Battle of KhĀnua Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Mughal emperor Bābur, a Muslim, was victorious over the Hindu Rājputs at the Battle of Khānua, a victory that completed his conquest of northern India and helped lay the foundation for centuries of Mughal rule.

Summary of Event

The sultanate of Delhi Delhi sultanate , which had dominated much of northern and central India during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, collapsed following the sack of Delhi by Tamerlane (Timur) in 1398-1399. Thereafter, throughout the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, the Indian subcontinent was divided mainly among regional sultanates, such as those of Bengal, Malwa, and Gujarat. Khānua, Battle of (1527)[Khanua, Battle of (1527)] Bābur Rānā Sāngā Bābur Ibrāhīm Lodī Akbar

Also characteristic of this period was the intense rivalry between two competing groups: Afghans from beyond the Indus River, established in Punjab and much of the Gangetic plain; and Rājputs, centered in Rājasthān Rājasthān[Rajasthan] and Malwa. The origins of the Rājputs remain obscure, but by the fifteenth century, they were fully integrated into the Hindu caste system as kshatriyas (the second highest warrior caste). Their premier chieftain was the ruler of Mewar, Rānā Sāngā, who had long dreamed of establishing a Rājput hegemony, which would replace that of the hated mlecchas (non-Hindus), the Muslims.

In 1526, however, one event shattered whatever equilibrium existed on the north Indian political scene. Bābur, who was a descendant of Tamerlane and, through his mother, a descendant of Mongol Mongol Empire conqueror and leader Genghis Khan (r. 1206-1227), assembled an army and invaded Punjab. Between 1504 and 1526, Bābur had been ruler of the Kabul valley and its environs, and he had been on the lookout for opportunities to enlarge his territories. So, informed of the ineffectiveness of the Afghan sultan of Delhi, Ibrāhīm Lodī (r. 1517-1526), he took the road to Delhi and was confronted by Ibrāhīm’s far-larger army at Panipat, 55 miles from Delhi. Bābur enjoyed the innovative advantage of firearms, at that time little known in northern India, and he secured a decisive victory. Ibrāhīm perished sword in hand.

Bābur then advanced unopposed to Delhi andĀgra, intending to move eastward, down the Gangetic plain, to mop up further Afghan resistance. He learned that Rānā Sāngā of Mewar was marching north with an enormous army, intent upon intercepting him before he grew in power. Rānā Sāngā had succeeded to the throne of Mewar around 1509 and had established a reputation as an indefatigable fighter in the traditional Rājput heroic mold. A statesman and a warrior, he had made Mewar supreme in a Rājput confederation. He believed the Rājput should sweep away the moribund Delhi sultanate, and those of Malwa and Gujarat, with which he had long wrestled. Shrewd and farsighted as he was, he could not have failed to appreciate that Bābur’s victory at Panipat had introduced a new and ominous element into the north Indian equation. There could be no room for both a Rājput and a Mughal dominion.

Meanwhile, Bābur’s troops were skirmishing beyondĀgra, but they became increasingly demoralized because of the Rājputs’ fearful reputation as fighters. Bābur’s memoirs show clearly that he, too, was apprehensive. Soon, he concentrated his forces at the village of Sikri, 25 miles south ofĀgra, where he fortified his encampment by surrounding it with a laager, a defensive position with wagons bound together by ropes of raw hide. This was the first time Bābur and his men found themselves fighting non-Muslims. Bābur, not usually thought of as a Muslim fanatic, would present himself to the army as a devout believer in jihad.

Bābur, who had been a habitual drinker (ignoring the Islamic prohibition), rallied his troops by publicly swearing off drinking. He had his gold and silver cups smashed before their eyes and the proceeds distributed to the poor. He harangued the men with stirring rhetoric, calling their foes infidels, polytheists, and idolators. The appeal worked, and his listeners swore on the Qur՚ān that they would not give up.

The confrontation came on March 17, 1527, at a place known as Khānua (Kanua), 50 miles west ofĀgra. Rānā Sāngā had prepared for the battle carefully. He was said to have commanded a force of 800,000 men and 500 war elephants. The exact size of Bābur’s force is unknown, but it was substantially smaller. Because of the difference between the sizes of the two armies, Bābur’s plan was to maintain as long as possible a defensive stance, hoping to wear down the Rājputs. Thus, at the opening of the engagement, he presented the enemy with a long line of roped-together wagons, interspersed with cannon, mortars, and men with matchlocks, with the wings of the line shielded by cavalry. The bulk of the cavalry, however, remained behind the center of the line of wagons, commanded by Bābur. Because of the Rājputs’ numbers, there could be no question of Bābur employing the enveloping pincer movement known as the taulgama, favored by commanders like Genghis Khan and Tamerlane.

The battle began in the morning, after Rānā Sāngā, in typical Rājput fashion, impetuously hurled division after division against the Mughal line. His warriors and their horses and elephants, however, were confused by their first encounter with gunpowder, and much of the fiercest fighting shifted toward the wings. The Rājput left thrust at the Mughal right, where Bābur’s eldest son, Humāyūn, needed help, and Bābur sent reinforcements from the center, which drove the Rājputs back into their own lines. Meanwhile, Bābur’s left wing came under intense pressure, with both sides sending reinforcements, which, in Bābur’s case, threatened to weaken his center. Eventually, though, the Mughals were able to press the advantage as far as the Rājput camp, only to be forced back once again.

The conflict had now raged for about three hours: The Mughal line had held firm and the Rājput assaults had lost some of their bravura. Until past noon, Bābur held back his crack troops, but then ordered them to advance down two corridors, which opened up through the line of wagons, cannon, and matchlock men, falling upon the exhausted Rājput center. This ferocious melée, after hours of hand-to-hand fighting, marked the beginning of the end.

Rānā Sāngā was struck by an arrow or a bullet and was hurried from the field. He died within the year, possibly of the wounds he received at Khānua. The surviving Rājputs broke ranks, pursued by the victorious Mughals. Having plundered the Rājput camp, Bābur did not immediately dare to pursue the enemy into the bare, arid Rājput homeland, where securing provisions and fodder presented insuperable problems. The baking Indian summer, hateful to Bābur’s Central Asian followers, would soon engulf them. Instead of striking into the Rājasthān heartland, he turned southeast to take Chanderi, which Rānā Sāngā had given to one of his principal lieutenants.

In December, 1527, Bābur advanced down the Yamuna River to its confluence with the Chambal River, detaching part of his army toward Bihar Bihar . He reached the vicinity of Chanderi on January 21, 1528, after hard marching through near-impenetrable jungle. His principal lieutenant withdrew behind his walls. Preliminary attempts at a negotiated surrender broke down, city and citadel were closely invested, and eventually the Mughals broke into the latter in the face of exceptionally fierce resistance from the garrison of five thousand. The struggle ended with the Rājput ritual of jauhar, in which, having immolated their women and children in the inner fort, the surviving Rājput warriors dispensed with their armor to speed a suicidal death by hurling themselves on the weapons of their Mughal foes.

In a well-established tradition, Bābur then ordered the building of a tower of dead-enemy skulls. Even while besieging Chanderi, he had received the news that his army in the east had been defeated. It was essential for him to rejoin his retreating troops. Bābur never crossed swords with the Rājputs again. On December 26, 1530, Bābur died inĀgra.

Significance

The Battle of Khānua confirmed Bābur’s hold over northwestern India in a way in which the victory at Panipat had not: Panipat might have been the climax to a brilliant but possibly inconsequential raid, such as Tamerlane’s had been a century and a half before.

The victory at Khānua also ended the possibility of Rājput hegemony. More importantly, Khānua demonstrated to the first generation of Mughals the extraordinary martial qualities of the Rājputs. Little more than thirty years later, Bābur’s grandson Akbar established a Mughal-Rājput partnership that consolidated Mughal rule, a partnership that continued to work effectively until Mughal emperor ՙĀlamgīr (r. 1658-1707), who, in a spirit of religious intolerance, alienated the great Rājput feudatories of the empire, thereby contributing substantially to its disintegration.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Gommans, Jos. Mughal Warfare: Indian Frontiers and High Roads to Empire, 1500-1700. New York: Routledge, 2002. A study of Mughal weaponry, logistics, tactics, strategy, and ideology.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Richards, John F. The Mughal Empire. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1993. An excellent single-volume account of the Mughal Empire, which contextualizes Bābur’s contribution within its overall development.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Thackston, Wheeler M., trans. The Baburnama: Memoirs of Bābur, Prince and Emperor. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996. A translation of Bābur’s autobiography, constituting a principal source for the period.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Tod, James. The Annals and Antiquities of Rājasthān. 2 vols. 1829-1832. Reprint. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1950. Based upon traditional Rājput bardic literature, this is the classic account of Rājput history and legend.

1451-1526: Lodī Kings Dominate Northern India

1459: Rāo Jodha Founds Jodhpur

Early 16th cent.: Devotional Bhakti Traditions Emerge

1507: End of the Timurid Dynasty

Apr. 21, 1526: First Battle of Panipat

Dec. 30, 1530: Humāyūn Inherits the Throne in India

1540-1545: Shēr Shāh Sūr Becomes Emperor of Delhi

1556-1605: Reign of Akbar

Feb. 23, 1568: Fall of Chitor

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