Bahadur Shah Zafar was the last king of the Mughal Empire.
The only constant in our world is change itself. And who is better than Bahadur Shah Zafar to prove it? Bahadur Shah Zafar was significant as an individual in Indian history. But with him ended one of the most significant dynasties of India too, the Mughals.
The Mughal family history is full of betrayal and bloodshed. Each of its great Kings has achieved the throne through violence and aggression. Bahadur Shah Jafar became the first in the Mughal line to be made a king for being too unambitious. He was known to be a poet. And like any other poet, he was considered emotional and considerate. A quality that even his father Akbar the second hated.
Akbar the second was taken as a prisoner by the East India Company. His eldest Son Mirza Jahangir was next in line. But like his father, Mirza too hated the East India Company. To avenge his father’s arrest he attacked British officers residing at the red fort. After this act, Jahangir was exiled from Delhi. And Akbar’s second Son Bahadur Shah was placed on the throne by the company.
The most significant contribution of Bahadur Shah Zafar came during the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857. It was India’s first organized nationwide revolution. Often also known as the first battle for Independent India. The revolution was started by some rebel Indian soldiers serving in the East India Company’s military. These rebels had the men and the guns, but they lacked a face.
In Bahadur Shah Zafar they saw their answer.
Bahadur Shah Zafar was hardly a king. His position was only titular and he hardly commanded any army. His kingdom was only the walled city of Shahjahanabad. His jurisdiction ended out of those walls. But yet he commanded a certain respect though India and abroad as well. To many, he was still the Shehanshah-E-Hind, emperor of India.
So the soldiers presented themselves in the court of Bahadur Shah Zafar. The news of their revolution had already reached the ears of the emperor. He welcomed the soldiers with respect. But he was utterly confused. He offered them refuge and ration for a couple of days but wasn’t sure what more he could do for them. The soldiers made their offer. They wanted him to become the face of the revolution.
Bahadur Shah Zafar may not be known for aggression but the blood running through him was still Mughal. The emperor in him woke up at the right moment. He chose to fight.
The revolution was put to an end by the East India Company in a year but the support of Bahadur Shah rallied many more Kings and Queens of India to join their forces together. After the revolution ended, Bahadur Shah was captured and put into prison. But the real punishment was yet to come. The Britishers always ensured that they broke the rebel spirits of the rebellions. Instead of killing Bahadur Shah, they killed two sons and a grandson of his. The place where this event took place is aptly called ‘Khuni Darwaza’ meaning bloody gate.
Soon, Bahadur Shah along with her wife and remaining family was exiled out of India, into Burma. With him gone, and his next of kin dead marked the end of the Mughal dynasty. Zafar lived the rest of his life in Burma and passed away at the age of 87. Even during exile, he continued fighting for the independence of India by the only means he knew, writing poems.
History is full of the valour and courage of Kings and emperors. But a rare few could claim to give wings to a nationwide revolution and be simple enough to be remembered as a poet. The following few lines by Zafar sum up his beliefs and values:
As long as there remains the scent of belief in our soldiers,
So long shall the sword of Hindustan flash before the throne of London.