Third Battle of Panipat

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The Third Battle of Panipat took place on 14 January 1761 at Panipat, about 60 miles (97 km) north of Delhi, between a northern expeditionary force of the Maratha Empire and invading forces of the King of Afghanistan, Ahmad Shah Abdali, supported by two Indian allies—the Rohilla Afghans of the Doab, and Shuja-ud-Daula, the Nawab of Awadh. Militarily, the battle pitted the artillery and cavalry of the Marathas against the heavy cavalry and mounted artillery (zamburak and jizail) of the Afghans and Rohillas led by Ahmad Shah Abdali and Najib-ud-Daulah, both ethnic Afghans (the former is also known as Ahmad Shah Durrani). The battle is considered one of the largest and most eventful fought in the 18th century,[1][page needed] and has perhaps the largest number of fatalities in a single day reported in a classic formation battle between two armies.

The specific site of the battle itself is disputed by historians, but most consider it to have occurred somewhere near modern-day Kaalaa Aamb and Sanauli Road. The battle lasted for several days and involved over 125,000 troops. Protracted skirmishes occurred, with losses and gains on both sides. The forces led by Ahmad Shah Durrani came out victorious after destroying several Maratha flanks. The extent of the losses on both sides is heavily disputed by historians, but it is believed that between 60,000–70,000 were killed in fighting, while the numbers of injured and prisoners taken vary considerably. According to the single best eyewitness chronicle--the bakhar by Shuja-ud-Daulah's Diwan Kashi Raj--about 40,000 Maratha prisoners were slaughtered in cold blood the day after the battle.[2] Grant Duff includes an interview of a survivor of these massacres in his History of the Marathas and generally corroborates this number. Shejwalkar, whose monograph Panipat 1761 is often regarded as the single best secondary source on the battle, says that "not less than 100,000 Marathas (soldiers and non-combatants) perished during and after the battle."[3]

The result of the battle was the halting of further Maratha advances in the north, and a destabilization of their territories, for roughly ten years. This period is marked by the rule of Peshwa Madhavrao, who is credited with the revival of Maratha domination following the defeat at Panipat. In 1771, ten years after Panipat, he sent a large Maratha army into northern India in an expedition that was meant to re-establish Maratha domination in that area and punish refractory powers that had either sided with the Afghans, such as the Rohillas, or had shaken off Maratha domination after Panipat. The success of this campaign can be seen as the last saga of the long story of Panipat.


Decline of the Mughal Empire[edit]

File:India 18th century.JPG
Extent of the Maratha Empire, 1758
(shown here in orange).

The decline of the Mughal Empire following the 27-year Mughal-Maratha war (1680–1707) led to rapid territorial gains for the Maratha Empire. Under Peshwa Baji Rao, Gujarat, Malwa and Rajputana came under Maratha control. Finally, in 1737, Baji Rao defeated the Mughals on the outskirts of Delhi and brought much of the former Mughal territories south of Delhi under Maratha control. Baji Rao's son Balaji Baji Rao (popularly known as Nana Saheb) further increased the territory under Maratha control by invading Punjab in 1758. This brought the Marathas into direct confrontation with the Durrani empire of Ahmad Shah Abdali. In 1759 he raised an army from the Pashtun and Baloch tribes and made several gains against the smaller Maratha garrisons in Punjab. He then joined with his Indian allies—the Rohilla Afghans of the Gangetic Doab—forming a broad coalition against the Marathas. The Marathas, under the command of Sadashivrao Bhau, responded by gathering an army of between 45,000–60,000, which was accompanied by roughly 200,000 non-combatants, a number of whom were pilgrims desirous of making pilgrimages to Hindu holy sites in northern India. The Marathas started their northward journey from Patdur on 14 March 1760. Both sides tried to get the Nawab of Awadh, Shuja-ud-Daulah, into their camp. By late July Shuja-ud-Daulah made the decision to join the Afghan-Rohilla coalition, preferring to join what was perceived as the "army of Islam". This was strategically a major loss for the Marathas, since Shuja provided much-needed finances for the long Afghan stay in North India. It is doubtful whether the Afghan-Rohilla coalition would have the means to continue their conflict with the Marathas without Shuja's support.[citation needed]

Rise of the Marathas[edit]

The Marathas had gained control of a considerable part of India in the intervening period (1707–1757). In 1758 they occupied Delhi, captured Lahore and drove out Timur Shah Durrani,[4] the son and viceroy of the Afghan ruler, Ahmad Shah Abdali. This was the high-water mark of the Maratha expansion, where the boundaries of their empire extended in the north to the Indus and the Himalayas, and in the south nearly to the extremity of the peninsula. This territory was ruled through the Peshwa, who talked of placing his son Vishwasrao on the Mughal throne. However, Delhi still remained under the nominal control of Mughals, key Muslim intellectuals including Shah Waliullah and other Muslim clergy in India who were alarmed at these developments. In desperation they appealed to Ahmad Shah Abdali, the ruler of Afghanistan, to halt the threat.[citation needed]


File:Sadashivrao bhau.jpg
Sadashivrao Bhau
Ahmad Shah Durrani
File:Maratha Soldier.jpg
Engraving of a Maratha soldier by James Forbes.
File:Afghan royal soldiers of the Durrani Empire.jpg
Afghan royal soldiers of the Durrani Empire.


In the final phase the Marathas, under Scindia, attacked Najib. Najib successfully fought a defensive action, however, keeping Scindia's forces at bay. By noon it looked as though Bhau would clinch victory for the Marathas once again. The Afghan left flank still held its own, but the centre was cut in two and the right was almost destroyed. Ahmad Shah had watched the fortunes of the battle from his tent, guarded by the still unbroken forces on his left. He sent his bodyguards to call up his 15,000 reserve troops from his camp and arranged them as a column in front of his cavalry of musketeers (Qizilbash) and 2,000 swivel-mounted shutarnaals or Ushtranaal—cannons—on the backs of camels.[6][page needed]


Sadashivrao Bhau, seeing his forward lines dwindling and civilians behind, had not kept any reserves, and upon seeing Vishwasrao disappear in the midst of the fighting, he felt he had no choice but to come down from his elephant and lead the battle.[4]

Vishwasrao had already been killed by a shot to the head. Bhau and his loyal bodyguards fought to the end, the Maratha leader having three horses shot out from under him. At this stage Holkar, realising the battle was lost, broke from the Maratha left flank and retreated. The Maratha army was routed and fled under the devastating attack. While 15,000 soldiers managed to reach Gwalior, the rest of the Maratha forces—including large numbers of non-combatants—were either killed or captured.[4]

Reasons for the outcome[edit]

Durrani had both numeric as well as qualitative superiority over Marathas. The combined Afghan army was much larger than that of Marathas. Though the infantry of Marathas was organized along European lines and their army had some of the best French-made guns of the time, their artillery was static and lacked mobility against the fast-moving Afghan forces. The heavy mounted artillery of Afghans proved much better in the battlefield than the light artillery of Marathas.[7][page needed]

Moreover, the senior Maratha chiefs constantly bickered with one another. Each had ambitions of carving out their independent states and had no interest in fighting against a common enemy.[8] Some of them didn't support the idea of a round battle and wanted to fight using guerilla tactics instead of charging the enemy head-on.[citation needed] The Marathas were fighting alone at a place which was 1000 miles away from their capital Pune.[9]

Peshwa's decision to appoint Sadashivrao Bhau as the Supreme Commander instead of Malharrao Holkar or Raghunathrao proved to be an unfortunate one, as Sadashivrao was totally ignorant of the political and military situation in North India.[10]

If Holkar had remained in the battlefield, the Maratha defeat would have been delayed but not averted. Ahmad Shah’s superiority in pitched battle could have been negated if the Marathas had conducted their traditional ganimi kava, or guerrilla warfare, as advised by Malharrao Holkar, in Punjab and in north India. Abdali was in no position to maintain his field army in India indefinitely.[11]

Massacres after the battle[edit]

The Afghan cavalry and pikemen ran wild through the streets of Panipat, killing tens of thousands of Maratha soldiers and civilians.[3][2] The women and children seeking refuge in streets of Panipat were hounded back in Afghan camps as slaves. Children over 14 were beheaded before their own mothers and sisters. Afghan officers who had lost their kin in battle were permitted to carry out massacres of 'infidel' Hindus the next day also, in Panipat and the surrounding area.[12] They arranged victory mounds of severed heads outside their camps. According to the single best eye-witness chronicle- the bakhar by Shuja-ud-Daula's Diwan Kashi Raj, about 40,000 Maratha prisoners were slaughtered in cold blood the day after the battle.[3][2] According to Mr. Hamilton of Bombay Gazette about half a million Marathi people were present there in Panipat town and he gives a figure of 40,000 prisoners as executed by Afghans.[citation needed] Many of the fleeing Maratha women jumped into the Panipat wells rather than risk rape and dishonour.[12]

All of the prisoners were transported on bullock carts, camels and elephants in bamboo cages.[12]

Siyar-ut-Mutakhirin says:[12][full citation needed]


File:Mahadaji Sindhia.jpg
Mahadaji Shinde restored the Maratha domination on northern India, within a decade after the war.

The bodies of Vishwasrao and Bhau were recovered by the Marathas and were cremated according to Hindu custom.[13] Bhau's wife Parvatibai was saved by Holkar, per the directions of Bhau, and eventually returned to Pune.

Peshwa Balaji Baji Rao, uninformed about the state of his army, was crossing the Narmada with reinforcements when he heard of the defeat. He returned to Pune and never recovered from the shock of the debacle at Panipat.[4]

Jankoji Scindia was taken prisoner and executed at the instigation of Najib. Ibrahim Khan Gardi was tortured and executed by enraged Afghan soldiers.[13] The Marathas never fully recovered from the loss at Panipat, but they remained the predominant military power in India and managed to retake Delhi 10 years later. However, their claim over all of India ended with the three Anglo-Maratha Wars, almost 50 years after Panipat.[14]

The Jats under Suraj Mal benefited significantly from not participating in the Battle of Panipat. They provided considerable assistance to the Maratha soldiers and civilians who escaped the fighting. Suraj Mal himself was killed in battle against Najib-ud-Daula in 1763. Suraj Mal died on 25 December 1763 fighting the Rohillas under Najib, the very people against whom he could have helped the Marathas.[citation needed]

Ahmad Shah's victory left him, in the short term, the undisputed master of North India. However, his alliance quickly unravelled amidst squabbles between his generals and other princes, the increasing restlessness of his soldiers over pay, the increasing Indian heat and arrival of the news that Marathas had organised another 100,000 men in the south to avenge their loss and rescue captured prisoners.[citation needed]

Though Abdali won the battle, he also had heavy casualties on his side. So, he sought immediate peace with the Marathas. Abdali sent a letter to Nanasaheb Peshwa (who was moving towards Delhi albeit at a very slow pace to join Bhau against Abdali) pleading to the Peshwa that he was not the one who attacked Bhau and that he was just defending himself.[citation needed]

These circumstances forced Abdali to leave India at the earliest, never to return again. Before departing, he ordered the Indian chiefs, through a Royal Firman (order) (including Clive of India), to recognise Shah Alam II as Emperor.[15]

Ahmad Shah also appointed Najib-ud-Daula as ostensible regent to the Mughal Emperor. In addition, Najib and Munir-ud-daulah agreed to pay to Abdali, on behalf of the Mughal king, an annual tribute of four million rupees.[15] This was to be Ahmad Shah's final major expedition to North India, as he became increasingly preoccupied with the increasingly successful rebellions by the Sikhs.[16][page needed] Abdali, haven't had achieved much from the battle of Panipat, died soon after on 16 October 1772 in Kandahar Province.

Shah Shuja was to regret his decision to join the Afghan forces. In time his forces became embroiled in clashes between the orthodox Sunni Afghans and his own Shia followers. He is alleged to have later secretly sent letters to Bhausaheb through his spies regretting his decision to join Abdali.[citation needed]

After the Battle of Panipat the services of the Rohillas were rewarded by grants of Shikohabad to Nawab Faiz-ullah Khan and of Jalesar and Firozabad to Nawab Sadullah Khan. Najib Khan proved to be an effective ruler. However, after his death in 1770, the Rohillas were defeated by the British East India Company.[citation needed] Najib died on 30 October 1770.[17]

Maratha revenge[edit]

Marathas re-captured Delhi and restored their power in North India by 1771 under Peshwa Madhavrao. Marathas restored Mughal emperor Shah Alam to the throne of Delhi in 1772. In 1770, Mahadji Shinde defeated Nawal Singh Jat of Mathura and annihilated his power. The forces of Mahadji Shinde, Visaji Krishna and Ramchandra Ganesh Kanade captured Delhi in 1771. After taking control of Delhi, Marathas sent a large army in 1772 to "punish" Afghan Rohillas for Panipat.[citation needed]

Najib's son Zabita Khan was defeated by the Marathas, led by Mahadji Sindhia and the fort of Pathargarh was completely looted by the Marathas in the form of horses, elephants, guns and other valuable things, which the Rohillas had looted at Panipat, they also destroyed his grave, scattering the bones all around.[citation needed]

The Rohillas were also forced to pay a heavy war indemnity. Maratha army devastated Rohilkhand by looting and plundering and also took the members of royal family as captives. After punishing the Rohillas, the Mughal Emperor Shah Alam II was restored to the throne by the Marathas.[citation needed]


The valour displayed by the Marathas was praised by Ahmad Shah Abdali.[18]

The Third Battle of Panipat saw an enormous number of deaths and injuries in a single day of battle. It was the last major battle between indigenous South Asian military powers until the creation of Pakistan in 1947.

To save their kingdom, the Mughals once again changed sides and welcomed the Afghans to Delhi. The Mughals remained in nominal control over small areas of India, but were never a force again. The empire officially ended in 1857 when its last emperor, Bahadur Shah II, was accused of being involved in the Sepoy Mutiny and exiled.

The Marathas' expansion was delayed due to the battle, and infighting soon broke out within the empire. They recovered their position under the next Peshwa Madhavrao I and by 1771 were back in control of the north, finally occupying Delhi. However, after the death of Madhavrao, due to infighting and increasing pressure from the British, their claims to empire only officially ended in 1818 after three wars with the British.

Meanwhile, the Sikhs—whose rebellion was the original reason Ahmad invaded—were left largely untouched by the battle. They soon retook Lahore. When Ahmad Shah returned in March 1764 he was forced to break off his siege after only two weeks due to a rebellion in Afghanistan. He returned again in 1767, but was unable to win any decisive battle. With his own troops complaining about not being paid, he eventually abandoned the district to the Sikhs, who remained in control until 1849 when it was annexed by the British Empire.

The battle was referred to in Rudyard Kipling's poem "With Scindia to Delhi".

"Our hands and scarfs were saffron-dyed for signal of despair,
When we went forth to Paniput to battle with the ~Mlech~ ,
Ere we came back from Paniput and left a kingdom there."

It is, however, also remembered as a scene of valour on both sides. Santaji Wagh's corpse was found with over 40 mortal wounds. The bravery of Vishwas Rao, the Peshwa's son, and Sadashiv Bhau was acknowledged even by the Afghans.[19] Yashwantrao Pawar also fought with great courage, killing many Afghans.

See also[edit]


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  1. Black, Jeremy (2002). Warfare In The Eighteenth Century. Cassell. ISBN 0304362123.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named tss
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named jgd
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 Roy, Kaushik. India's Historic Battles: From Alexander the Great to Kargil. Permanent Black, India. pp. 80–1. ISBN 978-8178241098.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Agrawal, Ashvini (1983). "Events leading to the Battle of Panipat". Studies in Mughal History. Motilal Banarsidass. p. 26. ISBN 8120823265.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. War Elephants Written by Konstantin Nossov, Illustrated by Peter Dennis Format: Trade Paperback ISBN 978-1-84603-268-4
  7. Chandra, Satish (2004). "Later Mughals". Medieval India: From Sultanate to the Mughals Part – II. Har-Anand. ISBN 81-241-1066-2.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. James Rapson, Edward; Wolseley Haig; Richard Burn; Henry Dodwell; Robert Eric Mortimer Wheeler (1937). The Cambridge History of India: The Mughul period, planned by W. Haig. 4. Cambridge University Press. p. 448.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. "250 years on, Battle of Panipat revisited – India News" [archive]. 13 January 2011. Retrieved 26 March 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. Claude Markovits, A history of modern India, 1480–1950. Pg. 207.
  11. Roy, Kaushik (2004). India's Historic Battles: From Alexander the Great to Kargil [archive]. Orient Blackswan. p. 91. ISBN 978-8-17824-109-8.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 12.3 Rawlinson, H. G. Cambridge History of India. IV. p. 424 and n.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. 13.0 13.1 Barua, Pradeep (1994). "Military Developments in India, 1750–1850". Journal of Military History. 58 (4): 616. doi:10.2307/2944270 [archive]. JSTOR 2944270 [archive]. (Subscription required (help)). Cite uses deprecated parameter |subscription= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. Sarkar, Jadunath (1950). Fall of the Mughal Empire. Longmans. p. 235.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  15. 15.0 15.1 Mohsini, Haroon. "Invasions of Ahmad Shah Abdali" [archive]. Archived [archive] from the original on 13 August 2007. Retrieved 13 August 2007. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  16. MacLeod, John (2002). The History of India. Greenwood Press.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  17. Rule of Shah Alam, 1759–1806 [archive] The Imperial Gazetteer of India, 1909, v. 2, p. 411.
  18. "The lost Marathas of third battle of Panipat" [archive]. India Today. 12 January 2012. Retrieved 5 April 2017.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  19. Rao, S. "Walking the streets of Panipat" [archive]. Indian Oil News. Archived [archive] from the original on 28 April 2008. Retrieved 8 April 2008. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

Further reading[edit]

  • H. G. Rawlinson, An Account Of The Last Battle of Panipat and of the Events Leading To It, Hesperides Press (2006) ISBN 978-1-4067-2625-1
  • Vishwas Patil, Panipat" – a novel based on the 3rd battle of Panipat, Venus (1990)
  • Uday S. Kulkarni, A Non Fiction book – 'Solstice at Panipat – 14 January 1761' Mula-Mutha Publishers, Pune (2011). ISBN 978-81-921080-0-1 An Authentic Account of the Campaign of Panipat.
  • Third Battle of Panipat by Abhas Verma ISBN 9788180903397 Bharatiya Kala Prakashana

External links[edit]