Tag Archives: Annals of Indian History

Which Bahadur Shah

This veritas was written on Wednesday, November 07, 2007

A few weeks back I was surprised when a friend while talking about Bahadur Shah Zafar commented on him being the son of Aurengzeb. And when I asked a lot of people about who the son of Aurangzeb was, most said Bahadur Shah Zafar! This is a very common mistake. And the aim of this VERITAS is to make sure that VERITAS readers do not make this mistake. The mistake is obvious- Aurangzeb died in 1707. And we all know that Bahadur Shah Zafar participated in the mutiny of 1857. How could Aurangzeb’s son last so long? So Bahadur Shah Zafar is NOT Aurangzeb’s son! But then how can so many people make the same mistake? This mistake is common because Aurangzeb’s son was Bahadur Shah( and not Bahadur Shah Zafar) who ruled from 1707 to 1712.

       In today’s VERITAS we will read about these two Bahadur Shahs. But for the people who have no knowledge of Mughal History a little recap: Mughal rule started in India in 1526. The first Mughal King, Babur was a descendent of Timur and Genghis Khan. From 1556 to 1707 Mughals were the most powerful and important power in India. At the height of the Mughal empire the whole of the Indian subcontinent and parts of Afghanistan were under its control. Akbar was the greatest of all Mughals. His reign ( 1556 to 1605) is considered to be the finest years in Mughal History. The Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb ruled from 1658 to 1707. Under him the Mughal empire had the most territory under its control. However his policy of religious intolerance was the root of the decline of the Mughal Empire after his death in 1707.

       Aurangzeb’s son Bahadur Shah( also known as Bahadur Shah I or Shah Alam I) became the emperor in 1707. He was different from his father- he was a moderate and was tolerant of other religions. In fact he was quite friendly with the last Sikh Guru, Guru Gobind Singh. Guru Gobind Singh helped him become the emperor by providing him military support against his brothers. Bahadur Shah tried to improve relations with the Marathas also. However he had inherited a crumbling kingdom and his own lack of leadership skills did not help much. He died in 1712 at the age of 69 without being able to curb the decline of what was once a great kingdom.

Bahadur Shah


       And Bahadur Shah Zafar( also known as Bahadur Shah II) was the last Mughal emperor.  He became the emperor in 1838. But at this time the emperor was nothing more than the city of Delhi. India had three big forces around this time: The Sikh empire in Punjab, Kashmir and parts of Afghanistan, the Maratha empire and the British Empire. Hundreds of Kings had fragmented the rest of India. In 1803 the British East India Company had offered protection to the then Mughal Emperor, Shah Alam II. So after 1803 the Mughal Emperors were mere puppets of the British. Bahadur Shah Zafar also had no real powers. He got a pension from the British and could maintain some token forces in Delhi.


Bahadur Shah Zafar


       In 1857 the Indians rebelled against the British. This was the first united revolt by the Indians against British rule. Most Indian kings considered Bahadur Shah Zafar and the Mughal empire as the one unifying force that could push the British out. Of course, it was a temporary arrangement- the kings would decide what to do after the British were made to leave India. However this did not happen. The revolt was crushed.  Bahadur Shah Zafar fled for his life- he knew that he would have to pay a heavy price for being the symbolic leader of the revolt.
But he was captured and his sons killed, and their severed heads presented to him.

       Bahadur Shah Zafar was exiled to Rangoon where he died in 1862.

       Bahadur Shah Zafar could not bring back the glorious days of the Mughal Empire – he was powerless against the British Imperial power. However there is one thing that he excelled in: Poetry. He is regarded as a very good Urdu poet. Also, in his court great poets like Mirza Ghalib and Zauk used to recite their

       Here are a few shers from a ghazal written by Bahadur Shah Zafar:

       lagta nahin hai ji mera ujare dayaar mein
       kis ki bani hai aalam-e-naa-payedar mein?

       ( I find no happiness in this desolate land
         but who has ever found peace in this world of change and death?)

       keh do in hasaratoon se kahin aaur ja basein
       itni jagah kahaan hai dil-e-daag-daar mein

       ( Tell these desires to go somewhere else
         There is no space left for them in this torn heart)

       umar-e-daraz maang kar laye thay chaar din
       do arzoo mein kat gaye do intezar mein

       ( After much prayer, I was granted a life of four days,
          but two of them were spent in pining and other two in waiting)

       kitana hai bad-naseeb “Zafar” dafan ke liye
       do gaz zameen bhi na mili ku-e-yaar mein

       ( “zafar” is so unfortunate, that for his burial
          there was not even two yards of space in the land of the beloved)



 Go, wondrous creature! mount where Science guides:
 Go, measure earth, weigh air, and state the tides:
 Instruct the planets in what orbs to run,
 Correct old time and regulate the Sun;

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