Bahadur Shah Zafar, Last emperor of Mughal empire, and a tragic figure

In India, we have a natural liking for tragedy and tragic life stories. Stories of Devdas and adaptations of Shakespeare keep happening at regular intervals here. No wonder, the lament of the last emperor of Mughal Dynasty, Bahadur Shah Zafar, remains ever alive in the collective consciousness of Indians.

shahrukh khan devdas_opt

Kitna hai badnaseeb Zafar dafn ke liye/Do gaz zameen bhi na mili koo-e-yaar mein.

The emperor who was also a poet cried out of his misfortune at not being able to avail of the two yards of land in his beloved country. These two lines are embedded in the Indian psyche are indeed a part of popular culture and have the power to sadden the human heart to let out a helpless grieved sigh.

Bahadur Shah Zafar, the last Mughal emperor & leader of a failed revolution

As if it is not enough that you are the leader of one of the most successful dynasties in Indian History and have seen your empire being taken bit by bit, you also loose the first revolution for freedom in the country. Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar gave himself up to the British at Humayun’s Tomb at the end of a tense day on September 21, 1857. The captors had sent him a terse message that he’d be shot if he tried to escape. He was also humiliated doing his trial and punished with exile from his homeland.
The official capture letter shows what a humiliating experience it must have been for someone who succeeded Akbar, Shajahan and Jahangir (

The last Mughal emperor, who was exiled from his homeland with complete humiliation

William Dalrymple in his famed book, The Last Mughal describes the journey to the sad exile thus: “At 4 am on October 7, 332 years after Babur first conquered the city, the last Mughal Emperor left Delhi on a bullock cart. Along with him went his wives, his two remaining children, concubines and servants —a party of 31 in all… the journey had been kept secret, even from Zafar himself, and the old man knew nothing of his departure before being woken up at 3 am, and told to get ready.” There was no one to bid farewell to the emperor at pre-dawn as he left his beloved Dilli forever.


Bahadur Shah Zafar in happier times during a procession

Bahadur Shah Zafr, a man whose real calling was poetry

 Bahadur Shah Zafar was a noted Urdu poet. While some part of his opus was lost or destroyed during the Indian Rebellion of 1857, a large collection did survive. Before his accession, he lived like “a poor scholar and dervish”, differing from his three royal brothers, Mirza Jahangir, Salim and Babur. A serial on Doordarshan starring Ashok Kumar, Juhi Chawla and Raj Babbar highlighted the poetry aspect very effectively.

A painful exile in complete penury for the Last Mughal emperor

In Burma, Bahadur Shah Zafar’s family was provided 4 rooms each of 16 sq ft. One was allotted for Bahadur Shah, another for Jawan Bhakt and his wife Zamani Begum, the rest. for Zinat Mahal and Shah Abbas. Pen, ink and paper were completely forbidden. The family was provided 4 Indian attendants (a chaprasi, water carrier, washer-man and a sweeper). He was kept under house arrest. Sadly, the poet was not given even a pen to write while in captivity. He scribbled some of his last verses on the wall with a burnt stick

Had his Children executed in his own palace

The three princes of the Mughal dynasty, Bahadur Shah Zafar’s sons, Mirza Mughal and Mirza Khizr Sultan and grandson Mirza Abu Bakht, were shot by a British Soldier, Captain William Hodson. Lal Darwaza, located near Delhi Gate, on the Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg in Delhi, earned the sobriquet ‘Khooni Darwaza’ due to the massacre committed by British forces there.
Even today, his descendants are said to be living in complete poverty where they live in a slum and do small jobs to earn a living(

Even his grave was hidden from his own countrymen

British government,expecting a disturbance on death of Zafar buried him in an unmarked grave. In 1905 the Muslims of Rangoon protest demanding that the grave of Bahadur Shah should be marked. The British authorities agreed in 1907 and a railing was also erected around an supposed site of the grave. Surprisingly, in Feb. 1991 labourers while digging a drain at the back of the shrine uncovered the original brick-lined grave of Bahadur Shah. It was found 3 feet under the ground, and about 25 feet away from the earlier supposed graveyard of the emperor

grave in yangoon

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