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Battle of Aliwal – A War Memorial

An over 150-year-old monument, Flame of Memory, built by the British in memory of the last Anglo-Sikh war, the Battle of Aliwal, stands abandoned at the outskirts of Gora Hoor village near Aliwal, some 40 km from here. In spite of being declared a protected monument in 1964 under the Punjab Ancient, Historical Monuments, Archaeological sites and Remains Act, the memorial is dying a slow death for want of proper care by the State Department of Archaeology and Conservation.

Though constructed by the British in 1846 in memory of more than 400 British soldiers who perished in the battle, the monument also stands as an example of the bravery of the Sikh forces that fought the British Army till the proverbial last drop of their blood. But despite being a reminiscent of the high standards of chivalry of the Sikhs, which was recognized in a way by the British through this memorial, the monument could not attract a similar care and protection from the department and from the residents of villages located around it.

A small reference about the monument in the Ludhiana Gazetteer throws ample light on its history. It says that after the death of Maharaja Ranjit Singh in 1839, the Sikh forces became divided. The British sensing a golden chance began marching towards the erstwhile Punjab to complete their dominance over the whole of India. They were, however, not aware of the might of the Sikh forces whom under the spirited guidance of several Generals, hold the territory as long as they could. One such General was Ranjodh Singh Majithia who led his forces at Baddowal to defeat the British comprehensively in January 1846.

Later, in the same month, Ranjodh Singh moved to Bhundri near the Sutlej. He raised the strength of his army to 15,000. While he was gaining strength here the British under the command of General Harry Smith, who had the bitter taste of the defeat at the hands of the Sikhs in Badowal, were also reinforcing. On January 28, the British moved to capture Aliwal, the key of the Sikh position. The Sikh guns were well served but Aliwal was held by inferior troops who could not put up a spirited fight. But near Bhundri village. the Khalsa troops made a most determined stand. The most gallant part of the action was the charge by the 16th Lancers of the Sikh Infantry. It was not till the whole strength of the British Army was brought to fight that the Sikhs were defeated.

The British loss was also very heavy amounting to more than 400 men killed and wounded. As the battle marked the annexation of a major territory of Punjab by the British a memorial in the form of the monument was built.

However, the memorial built by the British was a very tall one. The original monument, which had weakened considerably due to non-conservation, was destroyed in the eighties during flash floods in the Sutlej River. After that the department got constructed a new but a much smaller monument. Sadly, this too is now in a state of neglect waiting for nature’s fury to bring it down.