New Delhi: With a war cry hailing Maratha ruler Shivaji Maharaj, and drawing inspiration from the king’s army known in history for its guerrilla warfare, the Maratha Light Infantry, which completes 250 years in 2018, is the only regiment of the Indian Army from which two units of Special Forces have been drawn.
Celebrating its Regimental Day on February 4, the Maratha Light Infantry is among the oldest of the Indian Army and classified as “light infantry”, where soldiers operate with minimal equipment and orders so as to engage the enemy faster and more quietly.
With its war cry “Bol Shri Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Ki Jai (Say Victory To King Shivaji)”, the soldiers on Maratha Light Infantry are also known for their quick march speed of 140 steps in a minute, while a standard pace for a quick march is 120 beats per minute with a 75-centimetre step.
Lt Gen P.J.S. Pannu, who is the Colonel of the Regiment, called Shivaji Maharaj an “icon”, and highlighted that the soldiers still draw inspirations from the visionary warrior king.
“Shivaji Maharaj is our icon, we draw inspiration from the guerrilla warfare of the Maratha soldiers of his army, and the Maratha Light Infantry is known for its soldiers being quick footed, with special ability to fight at night, and attacking from an unexpected direction,” Pannu said.
Lt Gen Pannu recounted the story of Shivaji’s victory of the Singhgadh fort, fought by his General Tanaji Malusare, in which the soldiers used monitor lizards called “ghorpad” to climb the impregnable fort’s walls and launch a surprise attack which led to their victory.
“The soldiers of our regiment can climb any wall, or steep climb,” he said.
The Maratha Light Infantry is the only regiment in the Army from which two Special Forces units have been drawn — the 2nd and 21st Battalions of Parachute Regiment.
The regiment has 56 battle honours to its credit — 14 predating the First World War and spanning wars in Afghanistan, China, Burma and British East Africa.
The honours given to the regiment include two Victoria Crosses, four Ashoka Chakras, 10 Param Vishisht Seva Medals, four Maha Vir Chakras, four Kirti Chakras, along with several other awards, and also has to its credit 10 theatre honours, four pre-Independence and six after Independence.
Marking its 250th year, the Maratha Light infantry has lined up a series of events through the year, which will include celebrations at Naval ship INS Mumbai, which is affiliated to the regiment, and with the No. 20 Squadron of Indian Air Force, a Sukhoi squadron based near Pune, which is also affiliated to the regiment.
The most decorated serving officer of the Indian Army, Colonel Saurabh Singh Shekhawat also belongs to this regiment.
A member of the 21st battalion of the Parachute Regiment (Special Forces), Col Shekhawat has been awarded the Kirti Chakra, Shaurya Chakra, Sena Medal and Vishisht Seva Medal for his various acts of gallantry displayed in anti-terrorist operations, mountaineering and distinguished service. He has scaled 18 peaks and climbed the Mt. Everest thrice.
Lt Gen Asit Mistry, the General Officer Commanding Delhi Area, who was the Parade Commander at the Republic Day Parade this year, also belongs to this regiment.
Lt Gen Pannu also said that at the Maratha Light Infantry, the command of “attention” does not exist, as the soldier is always supposed to be in attention.
The 250-year-old regiment had its first battalion, known as Jungi Paltan, raised in August 1768 as the 2nd Battalion Bombay Sepoys.
During the peninsular war of the British against the Napoleonic Armies in the 18th Century, special lightly armed troops known for their courage were used for swiftly encircling the enemy, leading to them being called a Light Infantry.
In the second half of the 19th Century, the battalion fought various wars from West Asia to China, and in the First World War, the soldiers participated in the Mesopotamian campaign.
The Second World War saw it fight in almost every theatre, from the jungles of South East Asia to the deserts of North Africa.
Since Independence, Maratha Light Infantry has participated in every armed conflict including the operations in Jammu and Kashmir in 1947-48, liberation of Hyderabad, Goa, Daman and Diu, India-China war of 1962, conflicts with Pakistan in 1965 and 1971.
The soldiers of this regiment are also part of UN peacekeeping operations.