The last Mughal Emperor, Bahadur Shah II
I thought it was time to round off the series of paintings I did a while ago about family dynasties - the Plantagenets and Romanovs got two pieces each, but the poor old Timurids only got one, and nobody knew what it was about! Here's a summary of the events surrounding the fall of the Timurid dynasty, to give a bit of context.
Bahadur Shah II, or Zafar, was emperor mostly in title. In early 19th century India, the East India Company governed the subcontinent, and Zafar was something like a pensioner of the Company. He was hardly a political or military threat to the British - in fact, his interests tended towards the arts, and he kept a court of artists and poets, being an accomplished poet himself.
After the Indian Rebellion of 1857, the sepoy soldiers rallied around Bahadur Shah in Delhi, asking him to support them and put a face on the Rebellion. Zafar, now an old man, and with few resources to support an army, wasn't keen on the idea. He couldn't seem to get rid of those soldiers though, and he eventually agreed to recognize the rebellion. What followed is known as the Siege of Delhi. Long story short, it didn't end well for the rebels. Zafar fled, and the next day surrendered to the British in exchange for his life. The British also accepted the surrender of three of Zafar's sons. These three princes were taken back to Delhi, where they were lined up and shot. Zafar was put on trial by the East India Company and exiled, after the British finally conceded they couldn't kill him since they'd promised not to. I'm not sure how a mercantile company managed to put an emperor on trial, but never let it be said that the British are not a determined people. And thus ended the rule of the Timurid dynasty.
If you'd like to know more about the Rebellion and Bahadur Shah, I recommend William Dalrymple's The Last Mughal. You can also listen to him give a lecture about these events right here! Dalrymple says there was a solar eclipse towards the end of the Seige of Delhi, a fact I haven't seen mentioned anywhere else, but I thought it was interesting enough to work into the illustration. Zafar is sometimes depicted with a halo of light around his head, so I selfishly appropriated that imagery for myself, haha. It's a halo! It's an eclipse! It's a blood spatter! It's a combination overwrought metaphor-decorative visual-composition balancer - don't leave home without one!
There's a film about the beginnings of the rebellion - or a part of them. The Rising: Ballad of Mangal Pandey! I saw it when it came out in theatres here. Good stuff! Here's one of the scenes.
And while I am recommending Bollywood films, there's no way I can't mention Lagaan, one of my favourite movies ever (set during the British Raj, so a little while after the Indian Rebellion). The musical numbers are so wonderful, particularly Radha Kaise Na Jale - watch it here! And who could forget O Rey Chhori, a.k.a Crazy Lady with a Shawl?
And finally, if you're still with me here, and are also in Toronto, this is the last weekend the AGO's Maharaja Exhibition will be running, so if you like glittery things and beautiful paintings, I suggest checking it out! It is an absolute feast for your eyeballs.
Also, I now have a (very extremely inane)