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Abu Zafar Sirajuddin Muhammad Bahadur Shah Zafar ( ), also known as Bahadur Shah or Bahadur Shah II ( ) (October 1775 7 November 1862) was the last of the Mughal emperors in India, as well as the last ruler of the Timurid Dynasty. He was the son of Akbar Shah II and Lalbai, who was a Hindu Rajput. He became the Mughal Emperor upon his father's death on 28 September 1837. Zafar ( ), meaning “victory” was his nom de plume (takhallus) as an Urdu poet. Even in defeat it is traditionally believed that he said

“As long as there remains the least trace of love of faith in the hearts of our heroes, so long, the sword of Hindustan shall be sharp, and one day shall flash even at the gates of London.”

Zafar's father Akbar Shah Saani II ruled over a rapidly disintegrating empire between 1806 to 1837. It was during his time that the East India Company dispensed with even the fig leaf of ruling in the name of the Mughal Monarch and removed his name from the Persian texts that appeared on the coins struck by the company in the areas under their control.

Bahadur Shah Zafar who succeeded him was not Akbar Shah Saani’s choice as his successor, Akbar Shah was, in fact, under great pressure by one of his queens, Mumtaz Begum to declare her son Mirza Jahangir as the successor. Akbar Shah would have probably accepted this demand but Mirza Jahangir had fallen foul of the British and they would have none of this.

As emperor

Bahadur Shah presided over a Mughal empire that barely extended beyond Delhimarker's Red Fortmarker. The British were the dominant political and military power in 19th-century India. Outside British 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 British and allowed a pension, the authority to collect some taxes, and to maintain a small military force in Delhi, but he posed no threat to any power in India. Bahadur Shah II himself did not take an interest in statecraft or possess any imperial ambitions.

Bahadur Shah Zafar was a noted Urdu poet. He wrote a large number of Urdu ghazals. While some part of his opus was lost or destroyed during the Indian Rebellion of 1857-1858, a large collection did survive, and was later compiled into the Kulliyyat-i Zafar. The court that he maintained, although somewhat decadent and arguably pretentious for someone who was effectively a pensioner of the British East India Company, was home to several Urdu writers of high standing, including Ghalib, Dagh, Mumin, and Zauq (Dhawq).

Religious attitudes

Bahadur Shah Zafar was a devout Sufi. Zafar was himself regarded as a Sufi pir and used to accept murids or pupils. The loyalist newspaper Delhi Urdu Akhbaar once called him one of the leading saints of the age, approved of by the divine court. Prior to his accession, in his youth he made it a point to live and look like a poor scholar and dervish, in stark contrast to his three well dressed dandy brothers, Mirza Jahangir, Salim and Babur. 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. His appearance is that of an indigent munshi or teacher of languages".

As a poet and dervish, Zafar imbibed the highest subtleties of mystical Sufi teachings. At the same time, he was deeply susceptible to the magical and superstitious side of Orthodox Sunni Islam. Like many of his followers, he believed that his position as both a Sufi pir and emperor gave him tangible spiritual powers. 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.

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. 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. 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.

Marriage certificate of Bahadur Shah II (r.
1837-57) with Zinat Mahal Begam, on 18 November 1840
Autograph of Bahadur Shah of Delhi dated 29th April 1844.
Zafar consciously saw his role as a protector of his Hindu subjects, and a moderator of extreme Muslim demands and the intense puritanism of many of the Orthodox Muslim sheikhs of the Ulema. In one of his verses, Zafar explicitly stated that both Hinduism and Islam shared the same essence. This syncretic philosophy was implemented by his court which came to cherish and embody a multicultural composite Hindu-Islamic Mughal culture. For instance, the Hindu elite used to frequently visit the dargah or tomb of the great Sufi pir, Nizam-ud-din Auliya. They could quote Hafiz and were very fond of Persian poetry. Their children, especially those belonging to the administrative Khatri and Kayasth castes studied under maulvis and attended the more liberal madrasas, bring food offerings for their teachers on Hindu festivals. On the other hand, the emperor's Muslim subjects emulated him in honouring the Hindu holy men, while many in court, including Zafar himself, followed the old Mughal custom that was originally borrowed from high class Hindus, of only drinking the water from the Gangamarker.

Zafar and his court used to celebrate Hindu festivals. During the spring festival of Holi, he would spray his courtiers, wives and concubines with different coloured paints, initiating the celebrations by bathing in the water of seven wells. The autumn Hindu festival of Dusshera was celebrated in the palace by the distribution of nazrs or presents to Zafar's Hindu officers and the colouring of the horses in the royal stud. In the evening, Zafar would then watch the Ram Lila processions annually celebrated in Delhi with the burning of giant effigies of Ravana and his brothers. He even went to the extent of demanding that the route of the procession be changed so that it would skirt the entire flank of the palace, allowing it to be enjoyed in all its glory. On Diwali, Zafar would weigh himself against seven kinds of grain, gold, coral, etc, and directed their distribution among the city's poor.

He was reputedly known to have profound sensitivities to the feelings of his Hindu subjects. One evening, when Zafar was riding out across the river for an airing, a Hindu waited on the king and disclosed his wish to become a Muslim. Hakim Ahsanullah Khan, Zafar's prime minister flatly denied this request and the emperor had him removed from his presence. During the Phulwalon ki Sair or Flower-sellers fair held annually at the ancient Jog Maya Templemarker and the Sufi dargah of Qutb Sahib, Qutbuddin Bakhtiar Kaki in Mehraulimarker, Zafar declared that he would not accompany the pankah into the shrine as he could not accompany it into the temple. On a separate occasion, a mob of 200 Muslims showed up at the royal palace demanding to be allowed to slaughter cows, which are holy to Hindus, in Id. To this, Zafar angrily replied that the religion of Muslims did not depend upon the sacrifice of cows.

The Delhi Ulema and Bahadur Shah Zafar staunchly disdained each other. Zafar perceived the Muslim sheikhs to be narrow minded. One evening's entertainment at the Palace consisted of Kadir Baksh impersonating a Maluvi in the presence of the king. Zafar was reportedly so pleased that he ordered Mahbub Ali Khan, the chief eunuch to give him the usual present. On the other hand, many of the Delhi maulvis and their followers considered the king to be a mushrik or heretic. They were of the opinion that it was not right to pray in the mosques that were frequented by the emperor or were under royal patronage. Zafar was devoted to Ali (son-in-law of the Islamic prophet Muhammed) and the festival of Muharram was celebrated with great enthusiasm in the palace, with the king listening to the marsiya mourning poems. This led to persistent rumors that Zafar had actually converted to the Shiite sect of Islam, which were seen as heretical by the Sunni Muslim clergy. This led to Zafar receiving several outraged delegations from the Delhi ulema threatening to take the ultimate sanction of excluding his name from the Friday prayers, effectively excommunicating him and delegitimising his rule, if the rumor ever proved true.

Zafar Mahal

Closely woven into the history of the last remains of Mughal rule is the history of Zafar Mahalmarker in Mehraulimarker, a locality of Delhi. Zafar Mahal was originally built by Akbar II, but it was his son, Bahadur Shah Zafar, who constructed the gateway and added to the palace in the mid-1800s. Mehrauli was then a popular venue for hunting parties, picnics and jaunts, 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 influences. 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 - very 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 Bahadurshah’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, Bahadurshah 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 Mehraulimarker 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 Mahalmarker.

The celebrations spread out in different parts of Mehrauli with the Jahaz Mahalmarker, (a Lodhi period structure, that was once in the middle of the Hauz-e-Shamsimarker but is now at one end of the much depleted Hauz, becoming 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.

Events of 1857

As the Indian rebellion of 1857 spread, Sepoy regiments seized Delhimarker. 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., 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.

When the victory of the British became certain, Zafar took refuge at Humayun's Tombmarker, in an area that was then at the outskirts of Delhi, and hid there. British forces led by Major William Hodson surrounded the tomb and compelled his surrender on 20 September 1857. The next day British officer William Hodson shot his sons Mirza Mughal, Mirza Khizr Sultan, and grandson Mirza Abu Bakr under his own authority at the Khooni Darwaza (the bloody gate) near Delhi Gate. On hearing the news Zafar reacted with shocked silence while his wife Zeenat Mahal was happy as she believed her son was now Zafar's heir.
Begum Zeenat Mahal, wife of Bahadur Shah Zafar

Numerous male members of his family were killed by British forces, who imprisoned or exiled the surviving members of the Mughal dynasty. After a show trial, Zafar himself was exiled to Rangoon, Burma (now Yangonmarker, Union of Myanmarmarker) in 1858 along with 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 Mughal rule in India.

Bahadur Shah died in exile on 7 November 1862. He was buried near the Shwedagon Pagodamarker in Yangon, at the site that later became known as Bahadur Shah Zafar Dargah. His wife Zeenat Mahal died in 1886.

In a marble enclosure adjoining the dargah of Sufi saint, Qutbuddin Bakhtiar Kaki at Mehraulimarker, an empty grave or Sardgah marks the site where he had willed to be buried along with some of his Mughal predecessors, Akbar Shah II, Bahadur Shah I (also known as Shah Alam I) and Shah Alam II. He, unfortunately, was not so lucky, though talks of bringing back his remains here have been raised from time to time.


In 1959, the All India Bahadur Shah Zafar Academy was founded expressly to spread awareness about his contribution to the first major anti-British movement in India. Several movies in Hindi/Urdu have depicted his role during the rebellion of 1857. There are roads bearing his name in New Delhimarker, Lahoremarker, Varanasimarker and other cities. A statue of Bahadur Shah Zafar has been erected at Vijayanagaram palace in Varanasimarker. In Bangladeshmarker, the Victoria Park of old Dhakamarker has been renamed as Bahadur Shah Zafar Park.


Prince Fakhr-ud Din Mirza, eldest son of Bahadur Shah II, February 1856.
10th July 1856)
Bahadur Shah Zafar is known to have had four wives and numerous concubines. In order of marriage, his wives were:

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

Zafar had 22 sons, including:

He also had at least 32 daughters, including:
  • Rabeya Begum
  • Begum Fatima Sultan
  • Kulsum Zamani Begum
  • Raunaq Zamani Begum (possibly a granddaughter)

Most of his sons and grandsons were killed during or in the aftermath of the rebellion of 1857. Of those who survived, the following four lines of descent are known:
  • Delhi line—son: Mirza Fath-ul-Mulk Bahadur (alias Mirza Fakhru); grandson: Mirza Farkhunda Jamal; great-grandchildren: Ahmad Shah, Hamid Shah and Begum Qamar Sultan; Children of Ahmad Shah: Nadir Mirza, Farrukh Mirza, Mirza Taimur, Akbar Shah and Mohammad Shah Taimur;Children of Mohammad Shah temuri: Mirza Babar Shah Temuri, Mirza Birjees Shah Temuri,Sabahat Temuri, Mirza Zafar Shah Temuri, Saira temuri and Mirza Azfar Shah Temuri.
  • Howrah line—son: Jawan Bakht, grandson: Jamshid Bakht, great-grandson: Mirza Muhammad Bedar Bakht (married Sultana Begum, who currently runs a tea stall in Howrahmarker).
  • Varanasi Line -- [Shah Alam Ameer of Delhi, Son: Mirza Jahaandar Shah Alais Mirza Khan Bakht (Married - Jahanbaad Begum)], [Ali Gohar Mirza Ali Bahadur had five sons], [Mirza Kazim Bakht married Birjis Ara Begum, Son: Mirza Yousuf Bakht married Hasina Sultan Begum, GrandSon: Mirza Zaheeruddin Alim Bakht married Khurshid Laqah Begum (had five sons - two daughters), Great GrandSon: MIRZA DAUD BAKHT married FAKHRE ARA KANIZ MEHNDI BEGUM(D/O. LATE MOBARRAK BAKHT MIRZA ILLYAS HUSSAIN BAHADUR G/SON OF LATE KING OF OUDH - WIFE: SULTAN BANO MEHNDI BEGUM (IN KOLKATA).
  • Hyderabad line—son: Mirza Quaish, grandson: Mirza Abdullah, great-grandson: Mirza Pyare (married Habib Begum), great-great-granddaughter: Begum Laila Ummahani (married Yakub Habeebuddin Tucy).

Descendants of Mughal rulers other than Bahadur Shah Zafar also survive to this day. They include the line of Jalaluddin Mirza in Bengal, who served at the court of the Maharaja of Dighapatia, and the Toluqari family.


Zafar, pictured in a 1919 book of Hindustani Lyrics

Zafar was an accomplished Urdu poet and calligrapher. 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.
Original Devanagari transliteration Roman transliteration English Translation

लगता नहीं है जी मेरा उजड़े दयार में

किसकी बनी है अालम-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 अारज़ू 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

lagataa nahii.n hai jii meraa uja.De dayaar me.n

kisakii banii hai aalam-e-naa-payedaar me.n

bulabul ko paasabaa.N se na saiyyaad se gilaa

qismat me.n qaid likhii thii fasl-e-bahaar me.n

in hasarato.n se kah do kahii.n aur jaa base.n

itanii jagah kahaa.N hai dil-e-daaGhadaar me.n

ik shaaKh-e-gul pe baiTh ke bulabul hai shaadamaa.N

kaa.NTe bichhaa diye hai.n dil-e-laalaazaar me.n

umr-e-daraaz maa.Ng ke laaye the chaar din

do aarazuu me.n kaT gaye do intezaar me.n

din zindagii ke Khatm hue shaam ho gayii

phailaa ke paa.Nv soye.nge ku.nj-e-mazaar me.n

kitanaa hai bad-nasiib zafar dafn ke liye

do gaz zamiin bhii na milii kuu-e-yaar me.n

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 as the harvest of spring

Tell these longings to go dwell elsewhere

What space for them in this besmirched heart?

Sitting on a branch of flowers, the nightingale rejoices

I have 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 unlucky is Zafar! For his burial

Not even two yards of land were to be had, in the land of his beloved.

In his book, The Last Mughal, William Dalrymple states that according to Lahore scholar Imran Khan, the verse beginning "umr-e-daraaz maa.Ng ke" ("I asked for a long life") is probably not by Zafar, and do not appear in any of the works published during Zafar's lifetime. The verse appears to be by Simab Akbarabadi.

See also


  2. William Dalrymple, The Last Mughal, p. 78
  3. William Dalrymple, The Last Mughal, p. 79
  4. William Dalrymple, The Last Mughal, p. 80
  5. William Dalrymple, The Last Mughal, p. 81
  6. William Dalrymple, The Last Mughal, p. 82
  8. The Dargah of Bahadur Shah Zafar in Rangoon.
  9. Nawab Zeenat Mahal
  10. Prince Fakhr-ud Din Mirza Victoria and Albert Museum.
  11. Poem composed by the Emperor Bahadur Shah and addressed to the Governor General's Agent at Delhi February 1843.
  12. BBC

External links

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