Bahadur Shah Zafar, the last Mughal Emperor, died on November 7, 1862. He stands in our memory as a symbol of a lost era of a pluralistic and integrated India.
Though he was not much of a ruler, the Delhi darbar being confined to only a few miles, he was the chosen leader of Hindus and Muslims alike, unanimous in their anger and rejection of British rule during India’s first war of in dependence in 1857.
The Delhi darbar was the heartbeat of north India and in Zafar’s time it throbbed with the music and poetry of ‘Ganga-Jaamuni tehzeeb’. He was seen not only as a Mughal successor but also as a patron of music and art. He was an accomplished poet too, whose verses were imbued with a secular spirit.
Metaphysical beauty and a remarkable integration of Hindu-Muslim beliefs resound in his poems on Raas Lila, Holi, Diwali and such. The tragic intensity and lyric beauty of his poetry written in exile still move us today .
After quelling the revolt of 1857, the British put a end to Zafar’s successors even though he had been instrumental in saving the lives of British women and children during the revolt. His sons were shot and he was exiled in Rangoon.
But his heart was always in India. This couplet expresses the sorrow of his gentle heart yearning for Hindustan: Hai kitna badnaseeb Zafar/Dafn ke liye do gaz zameen bhi na mili ku-e-yaar mein (How unfortunate is Zafar; he could not get even two yards of land for a grave in his homeland.