Dara Shikoh: the prince of hearts

Osama Siddiqui

Dara Shikoh was born in Ajmer and was the eldest son of Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan. His birth was celebrated and he was loved by his father because of his charm, cultured mind and superior wit. From the very beginning he was different from other Mughal princes. The main aspect of his personality that differentiates him from others was his quest for knowledge. He mastered classical Sanskrit and his pen flourished with grace in Sanskrit, Arabic and Persian. His writings further establish the fact that he mastered the Holy Quran and the Hadith, whereas he married the daughter of Prince Pervaiz and his wedding was celebrated in a royal manner.

Dara Shikoh’s works include Safinat-ul-Auliya comprised of seven sections. It deals with the lives and teachings of 411 saints of Islam till Dara’s own time. The first section starts with the Holy Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and the four Caliphs, 12 imams, friends of the Prophet and the nobles of Islamic State. The second book he wrote was Sakinat-ul-Auliya. In this book he gave brief life sketches of the Qadiri order in India. The prominent saints mentioned in Sakinat-ul-Auliya are Mian Mir, Mullah Shah and Sarmad. Other works include Hasanat-ul-Arifin, Risala-e-Haq Numa, Divan of Dara Shikoh and Majma-ul-Bahrain.

Although they were four brothers but the rivalry between Dara Shikoh and Aurangzeb was intense, however, it was quite evident during a fight between the two elephants, when an elephant charged towards Aurangzeb. Fire was dashed to divert the attention of the elephant but it was of no use. His brother Shuja tried to help his brother but he could not. Just in few minutes the other elephant who was not in a position to fight got up and tried to face the elephant which was after Auranzeb. The elephant who was after Aurangzeb could no longer fight and fled away as he was wounded and tired. Dara Shikoh during the incident did not leave his father’s sitting and that was strongly noticed by Aurangzeb. Another grudge Aurangzeb had developed against Dara Shikoh was his religious views. Some orthodox Muslims used to consider him a heretic.

When Shah Jahan fell ill, Dara Shikoh nursed him whole heartedly. Thereafter, he was awarded a good deal of rewards. Two elder sons of Dara Shikoh were appointed as the Commanders of 10,000 and 15,000 troops. Similarly, Dara’s rank was also raised to a Commander of 60,000 horsemen troops.

For the throne, the battle of Samugarh took place between Aurangzeb and Dara Shikoh and was won by Aurangzeb. When Dara Shikoh returned back to Agra, loud cries of ladies faced him. The news of his being defeated spread like a wild fire and everyone feared Aurangzeb. Dara Shikoh also lost the battle of Deorai where Aurangzeb finally won the throne and became the ruler of the Mughal Empire. Dara relied on the promised support of Jaswant Singh, however, Jaswant deserted him that led to the defeat of Shah Jahan’s beloved son. Dara was never meant to fight a war and he used to lose heart in dangerous situations. In the battle of Deorai when he left the battle field, his centre and right wings were still intact.

Dara Shikoh was later on betrayed and captured by Malik Jiwan, an Afghan, who used to touch his feet for forgiveness and gratitude but became blind in the lust for power and rewards from Aurangzeb. Dara Shikoh was handed over alongside his sons and two daughters by him. A parade was held, Dara Shikoh and his sons were made to wear dirty clothes and dark turbans. They were seated on the howdah of a small female elephant. An example was made out of him by Aurangzeb. Malik Jiwan, the Afghan betrayer was in the front of the parade galloping on his horse showing off as if he was the real winner.

Mercy for Dara Shikoh’s life was made by Danishmand Khan, an elder courtier, however, it was turned down. Dara Shikoh asked for the mercy of his own life alongside his sons. However, Aurangzeb refused and said, “First you acted as a usurper and then you created mischief.” It was a sad ending of an intellectual who was born in the house of Mughal Emperors. Dara Shikoh will always be remembered as a symbol of secularism.

The writer is a student of M.Sc Business and Management at the Cardiff University, Wales, UK, and has keen interest in modern South Asian history, cricket, films and the history of Subcontinent. He can be contacted at: osamasiddiqui21@yahoo.com.

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