Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Historical Battles

Madho Singh of JaipurMaharaja Madho Singh of Jaipur. His attempts to free his state from Maratha domination ended in failure, but by defeating the Jat ruler Jawahir Singh, he unwittingly helped in restoring the Maratha power, seven years after the Panipat debacle

The Historical Battles of Ancient and Medieval Bharat thread on the Bharat-Rakshak forum has seen some valuable contributions by the members. Conventionally Bharat-Rakshak follows the policy of not discussing history, religion, or local politics on the forum——but sometimes the administrators provide leeway in discussing these subjects if they contribute in improving the understanding of India's defence and internal security.

Apart from the usual discussions and links to existing pages on historical battles, I have posted detailed descriptions of two important battles:

The Battle of Haldighati

(The Battles for Kangra is on the same page as above)

The Third Battle of Panipat

Continuing on from the latter:

After the last groups of Maratha warriors had died fighting, Ahmad Shah restrained his men from advancing to the Maratha camp——he had been told that sections of the Maratha army had escaped from their right wing and could mount a counter-attack while his men were plundering the enemy camp. Groups of his horsemen hunted down the lone Maratha fugitives escaping to Delhi till the two hours of daylight remained.

The next day 31 distinct heaps of the dead were counted on the battlefield by the eyewitness Kashiraj Pandit——they formed a rough total of 28,000 soldiers. The ditch around the Maratha camp was also littered with bodies of those Marathas who had died from their wounds or had succumbed to famine or disease during the siege of their camp. Several thousand others, mostly civilians, were taken prisoner from the Maratha camp.

Civilian massacres

Some of the Maratha civilians, seeing the battle go against their army, had fled for shelter to Panipat town. They were absolutely without transport or weapons to risk taking the long open road to Delhi on foot. These civilians were hunted out and parceled out among the Abdali soldiers——to be massacred in the name of medieval Islam.

The eyewitness Kashiraj records one of the Durrani nobles crying out as he mercilessly struck his sword on men, women, and children, "When I started from our country, my mother, father, sister, and wife told me to slay so many kafirs for their sake after we had gained victory in this holy war, so that the religious merit of this act (kafir-kushi) might accrue to them." In this manner 9000 people, all civilians, were massacred in cold blood by the Muslim army.

However soldiers on the battlefield who had managed to seek shelter in the camp of Shuja-ud-daulah, the Shia Nawab of Awadh, were more fortunate. The Nawab helped these men, 400 officers and 6000 soldiers, with money and supplies to return home to Maharashtra. The Nawab's Hindu officers also arranged for the proper cremation of the numerous dead——including the commander Sadashiv Rao Bhau and his nephew Vishwas Rao. The badly wounded Ibrahim Khan Gardi, who had also taken refuge with Shuja, had to be handed over to the Abdali on the insistence of his infuriated soldiers. They made a horrid example of this Muslim, who had only shown his loyalty to his Hindu employer, by executing him and mutilating his corpse to deprive him of the fruits of the "after-life".

The remainder of the Maratha army escaped in broken groups through the districts of Hissar and Rohtak——the petty local chiefs and villagers robbed and unhorsed the stragglers. Even large groups of Marathas were denied food, water, or rest. A noted general, Antaji Mankeshwar, was killed by the Muslim chief of Farrukhnagar.

In Delhi the news of the disaster emboldened the Muslim mobs to break out in plunder and rob the fugitives streaming in from Panipat. Naro Shankar and his family could only leave in safety after he had paid 3.5 lakh rupees to the Mughal Queen-mother Zinat Mahal.

After more than 300 km of non-stop flight, the exhausted refugees reached the kingdom of Suraj Mal. The Jat ruler provided free rations and medical aid to the soldiers——his queens were particular in attending to the needs of the Brahmin ladies. These 50,000 men and women then departed for Gwalior. Suraj Mal while caring for the Maratha refugees had also in the meantime sent his envoy to negotiate with the victor of Panipat.

Ahmad Shah's doings

While his army was engaged in kafir-kushi of civilians, the Abdali visited the tomb of Bu Ali Qalandar in Panipat town. When he advanced to Delhi the Mughal Queen-mother Zinat Mahal came out to welcome the victor and sought his favor by paying him 1 lakh rupees and his Wazir Shah Wali Khan Rs. 50,000.

The Abdali's men had found nothing of value in the camp of the famine-stricken and financially bankrupt Maratha army——on entering Delhi they engaged in plunder, robbing the local Muslims of what little they had snatched from the Maratha refugees!

Through the months of February and March Ahmad Shah Abdali lived in the Delhi palace with his wives. But his troops, who had not received their pay for two years and who had not been able to gain anything of value from their recent victory, broke out in mutiny. It was their own fault——if they had accepted the Bhau's surrender a large ransom could have been obtained from the Peshwa. But blinded by their medieval faith these Muslims cried out for holy war, massacred civilians, and were left penniless at the end.

Ahmad Shah attempted to squeeze money out of the nearest Indian kingdoms like Bharatpur but the Jat king's envoy spun out the negotiations—without direct military pressure no Indian kingdom would pay tribute and the Abdali soldiers refused to spend another summer on the Indian plains for any such campaign. Conscious of his failure, Ahmad Shah recognized the prince Shah Alam (then living in Awadh) as the successor to his father's throne and departed from Delhi on the 20th March——he had entered India as a bankrupt and was leaving the country still a bankrupt.

Ahmad Shah had annexed Punjab, Sindh, and the frontier lands, and had imposed an annual tribute of 40 lakh rupees on the rest of the "Mughal Empire"——basically the Delhi-Agra belt of land and Ruhelkhand.

Ahmad Shah's one hope was that revenue from these lands would make him financially solvent——but if any part of this revenue was to be collected peacefully a permanent settlement was necessary with the Maratha power. So in April he sent his envoy to the Peshwa begging forgiveness for the slaughter at Panipat, and proposing a peace treaty that would leave the Delhi-Agra region as a buffer between them.

But how could such a bloody massacre be forgiven so easily? The details of Ahmad Shah's failure to make any lasting gains from his annexations, or to even control the rising power of the Sikhs in the Punjab, are given here. Ahmad Shah Abdali's Indian Muslim allies, particularly the Ruhela Afghans, who owed their freedom from Maratha domination entirely to his efforts, coolly ignored his appeals for aid against the Sikhs. The death of the Maratha Peshwa, Balaji Rao, in June 1761 had removed all their fears of Maratha vengeance for the foreseeable future and they secretly gloated over Ahmad Shah's troubles in Punjab, which had made them free from his domination as well.

The Marathas

The immediate impact of Panipat, apart from the death of so many soldiers and civilians, were rebellions against Maratha rule in other parts of North India. The Marathas had conquered Gujarat and Malwa from the Mughals, they had annexed a portion of Bundelkhand as a return for their military aid to Chhatrasal Bundela, and had imposed tribute on many Hindu states.

While this was the natural result of Maratha expansion, and while the Hindu states in the north certainly preferred the Marathas to the bigoted Mughals, the system of revenue collection by the former ruined these promising relations. Separate armies under Holkar, Sindhia, and the Peshwa's other agents, were assigned to collect different parts of the tribute due from a single state. This in effect meant the stationing of one army or the other in that state throughout the year, the ruin of cultivation and internal peace, and a state of war that dented the ability of that state to pay its tribute.

The Hindu states then followed a policy of delay and evasion in paying tribute, which resulted in full-fledged wars between them and the Marathas. However as described in the section "The hunt for allies", Sadashiv Rao Bahu attempted to conciliate these states and issued strict instructions to his soldiers to refrain from plunder in the Jat Kingdom of Bharatpur, but its ruler Suraj Mal's ambitions did not gel with the long-term Maratha policy.

With the Rajput Kingdom of Jaipur the Bhau promised a return of the Ranthambhor Fort, captured by the Marathas in an earlier invasion of Jaipur. But its ruler Madho Singh waited to see who would be the left as the dominant power between the Marathas and the Afghans....for if he made the mistake of joining the losing side the victor would certainly invade his kingdom.

· Madho Singh Kachwaha: in October 1761 the Jaipur Raja determined to free himself and his neighbors from Maratha domination. As the Maratha envoy reported, "The Raja is determined to oppose us strongly. All the Shekhawats are coming. All the Rajas and Rajwadas have planned to assemble at one place and form a grand coalition." Malhar Holkar, who had by then suppressed rebellions in his territory of Indore, advanced to oppose the Jaipur army—among his allies were the Rajput rulers of Kota and Mewar. The two armies clashed on 29 November 1761 in the Battle of Mangrol, which raged from sunrise to sunset, and resulted in the complete defeat of the Jaipur army. This victory also restored the prestige of Maratha arms, eclipsed by the Panipat debacle.

· Jawahir Singh Jat: the ruler of Bharatpur Suraj Mal died on 25th December 1763. His successor Jawahir Singh Jat bought the aid of the Sikh raiders hovering north of Delhi and defeated the Marathas in a battle fought north of Dholpur in March 1766. Jawahir Singh now allied with the Jat Rana of Gohad and attacked the undefended Maratha estates in Malwa and Etawah, prompting the Maratha agent to report, "We retain Gwalior and Jhansi only; all else is under Jat rule."

Soon after these triumphs, Jawahir dreamt of building a North Indian coalition that would permanently send the Marathas south of the Narmada River. Passing through the territory of his rival Madho Singh of Jaipur, he visited Pushkar and made his first ally in the Rajput ruler of Jodhpur—the two invited Madho Singh to join them but he sent an insulting reply. Thereupon Jawahir angrily marched back to his kingdom, ravaging the villages in Jaipur along the way. The Jaipur army followed close behind and defeated the Jats in the Battle of Maonda (14 December 1767) and followed it up with another victory at Kama, where the Jat general Dan Shah was wounded, and Jawahir and his Sikh allies were sent fleeing. These defeats resulted in the loss of all his recent conquests and upon his death in August 1768 the Marathas were happily delivered from this enemy and recovered their lands without any effort.

· Shuja-ud-daulah: After the victory at Panipat, the Nawab of Awadh had angrily left Delhi, when Ahmad Shah Abdali's Sunni soldiers clashed in a riot with his Shia troops. Returning to Awadh he and the titular Mughal Emperor Shah Alam plotted on recovering the long-lost Mughal dominions, which were now empty of both the Marathas and the Afghans. The nearest to Awadh was the broken country of Bundelkhand—in January 1762 the two captured Kalpi and then Jhansi, the local Maratha garrisons coming over to them since the Peshwa was no more and they had not received their pay in two years. The Bundela chieftains of Orchha and Datia sent tribute to Shah Alam and in March the increasingly confident Mughals attacked the fort of Mahoba—but here Raja Hindupat Bundela, the great-grandson of the famous Chhatrasal, defeated them.

This failure sealed the fate of the entire campaign and the Mughals retreated back to Awadh—in 1763 Shuja took Shah Alam towards Delhi, calling upon the Ruhela chiefs to pay their tribute, and install their emperor on the throne. But again a Shia-Sunni riot between the two sides ended this plan in failure. Defeated in the south and spurned from the north the two fondly looked eastwards. In 1764 Shuja-ud-daulah and Shah Alam allied with Nawab Qasim Ali Khan of Bengal and fought against the East India Company at the Battle of Buxar—resulting in their defeat and submission to the growing British Empire.

While these immediate threats after Panipat were tackled, domestic troubles among the Marathas prevented them from fully recovering their position in North India till 1771. By that time Punjab, Bengal, Bihar, Awadh, and Ruhelkhand had all passed out of their hands. An overview of the plans and movements of the Marathas leading to their own subjection under the British are described elsewhere.