GENERAL ZORAWAR SINGH – BRAVERY BEYOND BORDERS
• bravery beyond borders of BHARAT
• GENERAL ZORAWAR SINGH OF JAMMU
• By Brigadier Chitranjan Sawant,VSM
TOYO, TAKLAKOT, Tibet – that is the hallowed place where stands a dilapidated Samadhi of a brave man called General Zorawar Singh, a Kahluria Rajput of the 19th century India.
He was born in 1786 in the Kangra district but his bravery blossomed in the Dogra army of Raja Gulab Singh of Jammu. He is known not only for his generalship but also statesmanship. He fought and won battles in far off foreign lands of Baltistan in the West and Tibet in the East. He annexed the foreign territories conquered by the Dogra army under his leadership and made them a part of the Jammu Raj. Ladakh is now a part of India, thanks to bravery and sagacity of General Zorawar Singh.
Never has an individual king or captain fought and won so many ferocious battles in foreign lands located far away from the home base and eventually made them a part and parcel of his motherland as was done by General Zorawar Singh.
What a shame that not many of his compatriots know about his adventures as not many historians of repute wrote or ballad singers sung in his honour so that his name and deeds are etched in the hearts and minds of the posterity. His last resting place, the Samadhi or Chorten (in Tibetan language) looks askance at the Indian pilgrims who are on way to or are returning from holy Mount Kailash but a mute stare of helplessness is all that it receives in return.
RISE AND RISE
Young Zorawar took interest in the management of his ancestral lands in Kangra and always thought of ways and means of improving the agricultural production.
He was a precocious administrator right from the beginning. Notwithstanding small agricultural holdings that Zorawar’s family possessed, he took pains to ensure that there was no encroachment on it nor an attempt to effect adverse possession to be recorded by the village official.
One of Zorawar’s cousins had an eye on a part of the common holding and made himself busy with making evil designs to grab what was not his. Zorawar was a man of integrity and expected others too to be clean in their dealings. Since the cousin concerned was bent upon playing foul in disposal of the ancestral land, a fight was bound to take place. It did. Zorawar had the better of his cousin in a sword fight and the rogue met his end. The friends and relatives of the killed cousin wished to frame Zorawar legally and have him incarcerated.
As the legal proceedings were likely to go against the interests of young Zorawar who was just a teenager, the young man decided to flee his ancestral village to escape legal proceedings and rigours of a jail life. He went to Haridwar, the famous place of pilgrimage of Hindus of all shades and hues.
Some contemporary historians of sorts believed that Zorawar landed in Haridwar, one of the most sacred places of pilgrimage for the Hindus, more for personal atonement than to escape the long arms of law. He was a religious minded straight forward fellow and went to the place of pilgrimage to pray for a Divine Pardon. He did not want to carry this baggage of guilt resulting from the unintentional killing of a cousin all his life. The earlier atonement of sin was done the better it would be.
It was, therefore, this religious atonement of sin rather than escaping arms of law that found him in a different garb in Haridwar.
Destiny had better things in store for young Zorawar than he himself had planned. In Haridwar, Zorawar came across Rana Jaswant Singh of Doda, Jammu and the Rana saw in Zorawar the great spark of military genius and leadership that would win laurels both in war and peace. The Rana took young Zorawar to Doda along with him with the intention of training him as a soldier. He did precisely that. Young Zorawar came out of the training phase with flying colours.
He showed a keen interest in Logistics and specialised in the effective handling of Logistics as a force multiplier in war. His brilliant ideas in this field were appreciated by military experts of this branch of military strategy. What a pity, the same Zorawar, as a General and a matured and experienced commander in the battle field, lost the war at village TOYO in Tibet because of failure of Logistics in severe winter when soldiers burnt the Woodstock of their rifles and other firearms to keep themselves warm in the absence of regular fuel. Reinforcements and other essential supplies had failed to reach and the inevitable happened. More of that a little later.
While handling Logistics in Doda, young Zorawar had a chance meeting and a chat on effecting economy with the boss of the show, Raja Gulab Singh of Jammu. The new proposals for bringing in economy to save State exchequer money, put forward by young Zorawar was appreciated by the Raja and he gave a green signal to implement it. Not only that; young Zorawar was made incharge of the new project that he handled with aplomb and won laurels. Raja Gulab Singh of Jammu was mighty happy with Zorawar and made him Governor of Doda-Reasi-Kistwar area and conferred on him the rank of a Wazir.
Wazir Zorawar Singh did not look back after that and his march forward was onward and onward.
Chandragupt Maurya and Samudragupt were emperors of India who had moved their forces in Central Asia, defeated foreign armies and even married princesses of Greek royal household. The distant drums of India had not been heard in Central Asia thereafter. It was left to Wazir Zorawar Singh to march there with his combined armies of Dogras, Ladakhis and other foreigners professing faiths different from the Hindu Dharma and yet make them a homogenous fighting outfit that engaged and defeated in battles commanders and common soldiers of various Muslim principalities of Baltistan.
I shall give a short pause to my narrative to offer bouquets to Vazir Zorawar Singh and his Dogra soldiers. Loyalty was a remarkable factor in winning battles in Baltistan. It was a two-way traffic, soldiers to the commander and back from the commander to the soldiers. The deep sense of loyalty made them victorious wherever they went and fought. The TRUST built between them over a period of time saw them through thick and thin. There were acts of chivalry beyond the call of duty. For them the Dogra kingdom of Dogra Desh with Maharajah Gulab Singh at the helm of affairs, was everything. They hesitated not in sacrificing their lives at the altar of victory in battle.
No wonder, entire Baltistan was theirs and they marched in victory processions from town to town; from principality to principality.
Gilgit, Hunza, Nagar and adjoining areas of Baltistan, far away from their homeland, Dogra Desh, came under the direct rule of Maharajah Gulab Singh whose flag flew from the hills and dales of scenic surroundings. The Dogras, thanks to the capable military leadership of General Zorawar Singh, were monarchs of all they surveyed. The Company Bahadur of the Englishmen had given their seal of approval to the unfurling of the Dogra flag in the distant land but had cautioned them to be vary of the Russian bear that was on the prowl right there. In other words, General Zorawar Singh’s military operations were restricted within the Lakshman Rekha drawn by the British overlords.
It was a wonder of wonders. Simple Dogra men whose main profession was agriculture in villages and who lived below snow line were now conquerors and masters of Baltistan moving near snow line and practising their strategy of Loyalty, Trust, Training in peace to win wars and Will to Achieve Aim, come rain come shine. The Dogra army of Maharaja Gulab Singh of Jammu, under the capable leadership of Vazir Zorawar Singh made history and had become a force to reckon with.
Even their own kinsmen of the Lahore Durbar received a complaint from Mehan Singh, Governor of Kashmir under the Sikh rule, that prayed for putting a stop to Zorawar Singh’s campaign beyond Baltistan lest the interest of the Sikh kingdom was harmed. The Lahore durbar forwarded the complaint to Maharaja Gulab Singh who, reading between the lines, ordered Vazir Zorawar Singh to freeze in his tracks in Baltistan. The orders were obeyed.
Vazir Zorawar Singh had replaced the ruler of Skardu, Ahmad Shah with his son, Muhammad Shah and the arrangement gained popular support. The new ruler started paying Rs7,000 per annum to Maharajah Gulab Singh of Jammu as a tribute and accepted the suzerainty of the Dogras.General Zorawar Singh built a new fort at Skardu and positioned a contingent of Dogra soldiers to keep an eye on the rebellious elements of Baltistan. It showed the confluence of military and political acumen of General Zorawar Singh because of which Baltistan region including Gilgit, Hunza, Nagar were a part of India. Of course, Pakistan gained control of these Northern Areas surreptitiously in August 1947 with the connivance of the rogue elements among the British officers and Muslim troops among Maharajah’s army.
Wazir Zorawar Singh despatched a contingent of the Dogra force under Wazir Lakhpat to move further up and capture Fort Astor and that was done without meeting much resistance from the Muslim forces who were already under an awesome spell of the Dogra superiority. The Darad raja was taken prisoner but had to be released later under orders of the Lahore durbar of the Sikh kingdom.
The genius of Zorawar manifested itself in his planning and preparation for an eastward march towards Tibet since the Westward March had been blocked by the Lahore Durbar and the British Governor General sitting in Fort William, Calcutta too was a bit uneasy about the Westward march of the Dogras.
Another of the six Expeditions of General Zorawar Singh to the high lands of Ladakh and the plateau of Tibet was undertaken.
The stocky Dogras climbed up the high hills from Reasi in the Jammu region to the place of origin of Suru river, traversing Zanskar made it to Leh, capital of the little Tibet, that is Ladakh. The rag tag army of Namgyal, Gyalpo of Ladakh was no match to the battle seasoned Dogras of Zorawar Singh.
The military skirmish was over before it began and the rebels disciplined for hobnobbing with defiant Botis of Baltistan. With this mission accomplished, Zorawar turned to Tibet, untrampled by foreign feet so far. Travelling westward on horseback, on foot in an unknown land through large tracts of barren land and small hamlets of strange men and women professing faith of the Buddha, the Dogras reached Taklakot or Purang near holy Mount Kailash and Lake Mansarovar. General Zorawar Singh and his compatriots, not forgetting new Ladakhi and Balti allies, had a Darshan of kailash Parvat and took a dip in lake Mansarovar. Spiritual contentment was writ large on their faces. Little did anyone realise that this was the last holy dip and Darshan as death and destruction were lurking nearby.
NEMESIS AT TO-YO
General Zorawar Singh had headed such a successful campaign in Ladakh, onward in Baltistan and back in Ladakh that he and his fellow soldiers did not know how to thank their stars. In his own mind the General was planning a much bigger campaign to an unknown land to fly the Dogra flag there. He was awaiting reinforcements from homeland and also a word of Shabash from Maharajah Gulab Singh for achieving the near impossible. He and his men got a pat on the back but no clearance for moving to places unknown until they had a concrete campaign plan with a sound back up of men and material.
Winter fell. There was an early snowfall. Severe cold, frosty winds, lack of fuel for warming men and armaments took their toll on life and limbs. The bayonet strength fell from day to day. Food for men and fodder for the animals was in short supply. The soldiers burnt Woodstock of rifles and other weapons to keep the human body warm. And yet frostbite did not spare the sturdy dogras from Doda, Reasi, Jammu and even Botis and Ladakhis. The soldiers’morale was in their boots.
Meanwhile, the Chinese and Tibetans had assembled a sizeable force in the Taklakot region. Being natives of the place, the cold did not damage their body and minds so much as it did to Dogras. At an opportune moment the enemy struck. In the fierce battle that ensued, a bullet pierced through the right shoulder of the General but he picked up his sword with the left hand. A Tibetan horseman came charging and pierced his lance through the chest of the brave chief; who breathed his last on the battlefield. It was the month of December in the year 1841.
A large number of soldiers of the Dogra army met their glorious end fighting on a foreign soil in inclement weather where it was difficult to distinguish friend from foe. It was a sad end to a glorious career. A Samadhi was made with large loose stones and ashes kept there. The Samadhi is known to the local people as “Sing-ba Ka Chorten”. On my way to holy Mount Kailash, I stood in front of the Samadhi to pay respectful homage to a great son of India who lies there, unwept and unsung. He did so much for Bharat Mata and isn’t it the turn of Sons of the Brave to honour the Brave?
The silence around the Samadhi in the absence of an answer is deafening indeed!
The Tibetans, being superstitious, cut small pieces of flesh from the general’s dead body to keep in their houses so that Zorawar-like chivalry was passed on among the Tibetan people from generation to generation.
The sad news was broken to Maharajah Gulab Singh in Peshawar by Commissioner Lawrence during a campaign against the tribal rebels. He hastily assembled an army of brave Dogras and despatched them towards Tibet to punish the guilty. The Dogras carried the day in a military engagement near Chushul in Ladakh and killed the enemy general in battle to avenge the death of dear old compatriot, Zorawar Singh, bravest of the brave.
NO FADING AWAY
Soldiers never die; they just fade away – an age-old saying is still doing rounds of military barracks when a hero who fell in battle is recalled. I must hasten to add that General Zorawar Singh is neither dead nor has faded away. The great Patriot is still with us and shall be with all Indians till eternity.
General Zorawar Singh always earned the respect of both the victorious friend and the vanquished foe. In battle he fought to defend the values of life as enshrined in our Dharma. His honesty and integrity went unchallenged till his last breath.
In books of history and research papers, General Zorawar Singh is rightly called : Napoleon of India.
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