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Dara Shikoh – Was he really the great hope that Hindusthan lost?

Historians have it that Dara Shikoh, the eldest son of Mughal Emperor Shah Jehan and elder brother to Aurangzeb, was executed post trial for apostasy, near-abouts late August or early September of 1659 AD. This year would be the 350th anniversary and an event to remember.

A great irony cannot be missed in that we are also discussing Shri Jaswant Singh’s new book on Mohammed Ali Jinnah, which portrays him (MA Jinnah) in kindly light, full of reasonableness.

I personally am not against exploring past “villains” and “heroes” as long as our exploration is truthful and is not forgetful of contexts; for contexts are what create villains and heroes in every age.

So what spurred me on to read Dara Shikoh? An article written by Shri Ashok Malik at The Pioneer.

I had already read briefly about Dara Shikoh and knew of his death at his brother’s hands. I had also read that he viewed Hindus more kindly than the rest of his tribe. I knew of his acts of translations of Hindu texts into Persian.

I have turned a skeptic since those early days. So when I read Shri Ashok Malik’s article and heard him wail over Dara’s and in turn Hindusthan’s loss to Aurangzeb’s zeal and this country’s dark fate because of that loss, I could not help but think more of the truth and the context. I was lucky to find two articles apart from Shri Malik’s (one of them a play that dramatizes Dara Shikoh’s trial) and the other a biographical sketch by Shri Yoginder Sikand.

Unfortunately, even Dara Shikoh fails to impress. He was of course an intelligent man who acutely sensed the Achilles heal of his soon-to-be Mughal Empire in the face of growing Hindu alienation; this seems to have propelled him to do more and to find more of the things that he thought were in common between Sanatana Dharma and Islam. The Sufi cult seems to have best suited his temperament; much more so than the austere Islam that Aurangzeb preferred – but he (and I am being crass here) struck me as a 17th century Zakir Naik. A man who thinks he knows Sanatana Dharma and multitudes of other faiths and appreciates all of them but finally tries to bring them in line with Islam and it’s Koran, never forgetting the pre-eminent place that Prophet Mohammed commands.

Such unity of peoples and religions is no unity. Such unity is not even desirable. We might never know what really lay in Dara Shikoh’s mind but there is little or less in his ideas that would have stopped (in the event of his victory) a future Aurangzeb or a resurgent Islam from appearing fully fanged.

This is where Dara Shikoh fails – when within Islam, there is no way to win against it. Even if one wanted to.

Sirr ul-Akbar (‘The Great Secret’)

“And whereas I was impressed with a longing to behold the Gnostic doctrines of every sect and to hear their lofty expressions of monotheism and had cast my eyes upon many theological books and had been a follower thereof for many years, my passion for beholding the Unity [of God], which is a boundless ocean, increased every moment. […] Thereafter, I began to ponder as to why the discussion of monotheism is so conspicuous in India and why the Indian [Hindu] mystics and theologians of ancient India do not disavow the Unity of God, nor do they find any fault with the Unitarians.”

– Namaste


Palahalli S writes – The more one reads the Sufis the more one realizes that it’s either a battle against Islam while fighting to be within Islam or it’s a battle for Islam – a strategy well thought out and adopted, to create bridges with other otherwise utterly resistant religions only so that these others may come “this” side.

Dara Shikoh is said to have been under the the influence of a Qadiri Sufi tradition. One such Qadiri Mian Mir is said to have laid the foundation stone for the Golden Temple in Amritsar : The main Sikh Temple.

There was another Qadiri at this time, when Dara Shikoh was fighting for his life.

Sultan Bahu: He sided with Aurangzeb in his war against Dara.

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