“Then, in 1991, on 16 February, workmen digging a drain at the back of the shrine uncovered a brick-lined grave. It was 3 feet under the ground, and about 25 feet from the shrine. The skeleton of the Last Mughal was found quite intact within.”
Dalrymple, p483, The Last Mughal
This is how Dalrymple describes the finding of the lost grave of the Last Murghal Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar II. The emperor had been the reluctant figurehead of the 1857 Indian uprising against the British occupation, the First War of Independence. After the British regained control a show trial was held, with the outcome resulting in the Emperor being sent into exile in Rangoon (Yangon), Burma (Myanmar). Here he remained until his death at 5.00am on the morning of Friday, 7 November 1862 at the great age of 87. I would strongly recommend Dalrymple’s The Last Mughal2 for anyone interested in more information about the life of Bahadur Shah Zafar, Delhi of the 1850s and the uprising. It is well-researched, informative and immensely readable. As an introduction to the book you can listen to (or read) Dalrymple discussing Zafar at the British Library. The British Library also have Zafar’s marriage certificate from 1840 and you can see a high resolution scan of this beautiful document.
Following Bahadur Shah Zafar’s death the British were determined that the grave should not become a place of pilgrimage and so buried him in a brick grave covered in turf. In 1882, when his wife Shah Zamani Begum died, Zafar’s grave was already forgotten and so she was buried near to a tree that was believed to be in the same area as his grave. His son, Mirza Jawan Bakht, died two years later and was buried in the same area. Despite British reluctance, a simple stone was erected in 1907 to mark the resting place of the ex-King of Delhi, with a railing around the possible site of the grave. By 1925 this had become a makeshift shrine. Then, in 1991, the actual grave was re-discovered.
Inspired by Dalrymple’s description and our interest in Delhi, we decided to try and find the Dargah (Sufi shrine) that had now been built. This proved to be more difficult than it sounded, but well worth it.
Equipped with a photocopy of an old tourist map, which didn’t show the site’s location, and the 2011 Lonely Planet, which did, we set off south from the city’s most famous site the Shwedagon Pagoda. What should have been simple involved much wandering to and fro along main roads and through small local markets (above). We were helped by most major streets having English signs but hindered by the inaccurate map in the Lonely Planet (later we discovered that this was one of many errors). After inadvertently wandering into part of a hospital, where the doctors and guards politely tried to help, we were directed back up U Wisara Road (aka U Wi Za Ya Rd) to Ziwaca Street (aka Zi Wa Ka St) where, at No 6, we found the Dargah (shown on the map below).
The current Dargah has no sign or information outside (that we could see) but we were welcomed into the courtyard. Directly in front was a tin roof covering a crypt that we assume to be the location of the final resting place, with a stone coffin draped in a flag. The picture on the wall confirmed we were in the right place:
To the left is the old shrine from before Zafar’s remains were rediscovered with three stone coffins, still used as a place of pilgrimage by Rangoon’s Muslim population.
Whilst at the time of our visit there were few people the shine is still an active part of peoples lives with prayers being said and worshippers sitting around, listening. Being mostly British (with the Canadian and Australians acting British) we were hesitant about intruding but the people at the shrine were having none of that. Using universal hand signals we were invited inside to sit and participate. We were each given two oranges as an offering and we remained and listened to the beautiful recital of the prayers (surreptitiously watched by the young children).
Outside the old shrine were a number of engraved marble plaques such as the one below:
Down the stairs to the hall and we were in the area of the crypt, with prayer rooms – men’s and women’s – to each side. Here was more detail about the rediscovery (reproduced below from a photograph with the original spelling and layout):
A BRIEF ACCOUNT ON THE DISCOVERY OF THE TOMB
OF EMPEROR SAINT BAHADUR SHAH ZAFAR
“On 16.2.1991 the foundation of the saint’s memorial hall was
dug and a tomb which could be Presumed as the tomb of the
Emporer-Saint Bahadur Shah Zafar was found about 3 1/2 feet
under the ground. The location of the tomb was infront of the
Present ladies prayer chamber and west-southcorner of the hall.
The tomb was horizontally stretched from North to South
direction. Measuring 9′ in Lenght, 6′ in breadth and 7′ in hight
approximately. Muslims Knew long before that the Emperor-
saint was buried some where within the compound but the exact
place was unknown. The newly discovered tomb could be
regarded s the actual tomb of Bahadur Shah Zafar due to the
followingreasons: (1) On the Left side of the entrance of the
present Daragah an inscription believed to be erected in about the
year 1937can be found. According to that inscription the exact
location of the saint’s tomb was not known,it was just mentioned
that the Emperor saint was buried near this spot. (2) Compare
to an ordinary tomb, the newly discovered tomb was much larger
and more systematically constructed. (3) The British buried the
Emperor-Saint according to Islamic rites, however the tomb
was camouflaged by covering it with turf in the same level with
the ground.In a book’ the last Murghal written by chief Justice
of the Panjab High Court G.D Khoasla, it was mentioned as below
“Captain Davies drew up a report describing the important event
‘Abu Zafar,’he wrote,’expired at 5 O’clock on Friday.All things
being in readiness, he was buried at 4 P.M. on the same day,in the
rear of the main ground, in a brick grave covered with turf,
level with the ground.” bamboo fence surrounded the grave
for some considerable distance. By the time the fence is worn
out, the grass will have again covered the spot and no vestige wil
remain to distinguish where the last of great Mughals rest.
On the way out is a dedication to the opening of the current hall in 1994:
The site can be seen in this video clip. For an alternative view of a visit to the site you can read V.S.Gopalakrishnan on his trip on 18th January 2012 (which includes a photograph of the entrance to the site which we failed to take due to having been awake for nearly 48hrs at the time of our visit).
Whilst the British may have wanted knowledge of Zafar to fade into obscurity he does have a web page dedicated to him. Although it has a rather old fashioned layout it is worth persevering to find some of the hidden detail. Unfortunately the links to the English translations of some of his poetry no longer work but for anyone interested there are books translating the Urdu to English and Hindi, for example the one translated by K.T. Mahmood.
One of the most interesting parts is the translation from Urdu of part of a book about Zafar, Bahadur Shah Zafar Ka Afsanae Gam (The Sad Story of Bahadur Shah Zafar) by Abdullah Farooqi, published by Farooqi Book Depot, January 1989, concerning his time in Rangoon and what happened to his descendants after his death. Also included is a transcription of two books about the 1857 Siege of Delhi by Indian writers rather than most of the British accounts (clear example of history being written by the victor).
This photograph of Bahadur Shah Zafar is the only known photograph of a Mughal emperor. Its provenance is unclear, and it reported both as being taken just before his exile and whilst he was in exile in Rangoon. The photographer is also unclear, with various attributions. Dalrymple reproduces it in his book2 with the following comment “according to the diary of Zafar’s jailer, Edward Ommaney, it was actually taken after the Emperor’s show trial in Delhi, by ‘Mr Shepherd the photographer’, before Zafar was transported to Rangoon.” I trust Mr Dalrymple’s research in this matter.
But this post is incomplete: we have one final trip to close the circle, a visit to the Zafar Mahal in Mehrauli, Delhi. Zafar added an extra floor to the existing structure and built the Hathi Gate. Also here are the graves of Zafar’s father and grandfather and it is believed that he wished to be buried alongside them.
EDIT: we are not the only ones to have had difficultly finding the site as you can read here.
1 The Emperor Bahadur Shah, Delhi, c1855-58, gouache and water-colour on paper, 36x24cm, unfinished study, artist unknown, from the collection of Howard Hodgkin, photograph taken during the exhibition ‘Visions of Mughal India’, Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, 2011
2 The Last Mughal, Dalrymple, William, Bloomsbury Publishing, London, 2006, ISBN 9780747586685
– words by Paul
– pictures by Paul & Elizabeth