A struggle of monumental proportion spread over a fourteen month period with armies of hundreds of thousands of men and beast marching across a vast sub-continent taking the reader on a historic journey to a gripping climax.
An authentic account of the biggest battle of the eighteenth century in the word told with original letters maps and photographs.
This is story of how the bid for the empire of India was lost and won on 14 January 1761 when the marathas led by sadashiv rao bhau stood on the killing fields of panipat to counter the afghan invasion of Ahmed shah abdali.
It was the first ever call to fight for an India ruled by Indian.
The Maratha army led by sadashiv rao bhau faced a major disaster at the hands of Ahmed Shah Abdali the leader of the Afghan army on 14 January 1761 at Panipat. Over seventy five thousand Marahas were killed there in a single day. Though it was a major setback to the Maratha supremacy in Uttar Hindustan it was certainly not a disgrace to Maratha history. This is absolutely clear from the letters written by Ahmed Shah Abdali to Madho singh of Jaipur and Peshwa Nanasaheb, Abdlai had praised the spirit and the valor of Maratha soldiers and he writes that Ruston and is fandiar also would have been surprised by the courage and the fearlessness with which the battle was fought by the warriors. After the battle was over abadli came to Delhi ad reinstated the Badhah Shah Alam who was installed by the Marathas the previous year Abadali in fact called back the Maratha ambassadors who had run away from Delhi and told them that the is restoring their status as the protector of Mughal India. This very move by abadali proves beyond doubt that the Maratha power had not finished. Much was still left in them to protect the interests of the Mughals.
Three main questions arise. Why was the battle fought by the Marathas and Afghans? Second question is how was it fought in Panipat? The third question is what happened after the battle of paipat in 1761?
My young friend Dr. Uday Kulkarni has answered these three questions very correctly along with a hundred others. I have been watching him for quite some time meticulously collecting the evidence and material required to write a book on this subject. Though his profession does not allow him to pay attention in a subject like this as he is a busy practicing physician and surgeon he has taken time out from his busy schedule to visit all the places which he could relate to this subject. He actually travelled to various places in north India where the incidents took place. He has come out with a book written with a precision of a history researcher.
The story of the Panipat campaign is dramatic and builds to a mighty climax. The movement of hundreds of thousands of men and women and beasts, the passions of the many score characters who lived in the era, the brutal murders, ruthless massacres, the huge train of men who travelled across nearly a continent; are all very real. Their feelings, hopes, suffering and triumphs come to us in their letters, which are full of the foibles of mortal men, the anxieties of war and the worry for their homes. Over a hundred thousand people died in a twelve hour period on that day in the eighteenth century. The real story is more than what any work of fiction can ever be.
Writing the book involved coordinating the large number of actors who played a role in the History of India of the 18th century. Their motivations differed and their perspective was often coloured by the instinct of self preservation. They were no different from the people in power the world over even today. They need not be judged with different standards of morality and credited with greater strategic vision than the statesmen of today. They made mistakes and judged wrongly too.
The monuments of the era are vanishing. The Shalimar bagh of Delhi and the ruins of the Kunjpura fort may disappear in the next decade or two. The ruins of Najibabad, the remains of the Pathar garh fort are neglected by the caretakers and the people living in those towns. The books in our libraries are lying in a state of neglect; there are no students and scholars pouring over them and they have not been pulled out of their shelves for decades. Conservation and digitization of these documents need to go hand in hand with the business of making social sciences as relevant as the fields of technology 'in our lives.
The eighteenth century was actually the century of the Marathas. This Maratha interregnum between a two hundred year Mughal Empire and a one hundred and fifty year British rule shaped the present boundaries of India. The war weakened the Maratha power and created a vacuum that allowed the British to fill the breach. They found the window of opportunity to spread their wings in the sub continent, and change came in one of the world's oldest civilizations. This book would not have been written in English but for this change.
I must thank all the persons and institutions who helped me in this venture. I found a spark of interest in many of the people I met, when I mentioned Panipat. It strikes a chord amongst Indians to this day. I do hope the book meets the reader's expectations.
The second edition of a book is always a happy occasion and to bring out one in just over an year a matter of satisfaction to all who toiled to create the first edition. The 250th and 251st anniversaries of the battle of Panipat brought about a starling rise in interest in this epic event in India history. Besides the of large number of talks and articles published a large rally was held near the battlefield in Panipat that was graced by the Honourable president of India to who this book was presented on that occasion. A committee to spread the word about the importance of the battle of Panipat has worked untiringly and endeavored to create an awareness’ in the new generation of Indian. A large number of young enthusiasts for example rode from pane to Panitpat in January to commemorate the Maratha armies role in 1761 in the defense of India.
In this edition several original letters have been added to bring out the story in vivid detail in the words of the actors who lived through those years. More illustrations original paintings from several libraries and museum have added four more pages of art pages in colour. Transcripts for British Newspapers of the eighteenth century have helped make the events more topical. Some revisions and additional references have made the story simpler more complete and easier to follow. All the relevant details of the panipat campaign of 1761 the antecedents and consequences have been included in this book as completely as possible without taking anything away from the narrative. The reference section will give the reader the sources for the narrative and the bibliography will help to find many more interesting books to read. New discoveries will be made and additions will become necessary in the years to come. But till then this will provide the complete story of Panipat.
Some people have asked me why the book is titled Solstice at Panipat. Solstice is the day when the sun seemingly stops and make the day in summer and winter when the earth Tropic of Cancer or Capricorn are closest the sun. in Maharashtra to this day the winter solstice (Makar Sankrant) of 1761 is remembered in Marathi as Sankranti Kosalai or the solstice has crashed due to the events at Panipat. It seemed appropriate therefore to link the two in the title of the book and call it Solstice at Panipat.
The thrust of the book remains on a factual account supported by documents bakhars and such primary sources in an interesting way. I hope the second edition will be received with the same enthusiastic response from readers and students of history. I am grateful to the distributors and retailers as well as readers for the brisk sale of the first edition and to reviewers and historians for their positive feedback about the book.
Two hundred and fifty years is a small period in history yet a single generation is enough to forget an event. From 1761 to 2011 the third and final battle of panipat has captured the imagination of researchers historians novelists and the public at large. It caused a shift in the power equation of the day and eclipsed an indigenous power for a while before it found its feet again a decade later. The rise and fall of empire was destined to end one day. The British on who empire the sun never set finally seem like a page from distant history. In fact a young boy growing up in the British isles today would find it fascinating that his small nation with rudimentary communication could overwhelm an ancient civilization fight and win wars several thousand miles way and establish an empire that lasted nearly a hundred and fifty years. The Maratha or Maharashtrian boy of today might similarly find to overwhelming that thousands of his kin had one day ventured to distant lands and planted their flag on the Indus on the cultural frontier of India.
Yet the feeling of not really having made a mark on Indian history persists in the Maharashtrian psyche. One finds that so many historian tomes mention the Maratha empire in passing almost as if it was a transition between a declining Mughal empire and an emerging british enterprise. This was not really so. The maharashtras first appeared nearly a thousand miles from their capital at the gates of Delhi in 1737 and then in the reign of Nanasaheb peshwa undertook to protect the Mughal empire from all internal and external enemies. From 1752 for the next fifty one years the Marathas were the de facto rulers of India and the decade after 1761 was the one when their dominance was challenged and the challenge overcome.
The book is not about Maraths expansion. There are many books that devote themselves to this section of history. The entire Maratha enterprise began with a fight for freedom under the incomparable Shivaji and after the state was overrun by Aurangzeb armies it was resurrected by Tara bai and later under Shahu stewardships by the first four generation of Peshwas hereditary Prime Ministers of the Maratha state.
The Maratha state was strong yet weak on resources spread rapidly yet was not as well organized had a central regime yet during its growth had engendered semi autonomous chiefs. If the rapid spread of Maratha power was due to the personal enterprise and initiative of the chief who were allocated territory to dude the subsequent fissiparous trends also arose from this federal structure. In the society that existed then divides existed based on caste or region and identities changed even as authority came to be concentrated in one set of people. Therefore one finds Balaji vishwanath at an advantage in the early part of his rise; being counted as an outsider and later peshwas losing the support of some of their chief due to the caster and power based animosities that evolved over the decade. These factors made a difference as readers will find in the page to come.
The decline of empire is often the subject of heated debate and involves apportioning of blame to personalities who strode on the stage of history. This is futile exercise and often there is loss of objectivity as parochial passions take over the narration of history as one knows it today. Parochial passions take over the narration of history as one knows it today.
Much is yet unknown much to be discovered from the many thousand that lie in the peshwa archives of Pune waiting for scholars to study them and interpret them in relation to their historical and social context.
The battle of Panipat came just over a hundred years after the principle of westphalian sovereignty was accepted in Europe. This concept governs our existence as nation states to this day. The treatyof Westphalia embodied the concept of territoriality and non-interference by external powers. In the India in 1760 the spectre of annual afghan invasions with massacres loot and religious persecution was very real. The concept of an external agent not being allowed to interfere of settle in India was repeatedly enunciated by sadashiv rao Bhu in his letters in that years. He defended the continued existence of the Mughal emperor as an Indian dynasty who although invader had shaken off their roots become one with India stayed here for two hundred years sadashiv rao sys more than once, we are bound to preserve the chughtai monarchy; we have no desire to forge a treaty with Abadali to make permanent the chugtai monarchy is in our and the Mughal interest or allowing abdali to set up base in India is improper.
Sadashiv rao Bhau and Rahunath rao before him both saw Kandahar and Kabul as part of India. In the ancient Indian epic of Maharashtra the kaurava queen gandhaari was princess of gandhaar or later day Kanadar. The negotiation with abadali carried on for nearly six month broke down repeatedly on the question of what would be the border of India. Bhau would not accept anything less than the Indus and abadli desired to push it forward to sirhind near present day Chandigarh.
The battle of Panipat was fought for more than what is usually imagined. It was fought by a people in the far south of India on behalf of the mughal emperor for the defence of India. Evan bell writes.
The structure of the Maratha kingdom was far from perfect imperfections appear during the growth of a creature in an adverse environment. An empire too is a living organism populated by many personalities their strengths and passions and compulsions. The Maratha sate was no different. Where shivaji the founder of the kingdom with wise pre determination instituted a cabinet of eight ministers to advise him thereby defining the character of the state could be termed the childhood of the empire. After shivaji passing away a storm lasting over twenty six years disrupted the natural progression of the state. I would compare it to a cancer that cuts short the natural growth of a child. The child for a period struggles and fights to survive and when it does it carries the scars of the struggle within its constitution. The Maratha grew in like manner. The kingdom of Shivaji was practically taken over by the Mughals under Aurangzeb and then the resurrection began in Chhatrapati Rajaram reign and gathered speed in the reign of Tara bai his queen the shape and structure of the Maratha kingdom at the end of Aurangzeb fanatical invasion was therefore far from its original self.
The irony is that despite the weak constitution and the many fissiparous tendencies amongst the Maratha and the individualism of their chef the battle of Panipat was fiercely fought. The strong afghans their unitary authority their sturdy horse their well-fed army their religious zeal their larger number and mobile guns all together could not force the issue in short order. The criticism heaped on the Maratha organization and is role in their defeat therefore seems to be pegged on the outcome of the battle which was a close one. In any case none of the participants in the battle could have revivified the defects in the Maratha state when messages came to the peshwa that Scandia and Holkar were defeated and Abdali was lying in wait for an army from the Deccan. A strong response was needed and this book gives the story of how the Marathas rose to the challenge; finally in splendid isolation in the cause of India for Indians.
It is worth looking at the similarity in the perception of Shivaji in the seventeenth century and of sadashiv rao Bhau in the eighteenth century. Shivaji fought and urged for a Deccan for decanis in his faith against the mughals while Bhau urged for an India for Indian. In the hundred or so years that passed between these two position much had changed in the Maratha state but it had not lost the moral and strategic view that it took in the regions it operated in at these times.
The battle of panipat has lesson for the India of today where democracy has come to mean placing the interests of political parties before the interests of the nation and the interest of leaders before the interests of the political partices. The enemies of India outside its boundaries are able to foment dissension inside the territory of India on spurious issues. The nation needs to learn from history. Paniapt is therefore topical and its lessons are as relevant today as they were in the immediate aftermath of the battle.
The reader may find the journey across so many different kingdoms viceroys and emperors and intrigues in the Mughal Maratha and afghan courts and the wars across the vast expanse of the country challenging.
Nevertheless it is a necessary pre condition to understand the forces at work on and off the battlefield that led to this day. The Maratha power of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries remains the only instance when a people from the deccan peninsula invaded the north and reached the Indus and beyond: breaking a trend that extended almost two thousand years or more. The pacific but hardy people at the receiving end for nearly five hundred years finally struck back at the northern enemies who had ravaged their lands and their peoples for centuries.
The battle of Panipat created a temporary vacuum in the northern plains of India and an eclipse of the power that fought at Panipat enabling a foreign power to grow and spread across enfeeble nobility paving the way for their later empire of India. The three days of 14, 15, and 16 January 1761 were really when the English founded their Raj although even they did not know it at the time. The first day vanquished the principal challengers the second day the English defeated the absentee mughal emperor shah alam army in the north and on the third day the English defeated the French in India and took over their city of Pondicherry in the south.
The three battle fought independently but so close to each other finally made the conquest of India possible for the east company.
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