250 Years of ” The Third Battle of Panipat “

On January 14, 2011, when Hindus all over the world were celebrating Makar Sankranti, not many remembered that on this very day 250 years ago Sadashivrao Bhau along with his army was fighting a losing battle for us in the Kala Amb near Panipat. Known in history as theThird Battle of Panipat where army of Marathas fought Afghan invader Ahmed Shah Durrani a.k.a. Ahmed Shah Abdali. Battle ended within few hours and roughly 60,000/70,000 . soldiers got killed. The Maratha line was 12 km. across, with the artillery in front, protected by infantry while the cavalry was instructed to wait behind the artillery. This tactical mistake proved fatal. Without any instruction waiting cavalry started moving forward causing casualties among Maratha soldiers leading to the infamous defeat. Though Marathas lost the battle due to strategic mistake, no one dared to attack India after this battle for many years.

The flag of the Maratha Empire.

Image via Wikipedia - Flag of Maratha Empire

The Third Battle of Panipat took place on 14 January 1761, at Panipat (Haryana State, India), about 60 miles (95.5 km) north of Delhi. The battle pitted the French-supplied artillery and cavalry of the Marathas against the heavy cavalry and mounted artillery(zamburak and jizail) of the Afghans led by Ahmad Shah Durrani, an ethnic Pashtun, also known as Ahmad Shah Abdali. The battle is considered one of the largest battles fought in the 18th century.

Flag of the Emirate of Herat, and of the Durra...

Image via Wikipedia - Flag of Afghan Empire

The decline of the Mughal Empire had led to territorial gains for the Maratha Confederacy. Ahmad Shah Abdali, amongst others, was unwilling to allow the Marathas’ gains to go unchecked. In 1759, he raised an army from the Pashtun tribes and made several gains against the smaller garrisons. The Marathas, under the command of Sadashivrao Bhau, responded by gathering an army of between 70,000-100,000 people with which they ransacked the Mughal capital of Delhi. There followed a series of skirmishes along the banks of the river Yamuna at Karnal and Kunjpura which eventually turned into a two-month-long siege led by Abdali against the Marathas.

High Resolution Flag of the Mughal Empire in SVG

Image via Wikipedia - Flag of Mughal Empire

The specific site of the battle itself is disputed by historians but most consider it to have occurred somewhere near modern-day Kaalaa Aamb and Sanauli Road. The battle lasted for several days and involved over 125,000 men. Protracted skirmishes occurred, with losses and gains on both sides. The forces led by Ahmad Shah Durrani came out victorious after destroying several Maratha flanks. The extent of the losses on both sides is heavily disputed by historians, but it is believed that between 60,000–70,000 were killed in fighting, while numbers of the injured and prisoners taken vary considerably. The result of the battle was the halting of the Maratha advances in the North.

The Indian subcontinent in 1760.

Image via Wikipedia - India in 1760

The Mughal Empire had been in decline since the death of the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb, in 1707. The decline was accelerated by the invasion of India by Nadir Shah in 1739. Continued rebellions by the Marathas in the south, and the de-facto separation of a number of states (including Hyderabad and Bengal), weakened the state further. Within a few years of Aurangzeb’s death, the Marathas had reversed all his territorial gains in the Deccan, and had conquered almost all Mughal territory in central and north India. Mughals had thus become just the titular heads of Delhi. In 1761, they wanted to expand further north and north-west, where their path crossed Ahmad Shah Abdali — the ruler of Afghanistan, who had been making raids into Punjab and had appointed his son as its governor.


An approximate political map of the Indian sub...

Image via Wikipedia - Map of Maratha Empire

The Marathas had gained control of a considerable part of India in the intervening period (1707–1757). In 1758, they occupied Delhi, captured Lahore and drove out Timur Shah Durrani,the son and viceroy of the Afghan ruler, Ahmad Shah Abdali. This was the high-water mark of the Maratha expansion, where the boundaries of their empire extended in the north to the Indus and the Himalayas, and in the south nearly to the extremity of the peninsula. This territory was ruled through the Peshwa, who talked of placing his son Vishwasrao on the Mughal throne. However Delhi still remained under the nominal control of Mughals, key Muslim intellectuals including Shah Waliullah and other Muslim clergy in India and Punjab who were alarmed at these developments. In desperation they appealed to Ahmad Shah Abdali, the ruler of Afghanistan, to halt the threat.


Ahmad Shah Durrani, founded Afghanistan in 1747.

Image via Wikipedia - Ahmad Shah Abdali

Thus after due invitation Ahmad Shah Abdali attacked India and on the auspicious day of Makar Sankranti Sadashivrao Bhau lost the battle of Panipat. The infamous defeat still rattles the Marathas. There is a saying in Marathi Tyanche Panipat Jhale [ He succumbed to his Panipat ] Metaphorically Panipat has become for Marathas, what Waterloo was for Napoleon. It shattered Maratha pride, it halted their advances towards North India and finally it dented their image. But one thing was intact and it remains intact even today and that is their valour and their pride. Even after defeat The Third Battle of Panipat remains a glorious chapter of our history, because it was not because of lack of courage or valour but it happened because of a tactical and strategic error.









[ While researching for this blog, I visited various sites on the internet and I have taken few things and few paragraphs from various sources. I express my deep gratitute. ]

9 Responses

  1. the third battle of panipat,dealt a body blow to Hinduism,as after the decline of the Maratha,the British took over the country,after defeating the marathas in the 3 Anglo Maratha wars.The questions which arise are;
    Why was the decision taken to take along 30000 of the finest Hindu women and children along with the army in its northern campaign,as they wanted to see the temples in North and Aryavarta ie the lands along the Indus.?
    Who took the decision to take along the women and children to Panipat when the Rajputs had repeatedly advised against this,and to leave them under their care at Agra?
    The presence of the women in the Maratha camp at Panipat would have rendered the Afghan tyrants crazy,and fight with double evil intent,at the thought of the prize of war awaiting them.
    Why did not the Rajputs and Sikhs come to the aid of the Marathas?
    Why does wikipedia mention “Notorious “Sadashivrao Bhau
    What were 15000 Pindaris doing in the Maratha camp
    What does desecration of Moti Masjid by sadashivrao bhau mean?

    war is a dangerous game,and from what I understand the marathas were as hated in the North as the Afghans.,for their plunder and usurious takes levied on the Rajputs.

    All the efforts of Shivaji and Sambhaji raje to establish Swarajya went in vain,because of the arrogance and overconfidence of Sadashivrao Bhau and his generals.

    Victory at Panipat would have meant the establishment of Hindu rule all over India,the british would not have stepped in,.and The bhagwa flag would have been flying today at the Attock fort ,near Peshawar and the Red fort at DELHI.What a tragedy!!!!


    • Please do not blame without knowing and without reading entire history of panipat…Bhau was a clever and a well administrator….Please read panipat by Vishwas Patil…and then comment…..


  2. I think the person giving above comment should study the condition at the time of war and about one year before war.
    Researches have shown than the Maratha army was facing a acute shortage of food and grass for animals. there was no any friend of them who came to help them.
    Very importantly it was a war between a outside power which was looting India years and the natives of India which were Mughals and Marathas, prominantly Mughals because Ahmadshah Abdali was looting Delhi and north India and it was possible for marathas to leave them on their own, but a very important agreement was signed between Mughals and Marathas saying that to save Mughals from outside attacks will be responsibility of Marathas, and this agreement was made after the request of one of weak Mughal Badashah, when Delhi was attacked was Nadirshah for the first time and Mughals asked Bajirao Peshwe to come and fight for Delhi.No was happened because Nadirshah left Delhi and progressed towards Kandahar before Bajirao could reach Delhi.
    So Marathas went this time again to save Delhi from outside powers and to make sure that India ( Hindusthan or Aryawart) remains intact.
    But is was Marathas’ bad luck that almost everybody in North India Thought that this is a war between Hindus and Muslims , which was not the case off course( The chief of Maratha infantry was Ibrahimkhan Gardi which proves this fact sufficiently)
    It was a biggest mistake to to carry around 30000 to 45000 women and children which could be the part of war. This increased the food requirement also made the movement slow. More ever also these people forced Sadashivraobhau to go to holy places and waste valuable time.

    So it is completely wrong to say that Sadashivraobhau was arrogant and overconfidence. A detailed analysis of the plans and moves he decided to follow shows that how brilliant he was and how difficult for him to handle a total of 1-1.5 lac people moving in completely unknown area.Even the final war strategy was supreme and troop under Sadashivraobhau fought like nothing. When Marathas won Delhi and Kunjpura in this battle, the moves and actions of Sadashivraobhau were ultimate.

    So it was very tough for the Maratha Army to survive and fight against Afghans. ( Please reply back if anyone needs details of how difficult it was . This comment will increase greatly if i incorporate that as much here sorry for the inconvenience )

    Now lets come to final war held on 14 Jan 1761 ,
    the plan of Maratha army was to leave Panipat and move towards Delhi which was in their capture.
    but since Ahmadshah Abdali was standing on the road which wes going to Delhi, after Marathas started to move in Morning, it wasnatural for Abdali to feel that Marathas are attcking and hence he made his formation of circular arc against the Round formation of Marathas.

    Total Maratha army 45000
    Total abdali Army 60000

    In Marathas primary attack began with the gun Firing ( Jumboorake a of that time ) under the guidance of Ibrahimkhan Gardi which attacked Rohillas in Afghan Army. A total of 8000 Gardis destroyed almost 18000 rohillas in about 1.5 hrs. But unfortunately one of the Maratha Sardar called Vinchurkar ( who was kind of in oppose with Gardi ) left the round formation and attcked the remaining rohillas front to front so it became impossible for gardis to fire at them since thier bullets will also hurt Marathasso Gardis stopped firing and here lies the basic root of loosing the war. So now the other trrop in Afghan army came to back up rohillas and attacked gardis which destroyed gardis completely. So the Infantry which was heart of Maratha Army ( as said and proved by Sadashivraobhau many times ) was finished just because of a minor mistake of one of sardar.

    When this happening , Main Maratha Army ( Hujurat ) was fighting with Shahwali ula ( major sardar of Abdali ) . this troop of Maratha army was of about 16000 against 19000 of Shahwali ula. A fact of interest is that here also 16000 people beated 19000 opponents very badly such that Marathas lost about 2500 people where entire 19000 opponents were dead. Now since round formation formed was broken at the back end near gardi and vinchurkar. Afghans entered in the round thereby attacking the weak troops of children and women. Hence Sadashivraobhau turned aback and came to help these people but in the meantime Abdali replaced 19000 dead people by about 12000 new and fresh ones. So this was new danger For Sadashivraobhau. Because of attack of weaker troops of marathas including children and women and their pointless shouting and thinking and telling others that Marathas lost war , which was surely not the case by about 1 pm.

    Now sadashivraobhau and troops with him started fighting against new 12000 people of abdali and were on the verge of defeating them but bad luck was not leaving marathas, Vishwasrao chief commander second in line after bhau was shot dead with a bullet and this added to the shuoting of weaker marathas . After this Bhau entered war on his horse( named Chandrasen ) and left his elephant. Remaining around 8000 – 9000 abdalis started creating seige around Main Maratha army and started thinking that thay have won.

    But still two prominent Maratha Sardar troops the holkars and Shindes were away from all this and were ready to attack withe a power of about 20000 soldiers.But they thought that since commander in chief Sadashivraobhau is completely covered by opponents it will be beneficial to leave the war front and go to their respective places. This was second biggest mistake. the soldier availability with them was greater than 20000 and as we saw just now if 16000 can answer 19000 very badly, it would have been possible for them to save Main army and to destroy Abdali completely.

    Only Jankoji Shinde amongst them entered war to save Bhau. But the next part is known to everybody. Bhau was killed during war, Jankoji and Ibrahimkhan gardi were catched.It was a loss of Marathas.

    It was possible for bhau to progress towards Delhi in the meantime when he retured aback to save children and women but he didnt leave the war front and went for saving and helping others.I think this is sufficient to prove the point that he was not just thinking about himself but was really a supreme commander.and he was not at all notorious as mentioned by Wikipedia.


  3. Sadashiv Bhau was a great leader. He had beaten Nizam very badly before. So, Peshwa sended him ahead of Raghoji dada as a supreme commander for this war. For that reason roghoji and malharao holkar not helped bhau. And then what happend everyone knows. After chattrapati shivaji maharaj because of peshwas only india survive another 100 years from both Mughal and British.


  4. As a matter of fact, the Maratha empire & its policies were terribly brutal, even to the Hindus of the time. Unlike Shivaji Maharaj, his successors were not welcome among the Hindus. Till this date, Bengal could not forget the atrocities of the bargir attacks. The atrocties of the bargirs on the women & children of bengal was no less brutal than the Muslim bastards. The defeat of Bhausaheb, that is why, do not moves his fellow Indians. The Rajput & sikhs were spectetres of his rout with valid reasons. We remember Ibrahim Gardi and his soldiers with reverence. The Poona horse of Indian army born out of the splinters of the army created by Gardi.


  5. Warfare is a fascinating subject. Despite the dubious morality of using violence to achieve personal or political aims. It remains that conflict has been used to do just that throughout recorded history.

    Your article is very well done, a good read.


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