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The Last Mughal: The Fall of a Dynasty: Delhi, 1857 (2006)

von William Dalrymple

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1,0842314,235 (4.01)26
At 4pm on a dark, wet winter's evening in November 1862, a cheap plywood coffin was buried to the eerie sound of silence- no lamentations, no panegyrics, for as the British Commissioner in charge of the funeral insisted, 'No vesting will remain to distinguish where the last of the Great Moghuls rests.' The last of the Great Mughals was Bahadur Shah Zafar II- one of the most talented, tolerant and likeable of his remarkable dynasty, he found himself in the position of leader of a violent uprising he knew from the start would lead to irreparable carnage. Zafar's frantic efforts to unite his disparate and mutually suspicious forces proved tragically futile- the Siege of Delhi was the Raj's Stalingrad, and Mughal Delhi was left an empty ruin, haunted by battered remnants of a past that was being rapidly and brutally overwritten. The Last Mughal charts the desecration and demise of a man, his dynasty, his city and civilizations mercilessly ravished by fractured forces and vengeful British troops. William Dalrymple unearths groundbreaking new material to create the first English account of the life of the last Emperor, and the first narrative of the Mutiny to contain large quantities of material from the Indian perspective. The Last Mughal rapidly changes our understanding of a pivotal moment in Indian and Imperial history.… (mehr)
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I really enjoy his literary devices and creative vivid narrative.

I'm from Tamil Nadu, India. Parts outside of Tamil Nadu, India are foreign to me but I am curious to understand, learn about them.

I've composed 30 Poetry and I can call myself a Poet. Long ago, I came across a German Orientalist, Annemarie Schimmel. In her book, she concluded that Mughal Empire had great appreciation for art and most Royals were Poets. I would recommend that book if you enjoy Art -- poetry, calligraphy.

Dalrymple finishes with an awe-inspiring poem written by Zafar to his Wife. As a Poet, my imagination and senses delight with such vocabulary. To me that was the best part of the book.

Other parts, I have ventured and explored through other authors. I learnt that Evangelical Christians were influential within English East India company around 1800-1850's. The Company started to support Christian Missionaries. Before this Era, they had strictly not let religion interfere into India.

I am guessing effects of Great Awakening reached England with Clapman Sect seeking rights of Missionaries to enter India.

Through Dalrymple, I could connect how things changed from being mesmerized by Bengal (India) to considering Indians beneath the English. The First Generation Orientalists like William Jones (philologist), their records indicate that they were in love in Hindu Civilization, they got Indianized.

Overall a wonderful book and I appreciate able to connect my other musings of knowledge in Indian History.

I would recommend this to anyone interested in Mughal Empire, Empires, History of India, Wealth, Biography

Deus Vult,
Gottfried ( )
  gottfried_leibniz | Jun 25, 2021 |
This is an extremely well researched and highly readable account of the decline and fall of the 300 year old Mughal Empire in India during the Uprising of 1857. While I had owned this book for over seven years, I was only now inspired to read it by listening to the author being interviewed on Iain Dale's Book Club podcast about his latest book on the history of the East India Company.

The history of British involvement in India had already been very long and involved by the early 19th century. The British authorities in India had generally quite good relations with the ruling Mughal dynasty (a Muslim dynasty ruling the predominantly Hindu country) at this stage, and a number of British men, the so called "White Mughals" had become totally imbued in Indian culture, speaking the language, and adopting customs and costumes, and marrying Indian women, and sometimes converting to Islam. However, by the 1840s and 50s this atmosphere had changed. An increasing atmosphere of Christian evangelism has taken root both in British India and in Britain itself, and they had virtually said that the Mughal Emperor Zafar would be the last of his dynasty. This was matched by an increasingly radical Islamic Jihadi influence which rejected the tolerant Sufi ways of the Mughal court, which was a centre of culture and learning that had fostered generally positive Hindu-Muslim relations.

The uprising itself was actually led by high caste Hindu sepoys (soldiers in the British army in India) on 11 May 1857, due to proximate reasons of harsh military discipline being imposed. However, it was neither the "single coherent mutiny or patriotic national war of independence beloved of Victorian or Indian nationalist historiography". There was a mixture of nationalist and religious motives, exacerbated to some extent by socio-economic discontent, though this was not a major factor. There were horrible massacres of many Europeans including women and children, sowing the seeds for future appalling vengeance. At the same time, the "mutineers" killed those Hindus who had converted to Christianity, while sparing Europeans who had converted to Islam.

There were many reasons why the Uprising failed. Zafar himself held an equivocal position - he tried to assume leadership of it up to a point, seeing it as an opportunity to restore Mughal greatness, but at the same time he was repelled by the degradations and killing of obviously innocent European people being perpetrated by his subjects in his beloved Delhi. The Indians' strategy and tactics were poor, with a lack of co-ordination between sepoy regiments, and failure to grasp the importance of a potential attack on the besieging British rear on the Ridge outside Delhi. The British had much superior sources of intelligence and also the support of the Sikhs, due to their historic enmity with Hindus, despite the Sikhs' much more recent wars with Britain. Then, as now, the Gurkhas were also a key part of the British army. The general chaos was exacerbated by the activities of local tribesmen outside Delhi indiscriminately robbing everyone on all sides.

The British recaptured Delhi in September 1857. The British desire for vengeance at the reverse to imperial fortunes had tragically been sharpened by the murders of their fellow countrymen, women and children, and by what later turned out to be entirely false reports of rapes of European women by the sepoys. However, what followed was effectively near genocide - indiscriminate killing of unarmed non-combatants, women and children, and even in the cases of adult men, generally with no attempt at distinguishing between the guilt and innocence of individuals. Even totally pro-British loyalist Indians, who had assumed they would be safe, were often killed out of hand. There was also much destruction of Delhi, and the elimination of many symbols of Mughal culture, over and above the natural destruction that is an inevitable part of any military conflict. This ghastly situation came about, as it so often does, by an extreme process of "othering" and seeing the opponent as less human - the British came to see even women and children as "not human beings, but fiends, or, at best, wild beasts deserving only the death of dogs".

As for Zafar, the last Mughal himself, he was captured and many members of his family systematically hunted down and killed. A peacable and cultured 82 year old, he was subjected to an ignominious show trial, where he was absurdly accused of being the leader of a vast Muslim conspiracy aimed at replacing the British Empire and exiled, together with members of his immediate family, in fairly primitive conditions in Burma, where he died five years later.

Despite this sorry story of death and destruction, cooler heads prevailed in the end and much of the more extreme levelling and destruction of Delhi did not happen, with influential voices (including, back in Britain, Disraeli) calling for new approaches. The 250 year old East India Company was wound up, so that India would "at least now be ruled by a properly constituted colonial government rather than a rapacious multinational acting at least partly in the interests of its shareholders." The Mughal legacy was largely forgotten, and the later wellsprings of Indian nationalism that led to independence 90 years later came from new generations often educated in Europe and with more cosmopolitan attitudes.

A great read, just a pity my edition lacked the photographs. Full of very useful notes and a comprehensive bibliography, maps and dramatis personae. ( )
  john257hopper | Oct 3, 2020 |
1857 marked the beginning of an armed revolution of the bloodiest and the greatest scale that we have ever known in India. While the 1857 revolt was part of a long tradition of resistance to the East India Company’s rule throughout India, it was unique in many ways. For one thing, the revolt was explicitly against alien authority, it occurred in most of North, Central and East India, and it was marked by the widespread participation of civilian participation and was accompanied by the sort of a beginning of a common national consciousness. 1857 was also a very important point of the Indian history as it marked the end of the Indo-Islamic civilisation of the Mughals. During the rebellion, there were horrible bouts of atrocities committed by the British as they regained each village or town from the rebels. Rape and massacre of civilians on a large scale was commonplace. There was a frenzied general massacre of civilians at Delhi upon its fall in September 1857, devastating and depopulating the whole city. The repression continued even after the rebellion ended with pursuits, trials and executions and the confiscations of lands and properties. Muslims were specifically targeted here and were treated with total contempt. The great Madrasas and masjids were destroyed. The homes of the Muslim elite were destroyed and plundered along with the innumerable cultural, artistic, literary and monetary riches. This led to a profound loss of faith and disillusionment among the Indian Muslims. Which would lead to the two Islamic revival/reformist movements. One based in Aligarh that looked towards embracing the western learning and modernity as the way forward, which would eventually lead to the Pakistan movement. The other based in Deoband which was a fundamentalist movement that wanted to go back to the quran without all the Indic and other influences that they saw as corrupting Islam. It is the Deobandi Islamic ideology that would go on to inspire the militant groups like Taliban.

The Revolt started in the company's Bengal army sipahis, with the famous Mangal Pandey enacting the first bold act of defiance at Barrackpore. Throughout the revolution, it was the Bengal army which would form the bulk of the rebel forces. The flames of the rebellion soon spread to Meerut, where the sipahis massacred their officers and their families and marched as a body to the Mughal capital of Delhi, where they put an end to the company's administration and sought the blessings of the Mughal emperor, Bahadur Shah Zafar. Even though they made the emperor largely irrelevant, this showed the symbolic importance that the Mughal throne still enjoyed among the population. William Darlymple here chronicles this story of Delhi and the Mughal court before, during and in the aftermath of the sipahi rebellion.

The author showed how the superciliousness and the imperial arrogance of the British when dealing with the native elite, their completely insensitive policies, arbitrary annexations of kingdoms and lands, policies of aggressive modernisation at the cost of cultural degeneration of the local communities and institutions, and very importantly the militant evangelism and the rising christian intolerance led to discontent among the masses. So the greased cartridges that offended the highly caste-sensitive upper caste Hindu's and the Muslim sipahis was the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back.
Not only was there increasing racism, but the white ruling class proposed a strongly Christian culture of Protestant Evangelicalism through changes in the education and laws of the common people. So Christianity became a symbol of the intrusive colonialism. Rhetoric of deen and dharma became common place and the Christians were the main target of those who rose in the revolt. (While the British who converted to Islam were spared, the locals who converted to christianity were slaughtered)

The tragic figure of the last Mughal Emperor, Bahadur Shah Zafar forms a backdrop to this narrative of a tragic and bloody rebellion. While he is not a heroic figure of 1857, he was an accomplished poet and a sufi mystic. During the four months that the sipahi regime remained in existence, Bahadur Shah was not just a passive onlooker. He personally intervened and tried his best to protect his subjects whenever they appealed to him. But he was a weak and vacillating figure not fit to be a leader of men. ( especially during the time of a revolt). This and the lack of cohesion among the rebels would ultimately prove a very important factor in their failure despite their overwhelming numerical superiority.

William Darlymple has created a great narrative chronicling many important aspects of the rebellion that the other historians have missed before. He vividly portrayed, the daily life in streets of the mid nineteenth century Delhi and the devastation and destruction at the end of the rebellion that brought a civilisation to its end. ( )
  kasyapa | Oct 9, 2017 |
Great Book...Must Read... The fact that so much (bad) happened and at such a large scale during the mutiny/uprising is largely unknown to many. true eye opener and greatly compiled. imagining what Delhi would have been to visit had the Brits not demolished the city post mutiny is hard to imagine.. like the author says there is more to Delhi than the eyes see and the city indeed attract you. ( )
  _RSK | Jan 26, 2016 |
A book about the Great Indian Mutiny of 1857. The first attempt to free itself of foreign rule and war of Independence. This was the beginning of the end for the Mughal Empire in particular and Muslim hold over India in general. These are the forces that led to the rise of Nationalist Forces that finally led to Independence in 1947 and also the partition of the country that same year.

I thought this book could have been better written. I found it too long drawn and repetitive.
  danoomistmatiste | Jan 24, 2016 |
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At 4 P.M. on a hazy, humid winter's afternoon in Rangoon in November 1862, soon after the end of the monsoon, a shrouded corpse was escorted by a small group of British soldiers to an anonymous grave at the back of a walled prison enclosure.
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At 4pm on a dark, wet winter's evening in November 1862, a cheap plywood coffin was buried to the eerie sound of silence- no lamentations, no panegyrics, for as the British Commissioner in charge of the funeral insisted, 'No vesting will remain to distinguish where the last of the Great Moghuls rests.' The last of the Great Mughals was Bahadur Shah Zafar II- one of the most talented, tolerant and likeable of his remarkable dynasty, he found himself in the position of leader of a violent uprising he knew from the start would lead to irreparable carnage. Zafar's frantic efforts to unite his disparate and mutually suspicious forces proved tragically futile- the Siege of Delhi was the Raj's Stalingrad, and Mughal Delhi was left an empty ruin, haunted by battered remnants of a past that was being rapidly and brutally overwritten. The Last Mughal charts the desecration and demise of a man, his dynasty, his city and civilizations mercilessly ravished by fractured forces and vengeful British troops. William Dalrymple unearths groundbreaking new material to create the first English account of the life of the last Emperor, and the first narrative of the Mutiny to contain large quantities of material from the Indian perspective. The Last Mughal rapidly changes our understanding of a pivotal moment in Indian and Imperial history.

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