|Some or all of this article's listed sources may not be reliable. (October 2014)|
c. 1910s portrayal of Hemu Vikramaditya
|Emperor of Hindustan|
|Reign||7 October 1556-5 November 1556|
|Coronation||7 October 1556|
|Father||Rai Puran Das|
Alwar, Rajasthan
|Died||5 November 1556
Hemu (Hindi: [hemuː]; also known as Hemu Vikramaditya and Hemchandra Vikramaditya) (1501–5 November 1556) was a Hindu emperor of North India during the 16th century CE, a period when the Mughals and Afghans were vying for power in the region.
Born in a humble family, Hemu rose to become Chief of the Army and Prime Minister to Adil Shah Suri of the Suri Dynasty. He fought Afghan rebels across North India from the Punjab to Bengal:59 and the Mughal forces of Akbar and Humayun in Agra and Delhi,:36 winning 22 consecutive battles.:25
Hemu acceded to the throne of Delhi on 7 October 1556, assuming the title of Vikramaditya that had been adopted by many Hindu kings since Vedic times. He re-established native Hindu rule (albeit for a short duration) in North India, after over 350 years of Muslim (Turkic and Mughal) rule. Some historians say that this rule was on the pattern of a strong Hindu state prevailing in South India for more than three centuries, known as the 'Vijayanagara Empire'.
Contemporary accounts of Hemu's early life are fragmentary, due to his humble background, and often biased, because they were written by Mughal historians such as Bada'uni and Abu'l-Fazl who were employed by Hemu's rival, Akbar. Modern historians differ on his family's ancestral home and caste, and the place and year of his birth. What is generally accepted is that he was born in a Hindu family of limited means, and that he spent his childhood in the town of Rewari, in the Mewat region, south-west of Delhi.:34 His father Puran Das, was spiritually minded, a follower of Hith Harivansh, and frequently absent from home while touring to spread Harivansh's teachings. Due to his family's financial condition, Hemu at a young age started working as a tradesman, either as a green-grocer or selling saltpetre.
India was socially and politically unstable in the early sixteenth century. This was especially so in the north, where Mughals and Afghans were vying for power, whereas the south was controlled by the comparatively stable Hindu Vijayanagara Empire. The Mughals were then, still considered a foreign force and Babur's invasion of North India in 1526 which resulted in the destruction, looting and demolition of many Hindu temples led to widespread disaffection among Hindus. Growing up in such an atmosphere, in a devout family of Hindu Brahmin priests, Hemu yearned to take revenge and defeat the Mughals. His first opportunity to do so and to rule North India from Delhi came after victory over Akbar's forces in the Battle for Delhi in October 1556.
Rise to fame
Rewari was an important stopover in medieval times for traders from Iran and Iraq on the way to Delhi. Hemu started his career as a supplier of cereals to Sher Shah Suri's army, moving on to more critical supplies like saltpetre (for gunpowder) later.:6 He also developed a cannon foundry in Rewari, laying the foundation of an industry in brass, copper sheets and utensils manufacture. Hemu obtained technical assistance for casting cannons, and for producing saltpetre, from the Portuguese in Goa, who were also helping the Vijayanagara Empire against the Deccan Sultanates in South India, by supplying cannons, gunpowder and Arabian horses.
After Sher Shah Suri's death in 1545, his son Islam Shah became ruler of North India. Islam Shah recognised the calibre, and administrative skills of Hemu and made him his personal adviser.:30 He consulted Hemu in matters relating not only to trade and commerce, but also pertaining to statesmanship, diplomacy and general politics.:198 Islam Shah initially appointed Hemu Shahang-i-Bazar, meaning 'Market superintendent' in Persian, to manage commerce throughout the empire.:30 This post gave Hemu the opportunity to frequently interact with the king, having to apprise him of the trade and commercial situation of the kingdom. In 1550, Hemu accompanied Islam Shah to Punjab where he was deputed along with other high officers to receive Mirza Kamran at the Rohtas Fort. Islam Shah consulted Hemu on a variety of matters. After serving as Shahang-i-Bazar for some time, Hemu rose to become Chief of Intelligence or Daroga-i-Chowki (Superintendent of Post).:448 Islam Shah's health deteriorated in 1552 and he shifted his base from Delhi to Gwalior, which was considered safer. Hemu was deputed as Governor to Punjab to safeguard the region against a Mughal invasion. Hemu held this position until 30 October 1553, when Islam Shah died.
Islam Shah was succeeded by his 12-year-old son, Firoz Khan, who was killed within three days by Adil Shah Suri. The new king Adil was an indolent pleasure-seeker and a drunkard who faced revolts all around.:35 Adil Shah took Hemu as his Chief Advisor and entrusted all his work to him,:32 appointing him the prime minister and chief of his army.:114 After some time, Adil Shah became insane and Hemu became the de facto king.:32
Many Afghan governors rebelled against the weak King Adil Shah and refused to pay tax, but Hemu quelled them. Ibrahim Khan, Sultan Muhhamad Khan, Taj Karrani, Rukh Khan Nurani and several other Afghan rebels were defeated and killed.:9 At the battle of Chhapparghatta in December 1555, Hemu routed the Bengal forces under Muhammad Shah, who was killed in the battle.
At the time, the Afghans considered themselves natives of the country (and were considered as such by the Hindus), while the Mughals, writes Vincent Arthur Smith,:7 were considered foreigners. Writer K.K. Bhardwaj claims that Hemu was a native ruler leading a native Afghan army to victory in battle after battle and thus, became popular among the Hindus as well as Afghans.:4 Another writer, K.R. Qanungo, writes that, this indicates that the rule which Hemu established, commanding Afghan army was secular and nationalistic.
Hemu's army was a result of long process of military development during Sur rule in North India. Michael Bradwin[who?] states that Hemu's army was five times superior to the army of Akbar. However, recruitment of Hindus considerably increased during his rule. His army consisted of infantry, cavalry, artillery and large elephants. His infantry ran on Portuguese lines.:c5 Hemu, according to Maulana Muhammed Hussain Azad, was very proud of his artillery. The superiority of artillery which the grandfather of Akbar enjoyed over the former's campaigns against the Lodhi ruler, was not seen there in this case. General Ram Chandra (Rammaya) and Shadi Khan Kakkar, the Afghan governor from Sambhal, were two of his most noted generals who commanded large forces in the Second Battle of Panipat.:c5
Victories against the Mughals
After the victory of the Mughal ruler Humayun over Adil Shah's brother Sikander Suri, on 23 July 1555, the Mughals regained Punjab, Delhi and Agra after a gap of 15 years. Hemu was in Bengal when Humayun died on 26 January 1556. Humayun's death gave Hemu an ideal opportunity to defeat the Mughals. He started a rapid march from Bengal through present day Bihar, Eastern UP and Madhya Pradesh. The Mughal fauzdars abandoned their positions and fled in panic before him. In Agra, an important Mughal stronghold, the commander of Mughal forces, Iskander Khan Uzbeg, fled without a fight after hearing of Hemu's invasion. Etawah, Kalpi and Bayana, all in present day central and western UP, fell to Hemu.
Hemu never saw defeat in battle and went from victory to victory throughout his life (he died in the only battle he lost). Hemu won the loyalty of his soldiers by his ready distribution of the spoils of war among his soldiers.
After winning Agra, Hemu moved for the final assault on Delhi. Tardi Beg Khan, who was Governor of Delhi, for Akbar, wrote to Akbar and his regent, Bairam Khan, that Hemu had captured Agra and intended to attack the capital Delhi, which could not be defended without reinforcements.:25 Bairam Khan, realising the gravity of the situation, sent his ablest lieutenant, Pir Muhammad Sharwani, to Tardi Beg. Tardi Beg Khan summoned all the Mughal commanders in the vicinity to a war council for the defence of Delhi. It was decided to stand and fight Hemu, and plans were made accordingly.
The Mughal army was thus drawn up. Abdullah Uzbeg commanded the Van, Haider Muhammad the right wing, Iskander Beg the left and Tardi Beg himself the centre. The choice Turki Cavalry in the van and left wing attacked and drove back the enemy forces before them and followed far in pursuit. In this assault the victors captured 400 elephants and slew 3000 men of the Afghan army. Imagining victory already gained, many of Tardi Beg's followers dispersed to plunder the enemy camp and he was left in the field thinly guarded. All this time Hemu had been holding 300 choice elephants and a force of select horsemen as a reserve in the centre. He promptly seized the opportunity and made a sudden charge upon Tardi Beg with this reserve.
Confusion ensued, resulting in a defeat for the Mughals. Hemu was helped by reinforcements from Alwar with a contingent commanded by Hazi Khan. The desertion of various Mughal commanders with Pir Muhhammad Khan, who fled the battlefield, to Tardi Beg's chagrin and surprise, forced the Mughal commander to withdraw.
Hemu won Delhi after a day's battle on 6 October 1556. Some 3000 soldiers died in this battle. However, Mughal forces led by Tardi Beg Khan vacated Delhi after a day's fight and Hemu entered Delhi, victorious under a royal canopy.
Sir Wolsey Haig writes, "Hemu was so elated by the capture of Delhi as to believe that he had already reached the goal of his ambition."
Smith, who names Hemu the third claimant to the sovereignty of Hindustan at the time (the other two being the Suris and Akbar), asserts that Hemu after his occupation of Delhi came to the conclusion that he had a better claim to the throne for himself rather than on behalf of Adil Shah and ventured to assume the royal state under the style of Raja Vikramaditya or Vikramaditya, a title borne by several renowned Hindu Kings in ancient times. Hemu assumed the royal robes and declared himself the Emperor of India under the title of Vikramaditya.:100
Hemu had his formal coronation at Purana Qila in Delhi on 7 October 1556 in the presence of all the Afghan Sardars and Hindu Senapatis (military commanders).:7 He made various appointments on the occasion, appointing his brother Jujharu Rai, governor of Ajmer and his nephew Rammayya, a general in his army. He also appointed his various supporters as Chhaudhuris and Muqqudams based on their merit so that they continued to maintain their respective positions in the reign of Akbar.
Because of his long association with the Sur administration since the 1540s, first as a supplier of various items to Sher Shah Suri, then as Superintendent of Markets, Minister of Internal security and Governor of Punjab with Islam Shah, Prime Minister-cum-Chief of Army with Adil Shah, Hemu had great experience in administration.:45 Although he did not have much time to rule, Hemu revitalised the administration that had flagged after the demise of Sher Shah Suri. With his knowledge of trade and commerce, he gave fresh impetus to commerce throughout the country. He spared no one indulging in black-marketing, hoarding, overcharging and under-weighing of goods. After his conquest of:619 Agra and Delhi, he replaced all corrupt officers. He also introduced coinage bearing his image.:619
Second Battle of Panipat
On hearing of Hemu's serial victories and the fall of large territories like Agra and Delhi, the Mughal army at Kalanaur lost heart and many commanders refused to fight Hemu. Most of his commanders advised Akbar to retreat to Kabul, which would serve better as a strong-hold. However, Bairam Khan, Akbar's guardian and chief strategist, insisted on fighting Hemu in an effort to gain control of Delhi.
On 5 November 1556, the Mughal army met Hemu's army at the historic battlefield of Panipat. Bairam Khan exhorted his army in a speech with religious overtones and ordered them into battle. Akbar and Bairam Khan stayed in the rear, eight miles from the battleground, with the instructions to leave India in case of defeat. The Mughal army was led by Ali Kuli Khan, Sikandar Khan and Abdulla Khan Uzbeg.:65 Hemu led his army himself into battle, atop an elephant. His left was led by his sister's son General Ramiya and the right by Shadi Khan Kakkar. He was on the cusp of victory, when he was wounded in the eye by an arrow, and collapsed unconscious. This led to confusion amongst the soldiers, with no supreme commander to coordinate decisions. According to Abul Fazl, 5000 soldiers of Hemu were slain.:71
The mortally wounded Hemu was captured by Shah Qulin Khan and carried to the Mughal camp for execution. According to Badayuni Bairam Khan asked Akbar to behead Hemu so that he could earn the title of Ghazi[clarification needed]. Akbar replied 'He is already dead, if he had any strength for a duel, I would have killed him'. After Akbar's refusal Hemu's body was denied honour by the Mughal battle tradition and was unceremoniously beheaded by Bairam Khan. Hemu's head was sent to Kabul where it was hung outside the Delhi Darwaza while his body was placed in a gibbet outside Purana Quila in Delhi.
After Hemu's death, a massacre of Hemu's community and followers was ordered by Bairam Khan. Thousands were beheaded and towers of skulls were built with their heads, to instil terror among the Hindus and Afghans. These towers were still in existence about 60 years later as described by Peter Mundy, an English traveler who visited India during the time of Jahangir.
His attempts to drive the Mughals out of Hindustan and establish a peaceful union of Hindus and Afghans who shared a common history and hence considered Mughals as invading foreigners, was a continuation of various efforts by the indigenous faiths to regain control from Mughal invaders. As the Mughals were intolerant:125 to their religion, they never reconciled to their rule. Romilla Thapar says that "although the Muslims ruled the infidels, the infidels called them barbarians."
Nirod Bhushan Roy considers Hemu to be "the harbinger of a new era in which the Hindus were to share equally with the Mughals the threat to the state".:92
Historians on Hemu's Life
According to Sarkar and Datta, Hemu assumed the title of Vikramaditya or Vikramadity. But Michael Edwardes writes that Hemu "declared himself King under the title of Raja Vikramaditya".:139 Hemu's proclamation of his being a Raja is very significant. The title of Raja reminds one of the ancient and medieval Indian Hindu Kings. Colonel H.C. Kar comments: "He assumed the title of Vikramaditya. He emerged as a monarch in his own right and the only Hindu to occupy the throne of Delhi during the medieval history of India. Himself a staunch Hindu, he had no disrespect for any religion, Islam or Christianity".
|“||Hemu was one of the greatest commanders of the age. He was one and all combined in his personality. As a general of sterling qualities, he displayed great valour in the battlefield and embarked upon wonderful planning and strategies to win twenty two battles he waged against the enemies of the state and won all. As an energetic soldier, he never shrank away from the battlefield and when the fight was most fierce, he did not bother for his personal safety and always fought with his adversaries courageously along with his comrades. This earned him goodwill, affection and praise of his entire heterogeneous army consisting of Afghans, Rajputs and various other tribes. He was an outstanding commander and his orders were obeyed by all his troops without grudge and demur.||”|
- Guru Angad Dev
- History of Bengal
- History of Punjab
- List of Indian warriors
- History of Haryana
- Hindu Nationalism
- Battle of Delhi (1556)
- Battle of Panipat (1556)
- Bhardwaj, K. K. "Hemu-Napoleon of Medieval India", Mittal Publications, New Delhi
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