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.

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Thursday, October 04, 2007

Indian Warrior Clans

The period 100 BCE to 200 CE in Indian History has the vast continent neatly divided into three regions. The north, the historic heartland of the Maurya Empire, continues under the Sunga and Kanva Empires, later breaking-up into shadowy monarchies till the rise of the Gupta Empire in 320 CE. The Indian Peninsula sees the rise and fall of the Satvahan Empire and the emergence of the first historic kingdoms further south. The northwest experiences the formation of foreign states, and their very rapid demise, leaving behind the states of the Indian clans which were either their vassals or had resisted them all along.

The origins of these foreign states, their relations with each other, and the reasons why these foreigners could not affect the gene pool of the vast Indian population, were discussed in Foreign Tribes Indian Clans. Since these foreigners left behind no written histories, the details of their military campaigns were reconstructed from coinage and epigraphs in Politico-military impact of the Foreign Powers.

That post also mentioned the surreptitious methods of the colonial and leftist historians, in attributing foreign origins for the contemporary Indian clans and for the various communities of a much later period. They did this by creating 'evidence' from negative arguments, by interpreting scattered literary references and coinage as per their own convenience, and by making liberal use of false cognates in connecting Indian and foreign words.

Such methods, and the dubious evidence, will fall apart, as the Indian clans are studied in detail. But before that the phenomenon of warrior clans and their clan-states, which was a feature of Indian History even in later times, should be studied and compared with the monarchies and empires that both preceded and followed them.


It is a common mistake to refer to these clans as 'tribes' and to their clan-states as 'tribal' republics. Tribes, whose members follow varied professions, they may have been in the hoary past, but with the beginnings of agriculture and trade there was a natural division of labor. What emerged were a people (Vedic term visah) who inhabited cities and villages (rashtra) and were protected by the warriors among them who formed a clan (jan). When territory expanded by war, population increased and other warrior clans came under the ruler, there was a natural development into a monarchy.

From stories in the Vedic texts and in the Mahabharat, it is evident that clan-states and monarchies existed side-by-side. Broadly speaking, smaller states in remote hilly or forested regions were clan-states, while bigger states on the fertile plains were monarchies.

When referring to the clan-states before the period under review, the ancient grammarian Panini (500 BCE) uses the term ayudha-jivin or 'living by the profession of war' for the clans, which is a clear reference to only the ruling clans and not the whole population of the clan-state. The diverse population was represented in the governing councils, both in the villages and towns, but was dominated by the warrior class among them. Again Kautilya, the author of the famous Arthashastra, uses the term sastropajivin or 'living by bearing arms' for the clans.

The clans discussed in this post inhabited a broad belt of land stretching roughly across the modern Indian states of J&K, HP, Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, and MP. This entire region was earlier governed by the super-centralized Maurya Empire, which had centrally appointed town councils and centrally designated officials for certain administrative needs even of villages. The re-emergence of the clan-states after the fall of the Maurya Empire suggests that at the ground level Kshatriya clans continued with their own traditions and hierarchies even as they served in the Maurya army or paid tribute to Yavan invaders.

The case of the Maurya Empire itself is quite interesting. Its founder Chandragupta belonged to the Moriya clan of Pipphalivana, which lost its land to Magadha. Chandragupta started out as a rebel leading diverse groups against the ruler of Magadha, but gained enough of a name to be able to command the services of the warrior clans in Punjab. With this mixed army he conquered Magadha and became emperor. Members of the Maurya clan were recruited into his administration—serving most notably in the plateau region of Malwa. On the demise of the empire this region saw the emergence of a small clan-state ruled by this branch of the Maurya clan (the ancestors of the latter-day Mori Rajputs and More Marathas).

Independent clans

The list of clans, which maintained their independence during the foreign rule (except Madra and Uttambhadra), and which struck coins and recorded inscriptions as a sign of that independence, is as follows:

Madra (Jammu-Punjab)
Udumbara (Himachal Pradesh)
Kuluta (Himachal Pradesh)
Trigarta (Himachal-Punjab)
Kuninda (Himachal Pradesh)
Yaudheya (Punjab-Haryana-Rajasthan)
Rajanya (Rajasthan)
Uttambhadra (Rajasthan)
Arjunayan (Rajasthan)
Uddehika (Rajasthan)
Malav (Rajasthan-Madhya Pradesh)
Bharasiva (Madhya Pradesh)

These clan-states formed a wall stretching south-west to north-east. Unfortunately the bricks of this wall were not joined together with cement——whenever a strong ruler rose among the foreigners, say like Menander or Kanishka, the wall was invariably breached. In these circumstances, each clan resisted as best as it could, or else joined the foreigners as vassals, or migrated to distant regions. They only waited for some weakness or divisions among the foreigners to re-assert their independence.

Each of these states suffered from the same deficiency as the foreign powers——none of them has left behind any written history[1]. So their accounts given above have been reconstructed from coins and inscriptions.

Indian clans stretching from Himachal to Rajasthan

Most of these clan-sates began striking coins in the fashion of the Indo-Greeks, whom they had overthrown. Coins were of course known and used since ancient times, but the Indo-Greeks began the practice of inscribing the ruler's name and image on them. The Indian states initially placed only the clan's name on their coins and only later were the ruler's name and title included, which suggests increasing power and development into a monarchy. These coins also reflect the prevailing religious sentiment in that part of India and in that period——mostly Shaiva icons and symbols are found on these coins. Some also have symbols of Buddhism and a few of Vaishnavism.

The Saka invaders can be divided into two segments——those that campaigned in the northwest and lost their independence to the Kushans, and the second set that remained semi-independent in Western India. The second set have recorded inscriptions at Junagadh and Nasik, which a rough outline of their military campaigns and the names of the Indian clans opposed to them (Malav and Yaudheya). They also record the names of vassals like the Uttambhadra and the Abhira. The latter served as generals to the Sakas and some of their descendants were attributed with mlechcha activity in Gujarat——for this reason they were regarded to be a foreign tribe but this point has been countered with other evidence.

The Kushans were responsible for crushing the Udumbara and Trigarta clans, and also for taming the Yaudheya and Kuninda clans. These achievements can be attributed to Kanishka (78-102 CE) whose coins and inscriptions are found all over North India. But the Yaudheya recovered their power after his death so that another major campaign had to be launched against them in the reign of Vasudeva (145-176 CE) the last prominent Kushan king. Subsequently vassals in Mathura declared independence, Haryana was lost to the Yaudheya and Kuninda alliance, the Malav and Bharasiva moved against the Sakas in Gujarat, while the Kushans were ultimately pushed back to their original home in Kabul, Bactria, and west Iran.

However the extent of these triumphs was limited to the neighborhood of each clan——no second Chandragupta arose to lead these clans in a war of expansion across India's boundaries. It was left to the Gupta Empire to unite the politically-fractured northwest under their rule.


This was not the end of the clan-system in Indian History. The vast region of Rajasthan, which had been a rugged base of resistance to the Saka-Kushan invaders, saw the emergence of new clan-states after the fall of the Gupta Empire. In the 7th century these clans (Pratihara, Chauhan, Solanki, Guhilot) formed a confederacy to defeat the Arab invaders.

These Rajput states had some similarities to the older clan-states——they too had a system of a ruling clan, to which the king belonged, hence the term used for them is 'clan-monarchies'. As in the past one clan dominated one state. And though these states were hereditary monarchies, the clan had a vote on who would be their next king (see the example of Rana Pratap's accession in Mewar State).

Now colonial historian, led by VA Smith, insisted that the Rajputs were (what else?) foreigners. While not providing any real evidence, they used negative arguments to state their case. First, the fact of foreign rule in the northwest was extended to their being ancestors of many Indian communities——otherwise, the colonials argued, where did these 'numerous tribes' go?

This ingenious question can be turned around——when the foreigners invaded where did the existing Indian population go? As has already been shown, the invasions were of states and not tribes, and even these tribes formed a minute proportion of the dense Indian population. Take the case of the Madra clan, which lost its lands and capital to the invaders, but re-emerged centuries later in exactly the same region. The foreigners that occupied their land were certainly eliminated.

The second argument is that Ancient Indian Literature describes the foreigners as 'degraded kshatriyas' or 'pure shudras', thus accommodating them in Indian society. Further, marriages took place between the foreigners and Indians so the former were 'certainly' absorbed into the latter. And lastly the foreign rulers became practicing Hindus as depicted on their coins.

Firstly the coins of the Kushans show diverse religious icons (including even Elamite, Greek, and Persian deities) reflecting the vast spread of their empire. Indian tradition makes the ruler respect all religions——so the foreigners respected the Indian religion but also continued their own religious traditions. Secondly marriages took place only among the royal families of foreigners and Indians (as they also did in later times), not among the general population. And lastly the designation of 'degraded kshatriyas' and 'pure shudras' was a temporary device——Indian Literature (down to the 19th century!) uses the terms Yavan and Saka only for foreign invaders.

In fact the only foreign tribe to be absorbed by Hindu society, for which there is evidence, were the Ahom in North-East India. And their account shows just why the Saka-Kushan could not have been absorbed as Indians:
· The Ahom preserved the titles of their nobles (Gohain, Baruah, Phukan, etc.) as surnames, which they use to this day.
· The Ahom continued using their traditional weapons and military tactics till centuries later.
· And they preserved their original language for almost five hundred years after they first settled in India.

None of these conditions are met by the foreign tribes vis-à-vis the Rajputs. Neither their foreign titles (Kshatrap), nor their military tactics (horse archery), and neither their language was seen in the Rajputs or in the other warrior communities of North India. In fact most Rajput clans in Rajasthan and Gujarat have an oral tradition that their ancestors fought against the brutal Saka invaders.

The colonial historians, and the leftists who followed them faithfully, rejected the Hindu texts like the Puranas and the Vamsavalis as myth or 'imaginative writings' when in fact their own works were the product of a wild imagination!

These Hindu texts are backed up by the discovery of coins, inscriptions, and archaeological remains. In the absence of any other counter-evidence it is safe to conclude that the Rajputs and allied communities were descended from the Indian warrior clans that resisted the Saka-Kushan invaders.
[1] The clan-states suffered too much from war and infighting to promote the arts or sciences. This shows how important political unity, military strength, and economic well-being are for cultural progress.
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