Kitna hai badnaseeb Zafar,
Dafn ke liye,
Do gaz zameen bhi,
Mil na saki kuye yaar mein
(How unlucky is Zafar. For burial, even two yards of land were not to be had in the land of his beloved.)
The above is a well-known couplet from the repertoire of poet king Bahadur Shah Zafar – the last in the lineage of the Mughal empire.
But few people know that the ‘two yards’ he is referring to lie in a quaint monument of Delhi, in Mehrauli – Zafar Mahal. This shrine is where Zafar had earmarked a burial ground for himself, wishing to be laid close to the Dargah of Khwaja Qutubuddin Bakhtiar Kaki, besides several of his ancestors.
That, however, couldn’t be, as the British took him away after the 1857 mutiny and entombed him in far away Burma (present Myanmar).Zafar Mahal is considered the last monument built during the fading years of the Mughal era.
It was originally built by Akbar Shah II in the 18th century but the main gateway was built by his son Bahadur Shah Zafar. Akbar Shah’s father Shah Alam II, who had the misfortune of being blinded by Ghulam Qadir, the Rohilla leader, was buried here.
Akbar Shah was also laid to rest at the shrine. Zafar’s son Mirza Fakruddin, who died early ushering the end of the Mughal empire, was also entombed here. Only Zafar was bereft of burial in the company of his forefathers.
Zafar Mahal is a 50-feet-wide, three-storeyed structure in red sandstone embellished with marble. It has an opening called the Hathi gate which was built to allow fully decorated elephants with the howdah to pass through.
A broad Chhajja (cantilevered projection) built in the Mughal style is a striking feature of the arch. At the entrance, there are small windows flanked by curved and covered Bengali domes.
In the top floor of the palace, there is a multi-chambered courtyard (the Indian part of the structure) besides some European structures which are not very pleasing. Moti Masjid (Pearl Mosque), built by Bahadur Shah I, was a private mosque of the royal family, which has now been subsumed within the palace precincts.
Zafar Mahal is now in a dilapidated condition. Its restoration is limited by the inadequate documents to deduce the original construction details. The Archaeological Survey of India document titled ‘List of Mohammedan and Hindu Monuments’ of March 1920 provides only sketchy details.
There has been a talk about bringing back Zafar’s remains and depositing them at the Mahal. Every year Zafar used to visit it for hunting during Monsoon. Also, he was honoured here during the Phool Walon Ki Sair (procession of the ‘flower sellers’) festival held in October annually. Sometime, he may just be able to witness the Phool Walon Ki Sair again.