great civilization is not conquered from without, until it has destroyed itself from within. - Ariel Durant
Heroes aren’t born. They’re made. And such is the story of one of India’s forgotten heroes. A man, who rose above all odds to claim his right to the throne. A man, who valiantly fought against the powerful Mughal forces and emerged victorious. A man, who was bereft of fate’s kindness. This is the story of that man. This is the story of Raja Hemchandra Vikramaditya.
Hemchandra assuming the title of Vikramaditya after the Battle of Tughlaqabad
Humayun, the successor of Babur (the founder of the Mughal Empire), had lost his inheritance when he was chased out of India by Sher Shah Suri, who established the Sur Empire in 1540. Becoming the first indigenous Hindu king after Mughal rule, Suri immediately started taking control of Delhi and Agra, and became busy in introducing policy reforms for a smoother rule over the country. Meanwhile, a few miles away from Delhi, in a small town called Rewari, a man by the name of Hemchandra was quickly gaining prominence. Initially being the supplier of grains and vegetables to the kingdom, Hemchandra eventually started supplying ingredients for gunpowder. Forging a friendship with Sher Shah Suri’s son, Ismail Shah, Hemchandra rose to the post of Superintendent of the Market under Ismail Shah’s rule, after Sher Shah Suri’s death in 1545.
With his clever business strategies and a sound market knowledge, Hemchandra gradually became the Darogah-e-Chowki (Police Officer) and later, the Controller of Punjab. However, with the untimely death of Ismail Shah in 1553, the empire fell into a deep pit of disorder and chaos. Murdering of Ismail Shah’s 12 year old son, Firoz Khan, by his maternal uncle Adil Shah, ensured him a clean ticket to the ascension of the throne. However, his interest in the pursuit of pleasure and amateur rule became the causality of the 4 way-split of the Sooryavanshi Empire, with the Agra-Bihar belt falling under Adil Shah’s control.
Adil Shah, brother of Ismail Shah
Meanwhile, Hemchandra being the Chief Minister in Adil Shah’s court, as well as the General of his army, was busy crushing advances from various sectors of the empire to Adil Shah’s throne, one of many being that of Adil Shah’s brother-in-law, Sikandar Suri. Sikandar Suri eventually sat on the throne of Delhi, by defeating the then ruler, Ibrahim Suri. Amidst all this chaos and family feud, an old enemy was planning his return. Strengthened by the support of the Iranians, Humayun made use of this discord to recapture what was lost and on 23 July 1555, the Mughals defeated Sikandar Suri and finally regained control over Delhi and Agra.
However, Humayun’s resounding victory was short lived, as he died just 6 months after reclaiming his throne. Hemchandra was in Bengal at the time of Humayun’s death. The Mughal emperor's death provided an ideal opportunity to Hemchandra to defeat the Mughals and reclaim lost territory. Hemchandra started a rapid march from Bengal and drove the Mughals out of Bayana, Etawah, Bharthana, Bidhuna, Lakhna, Sambhal, Kalpi, and Narnaul. In pursuit of the governor of Agra, Hemchandra reached Tughlaqabad, a village just outside Delhi where he ran into the forces of the Mughal governor of Delhi, Tardi Beg Khan, and defeated them in the Battle of Tughlaqabad. He took possession of Delhi after a day's battle on 7 October 1556, and claimed royal status assuming the title of Vikramaditya, thus going by the name of Raja Hemchandra Vikramaditya.
On hearing the disastrous news from Tughlaqabad, Humayun's successor, the 13-year-old Akbar and his guardian Bairam Khan soon set off for Delhi.On 5 November 1556, the Mughal army met Hemu's army at the historic battlefield of Panipat. Akbar and Bairam Khan stayed in the rear, 8 miles from the battleground. And soon began the bloody battle of vengeance.
The Second Battle of Panipat, fought between Hemchandra and Akbar
It was a desperately contested battle but the advantage seemed to have tilted in favour of Hemu. Both the wings of the Mughal army had been driven back and Hemu moved his contingent of war elephants and cavalry forward to crush their centre. It was at this point that Hemu, possibly on the cusp of victory, was wounded when he was struck in the eye by a chance Mughal arrow and collapsed unconscious. Seeing him going down triggered a panic in his army which broke formation and fled. The battle was lost; 5000 dead lay on the field of battle and many more were killed while fleeing. It was one arrow, which altered the course of history. One arrow, which turned the stride of the war. One bloody arrow, which became the fall of the Sooryavanshi Empire.
Hemchandra was later captured and led to the Mughal Camp. After beheading him, Hemu’s head was sent to Kabul to be hanged outside Delhi Darwaza, while his body was gibbeted on a gate in Purana Quila, Delhi, where he had his coronation on 6th October.A memorial for Hem Chandra was erected at the spot in Panipat where he was beheaded. It is now known as Hemu's Samadhi Sthal.
Raja Hemchandra Vikramaditya’s Samadhi Sthal
And thus we conclude the saga of one of India’s greatest warriors. A man of humble beginnings, Hemchandra rose to the status of a warrior and almost led his side to victory in one of the most crucial battles of medieval India. His bravery and valour are qualities of his immortality.
For, his is a story which remains untold to this date. A story of rise and fall. A story of standing strong in the face of overwhelming odds. A story of fighting a lost battle. This is the story of Raja Hemchandra Vikramaditya.