Dara Shikoh — The Magnificent Prince

Dara Shikoh — The Magnificent Prince

A banker by profession, Salim Ansar has a passion for history and historic books. His personal library already boasts a treasure trove of over 7,000 rare and unique books.

Every week, we shall take a leaf from one such book and treat you to a little taste of history.

BOOK NAME: Dara Shikoh — The Magnificent Prince

AUTHOR: Moin-ud-Din

PUBLISHER: Carvan Book House, Lahore


The following excerpt has been taken from Pages: 27 — 31

“The children of Shah Jehan were all by his second and most celebrated wife, Mumtaz Begum; they were fourteen in all, out of whom only seven survived; (1) Jahanara Begum was born at Ajmer in 1614 (2) Dara Shikoh in the same city in 1615 (3) Shah Shuja also at Ajmer in 1616 (4) Roshanara Begum at Burhanpur in 1617 (5) Aurangzeb at Dauhad on Oct 24, 1618 (6) Murad Bakhsh at Rohtas in 1624 and Gauharara Begum at Burhanpur in 1631.

“When Shahjehan took over the throne in 1628, he made no secret of his desire for Dara to inherit the throne from him.

“Emperor Shah Jehan had gone to witness an elephant fight on the bank of Jumna, near the Agra Fort. The two elephants taking part in the duel were Sudhaker and Suret Sunder. As the fight began the two elephants ran for some distance and grappled with each other. The Emperor was witnessing the fight from his horse, accompanied by the four princes. Aurangzeb edged his way forward, to have a closer look at the animals. He was then fourteen years old. After a short while, the elephants let go their grip and withdrew a little. Sudhaker, whose spirit was fully roused, leaving his opponent, turned aside and charged Aurangzeb. Aurangzeb calmly faced the coming danger, kept his horse from turning back and threw his spear at the brute’s head. The situation took a worse turn, panic spread in the crowd, men stumbled on one another while fleeing. The courtiers and attendants ran about shouting. Fire was ignited to distract the elephant, but in vain. The elephant dashed against Aurangzeb’s horse and with a sweep of its long tusks threw both the horse and the rider on the ground. No sooner did his horse fall, Aurangzeb gathered himself, drew his sword and faced the elephant. At that time Shuja forced his way through the crowd and smoke, charged the elephant and struck him with his spear. He was also thrown down by the raging beast. Then came Raja Jai Singh charging and he managed to inflict a deep wound on the animal. Shah Jehan was shouting at his guard to rescue the prince. Just then an unexpected thing happened. The other elephant, Suret Sunder, returned to revive the combat. But Sudhaker, already wounded and harassed and having no courage to face its opponent, fled from the field, pursued by Sudhaker.

“This encounter lasted no more than a few minutes. Dara Shikoh did not come to Aurangzeb’s aid and kept riding away by the side of his father. This roused a lasting enmity in the mind of Aurangzeb against Dara Shikoh. Next day Shah Jehan conferred on Aurangzeb the title of Bahadur or Hero and covered him with presents. When his father lovingly chid him for his rash courage, he replied, ‘if the fight had ended fatally for me, it would not have been a matter of shame. Death drops the curtain even on Emperors; it is not dishonor. The shame lay in what my brother did’.

“Another such incident is revealed when Prince Dara invited his father and brothers to show them a newly constructed underground apartment of his mansion near the river Jumna. The room had only one door. Dara led the party inside but Aurangzeb, instead of entering, sat outside near the door. Even the Emperor’s command did not make him go in. This disobedience cost him his rank and he was forbidden to visit the court. Nine tense months passed. One day his sister Jehan Ara persuaded him to tell the reason for his disobedience. He said, ‘There was only one door to that room. I feared that Dara might lock the door and kill his father and brothers. Therefore, I sat outside the door to keep watch.’ Jehan Ara intimated this to her father, who appreciating the precaution taken by Aurangzeb restored him to honour. That clearly shows how much hatred and mistrust these two brothers had developed for each other.

“Shah Jahan died there on 22nd January 1666 and thus started the war of succession in 1657-58.

“The principal character of the war was Dara Shikoh and Aurangzeb.

“Dara was hunted from place to place through Multan, Sindh, Kathiawar and Gujrat. He was betrayed once near Ajmer, by Jaswant Singh of Jodhpur. Finally, while he was trying to escape to Persia, he was again betrayed by Malik Jiwan Khan, the Afghan chief of Dhandar (near Bolan Pass), on June 9, 1658. The death of his beloved wife Nadira Begam (daughter of Parviz) had much distracted Dara. ‘Death was painted in his eye … Everywhere he saw only destruction, and losing his senses became utterly heedless of his own affairs’. In the words of Khafi Khan, ‘Mountain after mountain of trouble thus pressed upon the heart of Dara, grief was added to grief, sorrow to sorrow, so that his mind no longer retained its equilibrium … … At the end of Zi-l Hijja, 1069 (September 1659), the order was given for Dara Shikoh to be put to death under a legal opinion of the lawyers, because he had apostatized from the law, had vilified religion, and had allied himself with heresy and infidelity.’ After he was slain, his body was placed in a howda and carried round the city (as once before when he was alive). So once alive and once dead he was exposed to the eyes of all men, and many wept over his fate. He was buried in the tomb of Humayun.

“Dara, like Khusru, was an enlightened and popular Prince. Bernier, who was an eye-witness to these tragic happenings, records: ‘Everywhere I observed the people weeping, and lamenting the fate of Dara in the most touching language … … from every quarter I heard piercing and distressing shrieks, … men, women, and children wailing as if some mighty calamity had happened to themselves.’”


“The descendants of Timur were not mere warriors but were scholars, poets and possessed a high aesthetic sense. Prominent calligraphists and famous contemporary painters always remained in employment and constituted part of the royal courts. They were given mansab and were highly paid. Emperor Akbar introduced the Persian style of painting. This finally resulted in the realm of fine arts. There were more than one hundred calligraphers and painters in his employment.

“In the days of Akbar, calligraphy had become an art rather than a qualification of personal distinction. The skilled courts calligraphists would write all the orders and letters dictated by the Emperor to the governors of the provinces and foreign rulers. The art of miniature painting was also patronized by Emperor Akbar. This tradition was kept alive by his descendants and talented artists made an important group of Mughal courts till the reign of Aurangzeb.

“The art of painting and calligraphy reached its zenith during the reign of Emperor Shah Jehan. A replica of this period is preserved in the India Office Library. This is a collection of Prince Dara Shikoh. One may call it an album of the prince.

“Prince Dara Shikoh, besides being a scholar, was an artists and a patron of art. He was an outstanding calligraphist. By virtue of his position he could study this art under renowned calligraphists like Aqa Abdul Rashid Dailami. Aqa Abdul Rashid was the chief calligraphist of Shah Jehan’s court, and nobody in the country could compete with him. Some specimens preserved in certain Oriental libraries show that he could write both in Naskh and Nasta’aliq with proficiency. Some of the books written by the prince are still preserved in various libraries and museums of the sub-continent. For instance, the Quran written on a deer skin is kept in Aziz Bagh library in Hyderabad (India). A Panjsura written in Naskh in gold is preserved in Buhar library, Calcutta. A book (Dah Pand-i-Arastu) written in Nasta’liq is lying in the Victoria Memorial Hall, Calcutta. A pamphlet Risala-i-Hikmat-i-Arastu copied by him is preserved in the Asifiya Library, Hyderabad (India). Sharh-i-Diwan-i-Hafiz is also available in the Asifiya Library. An autograph on the precious album which the prince presented to his beloved wife, Princess Nadira Begum and many other hand-written documents of the prince show that he had acquired extraordinary ability in penmanship.

“The prince could made beautiful miniature portraits. He was a good judge of the pictorial art of the Mughals and collected excellent paintings and compiled them in an album. This album he presented to his wife Nadira Bano. It is now lying in the India Office. This is also called Muraqqat of Prince Dara Shikoh. It has seventy-nine folios besides many decorated fly leaves and forty miniatures. It contains excellent specimens of calligraphic and pictorial art, beginning from Akbar’s time till the end of Shah Jehan’s. The collection of these portraits shows his high artistic taste and the labour he did to compile such a rare collection of works of the Indo-Persian art.

“In 1657, Dara Shikoh came out with his greatest masterpiece: Sirr-e-Akbar (The great secret), a translation of the Upanishads into Persian. Completed in 1657 with the help of several pandits from Veranasi Dara Shikoh’s translation of Upanishads is usually regarded in high esteem by the scholars in that field. It is also suggested by some historians that the Persian translation of Upanishad probably made it most accessible to the Europeans of the time as they were more familiar with the Persian language than they were with Sanskrit.”


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