YANGON, MYANMAR — In the bustling city of Yangon, Myanmar, a small community of descendants of the last Mughal Emperor of India, Bahadur Shah Zafar, live in relative obscurity and poverty.
They are the remnants of a once-great dynasty, which ruled over a vast empire that encompassed present-day India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and parts of Afghanistan.
Zafar, who was the last ruler of the Mughal Empire, was exiled to Burma (now Myanmar) by the British colonial authorities after the failed Indian Rebellion of 1857. He died in Yangon in 1862, leaving behind a legacy of resistance against colonial oppression and a body of poetry that captured the despair and anguish of his exile.
His descendants, however, have not fared any better. They have been living in Myanmar for generations, but their story remains largely unknown. Many of them are poor and struggle to make ends meet. They live in squalid conditions and face discrimination from the majority Buddhist population.
“Life is hard for us here. We are poor and often face discrimination. Many people do not know about our history and our connection to the Mughal Empire.”
“Life is hard for us here. We are poor and often face discrimination. Many people do not know about our history and our connection to the Mughal Empire,” says 62-year-old Mohammad Sadeq, a descendant of Zafar.
Despite their difficult circumstances, the descendants of Zafar have not forgotten their heritage. They still practice their Muslim faith and maintain their traditions, including their culinary and cultural customs. They have established a small mosque and Madrasa where they pray and teach the Quran to their children.
“We pray five times a day and teach our children about our history and culture. It is important to preserve our traditions and pass them on to the next generation,” says Sadeq.
The descendants of Zafar are not just limited to Yangon. There are also members of the family living in other parts of Myanmar and in other countries such as Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia. Despite the geographic distance between them, they remain connected by their shared heritage and their struggle to preserve their identity.
“We may be scattered across the world, but we are still one family. We share a common history and a common bond,” says Ali Zafar, a descendant of Zafar who currently resides in Pakistan.
Zafar’s poetry, which he wrote during his exile in Yangon, still resonates with his descendants and with people across the world who have been touched by his words.
In his poem, “The Deserted House,” he wrote:
The garden is dead,
The spring is over,
No bird sings now,
No rosebush blossoms,
My heart is heavy, my eyes are wet,
For the deserted house of my dreams.
Zafar’s words are a poignant reminder of the loss and despair that his family and the people of India felt during the tumultuous years of British colonial rule. His descendants, who continue to live in difficult circumstances, are a living testament to the resilience and endurance of the human spirit in the face of adversity.
The last Mughal emperor is buried in a disputed location in Yangon, Myanmar (formerly known as Rangoon, Burma). After his death, he was initially buried at the back of his enclosure, but by 1903 the location of his grave was forgotten. After protests, the British were forced to construct a stone slab to mark the site of his grave.
The exact location of his burial was rediscovered in 1991 when excavators found the skeleton of the last Mughal emperor. A mausoleum was then constructed to honor his memory and was inaugurated in 1994.
The story of the forgotten grave of Bahadur Shah Zafar is a reminder of the complex history of India and its relationship with its colonial past. The search for the grave of the last Mughal emperor is a symbol of the ongoing effort to preserve the legacy of India’s rich cultural heritage.
Death of wife
Almost 20 years later, Bahadur Shah Zafar’s wife, Zinat Mahal, died in 1882, according to Wikipedia. When she died, the location of Zafar’s grave had already been forgotten and “could not be located,” so she was buried in a roughly similar position near a tree where his grave was assumed to be. Zafar’s son, Mirza Jawan Bakht, died two years later and was also buried at the same site.