The Spartan 300 or the Chamkaur 40 ?

The recent movie called 300 has focused the world on the heroic deeds of the Greeks who fought against all odds against a Persian army of superior numbers and arms. The battle of Thermopilae is held in western history as the greatest last stand ever in which 300 Spartans held a Persian army that vastly outnumbered them before being slaughtered.

Not trying to steal the wind from the Greek sails but is there not another battle that is overlooked that is as heroic, if not even more uneven in its opposing sides, when 40 Sikhs at the battle of Chamkaur, fought the entire imperial army of the Moghul ruler Aurangzeb?


In the Battle of Thermopylae of 480 BC an alliance of Greek city states fought the invading Persian Empire at the pass of Thermopylae in central Greece. Vastly outnumbered, the Greeks held back the Persians for three days in one of history's most famous last stands. A small force led by King Leonidas of Sparta blocked the only road through which the massive army of Xerxes I could pass. After three days of battle, a local resident named Ephialtes betrayed the Greeks by revealing a mountain path that led behind the Greek lines. Dismissing the rest of the army, King Leonidas stayed behind with 300 Spartans and 700 Thespian volunteers. The Persians succeeded in taking the pass but sustained heavy losses, extremely disproportionate to those of the Greeks. The fierce resistance of the Spartan-led army offered Athens the invaluable time to prepare for a decisive naval battle that would come to determine the outcome of the war.

The performance of the defenders at the battle of Thermopylae is often used as an example of the advantages of training, equipment, and good use of terrain to maximize an army's potential, and has become a symbol of courage against overwhelming odds.

The heroic sacrifice of the Spartans and the Thespians has captured the minds of many throughout the ages and has given birth to many cultural references as a result

A few points to note, it wasn’t at all a band of 300 Spartans surrounded by millions of Persians, the pass at Thermopylae is a small and narrow area where only a few hundred soldiers can fight at a time. The 300 were actually joined by 700 Thespians. With all due respect to the Persian and Greek armies, the Spartans cannot be given all of the credit. The Athenians burned the Persian fleet in the sea at Salamis. Also, the Athenians fought the Persians earlier at a place called Marathon (which is what the running competition is named after: the distance Pheidippides ran to spread the news of Greece beating the Persian Army.) And many tribes and local kingdoms fiercely fought the Persians on their expeditions toward Greece.

Nonetheless, it was a great battle. They were indeed brave and fierce, and so were the Persians.


The date is December 1705 the combined armies of the Mughal empire and the treacherous Hill Rajas have besieged Anandpur Sahib. The Muslim generals are taking oaths of the Holy Quraan and the Pahari Hill Rajas on the oaths of Bhagwat Gita and the holy cow.
They implore Guru Gobind Singh Ji, for one time, leave Anandpur Sahib and that they will be given safe passage out. Though Guru Sahib Ji did not believe a word of it or any of their oaths or promises they decided to leave Anandpur Sahib due to the request of the Sikhs inside the fort.

The Sikhs vacated the premises as a storm brewed leaving the fort in pitch darkness, the enemy forgetting all about the oaths they had taken attacked the Sikhs. With the enemy hot on their heels the Sikhs reached the river Sarsa running near to Anandpur Sahib, which had swollen due to the storm and winter rains. The hungry and weak army of the Sikhs had a difficult crossing to make in the wake of the sea of Muslim and ungrateful Hindu army behind them. It was a tragic scene of devastation. The Guru was separated from the Sikhs as well as from his family. The whole Sikh army was scattered in the dark as small groups moved to safety in any direction they found. Facing all these unfavorable conditions, Sikhs were to make unaccountable sacrifices

The Guru along with forty of his followers crossed the river and arrived at a small clearing, they took shelter in an unsound small fort called 'Kachhi Garhi’ at Chamkaur. The enemy soon arrived and laid siege. This Gharhi was surrounded by 10 lakh soldiers of the enemy. No band of soldiers have ever faced such unfavorable odds, not even the Spartans. This was not narrow a passage to defend, this was a small shakey havali surrounded on all sides by the enemy baying for blood.

The two Sahibzadas - Baba Ajit Singh and Baba Jujhar Singh - and three other archers took up positions, along with Guru Gobind Singh Ji in the upper portion of the house. Eight persons each were deputed to guard each of the four sides. Two expert swordsmen -Bhai Madan Singh and Bhai Kotha Singh - stood to guard the only entrance to the haveli.

The arrows from upper storey of the haveli kept many a soldier at bay. Those who came forward to storm the garhi, met piercing arrows. They either perished or preferred to pull back, or faced hand-to-hand fights with Singhs guarding the four sides. Faujdar Nahar Khan was one of those who fell to the arrows of Guru Gobind Singh himself. The onslaught continued relentlessly as the enemy continually attacked all sides of the gahri.

The battle lasted all day. When the ammunition and arrows in the garhi almost ran out, the Singhs came out in batches of five, with swords and spears in their hands, to face the enemy that far outnumbered them. Their determination and fighting skill helped them kill many of the enemy, but odds were so heavy against them that they all fell in the field, one by one. They were followed by the next batch of five, charged with emotions of fighting a treacherous enemy. Determined to fight with all their vigor, they too were to lay their lives the same way.

The two elder sons of Guru Ji - Baba Ajit Singh (17 years old) and Baba Jujhar Singh (15 years old) stepped forward and volunteered to go fight the hordes outside. The Great Guru was greatly impressed and prepared them himself for battle before sending them out to the field of battle to sacrifice their lives. Included in this band were three of the original Panj Piyaray (Five Beloved ones) Bhai Mohkam Singh, Bhai Himmat Singh and Bhai Sahib Singh.

Each Sikh went into battle with such ferocity, like a hungry lion scattering its prey that it unnerved the enemy, but the hordes overwhelmed them and they fought to the last breath. Such heroics have seldom been seen before or since. This situation brought true the prophecy of one of Guru Sahib Ji’s compositions :

"Call me Gobind Singh, only, when each of my Sikh will fight with more than one and a quarter lakh of enemy."

By the nightfall, only six persons - Guru Gobind Singh Ji, two of the " Beloved Five" (Bhai Daya Singh and Bhai Dharam Singh), Bhai Sant Singh, Bhai Man Singh and Sangat Singh remained alive in the garhi. The Singhs decided that Guru Gobind Singh must leave the haveli, so that he could rally his followers again. If he perished, loss to the community would be irreparable. Guru Ji wanted to face the enemy but the five Sikhs in the form of Panj Piyaray said that Guru Ji must do as they say, to which Guru Sahib Ji relented.

It was proposed that Guru Sahib Ji should change his attire with Sangat Singh, who somewhat resembled him in stature. By his being visible, the others might get enough time to reach a somewhat safe distance. Reluctantly, the Guru agreed, to the propsal, which the Singhs presented as the matta of five, which was binding. . Bhai Sant Singh decided to stay back to guard the entrance, and thus gain some additional time, when the enemy barges in.

In the middle of the night Guru Gobind Singh and three remaining Sikhs - Bhai Daya Singh, Bhai Mohkam Singh and Bhai Man Singh - left the haveli, with a plan to go in different directions but meet in a garden outside Machhivara. Even at this critical moment Guru Ji was fearless and full of valor, clapping loudly three times and shouting “here goes the Guru of the Sikhs, face me now if you have the courage” and set off into the enemy hordes. Fighting their way through the enemy ranks Guru Ji made it out and headed towards Machiwara.

This whole incident is referred to in the historical document called Zafarnama, penned by Guru Gobind Singh himself. Notice that the figure of 10 Lakh enemy is refered to by Guru Sahib Ji giving more credence to this figure rather then it being a generic value. Also, it does not seem implausible for the emperor of India to be able to muster a million men as his earlier attempts with well documented fewer numbers had failed even though they had still had overwhelming numerical advantage. In addition, the time disparity also gives the chamkaur battle more credibility in that it is something from recent history (~300 years) whereas the battle of Thermopilae is said to have occurred over 3000 years ago.

Zafarnama – line 19….

How could forty famished persons fight in the battlefield, on whom ten lakh soldiers made a sudden attack.19.
Your army breaking the oath and in great haste plunged in the battlefield with arrows and guns.20.
For this reason, I had to intervene and had to come fully armed.21.
When all other methods fail, it is proper to hold the sword in hand.22.
I have no faith in your oaths on the Quarn, otherwise I had nothing to do with this battle.23.
I do not know that your officers are deceitful, otherwise I would not have followed this path.24.
It is not appropriated to imprison and kill those, who put faith on the oaths of Quarn.25.

The soldiers of your army, clad in black uniforms, rushed like flies on my men.26.
Whosoever from them came near the wall of the fort, with one arrow he wos drenched in his won blood.27.
None dared to come there near the wall; none faced then the arrows and destruction.28.
When I saw Nahar Khan in the battlefield, he was greeted with one of my arrows.29.
All those boasters who came near the wall, they were dispatched in no time.30.
Another Afghan, with a bow and arrow came in the battlefield like a flood.31.
He shot arrows heroically, sometimes in senses and sometimes in madness.32.
He made several attacks and was drenched with last.33.
Khwaja Mardud hid himself behind the wall; he did not enter the field like a brave warrior.34.
If I had seen his face once, one of my arrows would have dispatched him to the abode of death.35.
Many warriors wounded with arrows and bullets died in the battle on both the sides.36.
The darts were showered so violently, that the field became red like popyflowers.37.
The heads and limbs of the dead were scattered in the field like the balls and sticks in the game of Polo.38.
When the arrows hissed and bows tinkled, there was a great hue and cry in the world.39.
There the spears and lances provided a dreadful sound and the warriors lost heir senses.40.
How could bravery ultimately withstand in the field, when only forty were surrounded by innumerable warriors?41.
When the lamp of the world veiled itself, the moon shone in brightness during the night.42.
He, who puts faith on the oaths of the Quran, the Ture Lord gives him the guidance.43.
There was neither any harm nor injury; my Lord, the vanquisher of the enemies, brought me to safety.44