Battles of Panipat

Battles of Panipat
Battles of Panipat

There were three battles fought at Panipat, located 70 miles northwest of Delhi, the strategically important city in northern India and capital of many dynasties. The first one was in 1526 between Ibrahim Lodi, Afghan ruler of the Kingdom of Delhi, and Babur from Ferghana in Central Asia via Afghanistan.

The second battle was fought between Akbar’s (grandson of Babur) forces and those of the grandson of Sher Shah (who had driven Humayun, son of Babur, from India). The third battle took place in 1761 when the Afghans under Ahmad Shah defeated the Maratha Confederacy.

First Battle of Panipat

A fugitive from his birthplace Ferghana, Babur led an army variously cited as 12,000 or 25,000 men from Afghanistan into India and met Ibrahim, ruler of the Lodi dynasty (originally from Afghanistan) that ruled north-central India.

Ibrahim headed a much larger army reputedly 100,000 strong with either 100 or 1,000 elephants. At Panipat, Babur prepared for battle by lashing together 700 carts with leather thongs to form a barricade and placing his matchlock men behind them.

Just as Ibrahim’s charging troops were stopped at the barricade and mowed down by the gunfire of Babur’s men, they were set upon on both flanks by arrows from Babur’s cavalry. In the ensuing rout, 20,000 of Ibrahim’s men died, he among them. Babur ordered Ibrahim buried where he fell; his tomb still stands at the site.

That afternoon Babur sent his eldest son, Humayun, to the Lodi capital at Agra to secure its treasures while he marched to Delhi, where he proclaimed himself emperor, founding the Mughal (Mogul, Moghul) dynasty in India.

Second Battle of Panipat

Akbar died in 1530 soon after establishing the Mughal Empire in northern India. His son and successor was Humayun, whose heavy drinking and opium eating habits rendered him unfit to rule. Driven out of India by an able general of Afghan origin, Sher Shah, he found refuge in Persia.

It was only after Sher Shah’s death and with his descendants fighting among one another for the succession that Humayun was able to return to India in 1555, with Persian aid, to restore his fortunes. He died a year later.

On November 5, 1556, Akbar, Humayun’s 13-year-old son, and his mentor, Bairan Khan, met the forces of Hemu, a powerful Hindu general, at the second Battle of Panipat. Hemu was injured, captured, and executed. With that victory Akbar entered Delhi. This battle resurrected the fortune of the Mughals in India.

Third Battle of Panipat

Mughal emperor Aurangzeb (r. 1658–1707) was a devout Muslim and persecutor of Hindus. Hindus of the Deccan rallied around a charismatic leader named Shivaji who was proclaimed king of the Marathas in 1674.

His movement continued to gain momentum after his death in 1680, reaching its zenith in the mid-18th century when the Marathas Confederacy controlled lands extending from Hyderabad in the south to Punjab in the north. But the quest for a restored Hindu empire in India came to an end in 1761 when the Marathas were badly defeated by Afghan forces under Shah Durani at the Third Battle of Panipat.

Although the Afghans retreated from India, the Maratha Confederacy never recovered. The British East India Company was the beneficiary and gradually supplanted the by-now-defunct Mughal Empire and the warring Indian factions.

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