In the textbooks of my childhood, we used to read about the three battles of Panipat. It is almost impossible to recollect and count the exact number of hours I had devoted towards learning about those battles. Their details always got mixed up amongst themselves and confused me a lot making it so difficult to remember about who fought with whom. The very name of Panipat made an indelible mark on my young mind to be remembered only as a battle-field. Sometimes I also used to think that people of Panipat must be very war-loving as they fought three battles in a row. Otherwise, how that could have been possible that people had chosen it for three battles? I always wanted to know the reasons behind selection of Panipat as a battleground by different rulers in different times. “What are the present states of those famous battlegrounds?” was another question that kept haunting me even when I grew up. Time passed by, my son entered into the seventh grade and started reading about those battles. His text books again fuelled and rekindled the desire to visit Panipat.
The Panipat is situated only at a distance of 100 kilometers from Delhi on the famous and smooth National Highway 1 via Sonipat. Panipat claims to be in existence since the Mahabharata days. It is stated to be one of the five prasthas (villages) demanded by the Pandavas. Those, who are familiar with this part of the country, generally prefer to have their morning breakfast at a place called Murthal, situated just near Sonipat. The eateries on the left side of the highway serve excellent stuffed parathas with tremendous amount of butter.
After breakfast, we proceeded ahead and reached near Panipat. A flyover has been constructed to enable the vehicles to bypass the city for going towards Karnal. Those, who wish to enter into the city of Panipat, should take the left exit a little before the Panipat flyover. One should be very careful about taking this exit; otherwise the flyover would take one over the entire city.
Our trip was an un-planned one. We had neither asked anyone about the locations of the battle fields nor were carrying any electronic GPS with us. The reality struck us soon when we entered into the city. It was almost impossible for a casual visitor to find out the battle fields. The modern construction and multi-storied buildings along the highways were giving the city as an intimidating look. At first look, it was just looking like any mid-sized Indian city, with unplanned growth, narrow roads and like a concrete jungle. Crowded and too noisy markets along-side the main roads were busy with activities. Without any help, it was almost impossible to locate the battle fields.
We asked a couple of local shop-keepers. They did not know about those battlefields. We asked some more people and they also could not reply. It appeared that 07 out of 10 members of local populace do not remember about those pieces of extreme historical importance that have given Panipat such recognition in the world. It was very disheartening. I was cursing myself for not preparing well for this journey thinking it as small pie for its distance of only 100-kilometers. Standing at the middle of the crowded market, however, I could remember the name of the Haryana Government tourism property as “Hotel Skylark”. Fortunately, it was known to the first shop-keeper whom I had asked for the direction. Following the clues given by him, we went to the hotel. There we saw a board showing the map of the tourist spots situated in the city. So, from that reference point, our real search of the battlefields began.
After the death of Sikandar Lodi in 1517 AD, his son Ibrahim Lodi came to power at Delhi. There are two versions about the causes of the First battle of Panipat. As per the board erected by the Archeological Survey of India, Chandigarh Zone, the rise of Ibrahim Lodi to the throne of Delhi was not acceptable to his uncle (Alam Khan), who conspired with the then governor of Lahore (Daulat Khan Lodi). At their behest, Babur came to battle with Ibrahim Lodi. The second version says that Babur went after Daulat Khan Lodi in Peshawar but could not find him there as he was in Punjab at that time. So, he pursued Daulat Khan upto Punjab. After conquering Punjab, he wanted to proceed to Delhi.
The Lodi Sultanate was then at its prime. They had a large army. So, they decided to fight the battle at the outskirts of Delhi. Panipat, being at a distance of only 100 Kms from Delhi and being on the direct boundary, was chosen as the place. It proved to be the battle of two different war doctrines. If Ibrahim Lodi had a large army and a number of war elephants, Babur had the canons and an efficient strategy for fighting the battles of those times. So, on 21st April 1526 AD, his forces defeated the larger army. The Sultan of Delhi, Ibrahim Lodi, was killed in the battle. Babur went on to form the famous Mughal Dynasty, which ruled India for more than three centuries.
500 years hence, the battlefield of the first battle was found near an old Goddess Durga Temple in the tehsil camp area. It was surrounded by the modern construction all around. The municipal corporation of Panipat had constructed a barricaded enclosure around it and had named it as Ibrahim Lodi Park. The park was inaugurated in 2006. The bronze statues of the Mughal canons have been erected inside the park near the tomb of Ibrahim Lodi, which stands on a high platform erected by the British. An inscription in Urdu was also put on one of the walls of platform so as to preserve the history.
After that, we went to see the location of the second battle. It was situated at the Sodhapur village on the Panipat-Jind road towards west of the Panipat city and was marked on the map as the ‘Hemu Samadhi Sthal’. But reaching there was not easy. There was no marking anywhere. Everyone I asked pretended to be ignorant about such a place. Lastly, I went inside a TB hospital where I found an octogenarian man, who could identify the location. When we went to that place, we found the Samadhi sthal duly encroached. It had been christened as a dargah and was painted green. It was locked from outside. Of late, I read in the Wikipedia about the encroachment and my observations were confirmed.
So, there I was standing at a place where Akbar had beheaded Samrat Hemchandra alias “Hemu” in the second battle of Panipat in 1556 AD. After winning the 22 battles in a row, Hemu had captured Delhi and anointed himself as “Samrat”. The Mughal commanders, while fleeing away to Kabul, had taken a last chance at the battle at Panipat. In the battle, initially Hemu’s forces were winning, but suddenly he was struck by an arrow in the eye. When he was not visible to his soldiers, they thought that he had been killed. So, the army fled the venue. Hemu was later captured and was beheaded. His head was sent to Kabul to be hanged outside Delhi Darwaza and torso was hanged outside Purana Quila in Delhi to teach a lesson. That war again decided and changed the course of Indian History by re-establishing the Mughal sultanate. The only reason for selecting Panipat as the battle field seems to be its location on the route of Kabul and just on the brinks of Delhi. With the wheat fields of Punjab on its side, the Mughal Army had plenty of rations for catering to the soldiers.
Watching the location of the second battle going to be lost forever, I came back with heavy heart as it was the time for searching for the third location. It was situated in a village called “kala-amb” at a distance of about 08 kilometers towards east of the main city. I had met a knowledgeable person at the Durga Temple, who had informed me the route. However, till I reached near the village through a single peaceful road, none other had any information about that place. It was really remarkable that the common people of that city had forgotten about the battles that seemed to define their identity.
Anyway, the place of the third battle was in a better shape and was well preserved mainly due to the political protection it enjoys due to a society that has good patrons. The other reason seems to be its locational advantage being a little away from the main city and its markets. The entire ground was well guarded with a boundary wall. The walking footpaths were neatly laid. Historical details of the three battles were depicted on the board and on the wall. A small parking facility, cemented chairs to relax a bit and facility for drinking water etc. were available there. At an open space, the images of the third battle were carved on two big copper plates.
But, the highlight of the third battle was the location where Maratha Commander Sadashiv Rao Bhau was killed in the battle between Marathas and the Ahmed Shah Abdali in 1761 AD. This battle is known as the third battle of Panipat. After the death of Aurangzeb, the Mughal Empire had weakened. It was the time when Nadir Shah (1739) had looted Delhi and thereafter Ahmad Shah Abdali had taken away much of Punjab province. The local satraps of the Empire had established their own states. The Marathas power had risen and threatened the Mughals and had become the single largest power in the then India. The third battle of Panipat was a result of long drawn skirmishes between the Afgan and the Marathas. They chose Kala-amb village with an idea to cut the supplies of the opposite army. The Marathas thought that they would be able to cut the supply route from Punjab to cripple the Afgan army and the Afgans tried to stop the supplies to Marathas from Delhi. With the help of Nawab of Oudh, the Afgans were able to be successful in their strategy and that resulted in the heavy losses to the Marathas. In the fight that ensued Sadasiv Rao Bhau was killed beneath a mango tree of a variety that produced dark-green (nearing black) leaves. Due to its leaves, that mango tree was named as “Kala-amb”.
The defeat of Marathas ultimately proved to be beneficial to the British, who took advantage of the power vacuum. It is said that the third battle of Panipat had paved the way towards the British domination of the India as a country. The British built a brick pillar on the very place where Sadashiv Rao Bhau had been killed. An iron-rod adorns the top of the pillar. The entire memorial is surrounded by an iron fence. For the first time in Panipat, standing near the brick pillar, it felt as if the historical event had just happened. Standing in silence, I bid adieu to those great soldiers and left the place.
I had seen all the three locations in Panipat, where three battles had taken place. All those battles had changed the course of the history of our nation. The first battle had taken place in 1526. The second battle took place just after thirty years. In 1556, there might be a few people who would have seen the first battle too. Thereafter, the city grew silently for 200 years. When the memories of all earlier battles faded away, its citizen saw the third battle in 1761. Since then 250 years have lapsed and the local populace have forgotten the pains and sorrows of the earlier battles. God forbid if this city again becomes a battleground for the seekers of the ultimate prize of Delhi!