Third Battle of Panipat

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The Third battle of Panipat 13 January 1761. Ahmad Shah Durrani rides a brown horse, on the left, Najib Khan and Shuja-ud-Daula, on the right are Ahmad Khan Bangash and Hafiz Rahmat Khan, and before them a cavalry attack is made by Shah Wali Khan. A wounded Sadashivrao Bhau is being helped on the horse.

The Third Battle of Panipat took place on 14 January 1761, at Panipat, about 60 miles (97 km) north of Delhi between a northern expeditionary force of the Maratha Empire and a coalition of the King of Afghanistan, Ahmad Shah Abdali with two Indian Muslim allies—the Rohilla Afghans of the Doab, and Shuja-ud-Daula, the Nawab of Awadh. Militarily, the battle pitted the French-supplied artillery and cavalry of the Marathas against the heavy cavalry and mounted artillery (zamburak and jizail) of the Afghans and Rohillas led by Ahmad Shah Durrani and Najib-ud-Daulah, both ethnic Afghans (the former is also known as Ahmad Shah Abdali). The battle is considered one of the largest fought in the 18th century, and has perhaps the largest number of fatalities in a single day reported in a classic formation battle between two armies.


  • In 1926 there arose a controversy as to who really won the third battle of Panipat, fought in 1761. It was contended for the Muslims that it was a great victory for them because Ahmad Shah Abdali had I lakh of soldiers while the Mahrattas had 4 to 6 lakhs. The Hindus replied that it was a victory to them—a victory to [the] vanquished—because it stemmed the tide of Muslim invasions. The Muslims were not prepared to admit defeat at the hands of Hindus, and claimed that they will always prove superior to the Hindus. To prove the eternal superiority of Muslims over Hindus, it was proposed by one Maulana Akbar Shah Khan of Najibabad in all seriousness, that the Hindus and Muslims should fight, under test conditions, [a] fourth battle on the same fateful plain of Panipat. The Maulana accordingly issued/17/ a challenge to Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya in the following terms: "If you Malaviyaji, are making efforts to falsify the result at Panipat, I shall show you an easy and an excellent way (of testing it). Use your well-known influence and induce the British Government to permit the fourth battle of Panipat to be fought without hindrance from the authorities. I am ready to provide. . . .a comparative test of the valour and fighting spirit of the Hindus and the Musalmans. . . .As there are seven crores of Musalmans in India, I shall arrive on a fixed date on the plain of Panipat with 700 Musalmans representing the seven crores of Muslims in India and as there are 22 crores of Hindus I allow you to come with 2,200 Hindus. The proper thing is not to use cannon, machine guns or bombs: only swords and javelins and spears, bows and arrows and daggers should be used. If you cannot accept the post of generalissimo of the Hindu host, you may give it to any descendant of Sadashivrao/18/ or Vishwasrao so that their scions may have an opportunity to avenge the defeat of their ancestors in 1761. But any way do come as a spectator; for on seeing the result of this battle you will have to change your views, and I hope there will be then an end of the present discord and fighting in the country. . . .In conclusion I beg to add that among the 700 men that I shall bring there will be no Pathans or Afghans as you are mortally afraid of them. So I shall bring with me only Indian Musalmans of good family who are staunch adherents of Shariat."
    • Quoted in B.R. Ambedkar, Pakistan or The Partition of India (1946)
  • The dead lay strewn shoulder to shoulder from the plain of Panipat to Delhi. About ninety thousand persons, male and female, were taken prisoners, and obtained eternal happiness by embracing the Muhammadan faith. Indeed, never was such splendid victory achieved from the time of Amir Mahmud Subuktigin.
    • Muhammad Aslam in his Farhat-un-Nazirin. Quoted in K.S. Lal, Growth of Muslim Population in Medieval India (1973) 14. also Quoted in K.S. Lal, Indian Muslims, who are they, 1990. (K.S. Lal is skeptical about the claim that 90,000 people were converted.)
  • …We have already brought Lahore, Multan, Kashmir and other subahs on this side of Attock under our rule for the most part, and places which have not come under our rule we shall soon bring under us. Ahmad Khan Abdali's son Taimur Sultan and Jahan Khan have been pursued by our troops, and their troops completely looted. Both of them have now reached Peshawar with a few broken troops...we have decided to extend our rule up to Kandahar.
    • Raghoba's letter to the Peshwa 4th of May 1758; India's Historic Battles: From Alexander the Great to Kargil By Dr Kaushik Roy p 80-81
  • …All control of power is with the Hindus because they are the only people who are industrious and adaptable. Riches and prosperity are theirs, while Muslims have nothing but poverty and misery. At this juncture you are the only person, who has the initiative, the foresight, the power and capability to defeat the enemy and free the Muslims from the clutches of the infidels. God forbid if their domination continues, Muslims will even forget Islam and become undistinguishable from the non-Muslims
    • Shah Waliullah in his appeal for help from the Afghan King Ahmed Shah Abdali; Dr. Sayed Riaz Ahmad in his book Maulana Maududi and Islamic state, Lahore People's Publishing House, page 15 - 1976.
  • The cup is full to the brim, and cannot hold another drop. If anything can be done, do it. If not, let me know plainly and at once; for afterwards there will be no time for writing, or for speech
    • The Bhao appealing to his emissary prior to the Marhatta attack
  • “You profess to be a Hindu; but how is that you have kept this mosque standing so long?” said the Bhao
    “Maharaj! Of late, the Royal fortune of Hindustan has become fickle in her favour like a courtesan; to-night she is in the arms of one man and next in the embrace of another. If I could be sure that I should remain master of these territories all through my life, I would have leveled this mosque down to the earth. But of what use will it be, if I to-day destroy this mosque, and tomorrow the Musalmans come, and demolish the great temples and build four mosques in place of one? As your Excellency has come to these parts the affair is now in your hands.”
    • Suraj Mal; K.R. Qanungo, History of the Jats, Ed Dr Vir Singh, Delhi, 2003, p. 73
  • Though, after all, the will of God will be done, it behoves us not the less to help destiny to be beneficent by our own best endeavours. Think carefully, consult Her Highness, your mother: I am not fond of trouble, and should not have come all this distance to see your Excellency were I not deeply interested.
    • Najib Ud Daula Afghan Rohilla Chief to Nawab of Oudh, successfully appealing to him to join the Abdali Campaign
  • What, have I come from the south relying on your strength? I will do what I like. You may stay here or go back to your own place. After overthrowing the Abdali, I shall come to reckoning with you.
    • The Bhao to Suraj Mal, in a conversation that ended the Jat-Maratha alliance; K.R. Qanungo, History of the Jats, Ed Dr Vir Singh, Delhi, 2003, p. 78
  • Whither would you run, friends, your country is far from here.
    • Shah Wali, Ahmed Shah's Prime Minister vainly trying to rally the courage of his followers, of whom many were in full retreat during the Marathas initial charge.
  • Two pearls have been dissolved, 27 gold coins have been lost and of the silver and copper the total cannot be cast up.
    • The cryptic message received by Peshwa Nanasaheb prior to hearing of his Army's destruction
  • To make the long and painful story short, it may just be mentioned that after the Third Battle of Panipat (1761), “the plunder of the (Maratha) camp was prodigious, and women and children who survived were driven off as slaves - twenty-two thousand (women), of the highest rank in the land, says the Siyar-ul-Mutakhkhirin.”
    • Rawlinson, H.G., in C.H.I., IV, p. 424 and n. quoted from Lal, K. S. (1992). The legacy of Muslim rule in India. New Delhi: Aditya Prakashan. Chapter 7
  • 'Next morning the sun revealed a horrid spectacle on the vast plain south of PAnipat. On the actual field of the combat thirty-one distinct heaps of the slain were counted, the number of bodies in each ranging from 500 upwards to 1000 and in four up to 1500 a rough total of 28,000. In addition to these, the ditch round the Maratha camp was full of dead bodies, partly the victims of disease and famine during the long siege and partly wounded men who had crawled out of the fighting to die there. West and south of PAnipat city, the jungle and the road in the line of MarAtha retreat were littered with the remains of those who had fallen unresisting in the relentless DurrAni pursuit or from hunger and exhaustion. Their number - probably three-fourths non-combatants and one-fourth soldiers - could not have been far short of the vast total of those slain in the battlefield. 'The hundreds who lay down wounded, perished from the severity of the cold.'....
    'After the havoc of combat followed massacre in cold blood. Several hundreds of MarAthas had hidden themselves in the hostile city of PAnipat through folly or helplessness; and these were hunted out next day and put to the sword. According to one plausible account, the sons of Abdus Samad Khan and Mian Qutb received the DurrAni king's permission to avenge their father's death by an indiscriminate massacre of the MarAthas for one day, and in this way nearly nine thousand men perished; these were evidently non-combatants. The eyewitness Kashiraj Pandit thus describes the scene: 'Every Durrani soldier brought away a hundred or two of prisoners and slew them in the outskirts of their camp, crying out, When I started from our country, my mother, father, sister and wife told me to slay so may kafirs for their sake after we had gained the victory in this holy war, so that the religious merit of this act [of infidel slaying] might accrue to them. In this way, thousands of soldiers and other persons were massacred. In the Shah's camp, except the quarters of himself and his nobles, every tent had a heap of severed heads before it. One may say that it was verily doomsday for the MarAtha people.'....
    The booty captured within the entrenchment was beyond calculation and the regiments of Khans [i.e. 8000 troopers of AbdAli clansmen] did not, as far as possible, allow other troops like the IrAnis and the TurAnis to share in the plunder; they took possession of everything themselves, but sold to the Indian soldiers handsome Brahman women for one tuman and good horses for two tumans each.' The Deccani prisoners, male and female reduced to slavery by the victorious army numbered 22,000, many of them being the sons and other relatives of the sardArs or middle class men. Among them 'rose-limbed slave girls' are mentioned.' Besides these 22,000 unhappy captives, some four hundred officers and 6000 men fled for refuge to ShujA-ud-daulah's camp, and were sent back to the Deccan with monetary help by that nawab, at the request of his Hindu officers. The total loss of the MarAthas after the battle is put at 50,000 horses, captured either by the AfghAn army or the villagers along the route of flight, two hundred thousand draught cattle, some thousands of camels, five hundred elephants, besides cash and jewellery. 'Every trooper of the Shah brought away ten, and sometimes twenty camels laden with money. The captured horses were beyond count but none of them was of value; they came like droves of sheep in their thousands.
    • Jadunath Sarkar, Fall of the Mughal Empire, Volume II, Fourth Edition, New Delhi, 1991, p.210-11
  • And after the Third Battle of Panipat (1761), “the unhappy prisoners were paraded in long lines, given a little parched grain and a drink of water, and beheaded… and the women and children who survived were driven off as slaves - twenty-two thousand, many of them of the highest rank in the land, says the Siyar-ut-Mutakhirin.”
    • H. G. Rawlinson in Cambridge History of India., quoted from Lal, K. S. (1994). Muslim slave system in medieval India. New Delhi: Aditya Prakashan. Chapter 12
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