Mughal India ranks as a glorious chapter of India’s checkered history that spans more than a thousand years. In fact, during its long history, India witnessed many invasions by foreign powers, notably: the Greeks (Alexander the Great), the Persians, the Afghans, the Mughals (Mongols) … Most of the invaders were attracted to the sub-continent primarily by the lure of gold, silver and other riches, and who, after plundering the country taking with them as much booty as they could, they would leave. Some would return later for the same purpose. As a matter of fact, the invaders were not interested to stay in India and rule the land. We have a very good example in the Afghan ruler, Mahmood of Ghazni, who invaded India some seventeen times and each of his ‘expedition’ was for plunder, spoils and booty. India was reputed to have a lot of gold. Besides, all trade then was done in gold and India had plenty of it as a result of its lucrative trade in spices that was much sought after and prized in Europe and payment was always in gold. However, with the Mughals it would be different. They appeared in the sixteenth century, led by the formidable Ghengiz Khan. In fact, his descendants, notably Kublai Khan, Halaku Khan, Taimur (Tamerlane), Babur and others, would be ‘invader-conquerors’. Thus, the Mongol invaders would conquer and establish their dominance over the people and the country. Thus, in India, the Mughals in India founded a dynasty that would rule India for several generations.
The Mongol Babur – his full name was Zahir-ud-Din Muhammad Babur – was a descendant of both Taimur (Tamerlane) and Ghengiz Khan. He defeated Ibrahim Lodhi, the Sultan of Delhi at the Battle of Panipat in 1526. After his victory, Babur opted to stay and claim the throne of Delhi and became Sultan or Emperor. He would go on to establish the Mughal dynasty that would rule India for over three centuries and leave a lasting imprint on the land and its age-old arts and culture. To-day, the Mughals are an integral part of India’s history.
Babur’s rule in Delhi was consumed by constantly fighting and putting down rebellions and trying to keep his kingdom together. He died in 1530 and was succeeded by his son Humayun, who would try to consolidate further the Mughal’s hold on the kingdom. Unfortunately, his life was cut short following a bad fall. He was succeeded by his son Akbar, who was then in his teens. Emperor Akbar would prove to be an astute ruler and would have a long rule during which he would affirm the Mughal’s ascendency on the Kingdom.
Later, Akbar’s son Jehangir, who succeeded him, would consolidate the Mughal’s hold on the Sultanate of Delhi and put the imprint of the dynasty on the land – a task carried on as successfully by his own son, Emperor Shah Jahan, who would give India, among others, the Taj Mahal, which would become synonymous with India. The Taj Mahal – a mausoleum built by Emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his wife, Mumtaz Mahal, who died in child-birth, would become the ultimate symbol of love throughout the world. It is one of the most recognized and most celebrated symbols of India on the globe.
The Mughal’s rule in India would be shaken when Shah Jahan’s third son, became Emperor as Aurangzeb Alamgir, who, literally ‘stole’ the throne from his father, Shah Jahan, whom he had imprisoned in the Red Fort, and had himself proclaimed Emperor of India. He had three other brothers but he would eliminate them all in his pursuit of the throne. His father, Emperor Shah Jahan, who was grooming his eldest brother, Dara Shikoh to be king after him, were both overpowered by Aurangzeb, who rose in rebellion against his own father. The Emperor’s army would lose a crucial battle to Aurangzeb and Shah Jahan found himself powerless and in jail at the Red Fort while Dara Shikoh, a lovable and mild-mannered prince, would be betrayed by his close ally to Aurangzeb, who would have him charged with blasphemy and condemned to die.
Aurangzeb was a vindictive character, who was literally blinded by his ambition to become Emperor himself. He would go to any length to eliminate anyone standing in his way.
Prince Dara Shikoh was the favourite of Shah Jahan and he was being groomed to succeed him. Dara Shikoh and Aurangzeb were two extremes in character. Dara Shikoh was moderate and liberal and out-reaching just like his great-grand-father Emperor Akbar. Jehangir and even Shah Jahan, who were all very conscious of the fact that the vast majority of their subjects were non-Muslims and that it was the Emperor’s duty to keep them happy and content and not to alienate them – measures which they pursued with much success and ensured for themselves and their kingdom peace and prosperity. In fact, Emperor Akbar, as a special favour and love for his subjects had abolished the jizyah (protection tax non-Muslim pay in a Muslim state).
Dara Shikoh was very aware of the large non-Muslim population in the realm and he understood the merits of the moderate and secular policies followed by both his father Emperor Shah Jahan and his predecessors. It ensured peace and progress. Besides, Dara Shikoh was schooled with very moderate and liberal-minded teachers. He loved his non-Muslim subjects and even studied their religion and culture. Besides, he also did a translation in Persian of the Upanishads and the Ramayana, two classics of Hindu scriptures.
Aurangzeb, on the other hand, was brought up under strict orthodoxy. So much so, his belief in Islam was extreme, and conservative and radical. He believed in an Islamic State and he began by putting in place Islamic laws and rules upon his non-Muslim subjects. He even re-imposed the jiziah tax, which would be heavily resented by his non-Muslim subjects. In fact, the whole kingdom felt alienated and shaken –- something his predecessors had deliberately stayed away from. Any Muslim advisors who tried to reason with the Emperor were accused of treason and apostasy – crimes of which none other Dara Shikoh himself would be accused of and, eventually, tried.
Understandably, there were frequent strife and rebellions in the realm and Aurangzeb found himself ever busy fighting to keep his kingdom together. He had to fight the Maharattas and the Rajputs. But he was a strong monarch and an astute leader. He faced his opponents head on and won and, in the process, had his father, the Emperor Shah Jahan, imprisoned and challenged his brother Dara Shikoh, contender to the throne, in a battle which Dara Shikoh lost and taken prisoner. Aurangzeb would accuse Dara Shikoh of apostasy against the teachings of Islam and had him sentenced and, eventually, killed in jail.
So much so, with Darah Shikoh’s death, the hopes and dreams Emperor Shah Jahan had nurtured for his eldest son and heir also died. Aurangzeb consolidated his grip on power and his rule in the country. He also managed to get rid of his two other younger brothers as well by having them also murdered. Aurangzeb was ruthless in his quest for power.
Little wonder then that Aurangzeb was involved most of the time quelling frequent internal rebellions and unrest. But as the determined and strong ruler that he was, he challenged his enemies in battles and the result was that by the time he died, the Mughal Empire, under his watch, had stretched like never before – to the pre-1947 borders. But then, it is also true, that the whole Mughal Empire was under turmoil. In fact, the end of Aurangzeb’s rule would mark the beginning of the end of Mughal India.
The question arises then: Had Dara Shikoh become Emperor after Shah Jahan as it was the Emperor’s plan by virtue of his being the eldest son and heir, and given the very docile and liberal nature of his character and having been groomed by his father to assume the throne filled as he was with moderate cultural and religious views and his openness to other cultures along with his knowledge and understanding of the Hindu Scriptures, definitely auger that he might well have been, another Akbar, tolerant and understanding, or even like his grand-father Jehangir or his father, Emperor Shah Jahan?
The Indian historian, Supriya Gandhi, has looked at that possibility and has written a voluminous book of over 500 pages, titled “THE EMPEROR WHO NEVER WAS: Dara Shukoh in Mughal India,” arguing whether the fate of the powerful Mughal Empire would have been different had Dara Shikoh become Emperor after Shah Jahan! Sure, it’s all a matter of speculation. We know the truth has all been otherwise! There is little doubt that Dara Shikoh might have been a great (Mughal) Emperor! He had been trained for the job. But too bad! Fate had intervened otherwise. So much so, Dara Shikoh‘s remains an enigma in India’s Mughal history and probably ever a prominent subject of conjecture and speculation!