The Third Battle of PanipatThe last and the longest battle fought at Panipat will be remembered for the massive bloodshed on both sides and unprecedented bravery of the Great Maratha warriors displayed in this war. The Third Battle of Panipat was fought between Maratha forces directed towards North India and Ahmad Shah Abdali, the king of Afghanistan.
In January 1761, this fateful battle took place which is known to be the most gruesome battle of 18th century with largest number of casualties reported on both sides on a single day. The battle that was preceded by numerous skirmishes from both sides was a major setback for Maratha expedition towards north and it also destabilized the political conditions of the country at large.
Consequences leading to third battle of PanipatWith the end of Aurangzeb in 1707, Mughal Empire was approaching towards its end in India. Their conditions were worsened by frequent rebellion from Marathas who has already captured majority of regions in Deccan. Marathas were approaching towards north with all their might and had conquered much of the areas ruled by Mughals.
On the other hand, Ahmad Shah Abdali was on his conquest of Punjab with several invasions made by him. His son Timur Shah Durrani was the governor of this region but only till 1758. Continuing with their winning spree at Delhi, Marathas led by Raghunathrao attacked Lahore and forced Timur Shah to back off.
The rising empire of Marathas had created milestones in history by spanning across the nation including the Indus towards north and entire peninsula towards south. Despite the increasing strength of Marathas, Delhi continued to be ruled by Mughals. Terrified by advancing Maratha forces, Muslim intellectuals raised an alarm to Abdali to come and save their territories.
Allies on both the sides in third battle of PanipatIt was a fierce battle that was not just fought between two enemies. Both the Marathas and Afghanis were equal in their strength and war expertise. Still to face each other, they needed outside support system as well. For Ahmad Shah Abdali, it was extremely essential to seek support as he was a foreign invader in Indian Territory and was upfront going to face the courageous army of Marathas. Being a shrewd politician, he managed to get support from head of Rohillas, Najib Khan and Nawab of Oudh, Shuja-ud-Daula.
The great Maratha army led by Sadashiv Rao Bhau was marching ahead with their huge contingent. It included the forces of Scindia, Holkar, Bundele, and Gaikwad. At one juncture, they also won support of Jat ruler Suraj Mal who withdrew later. In conquering the Delhi throne, this huge army of 1, 00,000 soldiers fought very bravely. Ibrahim Khan Gardi also allied Marathas in this decisive battle. Sadashiv rao Bhau wanted to enthrone Vishwasrao, son of Peshwa Bajirao in Delhi and made all possible attempts to do that.
Clashes before the Third Battle of PanipatBoth the Marathas and Durrani camp were fully geared for the upcoming battle. But much earlier than this ultimate fight of supremacy; there followed many scuffles between the two hostile enemies.
The very first fight took place at Kunjpura located around 60 miles away from Delhi alongside the Yamuna River. Marathas attacked Afghani stronghold in that place and conquered it rather easily. It was a major loss to Abdali as his loyal generals were killed in this skirmish.
Interestingly, at the same time, Abdali was present in his camp on left bank of Yamuna but was rendered helpless due to the flooded river. He could not swallow this massacre of his men and decided to cross the river at any cost.
After much anticipation, he planned to swim across the river with his body guards. He also succeeded in doing so at Baghpat without the notice of Marathas.
Knowing about this latest development, Marathas started creating flanks in order to prevent Abdali and his forces from receding back and fleeing to Afghanistan. In the meanwhile, Abdali and his men faced Marathas at a midpoint between Panipat and Sonepat. Even after losing his 1000 soldiers Abdali won this spat and started encircling Maratha forces from all sides.
Strategies leading to outcome of third battle of PanipatIt was Ahmad Shah Abdali who outwitted Marathas in making strategies of winning battle. Unfortunately, in this battle, Marathas were keen on direct combat rather than their forte of guerilla fight. However, Abdali stuck to making a war winning strategy. He preliminarily cut off the supplies to Maratha camps.
Near Meerut where brave general Govind Pant Bundele lost and laid his life along with killing of 2000 Maratha troops carrying supplies from Delhi led to limitation of resources in Maratha camps.
He also planned to encircle Marathas from all sides. Along with his allies and generals, he proceeded towards attaining this aim.
Firstly, he captured back Kunjpura. Abdali, Pashtuns, Atai Khan, and Shuja-ud-Daula surrounded Marathas in Panipat including the restriction on supplies from the side of forests.
Another crucial strategy was followed by Najib Khan of Rohilla who did not led treaty to happen between the two sides. Though Bhau was inclined towards settling the terms without fighting, Najib Khan persuaded Abdali to go for battle and not offer peace to Marathas.
Lineup of forces at the Third Battle of PanipatIt was one of the most well planned and militarily sound battles fought in that era. Both the armies were placed at right position in their lines. While Maratha lines began from northern side of kala Amb, Abdali’s forces were also aligned in a similar way towards the south of Sanauli. The lineup of Maratha forces had artillery in front with infantry, bowmen, and pike men behind. This arrangement was followed by 30, 000 young Maratha soldiers who were participating in a battle for the first time. Then there were 30, 000 civilians somewhat trained in combat and again there was an army of young soldiers at the back.
Abdali had Najib Khan on left and Persian troops towards his right. Shuja and Shah Ali commanded the left center while Rohillas with 15, 000 soldiers were present in right center. The whole army of Abdali was lined up in a manner to allow him leading from the center and rear of these forces.
Overview of the Third Battle of PanipatOn the fateful day of January 14th, 1761, began this decisive battle that changed the history of India to large extent. It was the Marathas who marched towards Afghan forces at a distance of around 2 km with their artillery. Abdali also responded with his cannons and opened fire at Marathi troops but small range of these cannons could not make them hit the Marathas. Ibrahim Khan and his contingent of Gardis played a vital role in initial phases of this battle by killing a huge number of Rohillas and driving them back to their lines.
Till the afternoon, this battle seemingly rolled in favor of Marathas under the combat led by Sadashivrao Bhau. He almost disheveled the Afghani lines leading them to recede back.
It was the day of Dakshinayana or Sankranti with afternoon sun shining brightly into the eyes of horses. The underfed and exhausted mounts could not withstand the extreme conditions of battlefield and collapsed.
Even till this time, the battle was very much tilted towards Marathas but suddenly Abdali called his reserve army of 15, 000 soldiers along with camel mounted canons.
Marathas could not face this attack and their cavalry started dwindling hence forth. Marathas did not have any reserves and Vishwasrao Bhau was also shot and killed. With constant attacks on Gardis from Rohillas and on Maratha forces by Afghani cavalry, Bhau came down from his elephant to lead the battle upfront. He and his brave men fought till their last breath to save their motherland from foreign invaders.
Outcome of the Third Battle of PanipatIt was a significant battle from the historical perspective. The fall of Maratha forces led to their collapse in entire Northern region. It took them 10 years to regain this position in North India when they retaliated under the command of Madhavrao Peshwa. The lack of resources and support from allies like Rajputs, Sikhs, and Jats led to this downfall of Marathas against the large number of soldiers and united armies of Abdali.
Most of the Maratha warriors were imprisoned and slaughtered in cold blood by Afghani soldiers. This battle was a huge loss to the Marathas as around 30, 000 to 70, 000 of their brave men were killed post the battle which led to total casualties at more than one lakh. Thousands of women and children in Maratha camp were caught and killed in the aftermath by Afghanis.
Most of the courageous leaders of this battle including Sadashivrao Bhau, Vishwasrao Bhau, Ibrahim Khan Gardi, and Jankoji Scindia were killed in this battle.
Ahmad shah Abdali became the ruler of North India despite his huge loss of men in this battle. However, lately, his forces became restless in India and he had to face certain rebellion back in Afghanistan. This made him return back to his place though he declared Shah Alam II as emperor in India.
The Sikhs and Jats benefitted by not participating in this battle. In later parts of history, this battle led to the successful invasion by British in India. They took full charge of this destabilization in the country and started spanning their forces here.
In this way, this saga of chivalry of Marathas, disloyalty of Rohillas, and strategies of Abdali came to an end in Panipat to become a part of its blood bathed history.