Third Battle of Panipat (1761) Modern India History Notes

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The Third Battle of Panipat was fought on 14 January 1761 between the Maratha Empire and the Afghan invaders. On one side it was the force of the Maratha Empire and on the other side, a coalition of the King of Afghanistan, Ahmad Shah Durrani and his allies. The battle is considered to be one of the most important battles in the history of India. In 1526, the Mughals established their rule in India when they defeated Ibrahim Lodi at the Battle of Panipat, but in 1761, Ahmad Shah Abdali crushed them on the same battlefield. You will learn about the third Battle of Panipat in this article which will assist you in your preparation for the UPSC and other government exams.

Causes of the Third Battle of Panipat

A treaty was signed by the Peshwa and the Mughal emperor in 1752 granting them authority to carry out Chauth in India as a whole. The Mughal emperor was also assured that the Peshwa would assist him when necessary. In this manner, the Marathas became involved in northern India’s politics. Gradually, they impressed the Mughal emperors to the point where they supervised court affairs there. A growing strength of the Marathas, however, did not be digested by the Afghans or Persians, so they invited the Afghan ruler, Ahmad Shah Abdali, to invade India. Because Ahmad Shah Abdali considered Multan, Punjab and Kashmir as part of his empire, he interfered in Delhi’s politics.

Another factor contributing to the war was the rivalry between Ahmad Shah Abdali and the Marathas. The Marathas conquered Delhi in 1757, forcing Najibullah to flee from the city after Ahmad Shah Abdali established control over Delhi in 1749. Their influence over the Mughal emperor was now stronger. Marathas destroyed Rohilkhand, which was ruled by a relative of Ahmad Shah Abdali, so the ruling family encouraged Ahmad Shah to invade the Marathas. The Marathas ousted Timur, a son of Ahmad Shah from Punjab who considered Punjab his province.

A very ambitious king, Ahmad Shah Abdali wished to maintain an army large enough to control his vast empire. Maintaining his army was difficult for him, so after establishing his control over the fertile Punjab region, he devised a plan to capture the wealth of India.

Events of the third Battle of Panipat

Awadh’s Nawab, Shuja-ud-Daulah, was attempting to be brought into both the Marathas’ and Afghan camps. Eventually, Shuja-ud-Daulah joined the Afghan-Rohilla coalition, choosing to be a member of the ‘army of Islam.’ Shuja provided much-needed funds for the Afghans’ lengthy stay in North India, which was a strategic setback for the Marathas. In this way, Durrani had the support of the Rohillas of the Doab and Shuja-ud-daulah, the Nawab of Awadh, whereas the Marathas failed to garner the support of the Rajputs, Jats, and Sikhs.

After conquering Punjab in 1759, Ahmad Shah Abdali advanced very rapidly to Delhi and faced Dattaji Scindia at Launi near Delhi in 1760. Dattaji was killed and Ahmad Shah Abdali established his rule over Delhi.

In the absence of Ahmad Shah Abdali, Balaji Baji Rao recovered Delhi with the aid of Sadashiva Rao. Sadashiva Rao strengthened his army to fight against the Afghans. Finally, both armies reached Panipat on November 1760.

Despite being handicapped by supplies, both sides negotiated for peace. However, both sides could not reach a peaceful settlement. Thus, in January 1761, the third battle of the Panipat war broke out. Between the armies of the Marathas and the Afghans, pitched battles were fought at various centers. The Marathas lost this battle.

In the streets of Panipat, the Afghan army massacred thousands of Maratha soldiers and civilians immediately following the battle. Afghan camps took the vanquished women and children as slaves. Around 40,000 Maratha prisoners were killed in cold blood just a day after the battle. Sadashivrao Bhau and Vishwasrao, the Peshwa’s son, were among those killed.

Results of the third Battle of Panipat

In Delhi on 24th February 1761, Ahmad Shah Abdali declared Shah Alam emperor and appointed Najib Khan Mir Bakhshi. Meanwhile, Abdali’s soldiers revolted against him due to the fact that they had not been paid their salaries for a long time and were unable to receive wealth from the Indian government. Both parties were disinterested in continuing the war.

In the end, a treaty was reached between the two parties after a lot of discussion. However, Peshwa Balaji Baji Rao died before it could be signed. The treaty was delayed for two years due to Najib Khan’s anti-treaty activities. In February 1763, the Marathas and Afghans signed the treaty.

For approximately ten years, the northern Maratha territories were destabilised by the battle of Panipat, which was halted by the reign of Peshwa Madhavrao, who is credited with reviving Maratha dominance. During the year 1771, ten years after Panipat, Peshwa Madhavrao led a large Maratha army into North India to regain Maratha dominance and to punish those rulers who either sided with the Afghans, such as the Rohillas, or weakened Maratha dominance after Panipat.

Reasons of the defeat of the Marathas in the Third Battle of Panipat

60,000 soldiers were in Abdali’s army, while 45,000 Maratha soldiers were under Bhauji’s command. This contemporary records indicate that Abdali’s army was larger than Bhauji’s.

In the Maratha camp at Panipat, famine prevailed. The Afghan war had cut off the road to Delhi. Soldiers and horses were in desperate need of food. The carcasses of men and beasts lying uncreamated and unburied made the Maratha camp a virtual hell. There was no grain to eat until 13th January 1761, and the soldiers had not eaten for the last two days. However, Afghans maintained a continuous supply line with Doab and Delhi.

The Afghan troops followed a single plan under strict discipline. While Abali’s troops used muskets, the Marathas fought almost entirely with swords and lances.

The Maratha mutual jealousy greatly weakened their side. Their individualistic nature and military tactics caused them to fail. They disliked teamwork and defied discipline.

As the commander of the Marathi force, Sadashiva Rao was held responsible for the defeat in the war. Bhau failed to maintain friendly relations with the Sikhs, Ahmad Shah Abdali’s enemies.

Also, Holkar didn’t check Najib’s anti-Maratha activities prior to the defeat. He also didn’t help Bhao on the battlefield wholeheartedly. Finally, he fled the battlefield with Najib’s help and left Jankoji vulnerable.

All the Muslim powers in northern India rallied to Ahmed Shah’s side, but the Marathas had to fight alone. The Hindu powers, such as the Jats and Rajputs, did not support them. Even, the Sikhs, the enemies of the Afghans, did not help the Marathas.

Significance of the Third Battle of Panipat

In the aftermath of Panipat, the Mughals and Marathas were devastated in their dreams of retaining their power. However, the Marathas were able to rise to power shortly afterwards, which gave a severe blow to their glory. Sikhs gained strength in the Punjab as their power declined in the north.

As a result of the war disaster, the Maratha lost both men and money. The disaster was so great that for nearly three months the Peshwa could not obtain authentic details about the casualties. Only a few thousands of the one lakh people escaped alive.

Due to the battle of Panipat, the Marathas ended abruptly. The decline of the Marathas in the north led to the rise of the British power in India. When the Marathas tried to establish themselves in the north, they had to struggle against the Britishers for their survival.

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