Early Life

  • Shah Alam II was born to Alamgir II, son of the deposed Mughal Emperor Jahandar Shah, on 25 June 1728.
  • Shah Alam II father Alamgir II had been languishing in the Salatin quarters ever since the death of his father Emperor Jahandar Shah in 1714, when he was just 15 years of age.
  • In 1754, Imad-ul-Mulk, the regent and virtual ruler, deposed and blinded the titular emperor Ahmed Shah Bahadur.
  • He then looked at the scores of illiterate and incapable princes languishing in that imperial slum and plucked out the meek-looking, religious-minded Alamgir II from his confinement of 40 years and crowned him emperor.
  • Shah Alam II, as his eldest son, suddenly found himself the crown prince and was relocated from the slum part of the Fort to the imperial palace.

    Emperor Shah Alam II
    Emperor Shah Alam II
  • Alongside his father, Shah Alam II grew up in semi-captivity the first 26 years of his life  in the Salatin quarters of the Red Fort.
  • However, unlike the majority of Mughal princes growing up in similar circumstances, he did not become decadent.
  • Alamgir II reigned till 1759 without any authority. Imad-ul-Mulk’s quarrels with the Emperor and his son had reached a point of no return. Imad-ul-Mulk and Maratha Peshwa’s brother Sadashivrao Bhau killed Alamgir II and kept Prince Shah Alam II under surveillance.

Shah Alam II as Emperor

  • Shah Alam II appeared in the eastern provinces in 1759 after a daring escape from Delhi. He was hoping to strengthen his position by gaining control over Bengal, Bihar and Odisha.
  • Soon thereafter, the Rohilla warlord Najib-ud-Daula took control of Delhi with the help of Ahmed Shah Abdali, deposed Shah Jahan III and declared Shah Alam II as Emperor.
  • Not feeling secure, however, Shah Alam II stayed in Allahabad and wouldn’t return to Delhi till 1772. During this interval, Najid-ud-Daula, the Marathas and Ahmed Shah Abdali alternatively remained masters of Delhi.
  • In 1760, he was able to forge together a respectable army. He was also acknowledged Emperor by nearly all the Muslim provincial Nawabs.

War against Mir Jafar

  • Prince Ali Gauhar and his Mughal Army of 30,000 intended to overthrow Mir Jafar and Feroze Jung III after they tried to kill him by advancing towards Awadh and Patna in 1759. But the conflict soon involved the intervention of the assertive East India Company.
  • The Mughals clearly intended to recapture their breakaway Eastern Subahs led by Prince Ali Gauhar. Shuja-ud-Daula, Najib-ud-Daula and Ahmad Shah Bangash reinforced the Mughal forces. The Mughals were also joined by Jean Law and 200 Frenchmen and waged a campaign against the British.
  • Prince Ali Gauhar successfully advanced as far as Patna, which he later besieged with a combined army of over 40,000 Soldiers. Mir Jafar also implored the aid of british for help. Major John Caillaud dispersed Prince Ali Gauhar’s army in 1761 after four major battles including Battle of Patna, Battle of Sirpur, Battle of Birpur and Battle of Siwan.
  • Shah Alam II then retreated to Allahabad.  Nawab of Awadh protected him from 1761 until 1764.

Battle of Buxar

  • Mir Qasim’s(son of Mir Jafar) relations with the British East India company began to worsen. He initiated reforms that withdrew the tax exemption enjoyed by the British East India Company and created Firelock manufacturing factories at Patna with the sole purpose of giving advantage to the newly reformed Mughal Army.
  • Angered by these developments the East India Company sought to ouster him. Mir Qasim on his part encouraged Shuja-ud-Daula the Nawab of Awadh and Shah Alam II to engage the British.
  • In 1764, the British troops defeated the combined forces of Mir Qasim of Bengal, Shuja-ud-Daula of Awadh and Shah Alam II at Buxar. Lord Clive himself take Shah Alam II to Allahabad as a prisoner.

    Shah Alam II surrender to British
    Shah Alam II surrender to British
  • He was forced to sign off the diwani (revenue) of Bengal, Bihar and Odisha to the British. Shah Alam II continued to spend the next six years at the Allahabad Fort as a prisoner of the Company.

War with Rohillas and Sikh

  • In 1771, the Maratha ruler Mahadaji Shinde was able to free and escort Shah Alam II from Allahabad to Delhi. He spent the next fifteen years fending off Sikhs and Rohillas with mixed results.
  • The Mughals decisively defeated Rohilla forces and repelled the Sikhs in 1777 . In 1779, Shah Alam II arranged an expedition to recover Rohilkhand from Zabitah Khan, son of Najib-ud-Daula.
  • The emperor arrested the entire family of Zabitah Khan and other Rohilla leaders. Shah Alam II severely humiliated  Zabitah Khan and forced him to take refuge in Awadh. Zabitah’s son, Ghulam Qadir Rohilla was castrated and made to serve as a page in the palace.
  • Fifteen years later, he would seek his revenge with tragic consequences for Shah Alam II.
  • In 1778, Shah Alam II suffered heavy defeats against the Sikhs at Muzaffargarh and Ghanaur. Subsequently, the Sikhs under Baghel Singh occupied Delhi in 1783 and held court in the Red Fort. However, Begum Samru, ruler of Sardhana, came to the aid of Shah Alam II and arranged for the withdrawal of Sikh forces.

Revenge of Ghulam Qadir Rohilla

  • In 1787, Ghulam Qadir Rohilla, who had reassembled his forces and recovered his father’s lands, returned to attack Delhi. Emperor invited back the Maratha leader Scindia to protect the imperial capital. When the mercurial Rohilla leader learned about this, it reinforced his longstanding grudge against the Mughals.
  • He returned with the help of his Sikh allies in 1788 and occupied Delhi and put up in the Red Fort. Ghulam Qadir then proceeded to visit such atrocities upon the Mughals.
  • He first forced Shah Alam II to appoint him as the Grand Vizier of the Mughal Empire. Next he started torturing him to find his hidden treasures.

Reign of Terror in Delhi

  • He ravaged the palace to locate this. Unable to find anything but a fraction of this amount, he went in to the ladies’ apartments, robbed the princesses and took away whatever he could. In his drunken fits, he asked some of these princesses to dance naked in front of him and his courtiers.
  • Ghulam Qadir then returned to mistreating the Emperor. He pulled out the hair from the unfortunate ruler’s beard to force him to reveal his non-existent wealth.
  • Ghulam Qadir then further vented his rage on Shah Alam II and himself blinded him in both eyes. He even beheaded five of the servants who tried to help the bleeding Emperor. These tortures and outrages continued for ten long weeks.
  • When the Maratha general Scindia heard of this outrage against the Emperor, he rushed to Delhi. In the meantime, Begum Samru, too, crossed over to the Red Fort. Ghulam Qadir and his troops decamped, pursued by Scindia.
  • The later caught up with the Ghulam Qadir and put him to death after slow torture. He had removed the eyeballs of the Rohilla chieftain, put them in a bowl and sent it to the Red Fort. It is said that the blind Shah Alam II felt them eagerly with his fingers.

Later Life

  • Shah Alam II stayed under the protection of the Marathas till the British occupied Delhi after their victory in the Second Anglo-Maratha war of 1803. He also accepted the appointment of a British resident.
  • Shah Alam II died in November 1806 after 47 years of a painful reign. His grave lies, next to the dargah of 13th century, Sufi saint, Qutbuddin Bakhtiar Kaki at Mehrauli, Delhi in a marble enclosure, along with that of Bahadur Shah I and Akbar Shah II.

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