Amit Paranjape’s Blog

Commemorating 250 years of the Battle of Panipat

Posted in History, Pune by Amit Paranjape on January 13, 2011

3rd Battle Of Panipat (image credit: wikipedia)

January 14, 1761 – the fateful day that forever will live in the infamy of Pune, Maharashtra and India history. This was the day that coined a new word in the Marathi lexicon: ‘Panipat’ (literally means ‘a disaster’ in Marathi).

This was the day when Sadashivrao Bhau’s armies were defeated in a bloody battle against Ahmedshah Abdalli on the plains of Panipat, 100km north of Delhi, in one of the biggest battles witnessed in India in the 18th century. The causalities and destruction on both sides were very high; even the victor couldn’t consolidate his position significantly.

This was the day where a culmination of many strategic and tactical mistakes finally caught up with the Marathas. This was the day when the Maratha Empire took a big step down from its absolute peak. This was the day from whose shock Nanasaheb Peshwe never recovered – and eventually died later in the same year.

[The fact that the Maratha Empire was able to rise back to a respectable level again owes a lot to the great Madhavrao Peshwe, who inherited a shocked and weakened post-Panipat empire at a young age of 16. In a short span of 12 years, before he fell to tuberculosis, he brought about a huge turnaround. British historian Grant Duff summarizes this quite well: “…the plains of Panipat were not more fatal to the Maratha Empire than the early end of this excellent prince”] 

Maratha Empire in 1760 (image credit: wikipedia)

This was the day where many great instances of individual bravery and heroism were witnessed. This was the day that quite possibly changed the course of Indian history. The British who had just won their first major victory in India at Plassey in 1757 got an opening.

Today, we solemnly commemorate the 250th anniversary of 3rd battle of Panipat. This is the time to remember the heroism; and also to learn from the mistakes. Today we remember Sadashivrao Bhau, Vishwasrao, Dattaji Shinde, Ibrahim Gardi and countless other brave soldiers who fell in that fateful battle, 250 years ago. All over Maharashtra and India, many functions have been organized to remember this day, including some at Panipat.

Numerous books and research works have been published on this topic. To get an overview, I would recommend the reader start with this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Panipat_(1761)

——Update on Feb 7, 2011—–

Vishwas Patil has written one of the most popular books about the Battle of Panipat. Originally written in Marathi nearly 20 years back, it has had many new editions/reprints and has been translated into other languages as well. Here is a nice indepth interview of Vishwas Patil (4 parts):

——-Update on Jan 13, 2013——

One of the best books to read on this topic is ‘Solstice at Panipat’ by Dr. Uday Kulkarni. Highly recommended. You can check out the book’s facebook page here:  http://www.facebook.com/SOLSTICE.AT.PANIPAT?fref=ts

Good review of ‘Solstice at Panipat’ by Manimughda S Sharma: ‘Panipat 3 resurrected’ http://blogs.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/parthian-shot/entry/panipat-3-resurrected


14 Responses

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  1. Anil Paranjape said, on January 13, 2011 at 2:23 pm

    Good remembrance Amit. Was hoping to get a little more ‘Amiticisms’ in the post though. What’s your own perspective and thought on all this: Panipat, Maratha empire, 250 year anniversary celebrations and most importantly, its relevance today?

  2. Amit Paranjape said, on January 13, 2011 at 2:31 pm

    Anil – Thanks. This article was intended to be a short commemorative piece. I might write something detailed sometime in future, around the points that you have mentioned…That will definitely not be a short article — Let’s see when I can get to it!

    Note – I am not a history scholar. As you know, many experts have discussed and debated this topic at great lengths.

  3. Bhooshan said, on January 13, 2011 at 5:04 pm

    Thanks for this reminder of one of the most glorious days in history of Maratha Empire. Individual soldiers and their commanders almost won the battle in spite of a series of fatal mistakes by their General !
    We maharashtrians have still not recovered from the loss psychologically, otherwise there would be at least one prime minister from this state !
    Maharashtrians have decidedly taken a turn for intellectual leadership for the nation and avoided real action since that day 250 years ago !
    Young generation moves on aggressively, most don’t know or care about Panipat, maybe it is good for their psyche to find the winning spirit again.

  4. parikshit said, on January 13, 2011 at 5:51 pm

    battle of panipat was the turning point of modern indian history , it resulted in the family politics in the maratha empire , the british took advantage of that and started to interfere with the pune court. the empire fell with in just 40 years. though its a disaster for our side but historians argue that its not a defeat as if it could be the country would have come under islamic invaders again which didnt happened. abdali suffered so much loss that he never tried to attack india again. we remember the great soldiers who were starving for days but still fought like a lion. In the words of a famous marathi poet ram ganesh gadkari

    Nahi ladhle , ladnar hi nacha kuni ya pari ya jagati
    tasay marathe gilche mothe , kalit ladhle panpati !!

  5. Vitthal sawant said, on January 13, 2011 at 10:40 pm

    Thanks Amit for writing this article.

    Maharashtra should remember this day and should celebrate it every year. This was the example of what an Indians can do to save our identities.

    I think Maratha’s lost this battle because of personal politics rather than battle tactics.

    Then majorforces in the north India like Najib, nawab of ayodhya, jats, shinde, holkars were not in favour of peshwa to manage north India politics. they sensed that after the battle, vishwasrao under sadashivrao will capture delhi throne. So all these north indian forces directly or indirectly helped abdali to defeat peshwa and his future plans. British might have played some role behind the scene.

  6. Narayan Venkatasubramanyan said, on January 14, 2011 at 12:10 am

    a couple of tangential points:

    what is it about panipat that made it such an attractive place for big battles? the battle you refer to is the second huge one: the first involve babur and lodi (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Panipat_(1526)). is panipat to battles what lords is to cricket?🙂 jokes aside, i’m sure there is more to this. something about the geography? good stadium seating, perhaps?🙂

    one of the most striking differences between indians and chinese is what we learn from our history. during my travels in china, i stumbled upon something that i believe is key to the chinese view of themselves and the world they live in: more than anything else, the chinese fear internal divisions because that is what has always opened the door to external invaders (hence the obsession with taiwan and the u.s. influence there). for some reason, despite having experienced similar episodes, i do not see the same level of “indian-ness” in india. your emphasis on maratha power and one of the comments about india not having had a marathi pm are two indicators (yes, the chinese have these divisions too — jiang zemin is known to be the head of the shanghai clique that others envy/fear/compete against, but you wouldn’t know that from the outside).

  7. Amit Paranjape said, on January 14, 2011 at 1:28 am

    Narayan – Thanks for your comments, and Chinese perspective. Panipat has witnessed 3 major battles: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Panipat
    As you have mentioned, its location/geography(plains beyond Yamuna, near Delhi) have something do with it being center stage for these major battles.

  8. Sameer said, on January 14, 2011 at 3:48 am

    Thanks for remembering and pointing out this anniversary. Indeed, this was a watershed event in the history of Maharashtra and India.

    Check out this detailed and interesting article on Rediff by Colonel (Dr.) Anil Athale about this battle:
    http://www.rediff.com/news/column/250-years-on-battle-of-panipat-revisited/20110113.htm

    On a side note, a few years ago there was an excellent Marathi natak called “raNangaN” based on this battle.

  9. Vivek Tuljapurkar said, on January 15, 2011 at 1:41 pm

    The most heartbreaking event in Maratha history.

    But I have read quite a bit of analysis of the loss from various scholars; it was very eye opening. All things considered, Marathas were already in decline at the time of Panipat.

    Bernard Lewis says in one of his books that the lessons of history are taught most unequivocally on the battlefield (or something like that).

    Bajirao the First was one of the very few undefeated generals in world history; his mastery over strategic mobility was a key to his success. However, Panipat generals had forgotten all about battle tactics.

    We Indians get caught up in emotions too easily, and forget to do our duty. When Vishwasrao fell during the battle, Sadashiv Rao Bhau basically sacrificed himself. He thought it was his responsibility to protect Vishwasrao, and he felt ashamed that he had failed to do so. Had he faught on, victory was all but certain. He forgot all about his duty, and let his emotions cause such a massive setback. If you don’t agree with me, just remember why Lord Krishna had to tell Geeta to Arjuna.

    Marathas also were late to adopt firearms and change their battle tactics accordingly. The eighteenth century saw the rise of firearms as the primary weapon for battle. Shivaji’s guerilla warfare worked well in his time and in his situation, Bajirao’s strategic mobility worked well for him; subsequent generations of Maratha rulers stuck to those tactics and failed to evolve with times.

    Marathas achieved many, many great things and I am as proud of their accomplishments as anyone but the reality is a victory at Panipat would only have delayed the inevitable.

  10. Amit Khivesara said, on February 2, 2011 at 1:48 am

    My ex-wife tol me that Apa Balawant Choke in Poona is namd after a General who died in Panipat…Are there othr Poona plcaes named after Panipat warriors ?

  11. Amit Paranjape said, on February 7, 2011 at 10:58 am

    Amit – Thanks for your comments. As far as I know, the Appa Balwant Chowk was named after Sardar Appa Balwant Mehendale, who fought at the Battle of Panipat. Another locality in the old Pune city: “Sadashiv Peth” is named after Sadashivrao Bhau.

  12. Upamanyu Pathare said, on February 9, 2011 at 7:05 pm

    Very good post amit.. The Third Battle of Panipat was indeed a sad event for the Marathas.. India would probably never have come under the Britain’s complete control had the Marathas not collapsed…
    @Vivek I dont think lack of firearms resulted in the Marathas’ defeat, both sides had European Aritllery and guns. Poor leadership and wrong tactics played were more responsible for the defeat…

  13. Vinay Deolalikar said, on February 12, 2011 at 7:16 am

    Namaskar,

    I have been reading primary and secondary sources on this battle for some time now. The sequence of events that led to the defeat are very depressing. The army found itself in a siege, with its supply lines cut off, and with 3 times as many non-combatants as combatants (because the women had accompanied the men intending to do tirthayatra in kurukshetra). Food ran out about 3 weeks before the battle. Since the supply and communication lines were cut off by Abdali, there was no way of knowing whether or not the 50,000 strong reinforcement from Poona was near, or far. Finally, when starvation deaths were being reported daily, the army decided to fight and die rather than starve to death. A good part of the responsibility must be borne by Nana Saheb Peshwa, who delayed sending reinforcements for 6 weeks in order to celebrate his wedding in Paithan.

    Strategically, the marathas should never have ventured so far north of their base in Delhi. They did so in order to fulfill the promises made to the womenfolk regarding pilgrimage to Kurukshetra. When Abdali forded the Yamuna at Baghpat, this meant the entire supply lines was cut off. This was the strategic blunder that finally resulted in the defeat.

  14. Veena Adige said, on April 13, 2011 at 1:10 pm

    Yes, history would have changed completely if the Marathas had won the third battle of Panipat. Though one would never know what exactly happened, the fact is that it was disunity among Indian rulers and lack of support from non marathas to the marathas that led to this defeat. Wish we would learn from history and not let it repeat itself. On a brighter side, Anna Hazare has shown that unity can dispel any problems.


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