The Last Raid : Dying Embers of the Mughal Empire

Posted June 20, 2014 by admin in Introduction

In 1754 the Marathas arrived as the kingmakers in Delhi . The defeat and decline of the Imperial Mughal armies had led to the ethnic tensions between the ruling classes of the Mughals being the Iranis, the Turanis and the much despised Hindustanis. Their erstwhile allies composing of part of the Hindu ruling classes of the Rajputs remained indifferent to theses struggles secure in their mighty forts and castles.

The prime cause of this decline was their great rivals the Marathas – a Hindu warrior clan from the western parts of India who under the leadership of Shivaji (d1680) first shook and then shattered the Mughal dominions. Arising when it seemed like the Islamic conquest of the subcontinent was close to a final success after six centuries of bloodshed Shivaji rose to became the foundation of the mightiest force in India for the next 150 years. In his wake great uprisings from Rajasthan to Assam and from the Himalayan mountains to the deep south as the Hindu revival rose.

The leader of the Turanis (Sunni Muslims)  Imad Ul Mulk wished to control the battered remnants of the empire under his own leadership with the support of the Marathas and Rajputs and was against the Iranis (Shia Muslims) under Safdar Jung with the Jats, Persians and Hindu Naga Sadhu battalions.

This plan involved a settlement between the factions under the leadership of the emperor Ahmed Shah and involved a joint challenge to the Marathas who were pouring every north year after year.

Ahmed Shah – the lineal descendant of Aurangzeb immediately settled the arrears of his troops and formed up the newly trained Mughal army and set to lead this new coalition against a large Maratha force led by the regional commander Malhar Rao Holkar who was believed to be at a distance of 100 miles from the capital with an army of 20,000

After leaving his palace on the 27th April 1754 the Mughals reached Sikandrabad on the 8th May of the same year when news reached him that Malhar Rao had left his siege of Kumher and marching towards Delhi with all speed to attack the Emperor. The cowardly Emperor lost his nerve and began to fall back on Delhi despite the Marathas being over 100 miles from his position.  After a few weeks of manoeuvres news reached the Mughals on the 26th May that the Marathas had been sighted within 24 miles of the camp. Ahmed Shah mustered his captains and troops and ordered the imperial war drum to be sounded to fall back to Shorajpur accompanied with his minister Roz Afrun Khan , his wife’s sister Dilafroz Begum, his mother Udham Bai his wife Inayetpuri Bai and his sons together with the other ladies, princesses and support staff of his harem

During this march around midday the alarm was sounded and the vast crowd of the Mughal camp was thrown into confusion at the sight of the Maratha horsemen fast approaching

The war experienced Maratha Commander Malhar Rao immediately dispersed his swift moving cavalry in a vast net around the Mughals – his mounted troops opened fire with their matchlocks and then ordered the charge over the uneven and broken ground. The Mughal lines was smashed in the first charge leading to indescribable confusion in the camp. The lines of caravans were broken as soldiers and civilians alike each fled for safety where they could find it only to find the net of their enemies closing in around them.

The Emperor fled on a fast paced mount with his mother and favourite wife and thus escaped but left behind him his family, his wives and daughters and those of the Mughal nobility to the mercy of their Hindu enemies.

A huge amount of gold and coins fell into the hands of the Marathas but the greatest loss was the loss of prestige for the empire- the hardy cavalry of the Maharashtra mountains had in their captivity the honour of the Imperial family, queens and princesses – as the author Sarkar states – never had such a calamity befallen on the house of Timur’

Scattered groups began to reach Delhi behind the fleeing Emperor who to his horror learned of the fate of his family. Many of the caravans and raths were overturned and those of the Mughal ladies were torn apart with their ornaments and clothes being seized and countless of them being dishonored and led into captivity by the Maratha soldiers.

Some fled towards Delhi – others like the kings mother were protected by Malhar Rao who had now arrived.  Imad arrived in Malhars camp in humiliation complaining that the Marathas would listen to no one and that he was their slave in this matter.

On the 30th May Malhar Rao sent his demands to the emperor as his troops began to attack the suburbs of the Mughal capital – The capital trembled in terror as the outlying suburbs were put to the sword and set on fire. The memories of the previous year’s sack of Old Delhi by the Jats under Suraj Mal was still fresh in the memory of the Mughal population.

The following day the Emperor agreed to all of the demands of the Marathas. Punjab, Sind and the frontier areas were all ceded to the Peshwa – in effect the Chauth (tribute) of all of South Asia was granted to the Marathas –

The mother of the Emperor was led back to Delhi in the deepest of humiliation and despair – the Mughal courtiers having seen their families and servants led into captivity or humiliated the following day rose against the Emperor and dragged from the prison cells a distance cousin and placed him on the now powerless throne of Delhi – the unfortunate Ahmed Shah was blinded and thrown into a prison cell with his mother dying of natural causes in 1775.

The Marathas continued on their path and even after their great setback at the Battle of Panipat remained the preeminent power in India marching into Delhi on numerous occasions in the next decades culminating in the rise of the great Maratha warlord Mahadji Sindhia who stamped out the very last vestiges of Mughal and Pathan armies in 1788

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