Why Dara Shikoh deserves a place in Delhi's alleys and India's future

Jayraj Pandya
Jayraj PandyaFeb 18, 2017 | 17:08

Why Dara Shikoh deserves a place in Delhi's alleys and India's future

As New Delhi Municipal Corporation (NDMC) renamed the Dalhousie Road to Dara Shikoh Road, the letter requesting this change, by New Delhi MP Meenakshi Lekhi, described Dara Shikoh thus:

Dara Shikoh, the eldest son of fifth Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan, had promoted the peace and concord between the followers of Hinduism and Islam, and has interest in comparative religions, universal brotherhood, humanism and peace. In fact, the library in Delhi named after him is a live example of his desire to acquire more knowledge… He was a great patron of fine arts and music, and took his last breath in Delhi.

Born in the year 1615, Dara Shikoh was the son of Shah Jahan and his second wife, Mumtaz Mahal.


Sunil Khilnani’s Incarnations: India in 50 lives dedicates a chapter to the eldest son of Shah Jahan, whom many in his court called "Baba Dara" (infant Dara — his Mughal father’s favourite).

Intellectual pursuits of the prince

Dara Shikoh was a man with profound interest in scholarship and mysticism. He undertook the pursuit of finding oneness in the cultures of Islam and Hinduism in the country. In this pursuit, he went on to assimilate learnings from yogis and saints from all sects. 

 Photo: Chughtai Museum blog

Dara was an ardent follower of the Qadri Sufi saint, Hazrat Mian Mir. It is also believed that the prince was next to him when he laid the foundation stone of the Golden Temple in Amritsar.

In a series of books which included the “Safinat-ul-Auliya”, “Sakinat-ul-Auliya”, “Risala-e-Haq Numa”, “Tariqat-ul-Haqiqat” and “Hasanat-ul-Arifeen”, Dara went on to articulate his teachings from Sufism.

In his quest to seek the truth, Dara came in contact with Baba Lal Bairagi, a Hindu gnostic, who left a deep impact on his life. His conversations with Baba were recorded by him in a book titled Mukalama Baba Lal wa Dara Shikoh.

Dara Shikoh was a man with profound interest in scholarship and mysticism. He undertook the pursuit of finding oneness in the cultures of Islam and Hinduism in the country. Photo: Independent Blog

This book comprised the queries of the author regarding Hindu religion, including questions such as the manner of recitation of Om as well as the relation between the aatma (soul) and the paramaatma (God).


German scholar Annemarie Schimme, in her The Empire of the Great Mughals: History, Art and Culture, describes Dara’s efforts to find a convergence between the two religions:

In Dara Shikoh’s view, the Upanishads were among the works alluded to by the Quran, which makes a number of references to the fact that no race of people is ‘without the book’ (Sura 17:16; 53:22; 57:25). His efforts to effect a rapprochement between Vedanta and Sufism were astutely titled “Majma al-bahrayn (Majma-ul-BahrainConfluence of the two Seas)” (i.e. of salt and sweet water) (Sura 18:60)

But, perhaps, the single biggest contribution made by Dara was the translation of the Upanishads into Persian as “Sirri-i-Akbar” (The Great Secret), further translated into Latin by the French writer Anquetil du Perron, nearly a century and a half later, which provided an unbridled access to the richness of the cultural heritage of our nation to the western societies.

One of the greatest European thinkers of all times, Schopenhauer read this Latin translation and went on to call the Upanishads "the production of the highest human wisdom." He would add:

“It is the most satisfying and elevating reading (with the exception of the original text) which is possible in the world; it has been the solace of my life and will be the solace of my death.”

Toxic sibling rivalry


With such contrasting differences in their inculcated ideologies, the rift between Dara Shikoh and his younger brother, Aurangzeb was inevitable. The difference between the two brothers has been wonderfully put by Abraham Eraly in Emperors of the Peacock Throne: The Saga of the Great Mughals:

“While Dara cultivated culture, Aurangzeb sharpened his sword.”

Their quest for becoming the Mughal emperor widened the fissures in their relationship culminating into a full-blown battle which took place between them in Samugarh near Agra in 1658 whose judgment was succinctly described by Eraly - "the fates had determined that Dara should snatch defeat from the jaws of victory."

“While Dara cultivated culture, Aurangzeb sharpened his sword.” Photo: Independent Blog

What followed was an elaborate public humiliation meted out on captive Dara by his younger brother, Aurangzeb on September 8, 1659 in the streets of Delhi — outside the Red Fort. Francois Bernier describes the scene that day in Delhi in his Travels in the Mogul Empire:

The crowd assembled upon this disgraceful occasion was immense; and everywhere I observed the people weeping, and lamenting the fate of Dara in the most touching language… I observed some faqirs ["Fakirs"] and several poor people throw stones at the infamous Pathan; but not a single movement was made, no one offered to draw his sword, with a view of delivering the beloved and compassionated Prince.

This was followed by his execution. So severe was Aurangzeb’s hatred for his elder brother, Bernier describes what followed the execution:

The head was instantly carried to Aureng-Zebe (Aurangzeb), who commanded that it should be placed in a dish, and that water should be brought. The blood was then washed from the face, and when it could no longer be doubted that it was indeed the head of Dara, he shed tears, and said, 'Ai Bad-bakht ["Bed-bakt"]! Ah wretched one! let this shocking sight no more offend my eyes, but take away the head, and let it be buried in Humayun's tomb.'

Dara’s life inevitably brings out the swords asking the eternal what-if question — what if Dara took over the throne of New Delhi and not Aurangzeb? What if Dara went on to rule the Mughal kingdom and curb the divisiveness and hatred in the society, which germinated during the rule of his younger brother? What if... the list can be endless.

The presence of such a fascinating figure in the Indian history deserved its place in the alleys of New Delhi as well as in the minds of our future generations.

Last updated: April 06, 2018 | 17:21
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