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Nadir Shah's Invasion of India

  • Name of the Battle: Nadir Shah's Invasion of India
  • Venue: Karnal, Haryana
  • Year: 1739 AD

It was in the year 1739, Nadir Shar, the Shah of Iran and the founder of the Afsharid dynasty, invaded India and brought about a boisterous and damaging mark on the history of Mughal India. The invasion of India by Nadir Shah—one of the most mammoth calamities that had taken place during that period—brought about a complete destruction of the already weakened Mughal Empire.

The reasons that led to the battle

There was a void in the Mughal Empire after the death of Aurangzeb, and his successors could not fill in his place. There were frequent fights for the throne and the ministers betrayed each other, which led into the weakening of the mighty Mughal Empire. Nadir Shah, during that time, became the ruler of Persia, after being a chief of dacoits. And he considered this period of weak Mughal Empire as the right opportunity to seize power and invade India. There were many reasons that led Nadir Shah to conquer India. One reason was that during that time, Muhammad Shah, the Mughal emperor of Delhi, had humiliated the Persian envoy at Delhi's royal court. Muhammad Shah completely stopped exchange of ambassadors with the royal court of Persia. This was a great insult to Nadir Shah, which compelled him to invade India. He was also compelled to invade India because Muhammad Shah had refused to return the refugees under the Mughal Empire. Another reason that led to the invasion was to plunder the huge wealth of India that Nadir Shah came to know about.

The strength of warring forces

Nadir Shah led his army which consisted of 80,000 army men. He placed 3,000 of his army men in the front as a clear line of defence against the Mughal army. The Mughal Army had 2,00,000 cavalry and 1,500 elephants. The Mughal Emperor also used 8,000 pieces of artillery, drawn by oxen and elephants.

Aftermath of the battle: winner and loser
  • Winner: Nadir Shah, the Persian ruler
  • Loser: Muhammad Shah, the Mughal emperor
Nadir Shah advanced towards India in 1738. He captured the western frontiers of Mughal Empire such as Kabul, Ghazni, Lahore in 1739. When Nadir Shah crossed Khyber Pass, the Governor of Punjab requested for the strengthening of the army force in Punjab to the Mughal emperor. But, Muhammad Shah, the Mughal emperor of Delhi, did not pay heed to his request. Soon Nadir Shah entered Punjab with great force and then Muhammad Shah sent the Mughal forces, led by Khan Dauran and Nizam-ul-Mulk, to fight against Nadir Shah. However, the two declined, and so Muhammad Shah led the forces himself. The two forces of Nadir Shah and Muhammad Shah met at Karnal. At the battle of Karnal on 13 February 1739, Nadir Shah easily outnumbered the Mughal forces. The battle lasted for less than three hours and the Mughal emperor, Muhammad Shah surrendered. Both the rulers now entered Delhi on 12 March 1739 and Delhi was handed over to Nadir Shah, along with all its treasures. He occupied Shah Jahan's royal suite in the Red Fort and held a great durbar in the capital the next day.

The larger implications of the battle

However, as soon as Nadir Shah ascended the throne of Delhi, riots sparked off in the streets of Delhi in which a number of Persian soldiers were killed. When, Nadir Shah saw the bodies of Persian soldiers in the streets, he was disturbed and enraged. He ordered a general massacre of Delhi, which was also known as the infamous “Qatal-e-am”. During this massacre, the citizens of Delhi were looted and raided. Many locations of Delhi like Dariba Kalan, Fatehpuri, Chandni Chowk, Hauz Kazi, Faiz Bazar, Lahori, Johri Bazar, Ajmeri and Kabuli gates, were soon covered with corpses of both Hindus and Muslims. There were many who resorted to killing themselves and their wives and children instead of submitting to the Persians. Nadir Shah slaughtered everyone in the city for 6 hours in a day and killed lakhs of people in the city. The exact figure was not known. After the massacre, the bodies were simply buried in burial pits or cremated in mass funeral pyres.

The overall place and significance of the battle in the Indian history

The whole city of Delhi was destroyed, looted, plundered and ruined by the army of Nadir Shah. Nadir Shah took with him the Peacock throne built by Shah Jahan. He also took the legendary “Koh-i-noor” diamond. Besides this, he plundered gold worth 10 million rupees, 600 million rupees worth of jewellery, and coins worth 6 million rupees. Historian said that his overall collection after invading India, was 700 million rupees worth, including 7000 craftsmen, 200 carpenters, 100 stone-cutters and thousands of elephants, horses and camels, which he took with him to Persia.

Nadir Shah's invasion of India was a clear depiction of brutality and inhumane treatment meted out to the people of the city, the first of its kind in the history of India. The massacre of Delhi left the Mughals so weak that they could not fight against other enemies or regain their strength. There was an irreparable damage done to the Mughal Empire by this invasion. Mughal provinces were surrendered to the Persians. Nadir Shah's successor Ahmad Shah Abdali, following his tactics, too invaded India many times between 1748 and 1767 and raided Delhi.

It is said the booty collected from Delhi was so massive that taxation was stopped in Iran by Nadir Shah, for a period of 3 years, after he returned to his kingdom. Now that Nadir Shah was victorious against the falling Mughal Empire in the East, he could not pay much attention towards the West to face his Ottoman enemies, which led to the Ottoman-Persian War in 1743.

Historians say that Nadir's campaign against India led the British East India Company know about the weakness of the Mughal Empire and paved their way to enter India and fill the power vacuum. Historians say that had Nadir not invaded India, Britishers would have entered India late or would not have come at all.

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Last Updated on : December 30, 2014