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Bahadur Shah Zafar’s Poem About The 1857 Revolt & Dilli-The Garden Of Harmony

Rana Safvi Translates Zafar's Poem

After the fall of Delhi on 14th September 1857, following a four-month siege in which the Indian soldiers fought the British East India Company under the banner of  Bahadur Shah Zafar, the Mughal Empire ended. The  British troops were victorious over the Indian sepoys fighting them.

Mughal emperor Abu Zafar Sirajuddin Muhammad Bahadur Shah Zafar, aka Bahadur Shah Zafar II. (1775-1862), in May 1858, “in captivity in Delhi awaiting trial by the British for his support of the Uprising of 1857-58” and before his departure for exile in Rangoon. This is possibly the only photograph ever taken of a Mughal emperor. Source: British Library.

On 17th September 1857, Bahadur Shah Zafar fled from the Red Fort to minimise loss of lives in the Walled City of Shahjahanabad, as he feared the wrath of the British on the hapless residents. He went to Humayun’s tomb for refuge and was captured from there by Major Hodson on 21st September 1857. He was imprisoned in a house in Shahjahanabad, where he had once reigned from September 1857 till the end of 1858, when he was sent to Rangoon. 

Though he tried to shield his subjects, Zafar’s prayers and entreaties really had no effect as the residents of Shahjahanabad were severely punished, killed, looted and thrown out of the city. The city was penalized and vacated of people, whom the British labelled as enemies.

Ghalib laments that while the Hindus were allowed to return in January 1858 the Muslims were allowed to return only a decade later. The Uprising was seen by the British as “Mohammedan conspiracy making capital of Hindu grievances” and so they suffered the wrath of the British Empire.

The 82-year-old poet, Mughal Emperor was not only imprisoned, tried for sedition, sentenced to be exiled but was deprived of pencil and paper through which he could express his anguish. He ended up scribbling ghazals with charcoal on the walls of his room. These were smuggled out and even after he went to Rangoon were remembered. They could exile him but not his words or memories. 

Last Mughal Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar with sons Mirza Jawan Bakht & Mirza Shah Abbas in exile in Burma in the aftermath of the Indian Mutiny (1857-1859)

One such ghazal became an anthem of the dispossessed after the British took over and was sung by wandering minstrels. In 1862, the [British] Political Agent of Bhopal, sent a report to his superiors asking for a ban on it. 

I translate it for the benefit of readers who are unaware of the facts of the first War of Indian Independence and the role of Bahadur Shah Zafar in it. 

Gayi yak-ba-yak jo hawa palat nahin dil ko mere qaraar hai 

Karun us sitam ko main kya bayan mera gham se seena figar hai 

(The winds of fate changed suddenly, my heart is inconsolable

How can I describe the pain, my chest is heavy with melancholy)


Ye reaya-e-hind tabah hui kahun kya jo in pe jafa hui 

Jise dekha hakim-e-waqt ne kaha ye bhi qabil-e-dar hai 

(Indians have been ruined, one can’t describe their oppression

The new rulers condemned everyone they saw worthy of the gallows)


Ye kisi ne zulm bhi hai suna ki di phansi logon ko be-gunah 

Wahi kalma-goyon ki samt se abhi dil mein un ke bukhar hai 

(Has anyone heard of such tyranny? That innocents were sent to the gallows!

The rulers still bear such enmity towards those who recite the Islamic creed)


Na tha shahr-e-dehli ye tha chaman kaho kis tarah ka tha yaa’n aman 

Jo khitab tha wo mita diya faqat ab to ujda dayar hai 

(Delhi was never just a city, it was a garden of harmony

They have erased all signs of that, now only a ruined waste remains)


Yahi tang haal jo sab ka hai ye karishma qudrat-e-rab ka hai 

Jo bahaar thi so Khiza’n huyi, jo Khiza’n thi ab wo bahaar hai

 (These straitened conditions that we all find ourselves in, is divinely ordained

The spring has turned into the decay of autumn ,while the decay has turned to spring for some)


Shab-o-roz phool mein jo tule kaho Khaar-e-gham ko wo kya sahe 

Mile tauq qaid mein jab unhe’n kaha gul ke badle ye haar hai 

(Those who were weighed in flowers, morn and night, how can they bear the thorns of grief?

They were given shackles of imprisonment and told to embrace it as as a garland of flowers)


Sabhi jaada matam-e-sakht hai, kaho kaisi gardish-e-bakht hai 

Na wo taj hai na wo takht hai na wo shah hai na dayar hai 

(Everywhere there is the lament and wails of mourning, how terrible is the turn of fate

Neither the crown, nor the throne, nor the emperor or the kingdom remains)


Jo sulook karte the aur se wahi ab hain kitne zalil se 

Wo hain tang charkh ke jaur se, raha tan pe un ke na tar hai 

(Those who once reigned are now dealt humiliation

They are oppressed by the wheel of fortune, not a shred remains on their body)


Naa wabaal tan pe hai sar mera, nahin jaan jaane ka Dar zara 

Kate gham hi, nikle jo dam mera mujhe apni zindagi baar hai 

(My head on my body is no longer a calamity, nor is there a fear of dying

When my head is cut off, I will be at peace for my life is an unbearable burden)


Kya hai gham Zafar tujhe hashr ka jo khuda ne chaha to barmala 

Hamein hai wasila Rasul ka wo hamara hami-e-kar hai

(Why are you worried about doomsday Zafar, whatever God wishes comes to pass

I am hopeful that the Prophet will be my supporter on that Last Day of Judgment)


Zafar spoke for all those who sacrificed their lives in The First War of Indian Independence. It is up to us to remember and honour their memories


Rana Safvi is an author, historian, blogger and is engaged in documenting of India’s Syncretic past. Her book The Forgotten Cities of Delhi (HarperCollins India), is book two of the Where Stones Speak trilogy

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