The Last Mughal: The Fall of a Dynasty: Delhi, 1857

The Last Mughal is about the last Mughal Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar. It mainly covers the events of the Mutiny (or War of Independence) of 1857 as seen in Delhi.

The 1857 war of independence was basically a mutiny of Indian soldiers in the Bengal Army of East India Company. Almost all of the Bengal Army rebelled and a lot of them ended up in Delhi, nominally under the flag of the last Mughal emperor. Bahadur Shah Zafar wasn’t at all eager for the rebellion, but he did give them his blessing when the rebels came to Delhi. Interestingly, most of the soldiers were high caste Hindus from the eastern Hindi belt and not the so-called martial races of India (an idea which probably came later). The British retook India with the help of Punjabi Sikhs and Muslims, Pathans and Gurkhas etc. (here come the “martial races”) and then came the massacres and the hangings. Ironically, the British blamed Muslims for the rebellion when actually it had the support of both Muslims and Hindus.

William Dalrymple is a good writer and the book is a fun read. He creates an image of Delhi in 1857 in your mind and The Last Mughal is worth reading just for that.

For a more detailed and academic review, read Chapati Mystery where there is a great discussion in the comments too. And William Dalrymple replies to that discussion.

By Zack

Dad, gadget guy, bookworm, political animal, global nomad, cyclist, hiker, tennis player, photographer


  1. “most of the soldiers were high caste Hindus from the eastern Hindi belt and not the so-called martial races of India (an idea which probably came later)”

    I read a paper LONG TIME AGO by Guha (I think that’s who the writer was) that broke down this “martial races” notion. According to him, the British had elected Sikhs and Gurkhas as the “martial races.” There were quite a few tracts that they had written about Sikhs being wheat- fed, tall, strong, and “khalsa warriors.” They were definately romantized by the Brits, and as Desis are wont to do, we often take the stereotypes that others make of us and pride ourselves on it 🙂

  2. Since I know next to nothing about this period in the sub-continent’s history, this seems like an interesting place to start learning. Thanks for bringing this to our attention, Zack.

  3. As you know my grandfather (father of your grandfather) was born in 1868 0r 1969. As narrated to me by my grandfather before 1955 AD, his father had told him about what process he had been through all his life. As I remember, grandfather told me:

    Heart-burning among Indians had commenced with British taking the role of rulers from being merely traders.

    So far as locals in the East India Company are concerned, Gurkhas were recruited first as soldiers. Sikhs were taken on to the side of the company by exploitation of their actual or supposed maltreatment by Hindus and Muslims.
    Later, Punjabis from Pothohar area of Punjab were recruited as soldiers because they belonged to barren lands and needed to feed their families.

    The notice-able uprising started from Bengal and it included Muslims and Brahmins but it had actually taken birth in Hyderabad Dakhan. The reason was that it came to be known that animal fat used on gun cartridges which had to be removed by using teeth was from cow or pig. The heart-burning and hatred against British being already there, the matter of fat showed the match.

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