August 01, 2020
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As The Dust Blows Off A Few History Pages

William Dalrymple's forthcoming book, The Last Mughal, presents fascinating new facts and perspectives on the 1857 rising, and on the life and times of Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar. Here are some of them.

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As The Dust Blows Off A Few History Pages
Raghu Rai
As The Dust Blows Off A Few History Pages

  • The 1857 rising was primarily a war of religion, with the rebels fighting against the increasingly insensitive and aggressive British attempts to impose Christianity in India.
  • More than a quarter of the rebels in Delhi were jehadis fighting to defend their faith.
  • Even before the rising, the British had plans to abolish the Mughal court and impose British laws; while many Evangelical Englishmen wished to impose Christianity.
  • The worst of the massacres were carried out by the British after the rising, when orders were issued to shoot every soul in some areas of Old Delhi. In one Delhi mohalla alone, Kucha Chelan, 1,400 people were cut down.
  • The survivors were driven out of the city; the British destroyed large parts of the Red Fort in acts of wanton vandalism; Delhi was left a ruin.
  • Some 20,000 Persian and Urdu documents in the National Archives, many unaccessed before now, reveal the story, from a uniquely Indian perspective, of the scale of the human tragedy and upheaval that took place during this period.
  • Court diaries reveal fascinating glimpses of daily life at Zafar's court; he has olive oil rubbed onto his feet to soothe his aches, afternoons are spent watching his elephants being bathed in the Yamuna.
  • Sundry petitions flooded his court: bird-catchers who had their charpoys stolen, mithaiwallahs who would refuse credit to penniless soldiers.
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