Dara Shikoh (1615-1659) was a prince of Mughal Empire who made significant contributions but was deprived of the opportunity of potentially making even greater contributions as he was executed at a young age of 44.
Son of Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal, he was the chosen heir to be the next successor to the great empire but was captured and killed by his younger scheming brother Aurangzeb, bringing much distress to people.
A great scholar and man of many-sided accomplishments and capabilities, like his great grandfather Akbar he had a strong yearning for exploring the common message and essential unity of various faiths and religions. This brought him particularly close to pursuing the unity of Hinduism and Islam which was of greater significance to him and to his times. In spiritual and scholarly pursuits he enjoyed a close and supportive relationship with his sister Jahanara who was the First Lady of the empire after the death of their mother. His wife Nadira Begum was also helpful and encouraging in these efforts.
As a scholar he pursued this theme for many years, helped by the great library he created in Kashmiri Gate area of Delhi, probably having several hundred thousand books, manuscripts and other documents. He obtained the help of many holy persons and scholars in this effort, contributing also to the translation of the Upanishdas into Persian. He wrote many books on spirituality, mysticism and inter-faith unity, perhaps the most important of which is a treatise on the integrity of Vedantism and Sufism, titled the Confluence of Two Seas.
He was a patron of artists and scholars, extending his generous help without any discrimination. As a disciple of Sufi saints Mian Mir and Mullah Shah he helped to spread their message of tolerance, harmony and compassion being central to religion and spirituality. He was a friend of the Seventh Sikh Guru Har Rai. A messenger of peace and reconciliation, he used his influence with his father to prevent bloodshed in Mewar and Garhwal.
He contributed to the creation of several beautiful buildings including the shrine of Mian Mir in Lahore and Pari Mahal in Kashmir.
Dara was announced to be his heir by Emperor Shah Jahan, but his brothers did not accept this and a younger brother Aurangzeb was particularly hostile. He managed to defeat the combined army of Dara and Shahjahan. Shahjahan was imprisond till his death in 1666. Dara was executed in 1659 after having been first humiliated and insulted very badly.
There was a lot of distress among common people due to this and they almost revolted. This testifies to the great affection the common people, Hindus and Muslims, had for Dara Shikoh. Hence if he had become emperor in place of Aurangzeb, as per the desire and even the declaration of his father, then the history of India would have turned out to be quite different.
Aurangzeb took several measures against the religious majority community of Hindus which alienated the Hindus, particularly the leading warriors among them like the Rajputs and the Marathas. There were prolonged conflicts with them ( as well with the Jats, the Satnamis and the Sikhs) which could have been avoided. In addition he entered into prolonged battles with several Muslim kings as well due to his rigid policies based on conquests rather than on diplomacy with little room for reconciliation and making friends. He had an aptitude for craftiness, deception and cunning ways which made others wary of seeking peace.
As a result the unity of various faiths and kingdoms which India badly needed at this juncture was denied, making the response to foreign aggression much weaker. On the other hand, Dara Shikoh would have been much more capable of achieving unity and strength by following a policy of peace, trust and reconciliation. However his execution at an early age resulted in the denial of these promising possibilities. Hence his historical legacy is remembered with respect for his realized potential (which was significant) but also with regret for his unrealized potential (which would have been even greater).
Bharat Dogra is Convener, Campaign to Save Earth Now. His recent books include A Day in 2071, When the Two Streams Met and Planet in Peril.