The fall of Delhi and the Mughal Empire, September 20, 1857

On September 20, 1857, the British East India Company’s forces captured the city of Delhi after a more than 3-month-long siege. With the fall of Delhi, Mughal Empire also came to an end.

India’s First War of Independence thus came to a bloody end in Delhi. With an 81-year-old Mughal ruler of Delhi, Bahadur Shah Zafar, as their leader, the freedom fighters fought together against the British forces during the uprising. Both Muslims and Hindus participated and fought side-by-side in the freedom war.

The capture of Bahadur Shah Zafar at Humayun’s Tomb | Wikimedia

As William Dalrymple writes:

On 20 September, the British advanced on the Red Fort from their front-line position in the ruins of the Delhi Bank. During the night of the 19th, the guns lined up in front of the Palace were spiked, and at ten o’clock on the morning of the 20th, an explosion party ran forward under covering fire to place the powder bags under the gates.

Unlike the taking of the Kashmiri Gate, at the Palace, there was virtually no resistance, and it became obvious that most of the Palace’s defenders had already fled, except for a few determined jihadis who had preferred to die rather than hand over the seat of their emperor – Caliph of the Age, He who is Surrounded by Hosts of Angels – without a struggle.

While the Palace was being stormed, and toasts to Queen Victoria proposed, elsewhere in the city some of the worst massacres of the entire Uprising were taking place. The struggle may have ended for the British, but for many of the inhabitants of Delhi, the worst trials were only now beginning.

In the morning, the British had swept around the city walls, capturing the Lahore and Ajmeri gates, and the Garstin Bastion. Soon afterwards, the order was given to ‘clear’ the area around Delhi Gate.

There followed the mass murder of everyone in that quarter of the city. After the British and their allies had tired of bayoneting the inhabitants, they marched forty survivors out to the Yamuna, lined them up below the walls of the Fort, and shot them.

Among the dead were some of the most talented poets and artists in Delhi. ‘They were well-known and well-off people, men who were the pride of Delhi,’ wrote Zahir Dehlavi. ‘They had had no parallels in their own day, nor will we ever see their like again.’

Bahadur Shah Zafar, the last king of Delhi, had taken refuge in the Tomb of Humayun but he was also captured (as seen in the photo). The captured city – the ancient capital of Hindustan, the great Mughal metropolis – was now a desolate city of the dead.

Bahadur Shah Zafar in exile in Burma | Wikimedia

After his trial, Bahadur Shah was sent into exile to Rangoon, Burma where he died in 1862 and was buried there. The very next day on 21st September, William Hodson shot the emperor’s sons, Mirza Mughal and Mirza Khizr, and grandson Mirza Abu Bakr in cold blood under his own authority, at what came to be called the Khooni Darwaza or bloody gate, about 3km from the Red Fort (Lal Qila).

Source: The Last Mughal: The Fall of a Dynasty: Delhi, 1857 by William Dalrymple

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