ग़ाफ़िल तू ज़रा देख वो हर आन है मौजूद
It happened on a hazy, sultry winter afternoon, the penultimate month of the year 1862 had begun a week ago. Since the monsoon had receded in this part of the world, days were getting shorter and colder. As the sun slithered towards the western horizon, a bunch of British soldiers were seen speedily escorting a shrouded corpse towards an anonymous grave located at the back of a walled prison compound which lay overlooking the muddy brown waters of Rangoon River, a little downhill from the great gilt spire of the Shwedagon Pagoda. The bier of the State Prisoner- as the deceased was referred to, was accompanied by two of his sons and a mulla priest. Women were not allowed to attend the ceremony. A herd of followers from the nearby market area, who had somehow got the news about the prisoner’s death were barred from entering the compound by armed guards. However, few of them managed to flee the barriers and reached the bier so that they could touch the shroud before it got lowered into the grave. The British authorities not only had made sure that the grave was already been dug when the corpse was brought into that place but also guaranteed that the quantity of lime was sufficient to cause rapid decay of both the bier and the dead body. Under the strict surveillance of the British soldiers, very short funeral prayers were recited without lamentations and moaning. Customary eulogies were not allowed. After the soil was thrown over the lime powder, the earth was meticulously groomed such that within a short period no mark would remain indicating the place of burial.
The archival sources says that Captain Davis, the then British Commissioner of Burma (now Myanmar), wrote an urgent letter to London wherein he informed the Empire about the demise of the State prisoner and his unceremonial funeral. The state prisoner whom Captain Davis was referring was none other than Bhadur Shah II, famously known as "Zafar" meaning victory.
The news of his death reached Delhi about a fortnight later. Zafar, the last Mughal ruler of India was a Sufi and also a great Urdu poet and writer. It is depressing to know that this great poet was denied pen and paper during his captivity in Rangoon (now Yangon) but his passion for writing was so intense that he used to write on the walls of his room by means of burnt sticks. He wrote his epitaph himself in the form of a beautiful and a very famous gazal which says:
लगता नहीं है जी मेरा उजड़े दयार में
किस की बनी है आलम-ए-नापायेदार में
My heart has no repose in this ravaged land
Has anyone felt content in this futile world?
बुलबुल को बागबां से न सैय्याद से गिला
किस्मत में कैद थी लिखी फ़स्ले बहार में
Nightingale deplores neither the sentinel nor the hunter
Fate had decreed imprisonment during the harvest of spring
कह दो इन हसरतों से कहीं और जा बसें
इतनी जगह कहाँ है दिल-ए-दाग़दार में
Tell these longings to go dwell elsewhere
What space is there for them in this besmirched heart?
कितना है बदनसीब "ज़फ़र" दफ़्न के लिये
दो गज़ ज़मीन भी न मिली कू-ए-यार में
How unfortunate is Zafar! For his burial
Not even two yards of land were to be had, in the land of his beloved
The monument which we see today has come up after lot of struggle!! The British never wanted to make any shrine in the name of "Zafar". Initially, a bamboo fence was erected around the grave, which got disintegrated within few months and the spot was again covered by grass and vegetation. Eventually, a plaque was erected saying that the "Zafar" was buried “near this spot”. The shrine was largely ignored until 1991, when workers digging a hole for a drain rediscovered the old brick lined grave. Re-interest in "Zafar" resulted in building of the Dargah, which was originally funded by local Muslim population of the Yangon town.
मुझे दफ़्न करना तू जिस घड़ी, तो ये उससे कहना कि ऐ परी,
वो जो तेरा आशिक़-ए-जार था, तह-ए-ख़ाक उसको दबा दिया ।।
1. Dalrymple, William (2006): The Last Mughal, The Fall of a Dynasty, Delhi 1857, Penguin Books.