Battle of Hydaspes-When brave Indian King Paurava lost to Alexander the Great but won his heart (327 BC)

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Gajrag against the Phalanx

The legends of Alexander the great are known far and wide. Many historians regard him as the greatest conqueror the world has ever seen. But not many know of his Indian campaign at the battle of Hydaspes and how this battle changed the course of history forever.

After the destruction of Persian Empire ,Alexander the Great reached what is the present day Afghanistan in 327 BC . Not many places were left for his army to conquer until a Persian official informed him about the wealth & riches in the beautiful cities  that lied to the east of river Indus.

 Ambhi, the ruler of eastern Gandhara  made peace treaty with the invading army of Alexander. But  king Paurava (Porus) of Punjab and his  courageous Chaturanga sena had other ideas  and decided to prepare for one of the greatest battles of Indian history .

Organisation of armies

  1. Phalanx(main military formation of the Macedonian army and consist of hoplites, heavy infantry,with long spears)  
2 Companion cavalry{highly trained warriors,rode best horses, and weapons.},   Hypaspists(second most elite unit stood next to companion cavalry)    
 1 Chaturanga sena( consist of paiks[infantry], chariot,cavalry,war elephants
2 Spearmen,bowmen with swords and shields.
A Phalanx formation of the Alexander army and their Indian opponents

Main battle:

artistic impression of the battle of Hydaspes
artistic impression of the battle of Hydaspes

Alexander fixed his camp near the right banks of the river while Paurava drew up on the south bank of Jhelum to repel and stop any crossing from the Macedonians .

From his Indian messanger Alexander was informed that Paurava had mobilized about 40000 infantry , 4000 cavalry ,1000 chariots and 200 war Elephants.

With 30000 men Alexander decided to search  for a way to cross the river which was not only safe but also hidden from Paurava .They made rafts  from the jungle to carry horses and men. Numerous faints and other sort of deception were made by the macedoninas to fool Paurava’s army.

Alexander divided his army into several groups which continuously changed their position. On one night when it was raining heavily the Macedonians decided to cross the river. About 11000 soldiers crossed the river along with alexander.

To counter this advance, Paurava sent a  force of 2000 cavalry and 200 chariot under his son Paurava junior.

However this decision went horribly wrong for the Indians as in this battle Paurava junior got killed and all the chariots were lost.

After hearing the news of his son’s death, Paurava knew that the stage was set for final encounter.

Paurava adavanced from his camp with 30000 infantry,5000 Mahouts and chariots , 3600 cavalry and 80 war elephants.

Infantry of 10000 were kept reserved to guard his camp.

Army Formations:

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Alexander deployed 6000 Hoplites(phalangites) in the centre, 1000 horses archers were stationed on left flank, while the right flank of the hoplites were guarded by by 4000 companion cavalry. Read more about the phalanx formation HERE.

Meanwhile the Indian center were 30000 infantry. In front of them were 300 chariots . 85 Elephants were positioned behind the infantry unit. Right and left flanks were guarded by 1600 and 2000 cavalry respectively.

At 10 am Alexander open the battle by launching his 5000 cavalry against Paurava’s chariots. The wheels of the chariot got stuck in the muddy banks of Jhelum river . At the same time Companion cavalry of Alexander collided with the 2000 Indian cavalry stationed at Porus’ left wing.

The Macedonians had the advantage of disciplined tactics and were more experienced than the Indians. They wore body armour , metal greaves, helmets and shields while the Indian had no such equipment . As a result the Macedonians came out to be victorious at that  moment.

Meanwhile the 30000 infantry of Paurava  carring a broadsword charged the Phalanx of the alexander. But the hoplites with there long sarissa(spear) created havoc on the Indians.

To stabilize the situation Paurava decided to launch a frontal assault with his elephant unit. Through out the battle paurava remained on his elephant throwing javelin and darts.

The elephants caused heavy damage to the infantry of the Alexander .Hoplites were also elevated from the ground by the elephant while others were trampled to death under their feet.

Porus’ war elephants causing havoc among the Macedonian formations. This is believed to be the first battle in which Alexander’s army witnessed war elephants in action.

But after some time the Scythian’s mounted archers and the infantry men tossed javelin and arrow at the elephants eye.

Due to this the elephant panicked and ran back into the indian lines causing more harm to their own soldiers. The Greek cavalry surrounded the injured kings elephant and captured him. Paurava continued to fight valiantly till the end and did not leave the battlefield.

The battle lasted for 8 hours and the Macedonians had lost 300 cavalry,750 infantry and about 1000  were injured, while paurava lost 20000 infantry and 3000 cavalry, though lost paurava won  the hearts of the macedonians …..

When brought before alexander  tall and dignified Paurava though bleeding Alexander asked him how he would like to be treated Paurava replied ” as a  KING”

 Alexander respected this and told the brave Paurava he would remain a king, owing allegiance to Alexander. Alexander, accordingly, not only allowed him to govern his own kingdom as satrap under himself, but also gave him also the additional territories of various independent tribes whom he defeated.

Aftermath and importance of the Battle of Hydaspes:

The battle was the closest Alexander the Great ever came to defeat. His feared Companion cavalry was unable to completely defeat the courageous King Porus. Hydaspes marked the end of Alexander’s great career of conquests. He died before he could launch another campaign.

King Paurava became the first defender of India and the first opponent to inflict serious damage to the greatly feared army of Alexander.


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