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Islam Dara Shikoh: Still Persecuted


Jun 1, 2004
History’s false and biased version has fully been exploited for the ulterior motive of strengthening the elite’s hold over all facets of life and implementing their version of Islam. To add to the woes, this distorted history has been made the staple diet of all students since 1947

History heads the list of disciplines that have been grossly exploited and abused worldwide, but its treatment in this region has been especially brutal. Historians served the rulers or their own prejudices and in both cases, truth and justice became the primary casualty. Historical narratives wilfully misrepresented some personages and to add insult to injury, this went hand in hand with the glorification of the most undeserving and iniquitous individuals.

Dara Shikoh, Emperor Shah Jahan’s heir apparent, has been undeservedly maligned or entirely neglected by historians who found the cruel and bigoted Aurangzeb and marauders before him as true icons of manliness representing, according to them, true Islamic glory and grandeur. Accused of apostasy, he was murdered on August 30, 1659 by his brother Aurangzeb.

He patronised fine arts, music and dancing, which were frowned upon by Aurangzeb. His paintings compare well to professional artists of his time. He commissioned several exquisite examples of Mughal architecture, notable among them the tomb of his wife Nadira Bano and the tomb of Hazrat Mian Mir, a famous Qadri sufi saint whose follower he was, also in Lahore.

His most famous work, Majma-ul-Bahrain (‘The mingling of the two seas’), was devoted to the mystical and pluralistic affinities between sufic and Vedantic speculation. Dara Shikoh championed cultural interaction among people of all faiths. Quintessentially a liberal, he understood the need for harmonious coexistence of heterodox traditions on the Indian subcontinent and as such he presented a serious threat to orthodoxy. Dara was not just an individual; he represented a world outlook that bigotry detests. The elite have invariably supported bigotry and Dara’s agony continues unabated, but the struggle continues.

Ajoka Theatre deserves credit for initiating the historical rehabilitation of Dara. I was graciously invited to the play’s recent presentation in Karachi. ‘Dara’ is exceptionally well written and directed by Nadeem Shahid and extremely ably acted out by the entire cast. It keeps the audience riveted for over two hours with its powerful dialogues, excellent music, a wonderful mix of Amir Khusro’s and Sarmad’s poetry, flawless choreography, enchanting lighting effects and seamless stage management, and all this with minimum props. It is a political and social statement, which needs to be supported for its implications for efforts to recognise and understand history in its proper perspective. Ajoka, in its effort to challenge the existing social and political norms, has faced a lot of opposition, including a ban on one of its plays, but commendably it has shown courage under fire.

Dara, born in 1615 AD, was to succeed Shah Jahan. Shah Jahan was not an epitome of generosity and benevolence that his buildings like Taj Mahal would symbolise. He was cruel and unforgiving. Shah Jahan’s sudden illness in 1657 triggered a war of succession between his offspring. Though he recovered enough from his illness to remain a strong factor in the struggle for supremacy, Aurangzeb at the battlefield of Samugarh defeated Dara, 13 kilometres from Agra on May 30, 1658.

Aurangzeb then deposed Emperor Shah Jahan on June 8, 1658 and incarcerated him at Agra fort. His eldest daughter Jahan Ara Begum chose to stay with him. He died aged 74 after a confinement of seven and a half years on January 22, 1662. Aurangzeb never forgave him for supporting Dara. He was buried by eunuchs and menial servants beside his beloved Mumtaz Mahal.

Defeated, Dara went to Gujarat and then to Sindh but was betrayed and handed over to Aurangzeb. He was brought to Delhi and paraded through the streets in chains. This inflamed the people who attacked some courtiers. Fearing a people’s rebellion, Aurangzeb summoned a convocation of spineless nobles and clergy that expediently declared Dara as an apostate from Islam. He was beheaded on the night of August 30, 1659. His popularity among the people and the threat that he posed to Aurangzeb’s bigotry had decided his fate.

Sarmad, the naked mystic poet, who had a huge following among the people of Delhi, would come to Dara. Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, in his biography of Sarmad, quotes a pro-Aurangzeb historian Sher Khan Lodhi, the author of Mirath-ul-Khayal, “Sultan Dara Shikoh had an affinity for mad people so he became friends with Sarmad.” Maulana comments that “he (Lodhi) does not know that there is a set of scales in which this madness would outweigh all the wisdom in the world”, adding that “anyway he (Maulana) prefers the madness of Dara over Alamgiri wisdom, which is tainted with the blood of innocents”. He adds, “Dara was probably fed up with the pernicious wisdom of the likes of Aurangzeb that he preferred the company of Sarmad.” Sarmad too suffered the same fate as Dara, but more on Sarmad in another piece.

Maulana also says: “Dara Shikoh had a unique mind and temperament and all should forever mourn the unfortunate day when his enemies triumphed.” Maulana Abul Kalam understood that Aurangzeb’s victory meant the supremacy of intolerance and bigotry, not only in its immediate aftermath, but also the ominous implications for the future of the region and religion. It was for this reason that he minced no words while presenting Aurangzeb, though a hero for others, in his true colours. It should be understood that the day Aurangzeb succeeded, the die was cast for eventual ascendancy of the bigoted ideology.

History’s false and biased version has fully been exploited for the ulterior motive of strengthening the elite’s hold over all facets of life and implementing their version of Islam. To add to the woes, this distorted history has been made the staple diet of all students since 1947 and has had the expected results. Those who are surprised at the intensity of the bigotry and intolerance that is the hallmark of all relationships in our society should take a closer look at the way history has been presented and revisit the deeds of all who have been projected as heroes of Islamic history.

History, true or fabricated, moulds attitudes, sets values and creates mindsets. The potential of it being instrumental in moulding mindsets has been used in a sinister manner by our rulers and they have created Aurangzebs in their millions. People emulating Aurangzeb certainly cannot be expected to be benevolent to their Daras. And Daras will remain persecuted as long as fabricated history reigns supreme.

by Mir Mohammad Ali Talpur
The Daily Times, August 1, 2010:


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