The Battle of Taraori and aftermath

The Battle of Taraori and after

 

Dattaji who had raised the seige of Sukkartal decided to meet the Shah. He crossed the Jamuna at the Andhera Ghat (December 18, 1759) and then finalised his plans at Kunjapura. The best 25,000 troops he himself retained while the others under Janakoji and Imad formed his rear towards Delhi to give support to the main body in an emergency and in case of disaster to escape towards Delhi.” Dattaji then proceeded towards Kurukshetra and sent Janakoji and Imad to Karnal.’® The Maratha advance guard of 5000 under Bhoite with 1000 Mughalia troops routed a Afghan party of scouts near Taraori and pursued them further.” Thereupon the Shah ordered Shah Pasand Khan with 4000 troops to advance. The Marathas at the sight of this advancing Afghans army fled away giving hundreds of their men to slaughter. When Dattaji came on the scene and saw numerous headless trunks scattered all over, he decided to retire to his base at Kunjapura immediately. The Abdali, on the other hand, forded the Jamuna near Buria, and was joined at Saharanpur by Najib and then the combined forces marched along the eastern bank of Jamuna to Delhi.

 

Learning this, Dattaji wound up his camp at Kunjapura (December 27) and was now mainly concerned at saving the capital from falling into the enemy’s hands. Instead of supporting Dattaji in this right cause the treacherous wazir deserted him and took shelter with Surajmal. At Sonepat Dattaji halted for sometime to gather information about enemy’s movements but the past Maratha excesses had already turned the peasantry hostile and could not be relied upon in regard to intelligence. Dattaji posted his men at all the fords on the Jamuna while Sabaji Patel with 700 men reached Barari ghat. Dattaji too after a short visit to Delhi sent all the families in his camp to Rewari and then himself encamped at Barari ghat on January 4, 1760 where misfortune was awaiting him In a serious encounter between the Afghans and the Marathas the latter suffered reverses. The Maratha lost Dattaji and his brother Jotiba, while Janakoji was badly wounded. The Marathas, after this calamity fled towards Delhi but were pursued beyond the capital and large numbers of them were put to the sword.

 

Janakoji being young and wounded, the leadership of the Maratha cavalry was now taken over by Malhar Rao. Malhar was pursued by the Durrani forces at Narnaul, Rewari and Delhi. Each time Malhar evaded meeting the enemy and came to Bahadurgarh, from there to Kalkaji and then entered the doab with a view to desolating blajib s territories and intercept his treasury (of ten lakhs) on its way to the Afghan camp. But the Maratha scheme could not materialise for the Abdali had already despatched a strong force under his able commanders to protect Rohilkhand from falling into the hands of the Marathas. Malhar ultimately had to take shelter with Surajmal. The invading Durrani army at the advice of Najib finally established headquarters at Aligarh from where it was possible to capture Maratha out-posts in the Gangetic doab and thus to establish direct contact with Avadh.

 

Towards Panipat

 

The loss of Punjab and the Maratha reverses at Taraori and Bararighat meant complete disappearance of the Maratha ascendency in the politics of the northd. To recover this, the Peshwa ultimately decided to send Sadashiv Rao Bhau ‘the hero of Udgir’ with a large army and with him Vishwasrao, the seventeen years old son of the Peshwa, as nominal commander-in-chief Sadashiv Rao was given ‘inadequate troops, insufficient ammunitions and meagre finances’ and had little time to work out essential details of his campaign, which was bound to be most serious action of his time. This besides, more time was lost in leaving the Deccan and crossing the rivers— Chambal and Gambhir, a delay which enabled the Durrani to contact and unite his possible Indian Muslim allies and thus making it a war between Islam and the Kafirs. Bhau’s diplomatic negotiations to gain alliance in northern India — of the Rajputs and Suja-ud-daulah did not yield any result for they were finally won over by the Durrani. In June Bhau was joined at his camp (between Chambal and Gambhir) by Malhar Rao and Janakoji and later by Suraj Mai and Imad-ul-mulk. He learnt here that collection of money from the Gangetic doab is no more possible because of the presence of Jahan Khan and Najib there. Further, the peace negotiation already started between Malhar Rao and Hafiz Rehmat Khan were abruptly ended on the arrival of Bhau first, because the Marathas were not serious about it, and second, their demands were exorbitant.

 

Suraj Mai, the could be ally of the Marathas, did not approve a pitched battle — a dangerous experiment in northern setting, therefore favoured guerilla method of fighting. He also very wisely suggested ‘leaving heavy equipment, artillery, families etc. at Jhansi, Gwalior or any of the Jat forts and the Maratha cavalry to restore to constant foraging and skirmishing and threaten the home lands of Afghans and Rohillas so that they could be compelled to desert Durrani who would ultimately leave for Afghanistan. Malhar Rao agreed to this proposal but Bhau simply rejected it as ‘the chatter of goatherds and zamindars’ who were ignorant of scientific war. He instead decided to march on Delhi.

 

Bhau’s advance guard under Malhar Rao, Janakoji and Balvant Rao Mehendale assaulted the capital on July 22 and on August I the fort came into Maratha possession. The capture of Delhi though not of much importance so long as the Muslim confederacy remained in tact, only made Bhau prouder and haughtier as is gathered from the accounts of Nana Phadnis and Mir Dard, Although it is true that it caused despair and dismay in the Afghan camp and there were reports of the Abdali’s readiness \o return to his own country, but Sadashivrao who had the responsibility of protecting the interests of the Marathas in the north should have decided to fight his formidable enemy the Abdali only when his resources were superior to that of his adversory Imad, the treacherous waz/r finding that Bhau was trying to win over his enemy Suja-ud-daulah by a promise of wazirship, gone under the tutelage of Surajmal and incited him against the Marathas. Surajmal, never happy with the Maratha contact either, decided to keep himself aloof from the contest. His main object was to be in the control of the imperial capital which was naturally turned down by the Marathas. Bhau’s support of Shuja was nothing more than an excuse for Surajmal. There seems to be no basis for the charge levelled by Grant Duff, Prof. J.N. Sarkar and quite recently Natwar Singh that Surajmal’s defection was only due to Bhau’s misconduct.

 

The Maratha stay at the capital was full of difficulties. The health of men and animals was adversely affected by the rainy season. There was scarcity of money, food and fodder and the bankers had dispersed from the area around the capital. Besides this, maintenance of the royal family and payment of the palace staff made Bhau’s position very difficult. Bhau’s despairs find mention in his despatches to the Peshwa. Reports from his camp at Delhi said

 

There is no money for paying even one week’s subsistence in a month; our men and horses are fasting.

 

The silver from the ceiling of the Diwan-e-Khas worth about nine lakhs could last baldly for a month or so. On September 15, 1760 Bhau wrote to the Peshwa

 

There is starvation in my camp; but no loan can be had; no revenue is being paid to me by any kamavisdar (collector), in spite of my having frequently written to them. My troops are going through many a fast.

 

Similar spirit is voiced in the letters of Nana Phadnis and Bapuji Ballal and many others. Ballal wrote to Naropant

 

Even men in higher position have to go without food for a day or so. Horses do not see gram at all. Army has lost all spirit. Loans cannot be raised anywhere. Such a calamity has never fallen before. Men and animals have become weak . . . The end does not seem good.

 

The situation became worst by the middle of September 1760 and forced Bhau to agree to start peace negotiation with Suja. The terms offered on behalf of Durrani were — Sarhind to remain the eastern boundary of the Durrani empire, Shah Alam, Shuja-ud-daulah and Najib-ud-daulah to be declared as Emperor, Wazir and Mir Bakshi respectively, and Sadashiv Rao Bhau not to interfere with this arrangement any more. The final shape of the proposal implied cession of the Punjab to the Afghans, retirement of the Marathas from the north and the farthest limit of their empire not to go beyond river Chambal. Bhau who did not believe in ‘expediency and political compromises’ did not accept the terms which were no doubt ignoble and ‘their acceptance (in fact) meant undoing the work of the past forty years’ but that would have certainly averted the catastrophy that befell upon the Marathas a few months afterwards. And the recovery of the lost ground too would not have been difficult but the protection of the lives of his soldiers should have been a concern of highest importance to a commander than his personal honour and prestige.

 

Towards the close of September Bhau decided to leave Delhi. His plan was to visit Kunjapura and Kurukshetra and then either to return to Delhi oi cross the Jamuna and fight in Gangetic doab in Saharanpur or Meerut district. Before leaving Delhi he made some arrangements for the safety of the capital and its line of communication but this proved to be quite inadequate.

 

Bhau left Delhi on October 10, 1760 for Kunjapura, a fortified town on the Jamuna under Najabat Khan and where supplies of money and material from the Punjab had been collected for Durrani. Abdus Samad Khan, the Governor of Sarhind was also posted there at that time. Before the Maratha onslaught the Afghans gave way (October 17). Abdus Samad Khan, Najabat Khan and Qutab Shah all lost their lives. The booty which fell into the hands of the Marathas was enormous — six and a half lakh rupees in cash, two lakh maunds of wheat and other provisions, 3000 horses, many camels, large number of guns and stores of munitions.

 

The Marathas celebrated their victory with great enthusiasm on Dusehra, the October 19, 1760. They stayed at Kunjapura for sometime and were to visit Kurukshetra to perform religious rites and then return to Delhi. Accordingly they left Kunjapura on October 25 and were in the neighbourhood of Taraori when the disturbing news of Abdali’s crossing the Jamuna at Baghpat was received. Finding his rear been cut, Bhau hurriedly marched towards Panipat, and despatched a few contingents in advance to gather information about the actual position of the enemy.

 

Ahmad Shah crossed the Jamuna at Baghpat on October 25 and entered his tents in Fakhru garden at Sonepat. His entire army crossed the Jamuna in three days (25-27th October), Maratha contingent of a thousand soldiers under Baji Hari Deshpande, found fast asleep, was cut to pieces. At Samalakha (October 28) a serious action took place between the advanced Maratha patrols and the Afghans in which about one and a half thousand Marathas and one thousand Afghans lost their lives. The same day Ahmad Shah reached Ganaur and stayed there for three days (28th-30th October), arrived Samalakha on the following day and finally fixed his camp in the neighbourhood of Panipat on November 1, where the Marathas led by Sadashivrao Bhau had already arrived on Wednesday, October 29, 1760.

 

The rival camps

 

The Maratha encampment was set up to the northwest and southwest of Panipat close to the Shah Nahar which was the main source of its water supply. The west and the east of the Maratha camp were protected by the canal and the Panipat hill while infront stretched ‘a broad dry and dusty plain’. Although well defended, the site had hardly any scope for manoeuvring. The Maratha entrenchments, covering a vast area (about 10 kms. in length and 4 kms. in depth) had included the city within its defence perimeter. The entrenchments were planned, designed and executed under the able direction of Ibrahim Khan Gardi. The whole camp was made defensible from all the sides by a judicious use of artillery and appeared like a ‘well-defended moat.’

 

As against this, the Abdali had made adjustment many a time according to the changing conditions when the Marathas were on the offensive and continuously firing on his camp. He shifted to the riverside 10 kms to the southeast to escape air and water pollution. The Afghan encampment spread along the villages of Behrampur, Bapauli, Mirzapur and Goyenla with Chhajpur forming the battle-ground between the opposing armies. Towards the end of December, the Abdali finally moved to the north astride the Delhi road. The battlefield was now for most part, the villages of Risalu and Nimbdi.

 

The strength of the contending parties as given by Kashiraj and Muhammad Jafar Shamlu, the two eye-witnesses, contain diametrically divergent figures but a more rational view seems to be that taken by Prof. J.N. Sarkar, according to whom the number of the Afghan army was 60,000 half of which were Abdali’s own men (23,000 horse and 7.000 foot) and the other half his Indian allies (7000 horse and 23,000 foot). The Maratha army consisted of 45,000 soldiers in cavalry, infantry and artillery.

 

A detailed breakdown of the two armies approximately calculated by J.N. Sarkar is as follows

 

Durrani— Wing) Shah Pasand (5,000, all horse), Najib (15,000, all foot and dismounted cavalry), Shuja (3,000, one-third being foot-musketeers). (Centre) Shah Wali Khan (19,000 men with 1,000 camel-swivels). (Right Wing) Ahmad Bangash (1,000 foot), a small gap, Hafiz Rahmat and Dundi Khan (14,000, only one-fourth or less being cavalry), Amir Beg (Kabuli infantry) and Barkhurdar Khan (Persian cavalry), these last two together 3,000 men.

 

Total 60,000. Maratha— {Ltii Wing) Ibrahim Khan Gargi (8,000 all foot-musketeers), Damaji Gaikwad (2,500 horse), Vittal Shivdev (1,500 horse), some petty captains (2,000 horse in all), (Centre) Bhau and Vishwas Rao with the household troops (13,500). (Right Wing) Antaji Manakeshwar (1,000 horse), Satvoji Jadav (1,500 horse), minor captains (2,000 horse), Jaswant Rao Pawar (1,500), Shamsher Bahadur (1,500), Jankoji Sindhia (7,000), Malharrao Holkar (3,000).

 

Total 45,000.

 

The feudal character, lack of common cementing bond between its different contingents, absence of co-ordination among its commanders, and large number of on-combatants attached to cavalry may be said to be the main disadvantages of the Maratha army. The Maratha horsemen were lightly equipped scantily clad which perhaps led to Ahmad Shah’s contemptuous remark ‘naked backed’ about them. And their heavy and large guns were very dilBcult to alter at their level and consequently their shots usually passed over enemy troops and fell away in the rear.

 

The Afghan army, besides having better horses, had more efficient and mobile artillery and its officers were clad in armours which the Marathas hardly wore. The superiority of the Afghan army in iis composition, movements and discipline has been very aptly commented upon by Prof. J.N. Sarkar. He wrote

 

The strict enforcement of order in camp and battlefield, the rigid punishment of the least disobedience in any subordinate, the control of every officer’s movements according to the plan of the supreme chief, the proper gradation of officers forming an unbroken chain between the generalissimo and the common soldier, the regular transmission of his orders by an efficient staff organisation and above all the fine control of the troops — which distinguished Ahmad Shah’s army, were unapproached by any other Asiatic force of that age. Above all there was the transcendent genius for war and diplomacy and the towering personality of the master — who had risen like Nadir from dust and attained to almost the same pre-eminence of fortune and invincibility in war as Nadir.

 

The Pre-Battle Encounters

 

Between November 1 and January 14 when the final battle was fought there were brushes and skirmishes almost every day between the contending parties and sometimes fire was also exchanged. The most important engagements were those of November 19, 22 and December 7. On November 19 a close contest between Marathas and Wazir Shah Wali Khan’s patrol parties took place. The Marathas, although having an upper hand in the beginning, had to retire to their camp in view of the reinforcement received by the enemy. That the Marathas were in high spirit and morale throughout November can be gathered from a number of despatches of this period’ which may perhaps be an exaggeration due to the Maratha misunderstanding of Abdali’s initial restraint and his pre-occupation with the shifting of his camp from the original positiond On December 7 a major encounter between Sultan Khan (Najib’s brother) and Balwant Rao Mehendale took place. Despite their success in turning back the Rohilla attack, the Marathas suffered a great loss in the death of Balwant Rao, ‘a brave soldier, a fearless general, besides a near relation and a personal friend of Sadashivrao Bhau.

 

This was followed by the death of Govindpant on December 17 who was entrusted with the important task of attacking the upper doab to stop the grain convoys which Najib’s men were sending to Abdali’s camp and ‘to sack the homes of the Rohillas and Shuja’s northern districts’ and thus to corner Abdali at Panipat and make things difficult for his allies. But unfortunately Govindpant was killed in an action against Atai Khan, and this seriously threatened Maratha line of communication. Whatever collection he had sent to Bhau most of it fell into the hands of Abdali’s menJ. This was followed by the massacre of 20,000 non-combatant Marathas, issued out from their camp to gather firewood and fodder, by Shah Pasand Khan and his men on night patrol.

 

With these long series of mishap, the Maratha camp turned into a beleaguered township after the third week of December. The road to Delhi had been cut ofiF, and Kunjapura the rear, had been taken over by Dalei Khan. The only direction from which provisions sometimes reached the Marathas was the northwest, from Alba Singh Jat of Patiala but this source too was soon cut This sad plight of the Maratha camp explains the last effort made by Bhau ‘to arrange a peace at any price between him and the Shah’. The Durrani was also inclined to accept the offer but Najib-ud-daulah and the influential Qazi Idris prevailed upon the Shah not to accept the terms and not to lose such a golden opportunity to sweep clean Hindustan of the Marathas The condition of the Maratha camp on the eve of the final battle has been vividly portrayed by contemporary writers. J.N. Sarkar also gives a graphic description

 

There was no food and no firewood for men and no grass for the horses. The stench of carcases of men and beasts lying uncremated and unhurried and the effluvia of the evacuations of four lakhs of living creatures, made the confines of the entrenchment a living hell for human beings.

 

Sadashiv Rao Bhau’s decision to offer battle does not seem to be spontaneous nor was it unanimous. Holkar and Janakoji were in favour of postponement for a few days till a final reply was received from the other side. But Bhau was in juite a desperate mood for his officers and men were starving and food was not available. They cried in agony, ‘Do not let us perish in this misery. Let us make a valiant struggle against the enemy; and then what Fate has ordained will happen.

 

Bhau made a last bid for saving peace. His envoy, Balak Ram, the betel-bearer, carried the following message to Kashiraja in his master’s own hand

 

The water has now risen above the level of head. If anything is possible, do it now, or else give me a frank refusal, as no time remains for writing and discussion.

 

Sadashiv Rao Bhau had no time to wait for hardly his message reached its destination, the Maratha army began to move.

 

The Battle Plans

 

Maratha leaders were sharply divided over the strategy to be employed on the battlefield. Malhar Rao Holkar and many others like Surajmal earlier, favoured the traditional method {Ganimi Kawa or the guerilla ‘hit and run’ tactics) whom the Muslim historians contemptuously called ‘mode of robbers or brigands’. In this method, in which the Marathas were at home, aimed at ravaging the country where the enemy was encamped. This was strongly opposed by Ibrahim Khan Gardi backed by Sadashivrao who favoured straight action by infantry. The battle was to be offered on the entire front and as such no specific plan seems to have been drawn. The main Maratha objective was ‘to breakthrough the ranks of the Afghan army, advance past the right hand corner of its camp, carry the entire army and baggage to the enemy’s rear and with the river at the back fight out an action’, but unfortunately the women, camp followers and the heavy cannons made its execution rather impossible. It was only through a decisive action deliverance of the Maratha army waspossible.

 

In view of the diverse and mutually irreconcilable elements such as Najib-ud-daulah and Hafiz Rahmat Khan in the army, the Durrani had been very careful in working out his plan of war. To rule out any possibility of defection of his Indian allies, Ahmad Shah put his own troops in between their forces, kept his reserve ready for any emergency and placed himself not in the front but behind the fighting line in order to direct and control the warfare.

 

The Battle

 

The battle which lasted 6-7 hours, from about 9 in the morning to about 3.30 in the afternoon, passed through three distinct phases — in the first, the Marathas gained initial success which, however, they lost in the second but continued to give a tough fight till the reinforcements thrown in by Abdali turned the table against the Marathas, while the last stage saw the collapse of the Maratha resistance and the complete rout of their army.

 

The Marathas began the offensive with a cannonade and fought with valour gaining some initial success. Ibrahim Khan Gardi charged the right wing of the Durrani army led by Hafiz Rahmat Khan and Dunde Khan so furiously that about eight to nine thousand of the Ruhelas were wounded or slain. While the infantry advanced, the heavy guns had to be left behind because of the difficulty in moving them on an uneven ground. Nor were the Maratha losses any less serious. Six of Ibrahim’s battalions were almost entirely washed out while he himself was badly wounded. The assistance of the cavalry which the Gardi needed most could not be provided.

 

In another front, Sadashivrao Bhau’s cavalry attacked the Durrani Centre under Shah Wali Khan and pressed it so hard that he seemed to carry everything before him. ‘The fighting was so violent’, observed Kashi Raj, ‘that the earth and sky could not be seen and the eye of heaven became dazzled at beholding this spectacle’. The Afghan casualties were very heavy, and among them was Haji Atai Khan, the slayer of Govind Pant. With no immediate rescue the Wazir’s despair was natural, but on the other hand, Bhau too could not force Ids advantage to the extent of pushing through in the Wazir’s ranks to the river bank. Abdali’s reserves would not have allowed him to proceed unmolested. Besides, women and large number of non-combatants in Bhau’s camp posed a problem for there was no certainty about their safe escort nor could they be left to the tender mercies of the enemy.

 

But the Abdali’s reinforcements of 13,000 fresh troops to the right wing and the centre at this critical stage turned the scale decisively against the already exhausted Maratha army, Bhau, on the other hand, does not seem to have left any reserve nor does he seem to have ‘maintained dependable line of communication which would have kept him informed of the battle in its changing fortunes’. He, however, continued the fight desperately against enormous odds.

 

The Abdali’s left led by Najib, Shah Pasand Khan and Shuja-ud-daulah faced the combined forces of Holkar, Sindhia and such other officers as Shamsher Bahadur, Yashwant Rao Pawar and Satvoji Jadav. In the first round there was no activity on this front, perhaps Bhau deliberately put Holkar and Sindhia on this front whose morale could not be expected to be very high due to their discomfiture at Durrani’s hand a number of times before. The only expectation on this front was Najib who had converted his entire troops of 15,000 into infantry and following the smoke of his rocket fire advanced slowly but steadily towards Sindhia’s troops.

 

At a quarter past two in the afternoon a zamburak ball struck Vishwas Rao on the forehead. The news completely shattered Bhau, and ‘spreading like wildfire in the Maratha camp, sharply dampened the morale of the Maratha army’. It was indeed the signal for the rout which was further hastened by the action of a contingent of 2,0. 0 renegade Afghans employed by the Marathas who started looting the camp and creating havoc in the already despaired ranks of the army. The Abdali had also rushed in the meanwhile six units of his select corps to the centre. But despite these overwhelming onslaughts it must be noted that Sadashiv Rao Bhau managed to deliver as many as three heavy counter charges.

 

The Durranis gained upper hand both on the right and left of the Marathas. In the left Damaji and Vitthal Shivdeo were wounded but safely retired, while Ibrahim Khan was taken prisoner. On the right Najib and Shah Pasand Khan were closing in. Malhar Holkar decided to flee and carried with him that part of Janakoji’s contingent under Mahadaji and others which had fallen apart from the main body. Najib and Shah Pasand were pressing hard on Janakoji’s men and the escape route of Bhau had been closed.

 

The Final Scene

 

The battle which took a decisive turn after Vishvas Rao’s death now entered into its final stage. The Abdali’s rushing in of his reserve force at the centre had compU’tely broken down the Maratha resistance and Bhau’s repeated charges ‘were eloquent not so much of the means to resistance that he commanded but a tribute to his own desperate bravery in what must have seemed to him now a forlorn, hopeless cause’. And as put by Kashi Raj ‘in the twinkle of an eye the Maralha army vanished like camphor, and none remained in the field except heaps ot corpse here and there’.

 

Before his end Bhau changed his horse thrice and was joined by Tukoji and Janakoji. The Bhau Sdheb Bakhar recounts an argument between Tukoji and Bhau, the former insisting that unless he (Bhau) was saved they could not take revenge. The Maratha leader, however, chary of facing Nana Saheb, repeated again and again, ‘we shall not run away’. (This was what Ibrahim Shah Sur said to his wazir in the first battle of Panipat more than two hundred years ago). Nana Phadnis tells us that he reached Panipat after parting company with Bhau just as the sun set in the Heaven’. It is said that Bhau was fighting to the very last till only 200 men remained by his side. The last moments of Bhau on the battlefield of Panipat have been narrated by Kashi Raj. He wrote’ ;

 

Bhau had received a spear wound and a musket shot in thigh the latter had thrown him on the ground, and lurching on the field, he was attacked by a few Durrani horsemen. The wounded lion turned at bay and struck two or three of his assailants with his spear before he himself was killed, his head chopped off and carried by his slayers.

 

Sadashiv Rao Bhau died a heroic death. Life had no meaning for him and death no longer frightened him. He did not perish as contended b> Prof. Sarkar, ‘on the grave of his reputation’, nor ‘of the imperial dreams of his race’, but as very justly put by P.L. Mehra ‘with all the limitation of circumstances placed on him, with the instrument which he had ready to hand, with the adversaries he had to contend with— not to talk of quite some generations of unsympathetic, if not indeed positively hostile, historians — Bhau did not do a bad job’. It may be recalled that thirty eight years later, another heroic Indian prince, the Tipoo Sultan ‘after the wreck of his army and cause, came to his end on the battlefield of Seringapatam resisting an alien spoiler’s hand on his person’.

 

The Sequal

 

The third battle of Panipat has been aptly called ‘a nation wide disaster. . .

There was not a home in Maharashtra that had not to mourn the loss of a member, and several houses their very heads. An entire generation of leaders was cut off at one stroke.’ The contemporary Persian accounts no doubt give an exaggerated account of the Maratha casualties and the spoils of the victors, but on a more sober analysis, it would seem that more than half of the actual (Maratha) troops present on the field perished there, in number roughly 30,000 and those killed in pursuit or taken prisoners may be placed about 20,000. The news of this aweful disaster wag conveyed to the Peshwa in a merchant’s message: ‘Two pearls have been dissolved, twenty seven gold mohurs have been lost, and of the silver and copper the total cannot be cast up’. The Peshwa already suffering from a wasting disease could not survive this calamity. He died broken hearted at Poona on June 23, 1761.

 

Of the two pearls Vishwas Rao and Sadashiv Rao died fighting, Gardi was among the twenty-two gold mohurs, others included were Tukoji Sindhia, Yashwant Rao Pawar, Santaji Wagh, Janakoji, Antaji Manakeshwar and Sharasher Bahadur. The Persian sources give a much exaggerated account of the victor’s spoils — thousand -horses, camels and bullocks laden with property— which cannot be justified in view of the utter lack of food and fodder and financial bankruptcy of the Bhau’s camp. But there seems no doubt that the Durrani gains must have been enormous in terms of war material for ‘it was the entire army they had worsted, an army nearly as big as their own and not too poorly equipped either’.

 

The fugitives, rapidly pursued, must have been slaughtered in large number as the countless heaps of the dead and the dying which littered the surrounding area would suggest. ‘No quarter was given by a cruel, unrelenting enemy, but equally plainly a proud, self respecting army had asked for none Further on their way to the Gangetic doab, they were attacked by the Jat peasantry of Haryana, hostile and full of hatred due to the continuous pillage of their region by them.’ Safety they could get only when they reached the territory of Surajmal, who showed ‘every mark of kindness and hospitality, giving free ration to every Deccani soldier or camp- followers and medical attendance to their wounded and when they were rested and recovered, conveyance to their own city of Gwalior’, And Ahmad Shah, after settling the affairs of Delhi left on March 20 and reached Ambala on the 2’th. He appointed Zain Khan Faujdar at Sarhind which included Ambala, Jind, Kurukshetra and Karnal districts while the rest of Haryana was occupied by Najib, the most powerful noble of the Delhi court.’

 

Why were the Marathas defeated at the battle of Panipat? Various causes are attributed to the Maratha debacle— their inferior leadership and military system suffering from the chronic diseases of feudal organization and denationalisation, lack of food supply, too large and heavy artillery, tactical mistakes, inadequate defence and weak diplomacy. A detailed analysis of these factors would perhaps not be withinthe scope of the present study for which attention may be drawn to the meticulous researches of J.N. Sarkar, G.S. Sardesai, H.R. Gupta, T.S. Shejwalkar and S.M. Pagadi. Here only a few observations need be made. First, the genesis of the battle may be seen in the rise of Najib-ud-daula and in the Islamic revivalist movement propounded by Shah Waliullah which together sowed the seeds of the destruction of all the Hindu forces— the Sikhs, the Jats and above all the Marathas and further, even went to the extent of inviting openly the Abdali to replace the decadent Mughal rule with that of his own Second, the personal rivalry between the Sindhias and the Holkars also added to the Maratha failure. Of the two Holkar in his heart of heart, did not favour Peshwa’s rising ambitions in the north which perhaps might be the basis for the accusation of his collusion with Najib and Shah Pasand Khan on the day of the battle. Third, Bhau in a number of his despatches had made it abundantly clear that his aim was to defend the honour and prestige of the Mughal Empire and to destroy the aliens, the Durranis. This is reinforced by Bhau’s policy in declaring Ali Gauhar as the Emperor and his son Jawan Bakht as the heir apparent before leaving for Kunjapura to meet the invaders. And last but not the least, it must also be admitted that thejpolicy of aggression and plunder which the Marathas too followed in the north alienated the sympathies of the people — the mainstay at the time of struggle against a foreign aggressor, and turned them completely hostile.

 

For an objective assessment of what happened at Panipat a critical comparative study of the contemporary accounts — both Persian as well as Marathi, is essential. In the light of fresh evidence old views need to be modified and revised. The older school of historians seem to be particularly severe on Bhau for his failure at Panipat forgetting that he was the product of the then political, social and economic conditions of the Maratha state. The Maratha defeat is sometimes attributed to the abandonment of the traditional method of fighting and the use of heavy artilleiy. But it must be remembered that the Maratha system of guerilla warfare could not have been effective in northern setting and that the Marathas could survive for two months at Panipat simply because of the artillery. And for the valour and bravery of the Marathas the best tributes are those of Kashi Raj and Shamlu who served the opposite camp.

 

The Marathas thus fought in a glorious cause. They were the only power in India that faced the main brunt of the Durrani attack, while others either sided with the enemy or kept aloof. To quote Prof. H.G. Rawliuson ‘never in all the annals did the Maratha armies cover themselves with greater glory than when the flower of the chivalry of the Deccan perished on the stricken field of Panipat, fighting the enemies of their creed and country’.

 

Panipat, the scene of such decisive action of Indian history, therefore remains a subject of the special interest of the historian, and a place of reverence of the people. It is a befitting place for the setting up of a national monument to preserve the memory of the Indians who went down fighting the invaders in a spirit of defiance even in their worst hour of defeat.

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