The last of the Great Mughals breathed his last on November 7, 1862 in Rangoon (present day Yangon) at the age of 87. Such was the British’s fear of him that he was buried in a nameless grave away from his homeland. The haunting lines from a poem composed by Zafar puts his peeve to words, “Kitnahai badnaseeb Zafar dafan ke liye do gaj zameen na mili kun-e-yar mein.” (how unfortunate is Zafar that he could not find a couple of yards in his beloved land). His death went unreported in Delhi too.
The place of his burial was forgotten and when his wife died in 1882, so she was buried next to a tree remembered to be near Zafar’s grave. When some Indian delegates came to pay their obeisance at his grave, the whereabouts of Zeenat Mahal’s grave had faded too. In 1905, there was protest by the Muslim population of Rangoon to mark the grave of the Emperor of India and a great mystic. The British reluctantly gave in and a monument was built by enclosing the area where his grave was believed to be located.
After one and a half century the grave has finally been turned into a shrine as Zafar was a revered figure amongst the Muslim population of Rangoon. The Mausoleum to the Last Mughal is nothing in comparison to the grandeur of the mausoleums of his forefather back in Delhi.The entrance marks the place as Bahadur Shah Zafar, the Emperor of India(1837-1857). One could see his grave from atop that is placed in a corner and is covered with a beautiful ‘chadar’ and rose petals. His wife Zeenat Mahal’s tomb is also in the same compound. The photographs in the mausoleum capture his last few years that saw him travel from Delhi to Rangoon. He is often said to have stood in his balcony in Rangoon and watched all the ships criss-crossing the harbour, probably hoping one day he would board a home-bound vessel. But alas, it remained just that - a wish.
With a heavy heart we went to witness the poignant end of another ruler, this time a Burmese Royalty.
The last Burmese Royals of Mandalay
I was traveling to Mandalay in a Myanmar train. As the comfortable train, albeit very slow in comparison to the Indian railways,chugged across Myanmar, I opened the novel by Amitav Ghosh “The Glass Palace”. The novel is set in colonial Myanmar and begins with the fall of King Thibaw Min. The British Army while bringing the Mandalay Palace under its control, shipped King Thibaw, his wife Queen Supayalat and their four daughters to Ratnagiri, a port city in Southern Maharashtra.
Just like his Indian counterpart, born a century ago, Thibaw would watch the ships entering and exiting the harbours from his balcony. The British had a cruel sense of tormenting.
King Thibaw had ascended the Lion throne of Burma in 1878 after a bloody massacre of all the other contenders of the throne, reportedly orchestrated at the behest of his wife queen Supayalat. Burma’s teak, rubies and rubber plantations attracted the British, which slowly brought the whole of the country under their rule. The British Army defeated the King Thibaw’s forces in a short and swift action that came to be known as the Third Anglo-Burmese war in 1885. At the age of 27, the last of the Royals of Burma was stripped of his possessions, humiliated and banished to India.