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Aug 01, 2017 at 10:31

In the history of every civilization there are moments and battles that proved pivotal. Our expert, Pankaj Aggarwal recounts for us these turning points in Indian Medieval history.

Known history of India goes back to fifth century BC. Mahavira, Buddha and king of Magadha Bimbisara were the first icons of authentic history of India. They all existed at around same time period 2500 years back. We know little about India prior to 5th century BC. We know about Indus Valley Civilization and then there were many centuries between Indus Valley Civilization and period of Bimbisara & Buddha, and we hardly know anything about that period.

Bimbisara was the first Indian monarch in the sphere of known and acceptable history of India. He established kingdom of Magadha and ruled from Rajagriha (present day Rajgir in Bihar). His son Ajatshatru built & established famous city of Patliputra (present day Patna).

Magadha, as Patliputra its capital, remained the most prominent kingdom for close to thousand years till the onset of second half of 1st millennium. Delhi came to forefront during the start of 2nd millennium only.
Famous historian John Keay made an observation about India and her history, which has also been invoked by Meghnad Desai in his book, The Rediscovery of India. Keay said that Indian history has always been full of upheavals. Hegemony of any specific group or dynasty did not last long, particularly if we compare the same with our neighbour China or England, where a single dynasty lasted for millenniums.

What Keay stated is amply clear with chronicles of Indian history subsequent to the shift of power centre to Delhi during 2nd millennium. Prithviraj Chauhan built a fort called Qila Rai Pithora near Mehrauli. It was first of famous seven settlements in Delhi (barring Indraprastha of Mahabharat period though). Prithviraj Chauhan was thus, first prominent ruler of Delhi during early medieval period.

2nd millennium was relentlessly eventful and full of turning points. Most impactful of these events were battles fought for the control of Delhi. Each of those battles was seminal. To explain it better, it can be stated that India would have been a different country today, had the outcome of these battles been different from what had actually had transpired.

It would be interesting to have a look at few of those famous battles, which changed the course of the history for all times to come.

Year 1192 AD was the first and major turning point in the history of India, when Prithviraj was defeated by Muhammad Ghori at the second battle of Tarain near Delhi. Prithviraj was killed. The battle changed the fabric of country forever. Unlike multiple attacks in the past by Mahmud Ghaznavi during 1000-1025 AD, this time around the Muslim king from Central/Middle-East Asia did not go back after the plunder and settled in India instead. It would be fair to say that post this battle in 1192 AD, Islam arrived in India. Ghori handed over power to his slave Quá¹­buddin Aibak. Prithviraj was the last Hindu ruler of India and the era of Muslim kingdoms, Delhi based Sultanate started; which continued till the time Mughal arrived in 1526, when Babur defeated last sultan of Delhi, Ibrahim Lodhi in first battle of Panipat in 1526.

Babur, though, took control of Delhi after the first battle of Panipat but the event which established Babur and Mughals in India was the battle of Khanwa, fought between Babur and king of Mewar Rana Sanga a year later in 1527. At Khanwa, the formidable Rajput had a much mightier force than Babur, but Mughals under the inspiring leadership of Babur pulled an unbelievable victory. Rajput retreated and Rana Sanga died soon after. This victory established the Mughals firmly and finally in India. Therefore, relatively little known battle of Khanwa, remains one of the important events of Medieval India.

After the sudden demise of second Mughal emperor Humayun, merchant-turned-warrior & master strategist Hemu, took control of Delhi. He established Hindu kingdom at Delhi and become emperor with the title of Vikramaditya, which was used by great Hindu kings of Magadha & Ujjain in past.

His hegemony was short lived as Mughals under the leadership of juvenile Akbar and his patron & guardian, Bairam Khan locked horns with Hemu in second battle of Panipat in 1556.

That was next big turning point of medieval India.

Hemu and his forces fought violently and they were about to rout Mughal army and then one arrow changed the course of the battle and that of India, as well. Hemu was struck by an arrow in his eye and fell down, unconscious. It resulted in all-around chaos in his army, and Mughals seized this chance. Hemu was captured and beheaded mercilessly by Bairam Khan. Hemu’s dream of Hindu kingdom at Delhi ended abruptly and Mughals took control of Delhi again and this time for exactly three more centuries to come.

A century later, Battle of Samugarh (a place near Agra) was fought in 1658. It is a relatively little known battle but it had a huge impact on the future course of the country. When Aurangzeb and Dara Shikoh were fighting the bloody & fierce succession battle for Mughal crown, the battle of Samugarh proved to be decisive. Aurangzeb’s army decimated the opposition and this defeat sealed the fate of Dara. Extremist, Aurangzeb became the ruler and India lost the chance of crowning the liberal and popular, Dara as its emperor. Aurangzeb ruled for close to fifty years but his reign was the beginning of the end for Mughals. Mighty Mughals were marginalized by tyranny and the bigoted rule of Aurangzeb. By the time Aurangzeb died in 1707, Mughals had waned considerably. Their kingdom started disintegrating and ultimately Britishers took control. India’s history could have taken a different turn, had Dara defeated Aurangzeb at Samugarh.

Battle of Plassey fought in 1757 was the game changing battle for Britishers. Shrewd Robert Clive took control of Bengal after defeating Nawab of Bengal in a war which was full of sinister plots and deceitful acts. Nawab of Bengal, Siraj Ud Daula was betrayed by his own army, minister and the outcome of the battle paved a clear path for Britishers to rule the country. In 1600, Mughal emperor Jahangir gave East India company permission to enter India for trading. But unarguably it was Battle of Plassey, which opened the gate for them to rule the country.

Present and future always germinate from the past. And thus, India today along with her demography, her political condition and her problems is simply a reflection of what happened in past and those battles during medieval India played a major role in shaping the future, for good or for bad. It also tells us that where we went wrong and gives us a chance to ponder over the future course correction.