Friday, January 20, 2006
Wednesday, January 11, 2006
The Battle of Samugarh
Fought more than a month after the Battle of Dharmat on the 29th of May 1658. The rebel princes Aurangzeb and Murad out-maneuvered the Mughal heir-apparent Dara Shikoh to reach the village of Samugarh on the outskirts of Agra.
Shah Jahan and Dara had received news of Jai Singh’s victory over Shuja near the city of Benares in February. Dara’s son Sulaiman was leading that army further east to hunt down his rebellious uncle but there was bad news from the south. Jaswant Singh had been defeated at Dharmat and his army had dissolved—this news reached Dara ten days after the battle had been fought.
Collecting a fresh army, the Mughal heir marched south to block the road to Agra. At Dholpur he built mud embankments, planting there his heavy artillery and posting his musketeers in the trenches. The road from Ujjain, after passing through Gwalior, crossed the Chambal at Dholpur but Dara Shikoh took the added precaution of sending patrols along the river to watch any other place of crossing.
In the meantime Aurangzeb and Murad were at Gwalior—the latter prince was now completely under the spell of his older brother. The losses they had suffered at the hands of the Rajputs in Dharmat were repaired by the adhesion of more imperial contingents joining them at every town and fort. Moreover the local powers of Malwa province also came to salute the rising sun and sought some gain by joining the winning side.
Among these were Champat Rao Bundela and the Jat zamindar of Gohad (a village near Gwalior). One of them told Aurgangzeb of a little-used ford further east that was unknown to most travelers. Since the way passed through thick jungles and rocky pathways Aurangzeb’s army suffered losses but successfully crossed the Chambal on the 23rd of May. Now the rebel army was marching north to Agra, in the rear of Dara Shikoh’s force. (Gohad later became one of the three leading Jat states along with Bharatpur and Dholpur. On the other hand, Champat Rao Bundela was killed by order of Aurangzeb only three years later and his famous son Chhatrasal led a campaign to free Bundelkhand from Aurangzeb's oppression.)
Dara had to abandon all his elaborate defense works and rush back to bar the enemy’s path to Agra. In the process he lost some of his heavy artillery. Dara entrenched at Samugarh and waited for the enemy.
Aurangzeb reached the place after a non-stop march; Dara immediately marched out to give battle (a good move). But some distance from his camp he halted and decided to wait and watch (a bad move…the general who hesitates is lost). Aurangzeb profited from this by resting his men and horses throughout the heat of the day while Dara foolishly kept his soldiers armed and his artillery deployed without advancing an inch, and then retired from the field at sunset! His younger sibling had gained a moral victory without firing a shot. It became clear to all that Dara feared Aurangzeb’s military capacity.
The Battle of Samugarh
The next morning (29th May) the two armies deployed for the battle in the usual formations and began the contest with the futile discharge of artillery at long range. Dara had no real experience of pitched battles and had drawn up his artillery in a single line, while Aurangzeb followed the normal practice of assigning guns to each division separately. In his ignorance Dara overestimated the effect of his cannonade and ordered his band (pipes, kettledrums, and brass drums) to play—the usual method of ordering a general advance on the enemy.
From Aurangzeb’s side Prince Murad, commanding the left wing, rashly advanced towards the opposing right wing of Dara’s army. This wing was under an imperial officer named Khalilullah Khan and his Uzbek clansmen who only made a show of fighting—Aurangzeb had already corrupted them to support his cause. The rest of Aurangzeb’s army rigidly kept its place and the various divisions directed their artillery fire at the advancing enemy.
From Dara’s left wing Rustam Khan and his charging Sayyid cavalry were stopped by the artillery shots of Aurangzeb’s right wing and veered towards the vanguard under Muhammad Sultan. Trapped between the vanguard, the advanced reserve that came up in support, and the charging right wing, Rustam Khan and his men died fighting in desperation.
However a far greater crisis had developed for Aurangzeb on his left. Murad’s reckless advance blocked the line of sight of the artillery in the vanguard and gave a golden opportunity to Dara’s vanguard—commanded by Rao Chhatrasal Hada of the Rajput Kingdom of Bundi. Apart from the Hadas, there were Gaurs, Rathors, and Sesodias in the thousands wielding swords and lances and mounted on spirited horses.
These Rajputs saw their chance and charged forward, throwing themselves on Murad’s contingent—the enemy artillery could not harm them without also killing Murad’s men. The Mughal prince was severely wounded and lost his chief officers; his army crumpled when some Afghan retainers of Dara came up in support of the Rajput charge.
The victorious Rajputs turned their horses against Aurangzeb himself in the center. By this time their momentum had been spent and a severe hand-to-hand fight raged. Rao Chhatrasal’s wounded elephant turned away but the battle-hardened Rajput jumped down and mounted a horse. One by one the Rajputs fell but no support came from their commander.
The inexperienced Dara had made his last and most fatal mistake. Excited by the charge of Rustam Khan and his Sayyids, Dara had advanced his center in support. This movement blocked his own artillery from harming the enemy—worse the gunners, foot-soldiers and camp followers promptly turned aside to loot the camp, which was their practice when no one was sternly watching over them.
While Dara’s guns fell silent the enemy artillery continued firing. As Rustam Khan’s force crumbled Dara lost his chance to take the attack to Aurangzeb in the center. Just then he learnt that the Rajputs of his vanguard had defeated Murad and were then breaking through to attack Aurangzeb from the other side. The excited Dara once again goaded his elephant to swerve right and his men rode a long way across their entire front to support the Rajputs but it was too late. The vanguard had elicited a whiff of victory and ended its struggle with an act of desperate valour—Raja Rup Singh Rathor jumped off his horse and with his double-handed sword cut a way to Aurangzeb’s elephant.
With the same heavy sword the Rajput chief slashed the legs of the elephant and cut the ropes holding Aurangzeb’s howdah. Aurangzeb cried out to his men to spare the life of such a hero but they had already surrounded and cut down the last hope of Dara’s side. The enemy’s right wing was behind them and the vanguard was advancing forward, while artillery fire carried off many men and beasts. Dara left his elephant for a horse to avoid being hit by a gun—seeing this the Uzbek right wing, which had stayed aloof from the battle took the pretext to flee, and following their example the rest of the army broke up.
Dara’s center, which had first moved forward, then swerved right a long way and now was facing artillery fire, played no part in the battle except to exhaust itself in the heat. Aurangzeb’s band began playing the tune of victory—Dara’s men in the center either fled or surrendered to the enemy. The luckless prince, inexperienced in campaigning and ignorant of warfare to the very end, fled to his mansion in Agra but at least kept some honor by sending the following message to his dear father Shah Jahan:
“I don’t have the face to appear before your Majesty in my present plight…give up your wish to see my ashamed face…I only beg your Majesty to pronounce the fatiha on this confused and half-dead man in the long journey that he has before him.”
The fatiha is read for those who have passed away.
Dara’s ignorance of warfare was the result of the doting love showered on him by his father, Shah Jahan. Usually the best and quietest provinces were assigned to Dara and he stayed constantly at his father’s side even after he had become a mature adult. Dara even lacked the basic fighting experience that could be gained by subduing the usual rebellions of the peasantry because his estates were orderly and well administered.
Dara’s lack of real military experience was compensated by his strategic vision, his secular ethos, and his polite behavior with the nobles. He had built around his person a group of loyal and dependable subordinates of different races and creeds. Unfortunately he divided and weakened this force by sending separate armies against each of his brothers. And even his closest followers abandoned him when he refused to face Aurangzeb later in Punjab.
Aurangzeb on the other hand tackled one brother at a time. He first flattered Murad and brought his drunkard brother’s force under his own control; next he fought and defeated Dara and gave him no rest by chasing him from one end of the empire to the other; once Dara was on the run Aurangzeb concentrated his forces against Shuja and defeated him.
All through the war of succession, Murad acted as a mere divisional commander to Aurangzeb. At Samugarh his army had suffered heavy losses at the hands of the Rajputs and Aurangzeb easily overpowered him after they had gained Agra.
This miniature painting depicts the closing stages of the Battle of Samugarh. On the left are the red tents of Dara Shikoh's camp, on the right is the approaching army of Aurangzeb and Murad, while in the center Dara dismounts from his elephant, which is then shown fleeing away in the bottom of the painting.
Sunday, January 01, 2006
Military Resources: the core of Jaswant Singh’s army was formed by 7000 Rajput cavaliers of his own kingdom, most of them belonging to the Rathor clan. 2000 of these stood around Jaswant in the center of the army while several thousand were posted in the vanguard that would take the attack to the enemy. The rest were placed in the advanced reserve between the center and the vanguard—in all three sections were hundreds of Rajputs from other clans of Rajasthan. After reaching Malwa, Jaswant had also recruited many local Rajput clans into his army, Chandrawats, Bundelas, and Jhalas—these were also distributed evenly among the three sections while some were left to protect the camp. There were even Maratha chiefs among these recruits; two named Maluji and Parsuji were assigned to guard the camp.
The right wing of the army was under an imperial Rajput officer from Agra named Raja Rai Singh Sesodia who stood independent with his own clansmen. Similarly the left wing was led by an imperial Muslim officer named Iftikhar Khan. Both these wings had between 3000-5000 men and the vanguard was thus the strongest element of Jaswant’s army. Qasim Khan and his 5000 men had set off one week behind the Rajputs and, now that Murad had joined Aurangzeb, Qasim’s force was under Jaswant Singh’s orders. Qasim was placed in the vanguard, raising its strength to nearly 10,000 men.
The vanguard was also the strongest portion of Aurangzeb’s army comprising 8000 cavaliers under his son, Muhammad Sultan. A few thousand men were in the advanced reserve while in the center around Aurangzeb was the rest of his cavalry—this force was boosted by the cavalry under his officers to almost 5000 men. The left wing was under Aurangzeb’s younger son Muhammad Azam while the right wing was composed of the entire army of Aurangzeb’s brother Murad coming down from Gujarat.
In Aurangzeb’s army were many Maratha chiefs recruited from his province in the Deccan. Some Rajput chiefs (Rao Karan of Bikaner and Subhkaran Bundela of Datia) assigned to him previously by Shah Jahan naturally followed their commander to war. One Rajput chief, Raja Indradyumna of Dhamdhera, was released from confinement in a Malwa fort and out of personal gratitude joined Aurangzeb’s army.
In sheer numbers Aurangzeb’s force far outnumbered Jaswant’s army, but numbers by themselves are not important—where and how those numbers are used to apply force decides the outcome of a battle.
Aurangzeb’s real superiority lay in artillery. His guns were manned by teams of Europeans; Dutch, Portuguese, French, and Italian, all of who had been recruited during the campaigns and battles in the south. While the fighting races of India (high-born cavaliers) despised artillery and placed their reliance on horses and swords, they appreciated artillery’s utility in destroying the enemy forts and in stopping the charge of the enemy cavalry. Handling gunpowder and dragging the guns through the mud and the dust was anathema to them, hence they left the task of manning those guns to low-caste Muslims and Hindus.
This meant that there was little innovation in the use of artillery. Later in the 18th and 19th centuries this Indian artillery was found to be superior to European guns in caliber and design but the European gunners reduced that superiority by their accuracy and better rate of firing. This difference was seen also in the Battle of Dharmat.
The Battle: knowing the enemy’s superiority in numbers and artillery Jaswant Singh had placed his army in a strong defensive position. On three sides they had dug ditches joined to a swamp, which made the ground muddy and soft, thus planning to bog down the advancing enemy cavalry. After that the Rajputs on their light cavalry would advance and cut down the stranded enemy.
On the morning of 15 April, the battle began with the general firing of the artillery, rockets, and muskets from both sides. Aurangzeb advanced slowly and the effect of his European gunners was soon felt—their shots, instead of bouncing along the ground or going wayward, were being fired from elevated positions and at such calculated angles as to land bang in the middle of the cavalry in the vanguard. Under cover of this barrage the musketeers and archers also came within range and began shooting down the trapped horsemen. Aurangzeb’s band burst forth with the triumphant notes of the trumpets and the beating of kettledrums in anticipation of an easy victory—however they had not reckoned with Rajput valour.
The Rajput chiefs in the vanguard, Ratan Singh Rathor, Mukund Singh Hada, Dayal Singh Jhala, Arjun Singh Hada, and Sujan Singh Sesodia, loudly exhorted their clansmen to send the enemy to hell. Shouting cries of Ram! Ram! the Rajput cavalry burst out of their lines and charged headlong towards the enemy. Disregarding the first few salvos from Aurangzeb’s army they cut down his gunners and his artillery chief, Murshid Quli Khan, and surged towards the enemy vanguard.
Another chief named Zulfiqar Khan was wounded and knocked senseless as the vanguard crumpled on itself. The alarmed Aurangzeb sent up the advanced reserve in support and, as the close combat raged, himself pushed forward with the center. His officers Saf Shikan Khan and Shaikh Mir brought their forces around the flanks and closed the path behind the charging Rajputs.
On Jaswant’s side, men of the advanced reserve and the center had also gone up in support but the muddy ground slowed their advance…Qasim Khan’s force in the vanguard had neither gone with the first charge nor had they advanced in support. Instead, when they beheld Aurangzeb’s force moving forward, Qasim’s men fled to save their own lives.
Aurangzeb’s gunners recovered their artillery after losing it to the charging Rajputs and again commenced firing at the enemy. His right wing under Murad advanced to fight and kill Iftikhar Khan on Jaswant’s left. Seeing that the awakened hopes of a victory, kindled by the charging Rajputs in the vanguard, were now snuffed out and the Muslims of the vanguard were running away, Rai Singh Sesodia left the field with his clansmen in the right wing. The locally raised Chandrawats and Bundelas also departed for their homes.
Jaswant Singh kept his place in the center with 2000 Rajputs of his own kingdom. All around them the enemy advanced and artillery shots landed in their midst but the Raja of Jodhpur would not leave the field. He had been out-maneuvered in the campaign and out-generalled in the battle but he was not going to be out-fought by the enemy. Jaswant had resolved to die a hero’s death while fighting to the last, which was the ideal for a Rajput defending his home from invaders.
This however was not such a battle—in an internecine quarrel of Mughal princes why should the head of the Rathor clan, and the future hope of Jodhpur in those uncertain times, sacrifice his life? So thinking, Jaswant’s generals Askaran and Maheshdas Gaur, and his minister Govardhan, caught the bridle of his horse and forced him away from the field. They retired to their home of Jodhpur while the survivors of Iftikhar Khan’s force and the untouched army of Qasim Khan were already on the road to Agra—some of them however stayed behind to join the service of Aurangzeb.
Criticism: Dharmat was the first battle in North India where European gunners were prominent in the artillery—these gunners later gave good service to Aurangzeb’s sons who fought a similar war of succession half a century later (Still later in the 18th and 19th centuries European infantry commanders would come to lead the raw foot soldiers in the Indian armies.)
Despite the superior use of artillery the charge of the Rajput cavalry in the vanguard nearly turned the outcome of the battle. This proves how smaller numbers employed at the right place and at the critical moment can defeat a larger enemy force—the few thousand Rajputs silenced Aurangzeb’s artillery and shattered his vanguard.
If the other units under Jaswant had moved in behind them to capture the guns and occupy the ground, Aurangzeb’s men would have fled to save their own lives. However because of the muddy ground the heavy cavalry of the Muslim soldiers under Jaswant could not advance quickly enough. Only the Rajputs of the advanced reserve, on their light cavalry, could gallop across to join their brethren of the vanguard. But they were not enough to prevent the enemy from recovering his guns and closing around the shattered ranks of the vanguard.
A general advance of the center and the wings could not be made because their artillery would have become bogged down in that same ground. So when the victorious Rajputs of the vanguard were ultimately surrounded by Aurangzeb’s advanced reserve and center, defection became general in these units.
Iftikhar Khan on the left wing was attacked by Murad and died fighting. His wing dispersed after his death and some of his officers went over to Aurangzeb after the battle. Similarly Qasim Khan’s army in the vanguard was suspected of either sympathy to Aurangzeb or indifference to Jaswant Singh’s army. However after the battle they did not join Aurangzeb and retreated to Agra, confirming that the second reason is more accurate.
The Rajputs of the vanguard sacrificed their lives, not for the sake of the Mughal throne, but for their own King, Jaswant. His victory would have raised the prestige of Jodhpur—the wealth looted from the enemy camp and the rewards showered by Shah Jahan and Dara would have been shared by every Rajput noble and each Rajput soldier in Jodhpur.
The Rajputs under Rai Singh Sesodia and the locally raised Chandrawats and Bundelas did not share this enthusiasm since they were junior commanders and their rewards would’ve been fewer. They were not interested in dying for the sake of the Mughals or for the sake of Jaswant Singh. Such feelings were common also among the Purbia and Jat infantry, the low-caste gunners, and the Maratha auxiliaries.
In conclusion, Jaswant Singh’s plan of holding off the enemy from a defensive position and then launching his cavalry at the advancing enemy bogged down in the mud, was negated by Aurangzeb’s superior artillery. The Mughal prince did not make an attack even though he had larger numbers with him—instead he made a slow general advance carrying the artillery forward and letting his guns and muskets maul the enemy.
This useless slaughter was stopped by the ferocious charge of the Rajputs, which also gave the imperial army a glimmer of victory. Jaswant’s defensive position, surrounded by ditches and muddy ground, which was meant to deter the advance of the enemy heavy cavalry, actually stopped the movement of his own men and snuffed out all chances of his victory.
To the end Jaswant maintained his position in the field along with his own clansmen and only retired when forced by his officers. That this decision was correct was proved by later events. There were times when Aurangzeb as emperor nearly launched an attack on Jodhpur, on various pretexts, but was held off by the power of Jaswant and his clansmen. It was only on the death of Jaswant, and the absence of his army in Afghanistan, that Aurangzeb could take a belated revenge on the Rajput ruler by occupying Jodhpur.
According to Jadunath Sarkar, Maharaja Jaswant Singh was a high-spirited leader of Hindus, and on the strength of his army and large state, was the hope of Hindus against the bigoted section of the Mughals who had grown powerful with the accession of Aurangzeb. The Rajput ruler is believed to have restored many Hindu temples by demolishing the mosques that had been built on their ruins. In fact, as Aurangzeb wrote to this father:
My first battle was with wicked infidels, who had destroyed mosques, and erected on their sites temples to their idols.
A true testament to the power of Maharaja Jaswant Singh.