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'Pandavon Ka Quila' or Purana Quila (in Delhi), where Samrat Hem Chandra Vikramaditya had his coronation, on 7th October 1556, after defeating Akbar's army

The Battle of Delhi in October 1556, at Tughlakabad in Delhi, was an epoch making battle between the Hindu king Hem Chandra Vikramaditya called Hemu and forces of Mughal king Akbar, led by his General Tardi Beg Khan. Hemu, the 'Prime Minister'-cum-'Chief of Army' of Surs, who already had 21 victories to his credit since 1553, winning large areas, right up to Bengal made a final assault on the historic capital of India, with a large army to uproot the Muslim invaders who had occupied this ancient Indian city since 1192, when the Hindu king Prithvi Raj Chauhan was defeated by Mohammad Gauri. Abul Fazal affirms in Akbarnama,[1] that " Hemu did great deeds such as men could not conceive". In the words of Persian writer, Firishta, Hemu's huge army in this battle was "as numerous as the locusts and ants of the deserts", showing the enthusiasm of natives to throw out the foreign occupants from their motherland. Delhi and surroundings had seen many a barbaric attacks and lootings in the preceding three centuries by Muslim invaders and people saw a ray of hope in freedom of the country under the command of great Hindu warrior and administrator Hemu. Thought of his victory and the possibility of a native rule had stirred the common man. It can truly be called a valiant effort by Hemu to librate the country in medieval times through his courage, far sightedness, administrative skills and intelligence. K.K Bhardwaj writes in his book [2] "Hemu-Napoleon of India", that "actions of Hemu were bound to prove beneficial to the state as well as the community. Had he lived for few years after his enthronement as Vikramaditya, he would have not only established the Hindu Raj in India on firm foundations but also achieved commendable results in public welfare in emulating the lofty ideals of kingship enshrined in Hindu legends".

Importance of Delhi

Delhi, located on the banks of perennial river Yamuna, sacred for Hindus, the capital of Pandavs' state of Indraprastha of 'Mahabharat' period 5000 years ago, has always remained an important place for Hindu rulers of North India to rule from. It has remained the Capital of several empires during last 5000 years, and several forts were constructed in different parts of Delhi at different times. During sixteenth century AD, the Mughal king Humayun, got renovated Purana Quila and made Delhi its capital. In 1540 Afghan ruler, Sher Shah Suri added new structures in Purana Quila and consolidated Delhi as capital. However, his son Islam Shah was advised to shift the capital to Gwalior, by his adviser Hemu, considering it to be a safer place from the attacks of Mughals. Delhi was left to be ruled by Hemu as the Governor of then Delhi state. In the year 1555 Humanyun, who re-entered Delhi after 15 years for a few months, chose Purana Quila again to rule from. Hemu, the Hindu King who won 22 battles from Punjab to Bengal, and never lost any till his last, also yearned to rule from Delhi, the old capital of Hindu Kings.

Background of Battle

File:'Hem Chandra Vikramaditya' Painting on Horse.jpg

Hem Chandra Vikramaditya on Horse

The Battle for Delhi 1556, took place at Tughlaqabad on 5–6 October 1556 between the Hindu king known as Hemu (or Samrat Hem Chandra Vikramaditya, Hemu Vikramaditya, Raja Vikramaditya) and forces of the Mughal Emperor Akbar led by the governor of Delhi, Tardi Baig Khan. According to historians such as Vincent A. Smith, this was a period when the Mughals, the Afghans, and the Hindu King Hemu were all vying for power in North India. The Mughal Emperor Humayun, Akbar's father, had been forced from Northern India and into virtual exile (first in Sind, then Marwar, and eventually reteating to Safavid Persia before taking control of Kabul from his brother, Kamran) after being defeated by the Afghan king Sher Shah Suri at the Battle of Chausa on the Ganges (near Patna) in June, 1539 and, even more decisively, opposite Kannauj in May, 1540.[3] With Safavid aid, Humayun recaptured Delhi and Agra, the capitals of the Mughal Empire founded by his father Babur, in February 1555. He was ruling Delhi and Agra from the citadel of the "sixth city of Delhi", Purana Qila, Delhi, when he fell from the stairs of his library building and died a few days later, on 26 January 1556.

Akbar's coronation

After the death of Humanyun, a courier was sent immediately to Punjab where his son Akbar was en-camped along with his guardian, Bairam Khan. At Delhi, Humayun's death was kept a secret for seventeen days and it was made public only on 11 February 1556, when Khutbah was read in the name of Akbar in the mosques of Delhi. Three days later, on Friday, 14 February, Akbar was formally crowned at Kalanaur in the Punjab. According to J.M.Shelat,.[4] the formal ceremony was held at noon in a garden on a plain brick structure 18 feet long and 3 feet high and young emperor was sovereign and king of India only in name. The news soon travelled far and wide in every nook and corner of India.

Hemu's March to Delhi and consolidation at Gwalior

Gwalior Fort where Hemu consolidated his army and launched an attack on Agra and Delhi


According to Sir Jadunath Sarkar, "when Humayun returned from his exile in Persia and recovered Delhi and Agra (23rd July,1555), Hemu marched from the eastern provinces with a large army to recover these royal cities." Hemu was in Bengal where he quelled a rebellion by defeating and killing the Governor of Bengal, Muhhamad Shah, at Chhaparghata. I.H.Quereshi also writes that "Hemu watched for an opportunity after Humayun's capture of Delhi which came in the shape of his death." According to K.K.Bhardwaj in "Hemu, Napoleon of Medieval India":[5] "It is thus manifest that Hemu was determined to drive the Mughals out of India and restore the Hindu Raj, and death of Humayun was thus a God sent opportunity to him to accomplish this task. This determination was akin to that of Chandragupta Maurya who drove the Yavanas (the Greek invaders) from India and liberated the country from the foreign yoke. For this Hemu started from Chunar and reached Agra via Etawah, Kalpi, and Bayana and the brave Mughal Fauzdars evacuated their positions and fled in panic of the mighty Hemu. He consolidated his army at Gwalior where he became Prime Minister and Chief of Army in 1553."

Capture of Agra

Agra Fort won by Hemu before winning Delhi

Determined Hemu reached Agra with a large army. The commander of Akbar's forces at Agra, Iskandar Khan Uzbeg offered no resistance, and Hemu soon occupied Agra and got an enormous treasure and equipment. K.K.Bhardwaj describes Hemu's march from Chunar to Agra and Delhi akin to Napoleon's march in Europe, where "He came, he saw, he conquered". Before entering Delhi, like Napoleon, Hemu had won 21 battles, without losing any.

From Agra, Hemu marched upon Delhi following close upon the heels of the retreating Army. Tardi Khan who was the governor of Delhi immediately sent a despatch to Akbar and Bairam Khan that Hemu had captured Agra and was intending to attack the capital Delhi, which could not be defended until adequate reinforcements were sent in time.

Battle Preparations

Tughlaqabad Fort, Delhi around which 'Battle for Delhi 1556' took place

There was desperation in Akbar's camp in Delhi on Hemu's continuous victories and his aim of winning Delhi. According to Abul Fazal, some commanders of Mughal forces wanted to leave Delhi without fighting and return later with full preparations. Hemu could garner the support of not only Afghans but all the Hindu kings also bringing in them a new hope of freedom from 350 years of foreign rule. He was leading a large and enthiusiast army. Bairam Khan who visualised the gravity of the situation, sent his ablest lieutenant Pir Muhhamad Sherwani with other brave commanders to Tardi Beg to hearten him, advising to do his utmost for the time being. Tardi Beg Khan at his own also called all Mughal commanders of the neighbourhood to the rescue of Delhi and many marched soon. Arrival of Ali Quli Khan Shaibani was eagerly awaited but without result. A war council was held. It was decided after an animated debate to give battle to Hemu and plans were made on how to do it best.

The Battle on 7 October 1556

Erskine(503) writes that Hemu, having occupied Agra, pursued the retreating enemy up to Tughlaqabad, a village about 5 miles east of Qutab Minar. Here Tardi Beg Khan, the Mughal governor of Delhi, gave Hemu a battle on 7 October 1556. Hemu had 1000 elephants, 50,000 horses, 51 cannons and 500 falconates-an army of beings, writes Ferista, " as numerous as the locusts and ants of the deserts'"(Kohli12)

Abul Fazal writes that Mughal and Hemu's forces came well prepared in front of each other in the month of Mihir-ki-Arad 25th or 2 jilhidda or 7 October 1556. Mughal forces were led by Tardi Beg Khan, Afzal Khan, Asraf Khan, Maulana Pir Mohammad Sherwani, who represented Bairam Khan, and others while Hemu's forces were led by Shadi Khan from Sambhal, Hazi Khan from Alwar, Rai Hussain Jalwani and Hemu himself. Abul Fazal has appreciated the formation and deployment of Hemu's army in Akbarnama. Mughal's initiated the attack on the right side of Hemu's army. Attack was initiated by Commander Abdulla Uzbek and Senapati Iskandar Mirza. Initially Hemu's army on right was under pressure and retreated towards Hodel-Palwal. Hemu was waiting for additional forces from Alwar and remained inactive though being in the center of battlefield. As the forces of Hazi Khan arrived, Hemu launched a fierce attack on Tardi Beg Khan, who had very few force left with him at that point, and made him run away from the battlefield. The Mughal troops, which had defeated Hemu's right wing, when heard of Tardi Beg's flight, they too, lost nerves. Hemu took advantage of this and pounced upon them. The Mughal troops, leaving a large quantity of booty,fled. Hemu at once took possession of all this booty. So much plunder of the Mughal army fell into Hemu's hands, that it was impossible to take an account of it. Besides, 160 elephants and 1000 horses of Arab breed also fell into his hands.

Sir Jadunath Sarkar writes in detail about the battle at Tughlaqabad as follows: "The Mughal army was thus drawn up. Abdullah Uzbeg commanded the van, Haider Muhammad the right wing, Iskander Beg the left and Tardi Beg himself the centre. The choice Turki Cavalry in the Van and left wing attacked and drove back the enemy forces before them and followed far in pursuit. In this assault the Victors captured 400 elephants and slew 3000 men of the Afghan army. Imagining victory already gained, many of Tardi Beg's followers dispersed to plunder the enemy camp and he was left in the field thinnly guarded. All this time Hemu was holding 300 choice elephants and a force of select horsemen as a reserve in the centre. He promptly seized the opportunity and made a sudden charge upon Tardi Beg with this reserve. At the impetuous advance of the huge beasts and the dense cavalery behind them, many of the Mughal officers fled away in terror without waiting to offer a defence. At last Tardi Beg himself took the same course. Tardi Beg, straight from the battle ground, proceeded towards the Punjab, and Hemu forthwith occupied Delhi." The result was obvious. The confusion and defeat for the Mughals. This was a decisive victory for Hemu and he entered Delhi under a royal canopy. Circumstantial evidences prove beyond doubt that he became an independent King of Delhi.

Coronation of Hemu

Coronation of Samrat Hem Chandra Vikramaditya at Purana Quila Delhi

Hemu was so elated by his continuous victories and by the capture of Delhi as to believe that he had already reached the goal of his ambition. Hemu had a formal coronation or 'Rajyabhishake' after victory at Purana Quila of Pandavas, where Humanyun breathed his last. He held a royal durbar and took the title of Vikramaditya, (King whose Effulgence is equal to the Sun's) and ordered coins to be struck in his name. This was a joyous moment for Hindus, in the history of India, when a native had become a king of Delhi after more than 350 years of foreign rule, as the previous native Hindu king of Delhi Prithvi Raj Chauhan was defeated by Mohammed Gauri in 1192. Hemu appointed governors of his own, and brought the Delhi territory and the neighbouring Parganas under his control. Now Hemu was on equal footing, if not more, against a ruler. His claims on Delhi were also correct now. "The essential parts of a Hindu King's coronation are" writes Sir Jadunath Sarkar, "washing him (abhishek) and holding the royal umbrella over his head (chhatra-dharam)" and Hemu must have followed these ancient traditions of Hindus accompanied by costly gifts and robes to priests and Brahmins. It is certain that Hemu performed various Hindu rituals before he sat on throne amdist chanting of Vedic mantras and sprinkling of sacred waters of Ganges and many other rivers and ceremony might have cost crores of Rupees to treasury as Hemu was quite lavish in distributing favours and precious gifts to others. Thousands of guests would have been invited, various Rajput chiefs and Afghan governors along with various scholars and Pandits and the festivities continued for three to four days. His Afghan officers were temporarily reconciled by a libral distribution of plunder to the ascendancy of an infidel. Vincent A. Smith who puts Hemu as the third claimant, others being Adil and Sikandar, in addition to Akbar, affirms that Hemu had a better claim to rule Delhi himself.

Historians on Hemu's Delhi Victory & declaration as 'Vikramaditya' king

According to Sarkar and Datta, Hemu assumed the title of Vikramaditya or Vikramadity (Sarkar and Datta, 56). But Michael Edwardes writes that Hemu "declared himself King under the title of Raja Vikramaditya" (Edwardes, 139). Hemu's proclamation of his being a Raja is very significant. The title of Raja reminds one of the ancient and medieval Indian Hindu Kings. Colonel H.C. Kar comments:[6] "He assumed the title of Vikramaditya. He emerged as a monarch in his own right and the only Hindu to occupy the throne of Delhi during the medieval history of India. Himself a staunch Hindu, he had no disrespect for any religion, Islam or Christianity". K.K. Bhardwaj writes in "Hemu-Napoleon of Medieval India"[7] that, Babur was a foreign invader and never thought of making India as his home or native land plus the atrocities and cruelties that he inflicted upon the Indian people over which Guru Nanak lamented before the Almighty God in holy books, Hemu undertook upon him as his solemn duty or Dharma being a true patriot to expel the Mughals bag and baggage out of India and liberate the motherland by reviving the ancient glories of Bharat-Varsha and establishing the 'Hindu Raj'. This was indeed a lofty ideal and he strove hard to achieve it. He deserves the honour of being considered the medieval Samudra Gupta or the medieval Napoleon as he fought and won twenty two battles continuously.

John Clark Marshman [8] wrote in 1873, that "Hemu was one of the greatest commanders of the age. He was one and all combined in his personality. As a general of sterling qualities, he displayed great valour in the battlefield and embarked upon wonderful planning and strategies to win twenty two battles he waged against the enemies of the state and won all. As an energetic soldier, he never shrank away from the battlefield and when the fight was most fierce, he did not bother for his personal safety and always fought with his adversaries courageously along with his comrades.This earned him goodwill, affection and praise of his entire heterogeneous army consisting of Afghans, Rajputs and various other tribes. He was an outstanding commander and his orders were obeyed by all his troops without grudge and demur".

William Erskine [9] writes that "in spite of the prejudiced and partial representations of the house of Timur, Hemun must have been a man of extraordinary capacity". A highly efficient civil administrator, he pulled up slack and corrupt public servants and introduced many new innovations in the public administration. His honesty and devotion to the interests of the state were exemplary and made an abiding impact on the administrative services. As he personally made all appointments both as Prime Minister and the Emperor of India, he reorganised the provincial administration by appointing the new governors of provinces and efficient administrators on key positions. This was bound to render beneficial results and as Sir Jadunath Sarkar commends, the Government of Adil Shah "gained unwonted strength" [10] from him and many appointments made by him of Muqadams and Chaudheries were continued in the reign of Akbar.

See also


  1. Abul Fazal, Akbarnama,Vol.1, p619
  2. K.K.Bhardwaj, Hemu-Napoleon of Medieval India, page 53
  3. Smith 1919, p. 371.
  4. Shelat 1964, p. ?.
  5. Bhardwaj 2000, p. 51.
  6. L.Colonel H.C. Kar, Military History of India, Calcutta (1980),p.283
  7. K.K. Bhardwaj, Hemu-Napoleon of Medieval India, page 51
  8. John Clark Marshman, The History of India from the Earliest Period to the Present Time, London (1873), page 50.
  9. Erskine Williams, The History of India under the two first sovereigns of the House of Timur - Babur and Humayun Vol II (Reprint) Oxford (1974), page 490
  10. Sir Jadunath Sarkar, Military History of India, Orient Longmam, (1960), page 66


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