Saturday 29 August 2020

Bahadur Shah Zafar (India, 1975)

This stamp commemorates the 200th anniversary of the birth of Bahadur Shah Zafar, the last of the Mughal Emperors. The Mughals began to rule parts of the Indian SubContinent in the 1520s and became most powerful around 1700. Their power began to decline and ultimately a combination of the British East India Company, the British more generally and local deputies (for want of a better word) took control of the Indian subcontinent in 1857.

Zafar had no particular interest in statecraft or imperial ambition. He was an accomplished poet and lived a sparse life (compared to other Emperors. All the artwork makes it look very comfortable.). He was respected as a Sufi and seen as having spiritual powers, both because of his faith and his royal status. He also managed to accumulate four wives, assorted concubines, twenty sons and thirty-two daughters.

The Wikipedia page is notable for showing a painting of Bahadur being enthroned in 1837 and then a photo of him in 1858. I feel like there’s something unexpected about people who bridge the gap of before- and after-photography; it has that same effect as seeing black and white images in colour where you get a sense of greater “realness”, where history becomes oddly less fictional and more factual.

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