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1747-1751 - Mughal Empire Collapse

Misrule, intrigue and invasion, not only from the north-west, but by the Marathas from the south had shaken the Mughal empire to its foundations ; but the tottering fabric was still to receive another blow from beyond the Indus before it finally crumbled into dust on the establishment of British power.

There was in the service of Nadir Shah a native of Herat named Ahmad Khan employed first as a mace bearer and subsequently as treasurer. When the Persian monarch was assassinated, Ahmed Khan succeeded in carrying off three hundred camel loads of treasure *o the mountains of Afghanistan, where this wealth eventually enabled him to establish the Afghan empire in the countries formerly held by the kings of Ghazai. In 1747, seeing the declining state of the Mughal empire, Ahmad Khan invaded Hindustan at the head of 50,000 horse, and advanced some twenty miles beyond Sirhind where the imperial army of Delhi was drawn up to oppose him under the vizir Kamruddin and his son Mannu, together with the Mughal Emperor's son and Safdar Jang, viceroy of Oudh. The two hostile armies remained encamped opposite each other for a month, when the Vizir was killed by a round shot from one of the Afghan cannon.

Next day the Mughal army advanced to attack their enemies, the body of the vizir being placed on his elephant in the line of battle, and the fact of his death being concealed, lest it should demoralise the troops. The battle was a stubborn one, but eventually the invader's entrenchments were trodden down by elephants, and the Mughals poured into his camp. But the victory was not yet won. The prince of Ajmere, finding that the vizir was dead, fled from the field at the head of his twenty thousand horse followed by Safdar Jang, and Ahmad Khan restored his line of battle. But Mannu, the vizir's son managed to recall the fugitives, sending them a message that the Afghans were defeated. He then drove the enemy from the field, and pursued them for ten miles.

But Ahmad Khan was a soldier of no common typea skilful and undaunted general. Riding through the ranks of his troops with drawn sword he restored order, and when next morning the Mughals issued from their camp to pursue the enemy they found him again drawn up in line of battle. On the third day another action took place, in describing which the historian makes some interesting remarks regarding irregular armies. "Though irregular armies of horse make little impression upon a solid body of well disciplined infantry ; yet when they engage one another upon equal terms each trusts to the strength of his own arm, and the battle is in general extremely bloody.

This irregular kind of attack, it must be allowed, requires a greater degree of personal courage, where man to man is opposed, than to stand wedged in a close battalion where the danger may icdeed be as great but not so apparent." In this battle Ahmad Khan was again defeated, and pursued across the Sutlej: but, recovering himself, with astonishing intrepidity he repassed the river next day, made a forced march in rear of the Mughal army, and moved straight upon Delhi.

Being persuaded, however, of the danger of leaving an undefeated army in his rear, he retraced his footsteps and retreated to Lahore. Meanwhile the emperor Muhammad died and was succeeded by his son. The Mughal empire had greatly declined. Its strength was sapped by repeated incursions of the Mahrathas; the Nizam established an independent state in the Deccan; Bengal, Guzerat, and Ajmere were also dissevered from the territories of the house of Paimur. But on the binks of the Indus the gallant Mannu maintained a successful war against Ahmad Khan, from whom he recovered the whole province of Lahore. On the death of Mannu in 1754, Ahmad Khan again advanced, and recaptured Lahore.

The past history of India and its invasions was full of warning to the nation that dominated the country from the Himalayas to Cape Comorin in the 19th Century. Generally speaking, with some intervals of independence, history teaches that the Power which held Central Asia and Persia also conquered and established its rule over India. From the time of Darius to that of Nadir Shah, looking back into the dim vista of the past, there was a line of kings holding sway over the country from the Euphrates to the Jumna. History repeated itself, and the tide of invasion was ever advancing from the north-west, slowly indeed, and with no sudden inrush like that of Alexander, of Tamerlane, or of Babar, but all the more surely from the very tardiness of its progress. Already the incoming waves of the tide were heard lapping with ceaseless murmur upon the western confines of th British Eastern empire.

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Page last modified: 09-02-2017 19:32:57 ZULU