The Third Battle of Panipat and the Triumph of Ahmad Shah Durrani
As we follow the battle of Panipat, today we bring to you the third and the final battle of Panipat fought on January 14th 1761 between the forces of the Maratha Confederacy and the coalition of the kings of Afghanistan, Ahmad Shah Durrani (also known as Ahmed Shah Abdali) and his two Indian Muslim allies; The Rohilla Afghans of Doab and the Nawab of Oudh, Shuja-ud-Saula. The battle was fought at Panipat in present day Haryana, 95.5 kms from Delhi.
The third battle of Panipat is known to be one of the largest battles fought in the 18th century and perhaps has the largest causalities in a single day reported in a classic formation between two armies. The Mughal Empire was on a steady decline, especially after the 27 years Mughal-Maratha war from 1680 to 1707.
Under the control of Peshwa Baji Rao, Gujarat and Malwa came under Maratha control and in 1737; Baji Rao defeated the Mughals on the outskirts of Delhi and brought much of the former Mughal territories, south of Delhi under Maratha control. Baji Rao’s son, Balaji Baji Rao (also known as Nana Saheb) further increased the Maratha territory by invading Punjab in 1758. This brought the Maraths into direct confrontation with the Durrani Empire of Ahmad Shah Abdali. In 1759, Abdali formed an army from the Pashtun tribes and made several gains against the smaller Maratha garrison in Punjab, joining his Indian allies- The Rohilla Afghans of Doab, forming an alliance against the Marathas.
The Marathas, on the other hand, under the command of Sadashivrao Bhau responded by gathering an army of 40,000-60,000 , out of these 20,000 were non- combatants, may of whom were pilgrims, destined to pilgrimage sites in North India. The Marathas started their northward journey from Patdur on March 14th 1760 and their slow moving camp finally reached Delhi on August 1st 1760 after which they took Delhi the very next day. What followed were a string of clashes by the banks of the Yamuna River, including the Battle of Kunjipur, which the Marathas won, against an Afghan army of about 15000 men. Abdali and other Afghan forces were on the eastern side of the Yanmuna, however Abdali daringly crossed over the river on October 25th at Baghpath, cutting off the Maratha camp from their base in Delhi. This led to a two month long siege led by Abdali against the Marathas in the town of Panipat.
During the siege, both sides tried to cut off food supplies to each others camps and by the end of November 1760, the Afghans had managed to cut off almost all food supplies to the Maratha camp. Food in the Maratha camp began running out by late December to early January and cattle began to die by the thousands. On January 13th, the Maratha chief begged their commander Sadashiv Rao Bhau to lead them to battle rather than they die of starvation. The next day the Maratha’s left their camp and marched south towards the Afghan camp, desperate to break the siege. The two armies came face to face at 8 am and the war waged on till the evening resulting in victory for Ahmad Shah Abdali and his army.
The result of the war was that the Maratha advances over North India were halted and their territories were destabilized. Sadashiv Rao Bhau was killed in the war and his body was recovered by the Afghans and under the personal direction of Ahmad Shah was cremated according to Hindu customs. The third battle of Panipat saw an enormous number of causalities and deaths in a single day of battle. This was the last major battle between indigenous South Asian military powers until the creation of Pakistan in 1947.
To save their kingdom, the Mughals once again changed sides and welcomed the Afghans to Delhi. The Mughals remained in nominal control over small areas of India, but were never a force again. The Mughal empire official ended when its last Emperor, Bahadur Shah 2, was accused of being involved in the sepoy mutiny and exiled to Rangoon (present day Burma).
The Maratha expansion were stopped after the war and they soon broke into infighting their empire; never regaining any unity. Though they regained their position under the next Peshwa Madhavarao 1 and by 177 were back in control of the north, finally occupying Delhi. However after the death of Madhavarao, due to infighting and increasing pressure from the British, their claim to the Empire officially ended in 1818, after three wars with the British.