LOCATING DARA SHUKOH IN INDIA’S COMPOSITE AND MYSTICAL TRADITIONS.
Dara shukoh – emperor Shah Jahan’s favourite son, and heir-apparent to the mughal throne prior to being defeated by Aurangzeb – has sometimes been portrayed as an effete prince, incompetent in military and administrative matters. But the myths and anecdotes surrounding him and his desperate effort and zeal to seek the truth along with his distinctive nature of tolerance toward other faiths, continue to fuel the popular imagination. In this discourse of study, the main objective is to explore and provide an overview of Dara Shukoh’s mystical and philosophical thoughts, rather than discussing his royal credentials, and try to locate him amidst the culturally heterogeneous society of India. He occupies an unique place amongst the Mughal princes for his comparative study of Muslim Mysticism and Classical Hindu philosophy. Being a follower of the Qadiri order of Sufis and a disciple of Miyan Mir, Dara believed that the mystical traditions of both Hinduism and Islam spoke of the same truth. Dara Shukoh greatly contributed to the study of Ancient Indian Spirituality along with Islamic Mystical Traditions by highlighting commonalities between classical Hindu and Islamic Sufi teachings. Like many Muslim Sufis, he belived that their mingling could bring about harmony between the Hindu and the Muslim subjects of Mughal Empire. The Mughal Emperors, in general, were great scholars by themselves and patronized scholarship in all forms, be it worldly science, or the religious and mystical one. Right from Babur to Bahadur Shah Zafar, most of them patronized the learned scholars of both the creeds – Islam and Hinduism.
Mughal Prince Dara Shukoh was the symbol of ‘cultural pluralism’. However, it should be remembered that many liberal thinkers in India before and after him made sincere efforts to promote mutual understanding and dialogue between different communities, which in the words of Prof. Amit Dey, is the “sine qua non” for human progress and peaceful as well as meaningful coexistence based on mutual intimacy and interactions. In respect of ‘Indian Renaissance’, the history of enlightenment in India can be traced back particularly to the sixteenth century, because of Akbar’s experiment, advent of the Naqshbandi Sufis and the Europeans, and the increase in number of ‘Hajis’ (those who have performed the Hajj pilgrimage). One of the manifestations of this Indo- Muslim synthesis in the domain of spirituality was the emergence and popularity of a number of Reformist Religious Trends. These religious reformers called for bringing the Hindus and the Muslim closer to each other by mutual accommodation of each others’ religious teachings. “Instead of promoting the process of Persianization, the leading Sufi Saints in India often encouraged Vernacularization of religious knowledge in order to reach out to the common people.” Like the Sufis the Bhakti Saints also encouraged this Vernacularization process. This linguistic intermingling can be called as “Majma-ul-Zabanat”, that actually preceded Dara’s “Majma-ul-Bahrain” or Intermingling of Two Oceans; Hinduism and Islam. In this way a liberal environment was created in different parts of India and this intermingling and admixture of different traditions characterised Indian Civilization even before Dara Shukoh.
Scholars such as Satish Chandra, Amalendu De and others have pointed out that the spirit of mutual understanding and appreciation was strengthened by the interaction between the Sufi and Bhakti Movements in Indian Subcontinent and that this process started earlier than the age of Dara. Great scholar Al Biruni translated Patanjali’s ‘Yoga Sutra’ into Arabic. Yogis used to visit Sufi ‘Khanqah’ and “Jamat Khanah’s” run by Sufis. In Fact some of them including Shaikh Nizamuddin Auliya adopted some breathing exercises, basically after being influenced by the yogis. The Sufi doctrines of ‘Wahdat-ul-Wajud’ and ‘Hama Ust’ meaning everything is ‘He’ often extended in claiming that “god is also reflected in a Heathen or a Hindu and under such circumstances a Hindu cannot be denounced as a ‘kafir’ or ‘infidel’”. Mirza mazhar Jan-i-Janan, a Naqshbandi Sufi poet, propounded that the vedas were revealed books, like Quran and hence, Hindus could not be identified with the ‘kafirs’. “He even argued that there was little difference between idol worship and ‘tasawwar-i-shaikh’… or concentration on the mental image of the perceptor.” Sultan Zaynul Abidin of Kashmir, Sultan Sikandar Lodi and several other Muslim rulers undertook the task of translating various Sanskrit works into Persian not only “to satisfy their own intellectual curiosity” but also “to increase muslim understanding of hinduism”.
However, it was with the Great Mughal Emperor Akbar (1556- 1605), that the interest in religious matters took a dramatic turn. The Ramayana and Mahabharata were translated into Persian in the ‘Maktab Khana’ set up by Akbar. He came in contact with other religions and was convinced that “all religions contained some truth and that this was not the prerogative of Islam”. Akbar sought to build a bridge between the various composite cultures of his subjects and even introduced a new religion called ‘Din-i-Illahi’ in which he tried to combine the selected elements of a number of religions – Muslim mysticism, Hinduism, Jainism, Zoroaster-ism and others. He claimed to have realized his ‘Rabb-i-Nav’, the enlightened form, residing in the ‘Alam-i-Misal’ (the world of form), resembling the platonic world of ideas as put forward in Shihabuddin Suhrawardi Maqtul’s ‘Ishraqi’ philosophy (illuminationism) which Abul Fazl justifying Akbar’s Mysticism, wrote in Ain-i-Akbari that a just king (Badshah-i-Adil) is illumined by divine light (Farr-i-Izidi) and ‘Kingly Luminescence’ (Kaiwan-Khura). Akbar’s philosophy of ‘Sulh-i-Kul’ (peace with all) also demanded religious tolerance and he, to some extent, was able to establish “Pax – Mughalica” or Mughal Peace. Even his son, Jahangir had liberal views, who had pitted that “the science of Bedant [Vedanta] is the science of Tasawwuf.” Thus, “Dara Shukoh, did not invest this notion, he inherited it; but he wonderfully elaborated it and endeavored to prove it in detail.”
The most prominent representative of these syncretistic religious and philosophical thoughts, in the medieval period, was Dara Shukoh, who by his literary and philosophical works greatly contributed to the spiritual treasure of the subcontinent. Never perhaps, in the history of Mughal Empire, was there an eclectic personality, who could be equated with the Mughal Prince Dara Shukoh in terms of Mystical Chauvinism and “multiculturalism”. Dara shukoh, the eldest son of Mughal Ruler Shah Jahan, born in the suburbs of Sagartal Lake, near Ajmer on 29 Safar, 1024 A.H (Monday, 20th Mar, 1615 A.D), was “a sound scholar, poet and calligrapher with an artistic bent of mind”, having no desire to be another conqueror, rather wanted to be a ‘thinker’. There are not many sources to get to know more about him other than his own works, with exception of Padshanama and Muhammad Salih Kambu’s ‘Amal-i-Salih’ which are some early sources from where we get meagre information about this brilliant personality. Mulla Abdul Latif, teacher of Dara, was responsible for intellectual advancement of the young prince, under whom Dara “studied the Quran and Hadith but with his eyes open and rejected from his childhood, the commentaries of the orthodox school.” Thus from the very childhood, Dara refrained from making a “fetish of the stereotyped dogmas.”
In the beginning, Sufism played an important role in the formation of Dara’s philosophical outlook. In the introduction of his own work, ‘Sirr-i-Akbar’, he himself has mentioned that “his Sufistic Learnings from an early age led him to study the well-known works on Islamic Mysticism”. Highly influenced by Miyan Mir, Dara was initiated to Qadiriya order by Mullah Shah Badakhshi, in 1049 A.H, which provided him a scope for spiritual attainment and opened the door of Mysticism and Self-realization for him. His studies, other than Sufism and Islamism, extended a wide range, starting from Hindu Mythology, Gnosticism, Vedanta Philosophy, the ‘Psalms’, the ‘Gospel’, and Pentateuch to Upanishads, Yoga Vasistha, and Bhagawat Gita, of which he was greatly involved in Persian translations. Also, he patronised learned men from all grounds – Saints, Theologians, Philosophers, Poets and Mystics of every community – Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Jews and so on. Thus, “with an insatiable thirst for knowledge and truth”, gradually Dara’s religious outlook became broadened and he started contributing to Mysticism extensively.
Dara Shukoh, like his Great Grandfather, Akbar, must have also realized the the need of secularism to facilitate a smooth governance in a multicultural country like India, and thus in a composite Indian Culture, his motives may have engaged some political agendas, since he was the would-be ruler of Mughal India. Some scholars try to prove this hypothesis, but B.J. Hasrat, in his work, ‘Dara Shikoh: Life and Works’, has asserted Dara’s approach towards other faiths to be from a different point of view, and that it was not at all politically motivated. According to him, “it was the approach of a seeker of truth, in whose heart was burning passion for knowledge, and who, irrespective of the basis of its source, eagerly sought it whenever he could find it”. He mentions that Dara had a Mystic Enthusiasm and was an ardent advocate of the Unity of God, who tried to establish a sort of ‘rapprochement’ between Islam and Hinduism.
His earlier works were the outcome of his association and respect for Sufis and religious divines. Dara had not only contributed to the Sufi Literature, rather handsomely produced Persian Literature and Prose, and thus has left behind a substantial amount of literary heritage. His early works include ‘Safinat-ul-Auliya’ (The Notebook of the Saints) 1640, ‘Sakinat-ul-Auliya’ (1642-43), and ‘Risala-i-Haq Numa (The ‘Compass of Truth’) 1651-1653. These books are basically about the life and works of Sufi Saints, and revolve around Mysticism, where in his very first work, most significantly, focus on women and female mystics are found. In another work ‘Hasanat-al- Arfeen’ (1652), Dara has collected sayings of the Saints belonging to different orders. “Mukalma-e-Baba Lal w Dara Shikoh” written in 1653 contains Dara’s dialogue with Bhakti leader Baba Lal Das Bairagi. There are several discussions in this book mainly on the subjects of Indian philosophy and mythology. His other early works include ‘Tariqat-ul-Haqiqat’, ‘Hasanut-ul-’Arifin’, and ‘Iksir-i-A’zam’ (Diwan-i-Dara Shikuh).
First published in the Journal of Royal Asian Society of Bengal in 1939, ‘Iksir-i-A’zam’ is very important for the study of the philosophical viewpoint of Dara Shikoh. In this work Dara has explained his Pantheistic world outlook through poetry. In the perception of Dara, the world and nature are parts of God and the emanation of His essence. Therefore, everything that exists in this world carries divine essence. All remaining that does not carry His essence is mirage, and illusion of the man. According to Dara, man himself is not only the creation of God but also the part of His essence, therefore he calls for cognizing oneself in order to know the essence of God. In his poetry he writes that man is like a drop and God is like Ocean. It is characteristic of Pantheism to consider the unity of opposites as the highest substance. God as the highest unity unifying in Him all seem incompatible opposites therefore the most important in Pantheist philosophy is the problem of unity and diversity, immortal and mortal and in ethical context – problem of good and evil. In the works of Dara the image of the highest substance – God is compared with the image of a limitless sea or ocean. And the world, surrounding the human are like the waves, bubbles and drops made by the movements of the God-ocean. By these images Dara Shikoh emphasizes mortality of all existing and immortality of God-ocean, which gives birth to all existing, that will at the end return to Him.
In his epic work, ‘Majma-ul-Bahrain’ (Intermingling of Two Oceans), he brings out the points of agreement between the two schools – ‘Wahdat-al-Wujud’ and the Vedanta philosophy. In this work, Dara has tried to discover the affinities between Vedic and Sufi perceptions of the Ultimate Truth. He desires to establish a fundamental similarity between the Islamic and Hindu doctrines of Unity of God. He identifies three important angels, ‘Jibrail’, ‘Mikail’ and ‘Israfil’ with Brahma, Vishnu and Maheshwara (shiv). “Dara again identifies the angels with Devata, the Absolute and Necessary Being with Nirgun and Nirankar, Allah with Om, Huma (he) with ‘sab’ and ‘Mazhar-i-Atam’ with Awatara (incarnation) and believes incarnation to be the source of the manifestation of His Power (Qudrat). ” It appears from this work that Dara believed in ‘Ijtihad’ (interpreting scriptures according to situation), and put emphasis on ‘Aql’ (reason) rather on ‘Ilm’ (scriptural knowledge in narrow sense) like his forefather Akbar and cultural successor, Raja Ram Mohan Ray. His other works include ‘Mukalama-i-Baba Lal wa Dara Shikuh’ (1062 A.H), Yoga Vasishta (1066 A.H), Bhagavat Gita (1067 A.H) and ‘Sirr-i-Akbar’ (1067 A.H), which were basically the translations from Sanskrit to study Hinduism and its philosophy.
“Dara portrayed himself as a ‘fakir’ endowed with esoteric knowledge (Ilm-i-Batin) with which he aspired to know the tenets of religion of the Indian monotheists”. Dara acquired knowledge about ‘Tawhid’ (monotheism) and ‘Irfan’ (divine knowledge) which enabled him to explore and appreciate Upanishadic monotheism. In 1066 A.H, he got ‘Jug Bashist’ translated into Persian and next he himself translated the Upanishads in Persian Prose (Sirr-i-Akbar).Dara speaks of four planes of existence (awalim) – ‘Alam-i-Nasut’ (world of matter), ‘Alam-i-Malakut’ or ‘Alam-i-Misal’ (world of angels, spirits and forms), ‘Alam-i-Jabarut’ (world of divine attributes) and ultimately ‘Alam-i-Lahut’ (world of ‘huwiyah’ or ‘thatness’ ). Dara believed that the book “which was hidden”, suggested in Quran, ‘Kitab al-Maknun’, symbolises the ‘Upanekhets’ (“secrets to be concealed”) for it is ‘a treasure –house of monotheism’.
In his eclectic mind, Dara had an ambition “to supplant exoteric Islam by Esoteric Mysticism as a living moral force among the Muslim intellectuals.” His ideal was to liberate the true spirit of Islam from the dogmatism of that time. His new formula was to preach the ‘Underlying Unity’ of different religions, for he knew that the conflict between Pandits and Mullas were on grounds of rituals but in spiritual matters they could be easily reconciled. The main doctrines propounded by Dara were ‘tawhid’ (‘He is everything’), ‘huwaiyyat’ (the truth) and ‘ruyat’ (vision of god). He indicates that there is no difference between ‘I’ and ‘Thou’ and has himself said that,
“here is the secret of tawhid, O friend, understand it;
nowhere exists anything but god;
all that you see or know other than him;
verily is separate in name, but in essence one with god.”
According to Dara, the ‘Vision of God’ is common faith of all men and has elaborated five kinds of it.
Dara Shukoh, in his ‘Sirr-i-Akbar’ (the Great Secret), has translated the Upanishad in 1067 A.H, “without any worldly motive”. According to B.J. Hasrat, this work “throws light on Dara Shikuh’s spiritual longings, his thirst for religious investigation and attitude towards Hinduism ”. Because of his advanced liberal personality and their narrow political objectives, the orthodox muslims denounced him to be a ‘heretic, atheist, hypocrite, opportunist and devoid of all religions’ and thus he was beheaded on September 10, 1659 at the age of 44 years, when Aurangzeb won the succession war.
Thus, ended the life of a brilliant being, who was ahead of his time in respect of his thinking and mind. Although he could not succeed in building a bridge between different communities of our multicultural country during his time, his efforts came as an inspiration to every man with a wider outlook, placing religion on a broader foundation, and tended to create a brotherhood between hindus and muslims. Bernier has commented on Dara’s nature that – “born a Muhametan, he continued in the exercise of that religion; but although publicly thus professing his adherence to the faith, Dara Shikuh, was , in private, a Gentile with a Gentile and a Christian with a Christian.”
In Dara Sukhoh, we thus see a rare combination of contradictions. A rational thinker and a practicing Mystic, a Prince by virtue of his birth, a Sufi by temperament….. He wanted to go where the argument led him and was relentless in search of truth. He was aware of harshness that grew around him particularly amongst the ulama group, but he didn’t care – for he wrote – “heaven is where there’s no mullah, nor any desputation, nor noise from the mullah.” Indian traditions remember Dara Shukuh not so much as an Emperor’s son, but as a Mystic Philosopher. The Great dream of his life – a dream shattered by his untimely death – was the brotherhood of all faiths and the unity of mankind. After him the vision of unity was lost in the atmosphere of hatred and rivalry created by the warring sects and religious school. Dara Shukoh should be called “a propounder of the concept of modernism based on universalism”, which was more visible in the ideas and activities of Raja Ram Mohan Ray since the beginning of the 19th c. Rabindranath Tagore, has realized the importance of Dara Shukoh in Indian History, in respect of Hindu-Muslim Unity. In the context of “multiculturalism”, Maulana Abdul Kalam Azad (1888-1958) continued the eclectic thread of Dara and thus the legacy of Eclecticism of Dara continued.
Dara Shukoh’s work on Mystic Islam and Hindu scriptures particularly his translation of the Upanishads into Persian played a very important role in stirring Western academic interest in the wisdom of subcontinent. Later, the Persian translations of Dara’s Upanishads were translated into various European languages. Dara opened the window of Indian Mysticism and philosophy for the intellectual circles of the West. Thus, as an eclectic minded prince, Dara Shukoh remains to be appreciated by academicians and scholars for his masterpiece contributions to the Mystical Traditions in a composite cultural country, for which his stand in Mysticism shall always remain intact.
Dey Amit, ‘Islam in South Asia’, Parul Prakashani, kolkata, 2016
Dey Amit, ‘Dara Shukoh, Abul Kalam Azad And Eclectic Traditions In India.’
Hasrat BikramaJit, ‘Dara Shikuh: Life and works’, Prabhat Kumar Mukherjee, Viswabharati Publishing Department, 1953.
Latif Shahid and Mushtaq Abdul Qadir, ‘Dara Shukoh: Mystical and Philosophical Discourse’, International Journal of History and Research (IJHR), 2013. [Source: Jstor]
Hussain Tasadduq, ‘The Spiritual journey of Dara Shukoh’, Medieval India, IHC: Proceedings, 61st (Millennium) session, 2001. [Source: Jstor]
Images – Google images.
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