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Battle of Panipat

Battle of Panipat

It was on this scene that the Mughal or Turkish chief Babur appeared in the year 1517. He was trying to recover in one direction what he had lost in others. Babul’s dynasty is entitled Mughal or Mongol but it should in fact be thought of as Turkish, which language they spoke. Turk and Mongol had been intermixed in the ebb and flow of Central Asian intertribal warfare. Babur was fifth in descent from the great Taimur. His father’s kingdom was reduced to the small principality of Farghana in Badakshan.

Babur suceeded as a boy of eleven in 1494 but soon found himself threatened by the Uzbeg chief Shaibani Khan. He was soon a fugitive and spent years between 1494 and 1513 trying to maintain himself in Farghana and recover Samarkand.

In 1504, in one of the turns of north-western politics, he gained control of Kabul and Kandahar. Gradually he merged these two districts with Badakshan and formed a personal kingdom which for him was a compensation for the loss of Samarkhand. But his over ambitious attitude made him look towards India as a southern expansion of his fledgling empire.

During his frequent raids to India he had noticed the wealth and prosperity there. He had also noticed the disunity and disaffection which prevailed in the region. It was a easy prey for a fugitive like him. But the real invitation came when the Afgan governor of Punjab disillusioned my Ibrahim Lodhi’s pretensions invited him to invade India and replace Ibrahim Lodhi.

Babur took his cue with the two invasions of 1523-24 and 1525-26 leading up to the battle of Panipat on 21 April 1526.

Battle of Panipat (1526, 1556, 1761), three military engagements, important in the history of northern India, fought at Panipat, a level plain suitable for cavalry movements, about 50 miles (80 km) north ofDelhi. The first battle (April 21, 1526) was between theMughal chief Bābur, then ruler of Kabul, and Sultan Ibrāhīm Lodī of Delhi. Although the sultan’s army outnumbered the Mughals’, it was unused to the wheeling tactics of the cavalry and suffered from deep divisions. Ibrāhīm was killed, and his army was defeated. This marked the beginning of theMughal empire in India.

Battle Forces and Tactics

Babur’s Mughal forces consisted of between 13,000 and 15,000 men, mostly horse cavalry. His secret weapon was 20 to 24 pieces of field artillery, a relatively recent innovation in warfare.

Arrayed against the Mughals were Ibrahim Lodi’s 30,000 to 40,000 soldiers, plus tens of thousands of camp followers. Lodi’s primary weapon of shock and awe was his troop of war elephants – numbering anywhere from 100 to 1,000 trained and battle-hardened pachyderms, according to different sources.

Ibrahim Lodi was no tactician – his army simply marched out in a disorganized block, relying on sheer numbers and the aforementioned elephants to overwhelm the enemy. Babur, however, employed two tactics unfamiliar to Lodi, which turned the tide of the battle.

The first was tulughma, dividing a smaller force into forward left, rear left, forward right, rear right, and center divisions. The highly mobile right and left divisions peeled out and surrounded the larger enemy force, driving them towards the center. At the center, Babur arrayed his cannons. The second tactical innovation was Babur’s use of carts, called araba. His artillery forces were shielded behind a row of carts which were tide together with leather ropes, to prevent the enemy from getting between them and attacking the artillerymen. This tactic was borrowed from the Ottoman Turks.

The Battle of Panipat

After conquering the Punjab region (which today is divided between northern India and Pakistan), Babur drove on toward Delhi. Early on the morning of April 21, 1526, his army met the Delhi sultan’s at Panipat, now in Haryana State, about 90 kilometers north of Delhi.

Using his tulughma formation, Babur trapped the Lodi army in a pincher motion. He then used his cannons to great effect; the Delhi war elephants had never heard such a loud and terrible noise, and the spooked animals turned around and ran through their own lines, crushing Lodi’s soldiers as they ran. Despite these advantages, the battle was a close contest given the Delhi Sultanate’s overwhelming numerical superiority.

As the bloody encounter dragged on toward midday, however, more and more of Lodi’s soldiers defected to Babur’s side. Finally, the tyrannical sultan of Delhi was abandoned by his surviving officers, and left to die on the battlefield from his wounds. The Mughal upstart from Kabul had prevailed.

The Aftermath of the Battle

According to the Baburnama, Emperor Babur’s autobiography, the Mughals killed 15,000 to 16,000 of the Delhi soldiers. Other local accounts put the total losses at closer to 40,000 or 50,000. Of Babur’s own troops, some 4,000 were killed in the battle. There is no record of the elephants’ fate.

The First Battle of Panipat is a crucial turning point in the history of India. Although it would take time for Babur and his successors to consolidate control over the country, the defeat of the Delhi Sultanate was a major step towards the establishment of the Mughal Empire, which would rule India until it was defeated in turn by the British Raj in 1868.

The Mughal path to empire was not smooth. Indeed, Babur’s son Humayan lost the entire kingdom during his reign, but was able to regain some territory before his death. The empire was truly solidified by Babur’s grandson, Akbar the Great; later successors included the ruthless Aurangzeb and Shah Jahan, the creator of the Taj Mahal.

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