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. ]


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