Battle of Khanua or Fatehpur Sikri, 16 March 1527

The battle of Khanua (16 March 1527) was the second of Babur's three great victories in northern India that helped to establish the Mogul Empire. Having defeated the force of Ibrahim Lodi, Sultan of Delhi, at Panipat on 21 April 1526, Babur was faced with two main groups of opponents - the Afghan supporters of the Lodi sultans, many of whom refused to accept his authority, and the Rajputs, led by Rana Sanga of Mewar. At first Babur's men felt that the Afghans were the greater threat, but by the end of 1526 Rana Sanga had gathered a massive army, and was advancing towards Agra from the west.

The campaign began when Rana Sanga laid siege to Bayana (late 1526). The defenders of Bayana sent message to Babur at Agra calling for help. This gave Babur the time he needed to gather up his scattered armies, recalling Humayun from an expedition to the east. On 11 February Babur left the centre of Agra for a campsite outside the city, where he waited for three or four days to allow his army to gather and be organised. While in this camp he learnt that his scouts had been unable to break through the Rana's forces to reach Bayana, and that the garrison had been defeated after making an over-bold sortie.

Over the next few days Babur advanced a short distance, eventually stopping at Sikri. During his period he suffered a setback when a large scouting force (up to 1,500 strong) was defeated at Khanua, and the morale of his men began to suffer. The defeat at Khanua, the fighting around Bayana, and the high regard in which everyone who faced them held the Rajputs, all combined to bring down morale, and things were not helped by Muhammad Sharif, an astrologer how arrived at the camp from Kabul, and told anyone who would listen that because Mars was in the west anybody who attacked from the opposite direction (as Babur was doing) would be defeated.

Babur responded to the fall in morale in four ways. The first was to order the construction of specially build carts, connected by chains, that would be used to protect his line. Where the carts ran out specially built wooden tripods were constructed. For the rest of the campaign the army advanced behind this line of mobile fortifications. Secondly, on 24 February he dispatched Shaikh Jamal to the Doab with orders to raise a force of archers and raid the villages around Miwat, in an attempt to split the enemy army.

Perhaps most famously, on 25 February Babur renounced wine, one of his great pleasures in life. 300 begs and members of his household joined him in this (only one contemporary source suggests that he broke this vow, recording an incident towards the end of Babur's life). Perhaps most effectively, in the days before the battle Babur declared the struggle to be a holy war against the Infidel (in his memoirs the Rana is almost always referred to as the Pagan). His men swore an oath on the Koran not to turn away from the fight, and their morale seems to have recovered.

On 13 March, after an unexplained two week gap, Babur resumed his advance, once again moving behind the carts and wheeled tripods. The army advanced a short distance on each of the next two or three days, coming closer and closer to the Rana's army.

Tod, in his 'Annals of Mewar', recorded the Rana's forces as containing 80,000 cavalry and 600 elephants. At Khanua he was supported by Hasan Khan Mewati, a former supporter of Ibrahim Lodi of Delhi, who will have provided some extra troops. In his memoirs Babur included a calculation of how many cavalrymen the Rana and his allies at the battle could have provided from their lands, which produced a figure of 201,000 men.

Babur had crossed the Indus two years earlier with 12,000 men. Since then he had fought a series of battles and sieges, but had also joined up with his existing garrison in the Punjab, and had received reinforcements from Kabul, as well as gaining new supporters in India, some of whom are recorded as having taken part in the battle. Babur was very badly outnumbered at Khanua, although perhaps not by quite as much as at Panipat.

Early on the morning of 16 March Babur's army made another short move, once again behind the wagons and tripods, and with the army formed up into its divisions. By nine in the morning the move was complete, and the first few tents had been raised, but Rana Sangha had finally decided to break the stalemate, and was advancing to attack. Babur's insistence that everyone knew their place in the line now paid off, and his entire army was in position before the Rana attacked.

Sadly at this point Babur decided to insert Shaikh Zain's letter of victory into his memoirs, a florid account of the battle, rather than produce an account in his own clear style. An account of the battle can still be gleaned from this letter, but with some effort (to give one example Shaikh Zain (who was present at the battle) described Babur's deployment as being 'so arrayed and so steadfast that primal Intelligence and the firmament applauded the marshalling thereof'). 

Babur's army was arranged in his customary method. He was posted in the centre, which was divided into right-centre, left-centre, centre and reserve. The left and right wings were also divided into three divisions. Humayun commanded on the right, Khalifa on the left. Finally flanking parties were posted on the extreme left and right, with household retainers in the right flanking party and other trusted chiefs with special troops on the left.  Although Babur is said to have posted his Hindustani followers away from the main army, quite a few of them were actually present with the army, mostly posted on the left and right wings.

The fighting began between 9 and 10am with attacks on Babur's right and left wings. The attack on Babur's right was apparently most dangerous, hitting some Mongol troops who were not well suited to fight on the defensive. Babur was forced to dispatch reinforcements to restore the situation on his right, and the Rana's forces were forced back almost onto their centre. One of Babur's gun powder experts - Mustafa of Rum - helped with the counterattack by pushing his matchlock men forward behind their carts.

The attacks on Babur's left wing were less successful, although some reinforcements also had to be sent to the left. The left-flanking party is also mentioned as playing a part in the fighting on this wing, attacking the Rana's men from the rear.

The battle had now lasted for most of the morning. Babur decided to commit his household cavalry, ordering them to attack from the left-centre and right-centre towards the enemy flanks, leaving the matchlock men and artillery to hold the line in the centre. The artillery seem to have played a particularly important role, taking down the 'iron-mantled fort of the infidels' - probably the elephants. At about this stage of the battle the matchlock men moved out from behind the carts, possibly advancing into a gap created by the heavier guns, but they were not exposed for long before Babur ordered the carts in the centre to be moved forward.

The advance in the centre was matched by advances on both flanks. Heavy continuous fighting lasted for a period described by Shaikh Zain as last from the first to second Prayers - in this context this must mean the noon and mid-afternoon prayers. By the end of this phase of the battle the Rana's flanks had been forced back onto his centre, and his army was probably pressed from all sides. This situation lasted for an hour, and was ended when the Rana's men made one last charge against Babur's flanks. The attack on the left was the most successful, but neither attack succeeded. The failure of this last attack effectively ended the battle. The Rana's army dissolved and the survivors fled from the scene. Rana Sanga was amongst the survivors, but died before he could recover from the defeat, possibly of wounds suffered during the battle, or possibly poisoned.

According to Tod (Annals of Mewar), Babur would have been defeated if it had not been for the treachery of Salahu'd-din Tuar chief of Raisin. This man, who may have been a Hindu covert to Islam, is said to have conducted negotiations between Babur and the Rana during the two-week pause before the battle, and then to have changed sides during the battle. This story is almost certainly false. The battle lasted for too long and was too fiercely fought for Babur to have been in as much trouble as Tod implies, and Salahu'd-din did not enter Babur's service after the battle - indeed early in the following year Babur was planning an expedition against him.

The victory at Khanua secured Babur's power in India. Although fighting continued for the remaining years of his life, the battles that followed were all fought to expand his domains, not to preserve them from attack.

How to cite this article: Rickard, J (19 May 2010), Battle of Khanua or Fatehpur Sikri, 16 March 1527 , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/battles_khanua.html

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