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Third Battle of Panipat
The Third battle of Panipat 13 January 1761.jpg
The Third Battle of Panipat, 14 January 1761, Hafiz Rahmat Khan, standing right of Ahmad Shah Durrani, who is shown sitting on a brown horse.
Date14 January 1761
LocationPanipat, modern-day Haryana, India
29°23′24″N 76°58′12″E / 29.39°N 76.97°E / 29.39; 76.97
Result Abdali victory
Marathas lost Punjab and Delhi to the Afghan ruler. Ahmad Shah Durrani vacates Delhi soon after the battle, appoints Mughal emperor as nominal head and returns to Afghanistan.
Flag of the Emirate of Herat.svg
Durrani Empire
अवध ध्वज.gif
Nawabs of Oudh
Rampur flag.svg
Flag of the Maratha Empire.svg
Maratha Empire
Commanders and leaders
Flag of the Emirate of Herat.svgAhmad Shah Durrani
Flag of the Emirate of Herat.svgTimur Shah Durrani
Flag of the Emirate of Herat.svgWazir Wali Khan[1]
Flag of the Emirate of Herat.svgShah Pasand Khan[1]
Flag of the Emirate of Herat.svgJahan Khan[1]
अवध ध्वज.gifShuja-ud-Daula
Rampur flag.svgNajib-ud-Daula

Rampur flag.svgHafiz Rahmat Khan[1]
Rampur flag.svgDundi Khan[1]
Rampur flag.svgBanghas Khan[1]
Zain Khan Sirhindi
Sadashivrao Bhau
Malharrao Holkar
Mahadji Shinde
Ibrahim Khan Gardi
Jankoji Shinde
Bhivrao Panse
Vinchurkar (Infantry & Cavalry)
Sidoji Gharge
42,000 cavalry, 38,000 infantry in addition to 10,000 reserves, 4,000 personal guards and 5,000 Qizilbash, 120–130 pieces of cannon as well as large numbers of irregulars. Thus, totally an army of 100,000. 40,000 cavalry, 15,000 infantry, 15,000 Pindaris and 200 pieces of artillery. The force was accompanied by 300,000 non-combatants (pilgrims and camp-followers). Thus, totally an army of 70,000.
Casualties and losses
Estimates between 20,000 and 40,000 combatants killed.[2][3] Estimates between 30,000 and 40,000 combatants killed in the battle. Another 40,000-70,000 non-combatants massacred following the battle.[2][3]

The Third Battle of Panipat took place on 14 January 1761, at Panipat, about 60 miles (95.5 km) north of Delhi between a northern expeditionary force of the Maratha Empire and a coalition of the King of Afghanistan, Ahmad Shah Abdali with two Indian Muslim allies—the Rohilla Afghans of the Doab, and Shuja-ud-Daula, the Nawab of Awadh. Militarily, the battle pitted the French-supplied artillery[4] and cavalry of the Marathas against the heavy cavalry and mounted artillery (zamburak and jizail) of the Afghans and Rohillas led by Ahmad Shah Durrani and Najib-ud-Daulah, both ethnic Pashtuns (the former is also known as Ahmad Shah Abdali). The battle is considered one of the largest fought in the 18th century,[5] and has perhaps the largest number of fatalities in a single day reported in a classic formation battle between two armies.

The decline of the Mughal Empire following the 27-year Mughal-Maratha war (1680–1707) had led to rapid territorial gains for the Maratha Empire. Under Peshwa Baji Rao, Gujarat and Malwa came under Maratha control. Finally, in 1737, Baji Rao defeated the Mughals on the outskirts of Delhi, and brought much of the former Mughal territories south of Delhi under Maratha control. Baji Rao's son, Balaji Baji Rao (popularly known as Nana Saheb), further increased the territory under Maratha control by invading Punjab in 1758. This brought the Marathas into direct confrontation with the Durrani empire of Ahmad Shah Abdali. In 1759 he raised an army from the Pashtun tribes and made several gains against the smaller Maratha garrisons in Punjab. He then joined with his Indian allies—the Rohilla Afghans of the Gangetic Doab—forming a broad coalition against the Marathas. The Marathas, under the command of Sadashivrao Bhau, responded by gathering an army of between 45,000–60,000, which was accompanied by roughly 200,000 non-combatants, a number of whom were pilgrims desirous of making pilgrimages to Hindu holy sites in northern India. The Marathas started their northward journey from Patdur on the 14 March 1760. Both sides tried to get the Nawad of Awadh, Shuja-ud-Daulah, into their camp. By late July, Shuja-ud-Daulah made the decision to join the Afghan-Rohilla coalition, preferring to join what was perceived as the 'army of Islam'. This was strategically a major loss for the Marathas, since Shuja provided much needed finances for the long Afghan stay in North India. It is doubtful whether the Afghan-Rohilla coalition would have the means to continue their conflict with the Marathas without Shuja's support.

The slow-moving Maratha camp finally reached Delhi on 1 August 1760, and took the city the next day. There followed a series of skirmishes along the banks of the river Yamuna, and a battle at Kunjpura, which the Marathas won against an Afghan garrison of about 15,000 (at this time, Abdali and the other Afghan forces were on the eastern side of the Yamuna river). However, Abdali daringly crossed the river Yamuna on the 25 October at Baghpat, cutting off the Maratha camp from their base in Delhi. This eventually turned into a two-month-long siege led by Abdali against the Marathas in the town of Panipat. During the siege both sides tried to cut off the other's supplies. At this the Afghans were considerably more effective, so that by the end of November 1760 they had cut off almost all food supplies into the besieged Maratha camp (which had about 250,000 to 300,000, most of whom were non-combatants). According to all the chronicles of the time, food in the Maratha camp ran out by late December or early January and cattle died by the thousands. Reports of soldiers dying of starvation began to be heard in early January. On 13 January the Maratha chiefs begged their commander, Sadashiv Rao Bhau, to be allowed to die in battle than perish by starvation. The next day the Marathas left their camp before dawn and marched south towards the Afghan camp in a desperate attempt to break the siege. The two armies came face-to-face around 8:00 a.m., and the battle raged until evening.

The specific site of the battle itself is disputed by historians, but most consider it to have occurred somewhere near modern-day Kaalaa Aamb and Sanauli Road. The battle lasted for several days and involved over 125,000 troops. Protracted skirmishes occurred, with losses and gains on both sides. The forces led by Ahmad Shah Durrani came out victorious after destroying several Maratha flanks. The extent of the losses on both sides is heavily disputed by historians, but it is believed that between 60,000–70,000 were killed in fighting, while the numbers of injured and prisoners taken vary considerably. According to the single best eye-witness chronicle- the bakhar by Shuja-ud-Daulah's Diwan Kashi Raj, about 40,000 Maratha prisoners were slaughtered in cold blood the day after the battle.[3] Grant Duff includes an interview of a survivor of these massacres in his History of the Marathas and generally corroborates this number. Shejwalkar, whose monograph Panipat 1761 is often regarded as the single best secondary source on the battle, says that "not less than 100,000 Marathas (soldiers and non-combatants) perished during and after the battle."[2]

The result of the battle was the halting of further Maratha advances in the north, and a destabilization of their territories, for roughly 10 years. This period of 10 years is marked by the rule of Peshwa Madhavrao, who is credited with the revival of Maratha domination following the defeat at Panipat. In 1771, 10 years after Panipat, he sent a large Maratha army into North India in an expedition that was meant to re-establish Maratha domination in North India and punish refractory powers that had either sided with the Afghans, such as the Rohillas, or had shaken off Maratha domination after Panipat. The success of this campaign can be seen as the last saga of the long story of Panipat.


Lahore, Multan, Kashmir and other subahs on this side of Attock are under our rule for the most part, and places which have not come under our rule we shall soon bring under us. Ahmad Shah Durrani's son Timur Shah Durrani and Jahan Khan have been pursued by our troops, and their troops completely looted. Both of them have now reached Peshawar with a few broken troops . . . So Ahmad Shah Durrani has returned to Kandahar with some 12-14 thousand broken troops.. Thus all have risen against Ahmad who has lost control over the region. We have decided to extend our rule up to Kandahar.

Raghunathrao's letter to the Peshwa, 4 May 1758[6]

Decline of Mughal Empire

File:India 18th century.JPG

Extent of the Maratha Empire, 1758
(shown here in orange).

The Mughal Empire had been in decline since the death of the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb in 1707 due to rise of Marathas. The decline was accelerated by the invasion of India by Nadir Shah in 1739. Continued rebellions by the Marathas in the south, and the de facto separation of a number of states (including Hyderabad and Bengal), weakened the state further. Within a few years of Aurangzeb's death, the Marathas had reversed all his territorial gains in the Deccan and had conquered almost all Mughal territory in central and northern India. Mughals had thus become just the titular heads of Delhi. At the same time Punjab saw frequent invasions by Ahmad Shah Abdali, the great Punjabi poet Baba Waris Shah said of the situation, "khada peeta wahy da, baqi Ahmad Shahy da"--"we have nothing with us except what we eat and wear, all other things are for Ahmad Shah". Abdali appointed his son, Timur Shah Durrani, as his governor in Punjab and Kashmir. In 1758 the Maratha Empire's Gen. Raghunathrao marched onwards, attacked and conquered Lahore and Peshawar and drove out Timur Shah Durrani. Lahore, Multan, Kashmir and other subahs on the south and eastern side of Peshawar were under the Maratha rule for the most part. In Punjab and Kashmir the Marathas were now major players.[6][7]

Rise of the Marathas

The Marathas had gained control of a considerable part of India in the intervening period (1707–1757). In 1758 they occupied Delhi, captured Lahore and drove out Timur Shah Durrani,[6] the son and viceroy of the Afghan ruler, Ahmad Shah Abdali. This was the high-water mark of the Maratha expansion, where the boundaries of their empire extended in the north to the Indus and the Himalayas, and in the south nearly to the extremity of the peninsula. This territory was ruled through the Peshwa, who talked of placing his son Vishwasrao on the Mughal throne.[8] However, Delhi still remained under the nominal control of Mughals, key Muslim intellectuals including Shah Waliullah and other Muslim clergy in India who were alarmed at these developments. In desperation they appealed to Ahmad Shah Abdali, the ruler of Afghanistan, to halt the threat.[9]


"The lofty and spacious tents, lined with silks and broadcloths, were surmounted by large gilded ornaments, conspicuous at a distance... Vast numbers of elephants, flags of all descriptions, the finest horses, magnificently caparisoned ... seemed to be collected from every quarter ... it was an imitation of the more becoming and tasteful array of the Mughuls in the zenith of their glory." – Grant Duff, describing the Maratha army.[10]

Ahmad Shah Durrani (Ahmad Shah Abdali), angered by the news from his son and his allies, was unwilling to allow the Marathas' spread go unchecked. By the end of 1759 Abdali with his Afghan tribes and his Rohilla ally Najib Khan had reached Lahore as well as Delhi and defeated the smaller enemy garrisons. Ahmed Shah, at this point, withdrew his army to Anupshahr, on the frontier of the Rohilla country, where he successfully convinced the Nawab of Oudh Shuja-ud-Daula to join his alliance against the Marathas—in spite of the Marathas time and again helping and showing sympathy towards Shuja-ud-daula. The Nawab’s mother was of the opinion that he should join the Marathas. The Marathas had helped Safdarjung (father of Shuja) in defeating Rohillas in Farrukhabad. However, Shuja was very much ill-treated in the Abdali camp. Abdali was an Afghan Sunni Muslim and Shuja was a Persian Shia Muslim.[11]

The Marathas under Sadashivrao Bhau (referred to as the Bhau or Bhao in sources) responded to the news of the Afghans' return to North India by raising a big army, and they marched North. Bhau's force was bolstered by some Maratha forces under Holkar, Scindia, Gaikwad and Govind Pant Bundele. Suraj Mal, the Jat ruler of Bharatpur, also had joined Bhausaheb but left midway. This combined army of over 100,000 regular troops captured the Mughal capital, Delhi, from an Afghan garrison in December 1759.[12] Delhi had been reduced to ashes many times due to previous invasions, and in addition there being acute shortage of supplies in the Maratha camp. Bhau ordered the sacking of the already depopulated city.[13] He is said to have planned to place his nephew and the Peshwa's son, Vishwasrao, on the Mughal throne. The Jats did not support the Marathas. Their withdrawal from the ensuing battle was to play a crucial role in its result. Abdali drew first blood by attacking a small Maratha army led by Dattaji Shinde at Murari Ghat. Dattaji fought with characteristic Maratha valour but was soon defeated and killed by Abdali’s troops.

Initial skirmishes

Engraving of a Maratha soldier by James Forbes.

With both sides poised for battle, there followed much maneuvering, with skirmishes between the two armies fought at Karnal and Kunjpura. Kunjpura, on the banks of the Yamuna River 60 miles to the north of Delhi, was stormed by the Marathas and the whole Afghan garrison was killed or enslaved.[14] Marathas achieved a rather easy victory at Kunjpura, although there was a substantial army posted there. Some of Abadali's best generals were killed. Ahmad Shah was encamped on the left bank of the Yamuna River, which was swollen by rains, and was powerless to aid the garrison. The massacre of the Kunjpura garrison, within sight of the Durrani camp, exasperated him to such an extent that he ordered crossing of the river at all costs.[15] Ahmed Shah and his allies on 17 October 1760, broke up from Shahdara, marching south. Taking a calculated risk, Abdali plunged into the river, followed by his bodyguards and troops. Between 23 and 25 October they were able to cross at Baghpat(a small town about 24 miles up the river), as a man from the village, in exchange for money, showed Abdali a way through Yamuna, from where the river could be crossed,[11] unopposed by the Marathas who were still preoccupied with the sacking of Kunjpura.

After the Marathas failed to prevent Abdali's forces from crossing the Yamuna River, they set up defensive works in the ground near Panipat, thereby blocking his access back to Afghanistan, just as his forces blocked theirs to the south. However, on the afternoon of 26 October Ahmad Shah's advance guard reached Sambalka, about halfway between Sonepat and Panipat, where they encountered the vanguard of the Marathas. A fierce skirmish ensued, in which the Afghans lost 1000 men killed and wounded but drove the Marathas back to their main body, which kept retreating slowly for several days. This led to the partial encirclement of the Maratha army. In skirmishes that followed, Govind Pant Bundele, with 10,000 light cavalry who weren’t formally trained soldiers, was on a foraging mission with about 500 men. They were surprised by an Afghan force near Meerut, and in the ensuing fight Bundele was killed.[16] This was followed by the loss of another 2,000 Maratha soldiers who were delivering the army's payroll from Delhi. This completed the encirclement, as Ahmad Shah had cut off the Maratha army's supply lines.[17]

With supplies and stores dwindling, tensions rose in the Maratha camp as the mercenaries in their army were complaining about not being paid. Initially the Marathas moved in almost 150 pieces of modern long-range, French-made artillery. With a range of several kilometres, these guns were some of the best of the time. The Marathas' plan was to lure the Afghan army to confront them while they had close artillery support.[17]

Preliminary moves

During the next two months of the siege constant skirmishes and duels took place between units and individual champions from either side. In one of these Najib lost 3,000 of his Rohillas and was very nearly killed but ran away. Facing a potential stalemate, Abdali decided to seek terms, which Bhau was willing to consider. However, Najib Khan delayed any chance of an agreement with an appeal on religious grounds and sowed doubt about whether the Marathas would honour any agreement.[10]

After the Marathas moved from Kunjpura to Panipat, Diler Khan Marwat, with his father Alam Khan Marwat and a force of 2500 Pashtuns, attacked and took control of Kunjpura, where there was a Maratha garrison of 700–800 soldiers. At that time Atai Khan Baluch, son of the Wazir of Abdali, came from Afghanistan with 10,000 cavalry and cut off the supplies to the Marathas.[11] The Marathas at Panipat were surrounded by Abdali in the south, Pashtun Tribes (Yousuf Zai, Afridi, Khattak) in the east, Shuja, Atai Khan and others in the north and other Pashtun tribes (Gandapur, Marwat, Durranis and Kakars) in the west. Abdali had also ordered Wazir Shaha Wali Khan Afridi and others to keep a watch in the thorny jungles surrounding Panipat. Thus, all supplies lines were cut.[11]

The Marathas’ difficulty in obtaining supplies worsened as the local population became hostile to them, since in the Marathas' desperation to secure provisions they had pillaged the surrounding areas.

While Sadashivrao Bhau was still eager to make terms, a message was received from the Peshawa insisting on going to war and promising that reinforcements were under way. Unable to continue without supplies or wait for reinforcements any longer, Bhau decided to break the siege. His plan was to pulverise the enemy formations with cannon fire and not to employ his cavalry until the Afghans were thoroughly softened up. With the Afghans broken, he would move camp in a defensive formation towards Delhi, where they were assured supplies.[10]


Afghan royal soldiers of the Durrani Empire.


The Maratha lines began a little to the north of Kala Amb. They had thus blocked the northward path of Abdali's troops and at the same time were blocked from heading south—in the direction of Delhi, where they could get badly needed supplies—by those same troops. Bhau, with the Peshwa's son and the household troops, was in the centre. The left wing consisted of the gardis under Ibrahim Khan. Holkar and Sindhia were on the extreme right.[17]

The Maratha line was to be formed up some 12 km across, with the artillery in front, protected by infantry, pikemen, musketeers and bowmen. The cavalry was instructed to wait behind the artillery and bayonet-wielding musketeers, ready to be thrown in when control of the battlefield had been fully established. Behind this line was another ring of 30,000 young Maratha soldiers who were not battle-tested, and then the roughly 30,000 civilians entrained.[17] Many were middle-class men, women and children on their pilgrimage to Hindu holy places and shrines. Behind the civilians was yet another protective infantry line, of young, inexperienced soldiers.

On the other side the Afghans formed a somewhat similar line, probably a few metres to the south of today's Sanauli Road. Their left was being formed by Najib and their right by two brigades of Persian troops. Their left centre was led by two Viziers, Shuja-ud-daulah with 3,000 soldiers and 50–60 cannons and Ahmad Shah's Vizier Shah Wali with a choice body of 19,000 mailed Afghan horsemen.[17] The right centre consisted of 15,000 Rohillas under Hafiz Rahmat and other chiefs of the Rohilla Pathans. Pasand Khan covered the left wing with 5,000 cavalry, Barkurdar Khan and Amir Beg covered the right with 3,000 Rohilla cavalry with the choicest Persian horses. Long-range musketeers were also present during the battle. In this order the army of Ahmed Shah moved forward, leaving him at his preferred post in the centre, which was now in the rear of the line, from where he could watch and direct the battle.

Early phases

Before dawn on 14 January 1761, the Maratha troops broke their fast with the last remaining grain in camp and prepared for combat, coming from their lines with turbans disheveled and turmeric-smeared faces. They emerged from the trenches, pushing the artillery into position on their prearranged lines, some 2 km from the Afghans. Seeing that the battle was on, Ahmad Shah positioned his 60 smooth-bore cannon and opened fire. However, because of the short range of the Afghan weapons and the static nature of the Maratha artillery, the Afghan cannons proved ineffectual.

The initial attack was led by the Maratha left flank under Ibrahim Khan, who in his eagerness to prove his worth advanced his infantry in formation against the Rohillas and Shah Pasand Khan. The first salvos from the Maratha artillery went over the Afghans' heads and did very little damage. Nevertheless, the first Afghan attack was broken by Maratha bowmen and pikemen, along with a unit of the famed Gardi musketeers stationed close to the artillery positions. The second and subsequent salvos were fired at point-blank range into the Afghan ranks. The resulting carnage sent the Rohillas reeling back to their lines, leaving the battlefield in the hands of Ibrahim for the next three hours, during which the 8,000 Gardi musketeers killed about 12,000 Rohillas.[11]

In the second phase, Bhau himself led the charge against the left-of-center Afghan forces, under the Afghan Vizier Shah Wali Khan. The sheer force of the attack nearly broke the Afghan lines, and soldiers started to desert their positions in the confusion. Desperately trying to rally his forces, Shah Wali appealed to Shuja ud Daulah for assistance. However, the Nawab did not break from his position, effectively splitting the Afghan force's center. Despite Bhau's success, the overenthusiasm of the charge and a phenomenon called "Dakshinayan" on that fateful day, the attack itself failed because the sunlight shone directly into the eyes of the attackers' horses, many of them half-starved Maratha mounts who were exhausted long before they had traveled the two kilometers to the Afghan lines; some simply collapsed.

Final phase

In the final phase the Marathas, under Scindia, attacked Najib. Najib successfully fought a defensive action, however, keeping Scindia's forces at bay. By noon it looked as though Bhau would clinch victory for the Marathas once again. The Afghan left flank still held its own, but the centre was cut in two and the right was almost destroyed. Ahmad Shah had watched the fortunes of the battle from his tent, guarded by the still unbroken forces on his left. He sent his bodyguards to call up his 15,000 reserve troops from his camp and arranged them as a column in front of his cavalry of musketeers (Qizilbash) and 2,000 swivel-mounted shutarnaals or Ushtranaal—cannons—on the backs of camels.[18] The shaturnals, because of their positioning on camels, could fire an extensive salvo over the heads of their own infantry at the Maratha cavalry. The Maratha cavalry was unable to withstand the muskets and camel-mounted swivel cannons of the Afghans. They could be fired without the rider having to dismount and were especially effective against fast-moving cavalry. He therefore sent 500 of his own bodyguards with orders to raise all able-bodied men out of camp and send them to the front. He sent 1,500 more to any those front-line troops who attempted to flee the battle and kill without mercy any soldier who would not return to the fight. These extra troops, along with 4,000 of his reserve troops, went to support the broken ranks of the Rohillas on the right. The remainder of the reserve, 10,000 strong, were sent to the aid of Shah Wali, still labouring unequally against the Bhao in the centre of the field. These mailed warriors were to charge with the Vizir in close order and at full gallop. Whenever they charged the enemy in front, the chief of the staff and Najib were directed to fall upon either flank.

With their own men in the firing line, the Maratha artillery could not respond to the shathurnals and the cavalry charge. Some 7,000 Maratha cavalry and infantry were killed before the hand-to-hand fighting began at around 14:00. By 16:00 the tired Maratha infantry began to succumb to the onslaught of attacks from fresh Afghan reserves, protected by armoured leather jackets.


Sadashivrao Bhau, seeing his forward lines dwindling and civilians behind, had not kept any reserves, and upon seeing Vishwasrao disappear in the midst of the fighting, he felt he had no choice but to come down from his elephant and lead the battle.[6] Taking advantage of this, some Afghan soldiers who had been captured by the Marathas earlier during the siege of Kunjpura revolted. The slaves deliberately spread rumours about the defeat of the Marathas. This brought confusion and great consternation to loyal Maratha soldiers, who thought that the enemy had attacked from their rear. Some Maratha troops, seeing that their general had disappeared from his elephant, panicked and began to flee.

Abdali had given a part of his army the task of surrounding and killing the Gardis under Ibrahim Khan Gardi, who were at the leftmost part of the Maratha army. Bhausaheb had ordered Vitthal Vinchurkar (with 1500 cavalry) and Damaji Gaikwad (with 2500 cavalry) to protect the Gardis. However, after seeing the Gardis fight, they lost their patience, became overenthusiastic and decided to fight the Rohillas themselves. Thus they broke the round—they didn’t follow the idea of round battle and went all out on the Rohillas, and the Rohilla riflemen started accurately firing at the Maratha cavalry, which was equipped only with swords. This gave the Rohillas the opportunity to encircle the Gardis and outflank the Maratha centre while Shah Wali pressed on attacking the front. Thus the Gardis were left defenceless and started falling one by one.[11]

Vishwasrao had already been killed by a shot to the head. Bhau and his loyal bodyguards fought to the end, the Maratha leader having three horses shot out from under him. At this stage Holkar, realising the battle was lost, broke from the Maratha left flank and retreated.[6] The Maratha army was routed and fled under the devastating attack. While 15,000 soldiers managed to reach Gwalior, the rest of the Maratha forces—including large numbers of non-combatants—were either killed or captured.[6]


The Afghans pursued the fleeing Maratha army and civilians. The Maratha front lines remained largely intact, with some of their artillery units fighting until sunset. Choosing not to launch a night attack, many Maratha troops escaped that night. Bhau's wife Parvatibai, who was assisting in the administration of the Maratha camp, escaped to Pune with her bodyguard (Janu Bhintada).

Reasons for the outcome

Durrani had both numeric as well as qualitative superiority over Marathas. The combined Muslim army was much larger than that of Marathas. Though the infantry of Marathas was organized along European lines and their army had some of the best French-made guns of the time, their artillery was static and lacked mobility against the fast-moving Afghan forces. The heavy mounted artillery of Afghans proved much better in the battlefield than the light artillery of Marathas.[19]

The main reason for the failure of the Marathas was that they went to war without good allies. They were expecting support from their allies- Rajputs, Jats and Sikhs, but none of them supported Marathas in the battle. The Marathas had interfered in the internal affairs of the Rajput states (present-day Rajasthan) and levied heavy taxes and huge fines on them. They had also made large territorial and monetary claims upon Awadh. Their raids in the Jat territory had resulted in the loss of trust of Jat chiefs like Suraj Mal. They had, therefore, to fight their enemies alone. Marathas treated Sikhs, who assisted them in their north-west conquest as a non-entity in Punjab affairs. According to an assessment, the Sikhs were ever ready to co-operate with the Marathas, but it goes to the discredit of the Marathas that they did not make a proper confederacy with Sikhs. Kirpal Singh writes:[20]

"Unlike Ahmad Shah Abdali who subsequently raised a cry of jihad, the Marathas couldn't mobilize their resources and make a common cause with the Sikhs in order to pay the Afghan Emperor in his own coin."

Moreover, the senior Maratha chiefs constantly bickered with one another. Each had ambitions of carving out their independent states and had no interest in fighting against a common enemy.[21] Some of them didn't support the idea of a round battle and wanted to fight using guerilla tactics instead of charging the enemy head-on.[11] The Marathas were fighting alone at a place which was 1000 miles away from their capital Pune.[22]

The Maratha army was also burdened with over 300,000 pilgrims who wished to worship at Hindu places of worship like Mathura, Prayag, Kashi, etc. The pilgrims wanted to accompany the army, as they would be secure with them.[11] Apart from just fighting the battle, the Maratha troops had the responsibility to protect the non-combatants from Afghans. That was the reason why Marathas suffered heavy losses even after the battle. They could not retreat quickly as they were to protect the non-combatants who were accompanying them.

Peshwa's decision to appoint Sadashivrao Bhau as the Supreme Commander instead of Malharrao Holkar or Raghunathrao proved to be an unfortunate one, as Sadashivrao was totally ignorant of the political and military situation in North India.[23]

If Holkar had remained in the battlefield, the Maratha defeat would have been delayed but not averted. Ahmad Shah’s superiority in pitched battle could have been negated if the Marathas had conducted their traditional ganimi kava, or guerrilla warfare, as advised by Malharrao Holkar, in Punjab and in north India. Abdali was in no position to maintain his field army in India indefinitely.[24] Marathas had used guerrilla warfare in North India. The Turki horses could not have handled the plundering and cutting of supply lines by the Marathas.

Najib, Shuja and the Rohillas knew North India very well and that most of North India had allied with Abdali. Abdali used shaturnals, camels with mobile artillery pieces at his disposal. He was also diplomatic, striking agreements with Hindu leaders, especially the Jats and Rajputs, and former rivals like the Nawab of Awadh, appealing to him in the name of religion.[11] He also had better intelligence on the movements of his enemy, which played a crucial role in his encirclement of the enemy army.

Massacres after the battle

Mass of surrendered Maratha soldiers were handcuffed and then murdered, their heads chopped off by Afghans. The Afghan cavalry and pikemen ran wild through the streets of Panipat, killing tens of thousands of Maratha soldiers and civilians.[2][3] The women and children seeking refuge in streets of Panipat were hounded back in Afghan camps as slaves. Children over 14 were beheaded before their own mothers and sisters. Afghan officers who had lost their kin in battle were permitted to carry out massacres of 'infidel' Hindus the next day also, in Panipat and the surrounding area.[25][26] They arranged victory mounds of severed heads outside their camps. According to the single best eye-witness chronicle- the bakhar by Shuja-ud-Daula's Diwan Kashi Raj, about 40,000 Maratha prisoners were slaughtered in cold blood the day after the battle.[2][3][25] According to Mr. Hamilton of Bombay Gazette about half a million Marathi people were present there in Panipat town and he gives a figure of 70,000 prisoners as executed by Afghans.[25] Many of the fleeing Maratha women jumped into the Panipat wells rather than risk rape and dishonour.[26]

Abdali's soldiers took about 22,000 Hindu women and young children and brought them to their camps. The women were raped in the camp, many committed suicide because of constant rapes perpetrated on them. All of the prisoners were exchanged or sold as sex slaves in Afghanistan, transported on bullock carts, camels and elephants in bamboo cages.[26][27]

Siyar-ut-Mutakhirin says :[26][27]

The unhappy prisoners were paraded in long lines, given a little parched grain and a drink of water, and beheaded... and the women and children who survived were driven off as slaves - twenty-two thousand, many of them of the highest rank in the land.


File:Kims Gun in Lahore Pakistan.jpg

"Kim's Gun", also known as the Zamzama was used in the Third Battle of Panipat

The bodies of Vishwasrao and Bhau were recovered by the Marathas and were cremated according to Hindu custom.[28] Bhau's wife Parvatibai was saved by Holkar, per the directions of Bhau, and eventually returned to Pune.

Peshwa Balaji Baji Rao, uninformed about the state of his army, was crossing the Narmada with reinforcements when a tired charkara arrived with a cryptic message: "Two pearls have been dissolved, 27 gold coins have been lost and of the silver and copper the total cannot be cast up". The Peshwa never recovered from the shock of the total debacle at Panipat. He returned to Pune and died a broken man in a temple on Paravati Hill.[6]

Jankoji Scindia was taken prisoner and executed at the instigation of Najib. Ibrahim Khan Gardi was tortured and executed by enraged Afghan soldiers, when they caught him performing the last rites of his master Sadashivraobhau and Vishwasrao.[28] The Marathas never fully recovered from the loss at Panipat, but they remained the predominant military power in India and managed to retake Delhi 10 years later. However, their claim over all of India ended with the three Anglo-Maratha Wars, almost 50 years after Panipat.[29]

The Jats under Suraj Mal benefited significantly from not participating in the Battle of Panipat. They provided considerable assistance to the Maratha soldiers and civilians who escaped the fighting. Suraj Mal himself was killed in battle against Najib-ud-Daula in 1763.[30][31] Ahmad Shah's victory left him, in the short term, the undisputed master of North India. However, his alliance quickly unravelled amidst squabbles between his generals and other princes, the increasing restlessness of his soldiers over pay, the increasing Indian heat and arrival of the news that Marathas had organised another 100,000 men in the south to avenge their loss and rescue captured prisoners. Before departing, he ordered the Indian chiefs, through a Royal Firman (order) (including Clive of India), to recognise Shah Alam II as Emperor.[32]

Ahmad Shah also appointed Najib-ud-Daula as ostensible regent to the Mughal Emperor. In addition, Najib and Munir-ud-daulah agreed to pay to Abdali, on behalf of the Mughal king, an annual tribute of four million rupees.[32] This was to be Ahmad Shah's final major expedition to North India, as he became increasingly preoccupied with the increasingly successful rebellions by the Sikhs.[33]

Shah Shuja was to regret his decision to join the Afghan forces. In time his forces became embroiled in clashes between the orthodox Sunni Afghans and his own Shia followers. He is alleged to have later secretly sent letters to Bhausaheb through his spies regretting his decision to join Abdali.[11]

After the Battle of Panipat the services of the Rohillas were rewarded by grants of Shikohabad to Nawab Faiz-ullah Khan and of Jalesar and Firozabad to Nawab Sadullah Khan. Najib Khan proved to be an effective ruler. However, after his death in 1770, the Rohillas were defeated by the British East India Company.[34][35]

Marathas re-captured Delhi and restored their power in North India after ten years of the battle by 1771 under Peshwa Madhavrao.


The Third Battle of Panipat saw an enormous number of deaths and injuries in a single day of battle. It was the last major battle between indigenous South Asian military powers until the creation of Pakistan in 1947.

To save their kingdom, the Mughals once again changed sides and welcomed the Afghans to Delhi. The Mughals remained in nominal control over small areas of India, but were never a force again. The empire officially ended in 1857 when its last emperor, Bahadur Shah II, was accused of being involved in the Sepoy Mutiny and exiled.

The Marathas' expansion was stopped in the battle, and infighting soon broke out within the empire. They never regained any unity. They recovered their position under the next Peshwa Madhavrao I and by 1771 were back in control of the north, finally occupying Delhi. However, after the death of Madhavrao, due to infighting and increasing pressure from the British, their claims to empire only officially ended in 1818 after three wars with the British.

Meanwhile the Sikhs—whose rebellion was the original reason Ahmad invaded—were left largely untouched by the battle. They soon retook Lahore. When Ahmad Shah returned in March 1764 he was forced to break off his siege after only two weeks due to a rebellion in Afghanistan. He returned again in 1767, but was unable to win any decisive battle. With his own troops complaining about not being paid, he eventually abandoned the district to the Sikhs, who remained in control until 1849.

The Marathi term "Sankrant Kosalali" (सक्रांत कोसळली), meaning "Sankranti has befallen us", is said to have originated from the events of the battle.[36] There are some verbs in the Marathi language related to this loss as "Panipat zale" (पानिपत झाले) [a major loss has happened]. This verb is even today used in Marathi language. A common pun is "Aamchaa Vishwaas Panipataat gela" (आमचा विश्वास पानीपतात गेला) [we lost our own (Vishwas) faith since Panipat]. Just before death of brave Dattaji Shinde, when asked whether he would still fight, lionheart Dattaji replied "Bachenge to Aur Bhi Ladenge" (बचेंगे तो औरभी लडेंगे।) [Should we survive, we will fight even more]. Many historians, including British historians of the time, have argued that had it not been for the weakening of Maratha power at Panipat, the British might never have gotten a strong foothold in India.[citation needed]

The battle proved the inspiration for Rudyard Kipling's poem "With Scindia to Delhi".

"Our hands and scarfs were saffron-dyed for signal of despair,
When we went forth to Paniput to battle with the ~Mlech~ ,
Ere we came back from Paniput and left a kingdom there."

It is, however, also remembered as a scene of valour on both sides. Santaji Wagh's corpse was found with over 40 mortal wounds. The bravery of Vishwas Rao, the Peshwa's son, was acknowledged even by the Afghans.[37] Yashwantrao Pawar also fought with great courage, killing many Afghans.

Afghan military prowess was to inspire hope in many orthodox Muslims and Mughal royalists and fear in the British.

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 India's historic battles: from Alexander the great to Kargil - Kaushik Roy - Google Books
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 James Grant Duff "History of the Mahrattas, Vol II (Ch. 5), Printed for Longman, Rees, Orme, Brown, and Green, 1826"
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 T. S. Shejwalkar, "Panipat 1761" (in Marathi and English) Deccan College Monograph Series. I., Pune (1946)
  4. "Maratha Confederacy". Encyclopædia Britannica. Archived from the original on 23 August 2007. Retrieved 11 August 2007. 
  5. Black, Jeremy (2002) Warfare In The Eighteenth Century (Cassell'S History Of Warfare) (Paperback – 25 Jul 2002)ISBN 0304362123
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 6.5 6.6 Roy, Kaushik. India's Historic Battles: From Alexander the Great to Kargil. Permanent Black, India. pp. 80–1. ISBN 978-8178241098. 
  7. Elphinstone, Mountstuart (1841). History of India. John Murray, Albermarle Street. p. 276. 
  8. Elphinstone, Mountstuart (1841). History of India. John Murray, Albermarle Street. pp. 276. 
  9. "Shah Wali Ullah (1703–1762)". Retrieved 11 August 2007. 
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 Keene, H.G. (1887). Part I, Chapter VI: The Fall of the Moghul Empire of Hindustan. 
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 11.3 11.4 11.5 11.6 11.7 11.8 11.9 Patil, Vishwas. Panipat. 
  12. Robinson, Howard; James Thomson Shotwell (1922). "Mogul Empire". The Development of the British Empire. Houghton Mifflin. p. 91. 
  13. Agrawal, Ashvini (1983). "Events leading to the Battle of Panipat". Studies in Mughal History. Motilal Banarsidass. p. 26. ISBN 8120823265. 
  14. Also see Syed Altaf Ali Brelvi, Life of Hafiz Rahmat Khan, pp. 108–9.
  15. Lateef, S M. "History of the Punjab", p. 235,. 
  16. Patil, Vishwas (2005). Panipat. Navbharat Sahitya Mandir. 
  17. 17.0 17.1 17.2 17.3 17.4 Rawlinson, H. G. (1926). An Account Of The Last Battle of Panipat. Oxford University Press. 
  18. War Elephants Written by Konstantin Nossov, Illustrated by Peter Dennis Format: Trade Paperback ISBN 9781846032684
  19. Chandra, Satish (2004). "Later Mughals". Medieval India: From Sultanate to the Mughals Part – II. Har-Anand. ISBN 81-241-1066-2. 
  20. Marathas in Punjab
  21. James Rapson, Edward; Wolseley Haig, Richard Burn, Henry Dodwell, Robert Eric Mortimer Wheeler (1937). The Cambridge History of India: The Mughul period, planned by W. Haig. 4. Cambridge University Press. p. 448. 
  22. "250 years on, Battle of Panipat revisited - India News". 2011-01-13. Retrieved 2012-03-26. 
  23. Claude Markovits, A history of modern India, 1480–1950. Pg. 207.
  24. India's historic battles: from Alexander the great to Kargil, Kaushik Roy, pg 91.
  25. 25.0 25.1 25.2 [1] A short story of genocide
  26. 26.0 26.1 26.2 26.3 H. G. Rawlinson in C.H.I., IV, 424 and n.
  27. 27.0 27.1 [2] Women prisoners of the Panipat battle
  28. 28.0 28.1 Pradeep Barua, "Military Developments in India, 1750–1850" Vol. 58, No. 4 (1994), p. 616
  29. Jadunath Sarkar Fall of the Mughal Empire Sangam Books 1992 P 235 ISBN 0861317491
  30. K.R. Qunungo, History of the Jats, Ed. Vir Singh, Delhi, 2003, pp. 202–205
  31. G.C.Dwivedi, The Jats, Their role in the Mughal Empire, Ed Dr Vir Singh, Delhi, 2003, p. 253
  32. 32.0 32.1 Mohsini, Haroon. "Invasions of Ahmad Shah Abdali". Archived from the original on 13 August 2007. Retrieved 13 August 2007. 
  33. MacLeod, John, The History of India, 2002, Greenwood Press
  34. Strachey, John; Sidney James Owen Vol. 8, No. 30 (1893). Hastings and the Rohilla War. BR Publishing. p. 374. ISBN 8170480051. 
  35. Strachey, p. 380
  36. "Land Maratha". Archived from the original on 27 October 2009. 
  37. Rao, S. "Walking the streets of Panipat". Indian Oil News. Archived from the original on 28 April 2008. Retrieved 8 April 2008. 

Further reading

  • Britannica "Panipat, Battles of" (2007) Retrieved 24 May 2007, from Encyclopædia Britannica Online.
  • T S Shejwalkar, Panipat 1761 Deccan College Monograph Series. I., Pune (1946)
  • H. G. Rawlinson, An Account Of The Last Battle of Panipat and of the Events Leading To It, Hesperides Press (2006) ISBN 978-1406726251
  • Vishwas Patil, Panipat" – a novel based on the 3rd battle of Panipat, Venus (1990)
  • Uday S. Kulkarni, A Non Fiction book - 'Solstice at Panipat - 14 January 1761' Mula-Mutha Publishers, Pune (2011). ISBN 978-81-921080-0-1 An Authentic Account of the Campaign of Panipat.

External links

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