Shah Alam II

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Shah Alam II
Mughal Emperor
Shah Alam II, 1790s.jpg
Shah Alam II and the Mughal imperial throne.
16th Mughal Emperor

10 December 1759– 19 November 1806

deposed by Marathas 31 July 1788– 16 October 1788
Coronation 24 December 1759
Predecessor Shah Jahan III
Mahmud Shah Bahadur
Successor Mahmud Shah Bahadur
Akbar Shah II
Born (1728-06-25)25 June 1728
Shahjahanabad, Subah of Delhi, Mughal Empire
Died 19 November 1806(1806-11-19) (aged 78)
Shahjahanabad, Subah of Delhi, Mughal Empire
Burial Red Fort, Delhi
Spouse Piari Begum
Taj Mahal Begum
Jamil un-nisa Begum
Qudsia Begum Mubaraq Mahal
Murad Bakht Begum
Issue Over 16 sons and 2 daughters
Full name
'Abdu'llah Jalal ud-din Abu'l Muzaffar Ham ud-din Muhammad 'Ali Gauhar Shah-i-'Alam II
Dynasty Timurid
Father Alamgir II
Mother Nawab Zinat Mahal Sahiba
Religion Islam

Ali Gauhar (25 June 1728 – 19 November 1806), historically known as Shah Alam II, the fifteenth Mughal Emperor, was the son of Alamgir II. Shah Alam II became the emperor of a crumbling Mughal empire, his power was so depleted during his reign that it led to a saying in Persian, Sultanat-e-Shah Alam, Az Dilli ta Palam, meaning, 'The kingdom of Shah Alam is from Delhi to Palam', Palam being a suburb of Delhi.[1][2]

In 1759-1760 Northern India was swept by the Marathas, led by Sadashivrao Bhau, who deposed Shah Jahan III, the puppet Mughal emperor of Imad-ul-Mulk, and installed Shah Alam II as the rightful emperor under the Maratha suzerainty.[3][4] However, the Marathas were crushed the following year at the Third Battle of Panipat, though the victor, the Abdali Amir, reaffirmed Shah Alam II as the Mughal Emperor of Hindustan.

Shah Alam II was considered the only and rightful emperor but he wasn't able to return to Delhi until 1772, under the protection of the Maratha general Mahadaji Shinde. He also fought against the British East India Company at the Battle of Buxar.

Shah Alam II also authored his own Diwan of poems and was known by the pen-name Aftab. His poems were guided, compiled and collected by Mirza Fakhir Makin.[5]

Early Life[edit]

Ali Gauhar was born to "Shahzada" (Prince) Aziz-ud-Din, son of the deposed Mughal Emperor Jahandar Shah, on 25 June, 1728. Alongside his father, he grew up in semi-captivity in the Salatin quarters of the Red Fort. However, unlike the majority of Mughal princes growing up in similar circumstances, he is not recorded to have become a decadent prince by the time his father became emperor, and therefore was naturally given high appointments in the course of his father's reign.

Upon his father's accession, he became the "Wali Ahd" (Crown Prince) of the empire, and became his father's principal agent, though almost all power lay in the Wazir Imad-ul-Mulk's hand. His quarrels with that amir, and fear for his own life, caused him to flee Delhi in 1758.

Escape from Delhi[edit]

The Third Battle of Panipat was a decisive victory for Ahmad Shah Durrani, thus securing the nomination and reign the dormant Mughal emperor Shah Alam II (who was distant in the Eastern Subah's campaigning to regain his empire's wealthiest provinces).[6][7]

Prince Ali Gauhar, afterwards Emperor Shah Alam II had been the heir apparent of his father Alamgir II. Prince Ali Gauhar's father had been appointed Mughal Emperor by Vizier Feroze Jung III and Maratha Peshwa's brother Sadashivrao Bhau[8] who had completely dominated and later killed Alamgir II and kept Prince Ali Gauhar under surveillance. After a daring escape from Delhi, Prince Ali Gauhar appeared in the eastern provinces in 1759, hoping to strengthen his position by gaining control over Bengal, Bihar and Odisha.

Very soon however, Najib-ud-Daula, forced the usurper Feroze Jung III to flee from the capitol after he gathered a large Mughal Army outside Delhi, which deposed the recreant Shah Jahan III. Najib-ud-Daula and Muslim nobles and then planned to defeat Marathas by maintaining correspondence with the powerful Ahmad Shah Durrani. After Ahmad Shah Durrani decisively defeated the Marathas, he nominated Ali Gauhar as the emperor under the name Shah Alam II.[9]

Eastern Campaigns[edit]

In the year 1760 after gaining control over Bengal, Bihar & parts of Odisha, the Mughal Crown Prince Ali Gauhar and his Mughal Army of 30,000 intended to overthrow Mir Jafar and Feroze Jung III after they tried to capture or 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 and were led by Prince Ali Gauhar, who was accompanied by Muhammad Quli Khan, Kadim Husein, Kamgar Khan, Hidayat Ali, Mir Afzal and Ghulam Husain Tabatabai. Their forces were reinforced by the forces of Shuja-ud-Daula, Najib-ud-Daula and Ahmad Shah Bangash. The Mughals were also joined by Jean Law and 200 Frenchmen and waged a campaign against the British during the Seven Years' War.[10]

Prince Ali Gauhar successfully advanced as far as Patna, which he later besieged with a combined army of over 40,000 in order to capture or kill Ramnarian a sworn enemy of the Mughals. Mir Jafar was in terror at the near demise of his cohort and sent his own son Miran to relieve Ramnarian and retake Patna. Mir Jafar also implored the aid of Robert Clive, but it was Major John Caillaud, who dispersed Prince Ali Gauhar's army in the year 1761 after four major battles including Battle of Patna, Battle of Sirpur, Battle of Birpur and Battle of Siwan.

After negotiations assuring peace Shah Alam II was escorted by the British to meet Mir Qasim the new Nawab of Bengal, who was nominated after the sudden death of Miran. Mir Qasim soon had the Mughal Emperor's investiture as Subedar of Bengal, Bihar and Odisha, and agreed to pay an annual revenue of 2.4 million dam. Shah Alam II then retreated to Allahabad was protected by the Shuja-ud-Daula, Nawab of Awadh from 1761 until 1764. Meanwhile, Mir Qasim's relations with the British East India company began to worsen. He initiated reforms that withdrew tax exemption enjoyed by the British East India Company, he also ousted Ramnarian a sworn enemy of the Mughal Empire 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 his ouster. Court intrigues encouraged by the East India company forced Mir Qasim to leave Bengal, Bihar and Odisha. Mir Qasim on his part encouraged Shuja-ud-Daula the Nawab of Awadh and the Mughal Emperor Shah Alam II to engage the British.

Acknowledged emperor[edit]

Mughal era illustration of Pir Ghazi of Bengal, during the 18th century.

Shah Alam II was acknowledged emperor by the Durrani Empire his declared reign extended to the: 24 Pargana's of the Sundarban's[12] Mir Qasim, Nawabs of Bengal and Murshidabad (and Bihar),[12]Raja of Banares,[13] Nizam of Hyderabad, Nawab of Ghazipur, Hyder Ali's Mysore,[13] Nawab of Kadapa and Nawab of Kurnool, Nawab of the Carnatic of Arcot and Nellore,[14] Nawab of Junagarh, Rohilkhand of Lower Doab, Rohilkhand of Upper Doab, and Nawab of Bhawalpur.

Battle of Buxar[edit]

Main article: Battle of Buxar

The Battle of Buxar was fought on 22 October 1764 between the combined armies of Mir Qasim, the Nawab of Bengal; Shuja-ud-Daula the Nawab of Awadh; the Mughal Emperor Shah Alam II and the forces under the command of the British East India Company led by Hector Munro, and.[15] The battle fought at Buxar, then within the territory of Bengal, a town located on the bank of the Ganges river, was a decisive victory for the British East India Company.

Diwani rights[edit]

Soon after the Battle of Buxar, Shah Alam II, a sovereign who had just been defeated by the British, sought their protection by signing the Treaty of Allahabad in the year 1765. Shah Alam II was forced to grant the Diwani (right to collect revenue) of Bengal (which included Bihar and Odisha) to the British East India Company in return for an annual tribute of 2.6 million rupees to be paid by the company from the collected revenue. Tax exempt status was also restored to the company. The company further secured for the districts of Kora and Allahabad which allowed the British East India Company to collect tax from more than 20 million people. East India company thus became the Imperial tax collector in the former Mughal province of Bengal (which included Bihar and Odisha). East India company appointed a deputy Nawab Muhammad Reza Khan to collect revenue on behalf of the company.

Absence from Delhi[edit]

Shah Alam II's absence from Delhi was due to the terms of the treaty he had signed with the British. But his son and heir apparent Prince Mirza Jawan Bakht and Najib-ul-Daula, represented the emperor for the next 12 years in Delhi.

Return to Delhi[edit]

Mughal Emperor Shah Alam II negotiates with the British East India Company, after the arrival of Suffren.

The emperor resided in the fort of Allahabad for six years. Warren Hastings, the head of East India company got appointed as the first Governor of Bengal in 1774. This was the period of "Dual rule" where East India company enacted laws to maximise collection of revenue and the Mughal Emperor appointed Nawab looked after other affairs of the province. East India company later discontinued the tribute of 2.6 million Rupees and later also handed over the districts of Allahabad and Kara to the Nawab of Awadh. These measures amounted to a repudiation of the company's vassalage to the emperor as Diwan (tax collector). In 1793 East India Company was strong enough and abolished Nizamat (local rule) completely and annexed Bengal. Weakened Shah Alam II agreed to the consultation of the East India Company, who advised him never to trust the Marathas.

In the year 1771 the Marathas under Mahadji Scindia returned to northern India and even captured Delhi. Shah Alam II, was escorted by Mahadji Scindia and left Allahabad in May 1771 and in January 1772 reached Delhi. Along with the Marathas they undertook to win the crown lands of Rohilkhand and defeated Zabita Khan, capturing the fort of Pathar garh with its treasure.

Immediately after recapturing the throne Shah Alam II, began to depend on Mirza Najaf Khan. Maratha armies withdrew from the north in 1773 after the murder of Narayan rao Peshwa at Pune.

In the year 1787, an embassy of Bijaya Singh from Jodhpur presented itself to the Mughal Emperor Shah Alam II, bringing homage and the golden key of the Fortress of Ajmer.[16] The envoy explained that he was instructed by his masters Bijaya Singh, Pratab Singh the Kachwaha Dhiraj of Jaipur to present the golden key as a token of their wish that the Imperial army led by Shah Alam II himself should march to take complete possession of the empire once again.

Reformation of the Mughal Army[edit]

One of his first acts was to strengthen and raise a new Mughal Army, under the command of Mirza Najaf Khan. This new army consisted of infantrymen who successfully utilised both Flintlocks and Talwars in combat formations,[17] they utilised elephants for transportation and were less dependent on artillery and cavalry. Mirza Najaf Khan is also known to have introduced the more-effective Firelock muskets through his collaboration with Mir Qasim, the Nawab of Bengal.[18]

Foreign relations[edit]

Shah Alam II, was well supported by Jean Law de Lauriston and 200 Frenchmen during his campaign to regain the Eastern Subah's (during the Seven Years' War). The brainchild of the campaign was Ghulam Husain Tabatabai, who had gained much administrative and military experience from both the French and the Dutch.

After Shah Alam II's defeat during the Battle of Buxar, the French once again reached out to emperor under Pierre André de Suffren in the year 1781, who initiated a plan to capture Bombay and Surat from the Maratha Confederacy and the British, with the co-operation of Mirza Najaf Khan, this action would eventually lead to Asaf Jah II to join Shah Alam II and the French and assist Hyder Ali to capture Madras from the British East India Company.[19] The internal conflicts with in the Mughal imperial court would not allow the emperor to make such a bold move against the British.

Rumi Darwaza[edit]

The Rumi Darwaza, which stands sixty feet tall,[20] was modelled (1784) after the Sublime Porte (Bab-iHümayun) in Istanbul, is one of the very important examples of the exchange between the two cultures.[21]

Political turmoil[edit]

Jat victories[edit]

Jat Maharaja Suraj Mal

Jats rose in retaliation of religious intolerance pursued by Aurangzeb.[22] The Hindu Jat kingdom of Bharatpur waged many wars against the Mughal Delhi and in the 17th and 18th century carried out numerous invasions in Mughal territories including Agra.[23] Mughals were defeated by marathas in 1757 and were under their control.

During one massive assault Jats sieged Agra in 1761, after 20 days on 12 June the Mughal forces at Agra surrendered to Jats.[22] Jats plundered the city as was the norm of victors during those days. They carried the bounty including the two great silver doors to the entrance of the famous Taj Mahal (plundered by mughals after defeating Chittorgargh Rajputs) were carried off and melted down by Suraj Mal in 1764.[24]

Suraj Mal's son Jawahar Singh, further extended the Jat power in Northern India and captured the territory in Doab, Ballabgarh and Agra.[25] Jats kept Agra fort and other territories closer to Delhi under their control from 1761 till 1774 CE.[22]

Sikh victories[edit]

Farzana Zeb un-Nissa protected the Mughal Emperor Shah Alam II from an imminent Sikh invasion in 1783 and later led the expedition that rescued the Mughal Emperor Shah Alam II from the eunuch Ghulam Qadir.

Sikhs, many of whom were Jat Sikhs, had been in perpetual war against mughal intolerance specially after beheading of Sikh gurus and their families by mughals. Simmering Sikhs rose once again in the year 1764 and overran the Mughal Faujdar of Sirhind, Zain Khan Sirhindi, who fell in battle and ever since the Sikhs perpetually raided and took the bounties from the lands as far as Delhi practically every year. They attacked, won and extracted payments from Delhi three times in 11 years particularly in 1772, 1778 and 1783. And it is believed that the Sikhs even had informants, probably even the Viziers of Shah Alam II. There was ongoing warfare with the Sikhs who were regaining their traditional homeland in eastern Punjab and also attacking the Rohilla, Mewar and Jat lands. During Shah Alam II's reign the Sikhs fought not just with the Mughals, but with the Marathas, Rajputs, and Rohillas.

The Marathas took Delhi in 1772 before Shah Alam II arrived. Mirza Najaf Khan had restored a sense of order to the Mughal finances and administration and particularly reformed the Mughal Army. In 1777 Mirza Najaf Khan decisively defeated Zabita Khan's forces and repelled the Sikhs after halting their raids.

In 1778, after a Sikh incursion into Delhi, Shah Alam ordered their defeat by appointing, the Mughal Grand Vizier, Majad-ud-Daula marched with 20,000 Mughal troops against Sikh rebels into hostle territories, this action led to the defeat of the Mughal Army at Muzzaffargarh and later at Ghanaur, due to the mounted the casualties Shah Alam II reappointed Mirza Najaf Khan, who soon died of natural circumstances leaving the Mughal Empire weaker than ever.

In the year 1779, Mirza Najaf Khan carefully advanced his forces who successfully routed the treasonous Zabita Khan and his Sikh allies who lost more than 5,000 rebels in a single battle and never returned to threaten the Mughal Empire during the commander Mirza Najaf Khan's lifetime.

In the year 1783, Farzana Zeb un-Nissa had saved Delhi from an invasion and possible mass-plunder by a force of 30,000 Sikh rebels, under Baghel Singh, Jassa Singh Ramgarhia and Jassa Singh Ahluwalia.


A silver rupee struck in the name of Shah Alam, probably issued by some Princely State

After the defeats at Muzaffargarh and later at Ghanaur, Majad-ud-Daula was arrested by the orders of Shah Alam II, who then recalled Mirza Najaf Khan. This led to the former Grand Vizier's arrest for causing miscalculations and collaborating with the enemies of the emperor. The traitor was imprisoned and a sum of two million dam in stolen revenue recovered from him. It was Shah Alam II's poor judgement and vacillation that led to his own downfall. Mirza Najaf Khan had given the Mughal Empire breathing space by having a powerful, well managed army in its own right. In 1779 the newly reformed Mughal Army decisively defeated Zabita Khan and his Sikh allies the rebels lost 5,000 men including their leader and therefore did not return during the lifetime of Mirza Najaf Khan. Unfortunately upon the general's death, Shah Alam's bad judgement prevailed. The dead man's nephew, Mirza Shafi whose valour had been proven during various occasions, was not appointed commander in chief. Shah Alam II instead appointed worthless individuals whose loyalty and record were questionable at best. They were soon quarrelling over petty matters. Even the corrupt and treasonous former Grand Vizier, Majad-ud-Daula was restored to his former office, he later colluded with the Sikhs and reduced the size of the Mughal Army from over 20,000 to only 5,000 thus bringing the Mughal Emperor Shah Alam II at the mercy of his ruffian enemies.[26]

The respect toward the house of Timur is so strong that even though the whole subcontinent has been withdrawn from its authority, that no ordinary prince ever intends to take the title of sovereign...and Shah Alam II is still seated on the Mughal throne, and everything is still done in his name.

Benoît de Boigne, (1790).
Shah Alam II blinded by Ghulam Qadir

Prisoner of Ghulam Qadir[edit]

Nawab Majad-ud-Daula was followed by a known enemy of the Mughals, the grandson of Najib Khan, Ghulam Qadir, with his Sikh allies forced Shah Alam II to appoint him as the Grand Vizier of the Mughal Empire. Petty, avaricious and insane Ghulam Qadir ravaged the palaces in search of the Mughal treasure believed to be worth Rs 250 million. Unable to locate even a fraction of that sum and angered by the Mughal Emperor's attempts to eliminate him and his Sikh allies, Ghulam Qadir himself blinded Shah Alam II on 10 August 1788.[26] A drunken ruffian, Ghulam Qadir behaved with gross brutality to the emperor and his family. Three servants and two water-carriers who tried to help the bleeding emperor were beheaded and according to one account, Ghulam Qadir would pull the beard of the elderly Mughal Emperor Shah Alam II. After ten horrible weeks, during which the honour of the royal family and prestige of the Mughal Empire reached its lowest ebb, Mahadaji Shinde intervened and killed Ghulam Qadir, taking possession of Delhi on 2 October He restored Shah Alam II to the throne and acted as his protector.[27]

Prisoner of Mahadji Scindia[edit]

Thankful for his intervention, he honoured Mahadji Scindia with the titles of Vakil-ul-Mutlaq (Regent of the Empire) and Amir-ul-Amara (Head of the Amirs). However, he was actually a puppet at the hands of Mahadji Scindia of the Marathas who were his protectors.

His power was so depleted by the end of his reign that it led to a saying 'The kingdom of Shah Alam is from Delhi to Palam'. Palam is a suburb of Delhi, by the Maratha Confederacy.

Arrival of British troops[edit]

The tomb of the Mughal Emperor Shah Alam II, in Mehrauli, Delhi in 1815.
1858 photograph
Recent photograph of the tombs of Shah Alam II and Akbar Shah II

The French threat in Europe and its possible repercussions in India caused the British to strive to regain the custody of Shah Alam II. The British feared that the French military officers might overthrow Maratha power and use the authority of the Mughal emperor to further French ambition in India.

Shah Alam II also corresponded with Hyder Ali and later with his son Tipu Sultan during their conflicts with the British East India Company during the Anglo-Mysore Wars and was very well informed about the expansionist agenda of the British.

After the Battle of Delhi (1803), on 14 September 1803 British troops entered Delhi and Shah Alam II, a blind old man, seated under a tattered canopy, came under British protection. The Mughal Emperor no longer had the military power to enforce his will, but he commanded respect as a dignified member of the House of Timur in the length and breadth of the country. The Nawabs and Subedars still sought formal sanction of the Mughal Emperor on their accession and valued the titles he bestowed upon them. They struck coins and read the Khutba (Friday sermons) in his name. The Marathas in 1804 under Yashwantrao Holkar tried to snatch Delhi from the British in Siege of Delhi (1804), but failed.


Shah Alam II died of natural causes.

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 (also known as Shah Alam I), and Akbar Shah II.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Delhi, Past and Present, p. 4, at Google Books
  2. ^ History of Islam, p. 512, at Google Books
  3. ^ Advanced Study in the History of Modern India 1707–1813, p. 140, at Google Books
  4. ^ S. M. Ikram (1964). "XIX. A Century of Political Decline: 1707–1803". In Ainslie T. Embree. Muslim Civilization in India. New York: Columbia University Press. Retrieved 5 November 2011. 
  5. ^ Dictionary of Indo-Persian Literature, p. 40, at Google Books
  6. ^
  7. ^ S. M. Ikram (1964). "XIX. A Century of Political Decline: 1707–1803". In Ainslie T. Embree. Muslim Civilization in India. New York: Columbia University Press. Retrieved 5 November 2011.
  8. ^ Mughal Empire in India: A Systematic Study Including Source Material, Volume 3, p. 767, at Google Books
  9. ^ S.R. Sharma (1 January 1999). Mughal empire in India: a systematic study including source material. Atlantic Publishers & Dist. pp. 769–. ISBN 978-81-7156-819-2. Retrieved 30 March 2012. 
  10. ^ L.S.S. O`malley. Bihar and Orissa District Gazetteers Patna. Concept Publishing Company. pp. 32–. ISBN 978-81-7268-121-0. Retrieved 30 March 2012. 
  11. ^
  12. ^ a b Imperial Gazetteer of India vol. IV 1908, p. 9
  13. ^ a b Imperial Gazetteer of India vol. IV 1908, p. 10
  14. ^ Imperial Gazetteer of India vol. IV 1908, p. 11
  15. ^ A Dictionary of Modern Indian History (1707–1947), Parshotam Mehra, ISBN 0-19-561552-2, 1985 ed., Oxford University Press
  16. ^ The Fall of the Moghul Empire of Hindustan, p. 6, at Google Books
  17. ^ Kaushik Roy. War, Culture, Society in Early Modern South Asia, 1740–1849. Taylor & Francis. pp. 29–. ISBN 978-1-136-79087-4. Retrieved 30 March 2012. 
  18. ^ Kaushik Roy. War, Culture, Society in Early Modern South Asia, 1740–1849. Taylor & Francis. pp. 30–. ISBN 978-1-136-79087-4. Retrieved 30 March 2012. 
  19. ^
  20. ^
  21. ^ "Lucknow". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 2008-05-20. 
  22. ^ a b c The province of Agra, Author: Dharma Bhanu Srivastava, page 8-10
  23. ^ The Gazetteer of India: History and culture. Publications Division, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, India. 1973. p. 348. OCLC 186583361. 
  24. ^
  25. ^ The Province of Agra: Its History and Administration, p. 9, at Google Books
  26. ^ a b Misbah Islam (30 June 2008). Decline of Muslim States and Societies. Xlibris Corporation. pp. 392–. ISBN 978-1-4363-1012-3. Retrieved 30 March 2012. 
  27. ^ Marathas and the Marathas Country: The Marathas, p. 159, at Google Books

Further reading[edit]

Shah Alam II
Born: 1728 Died: 1806
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Alamgir II
Mughal Emperor
Succeeded by
Akbar Shah II