At the end of this post, I am going to try to append a song called “Fallen Flowers” by a wonderful singer called Steve McDonald. It is a great song, and I hope you can take the time to listen to it. The song is taken from an old Scottish tradition of referring to soldiers who die in battle as ‘fallen flowers’.
Anyway, I was in a town called Panipat last week. Panipat is a strange little town. It has deep mythological connections. It is also the town that witnessed three battles – the three battles of Panipat. These three battles – in 1526, 1556 and 1761 – were pivotal in the formation of Indian history.
In 1526, the Afghan chief Babur came into India and defeated the King of the Lodi Dynasty. This marked the entry of the Mughal Dynasty in India. The Mughal Dynasty was the last great dynasty of India.
In 1526, his grandson Akbar defeated the Hindu king Hemu, and firmly established the Mughal Dynasty in India. If he had lost, we would have lost a great king. Akbar is one of the two kings in India who are called ‘The Great’. If he had lost, his grandson Shah Jahan may never have built the Taj Mahal.
In 1761, the Maratha warriors lost to the Afghan king. The defeat, as per some, created a power vacuum that allowed the British to take over India, and caused India to become a part of the English Empire (in 1857, of course). The Third Battle of Panipat was the last battle between South Asian countries until the independence of India and the creation of Pakistan. It witnessed the largest number of deaths (in classic battles) in a single day during that century. Over 100,000 soldiers died that day.
Yet, when I was in Panipat, at the site of the Tomb of Ibrahim Lodi, the king who died on the 21st (or 26th) April 1526, no one knew who the tomb belonged to. “There was a King”, some said.
The site of the first and second battle has disappeared, and the memorial to the Hindu King Hemu has disappeared.
Only the site and memorial of the third battle exists. I took the above picture at Kala Amb, the site of the Third Battle of Panipat.
When I went to the site – Kala Amb – of the third battle, and sat by the tomb of Ibrahim Lodi, I thought of the battles that forged that changed the destiny and history of India. I thought of the battles fought, and the thousands of lives that were lost. Not one of those who died during those battles could have realised that the battle they were fighting was going to change the destiny of a nation.
Then I thought of our last battle with Pakistan, at Kargil. I thought of the apartments that the government made for the families of the Fallen Flowers – our soldiers – and how greedy politicians had tried to steal these apartments, without shame.
When I spoke to people in Panipat, I realised that practically none of them knew much about these battles. Their knowledge was hazy at best. I can’t blame them. They struggle to live in one of the filthiest towns that I have ever seen in my life.
I spoke to a friend, and she said – ‘ya, ya… forget the history’. I don’t blame her. I hated history in school. I detested the subject. It was boring, and just a recital of dates.
In the last several years, as I read more and more about Indian history, I started to appreciate the forces that forged our country, that made them what we are today. I started to realise that if we forget the lessons of the past, then not only do we forget a part of our culture, our collective subconscious, but we cannot forge a better tomorrow. We cannot take a balanced view when a politician or teacher or speaker or religious nut job blathers on in a dangerous manner about what wrongs have been perpetrated on us by the British or the Muslims or the Sikhs or the Hindus or any one else.
We forget the beauty, the dynamism of the past. We forget the sacrifices of those who made us what we are.
We forget those Fallen Flowers who helped make our nation.