The First Battle of Panipat

There are a total of three battles that go by the name ‘Battle of Panipat’. The first such battle is of concern here. The battle fought, as its name suggests, in Panipat (some distance north of Delhi) was significant in many respects. For one thing, it marked the beginning of the Mughal Empire. For another, its use of heavy artillery for its time made it a very gruesome affair.

The First Battle of Panipat, as it’s called, took place on April 21, 1526. It was fought between Babur – who descended from a Central Asian Pashtun family having a distant relation to Genghis Khan – and the then proclaimed Sultan of Delhi, Ibrahim Lodi.

The battle marked the end of the Delhi Sultanate which had already become weary and tyrannical and marked the beginning of the rule of the Mughals in India.

The Battle is further important for the tactics used. We very easily talk of “shock and awe” while referring to the recent US invasion of Iraq, but this was perhaps among the first places where this term could be truly applied. I say this, because it marked the commencement of the use of firearms and artillery in what can be called the history of Indian warfare. These heavy-duty weapons were used by Babur’s side, who though having a smaller army in terms of numbers, actually won due to their unexpected presence. Lodi, of course, succumbed to his injuries and died in battle, making the capture of territory all the more facile.

The Baburnama becomes a valid historical source for this, stating the widespread bloodshed of humans. There is however no trace of animals injured or killed in battle, but one can conjecture that their number should be added to the loss of life.

We talk of modernity hitting Indian land all of a sudden at various points – some date it to the entry of the British, some further back to the Mughal period. If the later is true, then surely the Battle of Panipat marked a turning point towards the onslaught of modernity (and all its trappings).