The Poetry and Works of Bahadur Shah 'Zafar'

The Poetry and Works of Bahadur Shah ‘Zafar’

Bahadur Shah ‘Zafar’ or Bahadur Shah II Mirza Abu ‘Zafar’ Siraj-ud-din Muhammad was the last Mughal Emperor . He was the second son and successor of his father Akbar II.

The last Emperor of the Mughal dynasty, a talented poet who wrote in the Urdu language. His power, in fact, was limited to the Red Fort – the Imperial Palace in Delhi. Little interested in politics, he devoted his time to poetry, religion, and the arts.

Bahadur Shah Zafar
The Portrait of Bahadur Shah ‘Zafar’

His Reign

In September 1837, after the death of his father, Mughal Padshah Mu’in ud-Din Abu Nasr Muhammad Akbar, Bahadur Shah became the last Emperor of India from the Mughal dynasty (1837-1857). For most of his life, he had no real power, living on the allowance paid to him by the East India Company, spending time with concubines, court poets and musicians, and writing his own poems.

At the age of 82, the last Great Mughal played a prominent role in the Indian Popular Uprising of 1857-1858. On May 11, 1857, the Sepoy rebels occupied Delhi and forced Bahadur Shah to sign a proclamation in which the Emperor announced the restoration of imperial power and called on all Hindus to unite in the struggle for their homeland and faith. Thus, by the will of the rebels, the helpless, weak in spirit and body old man was at the head of the anti-English uprising. His sons were in prominent positions in the Sepoy army. However, the Emperor still had no real power.

In September 1857, British troops stormed Delhi, the last Mughal Padshah Bahadur Shah surrendered. Two of his sons, Mirza Mughal and Mirza Khair Sultan, and his grandson Mirza Abubakr were killed by the British. The British announced the liquidation of the institute of the Mughal Empire.

His Poetry

The Emperor Bahadur Shah II also set himself up in history as a famous Urdu poet. Sauda, Mir and Insha, prominent Urdu poets of the 18th and early 19th centuries influenced him. He was also a famous patron of contemporary poets, including Ghalib, Dagh, Shah Nasir, Momin, and Zauq.

A large part of his poems mourn the loss, suffering and heartache of imprisonment. He wrote geets, poems with a melodic catchy rhythm, but much of his great legacy was a humming form of ghazal. Many of his works were lost in the chaos of 1857, but the surviving ghazals have been gathered in a collection that demonstrates the eloquence, Sufi mysticism and chanting style characteristic of his works. He has a collection of poems named “Muntakhib Kulliyat-i-Zafar”.  It was compiled after his death. Bahadur Shah II used the genre of Shahr-e-Ashob, which became popular under Muhammad Shah.

Where’s my moon, and where are those nights of love?
But to see such a dream had once been my fate;
Although I built the garden, I didn’t see the flowers bloom
Breathing scent of love, reflecting hues of faith.

Bahadur Shah’s poetry shows how much pain affects a person. Pain brought by deceit, loss, and fate, his writings are full of wrath, lamentation, and sorrow, yet there is an inexplicable silence in his words. It is strange how his life changed unpredictably, but his poetry from the very beginning kept sadness and longing. Bahadur Shah’s Shayari also includes love and melancholy  for the beloved. He also wrote on the fragile realities of a human. In addition, the expression of his naive thoughts, matured then in agony, is present in the Qalam of Bahadur Shah ‘Zafar’.

That heart alone is dear which delights in you,
That life is dearly prized which is pledged to you,
Albeit I’m the way-side dust, yet I fear
Lest this dust too heavily lies on that delicate shrew.

His Death

Bahadur Shah ‘Zafar’ was exiled to Rangoon, Myanmar, after the Sepoy rebellion of 1857-1858, which ended with the final transition of India to British rule. Bahadur Shah himself died in Rangoon in November 1862.


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