Second and Third Battles of Panipat (1556, 1761)

The Mughal Empire’s expansion,

Stalled after the death of its founder Babur in 1530, began anew under Babur’s grandson, Akbar. Fighting on a field that had proved so propitious for his grandfather, the young Akbar won a vital victory over the powerful Hindu ruler, Hemu.

Babur’s son Humayun had encountered serious setbacks, even losing his kingdom after it was conquered by the Pashtun warlord Sher Shah Suri in 1540. Rebuilding his forces in exile, he eventually took back his realms fifteen years later, leaving his son and successor, Akbar, with a great empire.

Battle of Panipat, First, Second & Third Batle of Panipat -IndiaOnline

To the east of Akbar’s realms, the Suri general Hemu had set himself up as a strongman ruler; calling himself a king, he built a powerbase in Bengal. Aged just thirteen, Akbar seemed singularly ill-equipped to cope with this threat.

However, he had rare gifts—and the support of his guardian,

The accomplished general Bairam Khan. Hemu had unstoppable momentum, it seemed—having already taken Agra and the strategic fortress of Tughlaqabad, in October 1556 he captured Delhi. Too late to save the city, Akbar’s army let it go and stopped on the plains to the north, at Panipat.

Second and Third Battles of Panipat (1556, 1761)

On 5 November 1556, the scene was set for the Second Battle of Panipat. Repeated elephant charges failed to break the resolve of the outnumbered Mughal soldiers. An inspiring figure, Hemu led from the front, perched high up on an elephant, an important talisman for his troops.

He was also a tempting target for the Mughal archers, and initially they showered him with shafts to no avail, so impregnable was the headto-foot armor he was wearing. Eventually, though, one arrow found its way in through an eye-slit and killed him. Seeing their leader fall, the Hindus broke and fled.

November 5, 1556: Hemu loses the Second Battle of Panipat | Knappily

The third battle (Jan. 14, 1761) ended

The Maratha attempt to succeed the Mughals as rulers of India and marked the virtual end of the Mughal empire. The Maratha army, under the Bhao Sahib, uncle of the peshwa (chief minister), was trapped and destroyed by the Afghan chief Aḥmad Shah Durrānī.

Following the decline of the Mughal Empire after the death of Emperor Aurangzeb, the Maratha Confederacy had expanded rapidly, threatening the Afghan Durrani Empire, ruled by Ahmad Shah Durrani. Ahmad declared a jihad and launched a campaign that captured large parts of the Punjab.

Second and Third Battles of Panipat (1556, 1761)

The Marathas responded by raising a large army, under the command of Sadashivrao Bhau, and recaptured Delhi. Ahmad’s campaign was aimed at starving the Maratha army of its supplies. At the same time, he led an army of 40,000 into the south to trap the Maratha army in the Punjab.

How the Mughal Empire Respawned in India: The Second Battle of Panipat | by  Sumit Kumar | Medium

Cut off and starving,

Bhau decided to break Ahmad’s blockade, spawning the two armies to face off at Panipat. The former attempted to pulverize the latter’s army with a massive artillery bombardment and then utilize his superiority in numbers to break the Durrani blockade and move south in a defensive posture.

However, he was undermined by rivalries within his ranks and the need to protect many civilians. Durrani launched a surprise attack before the artillery had inflicted serious damage and Bhau’s nephew was killed.

Second and Third Battles of Panipat (1556, 1761)

The Maratha commander entered the battle to recover his nephew’s body, but his troops thought him dead and their morale plummeted. The smaller Durrani army took advantage and routed them. Bhau escaped, to die sometime later, but the Maratha army had been destroyed and the unity of the empire was broken.

This began 40 years of anarchy in northwestern India and cleared the way for later British supremacy.

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