First Battle of Panipat Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Bābur defeated the Delhi sultan at the Battle of Panipat in 1526, leading to the establishment of the Mughal Dynasty in India, which ruled for more than three hundred years.

Summary of Event

Bābur, the king of Kabul (now in Afghanistan), defeated Ibrāhīm Lodī, the ruler of the Delhi sultanate Delhi sultanate , at the Battle of Panipat in 1526. With his victory, Bābur, nicknamed “the Tiger,” established the Mughal Empire Mughal Empire , one of the longest lived and most glorious of India’s dynasties, comparable to the Mauryan and Gupta dynasties of the 300’s b.c.e. and the 300’s c.e., respectively. The Mughal rule initiated by Bābur survived for more than three hundred years. Panipat, First Battle of (1526) Bābur Ibrāhīm Lodī Humāyūn Vikramāditya Rānā Sāngā Rānā Sāngā Humāyūn Vikramāditya

The Indian subcontinent rarely was unified, in large part because of its varied geography. The Ganges River and its surrounding plain dominated northern India, from south of the Himalayan Mountains, and throughout its long history, India has suffered periodic invasions from the northwest. The Aryans had traveled the Ganges plain around 1500 b.c.e., as did Alexander the Great in the 300’s b.c.e. and the Huns in the 400’s and 500’s c.e. In the late tenth and early eleventh centuries, the Muslim sultan Maḥmūd of Ghazna (r. 997-1030) invaded India, the birthplace of Hinduism and Buddhism. Known as “the Sword of Islam,” Maḥmūd’s conquests were fueled in part by his religious convictions.

By the early thirteenth century, a Muslim dynasty had established itself in the Ganges valley. Known as the Delhi sultanate, it endured through several different dynasties until the sixteenth century. The sultanate regime, however, did not go unchallenged. There were other Muslim rulers in North India and several Hindu kingdoms and states in the south. Outsiders were also a constant threat. In 1398, Tamerlane (Timur) captured and sacked Delhi, slaughtering much of the city’s Hindu population. However, the Delhi sultanate recovered, and by the latter part of the fifteenth century, the Lodīs Lodī Dynasty[Lodi Dynasty] , an Afghan clan, had become the sultans.

Bābur, born in central Asia in 1483, was a direct descendant of Tamerlane, and on his mother’s side he was also descended from the great Mongol ruler, Genghis Khan. A Mongolian by inheritance, Bābur’s language was Turkic and his religion was Islam. His initial military ambitions centered on Tamerlane’s old capital of Samarqand, but even though he was able to seize the city on two occasions, he was unable to keep it. Failing at least temporarily in central Asia, in 1504 Bābur captured Kabul, becoming its king. Except for one brief raid into northern India in 1505, Bābur spent the next decade solidifying his rule in Afghanistan. In 1519, he again turned to India, but it was not until 1525 that he launched a major invasion of the subcontinent.

Because Mongol armies relied on and had an expert mastery of horses, they were fast moving and extremely mobile, giving them a significant advantage even against much larger armies. In addition, Bābur used gunpowder, as did the other so-called “gunpowder empires” of the time (the Ottoman Turks and the Persian Ṣafavids). In India, Bābur and his army were equipped with both cannon and matchlock guns. There is little evidence, however, that the Lodī sultans had either at their disposal. A second disadvantage, which the Lodīs would face in any conflict with Bābur and his forces, was that the Lodīs were not united. The reigning sultan, Ibrāhīm Lodī, had defeated his brother and alienated many important figures. Ibrāhīm also faced opposition from Rajput Rajputs Hindu rulers, such as Rānā Sāngā of Mewar.

Bābur crossed into the Punjab with an army of twelve thousand warriors. After capturing Lahore (now in Pakistan), he continued his advance into north India toward Delhi. Bābur later claimed that by the time his army had reached the vicinity of Delhi, his force was somewhat smaller than the initial twelve thousand troops because of attrition. When the two armies met at Panipat in April, 1526, Ibrāhīm Lodī’s sultanate forces are estimated to have outnumbered those of Bābur by about ten to one. Bābur was an experienced and successful military leader, however, whereas Ibrāhīm lacked those skills. It is reported that Bābur had little but contempt for Ibrāhīm on the eve of battle.

With his much larger army, it was expected that Ibrāhīm would take the offensive and attack Bābur’s smaller forces. Ibrāhīm was reluctant to act, however, and a standoff of several days occurred before the Lodī army began their assault. Bābur, reacting defensively, had placed his army in a strong position, flanked on one side by the walls of the city of Panipat and by thick brush on the other. Several hundred carts had been confiscated and placed in front of Bābur’s forces, giving shelter to the matchlock gunners but also spaced to allow Bābur’s cavalry to take the offensive when possible. When Ibrāhīm did launch his expected assaults, his forces were unable to break through Bābur’s carts and gunners. Repeated attacks by the Lodī soldiers not only failed in the frontal assault but also resulted in the sultan’s army being compacted into a smaller and smaller area. Bābur’s cavalry units attacked the now-concentrated and largely immobile Lodī warriors on the flanks and from the rear. Within half a day, Ibrāhīm’s army was destroyed. It is estimated that fifteen thousand Lodī troops died at the Battle of Panipat on that April day, including Ibrāhīm.

After his victory at Panipat, Bābur seized the city of Delhi, fifty miles to the south, while his son and heir, Humāyūn, captured the nearby city of Agra, Ibrāhīm’s capital, which contained the regime’s treasury. At Agra, Humāyūn was presented with a large diamond, which had been obtained by the raja of Gwalior, Vikramāditya, who had been allied with Ibrāhīm at Panipat. The diamond, estimated at 186 carats, first became known as “Bābur’s diamond” and later as Koh-I-Nur Koh-I-Nur diamond[Koh I Nur diamond] , “the mountain of light.”

Significance

Bābur’s consolidation of his rule in India faced three major obstacles. First, many of his own warriors saw the campaign mainly as an invasion for loot and glory. That obtained, they expected to return to Afghanistan. Bābur, however, convinced most of them to remain in India, promising them land, wealth, and subjects in the newly conquered regions. His success in keeping his warriors allied with him in India determined that the invasion became a conquest and not just an incursion or raid. Second, Afghan nobles allied to the Lodīs were potential threats to Bābur’s rule, but he convinced most of them also to accept his regime.

Third, Bābur had to contend with the ambitions of various Hindu rulers, notably Rānā Sāngā of Mewar and his fellow Rajputs. In February, 1527, Rānā Sāngā and the Rajputs confronted Bābur at Khānua, fifty miles south of Agra. Bābur rallied his troops by appealing to their Islamic religious faith against the Hindu Rajputs, with Bābur signaling his own commitment by abandoning alcohol, which he usually consumed with gusto. Like Panipat, the Battle of Khānua Khānua, Battle of (1527)[Khanua, Battle of (1527)] also was a victory for Bābur and his Mughal contingent.

Although Bābur continued to wage other campaigns until his death in 1530, the Battle of Panipat against the Lodī Delhi sultanate in 1526 followed by the Battle of Khānua the following year gave Bābur firm control of northern India. Subsequent emperors would extend Mongol rule over much of the subcontinent.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Bābur. The Baburnama. Edited and translated by Wheeler M. Thackston. Introduction by Salman Rushdie. New York: Modern Library, 2002. An exciting and revealing firsthand history of Bābur’s life and times in his own words.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Erskine, William. A History of India Under the Two First Sovereigns of the House of Taimur, Baber, and Humāyūn. New York: Barnes and Nobles Books, 1972. A reprint of the classic work by one of India’s early historians, first published in 1854.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Foltz, Richard C. Mughal India and Central Asia. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001. A study of the legacy of Bābur’s conquests; the author argues that the background of the Mughals and their origins in Central Asia are crucial to understanding their culture in India. Discusses the nostalgia of Indian Mongol rulers for their former Central Asian homeland.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Keay, John. India: A History. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 2000. This well-written history of India includes an excellent description of the Battle of Panipat.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Wolpert, Stanley. A New History of India. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000. This widely accessible and well-written text includes a discussion of Bābur and his era.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Ziad, Zeenut, ed. The Magnificent Mughals. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002. Authoritative anthology of essays by top scholars, each summarizing the history of a different aspect of Mughal culture, including economics, religion, and the arts, as well as the contributions of women to Mughal society.

1451-1526: Lodī Kings Dominate Northern India

1507: End of the Timurid Dynasty

Dec. 2, 1510: Battle of Merv Establishes the Shaybānīd Dynasty

Mar. 17, 1527: Battle of KhĀnua

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

1540-1545: Shēr Shāh Sūr Becomes Emperor of Delhi

1578: First Dalai Lama Becomes Buddhist Spiritual Leader

Feb., 1586: Annexation of Kashmir

1598: Astrakhanid Dynasty Is Established

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