The Second Battle of Pānīpat (Urdu پانی پت کی دوسری لڑائی) was fought on November 5, 1556 between the Hindu ruler of northern India, Hēmū Chandra Vikramaditya – or simply Hēmū – and the forces of the Mughal Emperor Akbar.
Hēmū had conquered the states of Delhi and Agra a few weeks before he was defeated by the Mughals commanded by Tardī Beg Khān in the Battle of Delhi in 1556 and crowned himself as Raja Vikramaditya in the Purana Qila of Delhi. Akbar and his guardian Bayram Khān, after learning of the fall of Agra and Delhi, had marched on Pānīpat (Uttar Pradesh) to regain control of those territories. The two armies clashed at Pānīpat, not far from the site of the First Battle of Panipat in 1526.
Hēmū and his forces boasted a numerical superiority but Hēmū was wounded by an arrow in the course of the encounter and fell to the ground unconscious. Seeing their leader on the ground and imagining he was dead, the soldiers panicked and ran amok. Unconscious, and nearly dead, Hēmū was captured and later beheaded by Akbar. The battle ended in a decisive victory for the Mughal ruler.
Humāyūn, the successor of Bābur, founder of the Mughal Empire, had lost his hereditary rights when he was driven out of his Indian domains by Shēr Shāh Sūrī who had founded the Sūrī (or Ṣūrī) Empire in 1540.
Delhi and Agra had fallen into the hands of Shēr Shāh, but he died soon after in 1545 in Kalinjar (Uttar Pradesh). He was succeeded by his youngest son, Islām Shāh Sūrī, who proved to be a capable ruler. However, after his death in 1553, the Sūrī Empire was engulfed in a war of succession and beset by rebellion, with several provinces seceding. Humāyūn put this discord in the opposing camp to good use to regain control of what he had lost, and on July 23, 1555, the Mughals defeated Sikandar Shāh Sūrī by returning as lords of Delhi and Agra.
Islām Shāh Sūrī”s legitimate successor, his twelve-year-old son Fīrūz Khān, was assassinated by his maternal uncle; he had occupied the throne of Delhi as ʿĀdil Shāh Sūrī. The new ruler was, however, more interested in a life of pleasures than in the affairs of state. They were largely delegated to Hemu, an old friend and associate of Shēr Shāh Sūrī of Rewari, who had risen from his humble position to become prime minister of ʿĀdil Shāh Sūrī and general of the Sūrī army. He was in Bengal when Humāyūn died on January 26, 1556. The death of the Mugha Emperor offered him a perfect opportunity to defeat the Mughals and claim the lost territory.
Hēmū quickly marched from Bengal and drove the Mughals out of Bayana, Etawah, Bharthana, Bidhuna, Lakhna, Sambhal, Kalpi, and Narnaul. In Agra, the Mughal governor evacuated the city and fled without a fight after learning of Hēmū”s impending arrival. Pursuing the fugitive, Hēmū reached Ṭughlāqābād, where stood the ancient Fort erected by Ghiyāth al-Dīn Ṭughlāq to defend Delhi, which was located not far away. There he pounced on the forces of the Mughal governor of Delhi, Tardī Beg Khān, defeating him in the battle of Ṭughlāqābād. He then took possession of Delhi at the end of a day of fighting on October 7, 1556 to claim royal status by assuming the title of Vikramaditya (or Bikramjit).
Upon hearing the disastrous news from the Ṭughlāqābāad front, Humāyūn”s successor, thirteen-year-old Akbar and his guardian and Regent Bayram Khān immediately departed Delhi. By a stroke of luck, ʿAlī Qulī Khān Shaybānī (later known as Khān-i Zamān, “Lord of Time”) who had been sent ahead with a cavalry force 10,000 men strong, came across Hēmū”s artillery, which was carried and weakly protected by a small group of soldiers. He was then easily able to capture the entire convoy of cannons, entrusted to Afghans who hastily abandoned the artillery entrusted to them and fled without delay. This would prove very detrimental to the losses that Hēmū had to suffer.
On November 5, 1556, the Mughal army clashed with Hēmū”s army on the historic battlefield of Pānīpat. Akbar and Bayram Khān arranged themselves in the rearguard, 8 miles (about fifteen kilometers) from the site of the clash.
The Mughal army facing the enemy was entrusted to ʿAlī Qulī Khān Shaybānī, with his 10,000 horsemen in the center, Sikandar Khān Uzbek on the right, and ʿAbd Allāh Khān Uzbek on the left. The vanguard was led by Ḥusayn Qulī Beg and Shāh Qulī Maḥram, in addition to the inefficient Turkish detachment of Bayram Khān.
Hēmū”s army was numerically superior, being able to rely on a strong cavalry of 30 000 Afghan elements and about 500 war elephants. Each was protected by metal plates and mounted by musketeers and archers. Hēmū led his army in person, mounting an elephant called Hawai. the left side of the array was led by his nephew (son of a sister) Ramya (or Ramaiyya), and the right side by Shadī Khān Kakkar. However, the army was inexperienced but very confident, as Hēmū had won in 22 different battles, from Bengal to the Punjab. In this battle, however, Hēmū had no artillery.
Hēmū initiated the attack and lost his elephant, squeezed by the left and right wings of the Mughal forces. Those soldiers, were able to withstand the fury of the enemy attack and, instead of retreating, executed an encircling maneuver and attacked the flanks of Hēmū”s cavalry, hitting it with their expert archers. The center of the Mughal array advanced by the same amount and stood in a defensive position in front of a deep ravine. Neither Hēmū”s elephant nor his cavalry units were able to cross the chasm and reach their opponents on the opposite ridge, remaining exposed to their bullets.
In the meantime, the Mughal cavalry, on their nimble mounts, had made their way through the Afghan ranks moving from the flanks and rear and had begun to target the elephants, cutting off the legs of those great beasts and causing the fighters above them to fall to the ground. Hēmū was forced to rear his elephants and the attacks of the Afghans inevitably slowed down.
Seeing the intensity of the Afghan attack wane, ʿAlī Qulī Khān Shaybānī led his cavalry to outflank and press against the Afghan center, catching it from behind. Hēmū, monitoring the battlefield from the height of his howdah (canopy) placed on Hawai”s back, immediately rushed to counter that enemy charge. Even when he saw Shadī Khān Kakkar and another of his valiant lieutenants, Bhagwan Das, fall, Hēmū continued to lead counterattacks against the Mughals, attacking anyone who challenged his elephants. It was a battle desperately waged by both sides, but it does not seem that the fortunes ever tilted in Hēmū”s favor and, indeed, some chroniclers recall that they turned in favor of the Mughals when an accidentally fired arrow struck Hēmū.
Both wings of the Mughal army had fallen back under the enemy”s ìimpetus, and Hēmū led his contingent of war elephants and cavalry forward to crush the opposing center. It was at that point that Hēmū, perhaps one step away from victory, was struck in the eye by a Mughal arrow and fell unconscious in the howdah. Seeing him on the ground, panic seized his men, who broke haphazardly from their formation and fled en route. The battle was lost and 5 000 dead lay on the battlefield and many more were later killed as they fled.
With the demise of Hēmū, the fortunes of ʿĀdil Shāh declined. He too was defeated and killed by Khiḍr Khān, son of Muḥammad Khān Sūr of Bengal, in April 1557.
The spoils of the Battle of Pānīpat included 120 Hēmū war elephants, whose destructive rampages so impressed the Mughals that those animals soon became an integral part of their military strategies.