[February 13th 2018]
First published in Barrack-Room Ballads and Other Verses in December 1892. It is listed in ORG as No 559.
It is collected in:
A martial ballad, in much the same vein as The Ballad of East and West. Kipling writes in his heading to the poem:
More than a hundred years ago, in a great battle fought near Delhi, an Indian Prince rode fifty miles after the day was lost with a beggar-girl, who had loved him and followed him in all his camps, on his saddle-bow. He lost the girl when almost within sight of safety. A Maratta trooper tells the story:—Background
This was the Third Battle of Panipat, in 1761. Panipat was the cockpit of Northern India, a broad plain eminently suitable for cavalry manoeuvres some fifty miles (80 km) north-west of Delhi on the road to Peshawar, scene of three momentous battles which decided the fate of Northern India.
The first, fought in 1526 against the Afghan Sultanate of Delhi, secured the future of the nascent Mughal Empire under its founder Babur. The second was won by Babur’s grandson Akbar in 1756 in defeating a Hindu army. The third battle, around which |Kipling’s poem is built, was fought in 1761 between the Marathas and the Afghans. It ended in a catastrophic defeat for the former, with some 80,000 Maratha warriors killed or enslaved.
In the run-up to this battle, following the recapture of Delhi by the Marathas, their commander Sadashivrao Bhau (named ‘Bhao’ in Kipling’s poem), had ignored the advice of the more experienced Malhar Rao Holkar of Indore (Kipling’s ‘harlot traitor’s goatherd Mulhar Rao’) by engaging directly with the enemy rather than conducting a protracted guerrilla campaign. Sadashivrao Bhau fought with great bravery but was outnumbered and outgunned, dying in the battle. Realising that all was lost, Malhar Rao ordered his forces on the left flank to withdraw and retreated from the battlefield. Hence the desperate call in Kipling’s poem: ‘Get aid of Mulhar Rao! Go shame his squadron into fight.’
Kipling’s main source for the Third Battle of Panipat was probably James Grant Duff, History of the Mahrattas, Vol. 2, Ch. 5, 1826. According to Duff, Sadashivrao Bhau had asked Malhar Rao Scindia to take care of his wife Parvatibai, which he did by removing her from the battlefield and delivering her safely to Poona (Pune). Duff states that shortly before his death in the battle Bhau sent a message to Scindia ordering him to do as he had been told, which led to Scindia’s withdrawal from the battlefield and the collapse of Maratha resistance.
Duff makes no mention of the Maratha chieftan who appears in Kipling’s poem as ‘Scindia’ or to any woman in his harem. This ‘Scindia’ appears to be a reference of Tukoji Rao, the senior member of the Scindias of Gwalior present at the battle. However, Tukoji Rao Scindia did not escape, as Kipling has it, but was taken prisoner and executed.
Daniel Karlin, commenting on Kipling's story "On the City Wall" (1889), has identified a probable source for this poem. He writes (p. 543):
The story owes some of its names and atmosphere to a historical novel obscure even in its own day, Lalun the Beragun (1879) The author's name on the title-page, 'Mirza Moorad Alee Beg', is a pseudonym, and his real identity is not known...Besides a detail in 'the song of old days' and the name Lalun, the main bearing of Lalun the Beragun on Kipling's story concerns its treatment of the battle of Panipat (7 Jan. 1761), in which the Afghans defeated the Mahrattas.
A Maratta trooper tells the story:— The Marathas were a community of highland clans of the Western Deccan in what is now the state of Maharashtra, who saw themselves as warrior yeomen pastoralists and whose identity as a Hindu nation was largely forged in the seventeenth century in challenging the suzereignty of the Mughals, under the leadership of the warrior-chieftan Shivaji (c.1628-1680).They subsequently expanded as the Maratha Confederacy to become a number of individual kingdoms controlled by clan chiefs, most notably the Gaekwars of Baroda, the Scindias of Gwalior and the Holkars of Indore.
Despite frequent internecine wars, the Marathas remained the dominant power in Central and Northern India until weakened by losses suffered in the Third Battle of Panipat (1761), which enabled the East India Company to secure Bengal. Only with the conclusion of the Third Anglo-War in 1818 did they cease to be the pre-eminent power in India.
saffron-dyed Saffron is yellow, the colour of death and sacrifice among Hindus. Saffron-dyed robes were traditionally donned by Rajput and Maratha warriors when they went into battle against hopeless odds.
the Mlech Barbarians, more correctly, Mleccha, a Sanskrit word meaning non-Indians and more specifically, non-Hindus.
Damajee Damaji Gaekwar was a cavalry commander in Holkar of Indore’s contingent at Panipat and withdrew with his forces.
the Bhao Sadashivrao Bhau was the commander of the Marathas at Panipat.
Malhar Rao Malhar Rao Holkar of Indore was an experienced military commander whose good advice was ignored by Sadashivrao Bhau at Panipat.
Bhowani Bhavani is an avatar of the goddess Parvati in the fierce form of Durga and patron deity of the Marathas.
Khost a town in Afghanistan close to the (then) Indian border inhabited by Pashtuns (Pathans).
'black Rohillas' the Rohillas were Pashtun tribespeople from the mountains north of Peshawar who migrated into northern India as invaders and settled in the plains east of Delhi in an area that became known as Rohilkhand. The ‘black’ is a pejorative, as in ‘black-hearted’.
‘naked hill-men’ the Marathas recruited indigenous jungle-dwellers as auxiliary bowmen, rather as Henry V recruited Welsh bowmen in the Fifteenth Century.
dark Upsaras apsaras were winged angels within Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism.
Bhagwa Jhanda red banners carried by the Marathas in honour of the deity Bhagwan Jhanda or ‘Flag of the Lord’.
Anand Rao Nimbalkhar the name of the narrator of the poem, a nobleman of the Maratha Nimbalkar clan loyal to Tukoji Rao Scindia,
Scindia in this context Tukoji Rao Scindia, commander of the forces of Scindia of Gwalior at Panipat. In reality he did not leave the battlefield as related in the poem but was captured and executed.
Soobah a senior official or army officer, derived from subadar, a governor or senior administrator both among the Marathas and Mughals.
Lalun ‘pearl’ in Persian, the name Kipling gave to the courtesan in his short story ‘On the City Wall’, here used as the name of Tukoji Rao Scindia’s favourite wife or concubine.
Latuf-Ullah Populzai the name given by Kipling to the pursuer of Tukoji Rao Scindia, Papalzai being a tribe of Durrani Pashtuns from Afghanistan.
©Charles Allen 2018 All rights reserved