The 2nd Battle of Panipat

War elephants as used by the Hindu forces. (source: Wikimedia Commons)

On November 5th, 1556, The 2nd Battle of Panipat took place. Forces of the Mughal Empire (founded in 1526 by Babur of modern-day Uzbekistan) faced off against Hemu Chandra Vikramaditya’s Hindu forces in the north of India. The Mughals had recently lost land near modern day Delhi and Agra and sought to reclaim what the Hindus had won.

Akbar – the 13 year-old ruler of the Mughals – had roughly 10,000 cavalry (horse-mounted) fighters to take on Hemu’s 30,000 men. Worse, Hemu had war elephants: these heavily-armoured beasts were unpredictable and incredibly expensive, but could crush enemies on the battlefield and had proven a decisive weapon for thousands of years.

Akbar’s victory in 1556 enabled the Mughal empire to grow and dominate much of the subcontinent for centuries to come. (source: Wikimedia Commons)

As the two armies faced off, Hemu’s experienced cavalry quickly encircled the Mughals and threatened to crush them with their elephants. As Hemu moved forward on his elephant Hawai, however, a lucky Mughal bowman shot the Hindu ruler through the eye. The Mughals, who did not rely on strict orders and were able to operate more independently (their leader Akbar was several kilometres back from the fighting), were able to take advantage of the confusion once the Hindus lost their command element. As was typically the case in “ancient” battles, the retreat – or rout – resulted in massive casualties for the Hindus, who lost upwards of 5,000 men and animals. The Mughals, impressed by the Hindus’ elephants, stole 120 of them. After the battle, Akbar had Hemu’s head sent to decorate the gates of Kabul.

13 year old Akbar, who enjoyed smelling flowers, beheading rival leaders, and taking long walks on the beach. (source: Wikimedia Commons)

The ensuing centuries saw the empire grow significantly: by the 18th century, the Mughals were producing upwards of 25% of all goods in the global market, and India was a centre of arts and culture. Stretching from Afghanistan to Bangladesh at its largest, the Mughal empire was one of the most diverse and powerful of its kind. The growth of the empire can partially be attributed to the arrow of one Mughal bowman – demonstrating the power that individuals can have in altering the path of history.

Main Points

In a hurry? Here are the main points on this topic.

  • The powerful Hindus under Hemu were all set to steamroll the Mughals, who were led by a 13 year-old. The Hindus possess a numerical advantage as well as 120+ war elephants, an ancient weapon of terror.
  • The Mughal leader watched from far away as his forces were about to be massacred; a lucky arrow killed Hemu and the Hindus retreated in chaos, where they were slaughtered.
  • The battle allowed the Mughals to claim large parts of India and enabled them to become one of the largest and most diverse empires the world had ever seen.

Food for Thought

Here are a couple essay questions/prompts to get you thinking. Good writing is all about answering questions the reader didn’t know they had, after all. These questions are to inspire further research, help with an academic paper, or maybe just get you thinking more about the topic.

  • Was the Mughal Empire one of the most successful empires in human history? If so, how?
  • What does Akbar’s victory show about the nature of conflict and military tactics?
  • Why did Hemu’s Hindu forces win despite possessing superior numbers and elephants?
  • Was Akbar a good leader? Or was his victory down to luck?
  • What would have happened to the continent if Akbar had lost the battle in 1556?

Further Reading & Citations

Here are a couple useful sources for further reading or using to flesh out an essay. Remember to cite everything properly!

  • Richards, John F. The Mughal Empire. The New Cambridge History of India. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993.
  • Ali, M. Athar. “Towards an Interpretation of the Mughal Empire.” Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland, no. 1 (1978): 38-49.
  • Rezavi, Syed Ali Nadeem. “THE EMPIRE AND BUREAUCRACY: The Case Of Mughal Empire.” Proceedings of the Indian History Congress 59 (1998): 360-82.
  • Smith, Vincent A. “XVI. The Death of Hēmū in 1556, after the Battle of Pānīpat.” Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society 48, no. 3 (1916): 527–35.
  • Heesterman, J. C. “The Social Dynamics of the Mughal Empire: A Brief Introduction.” Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient 47, no. 3 (2004): 292-97.

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