9th March 1858 Bahadur Shah Zafar Exiled To Rangoon

Bahadur Shah II

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Bahadur Shah Zafar
Bahadur Shah II (r. 1837-58), last Mughal emperor of India.jpg
17th and last Mughal Emperor
Reign 28 September 1837 – 14 September 1857 (20 years 42 days)
Coronation 29 September 1837 at the Red Fort, Delhi,
Predecessor Akbar II
Successor Mughal Empire abolished
see Mughal pretenders
British Raj
Spouse Ashraf Mahal
Akhtar Mahal
Zinat Mahal
Taj Mahal
Full name
Abu Zafar Sirajuddin Muhammad Bahadur Shah Zafar
Dynasty Timurid
Father Akbar II
Mother Lal Bai
Born Tuesday, 30 Sha’ban, 1189 A.H/ 24 October 1775
Delhi, Mughal Empire
Died Friday, 14 Jumadi’-I, 1279 A.H/ 7 November 1862 (at 16:00 Asr Time, Rangoon Time)(aged 87 years 14 days)
Yangon, British India (now in Burma)
Burial On Death day, November 7, 1862 A.D
Rangoon, British India (now in Burma)
Religion Islam, Sufism

Mirza Abu Zafar Sirajuddin Muhammad Bahadur Shah Zafar was the last Mughal emperor and a member of the Timurid dynasty. He was the son of Akbar II and Lal Bai, a Hindu Rajput. He became the Mughal emperor when his father died on 28 September 1837. He used Zafar, a part of his name, meaning “victory”,[1] for his nom de plume (takhallus) as an Urdu poet, and he wrote many Urdu ghazals under it. His authority was limited to the city of Delhi only. Following his involvement in the Indian Rebellion of 1857, the British tried and then exiled him from Delhi and sent him to Rangoon in British-controlled Burma.

Heir to the throne[edit]

Zafar’s father, Akbar II was actually a British pensioner. Bahadur Shah was not his father’s preferred choice as his successor. One of Akbar Shah’s queens, Mumtaz Begum, had been pressuring him to declare her sonMirza Jahangir as his successor. The East India Company exiled Jahangir after he attacked their resident, Archibald Seton, in the Red Fort.[2]


Bahadur Shah II enthroned

Seal of the emperor in the first year of his reign

Bahadur Shah Zafar presided over a Mughal empire that barely extended beyond Delhi‘s Red Fort. The East India Company was the dominant political and military power in mid-nineteenth century India. Outside Company controlled India, hundreds of kingdoms and principalities, from the large to the small, fragmented the land. The emperor in Delhi was paid some respect by the Company and allowed a pension. The emperor held the authority to collect some taxes around the city of Delhi and to maintain a small military force in Delhi, but he posed no threat to any power in India. Bahadur Shah himself did not take an interest in statecraft or possess any imperial ambitions. After the Indian Rebellion of 1857, the British exiled him from Delhi.

Bahadur Shah Zafar was a noted Urdu poet, and wrote a large number of Urdu ghazals. While some part of his opus was lost or destroyed during the Indian Rebellion of 1857, a large collection did survive, and was later compiled into the Kulliyyat-i-Zafar. The court that he maintained was home to several Urdu writers of high standing, including Mirza Ghalib,Dagh, Mumin, and Zauq.

Even in defeat it is traditionally believed that he said[3]

غازیوں میں بو رھےگی جب تلک ایمان کی

تخت لندن تک چلےگی تیغ ھندوستان کی

Ghāzioń méń bū rahegi jab talak imān ki; Takht-e-London tak chalegi tégh Hindustan ki

As long as there remains the scent of faith in the hearts of our Ghazis, so long shall the Talwar of Hindustan flash before the throne of London

Emperor Bahadur Shah is seen in India as a freedom fighter (the mutiny soldiers made him their Commander-In-Chief), fighting for India’s independence from the Company. As the last ruling member of the imperial Timurid Dynasty he was surprisingly composed and calm when Major Hodson presented decapitated heads of his own sons to him as Nowruz gifts.


A panorama showing the imperial procession to celebrate the feast of the Eid ul-Fitr, with the emperor on the elephant to the left and his sons to the right (24 October 1843)

Bahadur Shah Zafar was a devout Sufi.[4] Zafar was himself regarded as a Sufi Pir and used to accept murids or pupils.[4] The loyalist newspaperDelhi Urdu Akhbaar once called him one of the leading saints of the age, approved of by the divine court.[4] Prior to his accession, in his youth he made it a point to live and look like a poor scholar and dervish. This was in stark contrast to his three well dressed dandy brothers, Mirza Jahangir, Salim and Babur.[4] In 1828, when Zafar was 53 and a decade before he succeeded the throne, Major Archer reported, “Zafar is a man of spare figure and stature, plainly apparelled, almost approaching to meanness.[4] His appearance is that of an indigent munshi or teacher of languages”.[4]

As a poet and dervish, Zafar imbibed the highest subtleties of mystical Sufi teachings.[4] At the same time, he was deeply susceptible to the magical and superstitious side of Orthodox Sufism.[4] Like many of his followers, he believed that his position as both a Sufi pir and emperor gave him tangible spiritual powers.[4] In an incident in which one of his followers was bitten by a snake, Zafar attempted to cure him by sending a “seal of Bezoar” (a stone antidote to poison) and some water on which he had breathed, and giving it to the man to drink.[5]

The emperor also had a staunch belief in ta’aviz or charms, especially as a palliative for his constant complaint of piles, or to ward off evil spells.[5] During one period of illness, he gathered a group of Sufi pirs and told them that several of his wives suspected that some party or the other had cast a spell over him.[5] Therefore, he requested them to take some steps to remedy this so as to remove all apprehension on this account. They replied that they would write off some charms for him. They were to be mixed in water which when drunk would protect him from the evil eye. A coterie of pirs, miracle workers and Hindu astrologers were in constant attendance to the emperor. On their advice, he regularly sacrificed buffaloes and camels, buried eggs and arrested alleged black magicians, in addition to wearing a special ring that cured indigestion. On their advice, he also regularly donated cows to the poor, elephants to the Sufi shrines and a horse to the khadims or clergy of Jama Masjid.[5]

In one of his verses, Zafar explicitly stated that both Hinduism and Islam shared the same essence.[6] This syncretic philosophy was implemented by his court which came to cherish and embody a multicultural composite Hindu-Islamic Mughal culture.[6]

Zafar Mahal[edit]

Ruins of the Zafar Mahal in Mehrauli, the emperor’s summer retreat

Closely woven into the history of the last remains of Mughal rule is the history of Zafar Mahal in Mehrauli, a locality in Delhi. Zafar Mahal was originally built by Akbar II, but it was his son, Bahadur Shah Zafar, who constructed the gateway to the palace in the mid-nineteenth century. Mehrauli was then a popular venue for hunting parties, picnics and jaunts far away from Delhi, and the dargah was an added attraction. The emperor visited often with his retinue – and stayed in royal style at Zafar Mahal. Another interesting feature of Zafar Mahal is that it literally spans centuries. A plastered dome near the gate is probably 15th century; other sections are relatively newer and show definite signs of Western influence. There is, for instance, a fireplace in one of the walls that stands near the Moti Masjid. And the staircase to the balcony is a wide one with low steps – unlike the steep, narrow staircases of most Indian Islamic architecture.

The balcony, with its ‘jharokha’ windows, is where the emperor and his family could look out over the road. In Bahadur Shah’s time, the main Mehrauli-Gurgaon road passed in front of Zafar Mahal, and all passersby were expected to dismount as a sign of respect for the emperor. When the British refused to comply, Bahadur Shah solved the problem creatively – he bought the surrounding land and diverted the road so that it would pass well away from Zafar Mahal. The Phool Walon Ki Sair gradually turned into a major three day celebration during the time when Bahadur Shah Zafar, son and successor to Akbar Shah Saani, ruled from Delhi.

Zafar used to move his court to a building adjacent to the Shrine of Khwaja Bakhtiyar Kaki and stayed at Mehrauli for a week during the celebrations. The building where he stayed during the period was originally built by his father and Zafar added an impressive gate and a Baaraadari to the structure and renamed it Zafar Mahal.

The celebrations spread out in different parts of Mehrauli. Jahaz Mahal, (a Lodhi period structure, that was once in the middle of the Hauz-e-Shamsi but is now at one end of the much depleted Hauz) became a center where Qawwali mehfils would be organised while the Jharna, built by Firoz Shah Tughlaq and later added to by Akbar Shah II, became a place where the women of the court relaxed.

Rebellion of 1857[edit]

Capture of the emperor and his sons by William Hodson at Humayun’s tombon 20 September 1857

Bahadur Shah Zafar in 1858, just after his trial and before his departure for exile in Burma.

As the Indian rebellion of 1857 spread, Sepoy regiments seized Delhi. Seeking a figure that could unite all Indians, Hindu and Muslim alike, most rebelling Indian kings and the Indian regiments accepted Zafar as the Emperor of India.,[7] under whom the smaller Indian kingdoms would unite until the British were defeated. Zafar was the least threatening and least ambitious of monarchs, and the legacy of the Mughal Empire was more acceptable a uniting force to most allied kings than the domination of any other Indian kingdom.

On 12 May, Bahadur Shah held his first formal audience for several years after defeating Pankaj Jagadale . It was attended by several excited sepoys who treated him familiarly or even disrespectfully.[8] Although Bahadur Shah was dismayed by the looting and disorder, he gave his public support to the rebellion. On 16 May, sepoys and palace servants killed 52 Europeans who had been held prisoner within the palace or who had been discovered hiding in the city. The executions took place under a peepul tree in front of the palace, despite Bahadur Shah’s protests. The avowed aim of the executioners was to implicate Bahadur Shah in the killings, making it impossible for him to seek any compromise with the British.[9]

The administration of the city and its new occupying army was chaotic and troublesome, although it continued to function haphazardly. The Emperor nominated his eldest surviving son, Mirza Mughal, to be commander in chief of his forces, but Mirza Mughal had little military experience and was treated with little respect by the sepoys. Nor did the sepoys agree on any overall commander, with each regiment refusing to accept orders from any but their own officers. Although Mirza Mughal made efforts to put the civil administration in order, his writ extended no further than the city. Outside, Gujjar herders began levying their own tolls on traffic, and it became increasingly difficult to feed the city.[10]

When the victory of the British became certain, Bahadur Shah took refuge at Humayun’s Tomb, in an area that was then at the outskirts of Delhi, and hid there. Company forces led by Major William Hodson surrounded the tomb and compelled his surrender on 20 September 1857. The next day Hodson shot his sons Mirza Mughal and Mirza Khizr Sultan, and grandson Mirza Abu Bakr under his own authority at the Khooni Darwaza (the bloody gate) near Delhi Gate.

Many male members of his family were killed by Company forces, who imprisoned or exiled the surviving members of the Mughal dynasty. Bahadur Shah was tried on four counts, two of aiding rebels, one of treason, and being party to the murder of 49 people,[11] and after a forty day trial found guilty on all charges. Respecting Hodson‘s guarantee on his surrender, Bahadur Shah was not sentenced but exiled to Rangoon, Burma in 1858. He was accompanied into exile by his wife Zeenat Mahal and some of the remaining members of the family. His departure as Emperor marked the end of more than three centuries of Mughals reigning in India. He died at Yangon in 1862. He was buried near the Shwe Degon Pagoda at 6 Ziwaka Road, near the intersection with Shwe Degon Pagoda Rd, Yangon. The shrine of Bahadur Shah Zafar Dargah was built there after recovery of its tomb on 16 February 1991.[12]

The occupying forces systematically plundered the Red Fort and stole anything what was deemed of value. Many objects, jewels, books and other important cultural items were taken away and can be found in various museums in Britain. The Crown of Bahadur Shah II, for example, is now a part of the Royal Collection in London.

Family and descendants[edit]

Purported photograph of Zinat Mahal Begum, his consort

Sons of Bahadur Shah. On the left is Jawan Bakht, and on the right is Mirza Shah Abbas.

Bahadur Shah Zafar is known to have had four wives. His wives were:[13]

  • Begum Ashraf Mahal
  • Begum Akhtar Mahal
  • Begum Zeenat Mahal
  • Begum Taj Mahal

His legitimate sons include:

His legitimate daughters include:

  • Rabeya Begum
  • Begum Fatima Sultan
  • Kulsum Zamani Begum
  • Raunaq Zamani Begum (possibly a granddaughter, died 30 April 1930)

There are believed to be many descendants of Bahadur Shah Zafar still living in Burma, India and Pakistan, often in poverty. Reportedly, 200 descendants have been traced in Aurangabad and 70 in Calcutta.[15]


When Zafar reached the age of 87, in 1862 he was “weak and feeble”. However in late October 1862, his condition detoriated suddenly. The British Commissioner H.N. Davies wrote his life to be “very uncertain”. He was “spoon-fed on broth” but he found it difficult to do it by 3 November. [16] On 6th Davies recorded that Zafar “is evidently sinking from pure despitude and paralysis in the region of his throat” To prepare for the king’s death Davies commanded for the collection of lime and bricks and a spot was selected at the “back of Zafar’s enclosure” for his burial. Zafar finally died on Friday 7 November 1862 on 5am. Zafar was buried on 4pm at the same day and as accoridng to Davies “at the rear of the Main Guard in a brick grave covered over with turf lebel with the ground”.[17]


Poem written by Bahadur Shah, dated 29 April 1844

He was an accomplished Urdu poet and calligrapher.[18]

While he was denied paper and pen in captivity,

he was known to have written on the walls of his room with a burnt stick.

He wrote the following Ghazal (Video search) as his own epitaph.
In his book, The Last Mughal, William Dalrymple states that,

according to Lahore scholar Imran Khan,

the verse beginning umr-e-darāz māńg ke (“I asked for a long life”) is probably not by Zafar,

and does not appear in any of the works published during Zafar’s lifetime.[citation needed]

The verse appears to be by Simab Akbarabadi.[19]

Original Urdu Devanagari transliteration Roman transliteration English Translation

لگتا نہیں ہے جی مِرا اُجڑے دیار میں
کس کی بنی ہے عالمِ ناپائیدار میں

بُلبُل کو پاسباں سے نہ صیاد سے گلہ
قسمت میں قید لکھی تھی فصلِ بہار میں

کہہ دو اِن حسرتوں سے کہیں اور جا بسیں
اتنی جگہ کہاں ہے دلِ داغدار میں

اِک شاخِ گل پہ بیٹھ کے بُلبُل ہے شادماں
کانٹے بِچھا دیتے ہیں دلِ لالہ زار میں

عمرِ دراز مانگ کے لائے تھے چار دِن
دو آرزو میں کٹ گئے، دو اِنتظار میں

دِن زندگی کے ختم ہوئے شام ہوگئی
پھیلا کے پائوں سوئیں گے کنج مزار میں

کتنا ہے بدنصیب ظفر دفن کے لئے
دو گز زمین بھی نہ ملی کوئے یار میں


लगता नहीं है जी मेरा उजड़े दयार में
किसकी बनी है आलम-ए-नापायेदार में

बुलबुल को पासबाँ से न सैयाद से गिला
क़िस्मत में क़ैद लिखी थी फ़स्ल-ए-बहार में

इन हसरतों से कह दो कहीं और जा बसें
इतनी जगह कहाँ है दिल-ए-दाग़दार में

इक शाख़-ए-गुल पे बैठ के बुलबुल है शादमाँ
काँटे बिछा दिये हैं दिल-ए-लालाज़ार में

उम्र-ए-दराज़ माँगके लाए थे चार दिन
दो आरज़ू में कट गए, दो इन्तज़ार में

दिन ज़िन्दगी के ख़त्म हुए शाम हो गई
फैला के पाँव सोएँगे कुंज-ए-मज़ार में

कितना है बदनसीब “ज़फ़र″ दफ़्न के लिए
दो गज़ ज़मीन भी न मिली कू-ए-यार में

lagtā nahīń hé jī mérā ūjař’é dayār méń
kiskī banī hé ālam-e-nā-pāyedār méń

būlbūl ko pāsbāń se na saiyyād se gilā
qismet méń qaid likhī tthī fasl-e-bahār méń

kaeh do in hassretoń se kahīń aur jā bas’éń
itnī jageh kahāń hé dil-e-dāGhdār méń

ik shāKh-e-gūl pe baiTh ke būlbūl hé shādmāń
kānTe bichā diye héń dil-e-lālāzār méń

umr-e-darāz māńg ke lāye tthe chār din
do ārzū méń kaT gayé do intezār méń

din zindagī ke Khatm hué shām ho gayī
p’hailā ke pāoń soyeń-ge kūńj-e-mazaar méń

kitnā hé bad-naseeb zafar dafn ke liye
do gaz zamīn bhī na milī kū-e-yār méń

My heart has no repose in this despoiled land
Who has ever felt fulfilled in this futile world?

The nightingale complains about neither the sentinel nor the hunter
Fate had decreed imprisonment during the harvest of spring

Tell these longings to go dwell elsewhere
What space is there for them in this besmirched heart?

Sitting on a branch of flowers, the nightingale rejoices
It has strewn thorns in the garden of my heart

I asked for a long life, I received four days
Two passed in desire, two in waiting.

The days of life are over, evening has fallen
I shall sleep, legs outstretched, in my tomb

How unfortunate is Zafar! For his burial
Not even two yards of land were to be had, in the land of his beloved.[21]

In popular culture[edit]

Zafar is featured in the play 1857: Ek Safarnama set during the Indian Rebellion of 1857 by Javed Siddiqui, which was staged at Purana Qila, Delhi ramparts by Nadira Babbar and the National School of Drama Repertory company, in 2008.[22]

A Hindi/Urdu black and white movie called Lal Quila (1960), directed by Nanabhai Bhatt, featured Bahadur Shah Zafar extensively.

See also[edit]


  1. Jump up^ “Zafar | meaning of Zafar | name Zafar”. Thinkbabynames.com. Retrieved 2012-11-13.
  2. Jump up^ Husain, M.S. (2006) Bahadur Shah Zafar; and the War of 1857 in Delhi, Aakar Books, Delhi, pp. 87–88
  3. Jump up^ Savarkar, Vinayak Damodar (10 May 1909). The Indian War of Independence – 1857 (PDF).
  4. ^ Jump up to:a b c d e f g h i William Dalrymple, The Last Mughal, p. 78
  5. ^ Jump up to:a b c d William Dalrymple, The Last Mughal, p. 79
  6. ^ Jump up to:a b William Dalrymple, The Last Mughal, p. 80
  7. Jump up^ “The Sunday Tribune – Spectrum”. Tribuneindia.com. 1907-05-10. Retrieved 2012-11-13.
  8. Jump up^ Dalrymple, The Last Mughal, p.212
  9. Jump up^ Dalrymple, The Last Mughal, p. 223
  10. Jump up^ Dalrymple, The Last Mughal, p. 145 fn
  11. Jump up^ Charges against Mahomed Bahadoor Shah, ex-King of Delhi reprinted in Perth Inquirer & Commercial News, 7 April 1858
  12. Jump up^ By Amaury Lorin (9 February 2914). “Grave secrets of Yangon’s imperial tomb”. http://www.mmtimes.com. Retrieved 13 July 2014.
  13. Jump up^ Farooqi, Abdullah. “Bahadur Shah Zafar Ka Afsanae Gam”. Farooqi Book Depot. Archived from the original on 9 July 2007. Retrieved22 July 2007.
  14. Jump up^ “Search the Collections | Victoria and Albert Museum”. Images.vam.ac.uk. 2009-08-25. Retrieved 2012-11-13.
  15. Jump up^ “Last Mughal emperor’s descendants to be traced”. The Daily Telegraph. 6 April 2009. Retrieved 9 June 2014.
  16. Jump up^ Dalrymple, The Last Mughal, p. 473
  17. Jump up^ Dalrymple, The Last Mughal, p. 474
  18. Jump up^ “Zoomify image: Poem composed by the Emperor Bahadhur Shah and addressed to the Governor General’s Agent at Delhi February 1843.”. Bl.uk. 2003-11-30. Retrieved 2012-11-13.
  19. Jump up^ “[SASIALIT] bahadur shah zafar poem and its translation attempts”. Mailman.rice.edu. 2008-01-07. Retrieved 2012-11-13.
  20. Jump up^ “BBC Hindi – भारत”. Bbc.co.uk. 1970-01-01. Retrieved 2012-11-13.
  21. Jump up^ “Jee Nehein Lagta Ujrey Diyaar Mein”. http://www.urdupoint.com. Retrieved 21 July 2007.
  22. Jump up^ “A little peek into history”. The Hindu. 2 May 2008.


External links[edit]

Regnal titles
Preceded by
Akbar II
Mughal Emperor
Succeeded by
Queen Victoria
as Empress of India

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