The last Mughal, Bahadur Shah Zafar II, never played an extremely active role in the Indian freedom movement. His interest in his state was also not great. When the Revolt of 1857 had gained momentum, the revolutionaries looked for a leader in whose name they could continue the war. They pledged their allegiance to Bahadur Shah and requested him to be their leader; he accepted and agreed to give his countenance to the rebellion. He was the ruler of the state from 1836 to 1857.
The British squashed the four month long rebellion, and with that also came the end of the four centuries of Mughal rule. Bahadur Shah Zafar II’s sons were hunted and shot, he himself with his wife Zeenat Mahal and grand daughter Raunaq Zamani were exiled to Rangoon, Burma (today’s Yangon, Myanmar). It took the entourage three months to get to Yangon from Delhi. Not knowing what to do with the erstwhile ruler, Captain Nelson Davies, British Officer in-charge of the region gave Bahadur Shah’s entourage space in his garage, where he spent his last days (1858-1862). At his death, the British fearing an upheaval in India, buried him unceremoniously in the officer’s backyard. Bahadur Shah was a noted poet of his time writing under the name of Zafar. It is believed that Urdu literature flourished the most during his 20 years of reign. It was a sad thought that during his exile he was not even provided pen or paper. He wrote on the walls of his room with a burnt stick. Most of the verses expressed his sorrow of being away from home.
For a while, the last ruler was indeed forgotten. But as luck would have it his tomb, meagre and small, became a dargah and local Muslims treated the old king like a saint. Today the tomb, located at Ziwaka Road, Dagon in Yangon, has three graves, that of Bahadur Shah Zafar II, Zeenat Mahal and Raunaq Zamani. In 1991, it was discovered that the grave marked as Bahadur Shah’s was a decoy and the real grave was about 25 feet away. The shrine is managed by Bahadur Shah Zafar Mausoleum Committee. Over a period of time the government of India has helped with the maintenance of the tomb.
It is said that Subhas Chandra Bose gave his evocative ‘Dilli Chalo’ call after visiting the tomb. There were talks of moving Bahadur Shah’s remains to India in exchange for the remains of Myanmar’s King Thibaw’s which are in Ratnagiri, Maharashtra. But the decision was made against this move as it was felt that these shrines were representative of the two nations’ shared historical and cultural legacy. In recent years, many political leaders, including Rajiv Gandhi, APJ Abdul Kalam and Hamid Ansari and very recently, prime minister Manmohan Singh visited the country and paid their homage to the resting place of India’s last Mughal ruler.
Nearby attractions include Shwedagon Pagoda, Mahabandoola Garden, Aung San Syu Kyi’s house, Martyr’s Mausoleum and The Circular Train.
How to reach there
By Air: Air India, Jet Airways and Myanmar Airways have direct flights from Kolkata to Yangon. Thai Airways, Singapore Airlines, Malaysia Airlines, Air Asia, Silk Air, China Eastern service Yangon.
Where to stay
Being the capital of Myanmar, there are many hotels to chose from. Some of the well known hotels include, The Governor’s Residence, The Strand, Trader’s Hotel Yangon, Chatrium Hotel Royal Lake Yangon.