“The heat of the riot was on the rise, it was every man for himself:” An excerpt from “Dastan-e-Ghadar”

Dastan-e-Ghadar is an eyewitness account of the Revolt of 1857 by Zahir Dehlvi, who was an established poet as well as an official of the Emperor’s court. Forced to flee the capital, Dehlvi recounts details of the sepoy mutiny that challenged the status quo of the Delhi Sultanate.

WrittenBy:राणा सफ्वी
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Zahir Delhvi’s written account is one of the earliest autobiographies written during the revolt. It was originally documented in Urdu, titled Taraz-e-Zahiri but was later translated into English by Rana Safvi.


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By the time Abu Zafar Sirajuddin Mohammed Bahadur Shah Zafar, better known as Bahadur Shah Zafar, ascended the throne of the Mughal Empire, the glorious days were long gone. With the national capital now under British control, the Mughals, who had written the history of the subcontinent for centuries, were no longer incharge.
The sentiments of hostility had already spread across the kingdoms. The stringent policies of foreign rule had made the Indian side hostile. On the fateful morning of May 11, 1857, the sepoys stood outside the Mughal palace in Shahjahanabad demanding the restoration of Bahadur Shah Zafar II as the emperor.

The following excerpt recounts the second battle:

A month and a half had passed since the sixteenth day of Ramzan, the day the rebels came to Delhi from Meerut. It was around 5 p.m. that I was coming home from the Qila when I met two cavalrymen in blue uniforms. They had blue flags in their hands and it seemed from their appearance that they were officers of some regiment. They were Muslims, and we wished each other. Since I had never seen anyone in that uniform, I suspected that they were new entrants in the Indian ranks.

‘Which regiment are you from?’ I asked.

‘The Fourth Regiment,’ they replied.

I was surprised. ‘There is no Fourth Regiment here!’

‘The Fourth Regiment has come with the British forces,’ they said.

‘Where are the British forces?’

‘It’s in Alipur.’

‘Why have you come from Alipur?’ I asked in surprise.

‘We have come secretly to tell our Indian brothers that at the time of the battle, we will desert the British and join with them. They shouldn’t fire at us by mistake and must remain careful.’

The cavalrymen asked me where the officers of the Indian army were and I directed them. ‘Go to the left side from the chatta, through the Tripolia and the canal. When you reach the Qila Darwaza, you will see the old bridge over the river and the Salimgarh Darwaza. Enter that and you will find all the officers there.’

The sawars left for the Salimgarh and I went to my house. A little time had passed and it was 6 p.m.when the bugle sounded. At the sound, the Indian forces got ready and left with their artillery from the magazine. I could see their preparations from the rooftop of a friend’s house, and watched as they left, the bullocks pulling the wooden magazine carts.

It was a moonlit night. This force went out of the Qila a little later. They had mounted the big guns and artillery on a hill, a force of 2,000 on that front; the rest of the forces reached Alipur and took up positions. I have heard that there was 1 mile or so between the armies. The night passed in this entrenchment. The purbias had kept three big guns on their left and the rest mounted on horses in the heart of the army. The big guns were now firing. I have heard that these were instrumental in inflicting heavy losses on the British. The British forces launched an attack on the big guns before the morning namaz. These soldiers were wearing blue uniforms and waving blue flags, so the Indian soldiers thought they were the soldiers of the Fourth Regiment that the two cavalrymen had told them about earlier. The Indian soldiers didn’t fire on them, as they had discussed.

Alas! The Indian soldiers had fallen for the British ploy.

The battle raged on. Once the sawars realized that these were British soldiers, they loaded their guns. By now, the British soldiers had come close to them.

When the firing began, a witness said, the scene was similar to one where cotton is being carded by the cotton-dresser, the fibres of cotton flying in the air. Similarly, pieces of the soldiers and their horses were flying in the air.

Nonetheless, the commander called out to his soldiers with such passion and courage that the whole battlefield echoed with his voice. The soldiers responded by jumping their horses over the corpses and reaching the big guns.

The rest of the battle was also fought with spears and bayonets. The British soldiers eventually captured the guns of the rebels and used them to fire on them. The infantrymen began fighting each other and there was a volley of firing from both sides, which was deafening.

With the hooves of quadruped animals, on that broad plain

The heavens and earth added another realm

The smoke from the gunpowder blackened the sky, and the dust raised by the riders was similar to that of the day of resurrection.

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