T. F. of N. A. Inc. 3524 Rocky Ridge Way, El Dorado Hills, CA. 95762 14 inside. The museum has an impressive array of large paintings by Sikh artists showing scenes from the battles.

Maps showing battle formations and tactics of both sides are also of interest. There is also a small library where visitors can browse through the books. Visitors wishing to make a video record of the Museum would be advised to obtain permission before visiting the museum. This is available  from The Director of Cultural Affairs, Archaeology and Museums Punjab, Plot No 3, Sector 38A, Chandigarh. Locals mention of British visitors coming to visit this monument but they are few and far between.There are said to be British graves in Misreewala, a village close to Ferozeshah, where some of British forces retired after their failure to break through Sikh lines during the first day of the battle.


The major encounter at Ferozeshah was followed by a smaller encounter near the town of Budhowal with the Sikh General Ranjodh Singh Majithia gaining a triumph over the British army. A large part of the British baggage train was captured and prisoners were taken. No  memorial has been setup at this place by the British. However the sarpanch (headman of the village), whose ancestors fought in the battle has set up a monument, albeit much smaller than the ones at Ferozeshah and Mudki. Next to the monument, a museum which will hold paintings  of the battles is being built. Visitors to Budhowal in a year’s time may see the project completed. Although the encounter  has taken the name of Budhowal, the memorial and the battle itself took place at Pamal Village, a short distance from budhowal. Budhowal is a short way from Ludhiana from where the visitor can also travel to see the Aliwal battlefield. 


A short distance from Budhowal and adjacent to the Sutlej lies Aliwal, a much larger encounter fought just after Budhowal. The British monument setup here is of a shorter more squat style than at Ferozeshah. Signs of decay here are much more apparent than the other two British structures. On  one side a large number of bricks have disappeared from the base and a plaque lies broken on the ground. The monument is square and in keeping with the style of other monuments should have had a plaque on each side however there are no remains of these on the site. The caretaker’s hut is a mere shell now and the site is covered with weeds unlike the other sites. Sitting in an isolated position between the villages of Aliwal and Bhoondri, the structure occupies a space that would have been the centre of the Sikh lines and therefore very close to the centre of the battlefield.


The final battle of the campaign took place at Sabraon, again adjacent to the Sutlej and a short drive form the Harike Wetlands Park at the confluence of the Sutlej and Beas  rivers. Erected in 1868, the monument is placed around the area the British lines would have been drawn just prior to the battle, south of The Sikh Bulletin K. T. F. of N. A. Inc. 3524 Rocky Ridge Way, El Dorado Hills, CA. 95762 15 the village of Rhodewalla. The monument, also in the more squat style of the Aliwal structure but made as a column here is in reasonable shape however the plaques commemorating the battle at the bottom are again missing. Brickwork at the top of the column is now missing and the plasterwork from the top of the column has come off. However the column is in good shape. Again some of the brickwork at the base is missing.


Travelers winding their way through the battle field sites will find it a rewarding experience. Locals are curious about the few outsiders who come to see the monuments and will approach the visitor themselves and volunteer information.It’s well worth engaging in conversation with the elders at the Gurdwaras especially at Mudkee and Sabraon and an interesting hour or two can be spent exchanging views on these historic altercations, the treachery and betrayal shown by the Sikh Generals and the numerous ‘what if’ questions that come to mind. They are well versed in the accounts of the battles and the betrayals that took place on the eve of the  end of the Sikh Empire and are proud of the historic location of their villages. This more than makes up for the lack of attention that the Government is paying to these important locations. Rather than adding to the importance of these battlefields in some fashion, what little there is in terms of these monuments is being currently ignored. All words and pictures by Amarpal Sidhu. Copyright of the author.

[The author is the son of S. Gurbachan Singh Sidhu of UK who has authored many books about Sikhism. After reading this article if you feel that we need to do something to restore and maintain these monuments, please write to him: Gurbachan Singh Sidhu e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need javascript enabled to view it . Consider adopting the upkeep of these monuments in your village. ED.]


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