Battle of Karnal

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Battle of Karnal
Part of Nader Shah's invasion of Mughal India
Nadir Shah at the sack of Delhi - Battle scene with Nader Shah on horseback, possibly by Muhammad Ali ibn Abd al-Bayg ign Ali Quli Jabbadar, mid-18th century, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.jpg
Portrait of Nader Shah at the sack of Delhi in the aftermath of his victory at Karnal
Date February 24, 1739
Location Karnal, Haryana, India
Result Decisive Persian victory[1]
The Mughal capital of Delhi opens its gates to the Persian army and is later sacked and looted
Nadir Shah Flag.svg Persian Empire Alam of the Mughal Empire.svg Mughal Empire
Commanders and leaders
Nader Shah
Erekle II
Nasrullah Quli
Tahmasp Khan Jalayer
Fath Ali Khan Afshar
Lutf Ali Khan Afshar
Muhammad Shah
Khan Dauran VII,
1st Mir Bakhshi (Pay Master)  
Sa’ad ud-Din Khan,
Mir Atish
Nisar Muhammad Khan
Sher Jung
Khwaja Ashura
Muzaffar Khan  
Ali Hamid Khan 
Aslih Khan 
Ali Ahmad Khan 
Shahdad Afghan 
Yadgar Hasan Khan Koka 
Ashraf Khan 
Itibar Khan 
Aqil Beg Kambalposh 
Mir Kalu 
Ratan Chand 
Jan Nisar Khan 

(~100,000 engaged)[5]

Casualties and losses
~2,500[4] 20,000-30,000[5]

The Battle of Karnal (February 24, 1739),[6] was a decisive victory for Nader Shah, the emperor of the Iranian Afsharid dynasty during his invasion of India. The Shah's forces defeated the army of Muhammad Shah which was roughly six times the size of his own in what is regarded as the crowning achievement in a spectacular military career. the Indian army was lured into battle in segments and defeated in detail, in little more than three hours, paving the way for the Afsharid sack of Delhi. The battle took place near Karnal, 110 kilometres (68 mi) north of Delhi, India.[1]

Order of battle[edit]

Afsharid forces negotiate with a Mughal Nawab.

The Mughal army was lined up with Sa'adat Khan forming the right wing, which was in the extreme east and near the Yamuna river. Khwaja Asim Khan Dauran's division stood in the centre, while the Vizier Qamar ud-Din Khan and the Emperor took up the left wing along a canal.

The Persian right wing was placed under Tahmasp Quli Jalair, whilst the left wing was under Fateh Ali and Lutf Ali Afshar. Nader's son, Nasrullah, commanded the centre, whilst Nader commanded the vanguard himself, which consisted of 4,000 cavalry.

Persian preparations[edit]

The Mughals' main weapon was their war elephants therefore Nader Shah ordered camels to be paired together and platforms constructed between them. A mixture of naphtha combustibles was placed on the platforms with orders to set them on fire during the battle so that the Mughal elephants would flee at the sight of the fire and cause mayhem in their own army.

Additionally, Nader Shah placed 3,000 of his best troops in front of his main position thus giving them a clear line of fire on the Mughal dispositions.

Mughal preparations[edit]

The Mughal Army before the Battle of Karnal against Nadir Shah comprised 200,000 cavalry and 1,500 elephants, the Mughal Emperor Muhammad Shah used eight thousand pieces of artillery, which were drawn by elephants and oxen.[7]

The battle[edit]

The battle began a little after one o'clock in the afternoon, with a discharge of arrows on both sides. The Persian cavalry carried out a ruse of feigning flight. Sa’adat Khan gave chase and was ambushed three or four miles east of the imperial camp, well outside the covering fire of the Mughal artillery. The Persian cavalry drew aside and the pursuing Mughals found themselves in front of Persian guns at point blank range.[citation needed]

A diagram of the battle of Karnal in its entirety

The Mughal vanguard fled but their commander, Sa’adat Khan, was able to keep his ground. However, his forces were also forced to withdraw and the extreme right wing of the Mughal lines collapsed. Khan Dauran's division in the centre of the battlefield was also forced to withdraw.

The murderous fire of the Persian gunners continued for two hours. The Mughals fought bravely but were unable to respond effectively to the Persian guns. Khan Dauran was mortally wounded and brought back to the camp where he later died.[4]

Mughal disarray[edit]

The concentrated fire of the Persians contrasted sharply with the disorganisation of the Mughals as their chief divisions were separated from each other on the battlefield by more than a mile. Mughal forces began to disintegrate as they proved incapable of responding to the Persian attacks on their lines. Khan Dauran was not able to co-ordinate with Sa’adat Khan and Asaf Jah I was inactive and gave no help to either Khan Dauran or Sa’adat Khan.

The battle of Karnal as depicted on a Persian rug (note the camels near the top edge of the rug with their backs on fire, referencing the myth of the Persian army using the tactic to scare the Mughal war elephants).
A diagram of Nader's ambush of the Mughal contingent under Khan Dowran's command, south of Kanjpura village.

The Persians attacked sharply at those points in the battle lines where the Mughals were at a numerical tactical inferiority and were beyond the covering fire of the Mughal artillery. Mughal generals mounted on elephants became easy targets for Persian attacks whilst the Persian cavalry was swifter and out-manoeuvered the Mughals. The Mughal commander, Sa’adat Khan was taken prisoner by the Persians[4] after his elephant was driven into Persian ranks by the out of control elephant belonging to his nephew.[citation needed]

With the loss of Sa’adat Khan and Khan Dauran, Mughal morale plummeted, the army started to disintegrate. Mughal camp followers started to loot their own camp whilst Mughal soldiers fled the battlefield heavily pursued by the Persian cavalry who inflicted a great slaughter. The Emperor, who had remained inactive throughout the battle, was captured by the Persian army.


The Mughals suffered far heavier casualties than the Persians. Exact figures are uncertain as accounts of that period were prone to bombast. Various contemporary commentators estimated Mughals casualties being up to 30,000 men slain with most agreeing on a figure of around 20,000.[4]

The Persian army was estimated to have lost around 2,500 men.[4]


The collection of jewels, including the Koh-i-noor.

Nader entered Delhi with Mohammed Shah as his hostage on March 11. When a rumor broke out that Nader had been assassinated, some of the Mughals attacked and killed five Persian Soldiers. Nader reacted by ordering his soldiers to plunder the city. During the course of one day (22 March) 20-30,000 civilians were killed by the Persian troops, forcing Mohammad Shah to beg for mercy, Nader Shah agreed to withdraw, but Mohammad Shah was forced to hand over the keys of his royal treasury and surrender the Peacock Throne to the Persian emperor.[8][9]

The Peacock Throne thereafter served as a symbol of Persian imperial might. Among a trove of other fabulous jewels, Nader also gained the Koh-i-Noor ("Mountain of Light") and Darya-ye Noor ("Sea of Light") diamonds

Persian troops left Delhi at the beginning of May 1739, also taking with them thousands of elephants, horses, and camels, all loaded with the booty they had collected. The plunder seized from India was so rich that Nader stopped taxation in Iran for a period of three years following his return.[10]

Nadir Shah's campaign against the Mughal Empire, caused the Ottoman Sultan Mahmud I to initiate the Ottoman-Persian War (1743-1746), in which the Mughal Emperor Muhammad Shah closely cooperated with the Ottomans until his death in 1748.[11]

Nader Shah sitting upon the Peacock Throne after his victory at the Battle of Karnal.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Dupuy, R. Ernest and Trevor N. Dupuy, The Harper Encyclopedia of Military History, 4th Ed., (HarperCollinsPublishers, 1993), 711.
  2. ^ Floor, Wiilem(2009). The rise & fall of Nader Shah: Dutch East India Company Reports 1730-1747, Mage Publishers
  3. ^ Floor, Willem(1998). new facts on Nadir Shah's campaign in India in Iranian studies, p.198-219
  4. ^ a b c d e f Jaques, Tony (2006), "Karnal-1739-Nader Shah#Invasion of India", Dictionary of Battles and Sieges: A Guide to 8,500 Battles from Antiquity through the Twenty-first Century, Westport, CT: Greenwood, p. 512 
  5. ^ a b Axworthy, Michael (2009). The Sword of Persia: Nader Shah, from tribal warrior to conquering tyrant,p. 254. I. B. Tauris
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^ Axworthy p.8
  9. ^ "AN OUTLINE OF THE HISTORY OF PERSIA DURING THE LAST TWO CENTURIES (A.D. 1722-1922)". Edward G. Browne. London: Packard Humanities Institute. p. 33. Retrieved 2010-09-24. 
  10. ^ Cust, Edward, Annals of the wars of the eighteenth century, (Gilbert & Rivington Printers:London, 1862), 228.
  11. ^


  • Cust, Edward, Annals of the wars of the eighteenth century, Gilbert & Rivington Printers:London, 1862.
  • Dupuy, R. Ernest and Trevor N. Dupuy, The Harper Encyclopedia of Military History, 4th Ed., HarperCollinsPublishers, 1993.

External links[edit]