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On A Prince!

The Mughal or Mogul Empire was an early-modern Empire that controlled much of South Asia between the 16th and 19th Centuries (1526-1857). Shah Jahan, the fifth Mughal Emperor who had reigned from 1628 to 1658, had 15 children, including Jahanara Begum (March 23, 1614 – September 16, 1681), Dara Shikoh (March 20, 1615 – August 30, 1659), Shah Shuja (June 23, 1616 – February 7, 1661), Roshanara Begum (September 3, 1617 – September 11, 1671), Aurangzeb (November 3, 1618 – March 3, 1707) and Muhammad Murad Bakhsh (October 9, 1624 – December 14, 1661). The conflict between two Mughal brothers, Dara Shikoh and Aurangzeb (or the conflict between two opposite ideologies) found a place in the discussions of Historians in the 20th Century. For example, eminent Indian (later Pakistani) Poet and Philosopher Allama Iqbal was in favour of Aurangzeb’s idea of an Islamic State. On the other hand, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad – the first Education Minister of India – backed Dara Shikoh’s ‘tolerant cohesiveness’ in his famous essay on the Sufi saints.

The lives of the two Mughal Princes have been the subject of research by Historians for long. Noted Indian Historian Acharya Jadunath Sarkar has penned a five-volume book on Aurangzeb, the Tragic Hero of the Mughal Empire. In his publication, Sarkar also discussed the fate of Dara Shikoh, the eldest son and heir-apparent of Emperor Shah Jahan, who was executed in 1659 on Aurangzeb’s orders in a bitter struggle for the imperial throne. In the context of Mughal Court Politics, Historian M Athar Ali presented an informative account of the contemplation of the two Princes for the throne and the mutual position of the various contemporary groups. In that context, the Characters, Politics and Administrative Knowledge of Dara Shikoh and Aurangzeb were the subject of his comparative discussions. On the other hand, Kalikaranjan Kanungo – a favourite student of Acharya Jadunath Sarkar – wrote a detailed biography of Dara Shikoh in both English and Bengali. Bikramjit Hasrat, too, authored a reliable book on Dara Shikoh’s writings. Almost all the Modern Historians, except Mahmood Farooqui, have expressed sympathy for Dara Shikoh. They agreed that Prince Aurangzeb was a Master in Mughal Politics. Dara Shikoh’s success in the succession war was not possible, as he failed to maintain friendly relations with the Mughal officials. The fratricidal Aurangzeb was cruel, and he had reportedly inherited this trait from his father Shah Jahan. He realised that it would be difficult to save the throne by keeping the potential heir-apparent alive! As a whole, the lines on the Political and Moral Map of the bloody rivalry between Dara Shikoh and Aurangzeb are clear and prominent. It is less likely to get any newer piece of information.

Dara Shikoh

In her publication ‘The Emperor Who Never Was: Dara Shukoh in Mughal India‘, Supriya Gandhi narrated how Dara Shikoh had decorated his intellectual world from the scratch, and also the significance of his intellectual life in Mughal Political Culture. She mentioned that the Mughal rulers in Delhi used to respect the Sufi saints, and the Sufi Culture. During the reign of Emperor Akbar (October 15, 1542 – October 27, 1605), the family members of Chistia Sufi (or Salim Chisti) were directly involved in the Mughal Administration. Even Emperor Jahangir (August 31, 1569 – October 28, 1627) used to meet his favourite Sufi and Hindu saints whenever he got the opportunity to sit with them. Later, many Naqshbandis (Sunni spiritual leaders and followers of Sufism) joined Aurangzeb’s army.

Prince Dara Shikoh, himself, was a follower of Kadiriya Sufi Silsila, while his favourite teachers were Mian Mir of Sindh and Khulla Shah of Kashmir. Dara Shikoh was an educated person who had written several books. He authored two books on the tradition of Sufi Saints in India. In those books, he claimed that he held several meetings with Hindu Saint Baba Lal, and had indulged in an extensive correspondence with Chishti Sufi Mujibullah. Prince Dara Shikoh also admitted that his sister Jahan Ara helped him a lot in studying the Medieval Indian Culture. In fact, Jahan Ara encouraged him to write a couple of books on Indian Sufi Theology… ‘Risala-e-Haq Numa’ and ‘Majma-ul-Bahrain’. Majma-ul-Bahrain, the book on comparative religion, was translated in Sanskrit as ‘Samudra-Sangamah’. Gandhi made an attempt to understand Dara Shikoh’s views on different issues from these books. She found that Dara Shikoh was highly influenced by Emperor Akbar’s political ideas. However, his ideas about religion were different from that of his great-grandfather. He rejected the statements of the outsiders of Islamic Theology or Ahl-e-Zahir, who upheld the authority of Tradition (Ahl al‑Hadith) in all matters of theology, and focused mainly on the intimate or Esoteric Theory of Islam. Dara Shikoh wanted to follow the path of Universal Brotherhood.

Prince Dara Shikoh was not at all anti-Islam. Instead, he used to believe that the Quran Sharif is the best manifestation of Monotheism. The Mughal Prince was of the opinion that Islamic Monotheism was like an umbrella, and many could take shelter under it. Dara Shikoh championed the Theory of Pluralistic Islamism. As the true heir-apparent of Emperor Shah Jahan, Dara Shikoh tried to place Islam in the Great Indian Cultural Tradition, and refused to chase mere political dreams. His theoretical contribution, in that way, was unique…

Prince Dara Shikoh was not Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, the Roman Emperor from AD 161 to AD 180, and a Stoic Philosopher! He did not get that opportunity. However, Dara Shikoh was associated with a special School of Theology during the Mughal Period. The contradictions between various Indian ideas of Islam and the Islamic monotheism as written in the books by Yoga Kalandar, Amrit Kund and Abdur Rehman Chishti influenced Dara Shikoh’s thought process. The Mughal Prince did not back Co-ordinationism, but Sequentialism! He admitted that his readers were interested elites, and very close to him. He was not much interested in the thoughts of the ethnic masses…


Dara Shikoh was buried in an unmarked grave in the courtyard of Humayun Tomb (Humayun Mausoleum). Aurangzeb was not interested in preserving Dara Shikoh’s works or library. However, there was a great demand for Dara Shikoh’s writings among the Hindu and the Muslim scholars, who had a command over the Persian Language. Ahmad al-Fārūqī al-Sirhindī (June 26, 1564 – December 10, 1624) and Shah Waliullah Dehlawi (February 21, 1703 – August 20, 1762) strengthened the foundations of Islamic Puritanical Thought during the Mughal Period. Interestingly, Aurangzeb – who was a master in Fatwas and Islamic Law – was a representative of that particular sect of Islam. Gandhi’s biography of Dara Shikoh revealed the Mughal India’s intellectual development in the 17th and the 18th Centuries. She stated that while Dara Shikoh was a good scholar, Aurangzeb was an efficient administrator! Hence, Aurangzeb managed to expand the Mughal Empire from Afghanistan in the west to Myanmar in the east!

Avik Chanda is an excellent author, and sympathetic to Dara Shikoh. He, too, made an attempt to understand Dara Shikoh’s psyche and experience from his writings. However, the intensity of analysis in his research is low. As a result, he had to depend on many fictional images while narrating the Mughal Era… Young Dara Shikoh came to know about his father Shah Jahan’s rebellion against his grandfather Jahangir from a maid. Chanda mentioned the conversation between Dara Shikoh and the maid in his book ‘Dara Shukoh: The Man Who Would Be King’. Dara Shikoh, a Prisoner of War at the hands of the enemy on the banks of the Indus River, heard the cries of the widows of the warriors killed in the battlefield. Princess Zeb-un-Nissa – the eldest child of Emperor Aurangzeb and his chief consort Dilras Banu Begum – shed tears when she saw Suleiman Shiko, a prisoner at Aurangzeb’s court. There can be no argument on the basis of all these images, as there is no historical evidence for, or against, them.

Dara Shikoh’s Tomb, New Delhi

Dara Shikoh’s biography and writings help one understand the history of Mughal India, as the Prince did not discuss just about the royal successes or failures. His writings are not confined to the story of the State System that was formed or got collapsed due to conflicts between landlords and peasants. The narratives of various thoughts and entities, formed on the basis of feeling, intellect and faith, are parts of the History penned down by Dara Shikoh. That is why the Mughal Prince’s creations have become the story of an entire region, which consists of India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Myanmar

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