To the memory of all Indian soldiers who gave their lives for their King-Emperor in the Great War
If you’ve never heard of the Chattri Memorial, you can be forgiven for being more than a little surprised when you stumble upon it as you round the crest of one of the many waves of the South Downs just north of Brighton. I knew of it, but had never visited and wasn’t sure whether to expect a miniature Taj Mahal or a small slab of stone. The truth is somewhere in between and it’s one of the county’s well-kept secrets.
What is it?
The site is a memorial to the Hindus and Sikhs who died during WWI. It sits in a small plot on the south-facing slope of the South Downs more or less in the middle of nowhere. It’s nearly 9 m high and is octagonal, with eight pillars supporting the umbrella-shaped dome. Surrounding it are four paths that radiate outwards. It’s delicately engraved and was designed by a young Indian architect.
One and half million Indian Army Soldiers fought for the British during WWI, with over 113000 killed and many of the 12,000 who were injured being hospitalised in and around Brighton. Those that died were cremated at the site of the memorial and their ashes were then scattered in accordance with their religion. The memorial itself includes three granite slabs over the site of the crematory and was unveiled in 1921 by the then Prince of Wales. Chattri means umbrella and you’ll find that there is both English and Hindi inscribed on the base. There are also some interesting pictures from the period on the information board on the site, and it’s still visited regularly. In June every year, there’s an annual pilgrimage to the Chattri Memorial, attended by members of the armed forces, the police, and the City of Brighton and Hove.
Tranquility and reverence
Perhaps as you’d expect with its commanding views over Brighton and the rolling hills, the feeling that prevails is that of peace, tranquility, and reverence. Our visit coincided with an overcast and unexciting day but as we sat in quiet contemplation, the sun broke through the clouds and lit up the marble in a way that only the universe could deliver. The site has a touch of mystic and a profound spirituality about it, which makes it a worthy pilgrimage for any South Down walker.
How do you get there?
You can get to the Chattri Memorial from the Sussex Border Path, and as you get near, it’s clearly signed. From the south, start from the car park just off the A27 at the big interchange with the A23. From the north, you can walk from Ditchling (quite a hike) or from the nearer Jack and Jill windmill car park at Clayton. There’s a reasonable 7 km loop you can do from there, which takes you around the edge of the Pyecombe golf course. Every step of the walk is a feast for the eyes with views far into the distance both south, east, and west! The advantage of this route is that you’ll also see the windmills and although the car park here can get busy, not many seem to stray as far as the memorial.
When you’ve finished at the Chattri Memorial, you might want to wander into Brighton to soak up the many sites and sounds, and if you do, you may like: