Samrat Hem Chandra Vikramaditya: A Forgotten Hindu Emperor

Discussion in 'Hindu History' started by Speechless world, Dec 27, 2015.

  1. Speechless world

    Speechless world New Member

    His achievements notwithstanding, he is not a household name in India. His name does not ring any bells in the collective memory of Hindus. I am not even sure if any physical memorial of this Hindu Hero exists. Anecdotally, Prithvi Raj Chauhan is considered as the last Hindu ruler of Delhi. Even I had made the same assertion in one of my previous articles in Tattva [1]; and it took me a while to realize my error! It is incorrect to think that Hindus made no efforts to liberate Delhi in medieval India. Samrat Hem Chandra Vikramaditya – the Hero of our story – made one such effort that succeeded – albeit for a brief interlude. As I read more about his life and his journey to the throne of Delhi, I was absolutely amazed by this great warrior-hero who almost succeeded in liberating India from foreign invaders – the Mughals. And more importantly, I don’t want to just narrate his life story – I want to put it in the general historical context of his times. As you will see below, his life (1501-1556) was an extremely tumultuous period in the history of India. Events that happened during this time-frame defined the course of Indian History for the next two and a half centuries. That is why I feel that it’s important for Hindus to know more aboutSamrat Hem Chandra and his courageous efforts.

    Early Childhood
    Not much is known about his childhood and early life. In fact, historians disagree about both his birth name and birth place. K.K. Bhardwaj [2] claims that perhaps his original name was Basant Rai, Hem Rai, Hem Raj or Hem Chandra Bhargava. R.C. Majumdar [3] writes that “he was born in a poor family of Dhansar section of theBaniya caste, living in a town in the southern part of Alwar”. Muslim historian Badayuni has described him as a resident of a small town called Rewari in the taluk of Mewat, and began his life as a green vendor.[2] Others believe that he was a hawker in the town of Mewat [2]. Historians mention that brought up in a religious environment, he was educated in Sanskrit, Hindi, Persian, Arabic and Arithmatic. He was also trained in Horse riding and was fond of wrestling (Kushti) [4]. His rise to fame did not begin until late 1530s when he came in contact with the officers of Sher Shah Suri. But events that happened in north India during his youth were not as dull!

    India in Hem Chandra’s Youth
    In the early 1500s, huge portions India were under Islamic occupation. South India, Rajputana, Orissa and Assam were the only parts of India that remained free. In Delhi, Lodi dynasty was ruling large parts of north India. Independent sultanates ruled Gujarat and Central India. Under the Islamic occupation, Hindus was already burdened by the crushing Jizya tax [5]. At such point in 1526, a Central Asian tribal warrior named Babur attacked India. His armies marched from Kabul to Delhi via Punjab. In the first battle of Panipat (April 21, 1526) Babur defeated the joint armies of Ibrahim Lodi and Raja Vikramjit – king of Gwalior – and captured the throne of Delhi [6]. Now Rajputs under the leadership of Rana Sangramsingh of Chittor challenged Babur. They were also supported by Hasan Khan Meo [7]. But unfortunately their joint forces too were defeated by Babur in the battle of Khanwa. With this victory Babur now controlled northwestern India as well as parts of Gangetic Plains.

    After more than 450 years, it’s difficult to imagine how different those times were. For starters, Indian children of school going age did not learn to memorize ‘Babur the Brave’, ‘Akbar the Great’, ‘Aurangzeb the Cruel’! Indians then had rather simple criteria. They considered anyone who was not from India and had not a single drop of Indian blood in his body (Babar, Humayun and Akbar) but still wanted to rule India as a foreign aggressor. And indeed that’s how the perception of Indians regarding the Mughal period should be. Today, the geopolitics of South Asian subcontinent has changed so drastically, that it is easy to forget that the Kabul-Kandahar region – known as Gandhara in early days was considered very much a part of Indian civilization [2]. With this perception in mind, the Afghans considered themselves as natives and were considered by Indians as natives of the land [2]. Whereas Mughals – the Central Asian tribal people attacking India were obviously foreign aggressors. Now that explains why Raja of Gwalior offered his help to an Afghan ruler – Ibrahim Lodi or why Hasan Khan Meo chose to fight with Rana Sangramsingh rather than with Babur.

    Babur’s reign was nothing short of disaster for India in general and Hindus in particular. Guru Nanak, who was a contemporary of Babur and witnessed cruelties of Babur’s armies on the people, wrote in detail about the atrocities committed by him and his troops. Guru Nanak poignantly wrote [2] ‘The Creator has sent Babur the Mughal as Yama disguised. There was so much slaughter that the people screamed – Didn’t You feel compassion, Lord?’

    Mercifully, Babur died (January 1531) before he could consolidate his hold on India and was succeeded by a weak son – Humayun. Sensing an opportunity, Sher Khan Suri – an Afghan commander of the Lodis – who was stationed in Bihar during Ibrahim Lodi’s rule, attacked Humayun. He defeated the Mughals in the battles of Chausa and Kanauj and drove them out of Delhi [9]. He captured Delhi in May 1540, declared himself the emperor and took the name of Sher Shah Suri. His ascent was miraculous – born in a peasant family, he rose from the rank of a private and ultimately became the king of most of the northern India. After capturing Delhi, he pursued Humayun and chased the Mughal army out of India. Humayun survived only by fleeing to the refuge of the king of Iran. Sher Shah Suri’s victories, though ridding India from the foreign occupation for the time being, did not give respite to the large Hindu populace. In addition to Jizya, he continued to levy huge ‘pilgrimage tax’ on Hindu pilgrims.

    Rise of Hem Chandra
    Hem Chandra’s rise began at around this time. He was based in Rewari – 55 miles from Delhi – and started supplying cereals to Sher Shah’s army. Slowly he started other supplies like saltpeter (for gunpowder) to Sher Shah’s army and that’s when he came in contact with Ismail Shah – Sher Shah’s son. After Sher Shah’s death in 1545, Ismail Shah succeeded him. Recognizing Hem Chandra’s caliber, he initially appointed Hem Chandra as Shahang-i-Bazar, a Persian word meaning ‘Market Superintendent,’ who managed the mercantile system throughout the empire. This post gave Hem Chandra an opportunity to interact with the king frequently in order to apprise him of the trade and commercial situation of the kingdom [4]. After proving his abilities as Market Superintendent, he rose to become Daroga-i-Chowki or Chief of Intelligence [4]. Ismail Shah’s health deteriorated in 1552 and he shifted his base from Delhi to Gwalior, at which point he promoted Hem Chandra to Governor of Punjab. Hem Chandra held this position until Ismail Shah’s death in October 1553. [4]
  2. Speechless world

    Speechless world New Member

    After his death, Ismail Shah’s nephew Adil Shah killed Ismail Shah’s 12 year old son Firuz and usurped the throne. But he was not a capable ruler. Soon after becoming king, he appointed Hem Chandra as his Wazir or Prime Minister and started neglecting his responsibilities. Unhappy with the murder of Firuz and Adil Shah’s overall incompetence, various members of the Suri dynasty revolted against him. Soon, the Suri kingdom got divided into 4 large pieces [10]. Sikandar Suri declared himself the king of Punjab. Ismail Suri captured Delhi and Agra. Muhammad Suri declared himself the ruler of Bengal. Only Bihar up to the vicinity of Agra remained in possession of Adil Shah. In addition to these members of the royal family, many Afghan governors declared independence and refused to pay taxes to Adil Shah. During this time as Prime Minister, Hem Chandra proved his mettle. Commanding Adil Shah’s army, he fought numerous battles defeating each rebelling governor [2]. He defeated and killed Muhammad Shah Suri – self appointed ruler of Bengal. He defeated Ibrahim Shah Suri twice [2]. Most importantly, with these victories, he not only controlled the administration and the treasury, but also the victorious armies of the empire. In the meantime, Sikandar Suri too defeated Ibrahim Suri and captured Delhi and Agra.

    At this time, sensing the general anarchy and disintegration of his Afghan enemies, Humayun – thoroughly defeated by Sher Shah 15 years ago but sustained and supported by Iranian support, invaded India once again. His commander Bairam Khan easily defeated Sikandar Suri and reinstated Humayun to the throne of Delhi (July 1555). But Humayun’s control over his newly conquered kingdom was tenuous at best and he died in January 1556. Hem Chandra was in Bengal when Humayun died. Humayun’s death gave Hem Chandra an ideal opportunity to defeat the Mughals. With about 50,000 soldiers, he embarked on a winning march from Bengal through present day Bihar, Eastern Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh [4]. Many Mughal officers and commanders evacuated their positions and fled in panic. Hem Chandra’s army entered Agra without a fight [4]. He was now poised to liberate Delhi from the foreign aggressors. With a string of lightening quick victories over his enemies, he commanded the respect of his forces and trust of his officers – both Hindu and Afghan [2, 4]. At this point, rather than acting on behalf of an ineffective king, he declared himself as the king with the consent of his commanders.

    Mughal general Bairam Khan, sensing the gravity of the situation, sent reinforcements to the Governor of Delhi – Tardi Beg Khan and the Mughal Army battled Hem Chandra’s forces in present day Tughlaqabad [4]. In this battle, Hem Chandra arranged 300 elephants and selected cavalry in the center with loosely guarded front and flanks. As the battle began, Mughal forces overcame the front and even attacked Hem Chandra’s flanks. At one point it appeared as if Mughals had captured 3000 Afghan men and 400 elephants. Sensing victory, Mughal armies dispersed to plunder the enemy camp. At that point Hem Chandra charged on Tardi Beg’s camp with his reserved forces in the center. Seeing a force marching directly towards them and without any armies to stop them, the Mughal commanders fled from the battle field. The result was chaos in the Mughal forces and it resulted in their total defeat.

    Victorious Hem Chandra entered Delhi on October 6, 1556 as a sovereign [4]. It’s difficult to imagine the exact thoughts in his mind. But it was a historical moment for India. After 350 years of almost unbroken Islamic rule, a Hindu king had entered Delhi! Hem Chandra must be acutely aware of the significance of this moment. That is why he assumed the title of Vikramaditya – a title assumed by many illustrious Hindu emperors in the history of India! No wonder then that Muslim historians have described him in the nastiest of words. Badayuni – a bigot and fundamentalist – writes, ‘through treachery, deceit and fraud great Delhi fell into the hands of Hindu Hemun’ [2]. He conveniently forgets that numerous great empires in the history of mankind have been built by great men coming from humble origins. In his own life, Hem Chandra had seen Babur and Sher Shah coming from nowhere to become emperors of northern India. As opposed to Akbar – who didn’t have a drop of Indian blood in his body and was leading an army of Turkic tribesmen with the support of Iran, Hem Chandra was a son of soil leading an army of natives – Afghans and Hindus. Indeed he was leading a liberation army against foreign invaders! Moreover, it was Hem Chandra who was in charge of the administration, the treasury and the army and had a proven track record as an administrator and commander compared to Adil Shah Suri. So his behavior was not different than any able and ambitious victor. Hem Chandra was crowned at Purana Qila, on October 7, 1556 as ‘Samrat Hem Chandra Vikramaditya’ in the presence of Afghan Sardars and Hindu Senapatis(military commanders) [4]. He struck coins bearing his title – one of the oldest ways of asserting sovereign status. The adjoining picture shows a painting of the occasion of his coronation, where he is flanked by his Afghan and Hindu military commanders [4]. His Afghan officers were reconciled to the ascendancy of a Hindu to the throne probably for a variety of reasons – Hem Chandra distributed plunder liberally among his soldiers [4], he had proved to be a successful general in no less than 22 battles and probably also due to the fact that they were part of a native army fighting the invaders.

    Second Battle of Panipat

    Hem Chandra’s victories and coronation caused a lot of consternation among the Mughals [4]. Many of Akbar’s commanders advised him to retreat to Kabul and wait for an opportune moment – like his father Humayun. However, Bairam Khan, the guardian of Akbar and chief strategist for army matters, insisted on fighting Hem Chandra in an effort to regain control of Delhi [4]. Bairam Khan was well aware of the consequences of a loss. He and Akbar stayed back eight miles from the battle ground with preparations to flee as soon as possible to Kabul in case of a defeat [2, 4].

    On November 5, 1556, the Mughal army met Hem Chandra’s army at the historic battlefield of Panipat. It was the same battlefield where Akbar’s grandfather had defeated Ibrahim Lodi 30 years ago. Unsurprisingly, Bairam Khan motivated his army by a religious speech and ordered them to move for battle [4]. Samrat Hem Chandra led his large army himself sitting atop an elephant and was poised to achieve victory. But alas, destiny had something else in mind. All of a sudden the Emperor was hit in the eye by a stray arrow. In spite of that, Hem Chandra pulled the arrow by his hands and exhorted his forces to charge ahead. Unfortunately, he soon collapsed unconscious in his hauda due to severe bleeding [2]. His collapse changed everything. Armies of those times depended solely on their masters for payment – either in victory or in defeat [2]. Looking at their king collapsed, his armies lost heart, and no commander came forward to rise to the occasion and to make coordinated decisions. As a result of this confusion, Hem Chandra’s armies started leaving the battlefield – and an easy victory got converted into a disastrous defeat!

    Unconscious, the almost dead Hem Chandra was captured by Shah Qulin Khan and carried to the camp of Akbar where he was beheaded by Bairam Khan [4]. His head was sent to Kabul, where it was hung outside Delhi Darwaza, while his body was placed outside Purana Quila in Delhi [4] – the same place where he was coroneted earlier. Thus, a courageous effort to liberate Bharatwarsha from Islamic yoke came to an abrupt end! Akbar and Bairam Khan entered Delhi the next day. Genocide was ordered of the ‘community of Hemun’ – Hindus and his main Afghan supporters. Thousands of Hindus were killed and minarets were built of the skulls of the dead. At least one painting of such minarets is displayed in ‘Panipat Wars Museum’ at Panipat in Haryana. Such minarets were still in existence about 60 years later as described by Peter Mundy, a British traveler who visited India during the time of Jahangir – Akbar’s son [4].


    One cannot but feel disheartened at the tragic loss of Samrat Hem Chandra’s armies in the second battle of Panipat. Many historians mention this loss as Hem Chandra’s bad luck – it was in fact India’s bad luck! When it appeared that after 350 years of oppression Hindus of North India would finally see the light of freedom – occupation returned with a greater force and cohesion. The Central Asian Mughals remained a dominant power in India until 1709 – the death of Aurangzeb. And it was not until 1737 that a Hindu army – the Marathas – finally reached Delhi.

    But Hem Chandra’s defeat does not make his valiant effort any less significant. First of all, he was born in an ordinary family and rose by sheer dint of hard work. He was not born in a traditional Kshatriya family, but the caste barriers – a traditional weakness of Hindu society – could not stop him from becoming an Emperor. Although he was a Hindu under Islamic rule, he did not remain content to be a mere king-maker – but declared himself a sovereign when an opportune moment came! And he did so in style – assuming the title of Vikramaditya was a clear sign of his desire to present his rule as a continuum of the ancient traditions of India. He was the last Hindu who became the ruler of Delhi and might have been successful in creating a Hindu dynasty.
  3. Speechless world

    Speechless world New Member

    Two Questions to Ponder

    When I think of this last Hindu Samrat and his accomplishments, two questions come to my mind to which there are no satisfactory answers. The first obvious question is – Why did no one take inspiration from him? Why did no one try to be a Samrat after Hem Chandra? Did the genocides at the hands of Mughals terrorize Hindus to such an extent that they lost heart? Within 15 years of Hem Chandra’s defeat, Hindus suffered major reversals. Mughals soon dominated most of Rajputana and in 1568 defeated the king of Orissa – Mukundadeva [11]. In 1565, Deccan Sultanates defeated Aliya Rama Raya of Vijayanagara Empire in the Battle of Talikota [12]. Did these reversals dishearten Hindus so much that they even stopped trying? I guess we will never know…

    Many historians studying the history of 16th century India have been fascinated by Hem Chandra’s life story. Historian K. K. Bhardwaj even compares him to Napoleon [2]. There are some obvious similarities between these two men – both came from humble backgrounds, won battle after battle and rose to become emperors in their own right, but got defeated at crucial moments and those defeats completely nullified their hard earned gains. But I must say that the similarities end here. Napoleon is still considered a hero in France and is a well known figure even beyond Europe. Hem Chandra is not so lucky. Forget being a world renowned figure, he is forgotten even by Hindus. That brings me to the second question – Why do very few Indians even know him?

    One easy explanation is that history is written by the victors. So, no wonder that Hem Chandra’s character was painted in the darkest possible colors by Muslim historians. Even to the British rulers, he was naturally inconvenient. Why would they be interested in informing Hindus about a man who challenged foreign occupation and attempted to liberate the country? But unfortunately, even after independence, he is neglected by the powers that be. The new rulers and the elite seem to have convinced themselves that India is a ‘composite culture’ formed by the ‘peaceful’ coexistence of Hindu and Muslim traditions. In this scheme of things, there is no place for a liberator of Hindus who stands as a contradiction to such fantasies. So, history textbooks in India usually neglect him as a mere foot-note in Akbar’s life.

    But neglect by historians is not the only reason. It has also to do with the unfortunate lack of collective historical consciousness among Hindus. It is so stark that even a Muslim historian like Al-Beruni [2] laments at one point that “unfortunately the Hindus do not pay much attention to the historical order of things!” This attitude of Hindus has resulted in a pathetic situation in which Bollywood makes movies about real or imaginary events in Akbar’s life – in the process eulogizing a foreign invader; but hardly anyone knows about Hem Chandra’s efforts. It is said that a society is judged by how it treats its worse-off. What should one say about the Hindu society that neglects even the best among itself?

    Let’s correct this mistake

    So it’s up to us to rectify this mistake! As the descendants of Hindu culture, it’s our duty to strive towards according Samrat Hem Chandra Vikramaditya the true place he deserves in Hindu history. As mentioned above, there is not much point in expecting anything from the Indian education system in this regard. It is up to us – ordinary people like you and me to give him his due place. It’s not that nothing has been done in this regard. Historians like K.K. Bhardwaj and R.C. Majumdar have written books detailing his inspiring life story. At the time of writing, there is a Wikipedia entry and a Facebook community for him. This article is another feeble step in that direction. But please do not let it remain a cry in the wilderness. First of all, the efforts to resurrect the memories of this forgotten hero definitely need to move beyond academia and the blogosphere. His story should reach general populace and widely circulate – either in the form of movies, documentaries, plays or short story-books. Other efforts would be to locate the coins he struck in his name and educate people about those. Building a samadhi for this hero – either in Panipat or in Delhi would be another worthy effort. But let us not rest until the memories of Hem Chandra’s valiant efforts are firmly etched in the Hindu consciousness!

    written by Shreyas S. Limaye.
    Source :


    2. Bhardwaj, KK “Hemu: Napoleon of medieval India”, Mittal Publications, New Delhi, 2000.

    3. Majumdar, RC. “The History and Cultures of the Indian People”, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan (in 12 Vols) , VII ,97










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