Bahadur Shah Zafar

Annie Lee | Sep 28, 2022

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Badur Shah Jafar or Badur Shah II (in Farsi: بهادرشاه ظفر) (born Mirza Abu Zafar Sirajadim Muhammad) (Delhi, October 24, 1775 - Yangon, November 7, 1862) was the last Mughal emperor. He was the second son of Aquebar II and became his successor after the latter's death on September 28, 1837. As a poet in Urdu, he wrote many gazelles and employed the term Zafar (translation: victory) as part of his pseudonym. He was a nominal emperor, since the Mughal Empire existed only in documents and his authority was limited only to the walled city of Old Delhi (Shahjahanbad). After his involvement in the Indian Rebellion of 1857, the British exiled him to Rangoon in then British Burma (now Myanmar) after convicting him on several charges.

Zafar's father, Aquebar II, had been imprisoned by the British and he was not his father's preferred choice to be his successor. One of Shah Aquebar's queens, Muntaz Begum, pressured him to declare his son, Mirza Jahangir, as his successor. However, the East India Company exiled Jahangir after he attacked the residence of British colonial administrator Archibald Seton at the Red Fort, paving the way for Zafar to assume the throne.

Shah Badur Zafar ruled a Mughal Empire that by the early 19th century was reduced only to the city of Delhi and the surrounding territory up to Palam. The Maratha Empire broke up the Mughal Empire in the Deccan during the 18th century and the regions of India previously under Mughal rule were absorbed by the Marathas or declared independence and became smaller kingdoms. The Marathas installed Shah Alam II on the throne in 1772 under the protection of the Maratha general Mahadaji Shinde and maintained suzerainty over Mughal affairs in Delhi. The East India Company became the dominant political and military power in India by the mid-19th century. Outside the Company-controlled region, hundreds of kingdoms and principalities fragmented their lands. The emperor was respected by the Company, which gave him a pension. The emperor allowed the Company to collect taxes from Delhi and maintain a military force there. Zafar never had any interest in ruling or had any "imperial ambition". After the Indian Rebellion of 1857, the British exiled him from Delhi.

Badur Zafar was a noted poet in Urdu, having written a number of gazelles. Although some of his work was lost or destroyed during the Indian Rebellion of 1857, a large collection survived, and was compiled at Kulliyyat-i-Zafar. The court he held was home to several prolific writers in Urdu, including: Mirza Galibe, Daagh Dehlvi, Mumin, and Muhammad Ibraim Zauque.

After his defeat, he said:

As the Indian Rebellion of 1857 spread, sipal regiments reached the Mughal court in Delhi. Because of Zafar's neutral views on religions, many Indian kings and regiments accepted him and declared him the Emperor of India.

On May 12, 1857, Zafar held his first formal hearing in several years. In attendance were several sipalis who were described as treating him "with familiarity or disrespect." When the sipalis first came to Badur Zafar's court, he asked why they had come to him, because he had no way of keeping them. Badur Zafar's conduct was indecisive. However, he gave in to the demands of the sipais when they told him that they would not be able to win the East India Company without him.

On May 16, sipals and palace servants killed fifty-two Europeans who were prisoners in the palace and who were discovered hiding in the city. The executions took place under a fig tree in front of the palace, despite Zafar's protests. The goal of the executioners who did not support Zafar was to implicate him in the murders. After joining them, Badur II took responsibility for all the actions of the rioters. Although dismayed by the looting and disorder, he gave his public support to the rebellion. It was later considered that Badur II was not directly responsible for the massacre, but that he could have prevented it and was therefore found guilty during his trial.

The city administration and its new occupation army were described as "chaotic and troublesome," which functioned "haphazardly." The emperor appointed his eldest son, Mirza Mogol, as the commander-in-chief of his forces. However, Mirza Mogol had little military experience and was rejected by the sipals. The sipals had no commander, as each regiment refused to accept orders from anyone other than its own officers. Mirza Mogol's administration did not go beyond the city limits. Outside, the gurjar herders began to charge a fee for those who traveled through their pastures, and it became increasingly difficult to replenish the city with food.

During the Siege of Delhi, when victory for the British became certain, Zafar took refuge in the Humaium Tomb in an area that was then on the outskirts of Delhi. East India Company forces led by Major William Stephen Raikes Hodson surrounded the Tomb and Zafar was captured on September 20, 1857. The next day, Hodson personally executed by shooting his sons Mirza Mogul and Mirza Khizr Sultan, and grandson Mirza Abu Baquete at Khooni Darwaza near the Delhi Gate. Badur Shah himself was taken to his wife's haveli, where he was treated with disrespect by his captors. When he received news of the executions of his children and grandchildren, the former emperor was described as being so shocked and depressed that he was unable to react.

The trial was a consequence of the Sepal Mutiny and lasted 41 days, had 19 hearings, 21 witnesses, and more than a hundred documents in Persian and Urdu, with their English translations, were produced in court. At first it was suggested that the trial be held in Calcutta, the place where the directors of the East India Company used to hold their sessions in connection with their business activities. But instead, the Red Fort in Delhi was chosen for the trial. It was the first case to be tried at the Red Fort.

Zafar was tried and charged on four counts:

2) Encouraging and helping various people to wage war against the British Government

On the 20th day of the trial, Badur Shah II defended himself against these charges. Badur Shah, in his defense, declared his utter unhappiness at the will of the sipalis. The sipals apparently used to affix his seal on empty envelopes, the contents of which he was totally unaware. Although the emperor may have exaggerated his helplessness before the sipals, the fact remains that the sipals felt powerful enough to impose conditions on anyone. The eighty-two-year-old Poet King was persecuted by the rioters and was neither inclined nor able to provide royal leadership. Despite this, he was the main accused at the trial for the rebellion.

Haquim Assanulá Kã, Zafar's most trusted confidant and at the same time his prime minister and personal physician, insisted that Zafar had not been involved in the rebellion and surrendered to the British. But when Zafar finally did so, Haquim Assanullah Ham betrayed him by providing evidence against him at the trial in exchange for a pardon for himself.

Respecting the assurances given by Hodson on the occasion of his surrender, Zafar was not sentenced to death, but was exiled to Rangoon, Burma. His wife Zeenat Mahal and some of the remaining family members accompanied him. At 4 a.m. on October 7, 1858, Zafar along with his wives, two remaining children began their journey toward Rangoon in ox carts escorted by the 9th Lancers under Lieutenant Ommaney.

In 1862, at the age of 87, he reportedly acquired some illnesses. In October, his health worsened. He was "spoon-fed broth," but this also became difficult on November 3. On November 6, British Commissioner H. N. Davies recorded that Zafar "is evidently dying from dehydration and paralysis in the throat region." To prepare for his death, Davies ordered that lime and bricks be laid and a site selected "at the back of Zafar's compound" for his burial. Zafar died on Friday, November 7, 1862 at 5 am. Zafar was buried at 4 o'clock in the afternoon near the Shwe Degon pagoda in Yangon. The shrine of Badur Shah Zafar was built on the same site after a renovation of his tomb on February 16, 1991. Davies commenting on Zafar, described his life as "very uncertain".

Badur Zafar had four wives and numerous concubines. His wives were:

He had twenty-two children, among them:

Among his thirty-two daughters are:

Many individuals claim to be descendants of Badur Shah Zafar, living in places throughout India, such as Hyderabad, Aurangabad, Delhi, Bhopal, Kolkata, Bihar, and Bangalore. However, the claims are often disputed.

Badur Shah Zafar was a Sufi devotee. He was considered a Sufi pir and used to accept murids or pupils. The Delhi Urdu newspaper Akhbaar described him as "one of the leading saints of the time, approved by the divine court." Before his ascension to the throne, he lived as "a poor scholar and dervish," differing from his three royal brothers , Mirza Jahangir, Salim and Babur. In 1828, a decade before he succeeded to the throne, Major Archer said that "Zafar is a man of slender figure and stature, dressed simply, almost approaching meanness." His appearance is that of an indigent munshi or language teacher."

As a poet, Zafar absorbed the highest subtleties of mystical Sufi teachings. He also believed in the magical and superstitious side of orthodox Sufism. Like many of his followers, he believed that his position as Sufi pir and emperor gave him spiritual powers. In one incident where one of his followers was bitten by a snake, Zafar tried to cure him by giving a "seal of Bezoar" (a stone antidote to the poison) and some water with which he blew for the man to drink.

The emperor had a strong belief in ta'aviz or amulets, especially as a palliative for his constant complaint of hemorrhoids, or to repel evil spells. During a period of illness, he told a group of Sufis that several of his wives suspected that someone had bewitched him. He requested that they take some steps to remove all apprehensions from this account. The group wrote down some spells and asked the emperor to mix them in water and drink them, which would protect him from harm. A circle of Hindu pirs, thaumaturgists and astrologers were always in contact with the emperor. On their advice, he sacrificed buffaloes and camels, buried eggs and arrested supposed black magicians, and wore a ring that cured his indigestion. He also donated cows to the poor, elephants to Sufi shrines, and horses to the khadims or clergy of the congregational mosque.

In one of his verses, Zafar explicitly stated that both Hinduism and Islam shared the same essence. This philosophy was implemented by his court, which incorporated a multicultural Hindu-Islamic Mughal culture.


  1. Bahadur Shah Zafar
  2. Badur II
  3. ^ a b c d e f William Dalrynple (2007). Last Mughal (P/B). Penguin Books India. pp. xv, xvi, 110, 215, 216. ISBN 978-0-14-310243-4.
  4. ^ Frances W. Pritchett, Nets of Awareness: Urdu Poetry and Its Critics (1994), p. 5
  5. ^ Syed Mahdi Husain (2006). Bahadur Shah Zafar and the War of 1857 in Delhi. Aakar Books. p. 36. ISBN 9788187879916.
  6. Pinto, Pedro. «Índice Analítico das Cartas dos Vice-Reis da Índia na Torre do Tombo». Lisboa. Centro de Estudos Históricos da Universidade Nova de Lisboa: 20
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  8. Mehta, Jaswant Lal (1 de janeiro de 2005). Advanced Study in the History of Modern India 1707-1813 (em inglês). [S.l.]: Sterling Publishers Pvt. Ltd
  9. «The Sunday Tribune - Spectrum». Consultado em 19 de novembro de 2020
  10. Dalrymple, The Last Mughal, p. 212
  11. «Zafar - meaning of Zafar name». Archivado desde el original el 3 de agosto de 2011. Consultado el 29 de diciembre de 2009.
  12. Dalrymple, The Last Mughal, p. 212.
  13. a b «Proceedings of the April 1858 Trial of Bahadur Shah Zafar 'King of Delhi'». Parliamentary Papers. June 1859.
  14. ^ Qizilbash, Basharat Hussain (30th June 2006) The tragicomic hero. The Nation. Nawai-e-Waqt Group. Copia archiviata, su URL consultato il 23 maggio 2007 (archiviato dall'url originale il 9 ottobre 2007).

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