One of my dream projects is to visit all the last resting places of Mughal rulers. Easy said than done simply because one of them is in Pakistan, one in Afghanistan, one in Myanmar while the rest are here in India. In my lifetime there are slim chances for me to get a visa to Pakistan and visiting Afghanistan is a farfetched dream. The only easy option is to complete the ones in India and then Myanmar.
In 2018 I did a road trip from Kolkata to Myanmar and visited the whole country by any means except for a flight. The travel plan included three days in Yangon and one place that I did not want to miss was the last rest place for the last Mughal emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar.
Bahadur Shah Zafar
Unlike all the other Mughal rulers who all have splendid and opulent tombs, Bahadur Shah Zafar is the most unlucky to have his place of burial forgotten and then found back by chance. The British always considered Bahadur Shah Zafar as a potential rallying point for the freedom struggle in its dominion especially after the failed attempt of 1857 Revolt. Just to be sure that he never could create a similar situation he was tried in Delhi which lasted for forty-one days and then found guilty and banished from India.
Bahadur Shah Zafar was a poet and a mystic man, some even considered him as a saint. He wrote many poems in Urdu and kept many poets in court which included greats like Mirza Ghalib. He became the emperor in 1837 and more than an emperor who is expected to rule his kingdom with an iron fist he was a rather weak emperor. More so because by then the Mughal Empire was not that what it used to be. East India Company had already taken much of the country and the Delhi rule was virtually limited to Delhi and its surroundings only.
Exile in Burma
He was arrested on the 19th of September 1857 from Humayun’s Tomb during the Sepoy Mutiny where he had been hiding. It was more of negotiations that he was doing with the East India Company while hiding at Humayun’s Tomb. After being convicted in the trail which took place in Red Fort he was sent to exile in Burma. As per prior agreement during his initial surrender life sentence was spared and instead, he had to go on an exile.
It was decided that he be sent to Burma (Myanmar) in Rangoon (Yangon) away from any communication which could be done with his supporters in India. It went to the extent that he was never given a pen and paper to write fearing that he would secretly use them to pass on messages.
Bahadur Shah Zafar along with his wives, two sons, and some close aides left Delhi on the 7th of October 1858.
Life in Burma
The house where he lived was far from the palaces and forts of Delhi it was rather a small wooden house near Shwedagon Pagoda. This was in no comparison with the life what an emperor expects. He kept writing poetry often lamenting his life and expected death. With n pen and paper to write he used charcoal and used to scribble on the walls. The supply of food was limited and he often complained to the British officers about the limited quantity of food and water that was available to him.
Death of Bahadur Shah Zafar
During his death, he was completely bedridden and unable to eat. His relatives tried to spoon-feed him some liquefied food but that too stopped and his death was inevitable. Bahadur Shah Zafar the last Mughal emperor of undivided India died on the 7th of November 1862 he was 87 years old then.
The British government wanted his burial to be as conspicuous as possible. He had died at around 5 AM and by that same evening, his burial was done in a small grave nothing opulent rather just a small plaque. It was as per a policy decision to have him buried up and made sure it was forgotten over time to avoid this place to become a place of pilgrimage.
As per record, his wife Zeenat Mahal was also buried next to him in 1886. This small piece of the record however proved to be important information during re-establishing his grave spot which was discovered later.
Lost and Found Grave
The last resting place of Bahadur Shah Zafar was lost in time just as the British rule wanted. Moreover, since he died in Burma and not in India thus there was no recorded history of the location nor was there and record purposely not kept to make people forget about him.
In the year 1991, there was an expansion work going on for the expansion of the prayer hall which was here at this location. During one such repair work, the laborers came across two graves which had stone inscriptions marking the grave as that of Bahadur Shah Zafar and the other of his wife Zinat Mahal. Upon excavation of the two graves intact, skeletal remains of Bahadur Shah Zafar wrapped in silk shroud were found.
The Dargah Now
After the discovery was made it was decided to construct a permanent structure over the renovated graves. Realizing the importance of this discovery the local community supported by the Myanmar government and foreign aid from India restored the grave and also built the new hall.
Once you enter through the iron gates you will come across a courtyard and a prayer hall to your right. Once you enter you will find the hall to your right with three decorated tombs of Bahadur Shah Zafar, Zinat Mahal (wife) & Raunaq Zamani (granddaughter). The walls around the hall are filled with photographs from the life of the emperor. There are only three known photos of the emperor one him lying on the bed and the other with his two sons and a British officer. Apart from photographs, the walls are filled with poetry written by the late emperor.
However, the original graves od Bahadur Shah Zafar are located at a chamber below this hall, and after taking few flights of stairs down you will reach the original tombs which were once lost in time and were discovered later. This basement level section has one grand tomb belonging to that of the last emperor of India Bahadur Shah Zafar.
Take some moment to realize how once a majestic empire and its emperor from the most powerful to the weakest and ultimately how it ends in a foreign land away from all the grandeur.
Bahadur Shah Zafar had four official wives and Zeenat Mahal accompanied him to his exile in Burma. Zeenat Mahal had two sons from him they were Jawan Bakht and Jamshed Bakht. Both of these sons went with him to Burma and settled and died there. Jamshed Bakht had two sons Mirza Sikandar Bakht and Mirza Bedar Bakht. Mirza Bedar Bakht came back to Calcutta (Kolkata) and married Sultana Begum with who he had five daughters. Mirza Bedar Bakht used to make a living by sharpening knives and scissors. He used to live in a slum along with his wife, he died in the year 1980. His five daughters are Qamar Fatima and Raunaq, Tarannu, Tanvir, and Zeenat Mahal.
Apart from this line, several contenders claim to be descendants of Bahadur Shah Zafar but the claim has no official confirmation.
Lagtaa nahin hai dil meraa ujday dayaar mein
kis ki bani hai aalam-e-naa_paayedaar mein
kah do in hasraton se kahin aur jaa basein
itani jagah kahaan hai dil-e-daagdaar mein
umr-e-daraaz maang kar laaye they chaar din
do arzoo mein kaT gaye do intezaar mein
kitnaa hai bad naseeb “Zafar” dafn key liye
do gaz zamin bhi na mili kuu-e-yaar mein