Second Battle of Panipat (1556)

The Second Battle of Panipat was fought between the forces of Samrat Hem Chandra Vikramaditya, popularly calledHemu, the Hindu king who was ruling North India from Delhi, and the army of Akbar, on November 5, 1556. It was a decisive victory for Akbar’s generals Khan Zaman I and Bairam Khan.


On January 24, 1556, the Mughal ruler Humanyun died in Delhi and was succeeded by his son, Akbarat Kalanaur, who was only thirteen years old. On February 14, 1556, Akbar was enthroned as the king. At the time of his accession to the throne, the Mughal rule was confined to Kabul, Kandahar, parts ofDelhi and Punjab. Akbar was then campaigning in Kabul with his guardian, Bairam Khan.

Samrat Hem Chandra Vikramaditya or Hemu was a Hindu emperor in Delhi by virtue of defeating Akbar/Humanyun’s army in Battle for Delhi. Hemu belonged to Rewari in present day Haryana, who earlier was an adviser to Sher Shah Suri’s son Islam Shah from 1545 to 1553. Hemu had won 22 battles, as Prime Minister and Chief of Army of Islam Shah, during 1553 to 1556 to quell the rebellion by Afghan rebels against Sur regime. At the time of Humayun’s death in January 1556, Hemu had just quelled a rebellion in Bengal, killing the Bengal ruler Muhammad Shah in the war. He made his intentions of winning Delhi for himself known to his commanders. He then started a campaign, winning battles throughout northern India. When he attacked Agra, the commander of Akbar’s forces inAgra, fled without fighting. A large area of Etawah, Kalpi, and Agra provinces comprising present day Bihar and UP came under Hemu’s control. In the Gwalior Fort Hemu consolidated his army by recruiting more Hindus.

Hemu then moved towards Delhi and stationed his forces outside the city at Tughlaqabad. On October 6, 1556, army encountered Mughal resistance. After a fierce fight Akbar’s forces were ousted, and Tardi Beg, the commander of the Mughal forces, escaped, allowing Hemu to capture Delhi. Around 3,000 Mughals were killed. Hemu was crowned at Purana Qila on October 7, 1556, and established Hindu rule in North India, after 350 years of Muslim rule, and was bestowed the title of Samrat Hem Chandra Vikramaditya. According to Abul Fazl in Akbarnama, Hemu was preparing for an attack on Kabul and made several changes in his army.


Developments in Delhi and Agra disturbed the Mughals at Kalanaur, Punjab. Many Mughal Generals advised Akbar to retreat to Kabul as Mughal forces may not face Hemu’s might and new awareness among Hindus to liberate their country, but Bairam Khan decided in favor of war. Akbar’s army marched towards Delhi. On November 5, both armies met at the historic battlefield of Panipat, where, thirty years earlier, Akbar’s grandfather Babur had defeated Ibrahim Lodi in what is now known as the First Battle of Panipat. H.G.Keen writes; “Akbar and his guardian Bairam Khan did not participate in the battle and were stationed 5 Kos (8 miles) away from the war zone. Bairam Khan did not permit the 13 year old child King to be present in battle field in person, instead he was provided with a special guard of 5000 well trained and most faithful troops and was stationed at a safe distance far behind the battle lines. He was instructed by Bairam Khan to flee towards Kabul for life in case the Mughal Army was routed in the battlefield.”[3] Hemu led his army himself. Hemu’s army consisted of 1500 war elephants and a vanguard of artillery park. Hemu marched in excellent order with 30,000 practiced horsemen composed of Rajputs and Afghans who on many occasions, had by their exploits increased the pride and arrogance.

In order to hearten the soldiers and the Afghan Amirs, Hemu had given gifts of lands, and opened the doors of his treasures. Thus he mobilised the valiant fighters. According to Badaoni, Hemu’s army was dispirited, and who set all his hopes on the elephants, surrounded by his chiefs charged the imperial hosts, and threw both right and left wings in to great confusion. The Mughal forces were charged repeatedly by elephants to break their lines. The Mughal Vanguard according to sources consisted of 10,000 cavalry, out of which 5000 were experienced veteran soldiers and they got ready to meet the advancing army of Hemu. Hemu was himself commanding his forces from atop an elephant. It seemed Hemu was on a winning track and Akbar’s army would rout. Abul Fazl has described the war as quote “Two armies so collided that they struck fire out of water, You’d say the air was all crimsoned. Their steel had all become solid rubies” suddenly in the midst of the contest, an arrow from the bend bow of divener wrath reached Hemu’s eye, and piercing the socket, came out at the back of his head. In the words of Badaoni too, “suddenly the arrow of death which no shield can ward off struck his (Hemu) squinting eye so that his brain passed clean out from the cup of his head, and he became unconscious and not to be seen in his Howda. Not seeing Hemu in his howda, Hemu’s army was in disarray and defeated in the ensuing confusion.

Several hours after the war ended, dead Hemu was located and captured by Shah Quli Khan Mahram and brought to Akbar’s tent in the camp located at village Saudhapur in Panipat (Located on Panipat-Jind road, 5 km from NH1). General Bairam Khan was desirous that Akbar should slay the hindu king Hemu himself and should establish his right to the title of “Ghazi” (Champion of Faith or war veteran). But Akbar, refused to strike a blood soaked and dead enemy but smote the dead body, just to be called a Ghazi. Bairam Khan irritated by Akbar’s scruples beheaded the king himself.

Hemu’s supporters constructed a Cenotaph at the site of his beheading, which still exists at the village Saudhapur, on Jind Road at Panipat.