The Mughal Empire’s expansion, stalled after the death of its founder Babur in 1530, began anew under Babur’s grandson, Akbar.
To the east of Akbar’s realms, the Suri general Hemu had set himself up as a strongman ruler; calling himself a king, he built a powerbase in Bengal. Aged just thirteen, Akbar seemed singularly ill-equipped to cope with this threat. However, he had rare gifts and the support of his guardian, the accomplished general Bairam Khan. Hemu had unstoppable momentum; it seemed having already taken Agra and the strategic fortress of Tughlaqabad in October 1556 he captured Delhi. Too late to save the city, Akbar’s army let it go and stopped on the plains to the north, at Panipat.
On 5 November 1556, the scene was set for the Second Battle of Panipat. Repeated elephant charges failed to break the resolve of the outnumbered Mughal soldiers. An inspiring figure, Hemu led from the front, perched high up on an elephant, an important talisman for his troops. He was also a tempting target for the Mughal archers, and initially they showered him with shafts to no avail, so impregnable was the head to-foot armor he was wearing. Eventually, though, one arrow found its way in through an eye-slit and killed him resulting in Akbar’s triumph.