Rest in peace King, Premier will come to your grave

Some 150 years after the last Moghul king Bahadur Shah Zafar died unlamented in an Englishman's car garage, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will present a chadar at his grave in Yangon, which has been brought especially from the Ajmer Sharif dargah of Sufi Saint Hazrat Khwaja Moinuddin Hasan Chisti.

Denied a pen and paper, the exiled and imprisoned Bahadur Shah Zafar had used a burnt stick to write his epitaph on the walls of the garage in which he gave vent to his loneliness in death — “ Padhne faatehaa koi aaye kyon, koi chaar phool chadhane aaye kyon; koi aake shama jalaye kyon, main vo bekasi kaa mazaar huun” (Why should someone come to pray on my behalf? Or bring me a bunch of flowers? Why should anyone light a candle for me? I am nothing but a gloomy tomb).

Dr. Singh, the first Prime Minister to visit Myanmar in 25 years, will be seeking to address that lament with floral tributes, and a 20-kg elaborate chadar from the dargah of Khwaja Chisti, a promoter of composite Muslim-Hindu culture, to the grave of Zafar, who too had a similar vision.

The tomb is also significant in the context of the freedom struggle. After giving his famous Dilli Chalo (March towards Delhi) call from Rangoon, Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose had visited the mausoleum to seek inspiration from the last indigenous ruler, even if his territory didn't extend beyond the ramparts of the Red Fort.

There are frequent calls to shift his remains to India, in order to address the wish made in one of the verses of his epitaph: K itnâ hai badnaseeb Zafar dafn ke liye; do gaz zameen bhi na mili ku-e-yar mein (How unfortunate is Zafar! For his burial, not even two yards of land was to be had in his beloved land).

But leaders of the two countries decided against this move for two reasons. Zafar is regarded as a saint by some in Yangon, and any such proposal would disappoint those who visit his grave.

And there is a colonial link of exile with Myanmar's anti-British King Thibaw, who was despatched to Maharashtra, where he died. It is felt that both shrines are part of a shared historic and cultural legacy, and should be maintained at their present locations.

Bahadur Shah Zafar's grief on being forgotten would have come true, had the British had their way. Captain Davis, who supervised the subterfuge, declared the grave out of bounds, and had it surrounded by a bamboo fence.

He had hoped by the time the fence gave way, a mound of grass would cover the spot, and no signs of the grave would remain.

But that wasn't to be, and the grave was located in 1991. The last major Indian leader to have visited the grave was then President A. P. J. Abdul Kalam, six years ago.

After offering flowers and lighting candles, and donating a chadar brought from the dargah of another Sufi Saint Nizamuddin Auliya, he had addressed Zafar in the visitor's book: “You said who will come to my grave. Today, on behalf of my nation, I have come, prayed, and lit candles, offered chadar and recited the fatiha. May your soul rest in peace.”

Dr. Singh is likely to pay a similar tribute to a man who was monarch in name, but whose lasting contribution was emphasising the country's secular ethos, by living it out in that manner.

For, not only did Zafar state publicly that the essence of Hindu and Muslim religions was similar, but he celebrated all the festivals of the land with equal gusto.

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Printable version | Dec 3, 2020 6:51:15 AM |

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