The Third Battle Of Panipat: A Historical Understanding of the Clashes

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The Third Battle of Panipat was one of the most important battles in Indian history. It was the start of the “army of Islam’s” domination in 18th-century India. This article tries to cover a lot of ground when it comes to the battle. Referring to this article on the Third Battle of Panipat can also help you pass the UPSC history section and achieve your objectives. This article is for anyone who wants to learn more about Indian history. The article begins with a general overview of the war and concludes with a list of combat casualties and the war’s outcomes.

Introduction of the Third Battle Of Panipat

  • On 14 January 1761, the Aghan allies and the Marathas fought the Third Battle of Panipat. The battle, like its predecessors, the First Battle of Panipat (21 April 1526) and the Second Battle of Panipat (21 April 1527), took place near Panipat (Haryana) (5, November, 1556). The battleground is around 60 miles (95.5 kilometres) north of Delhi. Historians disagree about the actual location of the fight, but it is believed to be somewhere near present-day Kaalaa Aamb and Sanauli Road.
  • Ahmad Shah Abdali (or Ahmad Shah Durrani) headed the Aghan army, with Indian coalition partners whom he progressively won over via diplomacy. The Rohilla Afghans of the Doab, led by Najib ud Daulah (ethnic Pashtun), Shuja-ud-Daula, the Nawab of Oudh, and minor Mughal components were among these coalition allies. As a result, the coalition partners sided with the Afghan president, considering the alliance to be a “army of Islam.”
  • On the other hand, was the Maratha army led by Sadashivrao Bhau who was Sardar Senapati (Commander-in-Chief). He was initially the Diwan of Peshwa and the nephew of Bajirao. He was supported by Maratha forces of Holkar, Scindia, Gaikwad and Govind Pant Bundele. Suraj Mal who was the Jat ruler of Bharatpur also extended his support but later withdrew which contributed to major losses within the Maratha Empire. 
  • The battle of Panipat III was won by the Afghan army under Ahmad Shah Abdali with the simultaneous defeat of Sadashivrao Bhau and his Maratha army. 

What Led To The Third Battle Of Panipat? 

  • The Mughal-Maratha war, also known as the Deccan War concluded with the weakening of the Mughal empire. The Marathas under the command of Peshwa Bajirao claimed various territories that were under the Mughal occupation. The army of the Marathas defeated the Mughals on the outskirts of Delhi. 
  • Moreover, the Battle of Bhopal was also fought in 1737 which ended with a treaty in favor of the Marathas. States like Gujarat, Malwa etc. came under the Maratha influence. Bajirao’s son, Balaji Bajirao decided to further extend the Maratha influence by occupying Punjab in 1758. Punjab, Sindh and Lahore were under the control of the Durrani empire at that time. He captured Lahore and drove out Timur Shah Durrani who was the legislative leader of the Durrani army. He was also the son of the Afghan king Ahmad Shah Durrani. 
  • The Afghan king was enraged, as he had planned to establish an alliance to battle the Marathas. When the Durrani army arrived in Lahore and Delhi and battled against the weaker Maratha garrisons, the Marathas were defeated for the first time. As a result, Ahmad Shah persuaded Shuja-ud-Daula, the Nawab of Oudh, to support his army against the Marathas.
  • Moreover, as the Maratha empire expanded under Balaji Baji Rao, key intellectuals like Shah Waliullah and other Muslim clergies of the Mughal empire felt challenged. As a result, they pleaded with the Afghan ruler Ahmad Shah Durrari to pose a threat for the Marathas. This further strengthened Abdali’s resolve to attack the Maratha army. 
  • When the Afghan army retreated to Anupshahr, the Marathas occupied the the capital of the Mughals, Delhi. It was already a nearly abandoned city because of multiple invasions in the past and the consequential weaking of the empire. There was an incredible shortage of supplies in the Maratha camp. The Afghans tried their best in cutting off supplies and were successful. The army suffered due to extreme hunger and pleaded with Sadashiv Rao to go for war and die, rather than starve to death. This was the most immediate reason that the Third Battle of Panipat took place. 

Third Battle of Panipat: War Casualties 

  • The Third Fight of Panipat was the largest battle of the eighteenth century, resulting in a large number of losses in a single day. It lasted many days, with a total of 125,000 troops participating. Significant losses occurred on both sides, just as significant profits did. Although the exact number of soldiers killed has yet to be confirmed, it is widely assumed that 60,000-70,000 soldiers died in the fight. (Wikipedia). 
  • Nearly 100,000 are reported to have perished. According to the Bakhar chronicle by Shuja-ud-daula’s Diwan Kashi Raja, 40,000 prisoners of the Marathas were slaughtered on the day following the battle. The book “History of the Marathas” written by the British historian Grant Duff, proves this estimate to be accurate. Additionally, the monograph Panipat 1761( Shejwalker) claims that the Maratha casualties exceeded 100,000 in the Third Battle of Panipat. The variables of the prisoners and the casualties are prone to vary. 

Reasons Why Marathas Lost the Third Battle of Panipat 

Several reasons contributed to the loss of the Maratha army in the Third Battle of Panipat. Some of them are as follows: 

  • The troops including the artillery, cavalry, musketry was significantly higher in the Durrani army than the Marathas. Since the Durrani army was a coalition of four forces, the resultant army was superior in number than the Marathas. Although the Marathas were joined by other Maratha forces, one of them lost confidence and declined to participate in the battle. 
  • After the Marathas started their northward journey to fight a war against the Afghan army, Shuja-ud-Daulah, the Nawab of Awadh was won over by Ahmad Shah Abdali. Eventually, the latter provided immense financial help to the Afghans that supported them during their long stay in India. Unable to gain the favor of the Nawab of Awadh was a crucial point that eventually contributed to the lack of resources or supplies for the Marathas. Whether the Afghan army would have won, if Shuja-ud-Daulah had not borne their expenses remains a matter of discussion. 
  • The Maratha capital was at Pune and the war zone was miles away from it. 
  • Sadashiv Rao was a very strict commander of the Maratha army. He had excessive confidence over his capabilities which had a negative impact on the Maratha expedition. He also denied Raghumathrao the supply of armies that the latter demanded. Since Sadashivrao Bhau was the commander-in-chief, he might be held responsible for the defeat.  
  • He couldn’t maintain friendly relations with the Sikhs who were staunch haters of the Afghans. The Sikhs could have bolstered the Marathas in their fight against the Durrani army.  
  • Sadashivrao Bhau did not have a clear laid out war tactics and decided to take part in the war. He fought valiantly like a hero than command the army. 
  • Bhau couldn’t make proper use of the resources that he was already equipped with like the cavalry and musketry. There was a lack of proper reserve force which could have been an aid in the war. 
  • There are some allegations applied against the Holkars which are thought to be the possible reason for defeat of the Marathas. As per the allegations, he was superficially engaged in the war. Moreover, he ran away from the battlefield with the help of some aid. 
  • Govind Pant Bundela is even accused of resulting in the defeat of the Marathas in the Thid battle of Panipat. He is said to have not supported the armies in the Doab region where they were installed and were lacking in supplies. However, some historians tend to vary from these opinions. 
  • The Rajputs and the Jats could have supported the Maratha army in the battle of Panipat but they had a strong dislike of their stern behavior and ways. 

Aftermath of The Third Battle of Panipat 

  • The Afghans killed several soldiers and civilians at Panipat. Out of revenge, the Afghan soldiers were allowed to create a bloody massacre against the Marathas. Men were killed or taken as prisoners and nearly 22,000 women and children were enslaved (Wikipedia). The severed heads of the Marathas were put on display outside their camps to celebrate their victory. 
  • Ahmad Shah Durrani in a letter to Nanasaheb Peshwa mentioned that he sought peace with the Marathas. He claims to be not the first one to initiate the war and repents the loss of the lives of Vishvasrao and Sadashivrao. He asks Nanasaheb to rule Delhi and leave out Sindh and Punjab. 
  • After a decade, Peshwa Madhavrao revived the Maratha empire under his administration. However, the Maratha rule ended with the ascent of the British empire in India in the early 19th century. 

Wrap Up

The Afghans took over the Marathas with their clever war tactics and the ability to secure the trust of its allies. Moreover, the Marathas were outnumbered by the Afghans in the number of troops and weaponry. The inability to restore food supplies was one of the major reasons why the war was fought untimely by the Marathas. The common fact among the battles of Panipat I, II and III is that it was a victory for the rulers of Islam. However, their administration and methods of rules do not facilitate any comparison. 

Hopefully, this article serves its purpose of sharing vital information related to the third battle of Panipat. This article also aims to help you for your competitive exams including UPSC.  

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