9:56 am - Saturday November 1, 2014

THE GREAT STORM IN THE PLAIN OF KHANWA: THE BATTLE OF KHANWA

Mar 19, 2014 1073 Viewed 1 respond

Background of the War:

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Babur in a portrait

          India in the late 1520’s was the theatre of military dramas; each day new plots were designed, and every month political players changed sides. The winner of this high melodrama was a foreigner who was basically a Chagtai Turk, he had the blood of Chenghis Khan and Timur flowing in his veins. However this amazing cultural mix was not the only thing about him, he was also a superb military commander and extraordinary adventurer. A year before the Battle of Khanwa he had fought and won the First Battle of Panipat. In doing so he had wiped out the name of Ibrahim Lodhi from the royal court of Delhi. The riches he obtained from this exploit was simply jaw dropping, however he had distributed all this wealth quite generously among his followers. From the five star rated general to the common foot soldiers everyone had been offered a share to the Imperial loot. Each men in Kabul where Babur came from was given a ‘sharukhi’ a small coin. Relishing all these gold, silver and jewels were not in his character and it was certainly not to be. The story of his exploit was reverberating in each nook and corner of India, and men with similar passion and aspiration were pulling up their shocks. Adding to discomfort of this complex political setting, were the impatience and anxiety of his men who disliked the harsh climate and the barren feature of the new land. Babur had to choose one from the two options he had, stay and rule Hindustan, or make this a temporary plundering adventurer. We know that he choose the first option however this was not only by acclimatizing, building palaces and gardens around Agra but by conquering his most dreaded enemy Rana Sanga.

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Depiction of Rana Sanga

Rana Sanga (also known as Rana Sangram) quite simply was the guardian and the custodian of the Rajput Kingdom. That says very little about him, perhaps it would be proper to say that he was an icon of Rajput chivalry and everything what a Rajput might feel proud of. Here is what Lieutenant-Colonel James Tod has to say about him, “Rana Sanga was of middle stature, but of great muscular strength, fair in complexion with unusually large eyes. He exhibited at his death but the fragments of warrior: one eyes was lost in the broil with his brother, an arm in action with the Lodhi King of Delhi, and he was cripple owing to a limb being broken by a cannon ball in another, while he counted eighty wounds from the sword of the lance on various parts of his body.” For me it is very difficult to write about this magnificent man without having goose pimples. And if you were a soldier in medieval India you could not even stand before this great man with your head held high. I have talked about many battles, glorious commanders and so on but here is a general for whom it is difficult to find a parallel. It is not only about his extraordinary military adventurers and his unquestionable bravery but it is important to study the compliments he received from his intellectual enemies. Ferishta, a Muslim historian mentions that Rana Sanga had fought a battle with Mahmud Khilji (A.D 1519), where the former emerged victorious and the latter was taken a prisoner. Being informed of his enemy’s wounds, Rana Sanga brought him into his own tent, and personally attended to his care. When Mahmud became fit he was released of his captivity and escorted back to his kingdom by thousand Rajput cavalry where he was reinstated. Although there is a little twist to this tale, Babur adds that although Rana Sanga did release Mahmud he never gave back his priceless crown which obviously he retained!

With the both warring generals introduced now we can discuss the grudge between them. The most common theory regarding this grudge suggests that Rana Sanga wanted to remove Babur and his men from India. But from Babur’s point of view this is slightly different. He says that before his into the heart of India, while he was in Kabul, Rana Sanga had sent an envoy to him with a plan. The plan as devised by the Rana was that Babur would march from Kabul to Delhi and when he would be near Delhi the Rana and his troops would attack Agra. If Babur’s record is true then the plan of Sanga was to surround the Lodhi forces, and more importantly it suggests that this attack would be a joint venture. However Babur also mentions that when he meet and defeated Ibrahim the Rana did not make a single move. Now that raises some valid questions-why the Rana did not go as per his plan? Why then almost a year later he thought of making the final move? We may assume that the Rana perhaps changed his opinion when he learned that Babur was not merely an invader, and he was inclined to set up an empire. Probably this learning made Rana aware of the real intentions of Babur and then of course he allied with the relatives of the fallen Lodhi Emperor and decided to go against Babur. If that is the case then of course we may understand that Rana Sanga had his eyes on the throne of Hindustan.

The Rajput Battle Order

1 Salāh ud dīn,
Governor of Raisen and Sārangpūr
2 Rāwal Udai Singh Nāgari
3 Hasan Khan Mewāti, Governor of Mewāt
4 Bahādur Hemladuri
5 Sattervi Kachji
6 Parm-Deo, and Mirta
7 Birsingh Deo Jehān
8 Mahmūd Khan
9 Rawal Udai Singh
10 Mānikchand Chauhān
11 Rai Chanderbhān
12 Dilbes Rai
13 Gangūr
14 Gūren Singh
15 Dharan* Deo,
16 Narsingh Deo Cūhān
17 Bihārī* Mal Īdarī

The Mughal Battle Order

1

Chīn Timūr Sultan

13

Sher Afgan, Arāish Khan

2

Mirza Sulei­mān

14

Khwāja Hosain

3

Khwāja Dost Khand

15

Dilāvar Khan

4

Yunis Ali, Shah Mansūr Birlās

16

Malik Dād Karrāni

5

Darwish Muhammed Sārbān

17

 Sheikh Gūren

6

Abdullah Kitābdār

18

Kāsim Hosain Sultan

7

Dost Ishīk Agha

19

 Ahmed Yūsuf Oghlān

8

Sultan Behā ud dīn

20

Hindu Beg Kūchīn

9

Alā ud dīn

21

Khusru Kokaltāsh

10

Sheikh Zain Khwāfi

22

Kavvām Beg Urdu Shah

11

Muhibb Ali

23

Wali Khāzin Kara-Kūzi

12

Tardi Beg

24

Mir Kuli Sīstāni

25

Khwāja Pahlwān Badakhshi

37

Ādil Sultan

26

Abdul Shakūr

38

Abdul Azīz Mir Akhor

27

Kavvām Beg Urdu Shah

39

Muhammed Jang Jang

28

Wali Khāzin Kara-Kūzi

40

Kūtluk Kadam Karāwul

29

Mir Kuli Sīstāni

41

Shah Hosain Bārgi

30

 Khwāja Pahlwān Badakhshi

42

Jān Beg Atkeh

31

Abdul Shakūr

43

Jalāl Khan

32

Mir Hameh

44

Kamāl Khan

33

Muhammedi Kokultāsh

45

Ali Khan Sheikh-zādeh­Fermūli

34

Khwājagi Asad

46

Nizām Khan of Biāna,

35

Mahdi Khwāja

47

Mūmin Atkeh

36

Muhammed Sultan Mirza

48

Rustam Turkomān

Battle Preparations:

Whatever were the intentions and planning of Rana Sanga, Babur did not for once underestimate the valiant Rajput. He might have hated him on religious ground but he knew the reach of Rana Sanga’s sword. Like an experienced general he carefully planned everything. It is worth studying how he went on with war preparations. Babur sent his master of horses to go around and dig wells where he and his men would encamp.


View kh in a larger map. Click on the points to know the details.

In February 16th he marched from the vicinity of Agra and encamped in those places where the wells were dug. Soon he realised that Sikri (Fatehpur Sikri) was the best place for encamping, since it had abundant supply of water. On reaching Sikri he issued orders for the rest of the generals to gather in, and regularly sent scouts to check the enemy positions. The scout party usually left in the night and returned in the morning, thus they could trace the enemy while resting. One such scout party located the Rana at Bhusawar, which meant the two armies were quite close. Babur then sent in the advance party to have a taste of their enemy. The first advance party was cut down and routed; the same fate occurred to the subsequent advance and reinforcement parties. Such decisive defeats caused panic among Babur’s soldier and roused the spirit of the Rajput army.

When frequent messages arrived that the Rajput army had come closer, Babur’s forces quickly geared up and encamped in a place where there was water. They had a large moat on their right and since the Rajputs were close they fortified themselves by placing the guns in the front. The guns were kept six to seven yards apart fastened by chains which could be dropped to make way for the infantry. In places where there no guns ditches were dug and in the Babur’s words, “I directed things like tripods to be made of wood, and the spaces between each of them, being seven or eight gaz, to be connected and strengthened by bull’s hides twisted into ropes. This kind of defensive mechanisms was to stop the Rajput cavalry from dashing against the Mughal infantry. Babur knew the two dangerous plus points of the Rajputs, number one they had numerical superiority and number two they were virtually fearless in their charge. To meet this threat such extravagant plans were undertaken. Ustad Ali Quli was given the charge of the guns while Mustafa Rumi headed the matchlock department. Both these men were invaluable for Babur, and since there was some sort of personal jealousy involved between these two Babur kept them separated. The readers must note these two guys since it was because of their efforts that Babur earned a victory.

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First Battle of Panipat

In this juncture when both the camps were waiting for all hell to break loose, there arrived about five hundred men from Kabul to Babur’s camp. Baba Dost Suchi who had gone to Kabul arrived with fifteen camels laden with choicest wine of Gazni. Along with this Kabul party was the ‘rascally’ astrologer Mohammed Sherif who did his calculation and went on proclaiming to the already shaken army of Babur that they would be defeated in the battle. This preposterous activity of Sherif left Babur fuming but undeterred he went on with the war proceedings. In February 25th Babur mounted on his horse and inspected every post and every soldier and during the course he was filled with religious fervour.

It appeared to him that this was not going to be an ordinary battle, he labelled it as Crusade. What could be the real cause of the development of such excess of religious zeal is certainly questionable. However in reality he became a changed man thereon, he ordered that all gold, silver goblets and cups to be brought before him, and when the orders were carried out he broke them all. The wine they had them was poured into the ground and it was ordered that an alm house should be built in that place. The broken pieces of gold and silver were distributed among the poor and the Dervishes. The expensive wine collected by Suchi was made undrinkable by adding salt into it. He called an assembly of his Amirs and officers and addressed them in these words-‘Noblemen, Every man that comes into the world is subject to dissolution. When we are passed away and gone, God only survives, unchangeable. Whoever comes to the feast of life must, before it is over, drink from the cup of death. He who arrives at the inn of mortality must one day inevitably take his departure from that house of sorrow—the world. How much better is it to die with honour than to live with infamy… The Most High God has been propitious to us, and has now placed us in such a crisis,* that if we fall in the field, we die the death of martyrs; if we survive, we rise victorious, the avengers of the cause of God.* Let us, then, with one accord, swear on God’s holy word, that none of us will even think of turning his face from this warfare, nor desert from the battle and slaughter that ensues, till his soul is separated from his body’. Every man in that army held the Koran and swore by this oath. This satisfied Babur as he says, ‘My plan succeeded to admiration, and its effects were instantly visible, far and near, on friend and foe.’ All this could be a master plan by Babur, a sort of huge mental tonic before the great battle, and no doubt it succeeded to a great extent however when I study the documents I do find that it was not only to boost the army but it was also to rise the losing confidence of Babur. And he succeeded in all of these.

The Battle:

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Mughal Formation, refer the numbers for the names of the commanders

From all that is stated above we can say that Babur was sceptical about his victory, as he made number of promises keeping in mind the battle, having said that it is also true that Babur never touched wine after the Khanwa episode. Once in Sikri Babur always made sure that his army are well guarded and on their toes to repulse any Rajput attack. He had drawn the lines, with the centre and right and left flanks, guns in front and this way the entire army moved gradually. In the meantime skirmishes occurred Babur’s advance parties were fighting against the Rajputs, trying to disturb their movement. The Moghul army arrived in the spotted place where ditches had been dug and stationed themselves. The Rajputs were visible on the other side of the horizon, battle orders were given, and it was instructed that no one should move or raise arms without orders. It was half past nine when a man made storm arose and like a mighty tornado the Rajput cavalry dashed against the Moghul right flank.

The battle had begun, the furious charge of the Rajput cavalry which was actually their left wing had shaken the Moghul right flank. It would have been dangerous, unless under Babur’s orders Chin Taimur Sultan went on with fresh reinforcements and drove out the Rajputs. He pushed the Rajputs nearly to their centre for this gallant move he was later rewarded by Babur. Humayun who was at the centre with Mustafa Rumi, showered upon the Rajputs a rain of bullets from the matchlock infantry. Not quite making ground on the right the Rajputs attacked the Mughal left. Before the left wing could collapse the reserve force under Mumin Atkeh and Rustom Turkoman wheeled around and surrounded the Rajputs. The Rajputs obviously did not know that there is something called tactics in warfare, and the wheeling charge confused them. Seeing the wheeling charge go well more reinforcements were sent to support them.

Seeing the success of the flanking charge, the infantry stationed behind the gun carriages were itching to go. They came out and engaged hand to hand fight with the Rajputs, Ustad Ali Kuli was in charge of the guns discharged volleys after volleys of heavy fire that exterminated many nobles of the Rajputs. Seeing the confused state of mind of the Rajputs the gun battery was asked to go forward to lock the enemy from all sides. The Moghuls succeeded in doing that; however they are Rajputs they certainly don’t give an easy victory to the enemy. Surrounded, devastated, and wounded are very common phrases for these men of valour, the Rajputs made a desperate charge against the Moghul left flank and nearly reached the place where Babur was stationed, however they failed. It was a disastrous failure, most of the Rajput nobles were dead and the blood of their soul reddened the Earth. You name them and you could find Hassan Khan Mewāti, Rāwal Udai Sing, Rai Chander­bhān Chuhān, Mānikchand Chuhān, Dilpat Rai, Gangū, Karm Sing, and Rao Bikersi in the heap of dead bodies that lay all over Khanwa.

After the Rana left the battle-field and all was over. Babur boasts that the whole field was filled with dead bodies to the extent that one could barely put his feet without trampling a dead. The Rajputs were wanted and followed; explicit orders were issues to cut down every enemy. Babur himself went with his men to follow the enemy in flight but returned to his camp by night. Guess what he did first on reaching his camp? He called for the astrologer who had predicted of his defeat and on being presented the shaky man; he uttered all sorts of abuse that it is difficult to translate from Chugtai Turkish to English. However this in not the only thing, after hurling him the choicest abuses the newest ‘Gazi’ gave him one hundred thousand coins as present and dismissed him from his presence which in reality meant banishment from Mughal dominion. ‘The battle was fought within view of a small hill near our camp. On this hillock, I (Babur) directed a tower of the skulls of the infidels to be constructed.’

Analysis of the Battle:

So after all this narration though not very elaborate, you might wonder why Rana lost the battle given all the resources. You see it would be proper to see the results of this battle with the two personas involved in it. Babur and Sanga were very different personalities, but there were some common things, both were ambitious and self made yet one thing distinguished them, it is the sense of learning. Babur though much a wonderer, initially an utter failure, humiliated general, yet he learned from all that which made him a substandard performer. Babur was very ingenious, an interesting person, he was a simple man but his story was like that of Arabian Nights. He took delight in small things and at times according to need he included interesting defensive mechanisms. Although some part of his defensive mechanisms are traditionally Mongol which was improved by his own innovations. For example the tripod stands the bull hides twisted between ropes and so on. Observing all these one can say that he knew his enemy’s strengths. He knew that the Rajputs would certainly go all guns blazing; if that charge could be repulsed then of course the ‘tulughama’ could take care of the rest. This was typical Mongol flanking manoeuvre where the flanks wheeled up and surrounded the enemy even from the rear. This actually pinned the enemy at one particular point and the cavalry archers spread out at the sides firing incessant arrows at the enemy.  Certainly the Rajputs were not aware of this, and although they put on stiff resistance they eventually gave away. In fact Babur had devised a magnificent plan, he had the guns at the centre, the two flanks which could perform ‘tulughama’ this means that he could use his flanks and the reserve force to envelop the enemy and pin them at the centre or force them to a place where the guns could blow them up.

ghi

As a matter of fact when you have a massive body of enemy pinned down, offering a clear line of fire there artillery shots can cause absolute carnage. This is what had happened to the Afghans in the first Battle of Panipat and this is Babur’s celebrated, ‘Rumi Tactics’.

Another striking move by Babur was to order the centre to move forward. He rightly judged the situation; he could see the Rajputs harassed and a devastating charge to their centre could make it crumble which ultimately happened. The Rana depended too much on his champions and elephants to win war, there was not much urge for learning in him. He could have studied the Battle of Panipat, because the same kind of defence was implemented by Babur in this battle as well. Also in this battle two modes of warfare are very much visible. One was the inclination for hand to hand combat, which was the prerogative of the Rajputs, on the other hand the Central Asians generally relied on shooting techniques they did not wish for much contact with their enemy. Rajput way of war which comprised of cavalry, infantry, elephants were gradually becoming out dated. Glory, chivalry and everything is fine but unfortunately the military trend was more on shooting techniques. This is where the mounted archers, matchlock men, gunners were excelling against the old way. One classical example of this mentality is visible in Rumi Khan’s (a hired Turkish Gunner) advice to Bahadur Shah the ruler of Gujarat, “We have a grand park of artillery, when we have such a force of firearms, what sense is there in sword-play? The proper course is to make a bulwark of carriages and then having put a moat round this, let us first use those arms of long range so that the enemy might be diminished day by day and be dispersed. Fighting with arrows and swords has its own proper place.” I hope you can understand what I tried to suggest. And this is exactly why Babur excelled greatly in India, because he had a unique combination of weapons and method which was very new for this part of the World.

Overall it was a decisive victory for Babur, he had removed the greatest threat and what started with Panipat was completed on the plain of Khanwa, the foundation of Mughal Empire was laid and strengthened. As of Rana Sanga he went back to Ranthambore, broken hearted and in much anguish; however the fire inside his heart never went off, and he moved out again to fight Babur at Chanderi. Unfortunately he died on the way in Kalpi on 30th January 1528.

Acknowledgements:

1. Annals and Antiquities of Rajasthan By Tod, James

2. Memoirs of Zehīr-ed-Dīn Muhammed Bābur Emperor of Hindustan Written by himself, in the Chaghatāi Tūrki Translated byJohn Leyden, Esq., M.D.and William Erskine, Esq.

3. The History of India, as Told by Its Own Historians. The Muhammadan Period Sir H. M Elliot

4. History of the Rise of Mahommedan Power in India Ferishta

5. Genghis Khan’s Greatest General: Subotai the Valiant By Richard A. Gabriel

6. Mughal Warfare: Indian Frontiers and Highroads to Empire 1500–1700 By J.J.L. Gommans

 

 

 

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