Much is not known about Dara Shukoh in India and the sub-continent. We know much about Aurangzeb, but not much about his brother Dara. Dara was the eldest son of Shah Jahan, the fifth Mughal emperor. Dara was a scholar, sufi, author and translator.
He translated Upnishads into Persian. Dara was confirmed as his heir by Shah Jahan but Dara was defeated by his brother Aurangzeb in a war of succession.
The recent book The Emperor Who Never was: Dara Shukoh in Mughal India by Supriya Gandhi focuses on Dara. The author draws an archival sources to tell the story of four brothers — Dara, Shuja, Murad and Aurangzeb — who with their older sister Jahanara Begum clashed during a war of succession.
The youngest Aurangzeb emerged victorious and executed his brothers, imprisoned father Shah Jahan and became emperor. The question continues to remain is would the history of India and South Asia been different if Dara have become the sixth Mughal emperor instead of Aurangzeb.
What kind of relations the Hindus and Muslims would have today? Opinion is divided. It might have changed the course of the history. Dara was against the religious extremism.
Dara authored Risala-I Haqqnuma, Hasanat-ul-arifin, Majma-ul-bahrain (meeting place of the two seas). Some believe that these two seas stand for Hinduism and Islam. The book gives us detailed and revealing portrait of Dara.
The author in her conclusion says, “We do not have to go far to wonder what kind of emperor Dara Shukoh would have been. We do not need to speculate, because in his father’s court, he was already a ruler. For a handful of years in the 1650s, the two govern in tandem.
They hosted scholars, prosecuted a war, managed allies, and subdued threats. If Dara had come to power, he too would have had to reproduce the very fratricidal violence that had brought his father to the throne.”
Shah Jahan formalised Dara’s status as future heir in early 1655. The occasion was Shah Jahan’s 65th lunar birthday. Dara’s other brothers were given different responsibilities. Murad was governor of Gujarat. Shuja was looking after Bengal.
Aurangzeb was given responsibility of Deccan and was plotting to expand the empire by invading Golconda, seat of Qutb shahi rulers. Seeing Aurangzeb’s aspirations, Dara through Shah Jahan pressured Aurangzeb to lift the siege Golconda. It was seen as Dara’s victory.
Shah Jahan’s illness finally led to a situation where everyone thought of achieving something big. Gandhi writes, “Shuja, believing emperor to be dead, enthroned himself as emperor.”
Shuja was defeated at Bahadurpur, near Benares but, he managed to escape. Murad also saw an opportunity. He proclaimed himself emperor in December 1657. Murad, Shuja and Aurangzeb came together and planned conspiracy to oust Dara.
The campaign especially of Aurangzeb was much vicious and he gave religious angle to the war of succession. Dara was called ‘apostate’. The killing of a person was justified if someone was charged of apostasy. During all these period, Jahanara tried for peace.
She insisted that fighting against family members is primarily against religious values. Aurangzeb ignored sister’s appeal. Dara was defeated at Samugarh.
He managed to escape but finally he was caught. He was killed and so other brothers. Aurangzeb became the emperor and history deprived Dara from becoming an emperor.