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Dara Shikoh

Topics Covered: Modern Indian history from about the middle of the eighteenth century until the present- significant events, personalities, issues.

Dara Shikoh

What to study?

For Prelims: Legacy and other related facts, about Humayun’s tomb.

For Mains: His religious tolerance and it’s significance.

Why in News?

  • The Ministry of Culture recently set up a seven-member panel of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) to locate the grave of the Mughal prince Dara Shikoh (1615-59). He is believed to be buried somewhere in the Humayun’s Tomb complex in Delhi, one of around 140 graves of the Mughal clan.
  • The panel has been given three months time to complete this task.
  • The panel will use architectural evidence from that time, and also written history and any other information that can be used as evidence.

Who was Dara Shikoh?

  • He was the eldest son of Shah Jahan.
  • He was killed after losing the war of succession against his brother Aurangzeb.
  • He is described as a “liberal Muslim” who tried to find commonalities between Hindu and Islamic traditions.
  • He translated into Persian the Bhagavad Gita as well as 52 Upanishads.

According to the Shahjahannama, after Aurangzeb defeated Dara Shikoh, he brought the latter to Delhi in chains. His head was cut off and sent to Agra Fort, while his torso was buried in the Humayun’s Tomb complex.

His legacy:

Dara Shikoh is described as “one of the greatest free thinkers of that time”.

  • He realised the greatness of the Upanishads and translated them, which were earlier known only to a few upper caste Hindus. Translations from that Persian translation have inspired a lot of free thinkers of today, even inspiring the likes of former United States President Barack Obama.
  • Some historians argue that if Dara Shikoh had ascended the Mughal throne instead of Aurangzeb, it could have saved thousands of lives lost in religious clashes. He was the total antithesis of Aurangzeb, in that he was deeply syncretic, warm-hearted and generous — but at the same time, he was also an indifferent administrator and ineffectual in the field of battle.

Challenges ahead for ASI:

No one knows where exactly Dara Shikoh was buried. All that is known is that it’s a small grave in the Humayun’s Tomb complex. Italian traveller Niccolao Manucci gave a graphic description of the day in Travels of Manucci, as he was there as a witness to the whole thing. That is the basis of the thesis. Now, the ASI’s biggest problem is that most graves in the complex have no names.

About Humayun’s Tomb, Delhi:

This tomb, built in 1570, is of particular cultural significance as it was the first garden-tomb on the Indian subcontinent. Commissioned by Humayun’s first wife and chief consort, Empress Bega Begum (also known as Haji Begum). Humayun’s garden-tomb is an example of the charbagh (a four quadrant garden with the four rivers of Quranic paradise represented), with pools joined by channels. It is also called the ‘dormitory of the Mughals’ as in the cells are buried over 150 Mughal family members. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Cultural Significance:

It represented a leap in Mughal architecture, and together with its accomplished Charbagh garden, typical of Persian gardens, but never seen before in India, it set a precedent for subsequent Mughal architecture. It is seen as a clear departure from the fairly modest mausoleum of his father, the first Mughal Emperor, Babur, called Bagh-e Babur (Gardens of Babur) in Kabul (Afghanistan).


Sources: Indian Express.