The Second Battle of Panipat was fought on 5 November 1556, between the Hindu emperor of north India Hema Chandra Vikramaditya also known as hemu and forces of Akbar.
Hemu had conquered the states of Delhi and Agra a few weeks earlier by defeating the Mughals led by Tardi Beg Khan at the Battle of Delhi and proclaimed himself Raja Vikramaditya at a coronation in Purana Quila in Delhi.
Akbar and his guardian Bairam Khan who, after learning of the loss of Agra and Delhi, had marched to Panipat to reclaim the lost territories.
Hemu and his forces held the numerical superiority.
However, Hemu was wounded by an arrow in the middle of the Second Battle of Panipat and fell unconscious.
Seeing their leader going down, his army panicked and dispersed. Unconscious and almost dead, Hemu was captured and subsequently beheaded by Bairam Khan later on.
The Second Battle of Panipat ended in a decisive Mughal victory.
Background Second Battle of Panipat
He was succeeded by his younger son, Islam Shah Suri, who was a capable ruler.
However, upon his death in 1553, the Sur Empire was caught up in a succession Second Battle of Panipat and was plagued by rebellion and the secession of provinces.
Islam Shah’s rightful successor, his 12-year-old son, Firoz Khan, had been murdered by his maternal uncle, who had taken the throne as Adil Shah Suri.
The new ruler was however, more interested in the pursuit of pleasure than in the affairs of his state.
Those were largely left to Hemu, an old Hindu associate of Sher Shah Suri from Rewari, who had risen from humble circumstances to become both Adil Shah’s Chief Minister as well as the general of the Suri army.
He was in Bengal when Humayun died on 26 January 1556.
The Mughal emperor’s death provided an ideal opportunity to Hemu to defeat the Mughals and reclaim lost territory.
Hemu started a rapid march from Bengal and drove the Mughals out of Bayana, Etawah, Bharthana, Bidhuna, Lakhna, Sambhal, Kalpi, and Narnaul.
In Agra, the governor evacuated the city and fled without a fight upon hearing of Hemu’s impending invasion.
In pursuit of the governor, Hemu reached Tughlaqabad, a village just outside Delhi where he ran into the forces of the Mughal governor of Delhi, Tardi Beg Khan, and defeated them in the Second Battle of Panipat of Tughlaqabad.
Prelude Second Battle of Panipat
On hearing the disastrous news from Tughlaqabad, Humayun’s successor, the 13-year-old Akbar and his guardian Bairam Khan soon set off for Delhi.
In a stroke of luck, Ali Quli Khan Shaibani (later Khan-i-Zaman), who had been sent ahead with a 10,000-strong cavalry force, chanced upon Hemu’s artillery which was being transported under a weak guard.
He was easily able to capture the entire train of artillery from the Afghans who abandoned the guns and fled without making a stand.
On 5 November 1556, the Mughal army met Hemu’s army at the historic battlefield of Panipat.
Akbar and Bairam Khan stayed in the rear, eight miles from the Second Battle of Panipat ground.
Formation Second Battle of Panipat
The Mughal army was led by Ali Quli Khan Shaibani with his 10,000 cavalry in the centre with Sikandar Khan Uzbak on the right and Abdulla Khan Uzbak towards the left.
The vanguard was led by Husain Quli Beg and Shah Quli Mahram and included Bairam Khan’s detachment of Turks.
Hemu’s army was numerically superior counting among its ranks a 30,000-strong cavalry force consisting of Afghan horsemen and an elephant contingent numbering 500.
Hemu led his army himself into Second Battle of Panipat, atop an elephant named Hawai.
His left was led by his sister’s son, Ramya, and the right by Shadi Khan Kakkar.
His army was an experienced and confident lot and Hemu had, by this time, been victorious in 22 Second Battles of Panipat from Bengal to Punjab.
In this battle however, Hemu had no artillery.
Second Battle of Panipat
Two armies so collided
That they struck fire out of water;
You’d say the air was all crimsoned daggers,
Their steel had all become solid rubies.
Hemu began the attack himself and loosed his elephants among the right and left wings of the Mughals.
Those soldiers who were able to escape the rampage, rather than retreating, chose to veer to the sides and attack the flanks of Hemu’s cavalry, pelting them with their superior archery.
The Mughal centre also advanced and took up a defensive position before a deep ravine.
Neither Hemu’s elephant nor his horse units were able to cross the chasm to reach their opponents and were vulnerable to the projectile weapons being fired from the other side.
Meanwhile, the Mughal cavalry on their swift mounts had made inroads into the Afghan ranks from the flanks as well as the rear and began targeting the elephants, either slashing at the legs of the great beasts or taking out their riders.
Hemu was forced to pull back his elephants and the Afghan attack relented.
Seeing the Afghan attack slackening, Ali Quli Khan led his cavalry out, circling around and falling upon the Afghan centre from the rear.
Hemu, monitoring the battlefield from his howdah atop Hawai, immediately hurried to counter this charge.
Even after seeing Shadi Khan Kakkar and another of his able lieutenants, Bhagwan Das, go down, he continued to lead counterattacks against the Mughals, running down any who challenged his elephants.
It was a desperately contested Second Battle of Panipat but the advantage seemed to have tilted in favour of Hemu.
Both the wings of the Mughal army had been driven back and Hemu moved his contingent of war elephants and cavalry forward to crush their centre.
It was at this point that Hemu, possibly on the cusp of victory, was wounded when he was struck in the eye by a chance Mughal arrow and collapsed unconscious.
The Second Battle of Panipat was lost; 5,000 dead lay on the field of Second Battle of Panipat and many more were killed while fleeing.
Aftermath Second Battle of Panipat
The elephant carrying the unconscious and almost dead Hemu was captured after several hours of finishing the Second Battle of Panipat and led to the Mughal camp.
Bairam Khan asked the 13-year-old Akbar to behead Hemu, but he refused to take the sword to a dead man.
Akbar was persuaded to touch Hemu’s head with his sword after which Bairam Khan executed him.
Several supporters and relatives of Hemu were beheaded and a minaret  was later erected.
The painting of this minarette is one of the popular 56 paintings of Akbar’s life in his copy of the Akbarnama.
With the passing of Hemu, Adil Shah’s fortunes also took a turn for the worse.
The spoils from the battle at Panipat included 120 of Hemu’s war elephants whose destructive rampages so impressed the Mughals that the animals soon became an integral part of their military strategies.
References Second Battle of Panipat
- Sarkar, Jadunath (1960). Military History of India. Orient Longmans. pp. 66–69.
- Tripathi, Ram Prasad (1960). Rise and Fall of the Mughal Empire (2nd ed.). pp. 158–77.
- Chandra, Satish (2004). Medieval India: From Sultanate To The Mughals, Part II: Mughal Empire (1526–1748) (Third ed.). Har-Anand Publications. pp. 91–93. ISBN 9788124110669. Retrieved 17 November 2014.
- Qanungo, Kalika Ranjan (1965). Sher Shah and his Times. Orient Longmans. pp. 448–449.
- Richards, John F. (1995). The Mughal Empire (The New Cambridge History of India). Cambridge University Press. p. 13. ISBN 9780521566032.
- Roy, Kaushik (2004). India’s historic battles : from Alexander the Great to Kargil. Delhi: Permanent Black. pp. 68–79. ISBN 9788178241098. Retrieved 17 July 2016.
- Roy, Kaushik (2013). “Fazl, Abul (1551–1602)”. In Coetzee, Daniel; Eysturlid, Lee W. (eds.). Philosophers of war: the evolution of history’s greatest military thinkers. Santa Barbara: Praeger. pp. 43–47. ISBN 978-0-313-07033-4. Retrieved 20 July 2016.