The last Mughal king, Bahadur Shah, better known as Bahadur Shah Zafar, was born in 1775 at Delhi. He was the son of Akbar Shah from his Hindu wife Lalbai. Bahadur Shah, after the death of his father, was placed on the throne in 1837 when he was little over 60 years of age. He was last in the lineage of Mughal emperors who ruled over India for about 300 years. Bahadur Shah Zafar, like his predecessors, was a weak ruler who came to throne when the British domination over India was strengthening and the Mughal rule was nearing its end. The British had curtailed the power and privileges of the Mughal rulers to such an extent that by the time of Bahadur Shah Zafar, the Mughal rule was confined to the Red Fort. Bahadur Shah Zafar was obliged to live on British pension, while the reins of real power lay in the hands of the East India Company.
During the reign of Bahadur Shah Zafar, Urdu poetry flourished and reached its zenith. He himself was a prolific poet and an accomplished calligrapher. He had acquired his poetic taste from his grandfather and father who were also poets. He passed most of his time in the company of poets and writers and was the author of four diwans. Love and mysticism were his favorite subjects that found expression in his poetry. Most of his poetry is full of pain and sorrow owing to the distress and degradation he had to face at the hands of the British. He was a great patron of poetry and literary work and some of the most eminent and famous Urdu poets like Mirza Ghalib, Zauk, Momin and Daagh were of his time.
It was at the time of Bahadur Shah that the War of Independence in 1857 started. In Bahadur Shah Zafar the freedom fighters found the symbol of freedom and therefore nominated him as their Commander-in-Chief. In the initial stages, the freedom fighters were successful, but later on the strong and organized British forces defeated them. Bahadur Shah, who had been proclaimed as an emperor of whole of India, was overthrown. He was arrested from Humayun’s tomb, in Delhi, where he was hiding with his three sons and a grandson. Captain Hodson killed his sons and grandson and their severed heads were brought before him. Bahadur Shah Zafar himself was tried for treachery. He was exiled to Rangoon (now Yangon), Burma (now Myanmar), in 1858 where he lived his last five years and died in 1862 at the age of 87.