Mirza Abu Zafar Sirajuddin Muhammad Bahadur Shah Zafar was the last Mughal emperor and a member of the Timurid dynasty. He became the successor to his father, Akbar II with his death on 28 September 1837. He used Zafar, (translation: victory) a part of his name, for his nom de plume (takhallus) as an Urdu poet, and wrote many Urdu ghazals. He was a nominal Emperor, as the Mughal Empire existed in name only and his authority was limited only to the city of Delhi. Following his involvement in the Indian Rebellion of 1857, the British exiled him to Rangoon in British-controlled Burma.
Zafar’s father, Akbar II had been imprisoned by the British and he was not his father’s preferred choice as his successor. One of Akbar Shah’s queens, Mumtaz Begum, pressured him to declare her son Mirza Jahangir as his successor. However, The East India Company exiled Jahangir after he attacked their resident, Archibald Seton, in the Red Fort.
Bahadur Shah Zafar presided over a Mughal Empire that barely extended beyond Delhi’s Red Fort. The Maratha Empire had brought an end to the Mughal Empire in the 18th century and the regions of India under Mughal rule had either been absorbed by the Marathas or declared independence and turned into smaller kingdoms. The Marathas installed Shah Alam II in the throne in 1772, under the protection of the Maratha general Mahadaji Shinde and maintained suzerainty over Mughal affairs in Delhi. The East India Companybecame the dominant political and military power in mid-nineteenth century India. Outside the region controlled by the Company, hundreds of kingdoms and principalities, fragmented their land. The emperor was respected by the Company and had given him a pension. The emperor permitted the Company to collect taxes from Delhi and maintain a military force in it. Zafar never had interest in statecraft or had any “imperial ambition”. After the Indian Rebellion of 1857, the British exiled him from Delhi.
Bahadur Shah Zafar was a noted Urdu poet, having written a number of Urdu ghazals. While some part of his opus was lost or destroyed during the Indian Rebellion of 1857, a large collection did survive, and was compiled into the Kulliyyat-i-Zafar. The court that he maintained was home to several prolific Urdu writers, including Mirza Ghalib,Dagh, Mumin, and Zauq.
After his defeat he said:
غازیوں میں بو رھےگی جب تلک ایمان کی
تخت لندن تک چلےگی تیغ ھندوستان کی
Ghāzioń méń bū rahegi jab talak imān ki; Takht-e-London tak chalegi tégh Hindustan ki
As long as there remains the scent of faith in the hearts of our Ghazis, so long shall the Talwar of Hindustan flash before the throne of London
Zafar was regarded as a freedom fighter and was made the Commander-in-chief of the mutiny soldiers.