11 Facts about the Maratha Light Infantry

11 lesser known facts about the oldest and one of the most decorated light infantry regiments of the Indian Army

by Pranjal Wagh
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Maratha Light Infantry marches on!

1. The Oldest Light Infantry Regiment in the Indian Army

Maratha Light Infantry
Maratha Light Infantry

Maratha Light Infantry was originally formed as the 1st Mahrattas in 1768, making it the most senior light infantry regiment of the Army. Its battalion was given the duty of protecting British possessions on the island of “Bombay”. Hence, they were also called “2nd Bombay Sepoys” The regiment is one of the senior most regiments in the Indian Army and one of the most decorated ones. The Maratha Light Infantry is known for its valour and the decorations it earned over the years -especially in World War II

2. The Special Forces Unit Involved in Myanmar Surgical Strikes in 2015 was a Maratha Unit

21 Para SF - The Waghnakhs
21 Para SF – The Waghnakhs

In 2015, the 6 Dogra Regiment of the Indian Army was ambushed by the militants of NSCN-K in Chandel district of Manipur in North-east India leading to the deaths of 18 Soldiers and leaving 15 others severely injured. In response to that, the Indian Army carried out daring cross-border raids into Myanmar and destroyed the Insurgent Camp. In a 40 minute long well-planned and well-executed Special Forces raid, 38 militants of the NSCN-K were eliminated with 0 casualties on the Indian side.

This dare-devil act was entrusted upon none other than 21 Para SF Unit which are better known as the “WaghNakhs” after the legendary weapon used by Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj to slay the Adilshahi General, Afzalkhan. The 21 Para is the only Special Forces unit which is converted from a Light Infantry Unit in the Indian Army and is the 21st battalion of the Maratha Light Infantry and in 2021 they celebrated the Silver jubilee of their raising.

3. Duty. Honour. Courage.

The Motto of the Maratha Light Infantry is Duty-Honour-Courage also better known as “Kartavya-Maan-Saahas”

The Motto of the Maratha Light Infantry
The Motto of the Maratha Light Infantry

Duty, Honour and Courage are the hallmarks of the finest soldier and the MLI makes sure that its “Ganpats” are one of the finest in the world. Being a soldier, he is expected to perform his Duty at all times, no matter what the task is. He must conduct himself with honour and be very professional both in and out of Uniform and lastly, he must be courageous and carry out all tasks with courage and be ready to make the supreme sacrifice if the situation demands it.

4. Honours in the Siege of Kahun, Balochistan (Pakistan)

A drawing of the Kahun Valley
A drawing of the Kahun Valley

A force of 140 men from the 2nd Battalion (called Kali Panchwins) held off the ferocious Marri tribe troops for 6 months in 1841 in the Fort of Kahun in present day Pakistan. This was done while battling hostile enemy raids coupled with food and water shortage and epidemics of diseases. As a recognition of their bravery, the name “Kahun” is embroidered on the flag of the 2nd Battalion. Moreover, a road in Pune is named as Kahun Road in the memory of the brave defenders.

Pass of Nuffoosk
Pass of Nuffoosk

5. Bastille Day Honours in 2009

Marathas lead the way in Bastille Day Parade in 2009
Marathas lead the way in Bastille Day Parade in 2009

The year 2009 marked the 221st anniversary of the Bastille day or the storming of the Bastille in Paris, France. In remembrance of this event, a military parade was organized in Paris which included 400 soldiers from the 3 defence services of India. The Maratha Light Infantry soldiers from the Indian Army led the   the parade on the Parisian boulevard of Champs-Élysées on 14 July 2009 in the presence of Dr. Manmohan Singh, the erstwhile Indian Prime Minister who was the guest of honour of the ceremony and was invited by the French president.

This indeed was a historic and distinguished honour for the regiment and another feather in its cap!

6. Origin of the Battle Cry – “Bol Shri Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj ki Jai!!”

Statue of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj near LoC - an eternal source of Inspiration to the MLI
Statue of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj near LoC – an eternal source of Inspiration to the MLI

On 11th January 1941, the 3/5th Marathas under the command of Col Reed were charged with capturing Gallabat in Sudan which the Italians had captured. It was decided one night to launch an offensive on one of the posts of Gallabat and capture it. The attack was to begin at 0000 hrs and as decided the British artillery began raining fire on the Italians. After that the Marathas led by Jamadar Lakshman Jadhav led an attack on a hidden Machine gun post of the Italians. In spite of being injured, Naik Vishnu Mane took control of the enemy’s machine gun. In the meantime, a lot of Marathas became injured in a hand grenade attack of the enemy. To make matters worse, a machine gun about 100 yards from this post came alive and starting raining bullets on the Marathas and pinned them down. The tide was turning against the Marathas and they were staring at a shameful retreat. It was then that Capt. Boomgart, the officer-in-charge was advised (probably by a native Subhedar) that if the situation was to change, then the Marathas need to reminded of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj and to allow them to utter his name. Capt. Boomgart relented and soon the war cry of “Bol Shivaji Maharaj Ki Jai!!!” followed by “Har Har Mahadev” rent the air. And like miracle, the Marathas leapt forward, full of determination and courage! Now with the adrenaline rush they destroyed two machine gun nests without any regard for personal safety. The force and the aggression of the attack was such that the Italian General fled the scene. Subsequent attacks made the Italians surrendered the fort of Gallabat to the Marathas on 31st January 1941 which the soldiers of the Maratha Light Infantry captured with cries of “Shivaji Maharaj Ki Jai”

Strangely, if the same battle cry would have been uttered in India it would have meant severe punishment. But here on the battlefield, the situation demanded it and thus the Marathas got their famed battle cry! In the years to come, the Maratha Light Infantry and their battle cry “Bol Shri Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj ki Jai!!” became synonymous – striking terror in the hearts of the enemies and hope in the hearts of friends!

7. Victoria Cross Awardees of the MLI

The Maratha Light Infantry is one of the most decorated regiments in the Indian Army. In fact in the World War II, it had the distinct honour of winning 2 Victoria Cross Medals. The Victoria Cross is the highest and the most prestigious gallantry award in the British Honour system and was earlier awarded to Commonwealth nations also. It is the equivalent to the Param Vir Chakra of the present day India.

Naik Yeshwant Ghadge VC (Posthumous)
Naik Yeshwant Ghadge VC (Posthumous)
The Victoria Cross
The Victoria Cross
Sepoy Namdeo Jadhav VC
Sepoy Namdeo Jadhav VC

During the World War II, Naik Yeshwant Ghadge (posthumous) and Sepoy Namdeo Jadhav were decorated with the Victoria Cross in the Italian campaign, while 130 other decorations were awarded to the MLI.

8. Liberation of Goa and Daman

Maratha Light Infantry Liberates Goa 1961
The 1st Maratha Light Infantry enters Goa in 1961

The Maratha Light Infantry played a pivotal role in execution of operations to liberate the territories of Daman and Goa from the clutches of the Portuguese. Next time when you visit Goa for a vacation, for a moment remember the brave soldiers of the MLI who fought so that you enjoy those pristine beaches in Goa! When you visit the forts in Nani & Moti Daman, remember that the Marathas fought for us here and won the freedom from the Portuguese! Coincidentally, in 1939 it was the Marathas under the leadership of Chimaji Appa who uprooted the Portuguese from Vasai, Thane and nearby areas right upto Bandra in today’s Mumbai.

9. Special Praise in Battle of Keren

“These soldiers from Deccan province of India are very peaceful and generally do not meddle with other’s business. But if you provoke them and they get angry, then the whole picture changes and they can fight in the coldest cold and the hottest of summers with a courage and ferocity unmatched by any of the other Indian soldiers!”
“These soldiers from Deccan province of India are very peaceful and generally do not meddle with other’s business. But if you provoke them and they get angry, then the whole picture changes and they can fight in the coldest cold and the hottest of summers with a courage and ferocity unmatched by any of the other Indian soldiers!”

In the Italian Campaign in World War II, Marathas received special praise for their bravery. A British Officer fighting for the first time with Marathas wrote, “These soldiers from Deccan province of India are very peaceful and generally do not meddle with other’s business. But if you provoke them and they get angry, then the whole picture changes and they can fight in the coldest cold and the hottest of summers with a courage and ferocity unmatched by any of the other Indian soldiers!”

10.  Extensive Theatre of Operations

The Marathas have fought in both pre-independence and post-independence era in various unforgiving terrains of the world. Their battlefields include Africa, Europe, Northeast Frontiers, Gulf countries, Iraq, Gaza Strip, Burma (Myanmar), Ladakh, Jammu & Kashmir and many other regions including China.

11. Affiliations of the Regiment

INS Mumbai affiliated to Maratha Light Infantry
INS Mumbai

The Indian Navy’s Missile Destroyer INS Mumbai and the 20th Squadron of the Indian Air Force are affiliated to the Maratha Light Infantry Regiment.

The Maratha Light Infantry is the oldest & most experienced Regiment. It is these battle-hardened soldiers who keep a watch so that we can sleep peacefully at night.

– Pranjal Wagh ©

(Originally written in 2016, now updated and upgraded in 2023)

References : Maratha Light Infantry – Jayant Kulkarni (Marathi)

2 comments

Cpt.Dinkar N.Kurkute March 1, 2023 - 8:10 AM

It’s nicely listed .It will add on the knowledge about Marthali

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Pranjal Wagh March 1, 2023 - 9:27 AM

Thank you so much for the appreciation Sir!!

Reply

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