Sunday, April 16, 2017

Prince Dara Shikuh

Part 1.

(Long post. 7,000 words. 30-40 minutes of reading time when the mind is feeling patient)

Summary: I homeschool, and, 8th grade history has a chapter on the Mughals. In my background reading I came across and read Dara Shikuh’s book “Majma-ul-Bahrain”. Astonished, I read up more on his life. I felt dismayed that no one matched his persona in events with his spirituality. History, whether written by Mughal partisans or non-partisans, does not do justice to the Sufi prince who walked the walk to Advaita. 
This is his story by me, told mainly through his very own words, the words of his chief antagonist (Aurangzeb) and their father (Shah Jahan). 
Part 1 is focused on the period from late 1657 to early 1659 with the backdrop of the empire. Part 2 leads into sublime Oneness points in his book, contrasting with the events of summer 1659 and the aftermath. 

***** ***** ***** 

Bubble in a bubble

In the ocean of medieval India unfolded the story of prince Dara Shikuh- like a bubble inside the Mughal gold bubble. 
His story was a deadly combination of princely gore and a fakir’s grace.

The Die was Cast

In December 1653, Dara Shikuh returned to Shahjahanabad (Old Delhi) from Kandahar.
Dara had led a battle against Persia. His siege of 3 months extended to 5 and failed. He had hoped to win the city for his father, where his brother, Aurangzeb, failed in 1649 and 1652. These three wars took lives, limbs and rupees.

Dara Shikuh must have made a choice after coming back. He was 38. 
He chose to resume his philosophical work as if a force was pulling him. Majma ul Bahrain, or Meeting of Oceans, was a book from 1656-57. It was his last original work. 
It burst on the imperial setting. 

A Campaign and a Wedding

Before going to Kandahar in February, Dara was at Lahore preparing for the siege. Aurangzeb's wars had failed once for lack of artillery and once for not having trained hands for effective artillery fire. So-
In the course of 3 months and some days that Dara remained at Lahore, he used such profuse exertions, that what could not have been otherwise accomplished in a year was effected in 3 months… Among the siege train was a gun called Kishwar-kusha and another Garh-bhanjan…each of which carried an iron shot…in weight (96 lbs)…as well as 30,000 cannon-balls, small and great…5000 mans of gunpowder, and 2500 of lead…and 14,000 rockets…”

Fierce tensions in the failing siege led to an argument regarding the soundness of another attack. Between Dara and Raja Jai Singh1, who had been in the 3 campaigns. Dara was aggrieved that he wasn’t getting clear advice. 
Dara: “Your heart and tongue do not seem to agree. What is in your heart, your tongue does not give out, and whatever your tongue utters finds no echo in your heart…If I return (without conquering Kandahar) how can I show my face to the Padshah (emperor)?”
Jai Singh: “Your highness is the very light of the emperor’s eyes…how shall we humble servants show our faces?”

There was a mend, soon. Dara’s son, Suleiman Shikuh (20 years of age) was wedded to Raja Jai Singh’s niece in 1655. 

Story inside a story

The Majma ul Bahrain is a philosophical comparative study of Sufism and Hinduism. It was translated by Dara into Samskrutam as Samudra Sangamam, and is said to have one extra paragraph than the original Persian.

Majma ul Bahrain (MuB) has 40 pages. In the book, I found 3 layers. One layer is the comparison, then there is the layer with answers to Oneness puzzles that Dara sought. The third is where Dara tells a story. Cast in a loop, it is his spiritual story and everybody’s. 


Dara- Profile1

Dara Shikuh aka Shah Bulund Iqbal (Prince of High Fortune) was heir to the Mughal empire. He was a scholar, an author, artist, poet, pacifist and a Sufi. His governed his provinces from Delhi while helping his father Shah Jahan administer the center.
Vested with trust and power, Dara had everything that royal carpets spread out. But his questions were of the soul. He sought pirs, fakirs, pandits and priests, to understand. 
People came to him with entreaties: be it artists seeking patronage, agents from neighboring kingdoms seeking peace treaties, dismissed nobles or even criminals on death row pleading for mercy. 
Shah Jahan: “…I cannot sufficiently thank god for blessing me with a son like you.”

Sarkhush wrote in 1680: “Muhammed Dara Shikuh… was a prince of good disposition, fine imagination and handsome appearance. He had patience; led the life of a Sufi, was a friend of the devotees, and was also a Unitarian and a philosopher. He had a noble mind and a far-reaching intelligence. He expressed Sufistic ideas in quatrains and ghazals and, in view of his adherence to the Kadiri order, adopted the pen name of Kadiri.”
Jahanara Begum (Dara’s older sister): “… We (she and Dara) are, in fact, like one soul in two bodies..”


Competitiveness between the sons of Shah Jahan was seen as early as 1634. That was when the three older sons (Dara, Shuja, Aurangzeb) got mansabs (land, troop and pay allotment). 
Dara got a rank of 6,000 horse after Shah Jahan was compelled by Dara’s feelings at being passed over. But Dara did not get a position. Shah Jahan did not permit him to take the field and move far away. Shuja and Aurangzeb went away. 
Eventually, Dara found his way, as did his brothers. Over years, they grew jealous of Shah Jahan’s preference for Dara. 
In December 1652, Aurangzeb and Shuja entertained each other for 3 days in their houses in Agra (much to Shah Jahan’s displeasure) and made a pact against Dara’s imminent emperorship, sealing it with betrothals between their children. 

MuB- Translation

I came by the thorough English translation of the Majma ul Bahrain by Professor M. Mahfuz-ul-Haq, Presidency College, Kolkata, published by the Asiatic Society in 1929. 
The original foreword was by Johan Van Manen, a theosophist. I found his preface colonially condescending while missing the point.

First Turn

After 25 years of a daily routine of 4AM-10PM, Shah Jahan, it is said, cut down on travel and stayed in the capital. He turned more towards the pleasures in life. 
He fell ill on September 17, 1657. He was 65. His body swelled up. He nearly died. The illness was caused by a failed aphrodisiac. He didn’t appear in the jharoka (public viewing balcony) for a few days. Chaos, panic and rumors spread. 
Dara sat for whole nights by his father’s side and watched the motion of his eye to meet his needs.

As regent, Dara banned rumor correspondence. He gave the pink slip to vizier Mir Jhumla and paymaster Danishmand Khan. And announced in court: 
The emperor more from an idea of justice, than from any superior affection to me, has appointed me his successor in the throne; and I find, in my own mind, no inclination to relinquish what heaven and my father have thrown into my hands. Those, therefore, who will show the earliest zeal in my support, shall command my gratitude. Be explicit and open, as I always am; and resolve to continue (to be) faithful. Such of you as owe favors to my brothers, will not serve me with zeal. Let them, therefore, in their prudence, retire to their houses. I want not their pretended support; and I will not bear with their intrigues in favor of others.” 

When the emperor was at the point of death, Dara had tears and had joy when his father's recovery showed. The royal durbar moved to Agra in October, with Dara putting the emperor on a barge on the Yamuna, with Dara spending the day on the barge and on shore at night. 
Shah Jahan sufficiently recovered. In February 1658 he gave extensive rewards to Dara in court.
Shah Jahan: “He who prefers the life of an aged parent to the throne of India, can never be sufficiently paid for his filial piety”.

Meanwhile, Dara’s three younger brothers held that Dara killed Shah Jahan. Letters from Shah Jahan were dismissed as forgeries. Public appearances of Shah Jahan were dismissed as of an impersonator. Shuja from Bengal and Murad from Gujarat declared themselves emperors. In spring 1658 two rebellions, first one from Shuja and one from the joined forces of Murad and Aurangzeb started making moves.

MuB- Core 

Dara began with an introduction and followed with 22 philosophical sections.

The sections have his observations, some long and some short. They revolve around introducing his view of monotheism in Hinduism and drawing a similarity to Sufi aspects, to an audience very familiar with Sufism. 
I saw from the half side of Hinduism- he took one philosophical concept after another and went into detail, while continually adding to a core with sensitive preciseness. And the core kept getting sublime. Blink, and you would not miss it.
But - is Hinduism monotheistic?  


Mughals 101 

Babur won over Ibrahim Lodi of the Turko-Afghani Delhi Sultanate in 1526. Babur had a Mongol tribal background- he was great3grandson of Timur of Uzbekistan (who was a descendent of Genghis Khan) on one side and on another, was a great10grandson of the same Genghis Khan. Hence the name Mughals. 

Humayun succeeded Babur, lost and re-won the kingdom. Akbar, from 1556-1605, cast the kingdom into an empire. Then there was Jahangir, then Shah Jahan, whose mothers were Rajput princesses from Amer and Marwar. 
A 100 years and 5 kings were between Babur and Shah Jahan, another ~100 years between Shah Jahan’s start and Nadir Shah’s plunder, with 6 kings in the decade after Aurangzeb. The smaller, weakened empire held on for another ~120 years until 1857 with the supports of nobles, Marathas, East India Company and even powerful eunuchs. 

The Mughals were super rich from Akbar to ~2/3ds time of Aurangzeb. The key was the mansabdari tax system improvised by Akbar in 1595. It was the lifeline of the empire. 


The 22 sections can be put in the areas of - view of physical environment we inhabit and our bodies; a view of time-sound-light; how the body relates to grace within the environment; ways of reaching out to grace and the possible outcomes.


The mansabdars (~amirs =nobles) were appointed by the emperor. Mansabdari has its origin in the Ikta system of central Asia. 
The nobles reported to a subedar, who was the governor of a subah (province). The emperor depended on the nobles who were assigned a land, troop count & supplies based on rank and position. They fought wars for the emperor and collected taxes in their assigned jagirs (land areas). The nobles were mostly immigrant warriors from Turani, Afghan, Arabian, Uzbek or Persian areas. Some Rajputs, and later, Marathas, made the cut. The nobles were rich, on-the-move, competitive and vulnerable. Their position was not hereditary. They could lose everything if the emperor said poof. So they watched, ready to switch sides in transitions and survive. For instance, the nobles who supported Khusru in his rebellion against his father Jahangir were, after Khusru's loss, impaled on poles while alive. 

In Aurangzeb’s reign (before 1684) the annual revenue from 19 subahs was Rs. 9,24,17,16,082. Of which Rs. 7,51,77,34,731 was paid to mansabdars2 and the rest went to treasury. 
India’s population ~ 150 million and the mansabdar count was ~ 400 (above 1000 zat). 
[We can say that the Mughal Raj was an immense war machine: a tiny fraction (0.0002%) held 80% of monies, with an extensive war-supply industry and a culture centered around that].


In China, emperor Kangxi who was seen as an outsider brought prosperity and tolerance in a long reign 0f 60+ years. In Angola, queen Nzinga fought the invading Portuguese to save her kingdom’s lands and way of life. Tobacco farmers in Jamestown bought 20 slaves from a Dutch ship. Colonists at Plymouth Rock began making inroads into Wamponoag territory. The stretched out Thirty Years War was ending in Europe. In England, Charles I was executed for treason by puritan Oliver Cromwell. The plague killed 200,000. In 1642 an infant named Isaac survived infancy. He would later write the Principia Mathematica. 
And the Ohlone lived in this part of California in harmony with nature, connecting with the spirit in everything and only taking only what they needed from the land, waters and animals. 
My ancestors continued living as they did for centuries, in a coastal part of the southmost Kalinga area.

MuB- Scope 

It is unbelievable that in the tense atmosphere of mid 1650’s, Dara turned his back on intrigue and put his life in this endeavor. He traveled very far, Dara Shikuh, from an upbringing as a privileged Mughal prince in line to be an absolute monarch to, this book.
It is not possible to discuss all the sections in this blog post. I hope to present an angle, with the goal of telling Dara’s story. And his likely state of mind when he left his house to visit the ill emperor in Sept 1657 up to his death, two years later.

Mughals 102

The money defined the court and capital- splendor gushed like a mountain spring. Gifting was first language. Persian was second language. 

Sunni Islam was the rulers’ religion except between 1581-1605 (part of Akbar’s reign). From Akbar’s time, the women lived in the zenana, which was a screened-off area. Many a prince had a large harem and good supplies of wine and opium.

Princely succession to rule was vague. In peer empires, like the Ottoman and Safavid empires, the prince who won over other princes got the throne. The princes who lost were blinded or imprisoned or killed or not. From Humayun, succession and holding on wasn’t easy.

The footprint of the Mughals was high, their interaction with nature contrasted with Hindu natives who held land, rivers, some mountains, trees, plants, birds and animals in reverence. 
The ocean of the native masses farmed, paid taxes, lived and died. They also bore invasions, civil wars, famines and drought. War meant plunder, assault, rape, kidnapping for slavery and murder by the armies passing by. Large fields where the armies camped were wasted.


MuB- Introduction

“..Now, thus sayeth this unaffected, unsorrowing fakir, Muhammed Dara Shikuh, that, after knowing the Truth of truths and ascertaining the secrets and subtleties of the true religion of the Sufis and having been endowed this great gift, he thirsted to know the tenets of the religion of the Indian monotheists..he did not find any difference, except verbal, in the way in which they sought and comprehended Truth..” 


In 1658, Aurangzeb began calling Murad “Your Highness” and following the etiquette due to an emperor. He said he would assist Murad, who was most suited to rule, to take the throne and would himself retreat to pass his life in the austerities of religion.

Some letters from 1658-
Aurangzeb to Shuja: “…we should not give the enemy (Dara) leisure to prepare; because, if the people become attached to him…to circumvent him may be difficult…if the enemy attacks either of us, the two others shall assist in preventing the execution of his designs…so that the chief of atheists should not be able to direct the whole of his force to one quarter…the pillars of his security and con­fidence would be thus shaken.”

Aurangzeb to Murad: “…He (Aurangzeb) agrees that…he will remain constant in the path of attachment… (and) by the exertions of our victorious cham­pions…the chief of apostates with his followers and corrupters may be annihilated…we (Aurangzeb) will at all times observe our agreement of assistance, and the articles of mutual interest and unity…nor will we neglect a single point of our declarations…we call God…as witness…”

MuB- Tone

The tone of the book is sincere, open and clear. The words came from the heart. There are also a few defensive waves.

Dara ended the introduction with-
“And from God comes grace and help.”

And ended the book with- 
“Praise be to God for His favors, Who granted me the grace of completing this tract, entitled Majma-ul-Bahrain, in the year 1065 A.H., which corresponds to the forty-second year of the age of this unafflicted and unsorrowing fakir, Muhammed Dara Shikuh”


Born on March 20, 1615 in Ajmer to Prince Khurram and his second wife, Arjumand Banu (later known as Mumtaz Mahal), Dara was named by grandpa Jahangir. Khurram and Mumtaz had 14 children, of whom 7 did not die in infancy- Jahanara, Dara, Shuja, Roshnara, Aurangzeb, Murad and Gauhara. 
From ~1620 onwards relations between Jahangir and favorite son Khurram soured. Khurram rebelled and spent 3 years on the run, small children and pregnant wife in tow, chased by Mahabbat Khan3. Out of options, he surrendered. His older three sons of ages 10, 9 and 7 were taken as hostages4. For 3 years they lived in Nur Jahan’s harem. 
Finally they were released by grandpa Asaf Khan. For, after some moves that can beat the movies, Khurram had become emperor Shah Jahan (Abul Muzaffar Shahabuddin Muhammad Sahib Kiran-i sani) on February 6th, 1628, in Agra. He was 36.
Step-family was killed to safe-keep Shah Jahan’s field. Later, in 1641, Asaf Khan would bequeath all his wealth to Dara, bypassing his three sons, one of whom was Shiasta Khan.

Sufi Prince

When Dara turned 19, on March 21, 1634, his infant daughter died. Dara fell ill in grief and didn’t recover for months. Shah Jahan visited Miyan Mir, a Sufi saint in Lahore and took Dara with him by hand. The visit changed Dara. He was cured. 

He later wrote: “By now during frequent meetings with MianJeo I had imbibed adequate love and devotion for him. Once when the emperor and his companions visited MianJeo, the latter during their closing conversation kept on chewing cloves and throwing the husk on the ground. I continued to pick up the chewed husk and eating it. The dignitaries present thought it to be very unbecoming of me. But this had a mystic effect on my psyche. My love and devotion for the saint bordering on deep reverence multiplied manifold. I felt as if my ultimate forgiveness and redemption for the day of reckoning had been assured…”
How strange! Not the act itself, because people seem to feel and do strange things around mystics but that Dara wrote about it in candor. It seems as if the prince had no guile and saw no need, his was a transparent ego. And he seemed to be highly spiritually receptive from a young age. 

Dara Shikuh was initiated as a Kadiri Sufi by Mulla Shah in 1640. 
Dara: “..Of the (breathing) exercises in which I engaged myself in the beginning… I could pass the whole night in two breaths and at times, my condition became such as if my life was going to be extinct.”

Dara corresponded with the Sufi scholar, Mahibullah Illahabadi of the Chisti school. He also met and asked Oneness questions of the wandering fakir Sarmad who lived on the streets of Delhi. 

The 1640’s were a remarkable period for Dara. He learned, explored, and wrote books in earnest on Sufism. He was in-charge of Mughal library and commissioning miniature paintings (also, he nearly died of a fever in 1644). Declared as heir in 1642, it was as if he was the soul of Shah Jahan’s rule- considered the golden age of the Mughals. It was as if the restless Shah Jahan needed Dara Shikuh around to center himself. 


Lives & Changes 

Shah Jahan carried his emperorship with style. Sharp and quick, he seemed to have not neglected affairs of the state for his high sensuality. He dressed in the harem- an attendant for each piece of fine clothing and jewelry- and then, through a side door, bam! entered a balcony and sat on his throne set high in the assembled court
His court was organized. He banned prostration, floor kissing and introduced the 3-point salaam. He kept a pointed eye on the budget. Civic life was free of oppression. Early in his reign he was ruthless, he also had temples pulled down5. He changed over time. 
Shah Jahan loved Mumtaz over all his wives, Jahanara over all daughters and Dara over all sons.

In 1631 a terrible famine followed droughts in the war-ravaged Deccan and in Gujarat. Millions of people died. 
In wretchedness, “pounded bones of the dead were mixed into flour and sold” and “men began to devour each other”. Food and money was dispersed and taxes in the area were waived. Ahmedabad was worst affected.
We don’t know their stories, the stories of these people. They are in the background, equally valuable as any other.

Around the same time, Mumtaz Mahal died while giving birth to Gauhara in Burhanpur. Shah Jahan fell apart in grief. 
Shah Jahan commissioned the Taj Mahal, a mausoleum in memory of his wife, built on the banks of Yamuna in Agra. 
The peacock throne was in the works- gems from the riverbeds and lands were collected by native rulers over millennia, which gathered in the Mughal treasury. The esthetic Shah Jahan decided to showcase them in a throne. The peacock came at a cost of Rs. 1,00,00,000. It had gems worth Rs. 86,00,000 cast with 1,00,000 tolas of gold. A new capital- Shahjahanabad was started with Rs. 50,00,000.
Shah Jahan’s total expenditure (in 30 years) was Rs. 16,85,00,000. Of which Rs. 14,00,00,000 was on personal gifts and the rest on constructions.

MuB- Harassment

Sufism, which I read up on to better understand the MuB, started around 800-900 CE. There seems to have always been some friction between core Islam and Sufism. Sufism’s spread coincided with the spread of Islam in newly occupied lands. By 1200 CE Sufism was popular in India. 

Dara saw harassment and criticism for his Sufi way. MuB mentions that Sarkhush narrated (in 1680) “..a story showing Dara’s forbearance towards one of the buffoons of his court who had made a very impertinent joke at the expense of the prince.”

Dara said in introduction of Shathiyat, a collection of Sufi aphorisms he wrote when he was 28: “As I…at times used to utter words containing the highest truth, in my ecstatic states, and some ill-natured and insincere people, out of shallow knowledge, began to taunt and accuse me of heresies, it struck me that I should collect sayings called Shatajat of high-souled and eminent men of sanctity as authorities for my profession…”

Dara was as spiritual as clear- he quoted the great (mystics) in MuB: “Tasawwuf(Sufism) is equity and (Tasawwuf) is the abandonment of obligations6.”

Wars- Act1

5 wars were fought by the brothers over 1.5 years. 30-40 thousand soldiers died. Queens of fallen Rajput kings had Jauhar. Following outcomes, soldiers switched sides, officials and generals turned loyalties- Jai Singh, Daler Khan, Mir Jhumla, Khalillullah Khan, Shiasta Khan, Jaswant Singh, Danishmand Khan..
A dense fog of famine settled in after the wars. 

First, Suleiman Shikuh with generals Jai Singh and Diler Khan won against Shah Shuja at Benaras in a surprise attack led by Suleiman at dawn on February 14, 1658. 

Aurangzeb and Murad won against Jaswant Singh and Qasim Khan at Dharmat on the Narmada riverbed April 15, 1658. When attacked, the army of Aurangzeb was shocked into retreat but reinforced by the vigor of Murad who attacked from rear. Moreover Aurangzeb had spread word through his charges “who insinuated to…(Qasim Khan’s soldiers), that should the Maharaja prevail, their religion would be at an end in India”. Confusion arose in the fighting men- who was foe, who was friend? 6,000 men- mostly Rajputs, died on the field. 
The princes rested at Ujjain despite Murad’s eagerness, for Aurangzeb said, "There are thirty thousand men in the army of Dara, whom I intend to gain over to my interest before we shall again engage”. They came towards Agra despite the fasting period of Ramadan so as to attack before the cream of the army with the dashing Suleiman came back from Benaras.  
Shah Jahan was livid at the treason and fearful of war between his sons. He singled out Shiasta Khan and shoved him with his staff for having mislead that Aurangzeb “…had only good intentions..”

MuB- Start & End

The introduction starts with 3 similar verses from Sufi texts. One:

Faith and Infidelity, both are galloping on the way towards Him,
And are exclaiming (together): He is One and non shares His kingship.
He is manifest in all; and everything has emanated from Him. He is the first and the last and nothing exists, except Him.
[Here, He or Truth, is independent of both: Faith and Veiled-faith.]

The book ends in the Samskrutam version with:
Visnurupatmana icchaya sviyamano mandaram krtva samkalpa-vikalpan deva-daityan krtva veda-samudram mathitva jnana-ratnam ekamidrsam niskasitam yad devair daityais ca samudramanthanam krtva niskasitesu caturdasa-ratnesv api na praptam |


Wars- Act 2

Meanwhile, “Dara…prepared, with redoubled vigor, for the field. He passed like a flame through the capital, and kindled thousands into an eagerness equal to his own.” 

Shah Jahan bid farewell to Dara in an embrace. His old hands trembled, and held Dara for a long time. Earlier, Dara had fallen at the still weak Shah Jahan’s feet imploring him to not to enter the field himself and endanger his health. (If he had, there was a good chance the soldiers under the rebels had would have laid down their arms). 
Dara: “…I shall go with a force and chastise them so that hereafter sons of kings may learn to abstain during their fathers’ lives from such insolence and boldness…”
Shah Jahan “Then go, my son, but return not without victory to me…add not to my grief by presenting yourself before me in your distress…”

The makeshift imperial army (Dara gave his best resources to Suleiman) met the rebels in Samugarh on a hot day on May 29, 1658. Earlier, the rebel troops camped at Dholpur on Chambal, dispirited and sullen. The rebel brothers got a lift- Shiasta Khan, third in command under Dara dispatched a plan in secret. It worked- the rebels left their tents in place and marched unseen at night through a rear path and crossed the river. Next day, Dara’s army had to race, leaving their canons behind. 

Murad took 3 arrows to his face. The field turned saffron with fallen Rajputs. Rustum Khan died of a canon ball when he was 5 yards away from Aurangzeb, Raja Chattrasal died. 
After a long battle, an imminent victory turned to defeat: Dara, who was at center on Fateh Jung (elephant) started going towards the right. He faced fearsome artillery. Dara’s foster brother, riding with him was hit. 2 more direct artillery attacks and Dara was advised to mount his horse and continue. 
At the same time Murad was besieged and nearly died at the hands of Raja Ram Singh Rathore. Sultan Muhammed (Aurangzeb’s son, 19 years of age) went to his aid. Aurangzeb’s howdah’s ropes were cut by an intrepid Raja, Rup Singh. The field was almost empty, soldiers had left. Two hundred horse remained with Aurangzeb and Murad, a thousand men with Dara. At that instant Dara dismounted his elephant. His troops saw his empty howdah and thought he died. 
They fled. The rebel princes were surprised with an unexpected win. 

Dara and Siphir Shikuh (13 years old) were forced away by close aides who grabbed the bridles. 4 miles away, Dara stopped under the shade of a neem tree: “Whatever is destined to happen, let it happen now”. 
Panic, fear and disbelief spread. Chaos and plunder began to chew the area. 
Dara had lost everything. For himself and for all those who believed in him. He must’ve felt as if pierced by a thousand serrated hot needles.
At the fort, Dara and Shah Jahan had a difficult conversation.

The God Puzzle

[In the middle ages you’d get in trouble if you didn’t follow religion. It was a stamp that you were an okay human being. 

Religion, philosophy and spirituality, in that order, are laid-out paths on different textures, towards god. How they are followed from point of origin varies per individual per religion per culture per time.
The MuB was Dara’s quest for god, written in the language of religion, philosophy and spirituality. In a few junctions he stepped out of all platforms and boarded the train of free spirit towards the one god, where the ticket was an open enough heart.
Some might wonder, what does god mean, in this scientific age? Do read on.]

Wars- Act 3

At 3 AM the same night Dara found his way to Delhi with family. It is said that on the way, Dara sought to find meaning by saying aloud the poems of Hafez to himself. And then Dara went on to Sirhind, Lahore, Bhakkar, Multan and south. He was pursued and then seemingly disappeared. Suleiman’s attempt to join Dara by traveling along the Himalayan foothills was cut by Shiasta Khan. 

With Murad recovering, Aurangzeb rejected his father’s proposal sent with Jahanara Begum to divide the empire into 4 with the biggest chunk to himself but accepted the sword “Alamgir”. 
He arrived at Agra, occupied Dara’s mansion and hit the Red Fort for 3 days with artillery. Shah Jahan surrendered after the water supply from Yamuna was cut-off. The emperor’s request for a meeting was agreed and then refused with drama after Muhammed Sultan (Aurangzeb’s son) gained entry. All wealth was seized and locked up (the personal vaults of Akbar, Jahangir, Nur Jahan and Shah Jahan were in Agra). The old emperor was restricted to a few rooms and the doors were walled up. Only Roshnara who had supplied Aurangzeb with inside information was allowed to leave. Muhammed Sultan became the prison master. 

Meanwhile Aurangzeb made faux preparations for going away on pilgrimage on a small pension after seeing “emperor” Murad on the throne. On their race with their armies to the throne at Shahjahanabad, on 6th July at Mathura, Aurangzeb asked Murad to a meal, wine and beautiful women, “to humor a sick man (bowel issues)”. And when Murad was intoxicated and napping, he had Bahadur Khan (foster brother) bind him up. When Murad woke up and dealt blows, came Aurangzeb’s menacing voice from a head thrust in from behind the curtains: 
“He has no choice but submission or death; dispatch him if he resists”

Murad was secretly sent off to prison. Murad’s intoxicated faithfuls were quietly killed overnight. His army was absorbed. He was executed in Gwalior prison in 1661.

MuB- Salvation

Dara was looking at Hinduism as monotheism. How was he doing that? 
In the Salvation (Mukti, Ridwan-i-Akbar) section he described the Mahapurusha in intense detail7 and quoted a comparative Sufi quatrain.

[But is Hinduism monotheistic? As in- a powerful God being separate from mortals, the faithful looking up to the one God for salvation and existence being real?
Hinduism shows as polytheistic at worship level and as Dvaita (two, where the two are- mortals & gods) on closer look. Dvaita may be closest to monotheism. The {cause-effect} of Dvaita and monotheism have many similarities.
But Hinduism has Advaita (not-two) at core. That is, existence presents as a show, a projection, when at the extremely rare, sublime-subtlety of  “I am”. All {cause-effect} pairs coalesce. At and after that stage, Advaita is Oneness: Only the Self exists, everything is Self.
When Purusha (Self/God/Brahman/Truth/Grace) is seen as all and within, it is Advaita. When seen as all, of which we may be a part, it can be Dvaita or Vishistadvaita. In the latter two, Oneness is at the state of full submission to grace, usually in a state of trance. Advaita is dissolution/submission of ego with effortless awareness (Karmaphala tyagam or non-action in action).

The Yoga Vashista, Upanishads, and Gita, which Dara had studied and translated, are Advaita. 
By medieval age, the Bhakti movement, which can be Dvaita or Vishistadvaita, had settled in India. Dara’s advisors were of this age. So we see this confluence of philosophy in MuB. 

While exploring, Dara stayed on the road of monotheism which was his Sufi faith. He approached Oneness from monotheism.]


The Peacock Throne moved to the Garden

Soon, after on finding out the cause of artillery fire jubilation at Agra fort, Shah Jahan’s eyes flashed with rage: Aurangzeb had crowned himself emperor on August 2nd in the gardens of the fort in Delhi. 

Shah Jahan paced and fell silent. 
Then: “The new emperor, Jahanara, has prematurely mounted his throne. He should have added the murder of a father to the other crimes which have raised him so high. But this perhaps is also art; he wants to deprive me, by misrepresentation, of what remains of my fame, before he deprives me of life.”

Aurangzeb- Profile

Historian Dow in 1779: “The character of Aurangzeb differed in every respect from those of his elder brothers. Destitute of that graceful appearance of person which rendered them popular as soon as seen, he acquired by address that influence over mankind, which nature had on them bestowed. In disposition serious and melancholy…pliant and accommodating in his manner, he gained mankind by flattering their pride…they attributed his attention to their own merit, more than to his designs. His common conversation turned always on trifles. In affairs of moment he was reserved, crafty, and full of dissimulation. Religion, the great engine of political impostors, he professed in all its severity. With it he deceived the weak, and awed into a kind of reverence for his person,… ambition was his darling passion, and before it vanished all the softer feelings of the soul…He had a particular talent for kindling dissensions among those who opposed his designs; and his art and cunning were more destructive to his enemies than his sword.”


Dara’s explained in his introduction in his book Sirr-i-Akbar, (the Great Secret- a translation of Upanishads, 1657): 

“..he (Dara) had read the various works on mysticism… but in spite of this, his thirst… was increasing more and more…So he desired to read all the revealed books…It may be that in one place it is found in compendium, while in others it may be given in detail; and, as such, the compendium may be understood by the help of the detailed.”

“Any difficult problem or sublime idea that came to his mind and was not solved in spite of his best efforts, becomes clear and solved with the help of this ancient work (Upanishads, which he considered an ocean of monotheism)…”

“..And had no other object in view (in translation) except that he would be personally benefited or that his issues, friends and seekers of Truth would gather its fruits…”

[From this understanding came the MuB. The deepest of motives -the pursuit of Truth- motivated him.]

Wars- Final Act

Two more battles in early 1659: one led by Shah Shuja in Khajuha and one led by Dara (who emerged from the Kutch) in Deoria near Ajmer.
Both Shuja and Dara were at this time trying to free their imprisoned father. Shah Jahan, had written to Shuja to help free him from Agra mahal. However, the tide turned. Most nobles supported the winner who had taken the center- Aurangzeb. Of the 4 brothers, only Dara, heir for 15 years, did not declare himself emperor! At this point, even at the insistence of his key supporter, Shah Nawaz Khan, subedar of Gujarat (Aurangzeb and Murad’s father-in-law, who had been imprisoned by Aurangzeb before Samugarh for staying neutral and released after).

In Khajuha, Shah Shuja showed keen generalship and military genius. He did not use conventional formation. He and his son Bulund Akhtar (~20 years of age) lost after a valiant effort. Right after, Aurangzeb gave a religious oration, to much applause.
Shuja was relentlessly hounded by mercenary Mir Jhumla across Bengal over 1.5 years. Shuja and family were killed in Arakan (Burma) in 1661-62. Shah Shuja had ruled Bengal for 20 years.
Aurangzeb to Shah Jahan in 1659 (letter): “…certain intelligence…reached me…the note written by you in Hindi, to my brother Shuja, which proved the destruction of him and his family. I then was convinced that your majesty loved not me…though the power was wrested from your hands, you studied that another should obtain rule, and my endeavors, calculated solely for the extension of religion, and the welfare of the state, be rendered useless

With the powerful Mirzaraja Jai Singh firmly at Aurangzeb’s side, Dara saw his Rajput support go to none. Rajputana stayed neutral. Dara had written for help8, so had Aurangzeb, with offers and threats. A letter was delivered personally by Jai Singh to Jaswant Singh who was persuaded to rescind his promise to help Dara with critical troops9.

In March 12-14, 1659, Dara lost. Despite a brilliant strategy of hillside trench warfare which had Aurangzeb astonished after viewing with a spy-glass. The vertical placement  across 6 miles neutralized Aurangzeb’s larger force. Aurangzeb: “I know not what to do.” 
There was a stalemate.  He called a meeting and shouted at his generals for incompetence. Ideas trickled: for enticing betrayals. 
Betrayals by former friends at front-end (Raja Jai Singh & Diler Khan) and back-end (Raja Rajrup) collapsed the battle where thousands died and an equal were terrifyingly wounded. 


MuB: Disapproval

In Maathir-i-Alamgiri (Aurangzeb’s officially approved biography written in 1658-68) is the following section- 
Dara’s Heresy: “Dara Shikuh in his later days did not restrain himself to the free-thinking and heretical notions which he had adopted under the name of Tasawwuf (Sufism), but showed an inclination for the religion and institutions of the Hindus… He considered their books which they call Ved as being the word of god… he called them ancient and excellent books. He was under such delusion… he spent all his time in this unholy work, and devoted all his attention to the contents of these wretched books…Through these perverted opinions he had given up the prayers, fasting and other obliga­tions imposed by the law…It became manifest that if Dara Shikuh obtained the throne..the precepts of Islam would be changed for the rant of infidelity and Judaism.”

In his introduction to MuB, Prof. Mahfuz-ul-Haq gives numerous examples of Sufi saints who studied Vedanta and made inferences. He concluded (1929): “…Time has vindicated his (Dara’s) honor,…he is adored and admired…a prince who suffered death, not as an offender against Islam, but as one who fell victim to the imperialistic ambitions and aspirations of his wily, fakir brother… Anyone can choose to be the champion of Islam and remove all those who stand in the way of the realization of his political ambitions.”

[If we take an overall view of how assiduously some of the successful Moghul emperors followed obligations of their religion, we have Akbar, the mastermind of the empire, who had formed a new inclusive religion. And we have Babur who founded the empire, who wrote about his homosexuality. Other emperors: Jahangir's free-for-all court debates between priests of all faiths were the talk of town and Shah Jahan had requested a waiver from fasting.]

Dead or Alive

In the dismayed disarray of the defeated, Dara barely escaped. His camp was severely plundered. Dara met up with his family after 2 days. They had very little money and were homeless. 

Aurangzeb emerged winner, consistent with Mughal succession framework: the prince with most crafted self-interest wins. 

By March 20, Aurangzeb with Jai Singh wrote to all Rajput kings to arrest Dara if he set foot on their lands. Aurangzeb left no loophole: all doors closed on Dara, his paths were blocked except to the west, which he took. Jai Singh and Bahadur Khan pursued Dara with their troops, joined by Jaswant Singh. 
With tens of thousands of soldiers hunting him with orders from Aurangzeb to bring him alive or dead, Dara Shikuh became Hindustan’s most wanted man, ever. 

MuB- Oneness 

Dara in his 20’s: “…God has, in spite of his (Dara) being in this garb (of a prince), opened to him the portals of .. divine knowledge;…his favor is without any cause…”
In his 40’s: “This fakir (Dara) has known unknown things and understood un-understood problems…” 

Dara’s MuB has some sublime strains of Oneness. 4 times. These are the junctions where Dara boarded the train of free spirit leaving the platform of religions. 


(To be continued in Part 2)


Reason for writing this post: This year, my son’s 8th grade history had a chapter on the Mughals, for which we used the book “Story of the World” by Susan Wise Bauer. The chapter had nothing on Akbar, some on Jahangir and Shah Jahan, disdain at Dara and was mostly about Aurangzeb. The tone was weird. Huh, I thought and browsed, with the intent to maybe supplement with a little extra reading. I came across the MuB, read a page, downloaded it and then the blog post wrote itself. It became long, I could not shorten it. 
The post is of Dara Shikuh, his thirst for Oneness.  

  1. Raja Jai Singh of Amer (1611-1667). His great grandson was the famous Jai Singh II (1688-1743). After reclaiming his lands after the death of Aurangzeb, Jai Singh II would lobby for years to have the Jazya tax rescinded in 1720. 
  2. The word used in the reference was 'jagirdar'. Some others say that <500 rank was mansabdar, 2500 <rank> 500 was amir, and >2500 rank was omrah.
  3. Mahabbat Khan Sr. had a long service under Jahangir. He would fall out of favor with Nur Jahan, rebel, flee and help Khurram to the throne. 
  4. Shuja was already living with Jahangir.
  5. In 1632, 76 temples were destroyed in district of Benares. (Badshah-Nama).
  6. Here, I will speculate that Dara is talking of the ‘great mystics’ who were in advanced Sufi stages.
  7. Dara described 3 types of Mukti with Sufi equivalents. First was Jiwan Mukti. His detailed description of Jiwan Mukti is close to Advaita. (I say -close to Advaita- because, strictly speaking, Mukti is -always there- in Advaita. Ramana Maharshi: ~ “First find out who is asking for Mukti.”)
  8. One of Dara’s letters is in the archives of Udaipur. He had written to Maharana Raj Singh, whose kingdom had been saved from annexation by imperial forces of Sadullah Khan (vizier of Shah Jahan) and Jai Singh in 1654 by Dara’s intervention.
  9. Both Jai Singh and Jaswant Singh were related to Dara and siblings (cousins and step-cousins, but the only relationship was of Mughal-Rajput). 

Majma-ul-Bahrain by Prince Muhammed Dara Shikuh, Translated by M. Mahfuz-Ul-Haq, The Asiatic Society, 1929, Reprinted 1998. 
The History of Hindostan, by Alexander Dow, 1779.
Memoirs of Delhi and Faizabad, Muhammed Faiz Baksh, 1817.
Adab-i-Alamgiri (letters of Aurangzeb)
The Peacock Throne, Waldemar Hansen
Dara Shukoh’s Contribution to Philosophy of Religion with Special Reference to his Majma-al-Bahrayn, PhD. Thesis of Kazuyo Sakaki, 1998, Aligarh Muslim University. 
Shah Jahan-Nama of Inayat Khan
Hazrat Mian Mir and the Sufi Tradition by Gyani Brahma Singh Brahma, Punjab University, Patiala. 
Badshah-Nama of Abdul Hamid Lahori
Alamgir-Nama of Muhammed Kasim
Maasir-i-Alamgiri of Muhammad Saki Mustaidd Khan
Mirat-i-Alam of Bakhtawar Khan
Kalimat-ush-Shuara of Afdaluddin Sarkhush (via MuB)
(This research, pages 108-112, details the mansabdar count of above 1000 zat at ~400 in first and second halves of Aurangzeb’s reign. In first half, 80% of mansabdars of above 1000 zat were muslim and in second half, 63%. Maratha mansabdars increased in the second half; however the authors mention that their numbers could be inflated due to defections)

About References: 
The main narrative here relies on the words said by the players themselves, except for translation. MuB, letters and a timeline carry this narrative. 
Of those I read who wrote of that time, I found the narrative of Dow and Baksh most authentic. They had different filters and biases, which is inevitable. One was analytical and the other was lyrical. They both wrote from sources who handed down the stories to them and did not seem to be aware of other sources.
I stayed away from Bernier and Manucci, who are sources for most. There were inaccuracies, the nature of which cast doubt on the whole for me, in one more than the other. Official sources (those with -nama in the name) were used for specific details here and there. I stayed away from sources after 1900, with the exception of Hansen and Jadunath Sarkar (in Part-2) but excluded their references to Bernier and Manucci.