Bahadur Shah Zafar

Bahadur Shah II
Mughal Emperor
Reign 28 September 1837 – 14 September 1857 (19 years 351 days)
Predecessor Akbar Shah II
Successor Mughal Empire abolished
see Mughal pretenders
Spouse Ashraf Mahal
Akhtar Mahal
Zeenat Mahal
Taj Mahal
Full name
Abu Zafar Sirajuddin Muhammad Bahadur Shah Zafar
House Timurid
Father Akbar Shah II
Mother Lalbai
Born Tuesday, 28 Sha'ban, 1189 A.H/October 24th, 1775 A.D
Delhi, Mughal India
Died Friday, 14 Jumadi'-I, 1279 A.H/ November 7th, 1862 A.D at 16:00 Asr Time, Rangoon Time,(Age was 87 years 14 days)
Rangoon, British India(now in Myanmar)
Burial On Death day, November 7, 1862 A.D
Rangoon, British India(now in Myanmar)
Religion Islam, Sufism

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”,[1] 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.

Ascent to the Throne / Masnad

Zafar's father, Akbar Shah II, ruled over a rapidly disintegrating empire between 1806 and 1837. It was during his time that the East India Company dispensed with the illusion 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.

Zafar 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 son Mirza Jahangir as his successor. The East India Company exiled Jahangir after he attacked their resident, Archibald Seton, in the Red Fort.[2]

As emperor

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[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. He is famously remembered to have said.[4]

Praise be to Allah, that descendents of Timur always come in front of their fathers in this way.

Religious attitudes

Bahadur Shah Zafar was a devout Sufi.[5] Zafar was himself regarded as a Sufi Pir and used to accept murids or pupils.[5] The loyalist newspaper Delhi Urdu Akhbaar once called him one of the leading saints of the age, approved of by the divine court.[5] 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.[5] 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.[5] His appearance is that of an indigent munshi or teacher of languages".[5]

As a poet and dervish, Zafar imbibed the highest subtleties of mystical Sufi teachings.[5] At the same time, he was deeply susceptible to the magical and superstitious side of Orthodox Sufism.[5] Like many of his followers, he believed that his position as both a Sufi pir and emperor gave him tangible spiritual powers.[5] 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.[6]

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.[6] 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.[6] 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.[6]

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.[7] In one of his verses, Zafar explicitly stated that both Hinduism and Islam shared the same essence.[7] This syncretic philosophy was implemented by his court which came to cherish and embody a multicultural composite Hindu-Islamic Mughal culture.[7] For instance, the Hindu elite used to frequently visit the dargah or tomb of the great Sufi pir, Nizam-ud-din Auliya.[7] They could quote Hafiz and were very fond of Persian poetry.[7] 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.[7] 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.[7]

Zafar and his court used to celebrate Hindu festivals.[8] 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.[8] 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.[8] 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.[8] 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.[8] On Diwali, Zafar would weigh himself against seven kinds of grain, gold, coral, etc., and directed their distribution among the city's poor.[8]

He was reputedly known to have profound sensitivities to the feelings of his Hindu subjects.[8] 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.[8] 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.[8]

Zafar Mahal

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.

Events of 1857

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.,[9] 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. It was attended by several excited sepoys who treated him familiarly or even disrespectfully.[10] 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.[11]

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.[12]

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, 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 Bahadur Shah reacted with shocked silence while his wife Zeenat Mahal was content as she believed her son was now Bahadur Shah's heir.

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,[13] 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 Mughal rule in India.

Death and burial

Bahadur Shah died in exile on 7 November 1862 at 5'o clock in morning[14] in Rangoon in the age of 87 years 14 days, (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.[15][16] 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.[17][18] His wife Zeenat Mahal, who died in 1886, and granddaughter Raunaq Zamani are buried alongside him.[18][19]

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.


In 1959, the All India Bahadur Shah Zafar Academy was founded expressly to spread awareness of his contribution to the first major anti-British movement in India. Several movies in Hindi or Urdu have depicted his role during the rebellion of 1857. Roads bearing his name are found in New Delhi, Lahore, Varanasi, and other cities. A statue of Bahadur Shah Zafar has been erected at the Vijayanagaram palace in Varanasi. In Bangladesh, the Victoria Park in old Dhaka has been renamed "Bahadur Shah Zafar Park". And in several Pakistani cities, avenues, roads, shopping centres, and other landmarks carry the name of the last Mughal emperor.


Bahadur Shah Zafar is known to have had four wives. His wives were:[20]

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

His legitimate sons include:

  • Mirza Dara Bakht Miran Shah(1790–1849)
  • Mirza Shah Rukh
  • Mirza Fath-ul-Mulk Bahadur (alias Mirza Fakhru)(1816-1856)
  • Mirza Mughal (1817– 22 September 1857)
  • Mirza Khazr Sultan(18??– 22 September 1857)
  • Jawan Bakht
  • Mirza Quaish
  • Mirza Shah Abbas(1845-1910)

His legitimate daughters include:

  • Rabeya Begum
  • Begum Fatima Sultan
  • Kulsum Zamani Begum
  • Raunaq Zamani Begum (possibly a granddaughter)

Although many of Bahadur Shah's children and grandchildren were killed in the aftermath of the failed Indian Rebellion of 1857, descendants of his surviving children still exist today. Among his great grandchildren was Asaf Ali. Known direct decedents of Bahadur Shah II now reside in Detroit Michigan in the United States as well as in India and Pakistan. Later on, in the New Delhi line, there were new families arising, Starting from Zafar Shah Temuri. Giving Birth to Zuhaab Temuri, Hoor Temuri, and Harris Temuri.


Zafar was an accomplished Video search) as his own epitaph.

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.[24]

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. The verse appears to be by Simab Akbarabadi.[25]

In popular culture

He 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.[26]

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

See also



  • Thomas Metcalfe

External links

  • Internet Movie Database
  • Extract of talk by Zafar's biographer William Dalrymple (British Library)
  • Bahadur Shah Zafar at Kavita Kosh (Hindi)
  • Bahadur Shah Zafar Poetry
  • Extracts from a book on Bahadur Shah Zafar, with details of exile and family
  • Links to further websites on Bahadur Shah Zafar
  • Poetry on
  • Kalaam e Zafar – Select verses (Hindi)
  • Loharu at
  • BBC Report on Bahadur Shah's possible descendants in Hyderabad
  • An article on Bahadur Shah's descendants in Delhi and Hyderabad
  • Another article on Bahadur Shah's descendants in Hyderabad
  • An article on Bahadur Shah's descendants in Kolkata
  • Forgotten Empress: Sultana Beghum sells tea in Kolkata
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Akbar Shah II
Mughal Emperor
Succeeded by
Queen Victoria
as Empress of India

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