Mirza Abu Zafar Sirajuddin Muhammad Bahadur Shah Zafar (Urdu: ابو ظفر سِراجُ الْدین محمد بُہادر شاہ ظفر), better known as Bahadur Shah Zafar (Urdu: بہادر شاہ دوم), on 24 October 1775 – died 7 November 1862), was the last Mughal emperor and a member of the Timurid Dynasty. Zafar was the son of Mirza Akbar Shah II and Lalbai, who was a Hindu Rajput, and became Mughal Emperor when his father died on 28 September 1837. He used Zafar, a part of his name, meaning “victory”, for his nom de plume (takhallus) as an Urdu poet, and he wrote many Urdu ghazals under it. After his involvement in the Indian Rebellion of 1857, the British tried and then exiled him from Delhi and sent him to Rangoon in then-British-controlled Desi.
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 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 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
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
Emperor Bahadur Shah is seen by some 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. He is famously remembered to have said.
Praise be to Allah, that descendents of Timur always come in front of their fathers in this way.
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 Sufism. 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.
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 Kayastha castes studied under maulvis and attended the more liberal madrasas, bringing 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, originally borrowed from high class Hindus, of only drinking the water from the Ganges.
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 Temple and the Sufi dargah of Qutb Sahib, Qutbuddin Bakhtiar Kaki in Mehrauli, Zafar declared that he would not accompany the pankah into the shrine as he could not accompany it into the temple.
Closely woven into the history of the last remains of Mughal rule is the history of Zafar Mahal in Mehrauli, 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-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 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 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 with the 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, 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
Death and burial
Bahadur Shah died in exile on 7 November 1862 in Rangoon, (now Yangon). He was buried in Yangon's Dagon Township near the Shwedagon Pagoda, at the site that later became known as Bahadur Shah Zafar Dargah. At the time of his hurried burial in 1862, a bamboo fence surrounded his grave, which was grown over by grass in the following years, thus the exact spot was lost for nearly a century. In 1991, during a restoration exercise behind the shrine which was till then believed to be that of the Emperor, the original brick-lined grave was discovered. To the local Burmese Muslims, he was honoured as a saint and a new shrine was built in the following years. His wife Zeenat Mahal, who died in 1886, and granddaughter Raunaq Zamani are buried alongside him.In a marble enclosure adjoining the dargah of Sufi saint, Qutbuddin Bakhtiar Kaki at Mehrauli, 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.