The city of Panipat, situated in Haryana State of India, is said to have originated during the times of Mahabharata and has been referred in the first verse of Bhagavad Gita as ‘Dharmakshetra’. The city is said to be one of the five cities founded by the Pandava Brothers during Mahabharata, known as Pandavprastha (now known as Panipat). Panipat is known for the three great battles fought here that turned the course of the Indian History. The first battle of Panipat (1526), the second battle of Panipat (1556), and the third battle of Panipat (1761).
The First Battle of Panipat was fought between Ibrahim Lodhi and Babur on 21 April 1526. Babur’s army, though small in number, comprised soldiers trained in ‘Tulghuma’ and ‘Araba’, the two new tactics introduced in this battle by Babur, who later established Mughal rule in India. It is said that it was in this battle that, for the first time, the use of gunpowder firearms and field artillery was handled. Ibrahim Lodhi, though his army was bigger than the army of Babur, was defeated and killed with his remaining troops. This battle marked the beginning of Mughal Empire and ended the Lodhi Rule.
The Second Battle of Panipat was fought between Akbar and Hemu on 5 November 1556. Akbar, son of Humayun, was only thirteen when he was enthroned. Hemu, who was the hindu ruler of North India, after the death of Humayun, launched an open rebellion for seizing the throne of Delhi and defeated Akbar’s army in the Battle of Delhi in 1556.
The seize of Delhi by Hemu disturbed the Mughal Generals, who advised Akbar to retreat to Kabul, but Bahrain Khan, guardian of Akbar, wanted to fight. The Mughal army met Hemu and his troops at the historic battlefield of Panipat. However, Akbar and Bahrain Khan remained stationed at a safe distance away from the war zone. Hemu was shot in his eye by a Mughal archer and was captured and beheaded by the young Emperor Akbar. This victory of Akbar restored the power of Mughals in India.
The Third Battle of Panipat was fought on 14 January 1761, between the Marathas and Ahmad Shah Abdali, the king of Afghanistan and allied forces of the Rohilla Afghans of the Doab and Shuja-ud-Daula, the Nawab of Awadh. This was presumably the largest battle fought in the 18th Century and perhaps with maximum casualties.
The decline of the Mughal Empire in 1707 gradually led to the rise of the Marathas wherein the Marathas under Baji Rao made efforts to establish their dominance over Northern India. They further invaded Punjab in 1758 and thus came in direct confrontation with the Durrani Empire of Ahmad Shah Abdali, who raised his army in 1759 and also established a coalition with his Indian allies—the Rohilla Afghans of the Gangetic Doab against the Marathas.
The Marathas responded under Sadashivrao Bhau. Both sides tried to enter into an alliance with the Nawab of Awadh, Shuja-ud-Daula, but the Nawab decided to join the Afghan-Rohilla coalition and this was a big loss to Marathas.
Finally, the fateful encounter between the Afghans and the Marathas took place in the historic battlefield of Panipat on 14 January 1761. The Marathas suffered heavy losses in terms of horses, elephants, cash and jewellery. More than 40000 Marathas died in the battle including Peshwa Baji Rao’s minor son Viswas Rao and his cousin Sadashiv Rao. The news of Peshwa Baji Rao’s son was a setback to Baji Rao, who too died broken hearted in June 1761.
After the Battle of Panipat the services of the Rohillas were rewarded by grants of Shikohabad to Nawab Faiz-ullah Khan and of Jalesar and Firozabad to Nawab Sadullah Khan.
The after affects of the third Battle of Panipat weakened the territories of Maraths in the north for nearly 10 years, which the Peshwa Madhavrao utilized to revive the Maratha’s supremacy and thereafter, after ten years, Marathas re-captured Delhi in 1771 and restored their power in North India under Peshwa Madhavrao.