The Battle of Khanwa (1527)

The Battle of Khanwa was a decisive engagement between the Mughal forces under Babur and the Rajput alliance under Rana Sanga of Mewar. The battle was fought on 16 March 1527.

It ended in a decisive victory for the Mughal forces and would consolidate Babur and his descendants’ rule for centuries to come.

Background of the Battle of Khanwa

Babur had embarked on a campaign of conquest to fulfill the legacy of his ancestor, Timur. Up until 1524, he was aiming to expand his rule in the Punjab region but certain events led to him expanding far beyond the original confines of Timur’s erstwhile empire.

  • The decline of the Delhi Sultanate under the Lodi Dynasty presented fresh opportunities for conquest
  • Babur was invited by Daulat Khan Lodi to invade Delhi . Around the same time a proposal for an alliance was made by Rana Sangha.
  • Rana Sangha proposed that while Babur would attack the Delhi Sultanate, the Rajputs would attack Agra. Babur seemingly agreed to this proposal.

However, Daulat Khan betrayed Babur and subverted the Mughal garrison at Sialkot and marched towards Lahore. The Mughals defeated Daulat Khan near the city and they were the undisputed lords of Punjab. Following this, Babur would go on to destroy Ibrahim Lodi’s army at the first battle of Panipat, which would lead to the beginning of the Mughal Empire.

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While these events took place, Rana Sangha made no move despite the Mughals taking over Agra. Historians such as Satish Chandra speculated that Rana Sanga was playing a waiting game to see who would be victorious and what their next move would be.

It is thought that Rana Sanga believed that Babur would just loot the treasuries of Delhi before moving back to Kabul. This would open the way for him to conquer the regions of Delhi and Agra. But when it became apparent that Babur intended to stay in India, Rana Sangha proceeded to build a grand alliance of Rajputs as well as of Afghans who were wary of Babur’s power.

The main objective of this coalition was to drive Babur away from India and restrict him to Afghanistan. It was then in the early months of March 1527, that Babur received news that an army of Afghans and Rajputs were on their way towards his positions in Agra .

The Army Composition at the Battle of Khanwa

Rana Sanga built a grand alliance not only with the Rajput Clans but also with other Afghan rulers who had declared Mahmud Lodi, Ibrahim Lodi’s younger son, as the Sultan, using a variety of diplomatic means. While both the Rajput Alliance and the Mughal Army’s numbers were exaggerated, it was agreed that the Rajputs much outnumbered the Mughals.

Moreover, hearing of the vast number of their enemies and their fighting ability demoralized Babur’s army. To boost morale, Babur announced that he would abstain from all vices, including drinking wine, and that he would publicly break his liquor stores. It did have an effect on the Mughal Army’s morale.

Knowing that the Rajputs’ massive numbers would overwhelm his army, Babur devised a defensive strategy that included fortified camps supported by cannons. He would rain down a deadly blow on his enemies who did not have firearms by combining the guns and cannons. Carts linked together with adequate spaces for horsemen to approach would protect the firing positions.

Two delegations of elite horsemen were maintained in reserve for a flanking move, while the heavier Turkic horsemen stood behind carts. Babur had designed a powerful offensive-defensive formation for this.

Events of the Battle of Khanwa

The two sides had placed their forces information and were now facing each other at Khanwa. Rana Sanga launched a charge against the Mughal positions to begin the battle. The guns destroyed and stopped the Rajput horses and elephants’ initial charge. The elephants were frightened by the sound of the firearms because they were not used to it, and they ended up crushing the Rajputs.

Rana Sanga ordered an attack on the Mughal flanks after finding the Mughal centre strongly protected. The conflict continued for hours, with the Mughals raining bullets and arrows down on the Rajputs, who could only retaliate at close range.

Baburs’ attempt at a flanking movement was stopped as Rajput troops pushed his army back fiercely. The sheer weight of the numbers began to take its toll on the team soon after.

The Rana Silhadi of Raisen betrayed Rana Sanga and joined Babur’s army at this critical point. His numbers were sufficient to shift the power balance in the Mughal’s favour. The Rajput army was forced to change their entire war strategy as a result of this. During this time, Rana Sanga was stabbed and knocked out, which caused much concern among the Rajput ranks. The Mughals took advantage of this and increased their attacks, causing the Rajput force to shrink.

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By leading a frontal charge, the remaining Rajput leaders attempted to rally their soldiers. They died as a result of all of the charges. The Rajputs, now almost without a leader, manage to carry their unconscious ruler out of the battle zone. Those who remained were killed in great numbers, and the Rajputs and their Afghan allies were soon destroyed.

Aftermath of the Battle of Khanwa

The battle of Khanwa consolidated the gains made during the first battle of Panipat on April 21, 1526. Although there would be a temporary setback to Mughal power under Humayaun following the rise of the Sur Empire, the Mughal dynasty would go on to rule India in the ensuing years.

Rana Sangha managed to survive the fiasco at Khanwa, but the grand alliance he had built did not. It was shattered for good due to this battle. He died on 30 January 1528, still yearning to fight against Babur to the bitter end.

Another consequence of the Battle of Khanwa was that the muskets and cannons would become a mainstay in many armies of the Indian subcontinent, Mughal or otherwise. Soon other kingdoms in India began to hire mercenaries to train their forces in gunpowder warfare and some even began to build their own cannons.

At the very least some of the outdated methods of warfare of subcontinent armies would be put to rest following the battle of Khanwa.

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