Hemu: Samrat Hem Chandra Vikramaditya








Samrat Hem Chandra Vikramaditya also known as Hemu was a Hindu emperor of north India during the sixteenth century AD, a period when Mughals and Pashtun (pathan) were vying for power in the region.

Born in a humble family, Hemu rose to become Chief of the Army and Prime Minister to Adil Shah Suri of the Suri Dynasty. He fought Afghan rebels across North India from the Punjab to Bengal and the Mughal forces of Akbar and Humayun in Agra and Delhi,  winning 22 consecutive battles. Hemu acceded to the throne of Delhi on 7 October 1556, assuming the title of "Vikramaditya" that had been adopted by many Hindu kings since Vedic times. His rajyabhishek (coronation) as Samrat was held at Purana Qila in Delhi. Hemu re-established the native Hindu rule (albeit for a short duration) in North India, after over 350 years of Muslim(Turkic and Mughal) rule. Some historians say that this rule was on the pattern of a strong Hindu state prevailing in South India for more than three centuries, known as 'Vijaynagar Empire'. Hemu struck coins bearing his title after coronation.


Social environment


India was socially and politically unstable in the early sixteenth century. This was especially so in the north, where Mughals and Afghans were vying for power, whereas the south was controlled by the comparatively stable Hindu Vijayanagar Empire, ruled at that time by Krishnadevaraya. The Mughals were then, still considered a foreign force: Babur's barbaric invasion of North India in 1526 resulted in the destruction, looting and demolition of most important Hindu temples in North India, such as the Ram Temple at Ayodhya, the Krishna Temple at Mathura and the Kashi Vishwanath Temple at Benares. Mosques were constructed on the ruins of those sites - for example, the Babri Masjid at Ayodhya, the Jama Masjid at Mathura and the Gyanvapi Mosque at Benares - and this led to widespread disaffection among Hindus. For instance, Guru Nanak, a contemporary and an eye witness to Babur's invasion in the Punjab has given vivid accounts of Babur's vandalism terming him a butcher. Growing up in such an atmosphere, in a devout family of Hindu Brahmin priests, Hemu yearned to take a revenge and defeat the Mughals. His first opportunity to do so and to rule North India from Delhi came after victory over Akbar's forces in the Battle for Delhi in October 1556.

Rise to fame


Rewari was an important stopover in medieval times for traders from Iran and Iraq on the way to Delhi. Hemu started his career as a supplier of cereals to Sher Shah Suri's army, moving on to more critical supplies like saltpetre (for gunpowder) later. He also developed a cannon foundry in Rewari, laying the foundation of an industry in brass, copper sheets and utensils manufacture. Hemu obtained technical assistance for casting cannons, and for producing saltpetre, from the Portuguese in Goa, who were also helping the Vijayanagar Empire against the Deccan Sultanates in South India, by supplying cannons, gunpowder and Arabian horses.

After Sher Shah Suri's death in 1545, his son Islam Shah became ruler of North India. Islam Shah recognised the calibre, and administrative skills of Hemu and made him his personal adviser. He consulted Hemu in matters relating not only to trade and commerce, but also pertaining to statesmanship, diplomacy and general politics. Islam Shah initially appointed Hemu Shahang-i-Bazar, meaning 'Market superintendent' in Persian, to manage commerce throughout the empire. This post gave Hemu the opportunity to frequently interact with the king, having to apprise him of the trade and commercial situation of the kingdom. Abul Fazal says that Islam Shah held Hemu in great esteem. In 1550, Hemu accompanied Islam Shah to the Punjab where he was deputed along with other high officers to receive Mirza Kamran in the fort of Rohtas. Islam Shah consulted Hemu on a variety of matters. After serving as Shahang-i-Bazar for some time, Hemu rose to become Chief of Intelligence or Daroga-i-Chowki (Superintendent of Post). Islam Shah's health deteriorated in 1552 and he shifted his base from Delhi to Gwalior, which was considered safer. Hemu was deputed as Governor to the Punjab to safeguard the region against a Mughal invasion. Hemu held this position until 30 October 1553, when Islam Shah died.

Islam Shah was succeeded by his 12 year old son Firoz Khan who was killed within three days by Adil Shah Suri. The new king Adil was an indolent pleasure-seeker and a drunkard who faced revolts all around. Adil Shah took Hemu as his Chief Advisor and entrusted all his work to him. Appointing him the prime minister and chief of his army. After some time, Adil Shah became insane and Hemu became the de facto king.

Many Afghan governors rebelled against the weak King Adil Shah and refused to pay the taxes, but Hemu quelled them. Ibrahim Khan, Sultan Muhhamad Khan, Taj Karrani, Rukh Khan Nurani and several other Afghan rebels were defeated and killed. At the battle of Chhapparghatta in December 1555, Hemu routed the Bengal forces under Muhammad Shah, who was killed in the battle.

At the time the Afghans considered themselves natives of the country (and were considered as such by the Hindus), while the Mughals, writes Vincent Arthur Smith, were considered foreigners. Writer K.K.Bhardwaj in his book "Hemu-Napoleon of medieval India" claimed that Hemu was a native ruler leading a native Afghan army to victory, in battle after battle. Thus, Hemu became popular among the Hindus as well as Afghans. Another writer, K.R.Qanungo, writes that, this indicates that the rule which Hemu established, commanding Afghan army was secular and nationalistic.

Hemu's army


Hemu's army was a result of long process of military development during Sur rule in north India. Michael Bradwin states that Hemu's army was five times superior to the army of Akbar. However, recruitment of Hindus considerably increased during his rule. His army consisted of infantry, cavalry, artillery and large elephants. His infantry ran on Portuguese lines. Hemu, according to Maulana Muhammed Hussain 'Azad', was very proud of his artillery. The superiority of artillery which the grandfather of Akbar enjoyed over the former's campaigns against the Lodhi ruler, was not seen there in this case. General Ram Chandra (Rammaya) and Shadi Khan Kakkar, the Afghan governor from Sambhal were two of his most noted generals who commanded large forces in the Second Battle of Panipat.

Victories against the Mughals

Agra Fort, won by Hem Chandra Vikramaditya in 1553, recaptured from Humayun in 1556, before capturing Delhi.


Gwalior Fort, from where Hem Chandra Vikramaditya launched most of the attacks during 1553-56, for his 22 battle victories.

After the victory of the Mughal ruler Humayun over Adil Shah's brother Sikander Suri, on 23 July 1555 the Mughals regained the Punjab, Delhi and Agra after a gap of 15 years. Hemu was in Bengal when Humayun died on 26 January 1556. Humayun's death gave Hemu an ideal opportunity to defeat the Mughals. He started a rapid march from Bengal through present day Bihar, Eastern UP and Madhya Pradesh. The Mughal fauzdarsabandoned their positions and fled in panic before him. In Agra, an important Mughal stronghold, the commander of Mughal forces Iskander Khan Uzbeg fled after hearing about Hemu's invasion, without a fight.Etawah, Kalpi and Bayana, all in present day central and western UP, fell to Hemu.

In the words of K.K.Bhardwaj, his triumphant march from Bihar to Dilli (Delhi) can be equated to the Italian campaign of Napoleon: "He came, he saw, he conquered". Hemu never saw defeat in battle and went from victory to victory throughout his life (he died in the only battle he lost). Hemu won the loyalty of his soldiers by his ready distribution of the spoils of war among his soldiers.

After winning Agra, Hemu moved for the final assault on Delhi. Tardi Beg Khan, who was Governor of Delhi, for Akbar, wrote to Akbar and his regent, Bairam Khan, that Hemu had captured Agra and intended to attack the capital Delhi, which could not be defended without reinforcements. Bairam Khan, realising the gravity of the situation, sent his ablest lieutenant, Pir Muhammad Sharwani, to Tardi Beg. Tardi Beg Khan summoned all the Mughal commanders in the vicinity to a war council for the defence of Delhi. It was decided to stand and fight Hemu and plans were made accordingly.

Sir Jadunath Sarkar writes in detail about the Battle for Delhi at Tughlaqabad:

The Mughal army was thus drawn up. Abdullah Uzbeg commanded the Van, Haider Muhammad the right wing, Iskander Beg the left and Tardi Beg himself the centre. The choice Turki Cavalry in the van and left wing attacked and drove back the enemy forces before them and followed far in pursuit. In this assault the victors captured 400 elephants and slew 3000 men of the Afghan army. Imagining victory already gained, many of Tardi Beg's followers dispersed to plunder the enemy camp and he was left in the field thinly guarded. All this time Hemu had been holding 300 choice elephants and a force of select horsemen as a reserve in the centre. He promptly seized the opportunity and made a sudden charge upon Tardi Beg with this reserve.

Confusion ensued, resulting in a defeat for the Mughals. Hemu was helped by reinforcements from Alwar with a contingent commanded by Hazi Khan. The desertion of various Mughal commanders with Pir Muhhammad Khan, who fled the battlefield, to Tardi Beg's chagrin and surprise, forced the Mughal commander to withdraw.

Hem Chandra won Delhi after a day's battle on 6 October 1556. Some 3000 soldiers died in this battle. However, Mughal forces led by Tardi Beg Khan vacated Delhi after a day's fight and Hemu Chandra entered Delhi, victorious under a royal canopy.



Purana Quila, Delhi where Hemu was crowned on 7 October 1556.

Sir Wolsey Haig writes, "Hemu was so elated by the capture of Delhi as to believe that he had already reached the goal of his ambition."

Smith, who names Hemu the third claimant to the sovereignty of Hindustan at the time (the other two being the Suris and Akbar), asserts that Hemu after his occupation of Delhi came to the conclusion that he had a better claim to the throne for himself rather than on behalf of Adil Shah and ventured to assume the royal state under the style of Raja Vikramaditya or Vikramaditya, a title borne by several renowned Hindu Kings in ancient times. Hemu assumed the royal robes and declared himself the Emperor of India under the title of Vikramaditya.

His Afghan officers were reconciled to the ascendancy of an infidel by a liberal distribution of plunder, and probably also by the fact that Hem Chandra had proved to be a successful general. Hemu had his formal Hindu Rajyabhishek or coronation at Purana Qila in Delhi on 7 October 1556 in the presence of all the Afghan Sardars and Hindu Senapatis (military commanders). K. K.Bhardwaj says that thousands of guests were invited, along with various Rajput chiefs and Afghan governors and numerous scholars and Pandits. The festivities continued for three or four days. "Essential parts of a Hindu King's coronation are", writes Sir Jadunath Sarkar, "washing him (abbhishake) and holding the royal umbrella over his head (Chhatra-Dharam)" and Hemu must have followed these ancient traditions, accompanied by costly gifts and robes to priests. He made various appointments on the occasion, appointing his brother Jujharu Rai, governor of Ajmer and his nephew Rammayya, a general in his army. He also appointed his various supporters as Chhaudhuris and Muqqudams based on their merit so that they continued to maintain their respective positions in the reign of Akbar.

Thus Hemu became the first Hindu emperor of North India in 350 years. According to Abul Fazl, in theAkbarnama, after winning Delhi Hemu had planned to attack and win Kabul. He made several changes in his army, including the recruitment of many Hindus, but without the dismissal of any Afghan.


Because of long association with the Sur administration since the 1540s, first as a supplier of various items to Sher Shah Suri, then as Superintendent of Markets, Minister of Internal security and Governor of Punjab with Islam Shah, Prime Minister-cum-Chief of Army with Adil Shah, Hemu had great experience of administration and sound knowledge of how system works.

Although he did not have much time to rule, Hemu revitalised the administration that had flagged after the demise of Sher Shah Suri. With his knowledge of trade and commerce he gave fresh impetus to commerce throughout the country. He spared no one indulging in black-marketing, hoarding, overcharging and under-weighing of goods. After his conquest of Agra and Delhi, he replaced all corrupt officers. He also introduced coinage bearing his image.


Second Battle of Panipat

Mural of second Battle of Panipat at war site, 'Kala Amb' Panipat.

On hearing of Hemu's serial victories and the fall of large territories like Agra and Delhi, the Mughal army at Kalanaur lost heart and many commanders refused to fight Hemu. Most of his commanders advised Akbar to retreat to Kabul, which would serve better as a strong-hold. However, Bairam Khan, Akbar's guardian and chief strategist, insisted on fighting Hemu in an effort to gain control of Delhi.

On 5 November 1556, the Mughal army met Hemu's army at the historic battlefield of Panipat. Bairam Khanexhorted his army in a speech with religious overtones and ordered them into battle. Akbar and Bairam Khan stayed in the rear, eight miles from the battleground, with the instructions to leave India in case of defeat. The Mughal army was led by Ali Kuli Khan, Sikandar Khan and Abdulla Khan Uzbeg. Hemu led his army himself into battle, atop an elephant. His left was led by his sister's son General Ramiya and the right by Shadi Khan Kakkar. He was on the cusp of victory, when he was wounded in the eye by an arrow, and collapsed unconscious. This led to confusion amongst the soldiers, with no supreme commander to coordinate decisions. According to Abul Fazl, 5000 soldiers of Hemu were slain.


After Hemu's death, a massacre of Hemu's community and followers was ordered by Bairam Khan. Thousands were beheaded and towers of skulls were built with their heads, to instill terror among the Hindus and Afghans. At least one painting of such minarets is displayed in the "Panipat Wars Museum" at Panipat in Haryana. These towers were still in existence about 60 years later as described by Peter Mundy, a British traveler who visited India during the time of Jahangir.

His attempts to drive the Mughals out of Hindustan and establish a peaceful union of Hindus and Afghans who shared a common history and hence considered Mughals as invading foreigners, was a continuation of various efforts by the indigenous faiths to regain control from Mughal invaders. As the Mughals were intolerant to their religion, they had never reconciled to their rule. Romilla Thapar says that "although the Muslims ruled the infidels, the infidels called them barbarians."This was also an influence on the tolerant religious and political policies later adopted by Akbar to strengthen and legitimise his rule among Hindu, Afghan and Mughal alike.

Nirod Bhushan Roy considers Hemu to be "the harbinger of a new era in which the Hindus were to share equally with the Mughals the threat to the state".


Unconscious and at death's door, Hemu was captured by Shah Qulin Khan and carried to the Mughal camp for execution. According to Badayuni Bairam Khan asked Akbar to behead Hemu so that he could earn the title of Ghazi. Akbar replied 'He is already dead, if he had any strength for a dual, I would have killed him'. After Akbar's refusal Hemu's body was denied honour by the Mughal battle tradition and was unceremoniously beheaded by Bairam Khan. Hemu's head was sent to Kabul in Afghanistan, where it was hanged outside the Delhi Darwaza, to be shown to Afghans to prove that the great Hindu warrior is dead, while his body was placed in a gibbet outside Purana Quila in Delhi to terrorise the native Indians (Turk-Afghans and Hindus).