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Life of Mughal Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar through his Poetry

The Mughals invaded India and ascended the throne of the Delhi sultanate largely sometime between the 1400s to the1500s. With them, they brought their exquisite and exemplary art and culture to India. From intricately beautiful architectural work that can be seen in every nook and corner of India; to the mouth-watering delicacies by the Mughlai khansamas (male chefs); and to the utterly mesmerizing language of Urdu, which is music to ears, the Mughal empire’s legacy lives on.

Persian, the language of the Mughals went through a sea-change with the blending of both the Indian and Persian culture giving birth to a language initially called Hindustani and later Urdu. Urdu poetry and poets reached the pinnacle of success during the beginning of the British Raj, and the art never lost its charm whatsoever. Shayari and mushaira competitions are held even today in different parts of the country.

Delhi, in particular, has stood witness to a plethora of emperors during the peak days of glory of the Mughals till the very end. The Mughal sultanate’s capital in the north was Delhi which received and embraced artists, poets, and dancers, from faraway countries and the Mughals also encouraged performances from homegrown talents.

Bahadur Shah Zafar

One such Mughal Emperor was Bahadur Shah Zafar, the last Mughal Emperor of India. He was known to be a kind soul who unlike other emperors was not keen on war or in acquiring land. Instead, he was more inclined towards art, philosophy, and of course, poetry. He had revered poets like Ibrahim Zauq, Momin Khan Momin, and Mirza Ghalib in his court. It is also widely known that Dagh Dehlvi, an infamous poet, is the step-grandson of Zafar.

Apart from being a poetry lover, he also actively wrote a number of poems that give us an idea about the events in his life. For instance, when his rebellion against the Britishers in1857 failed, expressing his grief, he wrote:

اے وائے انقلاب زمانے کے جور سے

دلی ظفرؔ کے ہاتھ سے پل میں نکل گئی

“Ai vaaye inqilaab zamaane ke zor se Dilli Zafar ke haath se pal mein nikal gayi”


"Alas! What a revolution, due to cruelty of the age

Delhi slipped out of Zafar's hands in a moment."

Bahadur Shah Zafar captured by the British

However, even after his capture by the British officer, Major Hudson, Zafar did not lose hope. He penned down his thoughts, which surely must have ignited the fire of freedom in the hearts of his followers. It goes as this,

ہندوں میں بو رھےگی جب تک ایمان کی

تخت لندن تک چلےگی تیغ ھندوستان کی

“Hindion mein bu rahegi jab talak imaan ki Takht e London tak chalegi tegh Hindustan ki.”


"As long as Indians have even an ounce of honesty and dignity-

So long shall the sword of Hindustan flash before the throne of London."

Bahadur Shah Zafar breathed his last in the year 1862, while imprisoned in Rangoon, according to the people who were close to him, knew of his love for Delhi and that he wanted to be buried in Delhi. He even had designated his summer palace at Mehrauli as his last resting place, but it could never materialise.

کتنا ہے بد نصیب ظفرؔ دفن کے لیے

دو گز زمین بھی نہ ملی کوئے یار میں

"Kitna hai bad-nasib 'Zafar' dafn ke liye

Do gaz zameen bhi na mili ku-e-yaar mein"


"How unfortunate is ‘Zafar’ who is unable to find for his burial

even two yards of ground in the streets of his beloved"

His shayari and ghazals give one a peep into his mind and life as the last Mughal ruler of India. The poem which is represented below is believed to be one of his last poems written while imprisoned in Rangoon.

"Ya mujhe afsar-e-shahana banaya hota Ya mera taj gadayana banaya hota

I wish you had made me the master of royals, Or made my crown the bowl for alms and betrayals.

apna diwana banaya hota tmujhe tu ne

Kyun khirad-mand banaya na banaya hota

You should have made me mad, crazy only for you, Why did you make me wise, capable of denials?

khaksari ke liye garche banaya tha mujhe

kash khak-e-dar-e-jaanana banaya hota

You made me poor, fit only for sifting through dust, And I wish the dust of her feet were my trials.

nasha-e-ishq ka gar zarf diya tha mujhko

umr ka tang na paimana banaya hota

If you made me intoxicated with love,

Why did you make the measure of life small vials?

dil-e-sad-chaak banaya to bala se lekin zulf-e-mushkin ka tere shana banaya hota

A wretched heart torn a hundred times over lives, To be the shoulder to rest her hair is my desire.

sufiyon ke jo na tha laeq-e-sohbat to mujhe qabil-e-jalsa-e-rindana banaya hota

If I were not worthy to be with the Sufis,

Could have been good for the company of drunks, defiant?

tha jalana hi agar duri-e-saqi se mujhe to charagh-e-dar-e-mai-KHana banaya hota

If you wished to burn me by parting from the pourer,

Should have made me the lamp of the tavern’s foyer.

shola-e-husn chaman mein na dikhaya us ne warna bulbul ko bhi parwana banaya hota

The fire of beauty was not unveiled in the garden,

Or the bulbul too would have been made a moth on fire.

roz mamura-e-duniya mein KHarabi hai 'zafar' aisi basti ko to virana banaya hota"

This incessant world is a vile place, O Zafar, Its cities should have been desolate and dire."

Who could have ever thought that an emperor would have desired to become anything but a king?

There have been many representations of his life in the form of books and plays, even in movies however the closest is believed to be the book by Aslam Parvez titled, “The Life and Poetry of Bahadur Shah Zafar”.

Bahadur Shah Zafar is considered in the highest regard among those who meticulously study Urdu poetry, his writings will always touch upon the hearts of the people who enjoy reading poems.

Pratha Shailaja Sarangi


Shailaja Sarangi

Pratha Content Writing Intern


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