Credits: Original Post by Airavat Singh on his blog, “Military History of India” / "Horses and Swords"
Jaswant Singh at a young age. His elder brother was the famous Amar Singh Rathore who died in a bloody fight at the Mughal court in Agra.
The core of Jaswant Singh’s army was formed by 7000 Rajput cavaliers of his own kingdom, most of them belonging to the Rathor clan. 2000 of these stood around Jaswant in the center of the army while several thousand were posted in the vanguard that would take the attack to the enemy. The rest were placed in the advanced reserve between the center and the vanguard—in all three sections were hundreds of Rajputs from other clans of Rajasthan. After reaching Malwa, Jaswant had also recruited many local Rajput clans into his army, Chandrawats, Bundelas, and Jhalas—these were also distributed evenly among the three sections while some were left to protect the camp. There were even Maratha chiefs among these recruits; two named Maluji and Parsuji were assigned to guard the camp.
The right wing of the army was under an imperial Rajput officer from Agra named Raja Rai Singh Sesodia who stood independent with his own clansmen. Similarly, the left wing was led by an imperial Muslim officer named Iftikhar Khan. Both these wings had between 3000-5000 men and the vanguard was thus the strongest element of Jaswant’s army. Qasim Khan and his 5000 men had set off one week behind the Rajputs and, now that Murad had joined Aurangzeb, Qasim’s force was under Jaswant Singh’s orders. Qasim was placed in the vanguard, raising its strength to nearly 10,000 men.
The vanguard was also the strongest portion of Aurangzeb’s army comprising 8000 cavaliers under his son, Muhammad Sultan. A few thousand men were in the advanced reserve while in the center around Aurangzeb was the rest of his cavalry—this force was boosted by the cavalry under his officers to almost 5000 men. The left wing was under Aurangzeb’s younger son Muhammad Azam while the right wing was composed of the entire army of Aurangzeb’s brother Murad coming down from Gujarat.
In Aurangzeb’s army were many Maratha chiefs recruited from his province in the Deccan. Some Rajput chiefs (Rao Karan of Bikaner and Subhkaran Bundela of Datia) assigned to him previously by Shah Jahan naturally followed their commander to war. One Rajput chief, Raja Indradyumna of Dhamdhera, was released from confinement in a Malwa fort and out of personal gratitude joined Aurangzeb’s army.
In sheer numbers, Aurangzeb’s force far outnumbered Jaswant’s army, but numbers by themselves are not important—where and how those numbers are used to apply force decides the outcome of a battle.
Aurangzeb’s real superiority lay in artillery. His guns were manned by teams of Europeans; Dutch, Portuguese, French, and Italian, all of who had been recruited during the campaigns and battles in the south. While the fighting races of India (high-born cavaliers) despised artillery and placed their reliance on horses and swords, they appreciated artillery’s utility in destroying the enemy forts and in stopping the charge of the enemy cavalry. Handling gunpowder and dragging the guns through the mud and the dust was anathema to them, hence they left the task of manning those guns to low-caste Muslims and Hindus.
This meant that there was little innovation in the use of artillery. Later in the 18th and 19th centuries, this Indian artillery was found to be superior to European guns in caliber and design but the European gunners reduced that superiority by their accuracy and better rate of firing. This difference was seen also in the Battle of Dharmat.
knowing the enemy’s superiority in numbers and artillery Jaswant Singh had placed his army in a strong defensive position. On three sides they had dug ditches joined to a swamp, which made the ground muddy and soft, thus planning to bog down the advancing enemy cavalry. After that, the Rajputs on their light cavalry would advance and cut down the stranded enemy.
On the morning of 15 April, the battle began with the general firing of the artillery, rockets, and muskets from both sides. Aurangzeb advanced slowly and the effect of his European gunners was soon felt—their shots, instead of bouncing along the ground or going wayward, were being fired from elevated positions and at such calculated angles as to land bang in the middle of the cavalry in the vanguard. Under the cover of this barrage, the musketeers and archers also came within range and began shooting down the trapped horsemen. Aurangzeb’s band burst forth with the triumphant notes of the trumpets and the beating of kettledrums in anticipation of an easy victory—however, they had not reckoned with Rajput valour.
The Rajput chiefs in the vanguard, Ratan Singh Rathor, Mukund Singh Hada, Dayal Singh Jhala, Arjun Singh Hada, and Sujan Singh Sesodia, loudly exhorted their clansmen to send the enemy to hell. Shouting cries of Ram! Ram! the Rajput cavalry burst out of their lines and charged headlong towards the enemy. Disregarding the first few salvos from Aurangzeb’s army they cut down his gunners and his artillery chief, Murshid Quli Khan, and surged towards the enemy vanguard.
Another chief named Zulfiqar Khan was wounded and knocked senseless as the vanguard crumpled on itself. The alarmed Aurangzeb sent up the advanced reserve in support and, as the close combat raged, himself pushed forward with the center. His officers Saf Shikan Khan and Shaikh Mir brought their forces around the flanks and closed the path behind the charging Rajputs.
On Jaswant’s side, men of the advanced reserve and the center had also gone up in support but the muddy ground slowed their advance…Qasim Khan’s force in the vanguard had neither gone with the first charge nor had they advanced in support. Instead, when they beheld Aurangzeb’s force moving forward, Qasim’s men fled to save their own lives.
Aurangzeb’s gunners recovered their artillery after losing it to the charging Rajputs and again commenced firing at the enemy. His right wing under Murad advanced to fight and kill Iftikhar Khan on Jaswant’s left. Seeing that the awakened hopes of a victory, kindled by the charging Rajputs in the vanguard, were now snuffed out and the Muslims of the vanguard were running away, Rai Singh Sesodia left the field with his clansmen in the right wing. The locally raised Chandrawats and Bundelas also departed for their homes.
Jaswant Singh kept his place in the center with 2000 Rajputs of his own kingdom. All around them the enemy advanced and artillery shots landed in their midst but the Raja of Jodhpur would not leave the field. He had been out-maneuvered in the campaign and out-generalled in the battle but he was not going to be out-fought by the enemy. Jaswant had resolved to die a hero’s death while fighting to the last, which was the ideal for a Rajput defending his home from invaders.
This, however, was not such a battle—in an internecine quarrel of Mughal princes why should the head of the Rathor clan, and the future hope of Jodhpur in those uncertain times, sacrifice his life? So thinking, Jaswant’s generals Askaran and Maheshdas Gaur, and his minister Govardhan, caught the bridle of his horse and forced him away from the field. They retired to their home of Jodhpur while the survivors of Iftikhar Khan’s force and the untouched army of Qasim Khan were already on the road to Agra—some of them, however, stayed behind to join the service of Aurangzeb.
Dharmat was the first battle in North India where European gunners were prominent in the artillery—these gunners later gave good service to Aurangzeb’s sons who fought a similar war of succession half a century later (Still later in the 18th and 19th centuries European infantry commanders would come to lead the raw foot soldiers in the Indian armies.)
Despite the superior use of artillery the charge of the Rajput cavalry in the vanguard nearly turned the outcome of the battle. This proves how smaller numbers employed at the right place and at the critical moment can defeat a larger enemy force—the few thousand Rajputs silenced Aurangzeb’s artillery and shattered his vanguard.
If the other units under Jaswant had moved in behind them to capture the guns and occupy the ground, Aurangzeb’s men would have fled to save their own lives. However, because of the muddy ground, the heavy cavalry of the Muslim soldiers under Jaswant could not advance quickly enough. Only the Rajputs of the advanced reserve, on their light cavalry, could gallop across to join their brethren of the vanguard. But they were not enough to prevent the enemy from recovering his guns and closing around the shattered ranks of the vanguard.
A general advance of the center and the wings could not be made because their artillery would have become bogged down in that same ground. So when the victorious Rajputs of the vanguard were ultimately surrounded by Aurangzeb’s advanced reserve and center, defection became general in these units.
Iftikhar Khan on the left wing was attacked by Murad and died fighting. His wing dispersed after his death and some of his officers went over to Aurangzeb after the battle. Similarly, Qasim Khan’s army in the vanguard was suspected of either sympathy to Aurangzeb or indifference to Jaswant Singh’s army. However, after the battle they did not join Aurangzeb and retreated to Agra, confirming that the second reason is more accurate.
The Rajputs of the vanguard sacrificed their lives, not for the sake of the Mughal throne, but for their own King, Jaswant. His victory would have raised the prestige of Jodhpur—the wealth looted from the enemy camp and the rewards showered by Shah Jahan and Dara would have been shared by every Rajput noble and each Rajput soldier in Jodhpur.
The Rajputs under Rai Singh Sesodia and the locally raised Chandrawats and Bundelas did not share this enthusiasm since they were junior commanders and their rewards would’ve been fewer. They were not interested in dying for the sake of the Mughals or for the sake of Jaswant Singh. Such feelings were common also among the Purbia and Jat infantry, the low-caste gunners, and the Maratha auxiliaries.
In conclusion, Jaswant Singh’s plan of holding off the enemy from a defensive position and then launching his cavalry at the advancing enemy bogged down in the mud was negated by Aurangzeb’s superior artillery. The Mughal prince did not make an attack even though he had larger numbers with him—instead he made a slow general advance carrying the artillery forward and letting his guns and muskets maul the enemy.
This useless slaughter was stopped by the ferocious charge of the Rajputs, which also gave the imperial army a glimmer of victory. Jaswant’s defensive position, surrounded by ditches and muddy ground, which was meant to deter the advance of the enemy heavy cavalry, actually stopped the movement of his own men and snuffed out all chances of his victory.
To the end, Jaswant maintained his position in the field along with his own clansmen and only retired when forced by his officers. That this decision was correct was proved by later events. There were times when Aurangzeb as emperor nearly launched an attack on Jodhpur, on various pretexts, but was held off by the power of Jaswant and his clansmen. It was only on the death of Jaswant, and the absence of his army in Afghanistan, that Aurangzeb could take belated revenge on the Rajput ruler by occupying Jodhpur.
According to Jadunath Sarkar, Maharaja Jaswant Singh was a high-spirited leader of Hindus, and on the strength of his army and large state, was the hope of Hindus against the bigoted section of the Mughals who had grown powerful with the accession of Aurangzeb. The Rajput ruler is believed to have restored many Hindu temples by demolishing the mosques that had been built on their ruins. In fact, as Aurangzeb wrote to this father:
My first battle was with wicked infidels, who had destroyed mosques, and erected on their sites temples to their idols.
A true testament to the power of Maharaja Jaswant Singh.