• 20 May, 2024
Foreign Affairs, Geopolitics & National Security

First Battle Of Panipat

Brig Arvind Dhananjayan (Retd) Mon, 25 Jul 2022   |  Reading Time: 7 minutes


In the ‘Trilogy’ of the Battles of Panipat, wherein three historical battles were fought, none impacted the destiny of the Indian Subcontinent for the next 230 years as did the First Battle of Panipat. While many epistles and a multitude of versions have been written on this epic battle,  it is important to understand the build-up to this confrontation between the Mughal and Lodi Dynasties. This historical encounter was momentous for a number of reasons, its most significant reason being that the battlefield of Panipat on that fateful day, bore witness to the sun rising on one great Empire and setting on another.

The Battle, which was fought on the plains outside the city of Panipat on 21 April 1526, sowed the seeds of the Mughal Rule in the Indian Subcontinent under Babur, a warrior chieftain from the region that today represents Uzbekistan, in the Central Asian Republics. Babur historically defeated Ibrahim Khan Lodi, the last Sultan of the Delhi Sultanate ruled by the Lodi Dynasty since 1451, in this epic battle of conquest, fought exactly 75 years later!

Babur(L), Ibrahim Khan Lodi (R):Source-ownguru.com/vivacepanorama.com

Causus Belli & Prelude To The Battle

Babur’s innate motivation to embark on expeditionary campaigns of conquest is not surprising, since the Turkic Conqueror was a descendant of the great Genghis Khan, Emperor and founder of the Mongol Empire and Timur, the founder of the Timurid Empire in and around Afghanistan, Iran and Central Asia!

Babur was catapulted into statecraft in 1494, at the tender age of twelve because of the accidental demise of his father, Umar Shaikh Mirza II, ruler of the Fergana Valley and fourth son of Abu Sa’id Mirza, the Emperor of the Timurid Empire. With an inborn thirst for conquest, Babur embarked on series of campaigns which resulted in many victories, but also a substantial number of defeats. After a series of such swinging fortunes, Babur turned his attention Southwards, towards the Indian Subcontinent.

Babur, along with reinforcements from the Ottoman Empire (in modern-day Turkey) and from the Mongols, reached the banks of the Chenab River in 1519, with the sole aim of conquering Punjab, in honour of Emperor Timur, who held sway over this region during his reign. Babur continued this tour of duty till 1524. His attention was drawn to the lands of the Delhi Sultanate when he received invitations from Daulat Khan Lodi, the Governor of Punjab and Ibrahim Lodi’s own Uncle, Ala-Ud-Din, thus unambiguously indicating a sure sign of the weakening of the Lodi Dynasty! Babur’s attempts at claiming right to the Emperorship of the Delhi Sultanate, however met with scant response, with the detainment of his emissary by Ibrahim Lodi.

In response, Babur marched towards Lahore in 1524, but found to his astonishment that Daulat Khan Lodi had been driven out by Ibrahim Lodi’s forces. Babur then proceeded to sack Lahore, which only increased Ibrahim Lodi’s indignation. The Mughal King then marched onto Depalpur, a city in the Okara District, approximately 150 Km Southwest of Lahore and the largest tehsil in modern-day Pakistan. Here Babur appointed Alam Khan, another of Ibrahim Lodi’s defecting Uncles as the Governor. However, Alam Khan was soon overthrown and fled the city. Babur proceeded to reinforce Alam Khan’s entourage and the latter, along with Daulat Khan Lodi and approximately 30,000 troops, laid siege to Ibrahim Lodi at Delhi, on Babur’s instigation. This contingent met with a similar fate at the hands of Ibrahim Lodi’s forces, leading Babur to realise that he would need to deal with Ibrahim Lodi’s forces himself, lest the Delhi Sultanate proved to be a serious impediment to his ambitions of an Indian conquest.

Force Levels

The Battle

Babur marched towards Delhi via Sirhind. His astute military mind understood that besieging Delhi’s ramparts or fighting within its confines would prove advantageous to Ibrahim Lodi. Babur thus chose the open plains of Panipat, approximately 95 Km North of Delhi. With covert feelers, Babur indicated this intention to the Delhi Sultanate and due to his smaller and more nimble force, could reach Panipat a few days ahead of Ibrahim Lodi. This gave Babur the vital headstart he needed to prepare the battlefield to his advantage.

Babur aligned his forces with their right flank against the City of Panipat. The River Yamuna flanked Babur’s forces on the left, where he dug rows of trenches and felled trees that would act as bulwarks against his left flank. In Babur’s appreciation, his strengthened flanks would discourage Ibrahim Lodi from trying to outflank him and would force Lodi to attack Babur’s forces head-on. Alternatively, Babur appreciated that Lodi would have to use excessive force to overcome his flanks.

Babur first secured his flanks as mentioned and then employed the Ottoman tactic called the Araba, in which he placed his artillery cannons in the centre of his battle formation, along with some 700 overturned ox-carts joined together with ropes, thus making a continuous unbroken chain in the middle, with wooden breastworks between carts from where his musketeers could engage the enemy. The breastworks also acted as protection for the Artillery.  The interlocking ropes could also be lowered at pre-selected places to enable the cavalry to charge through. The heavy cavalry made up his front ranks, bulwarked against the wagons. Babur’s skilled Mongol mounted archers, a legacy owed to his Chagatai (Mongol) roots from his mother’s side, were deployed on his wings to quickly outflank the enemy when ordered to. Incidentally, the Mongol horsemen, the most skilled mounted warriors in history, used a composite recurved bow made of bone, wood and muscle sinew, with a drawing force greater than 150 pounds, which they could fire with deadly accuracy, standing in their stirrups at full gallop, to a range of 300 yards!

In order to cater for Lodi’s numerically superior Army, Babur also employed the Tulughma– a tactic familiar to the Central Asian Armies. The Tulughma involved placing ranks of infantry at regular intervals, with heavily armed infantry and heavy cavalry making up the front ranks. The rear ranks consisted of light infantry and light cavalry. When battle is joined, some of the light cavalry encircles the flanks of the enemy, as the heavily armed front ranks close in. As the enemy gets boxed in, the rest of the rear ranks move through the gaps in the front ranks and overwhelm the enemy with arrows, projectiles and close-quarter fighting. Once the adversary is in disarray, the heavily armed front ranks would move in to decimate the remaining enemy.

 Tulughma & Araba: Source-indiancontents.com

Of course, for Babur’s Tulughma  to succeed, it was imperative that Lodi attacked him first. Babur sent out raiding parties to continuously harass Ibrahim Lodi’s camp. Ibrahim Lodi lacked the battle cunning of Babur and had always relied on overwhelming force to win his battles. He also placed great reliance on his war elephants, which were capable of striking fear into his previous adversaries. Lodi, therefore, fell into Babur’s trap and advanced with his numerically superior Army to meet Babur’s battle formation on the fields outside Panipat. Lodi found the frontage of Babur’s battle formation too narrow and tried to quickly reorganise his advancing Army into a more compact formation. Seizing this opportunity, Babur unleashed his flanking cavalry. Driven by Babur’s swift and agile horsemen towards the centre of Babur’s Araba, Lodi’s war elephants were met with cannon-shot from Babur’s Artillery, causing most of them to become startled and run amok. The Mongol horsemen then rained deadly arrows down on them and their handlers. Once the enemy ranks had become disorganised, the heavy cavalry moved in and decimated them, causing many to flee. It is also believed that at this time, a sizable number of Lodi’s soldiers defected to Babur’s ranks.  The confusion in Lodi’s ranks prevailed through the day, till at last, Lodi was left solitary, wounded and surrounded. He attempted to hastily retreat, during which manoeuvre he was killed, resulting in defeat for the Delhi Sultanate at the First Battle of Panipat, which lasted less than half a day!


The defeat of the Lodi Army decimated the Lodi Dynasty’s forces, causing the Sultanate to capitulate. Immediately after the battle, Babur proceeded to occupy Delhi 72 hours later. Babur then reached Agra, Sikander Lodi’s capital city, on 04 May 1526 and occupied it thereafter.

Post the First battle of Panipat, Babur’s main concern was that he had to resort to coercion to influence his troops to stay on, whence a sizable number wanted to avoid the oppressive weather and hostile neighbourhood and return back to their homeland, as his ancestor Timur had done. Babur’s advances into the Indian sub-continent also caused him to incur the animosity of the Afghan chieftains along the River Ganges, rulers of Malwa and Gujarat and Rana Sanga of Mewar, who unified the Rajput clans against Babur in the Battle of Khanwa (60 Km West of Agra) a year later on 16 March 1527, wherein Babur again prevailed.

Significance/ Lessons

The fall of Delhi was the primer for the establishment of the Mughal Empire in India, which, after Babur’s death in 1530, was helmed by his son Humayun and his son Akbar thereafter, with the Mughal Empire reaching its pinnacle under the latter. The Mughals would continue to rule the Indian subcontinent till they were dethroned by the British Raj shortly after the Sepoy Mutiny in 1857, when the last Emperor, Bahadur Shah II, was exiled to Burma for his role in the Mutiny.

Critical to his success were apt battle tactics employed by Babur, which significantly offset the numerical superiority of Lodi’s forces. These included:-

  • A Correct SWOT Analysis of the Enemy To Pick Location and Time for Battle. Babur’s appreciation of Lodi’s numerical superiority along with the profile of his forces, led him to conclude that Lodi’s Army lacked agility. This led Babur to select the open plains of Panipat for Battle, where he knew that his swift and nimble cavalry would make the difference.
  • Employing Novel Tactics and Battle Drills. Babur’s use of the Tulughma and the Araba, never before witnessed by Lodi’s forces, proved decisive in this Mughal victory. The pincer manoeuvre employed by Babur to encircle Lodi’s forces with his cavalry in order to drive Lodi’s forces towards the ‘killing ground’ ahead of the Araba was a novel tactic used by Babur, aptly employing a combination of swift, mobile forces and a heavy ‘punch’ to decimate Lodi’s forces.
  • Decisive Employment of Artillery. The use of gunpowder by Babur’s musketeers and cannon detachments proved to be a significant battle-winning factor. Babur’s apt use of Artillery (though with a high percentage of equipment failure) for softening up Lodi’s cavalry and war elephant ranks led to early capitulation of Lodi’s forces, with relatively lower casualty figures for the Mughals. Babur also catered for protection of his Artillery with the use of ‘mantlets’ or movable protective shields on wheels for his cannons, thus ensuring significant mobility and protection of these important assets from enemy action.


Babur’s victory in the First Battle of Panipat established the advantage of employment of apt tactics and novel techniques based on a keen analysis of enemy strengths and weaknesses over simple numerical superiority. The use of cannon Artillery by Babur for the first time in the Indian Subcontinent forever changed the way battles would be fought. Battle became a conflict of the mind rather than a simple clash of numbers.

Brig Arvind Dhananjayan (Retd) has commanded an operational Brigade and has been Brigadier- in- charge Administration in a premier training facility. He has had exposure abroad on deputation to Botswana, Southern Africa as member of an Indian Army Training Team and has had extensive exposure in mentoring of Defence Forces overseas. He possesses vast instructional experience, imparting instructions in both technical aspects and tactical application of weapon systems.


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Oct 27, 2022
Inheriting, as a boy of eleven, but the shadow of a petty kingdom in Central Asia, Babur died at the age of forty-eight, master of extensive dominions, stretching from the Oxus in the West to Bihar in the east and the foot. of the Himalayas in the north to Malwa and Rajasthan in the south. He could now compare him. self with the Sultan of Turkey and the Shah of Persia. His permanent place in history rests no doubt upon his conquests in Hindus than which paved the way for the foundation of an empire that excelled, in glory and greatness, the ephemeral structure of Chingiz as well as the ill-cemented empire of Timur whom he emulated. It is, however, in the military sense that Babur can be regarded as the founder of the Mughul empire in India. The monarchy of Babur’s ideal was ‘a divine inheritance’—the sacrosanct monarchy of Timur; the monarchy that he established in reality was a ‘human compromise’. He had neither the time to organize nor the genius for reconstruction; he failed in the task of the re-creation of a new theory of kingship and the foundation of a stable, centralized polity for his far-flung empire. As in Kabul, so in India, the government that he set up was saifi (by the sword) and not qalami (by the pen). A considerable part of the empire, about one-fifth, was held by old ‘zamindars and rais’ in full internal sovereignty. The territory directly under his authority he assigned to his great amirs who were responsible for the administration of the area under their control; the monarch had only nominal authority over local administration. In fact, Babur adopted the old obsolete administrative machinery of the Lodhis. He was an organizer of victory but not an organizer of polity, great conqueror but no ‘architect of empire’. If he is ‘the link between Tamerlane and Akbar’, Babur in this respect seems rather nearer his famous ancestor than his truly great grandson. Babur is one of the most fascinating characters of history. With iron nerves and robust optimism he combined the virtues of industry, daring and vigour. Love of action was the dominant note of his character: from the age of eleven he never observed the Ramzan twice in the same place. Intrepid as a soldier, a great strategist as a general, prompt to take advantage of the enemy’s weakness as a commander, he became an organizer of victory. He had little regard for the sanctity of human life: the massacre of Bajaur, the cold-blooded murder of prisoners, and the inhuman punishments which are referred to in his Memoirs only prove that he inherited the Mongol ferocity and Turkish savagery of his ancestors. Yet he was capable of generosity and chivalry on occasions. He possessed a joyous nature, strong affections, faculty of judging men and events, and a charming personality. He was fond of gardening and architecture, and proficient in music. He was an orthodox Sunni, though for political reasons he had to conform to some Shiite rites. To compare Babur’s ‘moral courage’ in this respect with Akbar’s religious eclecticism is as inaccurate as it is unjust. Though not a zealous bigot like the Safavi Shahs of Persia, he could never dream of the sulh-i-kull (universal toleration) cult of his grandson. True to his age, he rejoiced in the glory of Jihéd (holy war against infidels) and the majesty of the title of Ghazi. To him Sunnism was the ‘pure faith’, Shiism ‘heresy’, and a Shiah was ‘a rank heretic’. With righteous satisfaction he justifies and records the cruel massacre of Bajaur because the victims were infidels.“ An incorrigible but repentant drunkard, he was keenly sensitive to the beauties of nature. His description of the flora and fauna of Hindusthan reveals his quickness of observation and his marvellous interest in natural history. The sweeping condemnation of Hindusthan—its people as well as its culture—betrays as much his superficial acquaintance with, as his supreme contempt for, the land he conquered to stay in. His mind was as active as his body. In him were combined the vigour and stubbornness of the Mongol, the hardihood and capability of the Turk, and the culture and suavity of the Persian. He was a master of Turki, his mother tongue, as well as Persian, the language of culture, the ‘French’ of Muslim Asia. His autobiography in Turki is a permanent contribution to literature. He was a poet of no mean order in both the languages. He wrote a Diwan in Turki and a collection of Masnavis called the Mubayyin which is a treatise on Muslim law. He was the author of a Turki treatise on prosody which was discovered in 1923 in a manuscript found in Paris. Though he conquered Hindusthan and laid the first stone of the splendid fabric of the Mughul empire, he had no love lost for the country. He sighed for the hills of Farghana, the blue domes and glittering minars of Samarqand, and the verdure and flowers of Kabul, where, by his own choice, he lies buried. The first Mughul emperor of India died, as he had lived, as a Central Asian.


Sep 23, 2022
Remember that Babur spent more than half of his life on the battlefield. In one form or another. Babur became a king at the age of twelve and almost immediately got involved in warfare. He first took military command of an army at the age of fourteen. He was involved in countless battles. Babur spent just as much time in the saddle, if not more so, as he did in the safety of his palace. Warfare was a constant feature of the Timurid lifestyle in the medieval era. Just looking at Babur’s invasion of the Delhi Sultanate and his war with the Rajputs gives a false impression of him. Contrary to the popular idea, Babur was not some sort of natural military genius. Nor was he born as a great military commander. He lost plenty of battles in his early life. Babur’s early military career is filled with just as many defeats, if not more so, as victories. For example, his defeat at Sar-i-Pul and Samarkand to the Muhammad Shaybani Khan in 1501. Or the crushing defeat he faced at the hands of the Uzbeks in the Battle of Ghazdewan in 1512. However, all of these loses taught Babur how to become a better military commander. He became a good general from experience. Babur also made sure that his forces underwent a military revolution in the years following his defeat in the Battle of Ghazdewan. This included adopting new tactics (Tabur Cengi and Tulughma) and making use of modern weapons of war. It was only during the later part of his life when we see the experienced military commander we now know of Babur as. The man who won battles against all odds. Such as the masterclass in the Battle of Panipat and Battle of Khanwa. The Babur who established the Mughal Empire was one of the greatest military commanders in the world at that time.


Jul 29, 2022
Sir, I understood what you are trying to convey, but my point is many people believe that Rana Sanga invited Babur which is completely false.

Brig Arvind Dhananjayan (Retd)

Jul 29, 2022
Dear Soumyadipta, Rana Sanga was a Warrior king of exceptional grit and drive. As alluded to in the, article, it was his persona that succeeded in uniting the Rajput clans against Babur.

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