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Shah Alam II

Shah Alam II
Mughal Emperor
Shah Alam II and the Mughal imperial throne.
15th Mughal Emperor
Reign 10 October 1760 – 19 November 1806
Coronation 24 December 1759
Predecessor Alamgir II
Successor 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, was the eighteenth Mughal Emperor and 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]

Shah Alam faced many invasions mainly by the Emir of Afghanistan, Ahmed Shah Abdali, which led to the Third Battle of Panipat between the Maratha Empire, which maintained suzerainty over Mughal affairs in Delhi and the Afghans led by Abdali. In 1760, the invading forces of Abdali were driven away by the Marathas, led by Sadashivrao Bhau, who deposed Shah Jahan III, the puppet Mughal emperor of Feroze Jung III, and installed Shah Alam II as the rightful emperor under the Maratha suzerainty.[3][4]

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 is known to have fought against the British East India Company during 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]


  • Escape from Delhi 1
  • Eastern Campaigns 2
    • Battle of Buxar 2.1
    • Diwani rights 2.2
    • Absence from Delhi 2.3
  • Return to Delhi 3
    • Reformation of the Mughal Army 3.1
  • Jat invasions 4
  • Sikh raids 5
  • Downfall 6
  • Arrival of British troops 7
  • Death 8
  • See also 9
  • References 10
  • Further reading 11

Escape from Delhi

The Royal Chamber in the Public Audience Hall in the Middle of Yazdah Darreh, with the Ruler, Alam Bahador Badshah, and the Great Commanders, a page from the Lady Coote Album

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[6] 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 afterwards, 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 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.[7]

Eastern Campaigns

Mughal Emperor Shah Alam II negotiates with the British East India Company.

In 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.[8]

A Firman issued by the Mughal Emperor Shah Alam II.

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 1761 after four major battles, including the 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 and was protected by the Shuja-ud-Daula, Nawab of Awadh from 1761 to 1764. Meanwhile, Mir Qasim's relations with the British began to worsen. He initiated reforms that withdrew many of the advantages enjoyed by the British East India Company, and ousted Ramnarian as a sworn enemy of the Mughal Empire. He ordered the creation of Firelock manufacturing factories at Patna with the sole purpose of advantaging the newly reformed Mughal Army.

Angered by the these developments, the East India Company sought his removal. Mir Qasim was chased out of Bengal, Bihar and Odisha; he encouraged Shuja-ud-Daula, the Nawab of Awadh, and even the Mughal Emperor Shah Alam II to engage the British.

Battle of Buxar

Large Mughal Army encampments during the reign of the Mughal Emperor Shah Alam II.

The Battle of Buxar was fought on 22 October 1764 between the forces under the command of the British East India Company led by Hector Munro, and the combined armies of Mir Qasim, the Nawab of Bengal; Shuja-ud-Daula the Nawab of Awadh; and the Mughal Emperor Shah Alam II.[9] 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

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 granted 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. The company further secured for him the districts of Kora and Allahabad, which allowed the British East India Company to directly tax more than 20 million people. Revenue was also collected by the deputy Nawab Muhammad Reza Khan.

Absence from Delhi

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

Shah Alam II attempted to restore the Mughal Empire, in 1771.

The emperor resided in the fort of Allahabad for six years, while Warren Hastings, who had been appointed as the first Governor of Bengal in 1774, 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). By 1793, the East India Company had annexed Bengal. Shah Alam II agreed to the consultation of the East India Company, who advised him never to trust the Marathas.

In 1771, the Marathas under Mahadji Scindia returned to northern India and captured Delhi. Shah Alam II was escorted by Mahadji Scindia and left Allahabad in May 1771; in January 1772, he 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 1787, an embassy of Bijaya Singh from Jodhpur presented itself to Shah Alam II, bringing homage and the golden key of the Fortress of Ajmer.[10] 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

The newly reestablished Mughal Army during the reign of Shah Alam II.
A Mughal infantryman, under the command of Mirza Najaf Khan

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 utilized both Flintlocks and Talwars in combat formations;[11] they utilized 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.[11]

Jat invasions

Following the collapse of the Mughal Empire in the 18th century, the Hindu Jat kingdom of Bharatpur waged many wars against the Mughal Delhi and carried out numerous invasions in Mughal territory.[12] During one massive assault, Jats overran the Mughal garrison at Agra and plundered the city. The two great silver doors to the entrance of the famous Taj Mahal were looted and melted down by Suraj Mal in 1764.[13] Suraj Mal's son Jawahar Singh further extended the Jat power in Northern India and captured territory in Doab, Ballabgarh and Agra.[14]

Sikh raids

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.

Trouble with the Sikhs was constant; they suddenly emerged in the year 1764 and overran the Mughal Faujdar of Sirhind. Zain Khan Sirhindi fell in battle, and ever since then the Sikhs perpetually raided and plundered lands as far as Delhi every year. They marauded into Delhi three times in 11 years, particularly in 1772, 1778 and 1783. It is believed that the Sikhs had informants, probably even the Viziers of Shah Alam II. There was ongoing warfare with the Sikhs who were marauding in eastern Punjab and plundering 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 1779, Mirza Najaf Khan carefully advanced his forces and 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 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 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 quarreling 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.[15]

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.

Shah Alam II blinded by Ghulam Qadir

Nawab Majad-ud-Daula was followed by a known enemy of the Mughals, the grandson of Najib Khan, Ghulam Qadir, who 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 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.[15] 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. Ghulam Qadir forced the princesses from the harem to dance naked before him and molested them. After ten horrible weeks, during which the honor 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.[16]

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.

Arrival of British troops

The tomb of the Mughal Emperor Shah Alam II, in Mehrauli, Delhi in 1815.

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 in 1806.

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


  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  
  5. ^ Dictionary of Indo-Persian Literature, p. 40, at Google Books
  6. ^ Mughal Empire in India: A Systematic Study Including Source Material, Volume 3, p. 767, at Google Books
  7. ^ S.R. Sharma (1 January 1999). Mughal empire in India: a systematic study including source material. Atlantic Publishers & Dist. pp. 769–.  
  8. ^ L.S.S. O`malley. Bihar and Orissa District Gazetteers Patna. Concept Publishing Company. pp. 32–.  
  9. ^ A Dictionary of Modern Indian History (1707–1947), Parshotam Mehra, ISBN 0-19-561552-2, 1985 ed., Oxford University Press
  10. ^ The Fall of the Moghul Empire of Hindustan, p. 6, at Google Books
  11. ^ a b Kaushik Roy. War, Culture, Society in Early Modern South Asia, 1740–1849. Taylor & Francis. pp. 29–.  
  12. ^ The Gazetteer of India: History and culture. Publications Division, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, India. 1973. p. 348.  
  13. ^
  14. ^ The Province of Agra: Its History and Administration, p. 9, at Google Books
  15. ^ a b Misbah Islam (30 June 2008). Decline of Muslim States and Societies. Xlibris Corporation. pp. 392–.  
  16. ^ Marathas and the Marathas Country: The Marathas, p. 159, at Google Books
  • Shah Alam II (1728–1806)
  • The Fall of the Moghul Empire of Hindustan – World Wide School
  • Marathas and the English Company 1707–1800

Further reading

  • Shah Alam Nama. Bibliotheca Indica. 1912. 
Shah Alam II
Born: 1728 Died: 1806
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Alamgir II
Mughal Emperor
Succeeded by
Akbar Shah II
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