|Biographical detail : ||The last Mughal emperor of Delhi who presided over a small but extraordinary kingdom.
Zafar, who succeeded after the death of his father in 1837, was one of the most talented, tolerant and likable of the remarkable Mughal dynasty. In his lifetime he was witness to his dynasty reduced to humiliating insignificance and the British transforming themselves from simple traders clingin g to the Indian shoreline into the most powerful military force India had ever seen.
Zafar came to the throne when it was already too late to reverse the inexorable political decline of the Mughals. But, despite this, he succeeded in creating around him a court culture of unparalleled brilliance, and, partly through his patronage, there took place in Delhi one of the greatest literary renaissances in Indian history.
Zafar was a mystic, poet and calligrapher of great charm and accomplishment, but his achievement was to nourish the talents of India’s greatest love poet, Ghalib, and his rival, Zauq. As the military and economic realities of British power and territorial ambition closed in, the court was lost in a last idyll of pleasure gardens, courtesans and poetic symposia.
In the siege of Delhi during the four hottest months of the Indian summer, the beautiful Mughal capital was bombarded by British artillery. There were unimaginable causalities, with both Indians and British starving, the city left without water and the combatants on both sides driven to extremes of physical and mental endurance. Finally, on September 14, 1857, the British took the city, sacking, massacring and looting as they went. Anyone who survived the subsequent genocide was driven out into the countryside. Delhi was left an empty ruin.
Though the royal family had surrendered peacefully, all ten of Emperor’s surviving sons were shot in cold blood. The Emperor himself was put on show trial in the ruins of his old palace and sentenced to transportation. Zafar left his beloved Delhi on a peasants’ bullock cart. Separated from everyone and everything he loved, broken-hearted, the last of the great Mughals spent the last four years of his life in exile, in Rangoon, and composed a large divan of Urdu verse, replete with rhetorical conceits, difficult rhyme-schemes and unusual metres.
Bahadur Shah Zafar himself wrote, just before he died in exile, in Rangoon, on Friday, November 7, 1862.
Delhi was once a paradise,
Where Love held sway and reigned;
But its charm lies ravished now
And only ruins remain.
Bahadur Shah Zafar II was born Serajuddin Muhammad and Zafar (‘Victory’) was his Takhalus (pen-name).