Dr. B. R. Ambedkar (भीमराव रामजी आंबेडकर):
"When the whole of India was enveloped by the advancing foreign horde and its people being subjugated piece by piece, here in this little corner of Maharashtra lived a sturdy race who knew what liberty was, who had fought for it inch by inch and established it over miles and miles."
"One of the essential experiences of war is never being able to escape from disgusting smells of human origin. Latrines are an overworked subject in war literature, and I would not mention them if it were not that the latrine in our barracks did its necessary bit towards puncturing my own illusions about the Spanish civil war."
Lord Curzon, speaking at the annual dinner of the Royal Asiatic Society, London, 1908:
"If the Central Asian Society exists and is meeting in fifty or a hundred years hence, Afghanistan will be as vital and important a question as it is now."
Today is the beginning of 250th anniversary year of the third battle of Panipat that was fought on January 14, 1761.
The battle was the most significant event of the year in the world. Even ahead of a transit of Venus across the Sun which according to ANDREA WULF helped "launch global scientific teamwork, science's first international collaboration—despite war, storms, typhus and frozen brandy" in 1761 (WSJ, April 20 2012)
The battle marks the end of the Mughal empire, once the most powerful empire in the world, and the rise of British power in India.
I have attempted to draw attention to a few aspects of the battle in the posts that have appeared before.
On a personal note, forefathers (and a few mothers too) of many of today's middle-class Marathi speakers like me were slaughtered (and violated) on that Makar Sankranti day, either on the battlefield during the day or in the bright moonlight of the evening that followed.
Marathas tried to rally all Indians against the foreign intruders.
When I told my son that the greatest valour in the battle, from the side of Marathas, was shown by Ibrahim Khan Gardi's eight to ten thousand strong division and that his statue should be standing next to that of Baji Rao I in front of Shaniwar Wada, he said: "Mussalman?".
For José Ortega y Gasset, 'Don Quixote' was the last hero of the Middle Ages. For me, it's I K Gardi, not any fictional character.
T S Shejwalkar: "...Ibrahim Khan Gardi's division had dark and stubby South Indian Muslims and many Hindu Deccan soldiers. They probably belonged to very low castes...Because of his guns and soldiers maximum Muslims had died...but Ibrahim Khan succumbed to the wounds which were aggravated by rubbing salt into it. His son and brother-in-law had died earlier in the battle... "
(त्र्यं शं शेजवलकर: "...इब्राहिमखानाच्या गाडद्यात काळे व ठेंगणे दक्षिणी मुसलमान व बरेच हिंदु तेलंगे शिपाईही होते. ते बहुधा अगदी खालच्या जातीचे असत......त्याच्या तोफखान्यामुळे व गाडद्यांमुळे सर्वात जास्त मुसलमान ठार झाले होते... पण इब्राहिमखानाच्या जखमास मीठ चोळृन त्या चिघळवून त्यास मारण्यात आले. त्याचा मुलगा व मेहुणा पूर्वीच युद्धात मेले होते... ")
Is there a greater example of personal sacrifice in the entire history of Marathas (1630-1818)?
Next year when some people of Maharashtra erect large posters of slaying of Afzal Khan by Shivaji, I hope they will also create images of Ibrahim Khan Gardi blasting Maratha's enemies.
Sadashiv Rao Bhau with Ibrahim Gardi (extreme left) courtesy: Raja Kelkar Museum, Pune
Let us remember that on the morning of January 14 1761, prayers had gone out to Gajanan, Khandoba, Tulja Bhavani, Vithoba, Mahalakshmi, Balaji, Muruga, Kashi Vishweshwara, Dwarkadhish, Basava...and the Allah- in Sanskrit, Marathi, Kannada, Telugu, Arabic, Hindi, Urdu, Rajasthani, Gujarati...- pleading for Maratha victory.
Yes, Marathas were NOT fighting in the name of any religion or language while their enemies like Najib-ul-Daula were doing so by invoking Jihad.
Make no mistake. Marathas were deeply faithful. After all they had spent (wasted?) so much of their precious time at the Hindu pilgrimage centres before reaching Panipat. But they were ready to sacrifice themselves to protect secular ethos of India.
They were fighting an army, commandeered by a brilliant general: Ahmad Shah Abdali, that contained a large number of Afghans whose successors, 250 years later, aren't being defeated by US and NATO forces.
An idea of India, for which Marathas were fighting, was given to them, most recently, by Chattrapati Shahu (1682–1749).
In today's Maharashtra, most people praise Shivaji (1630-1680) and Shahu IV (1874-1922) for their vision, leadership and administration. I feel Chattrapati Shahu too, in many respects, belongs up there with them.
The Maratha army- manned by people of all castes, both Hindus and Muslims, and speaking multiple languages- sure lost the battle quite spectacularly but they, and NOT the British, laid the foundation of modern Indian army that today prides on its strict secular credentials.
The roots of the unity of Hindus and Muslims against the British in 1857 can also be traced to this battle.
In the end, Marathas, fighting for their principles, sacrificed a lot more than what Nehru, Patel and Jinnah were ever ready to. They also achieved a lot, for India, even in defeat, because the foreign invader's back was broken in the process.
And finally heroes are heroes because they are heroic in behavior, not because they won or lost.
I hope people of India, and not just Maharashtra, will also remember T S Shejwalkar, the best historian of the battle and one of the foremost essayist of 20th century India. (He wrote such beautiful Marathi prose!)
Acharya Atre writes about Shejwalkar: "Alienated from the masses, such a giant has not been produced in our Maharashtra...The tragedy of Maharashtra is that it doesn't even remember the knowledgeable ones..." ('Hundake')
(आचार्य अत्रे: "जनतेपासून अलिप्त झालेला एवढा मोठा माणूस या आमच्या महाराष्ट्रात झालेला नाही...आमच्या महाराष्ट्राची शोककथा ही आहे, की त्याला विद्वान माणसांची आठवणही होत नाही...", 'हुंदके')
Vilasrao Deshmukh (विलासराव देशमुख) has been around in my public life for a long time now. I never took any interest in what he said.
But I was impressed when he referred to Panipat 1761 in a speech on December 27, 2009:
"...Mr Deshmukh said he grows emotional whenever he remembers the historic 1761 battle. "Panipat ke yaad aati hai to ankhon mein aansu aate hain (I get tears in my eyes when I think about that battle)," the Union minister for heavy industries and public enterprises said after paying tribute to the martyrs of 1761 at the memorial on the battle ground.
Speaking at the Panipat Mahotsav function organised by the Panipat Foundation, Mr Deshmukh felt history should be studied holistically, in the right perspective, and that its positive side should also be brought before the people.
"Maratha yahan aaey desh ke liye... kuirbani ki (The Marathas came here to save the country and sacrificed themselves)," he said. He added that the fact that the Marathas lost the third battle of Panipat should not take away from the sacrifice made by those who fought Ahmad Shah Abdali’s army..."
The battle lurks in my mind all the time.
I have started watching on National Geographic Channel "Generals At War". The very first episode was on the battle of El Alamein.
It demonstrated the importance of the design of field toilets and how better designed toilets helped the British beat the Germans.
I had never read until recently what an unbathed army, even if your own, meant.
Will Irwin, a war correspondent for Collier's magazine, reporting on the progress of the German army in World War I: "Over it all lay a smell of which I have never heard mentioned in any book on war—the smell of a half-million unbathed men, the stench of a menagerie raised to the nth power. That smell lay for days over every town through which the Germans passed."
Now read this.
For a period of approximately two and half months leading upto January 14 1761, Maratha army- approximate 200,000 people strong- was forced to stay put in an area of about 15 miles long near Panipat.
It could never change its location even once unlike their enemy army of Ahmad Shah Abdali which changed its own location three times.
Unfortunately today there are few letters available that were sent from the Maratha army camp during this period because most of the sent ones were captured and destroyed by the enemy.
Shejwalkar has described the kind of difficulties Maratha army might have faced- foul smell (emanating from excreta of its own and, thanks to the wind direction, that of the enemy), polluted and inadequate water (princely Rs. 1 per pot!), famine like food supply, lack of clothing to protect from severe and unusually wet North Indian winter, undisposed rotting corpses of soldiers who died in skirmishes etc.
One of the important reasons Marathas lost was because they were fighting looking into the Sun. It tired them out quickly. Wish transit of Venus happened on January 14!