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

by William Dalrymple

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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 |
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.
  kkhambadkone | Jan 17, 2016 |
This is undoubtedly an excellent historical narrative about a place and a time of which I knew nothing when I started the book and I appreciate the enormous amount of time and energy Dalrymple and his associates have put into researching and writing this book. I imagine that anyone reading this can see a but coming, so here it us.
The problem with this book is its length and complexity. There is just too much detail and too many characters to make it really readable; I think the author needed an editor or even a co-writer to get a fascinating story, which goes some way to explaining the background to some of today's problems, both on the sub-continent and in the West's relationship with it, distilled into the clear and compelling story it could have been. ( )
  johnwbeha | Nov 18, 2015 |
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To my beloved Ibby
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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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Brilliant historical account. A must read!!
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A portrait of Mughal emperor, poet, and mystic Bahadur Shah Zafar II relates the 1857 armed uprising against British rule, the fall of the Mughal capital of Delhi and its subsequent destruction, and Zafar's final days as an exile in Burma.

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