The second battle of Panipat was fought between the forces of Samrat Hem Chandra Vikramaditya, who was also called Hemu, the Hindu king who was ruling North India from Delhi and the army of Jala-ud-din Muhhamad Akbar on November 5th 1556. This was a very significant war not only for Akbar, but also for his generals Khan Zaman 1 and Bairam Khan.
On January 24th 1556, Emperor Humayun died and was succeeded by his son Akbar at Kalanaur, who was only 13 years old at that time. At the time Akbar took over the throne the Mughal rule was confined to Kabul, Kandhar, parts of Delhi and Punjab. Akbar was campaigning in Kabul with his guardian Bairam Khan. Samrat Hem Chandra Vikramaditya was a Hindu king in Delhi and belonged to Rewari, in present day Haryana. He had earlier on been an advisor to Sher Shah Suri’s son, Islam Shah from 1545- 1553 and had won 22 wars as prime minister and chief if army of Islam Shah from 1553- 1556 to extinguish Afghan rebellion against the Sur regime.
At the time of Humayun’s death in January 1556, Hemu had just crushed a rebellion in Bengal, killing the Bengal ruler Muhammad Shah in war. After this, Hemu made his intention of winning Delhi for himself known to his commanders; then began a series of wars in Northern India which Hemu won. When Hemu attacked Agra, Akbar’s commander’s fled without a fight and as a result of this, large areas of Etawah, Kalpi and Agra provinces comprising of present day Bihar and Uttar Pradesh came under Hemu’s control. At the Gwalior Fort, Hemu amalgamated his army by recruiting more Hindus and then moved towards Delhi and stationed his forced outside the city at Tuglaqabad.
On October 6th 1556 Hemu’s army faced Mughal resistance, leading to a brutal fight Akbar’s after which army were banished by Hemu. Tardi Beg, the commander of the Mughal army, escaped, allowing Hemu to capture Delhi. This war lead to the death of 3000 Mughals and Hemu was crowned at Purana Quila on October 7th 1556 and established Hindu rule in North India, after 350 years of Muslim rule and was awarded the title of Samrat Hem Chandra Vikramaditya. According to Abul Fazl in the Akbarnama, Hemu wanted to attack Kabul and made some significant changes in his army.
These developments in Delhi and Agra were disturbing the Mughals in Kalanaur and many Mughal generals advised Akbar to depart for Kabul as the Mughal forces may not face Hemu’s might and they also wanted to be watchful about the new awareness created among the Hindus to liberate their country, but Bairam Kahn was in favour of going to war against Hemu.
On November 5th 1556, both armies met on the historic battle of Panipat where thirty years earlier Akbar’s grandfather, Babur had defeated Ibrahim Lodi, the then Sultan of Delhi and which is now known as the first battle of Panipat. The Mughal forces were charged repeatedly by elephants to break their line. Hemu was commanding his forces himself, from atop an elephant and it seemed that Hemu was on a winning track and Akbar’s army would ultimately accept defeat and return back. However, Khan Zaman 1, a war veteran, knowing they had a much smaller army as compared to Hemu, had other plans. Warriors at that time, including Hemu, wore amour that covered their entire body, including their vital organs, except their eyes. After many unsuccessful attempts, a stray arrow struck Hemu’s eye and he was knocked over senseless and almost dead in his “Howda” (elephant seat). Not seeing him in his elephant seat, Hemu’s army was confused and this ultimately resulted in their defeat. Almost dead, Hemu was captured by Shah Quli Khan Mahram and brought to Akbar‘s tent in the camp situated at village Saudhapurin Panipat. General Bairam Khan wanted Akbar to slay Hemu and attain the title of “Ghazi” (Champion of Faith or War Veteran), but Akbar refused to strike a dead enemy and instead decided to smote the body to attain the title of Ghazi. Bairam Khan annoyed by Akbar’s hesitation beheaded Hemu himself, after which Hemu’s supporters erected a Cenotaph at the site of the beheading, which still exists in the village of Saudhapur.
After Hemu was beheaded, his head was sent to Kabul to be displayed outside the “Delhi Darwaza” to convince Mughals that the great warrior and the winner of 22 wars had finally been killed. Hemu’s torso was sent to Delhi and hanged outside the Purana Quila on a “gibbet”. This was the beginning of Akbar’s rule across India, a reign which lasted for almost 50 years, fulfilling the destiny of Mughals in India as rulers.