The Second Battle of Panipat of 1556 is of prime importance in the Indian history because, it marks the demolishment of the Afghan rule in India, reestablishing the superiority of the Mughal rule in India. It was fought on the 5th of November, 1556 between the forces of Adil Shah Suri, under the leadership of proclaimed samrat, Hemchandra Vikramaditya, commonly known as Hemu, and the Great Mughal Emperor Akbar who was only 13 years old then.
Backdrop of the Battle
Hemu had annexed Delhi only a month ago in the Battle of Delhi and had proclaimed himself as the king under the Emperorship of Adil Shah Suri. After Babur established the mighty Mughal Empire in India, it was bent on its knees during the time of Humayun when he lost his right to the throne after a massive defeat by Sher Shah Suri who laid the foundation of the Sur Dynasty in India.
As a result, the pivotal states of Delhi and Agra were acceded into the hands of Sher Shah Suri. However, following his death at Kalinjar in 1540, there was a massive debate, confusion and third for succession to Sher Shah’s throne. Taking advantage of this weak link due to internal disharmony and jarring cacophony, Humayun defeated Sikandar Shah Suri and recaptured control over Agra and Delhi on 23rd July 1555.
Islam Shah’s successor to the throne was Feroz Khan who was only 12 years old. Feroz Khan was however, murdered by his mother’s brother who assumed the throne as Adil Shah Suri. But Adil Shah was not at all an apt and diligent ruler and was mostly interested in leading a peaceful and extravagant life.
Therefore, he left the affairs of the state in the hands of an able staff of him, Hemchandra, also known as Hemu, from Rewari. Hemu later rose to prominent positions of the Chief Minister of Adil Shah’s empire and later its Chief of Army. Humayun died in Bengal on 26th January 1556. This opportunity was used by Hemu, who was there in Bengal during that time to defeat the Mughals and acquire their territory.
Hemchandra initiated his armed acquisition from Bengal and finally ended up clearing the Mughals out of Bayana, Etawa, Sambhal, Kalpi, and Narnaul. The Mughal governor of Agra fled the city without combat when he heard about Hemchandra’s annexation spree.
The search for the Governor ended up taking Hemu to Tughlaqabad grounds outside Delhi. There, finally he was able to find and face the Mughal Governor Tardi Beg Khan in the Battle of Tughlaqabad. The battle continued for a day, as a result of which , on October 7th, 1556 Hemchandra rose to prominence, so much so, that he even claimed the title of Vikramaditya and proclaimed himself to be a King under Adil Shah’s rule.
Immediate events before the Battle
Humayun died leaving his son, the 13-year old Akbar as his successor to the Mughal Empire. In spite of being so young, he was proficient in war and political skills. As the news of Beg Khan’s defeat at Tughlaqabad reached Akbar, he, along with his personal advisor and guard, Bairam Khan, set out for Delhi.
At this stage, something happened which perhaps became a huge reason why the Mughals were able to defeat Hemchandra’s forces. Akbar had sent Ali Quli Khan Shaibani with a strong cavalry of ten thousand men towards Hemu’s territory. On the way, out of sheer luck, they came across Hemu’s artillery which was being transported with meager security arrangements. As a result, Ali Quli Khan Shibani captured the artillery for use against Hemu.
On 5th November, 1556, the historic Second Battle of Panipat took place. Ali Quli Khan Shaibani with his cavalry men in the center led the Mughal army into the battlefield. Brother Sikandar Khan Uzbak and Abdulla Khan Uzbak assumed the right and left sides of the army formation respectively.
Although Hemchandra’s army outnumbered Akbar’s, he was badly defeated. The battle was one of the fiercest that mankind had ever seen. One stanza in the Akbarnama states,
“Two armies so collided
That they struck fire out of water;
You’d say the air was all crimsoned daggers,
Their Steel had all become solid rubies.”
The Mughals had superior military technology and better composite bows and arrows which allowed them to shoot even while being mounted atop horses. Akbar even had the advantage of using Hemu’s entire artillery against him. One of the principal highlights of Hemu’s forces were the mounted army of elephants and horses which were covered in metal armour and armed with crossbows atop.
Hemchandra led his army into the battlefield himself. He was bustling with confidence. He had after all won over twenty-two battles for Adil Shah Suri. His right was taken by Shadi Khan Kakkar and left by his sister’s son Ramya.
Akbar and Bairam Khan however, took a more wise decision of staying back and coordinating the army himself. Because of overconfidence and blunder, Hemu was injured midway into the battle with an arrow and fell unconscious. Seeing their king fall, his army also lost confidence.
Outcome of the War
Hemchandra was finally captured by the Mughal army and taken as a war prisoner. When time came, as per customs to behead Hemchandra by Akbar, he deterred from doing so, saying that it would not be in the right ideals to kill a dying man with such brutality.
This established Akbar as a great emperor in history who never fought the unarmed and for whom, human ideals were of paramount importance. However, because of the customs and tradition, he was made to touch Hemu’s head with his sword only. The actual beheading was done by Bairam Khan. The war ended with a tremendous victory for the Mughals and the Mughal rule continued undisturbed for about another 300 years.
It is said that after beheading, Hemu’s head was hung on display at a Delhi gate and his body was sent to his ancestors in Kabul. Hemu’s supporters later constructed a memorial at Panipat at the place where he was beheaded. The monument came to be known as Hemu’s Samadhi Sthal.