Third Battle of Panipat (1761)

Introduction

The Third Battle of Panipat took place on 14th of January, 1761 between:

the Maratha army and
the combined forces of Ahmad Shah Afdali (Afghan King), Shuja-ud-Daula (Nawab of Begal) and Rohilla Afgans.
The Maratha army under Sadashivrao Bhau was defeated in the Third Battle of Panipat.

The Battle field

The Maratha army, 45,000 strong with a large number of non-combatants in the centre, advanced slowly, but their original plan of mass movement could not be carried out. Sadashivrao Bhau, therefore, reformed his troops in a long line, taking his stand in the centre along with Vishwas Rao, both riding on magnificent war elephants with the Bhagwa Jhanda in their front. To his left was stationed Ibrahim Gardi with his regular battalions, and Damaji Gaikwad on his immediate right. On the Bhau’s right Malhar Rao Holkar and Jankoji Sindhia took their stand. The Bhau did not keep any part of his troops in reserve. The Marathas made a desperate attack attempting to rush through the enemy ranks which consisted of 60,000 combatants, half of whom were foreigners, and almost all were cavalry men with a small number of foot soldiers.

The enemy centre was commanded by the Abdali’s wazir Shah Wali Khan who had the select Durrani cavalry under his charge. Shuja-ud-daula was stationed between the Abdali wazir and Najib-ud-daula. On the right flank were Barkhurdar Khan and Amir Beg at the head of Ruhela and Mughal contingents. The Abdali himself took his stand at the back of his centre near a picked reserve so as to keep his eye on the development of the action in the various parts of the field.

The Maratha attack began in the morning with a fierce discharge of artillery and rockets from Ibrahim Gardi’s heavy guns. The Gardi-Ruhela duel lasted three hours after which in the confused hand-to-hand fighting with the help of the fresh Afghan troops sent by the Abdali, the Gardi battalions were almost annihilated. While this contest was going on, the Abdali’s centre under his wazir was attacked by the Bhau with the whole of the Maratha household cavalry. In spite of the Afghan resistance, the Marathas broke through three of their lines. Shah Wali Khan was bewildered.

The desperate resistance of Najib-ud-daula to a Maratha charge ultimately saved the situation. At this time, the Abdali threw in his fresh reserves and sent round his military police to force the stragglers who were running away to the rear, to proceed to the front. He posted 4,000 men to cover his right and dispatched 10,000 troops to reinforce his wazir Shah Wali Khan with instructions to charge with sword in hand. At the same time, he ordered Shah Parsand Khan and Najib-ud-daula to take the Maratha centre in flank. The Afghan swivel guns mounted on camels were now ordered to fire. The enemy camels galloped along the lines and began firing swivels from their saddles into the closed ranks of the Marathas. The simultaneous counter attacks by fresh troops launched all along the lines at the time when the Marathas were tired and hungry, brought about their collapse. Still they contested the ground, inch by inch, and for full two hours there was such a deadly struggle that nothing could be seen or heard except the clash and rattle of weapons and battle cries of the rival armies. At about 2.15 p.m. a chance bullet struck Vishwas Rao and killed him. The Bhau now desperately threw himself on the enemy, fought for an hour longer and was killed in the confusion. At this, all of a sudden the Maratha resistance collapsed.

Loss

Thousands of soldiers of both the sided were killed in the battle. The Marathas lost prominent leaders like Vishwas Rao, the eldest son of the Peshwa Balaji Rao, the Bhau himself, Jaswant Rao Pawar, Tukoji Scindia and a few others. Jankoji Scindia was severely wounded and later put to death. Ibrahim Gardi was taken prisoner and also put to death. Malhar Rao Holkar had fled from the field leaving Jankoji Scindia to his fate, and he safely reached Poona.

Mahadji Sindhia, though wounded, saved himself by flight.

Conclusion

The battle proved to be absolutely decisive. There was great collapse of the Maratha military power. The Maratha dream for the establishment of their dominion over entire country was shattered as the consequence of their defeat at Panipat.

The most important consequence of the Maratha defeat was that it paved the path of the British supremacy in India. The political star of British East India company was now rising.

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