Dara was the eldest son of Mumtaz Mahal and Shah Jahan. Not only was he fine as heck, he was also an advocate for the coexistence of different religions and dedicated a large part of his intellectual endeavours to finding the similarities between Islam and Hinduism. He wrote the Majma Ul Bahrain (the mingling of two oceans), which proposed a monistic understanding of Hinduism. He also translated the Upanishads into Persian, and learnt of the Hindu concept of the oneness of God (like tawhid in Islam).
In the Mughal Study day Seet and I attended on Saturday, there was a lecture on the Dara Shikoh Album - a collection of calligraphy and paintings that he assembled. Check out parts of it in The British Library - they are incredible!
Dara was brutally murdered by Aurangzebe’s (who was his younger brother) henchmen; Aurangzebe ordered that he be shamed publicly in chains, and, after execution, commanded that Dara’s head be sent to his father, Shah Jahan, served on a platter.
It breaks my heart to learn of a how a beautiful and intelligent man died in such a savage and horrific way </3
So I just found out that this beautiful depiction of a beheaded man in the famous mural by Sadequian,which is on display at the State Bank Museum in Karachi, is actually Sarmad Kashani, the seventeenth century mystic who came from Persia to Thatta then travelled on to Lahore and subsequently settled in the Mughal Delhi. He was beheaded by Aurangzeb after he overthrew Dara Shikoh and conquered Delhi in a bloody battle of succession.
Sarmad Kashani is said to be an Armenian Jew who later converted to Islam, though all accounts of his religious affiliations are rather vague. He was hugely popular among people from all religious backgrounds and once when attending the Royal Court or the Darbar of Shah Jahan in Delhi, he so inspired the crown prince, Dara Shikoh, that he became his disciple.
The love between Sarmad Kashani and Abhay Chand, an Hindu boy who he had met in Thatta, has been the subject of many legends. The two are said to have been inseparable and all efforts to keep the two apart by Abhay’s wealthy Hindu parents were doomed. Eventually the couple left Thatta and lived first in Lahore and then in Delhi.
Sarmad was subjected to much hatred by Alamgir Aurangzeb who defeated Dara in a bloody coup which jolted the very foundation of the once mighty Mughal Empire. Sarmad would roam around Delhi naked and would not recite the second part of the Islamic Shadah (reciting only the first part: la’illaha, there is no god, and refusing to utter the other half: il allah, but Allah) as he had still not succeeded in his search for Allah.
Once when Aurangzeb was returning from his Jumma prayers in the Jama Masjid Delhi, he spotted Sarmad roaming the streets, uryan, stark naked. His nudity infuriated the ruler whose views on religion and and morality were largely influenced by his hard-liner court mullah, Mullah Qawi.
On being ordered to cover himself by King Aurangzeb, Sarmad is said to have replied: “Should I hide my nudity with this shawl or should I instead hide your sins?” It so happened that when Sarmad picked up his shawl from where it lay covering something on the ground, there lay under it the bloody heads of all those who had been killed by Aurangzeb, including those of Prince Dara Shikoh, Prince Murad and Princess Zaibunnissa.
Aurangzeb ordered the beheading of Sarmad Kashani.
Now this is when a truly remarkable thing happened.
It is said that when Sarmad was beheaded on the stairs of the Jama Masjid, Delhi, his fallen trunk miraculously picked up his slain head and began walking up the stairs of the Masjid, all the while reciting the full Shahada, i.e. there is no god, but Allah. So it seems that Sarmad did eventually find his God.
He is hailed as a shaheed, a martyr, and is buried beside Haray BharayShah in the shadow of the imposing Jama Masjid, Delhi. Sarmad’s shrine is painted red (instead of the usual green Muslim shrines) which is meant to symbolize his martyrdom.
Mir Mohammad or Hazrat Mian Mir Sindhi Qadri (1531 - 1635), (also known as Mian Mir Bala Fir Lahori), belonged to Siwistan and was a descendant of the second Caliph of Islam, Hazrat Umar (RA).
According to historians, the saint arrived in Lahore at the age of 25 during Emperor Akbar’s rule and went through a long period of self-denial—which lasted 40 years—when he would not sleep the whole night and would fast for the whole month. His piety and practice of meditation and detachment endowed him with a legendary status and it was widely believed that in virtue, beneficence and learning he had no equal. He was fond of religious, devotional music—the sama’a—as well as the local ragas.
The Mian Mir shrine has hence been a popular spot for Qawwali Music, but threats by extremists have put an end to that.
Shah Jahan’s son Dara Shikoh was a disciple of the saint.
Dara’s father twice paid his respects to the saint when on his royal tour of Lahore, and being conscious of the saint’s indifference to worldly wealth, presented him with simple gifts of a rosary and turban of white cloth.
Hazrat Mian Mir died in the reign of Shah Jahan, in Mohallah Khawafipura. It was Prince Dara Shikoh who buried him in the present tomb and began its construction, in an area which at that time was known as Darapur established by the prince himself and named after him. Dara’s wife Nadira Begum is buried in the Mian Mir Park next to the shrine.
Sikhs are not political people. You "Sikhs" that engage in the dirt of politics marr our image.
Hooooooold up. Hun, you seem in need of a little history lesson.
Guru Nanak Dev Ji: Challenged the caste system, and openly criticized Brahminical elitism; challenged the ban on music in Baghdad while OPENLY doing kirtan in a city square; confronted the first Mughal emperor, Babur, for the war crimes he committed, and as a result Guru Sahib was thrown in jail: POLITICS.
Guru Angad Dev Ji: Denounced artocities committed by upper class intellectuals, created a movement and created a new alphabet so EVERYONE would be able to read and write: POLITICS.
Guru Amar Das Ji: In essence, the most feminist religious leader known to the world; banned the practice of widow-burning (Sati), and other cultural traditions that decreased the status of women to a mere piece of property: POLITICS.
Guru Ram Das Ji: Created a new set of vows to be read at Sikh weddings to distinguish the Anand Karaj from other acts of union, contributing to the autonomy of the faith: POLITICS.
Guru Arjan Dev Ji: Openly condemned Akbar’s son Prince Salim (later to become Jahangir) and openly advocated for Prince Khusrau to become the next emperor of the Mughal Empire due to his equity and righteousness, he faced Emperor Jahangir due to this and was executed, becoming the first martyr in our Panth: POLITICS.
Guru Hargobind Sahib Ji: Established the concept of the Saint Soldier, to make sure Sikhs are trained in diplomacy and combat as well as being devout in worship and lifestyle; the Akaal Takht, the centre of Sikh decision-making is built in the complex of Sikhi’s spiritual heart, Sri Harimandir Sahib (later to become known as the Golden Temple): POLITICS.
Guru Har Rai Ji: Used Sikh battalion to protect Shah Jahan’s son, Prince Dara Shikoh, and help him escape from the attacks of his own brother, the new Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb; gave succession of Guruship to his younger son, due to older son Ram Rai’s ill intent to mislead the community: POLITICS.
Guru Har Krishan Sahib Ji: Showed people that age does not matter, constantly proved ageist biases against the Child Guru as false: POLITICS.
Guru Tegh Bahadur Ji: Heard the plight of Brahmins being persecuted under the hand of Aurangzeb; travelled to Delhi to confront the Emperor, and in doing so was publicly caged, forced to witness the torture, burning, sawing, and boiling of his companions, until he himself was publicly beheaded for the sake of a community other than his own: POLITICS.
Guru Gobind Singh Ji: Further perpetuated the concept of the Sant Sipahi (Saint Soldier), and ran the fort city of Anandpur as an independant self-sufficient city-state of the Sikhs; established a nationhood within the faith with the revelation of the Khalsa on the Vaisakhi of 1699; waged war against the oppression of Aurangzeb; engaged Aurangzeb in diplomacy as he wrote his most famous work, the Zafarnamah; declared 52 commandments before he passed on, one of them being STUDYING AND ENGAGING IN POLITICS: POLITICS.
Politics has been a part of Sikhi from day one, and anyone who says anything contrary to that needs to re-examin their knowledge of their deen.
Sikhs are NOT pacificists. We are activists against oppression, no matter which community is being oppressed. It is silence that marrs our image, not activism.
An illustrated manuscript of the Mughal Emperor Jahan attending the marriage procession of his eldest son Dara Shikoh. Mughal-Era fireworks were utilized to brighten the night throughout the wedding ceremony.
Our obsession with adopting a pan-Arab Muslim ‘culture’ often contributes to glossing over the rich histories of gender and sexual non-normativity which are as diverse as South Asia itself. While many so-called ‘developed’ Western states either failed to acknowledge or grossly mistreated and oppressed their transgender communities, the Mughals of South Asia celebrated them by appointing them as high court officials. References about intersex and gender ambiguous individuals appear in Hindu, Buddhist and Jain traditions alike. Similarly, the practice of appointing eunuchs in royal courts reportedly existed in the Ottoman Empire, as well as the Mamluk and Safavid dynasties. Chief eunuchs in Mughal courts served as army generals, harem guards and advisors to the emperors. They also supervised the education of princes, protection of the harem women and also served as messengers and watchmen. Many such gender and genitally ambiguous people reached high status and accumulated riches. The eunuchs, historian Laurence Preston maintains, were entitled to public revenue, received grants in the form of cash and land, and even had the official right to beg. The Khwaja-sira community of Pakistan draws its history and identification from this time. Hijra communities sought devotion to both Bahuchara Mata and Muslim saints.
Similar acceptance or at least tolerance existed for queer sexualities. Anthropologists often delve into the subject through queer reading of Sufi poetry, which they supplement with historical accounts. An oft-quoted example is that of Muhammad Sa’id, more commonly known as Hazrat Sarmad Shaheed, who had a male lover by the name of Abhay Chand. Mughal Prince Dara Shikoh was highly influenced by Sufi poet Sarmad Shaheed, whose shrine is in Delhi. The Punjabi historian Shafi Aquil speaks of the relationship between Madho and Hussain as one of “boundless love”. Such was the spiritual love of Madhu Lal and Shah Hussain that the latter is still known today as Madho Lal Hussain – as if the two lovers fused together. I have an excerpt from Bulleh Shah’s Sufi poetry framed in my room in which the legendary Punjabi poet beautifully depicts the suffering of separation from one’s lover by imagining oneself as a woman.
Emperor Babur’s autobiographical Tuzuki-i-Babri contains a sentimental recollection of his erotic love for a teenage boy. Acclaimed South Asian author Ismat Chugtai’s Lihaaf is considered a classic text in contemporary queer literature.
Among the various forms of sex and gender queerness, Islamic law acknowledges intersexuality in a legal as well as social light. Medieval Muslim jurists carefully considered this issue and today the Islamic law explicitly acknowledges intersex individuals and their choice in choosing gender. Scott Siraj-ul-Haqq Kugle discusses the historical evidence stemming from oral and hadith narratives that assert that Prophet Muhammad interacted with several mukhannath (intersex or effeminate men) in his life time. There is evidence regarding mukhannaths guarding the harem of Prophet’s wives, praying with men and women in mosques, and later being employed at Ka’ba and Masjid-e-Nabwi. I will leave it to the readers to further study this topic and fathom the queer aspects of Islamic and Arab history. Scott Kugle’s and Kecia Ali’s works, as well as some Palestinian queer rights organizations like Aswat and Al-Qaws, are a good place to start. Food for thought.
This painting of a dervish reflects the Mughal interest in holy men. Prince Dara-Shikoh, Shah Jahan’s eldest son, became a serious student of these spiritual beliefs and this painting was most likely executed under his patronage. A dervish wearing a brown animal fur covering, earrings, bangles, an anklet leads a dark brown bear by a leash. The red earing and iron bangles are customary accessories worn by dervishes of the Qalandar and Haydari orders. His forearms and chest are dotted with markings, caused by self-inflicted burns. These marks, known as dagh (hot) in Persian, demonstrate faithfulness and love for God. The scene suggests an allegory familiar to Sufis in which the higher self (here perhaps symbolized by the dervish) struggles to overcome his baser instincts (the bear). His burns, ragged garb, fasting, and wandering give him strength in this struggle.
What happened: Whenever a throne has more than one candidate, bad stuff happens, and the nice guy tends to lose. Oh, sure, you can survive having crazed, murderous siblings if you’re wily and keep your head down; that’s how Elizabeth Tudor became Queen Elizabeth I. But if you’re not wily, and if you have a lot of brothers who want the throne, you’re doomed from the start. Such a one was Dara Shikoh.
Eldest son and heir of the Mughal Empire’s Shah Jahan (builder of the Taj Mahal), Dara was a saint rather than a politician. Like his father, he believed in religious pluralism and even wrote a book on comparative religion, which is not the kind of thing you write if you’re a fundamentalist. This was a period on the Indian subcontinent when tensions between Hindus and Muslims were muted, but constantly present. The Empire itself was a Muslim state, but the emperors tended to have harems of women from all faiths, partly because it was good political sense (why alienate a huge swathe of your people?), partly because they didn’t much care who believed what. Mughal rule could still be pretty brutal, but at least government policy favored religious freedom. Dara himself seems to have been a gentle soul and might have loosened up some of the Empire’s more violent practices, but we’ll never know.
In 1657, Shah Jahan fell ill. His four sons, apparently believing that this was the end of the emperor, began a bloody power struggle. Two of them never really had a chance. The fight was really between Dara and his brother Aurangzeb.
Aurangzeb was a more hardline Muslim, who certainly did not believe in any kind of pluralism, and who was not popular with the populace at large. He did have some pretty strong support, though, and he was a lot tougher and more willing to use violence, I think, than Dara. He won, and paraded Dara around on an elephant before executing him. Aurangzeb’s rule has its own complicated legacy. He was a strong ruler who presided over the Empire at its height, but he also instituted a harsh form of sharia law, ordered Hindu temples destroyed, and executed heretics. To muddy the waters further, he also ordered repair and and maintenance on some temples, and donated generously to others. Still, he didn’t endear himself all that much to the people in general, and it’s not hard to see the roots of current Indo-Pakistani tensions in the changes he instituted.
None of which Dara would have carried out.
What didn’t happen: Let us get one thing straight: the Mughal emperors were, to put it mildly, extravagant. When you spend twenty-one years building a mausoleum for your dead wife, you’re not exactly putting the needs your people ahead of your own, and the Taj Mahal is just the tip of a large, beautiful, expensive iceberg. And the Empire also spent a lot of time trying to assert its authority over the entire subcontinent. No matter what Dara did, by its extravagance and violent expansionism, the Empire was sowing the seeds of its own decline, and no matter which son took the throne, he would have been the last strong Mughal ruler.
But it didn’t have to end as it did. Dara had the support of the people and certain prominent members of his family, namely his father and his sister Jahanara, and he would have been massively popular. If Aurangzeb had been defeated—though let’s not kid ourselves, Dara would probably have been forced to kill him out of political necessity—and the throne passed to Dara, an entirely different age for India would have begun. Dara was tolerant, preferred intellectual achievements over military ones, and would be remembered even more fondly than he already is. The cultural divisions that still cause headaches today would be lessened. The imperial government’s popularity might even mean a stronger presence in more recent times. The Revolt of 1857 would have had a very different outcome with a more influential Mughal Empire at its core.
Dara would have left the empire with a powerful legacy of tolerance—something empires are all too often without. His loss is one of the sadder might-have-beens on this blog.
El príncipe Dara Shikoh (دارا شِكوه), —tan magnífico como Dara—, aparece en medio del viaje oliendo una flor antes de la batalla. Su imagen (de perfil, a punto de caer en un éxtasis olfativo) la replico en una serie de postales que envío desde Mysore.
Dara Shikoh tradujo al persa los Upanishads (los más de 200 libros sagrados hinduistas escritos en sánscrito entre el siglo VII a. C. y principios del siglo XX d. C.). En el capítulo de ‘Artes Islámicas, Literatura India en Persia’, de la Enciclopedia Británica, se dice sobre él: “His inclination to mysticism is reflected in both his prose and poetry”.
De sus versos del Diwan:
The more a traveller is unencumbered,
The less he feels worried on his journey.
You, too, are a traveller in this world, Take this as certain, if you are wakeful.
Drive egoism away from you,
For, like conceit and arrogance, it is also a burden.
So long as you live in this world, be independent, The Qadri has warned you!
Muhammad Khan: A Prince in Persian Costume Pouring Wine, 1633-4, the Dara Shikoh Album, Add. Or. 3129, f. 21v., Mughal painting, British Library Collection, National Library, London, United Kingdom, source: britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk. and bl.uk. The Dara Shikoh Album is a collection of paintings and calligraphy assembled during the 1630s by Dara Shikoh (1615-59), the eldest son of the Emperor Shah Jahan, and presented to his wife Nadira Banu Begum in 1641-2.
After having cured the Mughal Prince Muhammad Dara Shikoh of poisoning, the Sikhs asked Guru Har Rai why he had saved the life of a prince whose forefathers had tormented the Guru’s own father and grandfather.
The Guru answered:
“A man breaks flowers with one hand and offers them with the other. But the flower perfumes both hands alike”.__Panth Prakash, Giani Gian Singh, pp. 121-122.