Last Mughal Emperor Who Ruled Delhi, Bahadur Shah Zafar a Romantic and Sad Character
The Mughal's were Sunni Muslims from Central Asia and traced lineage to the great Genghis Khan and Timur Lange. Their rule commenced in 1526 with the victory of Babur over Ibrahim Lodhi at the first battle of Panipat. This battle made Babur the master of North India and he proclaimed himself as emperor of Hindustan.
The Moghul rule was at its apex till 1707 when the great Aurangzeb died. At that time the Mughal empire rivaled the great empires of the world and encompassed an area that populated over 200 million people of diverse faiths, though the subjects were predominantly Hindu.
Aurangzeb's death in 1707 was a watershed event in Indian history as the mighty empire cracked inside 50 years and at the turn of the 19th century was confined to Delhi and its surrounding areas. In the 1850's the empire further shrank to just the city of Delhi and here also it's writ ran only sporadically as various invaders ransacked the city.
This was the period when Bahadur Shah took over the mantle as the Mughal emperor of Delhi.
The empire slowly shrank till in 1857 the Mughal emperor ruled only the Red Fort as the entire country had been taken over by the British and the real ruler was the British Governor General who had his headquarters at Calcutta
Though the Mughals had been reduced to being figureheads they still were held in high esteem by many Indians. They were a symbol of the lost glory of Hindustan. They styled themselves as emperors and the dynasty just lingered on like a dead corpse.
.The dynasty would have perhaps survived as an aberration of history, but a mass mutiny by Indian sepoys ( soldiers) of the East India Company Army led to a tragic end of this dynasty , once and for all. The 1857 Mutiny in real terms sounded the death of the Mughal emperors. Bahadur Shah Zafar appeared on the scene at this critical juncture and made a name for himself as the last Mughal emperor
Bahadur Shah Zafar was born in 1775 . As was the practice of the Mughal rulers , Bahadur Shah's father had also taken a Hindu wife. His father was Akbar II and his Hindu wife who was the mother of Bahadur Shah was Lal Bai. Bahadur Shah was thus a product of the composite culture of India and was not known to differentiate his subjects on the basis of religion.
Bahadur Shah was a descendent of the great Timur Lang, who is known as one of the most blood thirsty of all conquerors in world history. He was a contrast to Timur, a perfect gentle human being who abhorred violence and loved the aesthetic things of life. He was fond of poetry which he both recited and wrote., His couplets are available even today and form part of Urdu literature.
Bahadur Shah was the second son and as such he was not made emperor and his half brother Mirza Jahangir was made the emperor. A quirk of fate catapulted Bahadur Shah as emperor as his half brother committed a cardinal blunder by attacking the British resident at Delhi. He was promptly deposed and Bahadur Shah, his half brother was made to sit on the throne. He was 62 years old at that time.
Bahadur shah ascended the throne in 1837. It must be appreciated that the Mughal emperor had no real authority and all he ruled was the Red Fort and adjacent bazars.
Life of Bahadur Shah and Hand of Fate
Bahadur Shah became emperor without any authority. He did not mind having no authority and was content to live his life immersed in poetry and sex. he was also interested in spiritualism and studied the Sufi saints of Islam. He taught Sufi mysticism and also wrote some touching verses that show that he was a sensitive man.
Bahadur shah lived like the earlier Mughals and collected a large harem of both Hindu and Muslim girls. He had a penchant for virgins and these populated his harem. He enjoyed his life and was content with what he had. He followed the dictates of the British resident.
One of the great tragedies of life is that the 1857 mutiny broke out. as far as Bahadur shah was concerned. The sepoys needed a rallying point and they opted to put Bahadur Shah as their leader. The revolt was a joint effort of both Hindus and Muslims and Bahadur Shah as emperor became a rallying point.
Bahadur Shah was thus forced to become the leader. Perhaps the chain of events overtook him and though he never wanted it, yet he became the symbol of the revolt against the British.
The Mutiny and Bahadur Shah
The Mutiny spread like wild fire and contingents of soldiers entered the Red Fort and proclaimed Bahadur Shah as their leader. This was indeed a traumatic event for Bahadur Shah. He acquiesced with the demand of the Sepoys and accepted to be their leader. At a massive durbar in which he was surrounded by sepoys he accepted to lead the sepoys for "liberation of Hindustan".
The British later used this statement against him later. Catastrophic events now took place and despite the best efforts of Bahadur Shah, they could not be averted.
One of these events was the lining up of 52 British residents inside the Red Fort and their summary execution by the sepoys. Bahadur shah appointed his son Mirza Mughal as commander in the hope that he would control the unruly sepoys. . But the sepoys were a law unto themselves now and they refused to listen to Mirza Mogul. Thus a dance of death commenced and the sepoys even raped both Muslim and Hindu girls in the adjoining Chandani Chowk market .
The British were not alone in this battle with the sepoys as they were supported by the Sikhs and Gurkha. soldiers. In addition reinforcements were on their way from Cawnpore and more troops were arriving by sea from England..
The British and their allies under command of Major William Hudson stormed the Deli and Red Fort was captured.. The mutiny was crushed and all over North India the British were victorious, but there is no doubt that this victory would not have been possible without the help of local Indian supporters, many of who were opposed to Bahadur Shah.
Revenge and Imprisonment.
Bahadur Shah and his sons escaped from the Red Fort to the Tomb of Humayun. They were surrounded by loyal troops. Major Hudson came to know of it and surrounded the tomb. He offered life to the emperor and his sons in case they surrendered.
Bahadur Shah, who was 82 at that time accepted the terms of surrender, despite advice to fight to the last. Major Hudson took the Emperor and his sons into custody, but in a barbaric act executed the sons of Bahadur Shah the next day. The emperor himself was kept in an iron cage and tried for various crimes. He was spared the death penalty and exiled to Rangoon where he died in 1862 at the age of 87. It was a sad end. Hundreds of sepoys who had taken part in the mutiny were tried and blown to death by being tied to mouths of canons. It was a terrible revenge.
Bahadur shah remains a tragic figure in Indian history. In real terms he was a gentle creature fond of writing poetry and studying the Sufi saints. His last poems which he wrote in Rangoon are a poignant reminder as to how he felt in losing the great empire built by Babur. He also believed in the oneness of god and above all a man whose poems preached love. One can say that fate was unkind to him. He was buried at Rangoon in 1867.