Battle of Khanwa
The Battle of Khanwa was fought near the village of Khanwa, about 60 km west of Agra, on March 17, 1527. It was the second major battle fought in modern day India, by the first Mughal Emperor Babur after the Battle of Panipat. As the Mughal Empire expanded it faced new opponents, especially in the regions around Agra and inside Rajputana. After defeating Ibrahim Lodi, the first Mughal Emperor Babur faced many Lodi warriors including Sikandar Lodi and his son Mahmud Lodi who rallied behind the prestigious Muslim Rajput ruler Khanzada Raja Hasan Khan Mewati of Mewat.
Raja Khanzada Hasan Khan Mewati, being himself a Rajput, easily gained the support of Rana Sanga, a powerful Hindu Rajput; together they sought to defeat and overthrow the first Mughal Emperor Babur and his Muslim Mughals.
The Hindu Rajputs and Babur's Muslim opponents gathered a formidable army much larger and more well organized than that of the previous one that Ibrahim Lodi had gathered at the Battle of Panipat (1526), but were betrayed by the King of Malwa.
In the year 1526 as Babur and his Mughal forces advanced towards Panipat, he received an embassy representing Rana Sanga of Mewar, the most powerful Hindu ruler in the region. The Rajputs agreed to form an alliance with the Mughals against the Lodi dynasty and advance their forces towards Agra; in return Babur was to grant Kalpi, Dholpur and Biana to Rana Sanga. After Babur and the Mughals defeated Ibrahim Lodi at the Battle of Panipat, he refused to hand over anything to the Rajputs.
Angered by the first Mughal Emperor Babur's response, Rana Sanga allied himself with Raja Khanzada Hasan Khan of Mewat, a Muslim Yaduvanshi Rajput leader of the Muslims. Raja Khanzada Hasan Khan Mewati had been providing support and refuge to rebels such as Sikandar Lodi and particularly Mahmud Lodi.
Silhadi, a Hindu, is noted to have come forward representing Rana Sanga in an effort to negotiate with the first Mughal Emperor Babur. Rana Sanga demanded that the lands around Agra be submitted to his authority and as the negotiations concluded, Babur had realized that the overconfident and numerically superior Rana Sanga would indeed attack. In March, 1527, the Hindus had gathered an army of around 80,000 men and began to mobilize against Babur.
This event instigated the gathering of the quarrelsome Mughals towards the command of Babur, but this time the Mughals sought no riches from their new enemies, they were now firm in their quest for revenge accompanied by a strong religious zeal. As Babur began to mobilize against the well prepared and heavily armed forces of Rana Sanga, approximately 20,000 Muslim Rajputs began a march towards Biana, under the command of Khanzada Hasan Khan Realizing his vast numerical weakness Babur withdrew most of his forces from Agra, he ordered his son Humayun to withdraw from his expedition at Jaunpur and start gathering Mughal forces.
Babur realized that Khanzada Hasan Khan Mewati, the ruler of Mewat, a region lying south of Delhi, spread across south Haryana and northeast Rajasthan could be influenced to abandon his quest alongside Rana Sanga. Although Khanzada Hasan Khan was a formidable rival, by reputation he was evidently respected among native Indian Muslims and therefore Babur made an attempt to appease the Muslim Rajput ruler by releasing Khanzada Naher Khan the son of khanzada Hasan Khan Mewati, who had been captured at the Battle of Panipat. Babur released Khanzada Naher Khan with the traditional Mughal Kaftan's of honor and with the finest Arabian horses in order to gain the good will of Raja Khanzada Hasan Khan Mewati and attempt to woo him away from Rana Sanga.
Although khanzada Hasan Khan was pleased by the release of his son he however refused to abandon his state of warfare and hostilities against Babur, and saw the release of his son Khanzada Nahar Khan as an exposed weakness of the Mughals. Outraged by khanzada Hasan Khan's refusal to change his stance, in a politically motivated move Babur, declared him an apostate (although there is no evidence that Raja Khanzada Hasan Khan Mewati ever abandoned Islam). Despite his harsh declarations Babur however was even more concerned about advance of the sheer 100,000 mainly Hindu Rajputs, whom Babur had began to commonly refer to as the "Infidels".
On February 11, 1527, the Emperor Babur marched out of Agra to proceed against Rana Sanga but halted a few days near the city to collect and review his troops, and to get in order his train of artillery, the baggage and camp followers. As in this warfare he had little reliance on the Afghan chiefs or his Indian allies who had joined him, he sent several of them to strengthen his various garrisons. He then marched westward to Medhakur where he had previously caused wells to be dug and thence next day to Fatehpur Sikri which from its having plenty of water he considered as a good situation for a camp but being apprehensive that the Rana who was now near at hand might attempt to occupy the ground before his arrival he marched out with his troops in order of battle ready to attack the enemy should they appear and took possession of the place which had been chosen for his encampment close by a tank. He was now joined by Mahdi Khwaja and the troops from Bayana which he had called in. They had had some sharp encounters with the Rajputs in which they had been severely handled and taught to respect their new enemy. A party from the garrison had some days before incautiously advanced too far from the fort when the Rajputs in great force fell upon them and drove them in. All the troops that had been engaged in this affair united in bestowing unbounded praise on the gallantry and prowess of the enemy. Indeed the Chagatai Turkic–Mongols found that they had now to contend with a foe more formidable than either the Afghans of India or any of the natives of India to whom they had yet been opposed. The Rajputs energetic chivalrous fond of battle and bloodshed animated by a strong national spirit and led on by a hero were ready to meet face to face the boldest veterans of the camp and were at all times prepared to lay down their life for their honor. A small party being sent out to get notice of their motions discovered that they were encamped at Bisawer.
Emperor Babur was accustomed to commit to his principal Baigs in turn the charge of the advance and pickets. When it was Mir Abdul Aziz's, day that rash and impetuous youth pushed on seven or eight miles from Fatehpur Sikri. The Rajputs hearing of this incautious forward movement dispatched to meet him a body of 4000-5000 horsemen who without hesitation charged the instant they came up. His force did not exceed a 1000-1500. Many of his men were killed others taken prisoners and carried off the field on the very first onset. The moment the news of what was going on reached the camp, Mir Mohib Ali Khalifa Emperor Babur's Grand Vizier's son and his followers were pushed forward to their assistance and there being no room for delay, numbers of separate horsemen, as fast as they were equipped, were sent off at the best of their speed while a regular detachment under Mir Muhammed Ali Khan moved forward to support them Mir Mohib Ali Khalifa who arrived first found every thing in disorder. Mir Abdul Aziz's horse tail standard taken and many excellent officers slain. Not only was he unable to turn the tide of success but was himself unhorsed though finally brought off by a desperate charge of his followers. The Emperor's troops were then pursued for about two miles and it was only the arrival of the regular detachment under Mir Muhammad Ali Khan that checked the enemy. Meanwhile when the alarm reached the camp the whole troops were called out and marshaled in battle order to meet the hostile army which was thought to be approaching. But after the imperial line had advanced a mile or two with all its artillery it was found that the enemy satisfied with their success had returned to their camp. These repeated successes of the Rajputs, the unexpected valor and good conduct they displayed and their numbers for they are said to have amounted to a 120,000 horsemen along with their Mewat allies would have been one of the largest armies Babur had ever had to face, even in modern times such a huge army would have disheartened any battle hardened soldier. Babur began to see the discouragement of his troops. Every precaution was now taken to strengthen his position and to give his troops time to recover their spirit. At this critical juncture he received a small yet welcome reinforcement of 500 men from Kabul. Babur decided to divert the attention of the enemy towards Mewat by sending some troops there, to ravage the territory. But the diversion did not answer his expectations.
Rana Sanga's Speech
"Everyone must act according to the warrior's code and remembering the brave deeds of our forbears. This is the only occasion for destroying the Invaders who have tainted our holy land for years. Once we seize this opportunity, then they will never be able to raise their head again, and the flag of Hindupadapadshai will fly over the entire country"
Babur rallies his troops
The Mughal Emperor Babur was now in some measure heavily engaged in his camp preparing for the wars that would follow primarily with the Hindu Rajputs, who were in possession of the open country. The uneasiness which he in consequence experienced in this state of inaction appears very naturally to have excited feelings of religious compunction in his mind. When he reviewed his past life he keenly felt that he had long and openly violated one of the strictest injunctions of his faith by the use of wine, which was a Mongol custom ever since the times of Genghis Khan himself. Like other habitual offenders he had all along firmly resolved to give up the controversial custom at some future time but that time had been constantly deferred. He now resolved to boldly perform his vows Babur said:
|“||Having sent for the gold and silver goblets and cups with all the other vessels used at drinking parties I directed them to be broken up and renounced the use of wine purifying my mind. The melted fragments of the goblets and other gold and silver drinking vessels I directed to be divided among Sufi Dervish's and the poor...The first person who followed me in my repentance was Asas Khan, we have decided to live and fight like the greatest Ghazis of Islam....||”|
This was a visible sign commonly adopted by such as were under the influence of a vow. Many nobles and others to the number of 300 followed the example of their sovereign. Salt was thrown into the ample store of wine just arrived from Ghazni all the rest found in the camp was poured upon the ground and a well was ordered to be dug and an almshouse built on the spot to commemorate this great religious event of repentance. As a boon to his Muslim followers and subjects he gave up the Temgha or Stamp duty in all his dominions so far as concerned Muslims and published a Firman to that effect on February 26.
The dejection and alarm of Babur's troops had at this time reached their extreme point despair and woes were spreading even among his sons. He appointed Mir Mohib Ali Khalifa as his official Grand Vizier who he says all along behaved admirably. Babur whose bold and elastic mind never gave admittance to despair but even in the lowest depths of danger turned to any gleam of hope saw that matters were fast advancing to a crisis and that some stirring and energetic measures were indispensably required. He determined to make a bold exertion to infuse a portion of his own heroic ardor into the drooping spirits of his followers and for that purpose he addressed to the religious foundations of all his Muslim subjects regardless of their ethnic, political and sectarian differences. To encourage his Muslim subjects during their war against the Hindu Rajput infidels and their apostolic Muslim counterparts, he delivered the most famous and most important speech of his life:
|“||Noblemen, Soldiers! Every man born into the world is subject to dissolution. When we are passed away and gone, Allah remains the One and Eternal. Whoever sits down to the feast of life must, before it is over, drink of the cup of death. He who arrives in this world and its inn of mortality, must know that one day without fail must make his departure from that mansion of sorrow...How much better then is it to die with honor than to live with infamy.||”|
|“||Give me but fame and if I die I am contented
If fame be mine let Death claim my body
The first Mughal Emperor Babur also said:
|“||Allah Almighty has been propitious to us. He 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 his sacred cause. Let us therefore with one accord swear on Allah's Quran that none of us will for a moment think of turning his face from this warfare or shrink from the battle and slaughter that ensue till his soul is separated from his body.||”|
Master and servant small and great all with emulation seizing the blessed Quran in their hands swore to fight to the finish. Babur's spectacular attempt at reinvigorating his men remains to this day one of the most excellent displays in the history of military leadership.
With his troops now in high spirits Babur decided to advance from the entrenchments in which the army had so long been cooped up. It was on March 12, 1527 that Babur drew forward his guns and a kind of defensive cover that moved on wheels and which served as a breastwork supporting them by his matchlock men and all his army. He himself galloped along the line animating his troops and officers and giving them instructions how to conduct themselves in every emergency that could occur. The army having advanced a mile or two halted to encamp. As soon as the Rajputs heard that they were in motion several bodies of them galloped close up to the guns. Babur not intending to engage in a general action that day quietly finished his entrenchments and ditches and then sent out a few horsemen to skirmish with them and try the temper of his men. They took several prisoners and returned with a number of heads elevated on their spears or dangling from their saddle bows which had a wonderful effect in restoring the confidence of the troops.
He now threw up other trenches in a position about a mile or two farther in advance near the spot which he had pitched upon as favorable for a general engagement and when they were finished advanced to occupy them dragging forward his guns. His people having reached their ground were still busy in pitching their tents when news was brought that the enemy was in sight. All were instantly ordered to their posts. Babur mounted and drew up his troops riding cheerfully along the ranks and confidently assuring them of victory.
Battle positions of Babur
The center Babur took to himself assisted by Chin Timur Khan the right wing he committed to Humayun who had under him Kassim Husain Khan, Hindal Mirza and Khusrau Shah Kokultash the left wing he entrusted to Sayyed Mehdi Khwaja with Muhammad Zaman Mirza, Mir Abdul Aziz and Mir Muhammad Ali Khan. Babur's latest weapons were managed by two Turkish commanders included Ustad Ali Quli was in-charge of the Cannon batteries and Mustafa Rumi was in-charge of the Matchlock infantry.
Babur had assembled his infantry forces in a square like position the front lines were protected along by solid carriage-like wooden barriers, that were arranged together and cannons were immediately positioned behind the barrier. Babur's cavalry was spread out in both the left and the right and there were many gaps that would allow for his reserve forces to descend into the battlefield. Babur had also divided the command of his cavalry among many of the finest, loyal and most experienced Mughal warriors.
He appointed strong reserves to carry out rescue efforts wherever required. On the right and left placed two flanking columns chiefly composed of Mughal troops who formed what is called the Tulughma and were on a signal given to wheel round on the enemy's flank and rear in the heat of battle. This arrangement he had learned to his cost in his early wars with the Uzbeks and he had practiced it in his later wars with brilliant success. His Indian allied troops appear to have been stationed chiefly in the left. His artillery under Ustad Ali Quli was placed in the center in front connected by chains and protected by the moveable defenses or breastworks which he had constructed, behind which were placed matchlock men and in their rear a body of chosen troops ready either to repel any attack from behind or themselves to rush forward and charge the enemy whenever the chains that connected the guns were dropped to permit their passage. The army abounded with veteran commanders who had learned the art of war under the Emperor himself.
Battle positions of Rana Sanga
In the Hindu army the commanders under Rana Sanga were generally great chieftains who from their territorial possessions could bring a large force into the field. Thus Silhadi a Tomar Rajput chieftain of northeast Malwa the Chief of Bhilsa is rated at 30,000 Purabiya Soldiers; Raja Khanzada Hasan Khan Mewati of Mewat 40,000; Rahul Uday Singh Nagari of Dongerpur 10,000; Madni Rao the Chief of Chanderi 10,000. The first and last of these had acted an important part in the history of Malwa. Sultan Mahmud Lodi a son of Sultan Sikander Lodi of Delhi who was acknowledged by the Afghans of the Delhi kingdom and by the Rana as the successor of his brother Ibrahim Lodi though he possessed no territory yet had with him a body of 10,000 adventurers who hoped to be liberally rewarded should fortune raise him to the throne. There were other chiefs who could command each from 4000-7000 men and all were animated by the most exalted hopes and by hatred of the common enemy. They also possessed 500 war elephants and included 7 Rajas, 9 Raos and 104 Rawals and Rawats (lesser chieftains). A more gallant army could not be put into the field.
Khanwa is about 60 km west of Agra. Here the epic battle between the Muslim Mughals and the Confederation of Hindus and Afghans would play out. The battle began about 9:30 in the morning by a desperate charge made by the Rajputs on Babur's right. Bodies of the reserve were pushed on to its assistance and Mustafa Rumi who commanded one portion of the artillery on the right of the center opened a fire upon the assailants. Still new bodies of the enemy poured on undauntedly and new detachments from the reserve were sent to resist them. The battle was no less desperate on the left to which also it was found necessary to dispatch repeated parties from the reserve. When the battle had lasted several hours and still continued to rage, Babur sent orders to the flanking columns to wheel round and charge and he soon after ordered the guns to advance and by a simultaneous movement the household troops and cavalry stationed behind the cannon were ordered to gallop out on right and left of the matchlockmen in the center who also moved forward and continued their fire hastening to fling themselves with all their fury on the enemy's center. When this was observed in the wings they also advanced. These unexpected movements made at the same moment threw the enemy into confusion. Mughal cannon fire caused the elephants in the Rajput army to stampede. Mughal cavalry archers made repeated flanking charges from the left and right of their fortified position. These mounted archers inflicted maximum losses on Rajput ranks, as the latter were not accustomed to these tactics, their center was shaken, the men who were displaced by the attack made in flank on the wings and rear were forced upon the center and crowded together. Still the gallant Rajputs were not appalled. Many valiant stuffed themselves into the Cannons to silence them as the Moghuls were the first people who introduced Artillery Cannons in India. They made repeated desperate attacks on the Emperor's center in hopes of recovering the day but were bravely and steadily received by the Mughals and swept away in great numbers. Towards evening the Rajput defeat was complete and the slaughter was consequently dreadful. The fate of the battle was decided.
Nothing remained for the Rajputs to do but to force their way through the bodies of their kinsmen and enemy that were now in their rear and to affect a retreat. Mughal Emperor Babur pursued them as far as their camp which was about three or four miles from his own. On reaching it he halted but detached a strong body of horse with orders to pursue the broken troops of the Rajput Confederates without halting to cut up all they met and to prevent them from reassembling. But Rana Sanga escaped. Babur later mentions his regret in not going with the detachment in pursuing the broken Rajput troops because of Rana Sanga's escape.
No victory could be more complete. The Rajputs were quite broken and dispersed. The whole fields around were strewed with the dead as well as the roads to Bayana and Alwar. Among the slain were Raja Hasan Khan Mewattpati who fell by a matchlock shot, Uday Singh Nagari of Dongerpur, Rai Chanderbhan Chauhan, Manikchand Chauhan (later awarded Kotharia jagir posthumously) and many other chiefs of note. Clearly Babur's superior leadership and modern technology won the day. Babur henceforth assumed the title of Ghazi (Victorious Veteran of Jihad). As for Sultan Mahmud Lodi, he also fled eastwards and would again pose a challenge to Babur two years later at the Battle of Ghaghra.
Since the time Babur had left Agra for this battle, insurrection and revolt appeared on every hand. The towns and forts of which with so much labor he had gained possession were fast changing masters. Raberi and Chandwar on the Yamuna River; Koel in the Doab and Sambhal beyond the Ganges all of them near Agra had been retaken by the Afghans. His troops had been obliged to abandon Kanauj. Gwalior was blockaded by the Rajputs of the vicinity Alim Khan Jilal Khan Jighat of Kalpi who was sent to relieve it instead of executing his orders had marched off to his own country. Many Hindu chiefs deserted the cause of Babur. Indeed the previous conquests and recent success of Rana Sanga, a Hindu had inspired all his countrymen with hopes that a change of dynasty was about to take place and they hailed with joy the prospect of a native government. But after the battle of Khanwa, Babur sent forces to chastise the insurgents and quickly retook lost territories.
Being now disengaged of his most formidable enemies he was enabled to send a force to recover Chandwar and Raberi places not far distant from Agra of which the insurgents had made themselves masters during his operations against Rana Sanga. The consternation occasioned by his success was such that this object was affected with little difficulty and even Etawah lower down the Yamuna which had never yet submitted to his power, was surrendered by Kutb Khan. Rana Sanga died shortly after this battle in 1527 at Baswa on Mewar's northern border.
- A History of India Under the Two First Sovereigns of the House of Taimur, Báber and Humáyun by William Erskine, Published by Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans, 1854 
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- A History of India Under the Two First Sovereigns of the House of Taimur, Báber and Humáyun, by William Erskine, Published by Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans, 1854, Public Domain
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