Samugarh, 28th May 1658
v.1.0 January 1, 2006
The battle of Samugarh was one of the decisive battles for the succession to the mughal throne after Shah Jahan. Aurangzeb and Murad Baksh, sons of Shah Jahan, fought Dara Shikoh, the eldest son.
In the summer of 1658, the news of Shah Jahan’s illness triggered a bloody war of succession amongst his four sons. Aurangzeb, who was posted in the Deccan, amassed an army to march onto Agra. Dara Shikoh, who proclaimed himself as the legal heir to the throne, had at his disposal the imperial army that was attached to the king’s person.
Sultan Sujah, another son of shah Jahan and the governor of Bengal, was also making plans to advance towards the capital to claim the throne. However, his march towards the capital ended when Sulaiman Shikoh, Dara’s eldest son, defeated him in battle.
The Deccan provinces, governed by Aurangzeb, were not very rich and consequently Aurangzeb’s army was not in a position to challenge the imperial army on its own. To augment his strength, Aurangzeb managed to forge an alliance with Murad Baksh and Amir Jumla, an accomplished general in the imperial army.
To end Aurangzeb and Murad Baksh’s march, Dara dispatched an army commanded by Kasim Khan and Raja Jaswant Singh to dispute the crossing of the river Shipra near Ujjain. However, the result of this battle went against Dara and his army was soundly defeated. This enabled Aurangzeb and Murad Baksh to venture into the hinterland of Agra.
Orders of Battle
Dara Shikoh’s Army
Even pessimistic estimates put Dara’s army as at least one hundred thousand horses, more than twenty thousand infantry and eighty pieces of cannon. The light artillery consisted of camels with swivel guns on their backs.
It is said that Dara’s army could have defeated an army four times as large as Aurangzeb’s army based on physical strength alone. Aurangzeb’s army consisted of not more than forty thousand men of all arms. Also, his army had been on the march under an unrelenting summer sun, from the Deccan to the plains of north India.
Yet, despite superior numbers, no one seemed to presage success to Dara. This was because the only troops on whose fidelity he could depend on were those of his son, Sulaiman Shikoh. He had not been able to garner support from the principle Omrahs of Shah Jahan’s court.
Dara marched his army to the banks of the river Chambal (about 90km from Agra) with the intention of disputing the crossing of that river by Aurangzeb’s army. However, Aurangzeb was able to trick Dara and cross the river with the help of a local Raja by the name of Champat Rai. By the time Dara realized that Aurangzeb’s army had left their tents standing as a deception, the army was on the other side of the river. Dara was forced to abandon his fortifications in haste and play catch-up with Aurangzeb’s army which had advanced rapidly towards the river Jamuna. By the time Dara caught up with Aurangzeb’s army, it was already well entrenched on the banks of the Jamuna near Samugarh (about 25Km from Agra).
Dara soon caught up and encamped near the banks of the river between Agra and the army of Aurangzeb.
Meanwhile Sulaiman Shikoh, after defeating Sultan Sujah, was advancing with his army towards Agra in order to help Dara against Aurangzeb.
The two armies remained in sight of each other for three-four days without any engagement. Shah Jahan advised Dara against premature action and to draw closer to Agra so as to choose an advantageous position while waiting for the arrival of Sulaiman Shikoh. Meanwhile, ignoring Shah Jahan’s advice, Dara prepared for battle.
Dara placed the whole of his cannon in front, linking them together with chains of iron so that no space might be left for the entrance of the enemy cavalry. Behind the cannon, he ranged a line of light camels. Small pieces of ordinance, resembling swivel guns, were fixed to the foreparts of the camels. The camel riders could discharge the ordinance without dismounting. Behind the camels were the musketeers. The rest of the army consisted of the cavalry which was armed with sabres and half pikes; or with sabres and bows-and-arrows.
The army was formed into three divisions. The command of the right wing, consisting of thirty thousand Mughals was given to Kalil ullah Khan. The left wing was commanded by Rustam Khan Dakhni along with Raja Chhattar and Raja Ram Singh Rautela.
Aurangzeb arrayed his army in a similar fashion except that among the troops of the Omrahs on either flank, he stationed pieces of field artillery that were concealed. This stratagem is said to have been invented by Amir Jumla.
Another stratagem that seems to have been employed in the battle was the use of grenade like rockets that were fired from bows from various parts of the line. They were thrown among the enemy cavalry and produced the effect of terrifying the horses and sometimes killing the men.
Bernier notes that the Indian cavalry maneuvered with ease and discharged their arrows with astonishing quickness with a horseman shooting six times before a musketeer can fire twice.
The battle commenced with the artillery of both armies opening fire, apparently the invariable mode of commencing an engagement. Just as things began heating up, a violent shower of rain fell and interrupted the battle for a while. After the weather cleared, the sound of cannon was again heard. Soon Dara was seen leading a general assault from on top of his Ceylon elephant. Dara advanced towards the enemy cannon leading a large section of cavalry. He was met with firmness and was soon surrounded by slain companions. But Dara kept pushing forward. His troops were encouraged by his example. The charge was repeated and this time there were fewer soldiers who took flight. Soon the cannon was forced, the iron chains disengaged and the enemy line was breached. The camels and infantry were put to the rout and the cavalry of both armies came into contact resulting in the fiercest combat. Showers of arrows obscured the air. With the arrows discharged, the sword was drawn and armies fought hand to hand.
Aurangzeb, in a bid to reverse his losses, sent his choicest cavalry but that too was driven off the field. At this point, most of the army under Aurangzeb’s immediate command had been defeated or had fled and he was left with less than a thousand troops. He perceived that Dara meant to pursue him till the end, yet he did not retreat and instead commanded that the feet of his elephant be bound with chains, apparently in an effort to convince his remaining troops that he would not flee. Seeing an opportunity to crush Aurangzeb once and for all, Dara was meditating an advance towards Aurangzeb. In this pursuit Dara’s attention was distracted by the news that his left wing was in disorder and that Rustam Khan and Raja Chattar had been killed and now Raja Rautela, after valiantly breaching the enemy lines, was entirely surrounded.
Dara abandoned his plans of pursuing Aurangzeb and decided to go to the aid of his left wing. Dara’s presence turned the tide and the enemy was driven back at all points. Meanwhile Raja Rautela and his Rajput warriors was pursuing Murad Baksh. Though wounded and surrounded by the Rajput, the prince was able to use his bow and arrow with such accuracy that he killed the raja with one deadly aim. Hearing the news of the death of the Raja and that Murad Baksh was surrounded by the now leaderless Rajput warriors, Dara rushed to attack the prince.
At this point, an act of treachery caused the tide to turn against Dara. Kalil Ullah Khan, who commanded the right wing of thirty thousand Mughals, kept aloof from the engagement under the pretext that his force was meant to be a reserve. Kalil Ullah Khan had suffered an embarrassment at the hands of Dara (Dara had shoe-beaten him for some minor offence) and he considered that the hour had arrived when he might pay Dara back for the insult. Since his absence from the battle did not produce the effect that he intended, he took recourse to another scheme. He approached Dara as the prince was hastening to assist in the assault of Murad Baksh and advised Dara to get down from his elephant and mount a horse so that he could move faster and be exposed to lesser danger. This act contributed greatly to Dara’s misfortunes from that point onwards. No sooner had Dara descended from the elephant, a rumor spread that Dara had been killed. Dara’s absence from the elephant only served to strengthen the rumor. Panic seized Dara’s army and every man thought only of his own safety and how he could escape from the resentment of Aurangzeb. In a few minutes the army seemed disbanded. Aurangzeb remained steady on his elephant for another quarter of an hour and was rewarded with the crown of Hindustan.
1. Travels in the Mogul Empire, 1656 – 1668. Francois Bernier