Dara Shikoh also known as Dara Shukoh, born on 20th March 1615 in Ajmer, Rajputana and was the eldest son and heir-apparent of the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal. The prince was named by his father, ‘Dara’ means owner of wealth or star in Persian while the second part of the prince’s name is commonly spelled in two ways: Shikoh (terror) or Shukoh (majesty or grandeur). Thus, Dara’s full name can be translated as “Of the Terror of Darius” or “Of the Grandeur of Darius”, respectively.
Dara was designated with the title Padshahzada-i-Buzurg Martaba (“Prince of High Rank”) and was favored as a successor by his father and his elder sister, Princess Jahanara Begum.Dara, was a liberal-minded unorthodox Muslim as opposed to the orthodox Aurangzeb. He authored the work “The Confluence of the Two Seas” which argues for the harmony of Sufi philosophy in Islam and Vedanta philosophy in Hinduism. A great patron of the arts, he was more inclined towards philosophy and mysticism rather than military pursuits.
Dara Shikoh devoted much effort towards finding a common mystical language between Islam and Hinduism. Towards this goal he completed the translation of fifty Upanishads from their original Sanskrit into Persian in 1657 so that they could be studied by Muslim scholars. His translation is often called Sirr-i-Akbar (“The Greatest Mystery”), where he states boldly, in the introduction, his speculative hypothesis that the work referred to in the Qur’an as the “Kitab al-maknun” or the hidden book, is none other than the Upanishads. His most famous work, Majma-ul-Bahrain “The Confluence of the Two Seas”, was also devoted to a revelation of the mystical and pluralistic affinities between Sufic and Vedantic speculation. The book was authored as a short treatise in Persian in 1654.
Dara studied the Quran, history, Persian poetry and calligraphy. He was a liberal-minded unorthodox Muslim unlike his father and his younger brother Aurangzeb. Persian was Dara’s native language, but he also learned Hindi, Arabic and later Sanskrit. As part of his formal education, Dara Shikoh subsequently developed a friendship with the seventh Sikh Guru, Guru Har Rai Sahib.
In October 1627, Dara’s grandfather Emperor Jahangir died, and his father ascended the throne in January 1628 taking the regnal name ‘Shah Jahan’. In 1633, Dara was appointed as the Vali-ahad (heir-apparent) to his father. He, along with his older sister Jahanara, were Shah Jahan’s favourite children.
During the life time of his mother Mumtaz Mahal, Dara Shikoh was betrothed to his half-cousin, Princess Nadira Banu Begum, the daughter of his paternal uncle Sultan Parvez Mirza. He married her on 1 February 1633 at Agra amidst great celebrations, pomp and grandeur. By all accounts, Dara and Nadira were devoted to each other and Dara’s love for Nadira was so profound that unlike the usual practice of polygyny prevalent at the time, he never contracted any other marriage. Dara Shikoh had thirteen siblings of whom six survived to adulthood: Jahanara Begum, Shah Shuja, Roshanara Begum, Aurangzeb, Murad Bakhsh, and Gauhara Begum. He shared a close relationship with his older sister, Jahanara. He, along with his older sister Jahanara, were Shah Jahan’s favourite children.
A great patron of the arts, Dara ordered for the compilation of some refined artwork into an album which is now famous by the name of ‘Dara Shikhoh Album.’ This album was presented by Dara to his “dearest intimate friend” Nadira in 1641.Dara had at least two concubines, Gul Safeh (also known as Rana Dil) and Udaipuri Mahal (a Georgian or Armenian slave girl). Udaipuri later became a part of Aurangzeb’s harem after her master’s defeat.
As was common for all Mughal sons, Dara Shikoh was appointed as a military commander at an early age, receiving an appointment as commander of 12,000-foot and 6,000 horse in October 1633. He received successive promotions, being promoted to commander of 12,000-foot and 7,000 horse on 20 March 1636, to 15,000-foot and 9,000 horse on 24 August 1637, to 10,000 horse on 19 March 1638, to 20,000-foot and 10,000 horse on 24 January 1639, and to 15,000 horse on 21 January 1642. On 10 September 1642, Shah Jahan formally confirmed Dara Shikoh as his heir, granting him the title of Shahzada-e-Buland Iqbal (“Prince of High Fortune”) and promoting him to command of 20,000-foot and 20,000 horse. In 1645, he was appointed as subahdar (governor) of Allahabad. He was promoted to a command of 30,000-foot and 20,000 horse on 18 April 1648, and was appointed Governor of the province of Gujarat on 3 July.
As his father’s health began to decline, Dara Shikoh received a series of increasingly prominent commands. He was appointed Governor of Multan and Kabul on 16 August 1652, and was raised to the title of Shah-e-Buland Iqbal (“King of High Fortune”) on 15 February 1655. He was promoted to command of 40,000-foot and 20,000 horse on 21 January 1656, and to command of 50,000-foot and 40,000 horse on 16 September 1657.
On 6 September 1657, the illness of emperor Shah Jahan triggered a desperate struggle for power among the four Mughal princes, though realistically only Dara Shikoh and Aurangzeb had a chance of emerging victorious. Shah Shuja was the first to make his move, declaring himself Mughal Emperor in Bengal and marched towards Agra from the east. Murad Baksh allied himself with Aurangzeb.
At the end of 1657, Dara Shikoh was appointed Governor of the province of Bihar and promoted to command of 60,000 infantry and 40,000 cavalry.(roughly equivalent to general)
Despite strong support from Shah Jahan, who had recovered enough from his illness to remain a strong factor in the struggle for supremacy, and the victory of his army led by his eldest son Sulaiman Shikoh over Shah Shuja in the battle of Bahadurpur on 14 February 1658, Dara Shikoh was defeated by Aurangzeb and Murad during the Battle of Samugarh, 13 km from Agra on 30 May 1658. Subsequently, Aurangzeb took over Agra fort and deposed emperor Shah Jahan on 8 June 1658.
After the defeat, Dara Shikoh retreated from Agra to Delhi and thence to Lahore. in the way he met Guru Har Rai Ji in Amritsar. His next destination was Multan and then to Thatta (Sindh). From Sindh, he crossed the Rann of Kachchh and reached Kathiawar, where he met Shah Nawaz Khan, the governor of the province of Gujarat who opened the treasury to Dara Shikoh and helped him to recruit a new army. He occupied Surat and advanced towards Ajmer. Foiled in his hopes of persuading the fickle but powerful Rajput feudatory, Maharaja Jaswant Singh of Marwar, to support his cause, Dara Shikoh decided to make a stand and fight the relentless pursuers sent by Aurangzeb’s, but was once again comprehensively routed in the battle of Deorai (near Ajmer) on 11 March 1659. After this defeat he fled to Sindh and sought refuge under Malik Jeevan (Junaid Khan Barozai), an Afghan chieftain, whose life had on more than one occasion been saved by the Mughal prince from the wrath of Shah Jahan. However, Junaid betrayed Dara Shikoh and turned him (and his second son Sipihr Shikoh) over to Aurangzeb’s army on 10 June 1659.
Dara Shikoh was brought to Delhi, placed on a filthy elephant and paraded through the streets of the capital in chains. Dara Shikoh’s fate was decided by the political threat he posed as a prince popular with the common people – a convocation of nobles and clergy, called by Aurangzeb in response to the perceived danger of insurrection in Delhi, declared him a threat to the public peace and an apostate from Islam. He was assassinated by four of Aurangzeb’s henchmen in front of his terrified son on the night of 30 August 1659 (9 September Gregorian).
It is also said that after Dara’s capture, Aurangzeb ordered his men to have his head brought up to him and he inspected it thoroughly to ensure that it was Dara indeed. He then further mutilated the head with his sword three times. After which, he ordered the head to be put in a box and presented to his ailing father, Shah Jahan, with clear instructions to be delivered only when the old King sat for his dinner in his prison. The guards were also instructed to inform Shah Jahan that, “King Aurangzeb, your son, sends this plate to let him (Shah Jahan) see that he does not forget him”. Shah Jahan instantly became happy (not knowing what was in store in the box) and uttered, “ Blessed be God that my son still remembers me”. Upon opening the box, Shah Jahan became horrified and fell unconscious.
Dara Shikoh is widely renowned as an enlightened paragon of the harmonious coexistence of heterodox traditions on the Indian subcontinent. He was an erudite champion of mystical religious speculation and a poetic diviner of syncretic cultural interaction among people of all faiths. This made him a heretic in the eyes of his orthodox younger brother and a suspect eccentric in the view of many of the worldly power brokers swarming around the Mughal throne. Dara Shikoh was a follower of the Armenian Sufi-perennialist mystic Sarmad Kashani, as well as Lahore’s famous Qadiri Sufi saint Mian Mir, whom he was introduced to by Mullah Shah Badakhshi (Mian Mir’s spiritual disciple and successor). Mian Mir was so widely respected among all communities that he was invited to lay the foundation stone of the Golden Temple in Amritsar by the Sikhs.
Dara Shikoh subsequently developed a friendship with the seventh Sikh Guru, Guru Har Rai. Dara Shikoh devoted much effort towards finding a common mystical language between Islam and Hinduism. Towards this goal he completed the translation of fifty Upanishads from their original Sanskrit into Persian in 1657 so that they could be studied by Muslim scholars. His translation is often called Sirr-i-Akbar (“The Greatest Mystery”), where he states boldly, in the introduction, his speculative hypothesis that the work referred to in the Qur’an as the “Kitab al-maknun” or the hidden book, is none other than the Upanishads.His most famous work, Majma-ul-Bahrain (“The Confluence of the Two Seas”), was also devoted to a revelation of the mystical and pluralistic affinities between Sufic and Vedantic speculation. The book was authored as a short treatise in Persian in 1654–55.
In 1006 A.H,the prince had commissioned a translation of Yoga Vasistha. Translation was undertaken by Nizam al-Din Panipati this translation came to be known as the Jug-Basisht, which has since become popular in Persia among intellectuals interested in Indo-Persian culture. The Safavid-era mystic Mir Findiriski (d. 1641) commented on selected passages of Jug-Basisht. The library established by Dara Shikoh still exists on the grounds of Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University, Kashmiri Gate, Delhi, and is now run as a museum by Archaeological Survey of India after being renovated.