The invasion of Nadir Shah
Nadir Shah (the king of Persia) after the occupation of Afghanistan decided to march on India whose unsettled borders and negative defence policy ideally suited his purpose. He passed through Jalalabad, Peshawar, Wazirabad and further carried destruction and disorder throughout the region between Lahore and Sarhind which according to Shaikh Ali Hazin, a contemporary writer, ‘was in complete revolution. Every person put forth his hand to plunder and pillage, and some thousands of rob- bers beset the public roads . . . The whole of that time, whether on the road, or at the (halting) stations passed in fighting and contention. After passing Sarhind and Rajpura the invading army reached Ambala on February 7, 1739 where heavy baggage and harem was left under a strong escort and later, the next day Shahbad was reached. Thanesar was captured on 10th evening, and the following day Sarai Azimabad (a big stone and brick house) where the prominent persons of Ambala had taken refuge, was occupied and detailed information about the imperial encampment at Karnal was obtained.
The Indian defence was entrusted to Itimad-ud-daulah Qamar-ud-din Khan (the Wazir), Nizam-ul-mulk Asaf Jah (the Wakil or Regent) and Samsam-ud-daulah Khan Dauran (the Amir-ud-umara or Bakhshi or the head of the military department). Farmans were also sent to the Rajputs and the Marathas to come to their aid in this hour of national crisis. The Rajputs made excuses and delayed coming while the Marathas did not come at all despite the fact that in a letter addressed to his general Pilaji Jadhav, Baji Rao considered rendering help to the Emperor of Delhi at such a time ‘a glory to the Maratha State. Surprisingly Baji Rao I could think only in terms of defending Narmada line to bar the southward advance of Nadir Shah, if at all there was any.
The imperial army reached Panipat on January 18, 1739 and the Emperor Muhammad Shah with his contingent on 27th. After the fall of Lahore which then became known, it was decided to encamp at Karnal where abundant water supply was available and whose adjoining plains favoured manoeuvring large bodies of cavalry. This besides, Saadat Khan, the Governor of Oudh with his army was still awaited. Entrenchment was preferred to a straight battle.
Muhammad Shah had set his camp along the western bank of the canal of Ali Mardan Khan with the walled town of Karnal immediately south of him. His front and right were protected naturally by jungle (between Azimabad and Karnal) and the canal respectively. Under the direction of Sad-ud-din Khan (A//> the camp was enclosed by a mud wall many miles in circuit. Along this line guns were ranged side by side and soldiers posted in the trenches to keep watch day and night.
The respective strength of the combatant forces is gathered from a number of contemporary sources— the accounts of Mirza Mahdi, Hanway, Rustam Ali, Ghulam Ali and Anandram. Although there is much divergence in the figures given by these authorities yet the more realistic position seems to be that the Persians had 40,000 horsemen (excluding vanguard and rear) besides non-combatant about its three times of whom one third were servants all mounted, some of them completely armed so as to take part in plunder and in the defence of their baggage. Similarly the total Indian fighting force at Kamal could not have exceeded 75,000 men but their non-combatants were excessive. ‘The Indian army due to its enormous size lost mobility and aggressive power and became helplessly beleaguered, and was placed thereby in a situation similar to that in which Sadashiv Rao Bhau found himself at Panipat twentytwo years later.
The Persian horsemen made surprise attacks on ihe neighbouring area and carried off com, grass and fuel so that the price of grain rose enormously in the Indian camp. This besides an advance force of 6,000 troops led by Haji Khan even succeeded in proceeding along the banks of the canal up to the edge of the enemy’s camp and in reporting back position of the imperial army. The strategy of Nadir Shah was:
…. to avoid a frontal attack and make a wide detour along the east of Kamal, so as to keep touch with the Jamuna and its abundant water supply on his left flank and also to cut the Mughal line of communication with Delhi by seizing the town of Panipat in the rear (and). … to force Muhammad Shah to come out of his lines and accept battle on a field chosen by Nadir or to remain helplessly shut up in Karnal while the Persians would march to Delhi unmolested.
The plan, admirably worked out as it was, yielded expected results. The Persian army marched to the plain six miles northeast of Kamal, a little north of Kunjpura and within sight of Jamuna. Nadir Shah himself led a search party to ascertain enemy’s position and returned unharmed to his own camp. When the news of Saadat Khan and his army’s reaching Panipat was received, a division of Persian army was sent to intercept it and another to pressurise the eastern flank of the Mughal army.
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