This Week in History

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This Week in History
21 April 1526: The First Battle of Panipat leads to the emergence of the Mughal Empire in India

  Karthik Manoharan

On 21 April 1526, the troops of Babur, a Timurid descendant from Central Asia, met those of Ibrahim Lodhi in Panipat, leading to the defeat of the Lodhi dynasty and the establishment of the Mughal empire in India.

Babur, Lodhi and the Road to Panipat
Babur inherited a place called Fergana after Timur's big empire broke up. But Fergana was caught between two strong neighbours: the Safavids from Iran and the Uzbeks from Central Asia. Babur had a tough time surviving between them. He kept winning and losing Samarkand in present-day Uzbekistan. Finally, in 1504, he settled in Kabul. While in Kabul, Babur heard about India and got curious. From 1504 to 1524, he attacked India's northwest frontier four times. But his main job was to control the troublesome Pathan tribes in Afghanistan, especially the Yusufzais.

By 1512, Babur gave up on Samarkand. He started thinking about a new empire across the Indus River in India. He thought it was his right because his ancestor Timur had conquered those lands before. Babur was quoted as saying: "I had never ceased to think of the conquest of Hindustan." His relentless pursuit led him to invade India, and the latter's political unrest provided an opportunity for his ambitions. Following the death of Sikandar Lodi in 1517, Ibrahim Lodi ascended to the throne amidst a politically unstable North India. During this period, Daulat Khan Lodi, the powerful Afghan chief and Governor of Punjab, engaged in a prolonged conflict with Babur over the region of Bhera. However, recognizing Ibrahim Lodi's authoritarian rule, Daulat Khan and his son Dilawar Khan extended a deceitful invitation to Babur, urging him to overthrow the tyrant. Babur, sceptical of Daulat Khan's true intentions, faced him in battle when the latter marched against him in Lahore in 1525 with a significant force. Despite the odds, Babur emerged victorious and pardoned Daulat Khan upon surrendering. 

Exploiting this victory, Babur crossed the Indus River and swiftly conquered the Punjab province within three weeks. This irked Ibrahim Lodi, setting the stage for the landmark First Battle of Panipat on 21 April 1526.

The Battle of Panipat, April 1526
Situated near Panipat in present-day Haryana, the First Battle of Panipat witnessed Ibrahim Lodi's massive force, boasting 100,000 men and 1,000 elephants, against Babur's modest army of merely 15,000 men. Although outnumbered, Babur's ingenious war tactics, such as Tulghuma (a division of the military into different units) and Araba (cart-mounted cannons), demonstrated his strategic superiority.

Babur also benefitted from the expertise of two master gunners from the Ottoman Empire. Their deployment of gunpowder in battle created chaos among Lodi's forces, causing the elephants to stampede their soldiers. Babur's men skillfully encircled Lodi's army, leaving them trapped and with no escape route. Despite fighting valiantly with a mere 5,000 men, Lodi met his demise. Babur attributed his victory not only to his gunmen but also to the prowess of his archers.

The Rise of the Mughal Empire
The resounding victory at the First Battle of Panipat opened the gates for the mighty Mughal rule in India. With Delhi and Agra under his dominion, Babur tapped into Lodi's treasury, alleviating his financial burdens. However, the Mughals faced intense hostility from the people of Delhi and Agra, who resisted the rule of a descendant of Timur, given the bitter memories of Timurid invasions. Many of Babur's men were also unprepared for long-term settlement in India. Nevertheless, Babur remained resolute in his vision of building a mighty empire, relying on India's vast resources.

The First Battle of Panipat became the turning point that allowed him to lay the foundation for the illustrious Mughal Empire. While faced with initial resistance and challenges, Babur's determination and strategic brilliance enabled him to create an empire that would flourish for the next three centuries. His triumph at Panipat marked a milestone in the history of India, forever altering its political and cultural landscape.

After the first Battle of Panipat in 1526, Babur employed various strategies to consolidate his empire. Military conquests saw him capture Delhi and Agra, securing his authority in the region. Diplomatic alliances were forged with local rulers, gaining their support and curbing resistance. Administrative reforms established a centralized system, ensuring efficient governance and tax collection. Babur embraced cultural diversity, patronizing art, literature, and architecture to foster unity. Economic development initiatives included infrastructure improvement and promotion of trade and agriculture. Babur also meticulously planned for succession, grooming his son, Humayun, for leadership. 

All the above efforts led to the formation of the Mughal Empire in India.

About the author
Karthik Manoharan is a PhD Scholar at the Department of History, Loyola College, Chennai.

In the Series:
17 April 1895: The Treaty of Shimonoseki ends the first Sino-Japan War (1894-95)
17 April 1975: Khmer Rouge captures Phnom Penh in Cambodia, establishing the Pol Pot regime
16 April 1917: Lenin issues “April Theses”
04 April 1968: Martin Luther King Jr assassinated
18 March 2014: Russia annexes Crimea
14 March 1879: Albert Einstein born in Germany
14 March 1849: The Sikh Army surrenders to the British
12 March 1918: Lenin shifts the capital to Moscow
11 March 1985: Mikhail Gorbachev becomes the General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union

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