Society and Culture

'Had Dara Shikoh prevailed, South Asia could have been saved'

A two-day international conference on ‘Dara Shikoh : Reclaiming Spiritual Legacy of India ‘ - the 17th century Mughal prince who could never be king - was organised by the Indian Council Of Cultural Relations (ICCR) on April 27-28, 2017 in New Delhi. Eminent scholars, academicians and historians from seven countries, including the United States, Iran, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and India took part in the conference, inaugurated by M J Akbar, minister of state for external affairs.

May 4, 2017
By Nilova Roy Chaudhury 
 
A two-day international conference on ‘Dara Shikoh : Reclaiming Spiritual Legacy of India ‘ - the 17th century Mughal prince who could never be king - was organised by the Indian Council Of Cultural Relations (ICCR) on April 27-28, 2017 in New Delhi. Eminent scholars, academicians and historians from seven countries, including the United States, Iran, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and India took part in the conference, inaugurated by M J Akbar, minister of state for external affairs.
 
“Dara Shikoh is not just a part of India’s legacy, but transcends the international boundaries of sovereignty and details on the greater cause of enlightenment,” said Akbar.
 
A 90-minute theatrical production on Dara Shikoh was also staged for the occasion. The play, written by former diplomat and Ambassador Suryakanthi Tripathi and directed by Tripurari Sharma of the National School of Drama, is set in 1655, when 40 year old Dara was declared Crown Prince of the Mughal empire by his father Shah Jahan. 
 
The years 1658-59 witnessed a major conflict between the four sons of Shah Jahan for ascent to the Peacock Throne. Before this, the Mughal empire had seen a gradual but steady polarisation at the imperial court as two of the four estranged princes, Dara and Aurangzeb, represented very different perspectives of the future of the Mughal empire. One symbolised religious harmony and the other a narrow-minded philosophy that missed the value of uniting the people. Aurangzeb, a shrewd military strategist, eventually succeeded in taking both the crown and the life of his elder brother, Dara.
 
“Dara brought different cultures into dialogue and found a close connection between Hinduism and Islam, and was the founding father of secularism in India” said ICCR president Lokesh Chandra.
 
“Shah Jahan's court would have been like the audience at ICCR’s International Conference on Dara Shikoh, full of foreign and Indian scholars,” said Akbar. “In the search for intricacies of the past 350 years’ great intellectual journey, if you want the right answers you need to ask the right questions. Why was Dara chosen as the preferred successor at a time all warrior princes had to fight for the throne?” said Akbar. 
 
“Shah Jahan knew that India could not be ruled by force alone but through the spiritual philosophy of harmony and recognized that if you can't win hearts of people you can't rule” said Akbar.
 
“The Bhakti movement had resonance in the Agra court and you had Nanak in Lahore and the poetry of Kabir in the East. Dara merely lost a battle, but won the war which is what we are celebrating today” said Akbar.
 
The objective of the conference was to foreground Dara’s contribution and initiatives in bringing about spiritual homogenization of Hinduism and Islam, thereby building a cohesive social and cultural edifice of India. 
 
“The study of India begins with the translation of the Upanishads, which Dara Shikoh translated into Persian,” explained Chandra. “Europeans at that time did not read Sanskrit. Dara Shikoh’s Persian translation of Upanishads evoked the interest of European scholars like Schopenhauer who, after reading it, translated the text into Latin. That is when the Europeans started to study Sanskrit, to study the deeper aspects of human thinking. So Dara Shikoh is directly responsible and because of him, the whole process of the study of India’s culture began,” concluded Chandra. 
 
He was inspired to write his Persian compendium Majmua-al-Bahrein( Blending the Oceans- signifying the blending of two religions, Hinduism and Islam) and Sir-e-Akbar( also known as Sir-e-Israr or Great Secret). Both treatises are translations of the ancient Indian sacred texts, the Vedas and Upanishads.
  
India and Iran have been historically close to each other spiritually and culturally for centuries. Dara Shikoh’s ‘The Great Secret’ is believed to have restored the Indo- Iranian cultural ethos of harmony and consanguinity. 
 
Dara Shikoh’s works, largely ignored and consigned to oblivion in South Asia, have been partly published with explanations and notes in Iran. He also celebrates the contribution of great Sufi poets of Iran and their impact on Indian Sufi traditions and Indian culture.
 
The life of Dara, the Philosopher Prince, though short, was one of extraordinary endeavour and achievement. He aspired to build a cultural model for India which helped mould its principles of inclusion and respect for all human faiths, a legacy that it seeks to draw upon and perpetuate. . 
 
Had Dara Shikoh prevailed, South Asia could have been saved from many subsequent historical tragedies.
 
(Nilova Roychaudury is a veteran journalist. She can be contacted at nilovarc@gmail.com)

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