This Day in History (14-Jan-1761) – Third Battle of Panipat: Ahmed Shah Abdali, the ruler of Afghanistan, defeats the Marathas

Under Peshwa Baji Rao, Gujarat, Malwa and Mughal territories south of Delhi came under Maratha control. Baji Rao’s son, Balaji Baji Rao (popularly known as Nana Saheb) invaded Punjab. To counter Maratha advances, Durrani empire of Ahmad Shah Abdali joined with the Rohilla Afghans of the Gangetic Doab and Shuja-ud-Daulah, Nawab of Awadh. The Marathas, under the command of Sadashivrao Bhau, responded by gathering an army of between 45,000–60,000, which was accompanied by roughly 200,000 non-combatants and started their northward journey in March, 1760. The slow-moving Maratha camp reached Delhi in August, 1760, and took the city. However, Abdali daringly crossed the river Yamuna on the 25th of October at Baghpat, cutting off the Maratha camp from their base in Delhi. This eventually turned into a two-month-long siege led by Abdali against the Marathas in the town of Panipat. Food in the Maratha camp ran out by late December or early January and cattle died by the thousands. On the 13th of January the Maratha chiefs begged their commander, Sadashiv Rao Bhau, to be allowed to die in battle than perish by starvation. The next day the Marathas left their camp before dawn and marched south towards the Afghan camp in a desperate attempt to break the siege. The two armies came face-to-face around 8:00 a.m., and the battle raged until evening.

The battle involved over 125,000 troops. One of the bullets took the life of Vishwas Rao, the 17 year old son of the Peshwa. The commander Sadashiv Rao fought like a lion but ultimately cut down by Afghan sword. The forces led by Ahmad Shah Durrani came out victorious after destroying several Maratha flanks. Between 60,000–70,000 were killed in fighting, while the numbers of injured and prisoners taken vary considerably. The cryptic message sent to Peshwa Balaji Baji Rao states “Two pearls (Sadashiv Rao and Vishwas Rao) have been dissolved, twenty seven gold mohurs (Janokoji Rao and other commanders) have been lost, and of the silver and copper (soldiers and camp followers) the total cannot be cast up”. The result of the battle was the halting of further Maratha advances in the north, and a destabilization of their territories, for roughly 10 years until Peshwa Madhavrao revived Maratha domination.




This Day in History (12-Jul-1961) – Pune floods due to failure of the Khadakwasla and Panshet dams

In July 1961, the new under-construction Panshet dam had started developing some problems, even before it was complete. Against some recommendations, the dam was being filled up during the 1961 monsoon season. Cracks started developing and yet there was lot of debate on whether the dam was in real imminent danger. A valiant last-ditch effort by the Army Jawans managed to delay the inevitable by a few hours. These few hours helped a lot. If not for this great effort, where thousands of sand bags were deployed, the dam would have burst in the middle of the night, creating havoc for the sleeping residents of Pune. The few hours delay meant that the burst happened early morning and the wall of flood waters reached Pune later in the morning. The deluge of flood waters of Panshet also broke the smaller Khadakwasla dam, further downstream.

Residents started getting some warnings early in the morning and the authorities started moving out the residents living near the riverside. The low lying areas of the old city were almost completely submerged. Except for the Bund Garden Bridge, all the bridges were under water as well. Water rushed into the old ‘Peths’ and along Karve Road, Deccan Gymkhana areas. For many hours, the high water levels persisted. More than 100,000 families need to be relocated and the death toll exceeds 2,000, though no offical numbers are available.

The floods completely cutoff the electric and water supply. July 12th was a dark, rainy night in. The cleanup and rebuilding took many months. The old riverside city landscape changed forever. New localities (such as Lokmanya Nagar, Gokhale Nagar, etc.) were setup to resettle some of the flood affected citizens. Most of the bridges were damaged and needed fixing and in some cases complete rebuilding. With Khadakwasla and Panshet dams completely drained, there was no water supply for the city. The Peshwa era Katraj water aqueduct was used to meet some water requirements. Wells were another source. Wadas that had wells had to prominently list ‘Well’ on their main door – so that, the water source could be be made available.