Zorawar Singh

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A Visionary General

Sat Parkash Suri, Dr Gurdev Singh,Tributes to a Visionary General "Daily Excelsior" 11/12/2016

Zorawar Singh

Destiny had made General Zorawar Singh for the role of a soldier to extend India’s boundaries up to Karakoram in Central Asia. The breath taking adventurous expeditions added to his personality the varied experiences which later marked him out as one of the finest Generals of the 19th century. As expected General Zorawar Singh became a most sought after person with Gulab Singh whose hazy dreams he translated into action when he embarked on the conquest of Ladakh and Western Tibet. His honesty, devotion and dedication to duty led to his meteoric rise from a private soldier to that of a ‘Hakim’ or Governor and subsequently a Wazir and a General of an organized army. His war-like strategy coupled with undaunted zeal for military operations that involved hazards, helped him to achieve the impossible and uphill task for his master.

Zorawar Singh, ‘the Napolean of the East’ cannot be separated from his esteemed master Gulab Singh as both were made for each other in the pursuit of expanding Indian territories towards northern highlands. Gulab Singh had a dream while Zorawar Singh had talent and knack to execute his dream in flesh and blood. Zorawar Singh rose from the shadows of wild dreams and oblivion to become a tactician par excellence and logistician in the conquests of Trans-Himalayan campaigns. He organized an army who achieved expertise to fight at the world’s highest altitude mountain warfare. It would be the right tribute if we describe him as the architect and torch bearer of the Military Renaissance in India’s operational methodology. For his exploits, expeditions and mountain warfare he has carved out a niche for himself in the military history as the tactical genius and a visionary. Gulab Singh being the shrewdest personality ever produced by India who applied his diplomacy in such a superb manner that he was characterized as ‘the Ulysses of the Hills’ and ‘the Talleyrand of the East’ by his contemporaries.

The Dogra Wazir General Zorawar Singh stormed over the Himalayan Kingdom and created havoc in the sleeping and peaceful Buddhist region through which he passed and occupied large chunks of territories in the northern highland and he concluded shaky alliances with the local Ladakhi leaders. As a result he was himself and his troops were repeatedly called back to suppress local revolts and uprisings in Ladakh he had conquered until it permanently became an inalien part of Gulab Singh’s vast princely composite state in British ruled India.

Apprehending the impact of the expansionist policy of the Czarist Russia who had its coveted eyes on Kashmir because its invasion would have given her an opportunity to directly confront the British in India and as such the British rulers realized the logistical reality at a very early stage and they went all out to support the Jammu Dogra Chief Gulab Singh who acted independently, fearlessly and unmindful of the consequences and initiated a series of military campaigns through General Zorawar Singh. Gulab Singh extended his dominion and retained his territories as a buffer against the Russian designs. Gulab Singh was given a free hand to advance right upto Karakoram range, from Tibet to Chitral and to subdue Kashgar, Yarkhand and Khiva in Central Asia.

Zorawar Singh was a visionary in every sense of the word, epitomized valour, strived hard, broke barriers and extended Indian boundaries upto Karakoram in Central Asia. A giant among the army generals, Zorawar Singh who planned and impeccably executed a road map for adventurous expeditions towards northern highlands after traversing tough terrain track laden with glaciers, steep cliffs and breath-taking river crossings. As the cycle of military campaigns became more frequent and stretched longer, Zorawar Singh’s role became magnified a hundred fold. He fought many a pitched battles and rarely came second best. True to his style, General Zorawar Singh kept fighting till his last breath when he was killed at To-Yo, Tirthapuri on 12 December, 1841.

General Zorawar Singh who possessed stamina, mental toughness and endurance, prepared a sturdy team for the military operations, acclimatized to the cold climate and emerged victorious in the hurclean and decathlon expeditions of Ladakh.

Ladakh now the Trans-Himalyan frontier of Jammu and Kashmir state and the biggest in size in the Indian Union became the central stage of General Zorawar Singh’s military operations in the third decade of 19th century. In 1834 when Dogra Commander Zorawar Singh invaded it for the first time, the Ladakh Kingdom was divided into nine administrative districts namely Nubra, Ladakh, Zanskar, Rukshu, Purig, Spiti, Lahul, Drass and Suru and after complete subjugation of Ladakh by the Dogras in 1842, it became a Wazarat of Maharaja Gulab Singh’s state.

Under Raja Gulab Singh’s aegis, his most spirited General Zorawar Singh as one of the greatest soldiers and war strategist that India ever produced, mounted expeditions into Ladakh’s most tough terrain and other north highlands and conquered it for his most esteemed master. Maharaja Gulab Singh held sway over four vast ethnically and culturally different regions such as Jammu, Kashmir, Ladakh and Gilgit that constituted Jammu and Kashmir state, one of the largest Indian states in British ruled India. After the conclusion of the Amritsar Treaty signed on 16 March, 1846, the British Governor-General Lord Hardinge acknowledged Gulab Singh as legally the independent sovereign ruler of a vast princely state of Jammu and Kashmir who at fifty four retained complete control over it which was linguistically and geographically different from one region to another region.

For the sake of his master’s exaltation, Zorawar Singh risked all hazards and inspired by the zeal of loyalty, he over ran and conquered Suru, Purig, Zanskar, Ladakh and Baltistan and scaled the highest snow capped passes. With the same spirit, he swept over the world’s loftiest plateau of Tibet, the patriotism that ultimately culminated with his life. By invading Tibet, Zorawar’s intention was to get back for his motherland the sacred lake Mansarovar which once formed part of Bharat Varsha as mentioned in the Puranas as one of the most pious places of pilgrimage.

On 10 December 1841, the Dogra General moved to Kan-ru-mimu-na, a place near To-Yo where both the armies-Dogras and Tibetans faced each other in the deadly conflict. Wazir Zorawar Singh, a man of indomitable courage and stamina acted on the Napoleonic maxim that offensive was the best weapon of defence and as such he fell ferociously on the enemy. In those worst freezing conditions, an action was fought from dawn till dusk in the midst of Gurdang and Purang. Death defying Dogra warriors gave a good account of their reckless bravery inspite of the insurmountable hurdles. The first deadliest battle was fought on 10 December 1841 and that pitched action continued for three consecutive days. On 12 December 1841, the fateful day, General Zorawar Singh received a bullet in his right shoulder. He was, however, easily not ready to surrender at once and thus chivalrous General Zorawar Singh seized his sword with his left hand. The Tibetans knew very well that the Dogra Commander was badly wounded but he was still dreaded by them who did not dare to approach him. They made desperate rush on their trenches and a Tibetan horseman thrust his lance through Zorawar’s breast. This put an end to General Zorawar Singh’s life and to the resistance of his army.

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