Shah Jahan, the emperor who was known for building “Taj Mahal” at Agra for was also known for being father of Aurangzeb. Last year In New Delhi the local government wanted to change the name of a road which was named after “Aurangzeb”. Poet-diplomat Abhay K‘s poem “Dara Shikoh” demands that the road in New Delhi formerly known as Aurangzeb Road be named after him. Most of the normal people had no clue why that initiative was taken. But some Historians come in to rescue for such action of present government. So, what actually happened of Aurangzeb reign (1658-1707) who was known as the most powerful and ruthless ruler of the world of his time that people should know about.

This piece of writing is devoted to a lost name and generous soul, Prince Dara Shikoh/Shukoh. Dara was the elder son of Shah Jahan and was ready to take over the reign from his father. His father Shah Jahan believed Dara had the quality to be wonderful ruler and a friend of general people similar to his own grandfather Jalal-Uddin-Akbar (

Emperor Akbar as a source of inspiration - Dara in the Ibadat Khana at Fatehpur Sikri - sees apparition of Akbaar. Aurangzeb turns away in derision. Dara was interested in architecture.
Emperor Akbar as a source of inspiration – Dara in the Ibadat Khana at Fatehpur Sikri – sees apparition of Akbaar. Aurangzeb turns away in derision. Dara was interested in architecture.

Dara Shikoh was born Taragarh fort Ajmer on 28 October 1615, the eldest son of Prince Shahab ud-din Muhammad Khurram (Shah Jahan) and his second wife, Mumtaz Mahal. When he was 12, his grandfather Emperor Jahangir died and his father succeeded as emperor. Dara married his first cousin Nadira on 1633, February 1st.

The marriage was successful and Dara never contracted any other marriage after marrying Nadira.  Marrying numerous times was trend among the Prince of that time.

Dara Shikoh is widely renowned as an enlightened paragon of the harmonious coexistence of heterodox traditions on the Indian subcontinent. He was an erudite champion of mystical religious speculation and a poetic diviner of syncretic cultural interaction among people of all faiths.

Dara Shikoh was a follower of the Persian mystic Sarmad Kashani, as well as Lahore’s famous Qadiri Sufi saint Hazrat Mian Mir. Mian Mir was well respected among all communities.

Dara Shikoh developed a deep friendship with seventh Sikh Guru; Guru Har Rai. Dara Shikoh devoted huge effort towards finding a common mystical language between Islam and Hinduism.  Towards that goal he translated fifty Upanishads from Sanskrit to Persian in 1657, so it can be studied by Muslim scholars.  His translations were called as Sirr-e-Akbar (The greatest mystery).

In translation he states boldly, in the introduction, his speculative hypothesis that the work referred to in the Qur’an as the “Kitab al-maknun” or the hidden book, is none other than the Upanishads (Amartya Sen 2005). His most famous work, Majma-ul-Bahrain (“The Confluence of the Two Seas”), was also devoted to a revelation of the mystical and pluralistic affinities between Sufic and Vedantic speculation. The library established by Dara Shikoh still exists on the grounds of Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University, Kashmiri Gate, Delhi, and is now run as a museum by Archaeological Survey of India after being renovated.

Dara Shikoh was also a patron of fine arts, music and dancing, a trait frowned upon by his sibling Aurangzeb. The ‘Dara Shikoh’ is a collection of paintings and calligraphy assembled from the 1630s until his death. It was presented to his wife Nadira Banu in 1641–42 (Dara Shikoh Album).

It remained with with her until her death after which the album was taken into the royal library and the inscriptions connecting it with Dara Shikoh were deliberately erased; however not everything was vandalised and many calligraphy scripts and paintings still bear his mark.

Dara Shukoh; presenting a carved railing for Keshva Rai Temple at Mathura (Left). Later, Aurangzeb orders (1666 AD) demolition of the temple (Right)
Dara Shukoh; presenting a carved railing for Keshva Rai Temple at Mathura (Left). Later, Aurangzeb orders (1666 AD) demolition of the temple (Right)

Dara Shikoh is also credited with the commissioning of several exquisite, still extant, examples of Mughal architecture – among them the tomb of his wife Nadira Banu in Lahore, the tomb of Hazrat Mian Mir also in Lahore, the Dara Shikoh Library in Delhi, the Akhun Mullah Shah Mosque in Srinagar in Kashmir and the Pari Mahal garden palace (Srinagar in Kashmir). These intellectual pursuits and his love for arts and grading other religion as equal as Islam later caused his brutal death.

One September 6, 1657 the the illness of emperor Shah Jahan triggered a desperate struggle for power among the four Mughal princes, though realistically only Dara Shikoh and Aurangzeb had a chance of emerging victorious (Sarkar, Jadunath, 1984).

Shah Shuja was the first to make his move, declaring himself Mughal Emperor in Bengal and marched towards Agra from the east. Murad Baksh allied himself with Aurangzeb.

Dara had always received strong support from Shah Jahan, who had recovered enough from his illness to remain a strong factor in the struggle for supremacy.  The victory of his army led by his eldest son Sulaiman Shikoh over Shah Shuja in the battle of Bahadurpur on 14 February 1658 gave him the edge. While majority of the army was busy fighting Shah Suja in Bengal other two brother Aurangzeb and Murad jointly attacked Agra. Dara Shikoh was defeated by Aurangzeb and Murad during the Battle of Samugarh, 13 km from Agra on 30 May 1658.

On June 1658, Aurangzeb besieged his father Shah Jahan in the Agra Fort forcing him to surrender unconditionally by cutting off the water supply. Jahanara the elder sister came to Aurangzeb on June 10 proposing a partition of the empire. Dara Shikoh would be given the Punjab and adjoining territories; Shuja would get Bengal; Murad would get Gujarat; Aurangzeb’s son Sultan Muhammad would get the Deccan and the rest of the empire would go to Aurangzeb. Aurangzeb refused Jahanara’s proposition on the grounds that Dara Shikoh was an infidel.

Two contrasts – Dara Shukoh with Sufi Saints (Right); Aurangzeb, destroying the temples(Left).
Two contrasts – Dara Shukoh with Sufi Saints (Right); Aurangzeb, destroying the temples(Left).

After the defeat, Dara Shikoh retreated from Agra to Delhi and thence to Lahore. His next destination was Multan and then to Thatta (Sindh). From Sindh, he crossed the Rann of Kachchh and reached Kathiawar, where he met Shah Nawaz Khan, the governor of the province of Gujarat who opened the treasury to Dara Shikoh and helped him to recruit a new army. He occupied Surat and advanced towards Ajmer. Foiled in his hopes of persuading the fickle but powerful Rajput feudatory, Maharaja Jaswant Singh of Marwar, to support his cause, the luckless Dara Shikoh decided to make a stand and fight Aurangzeb’s relentless pursuers but was once again comprehensively routed in the battle of Deorai (near Ajmer) on 11 March 1659. After this defeat he fled to Sindh and sought refuge under Malik Jiwan (Junaid Khan Barozai), an Afghan chieftain, whose life had on more than one occasion been saved by the Mughal prince from the wrath of Shah Jahan.

However, the treacherous Junaid betrayed Dara Shikoh and turned him (and his second son Sipihr Shikoh) over to Aurangzeb’s army on 10 June 1659 (Travels in the Mogul Empire, Francois Bernier).

Dara Shikoh was brought to Delhi, placed on a filthy elephant and paraded through the streets of the capital in chains (Sarkar, Jadunath (1962). A Short History of Aurangzib, 1618–1707).

People of Delhi loved Dara as their Prince. Dara always used to visit general people’s house to share and learn new things. People started to come out and showed signs of protest. Dara was very popular among Sufi’s, Hindus, Sikhs, and Buddhists. So, when Dara was paraded around capital Delhi with huge chains people sympathized with him more. There was always chance of mutiny amongst the soldier because Delhi’s soldier was really well treated by Prince Dara.  To be long lasting on the throne Aurangzeb could not simply afford to let Dara live. Aurangzeb understood that quite a long ago and he started to prepare for the occasion quite a long ago. Very unlike his brother he was religiously conservative, ruthless ruler. There was a huge ideological difference between Dara and Aurangzeb. Everything Dara stands for in his lifetime was deemed as un-Islamic by Aurangzeb. Aurangzeb was strict Sunni of Hanafi School. Aurangzeb was a better military general compare to his brother Dara Shikoh. Aurangzeb needed the help of religion to dismiss his own brother and most complicated rival Dara Shikoh. Dara Shikoh’s fate was decided by the political threat he posed as a prince popular with the common people – convocation of nobles and clergy, called by Aurangzeb in response to the perceived danger of insurrection in Delhi, declared him a threat to the public peace and an apostate from Islam.

Dara Shiko with his army
Dara Shiko with his army

Dara’s Sufism and influence of Hinduism was targeted as the main reason to behead (Islamic punishment for an apostate) him in public (Hansen, Waldemar, 1986). Aurangzeb could hardly stand Dara Shikoh and beheading his rival of throne gave him immense feeling security and pleasure. He physically was present during the beheading of his eldest brother, paraded the head of Dara Shikoh for public viewing in Delhi, sent the head to father Shah Jahan with golden cloths wrapped. When the war of succession was resolved in favor of Aurangzeb, Roshanara; the other daughter of Shah Jahan quickly became a powerful figure at court. Fearing that Dara Shikoh would kill her for her role in the war of succession if he ever returned to power, Roshanara insisted that Aurangazeb order Dara’s execution. Legend has it that Dara was bound in chains, paraded around Chandni Chowk and beheaded. Roshanara then had his bloody head wrapped in a golden turban, packaged neatly and sent to her father as a gift from Aurangzeb and her. Shah Jahan, who opened the package just as he was sitting down to dinner, was so distressed by the sight of his favorite son’s head that he fell unconscious to the floor. He remained in a stupor for many days after the incident. Eventually, however, Roshanara and Aurangzeb fell out with each other. Mughal princesses were obliged to remain single since the time of Akbar so their offspring would not make a challenge for the throne. Roshanara was rumored to have taken on lovers, which was not viewed well by Aurangzeb. In addition, she ruled Aurangzeb’s harem with an iron hand and earned the hatred of her brother’s many wives.

Shah Jahan had no idea his beloved son and the favorite prince Dara Shikoh’s head was sent to him. After seeing the disjointed head of his son he lost his consciousness and after that never recovered from depression. Aurangzeb hosted festivals to celebrate his brother’s execution.

It is worthy to mention that Aurangzeb later killed other sibling Murad although Murad helped him to win Agra. In fact it was the ferocious charge led by Murad Bakhsh and his Sowars that eventually turned the outcome of the battle in favor of Aurangzeb during the Battle of Samugarh. Aurangzeb previously promised that Murad will get half of the empire but probably never truly intended. Aurangzeb also made sure Shah Shuja, second son of Shah Jahan flees from India after defeating Shah Shuja in another battle. Shuja wanted refuge from Arakan but there he was betrayed by the Arakan ruler. He kept hiding in Manipur before he died there.

Dara Shukoh besieging the Qandahar Fort (1653 AD)
Dara Shukoh besieging the Qandahar Fort (1653 AD)

Very soon Aurangzeb killed other opposition, demolished a lots of Hindu temples. He made Shariah law as the state’s law. This was the first time India ever ruled by Shariah law. He imposed Jizya tax on non-Muslims, forced conversion to be Muslim, asked Sikhs to convert Muslim and killed the ninth Sikh Guru, Guru Tegh Bahadur. He also executed his niece, son of Dara Shikoh; Sulaiman Shikoh.

Historian Katherine Brown has noted that “The very name of Aurangzeb seems to act in the popular imagination as a signifier of politico-religious bigotry and repression, regardless of historical accuracy.” The subject is controversial and, despite no proof, has resonated in modern times with popularly accepted claims that he intended to destroy the Bamiyan Buddhas. ( Katherine Butler, 2007).

Aurangzeb learnt that at Sindh, Multan, Thatta and particularly at Varanasi, the Hindu Brahmins attracted large numbers of indigenous local Muslims to their discourses. He ordered the Subahdars of these provinces to demolish the schools and the temples of non-Muslims. Aurangzeb also ordered Subahdars to punish Muslims who dressed like non-Muslims. The executions of the antinomian Sufi mystic Sarmad Kashani and the ninth Sikh Guru Tegh Bahadur bear testimony to Aurangzeb’s religious intolerance; the former was beheaded on multiple accounts of heresy, the latter, according to Sikhs, because he objected to Aurangzeb’s forced conversions (Mukhia, Harban).

Aurangzeb’s policies abandoned the legacy of pluralism, which remains a very controversial aspect of his reign and led to the downfall of the Mughal Empire. Rebellions and wars led to the exhaustion of the imperial Mughal treasury and army. He was a strong-handed authoritarian ruler, and following his death the expansionary period of the Mughal Empire came to an end.

Dara Shukoh learning calligraphy from his teacher
Dara Shukoh learning calligraphy from his teacher

It is hard to say what would have happened if Dara Shikoh became the empire instead of Aurangzeb. For sure there would have better social harmonies and probably long lasting dynasty of Mughals in India. But Aurangzeb has expanded his authority to the maximum where Mughal became the force to reckon with. But his conservative Islamism led to lots of conflicts and revolts. People never could truly respect him as a ruler. The drama and carnage to get the throne of Delhi is unparallel to any other events of Mughals rule in India. It was not only a clash of thrones but also clash of ideologies. As in modern Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh we see uprising of conservative Sunni Islam and its government backed persecution of Hindus, Buddhists, Shia’s, Ahmadi’s it does throwback us amidst the tension of 1657-59 between brothers that used to believe in totally opposite version of Islam. As the time went on Mughals could not reproduce intellect to rule the country, singers like Tansen, witty intellect like Birbal that used to be the face of Akbar’s reign. Imposing Sharia Law by Aurangzeb definitely had economical and tactical impact that Indian never faced before. The maulana’s and Fatwa became ever more powerful to rule people’s life, which still can be seen in modern Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh and parts of India such as Hyderabad.  From military stand point; the timing of attack from Murad and Aurangzeb could not be any better. Dara’s 60,000 soldiers went behin Shah Shuja and defeated him, but at the same time sending troops against Murad was not a wise decision from tactical point of view. And to add an awe the soldiers who went behind Murad can only discovered Aurangzeb has already joined force with Murad. So, the joint army of Murad and Aurangzeb were huge force against 30-40,000 Dara’s army. The 60,000 soldier that won against Shah Shuja could never come back in time before Dara’s man were defeated in battlefield. Branching out soldiers and taking war on same time proved disastrous for Dara Shikoh and Shah Jahan. This example of mistake is still taught even in modern day by defense education in India. Dara Shikoh despite his humanity and liberal values remained unexplored and unknown for hundreds of years and often pointed as an example of weak Muslim by modern day Maulana’s in north Indian, Pakistani Sunni majority areas. History was always written in favor of winners, Alamgir (Aurangzeb’s other self-imposed name as Alamgir means who seized the world) was heavily eulogized in text book of Bangladesh and Pakistan. He was always taken as hero by Muslim majority for implementing Shariah and even given a title Hazrat which is honorific Arabic title despite kept his father captives, betraying his brother, murdering brothers to niece, demolishing Hindu temples, killing Sikh guru, banning music and arts in India and having the largest brothel amongst Mughals. People tend to legitimize violence and even on extent hype it up to heroic level if it can be shown as beneficial for their ideology/religion. From that stand point with every aspect Dara Shikoh was a very exceptional Mughal Prince and his human values make sure people talk about him till the date with respect and humility.

Emperor Aurangzeb examining the severed head of his elder brother, Dara Shukoh (30 August 1659)
Emperor Aurangzeb examining the severed head of his elder brother, Dara Shukoh (30 August 1659)


Amartya Sen “The Augmentative Indian”, 2005

Brown, Katherine Butler (January 2007). “Did Aurangzeb Ban Music? Questions for the Historiography of his Reign”. Modern Asian Studies. 41 (1): 78

Hansen, Waldemar (1986). The Peacock Throne : The Drama of Mogul India

Mukhia, Harbans., 1980. The Mughals of India

Sarkar, Jadunath (1962). A Short History of Aurangzib, 1618–1707

Sarkar, Jadunath (1984). A History of Jaipur. New Delhi: Orient Longman. pp. 113–122

Travels in the Mogul Empire, 1826, Francois Bernier