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. This made him a heretic in the eyes of his orthodox brother and a suspect eccentric in the view of many of the worldly power brokers swarming around the Mughal throne. Dara was a follower of the Persian “perennialist” mystic Sarmad Kashani, as well as Lahore’s famous Qadiri Sufi saint Hazrat Mian Mir, whom he was introduced to by Mullah Shah Badakhshi (Mian Mir’s spiritual disciple and successor) and who was so widely respected among all communities that he was invited to lay the foundation stone of the Golden Temple in Amritsar by the Sikhs.
Dara subsequently developed a friendship with the seventh Sikh Guru, Guru Har Rai. Dara devoted much effort towards finding a common mystical language between Islam and Hinduism. Towards this goal he completed the translation of 50 Upanishads from its original Sanskrit into Persian in 1657 so it could be read by Muslim scholars. His translation is often called Sirr-e-Akbar (The Greatest Mystery), where 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. 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 Archeological Survey of India after being renovated.
Dara Shikoh’s Death and Burial
After several defeats against Aurangzeb, Dara Shikoh fled to Sindh and sought refuge under Malik Jiwan, an Afghan chieftain, whose life had on more than one occasion been saved by the Mughal prince from the wrath of Shah Jahan. However, Malik betrayed Dara and turned him (and his second son Sipihr Shikoh) over to Aurangzeb’s army on 10 June 1659.
Dara was brought to Delhi, placed on a filthy elephant and paraded through the streets of the capital in chains. Dara’s fate was decided by the political threat he posed as a prince popular with the common people – a 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. He was assassinated by four of Aurangzeb’s henchmen in front of his terrified son on the night of 30 August 1659.
Dara is said to have been buried in an unmarked grave in the Humayun’s Tomb necropolis in Delhi. It is well known that after being executed on Aurangzeb’s orders, his head was served on a platter to Shah Jahan. Thus it wouldn’t be wrong to say that his body was interred before his head. And there is only one sarcophagus, which is bisected and points to the same. It is situated near two other sarcophagi, possibly those of his brothers Murad and Shuja who had also been put to death by Aurangzeb. The other two have verses from the Quran carved onto them, while the bisected one just has flowers carved on it, another pointer to the syncretic nature of the person buried below it.