Dara Shikoh: The Sufi Prince

Editor’s Note: At a time in its history when the Pakistani State is hostage to the Anti-India Jihadi enterprise of its security establishment, we the people of Pakistan can look to such universal heroes like the seventeenth century Mughal Prince, Dara Shikoh. Here was a man who possessed the humanity to see spirituality in everything and who celebrated coexistence, tolerance and diversity. His death at the hands of his twisted, bigoted and sectarian younger brother, Aurangzeb and the latter’s ascension to the throne marked a turning point, not just in the history of South Asia but as events later unfolded, in the world itself.

Aurangzeb’s harsh reign saw the State persecuting its Hindu and Shia muslim populations that culminated in the imposition of Jaziya and the destruction of the Shia kingdoms of Golconda and Bijapur in South India. In most ways, Aurangzeb’s reign was a departure from the relatively secular and syncretic reign of the earlier Mughals that culminated with that of the thoughtful and tolerant Dara. 

“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.” (Source: Wikipedia)

 On the one hand, Dara the thoughtful intellectual translated the Vedic texts from Sanskrit to Persian.  In this endeavour, he wanted to highlight that truth, humanity and spirituality are universal and are not bound by ideology.  Aurangzeb’s view was dominated by a brutish view of the world which would only tolerate his stark views.  Today, Aurangzeb is represented by the security establishment, the Judiciary, the media and right-wing  Pro-Taliban Islamist politicians like Imran Khan and Nawaz Sharif , the various Jihadi groups and the Taliban.


 In the establishment-dominated narrative of the Pakistani State, his intellectual pursuits and tolerant worldview made Dara a deviant. His brutal execution by the cold-blooded Aurangzeb, along with that of his friend, Sachal Sarmast, ruptured the bonds that had developed between the muslims and hindus. Today, when shrines are being attacked by the security establishment-backed Jihadis, supporters of Pakistan’s People’s Party must remember the party culture is deeply influenced by the humane culture of the shrines. During the MRD movement, the shrines served as asylums for some PPP activists. 

The Anti Zia protests by the Punjab Nujawan Mahaz) at Madu LaL shrine in Lahore highlight the fact that shrines are a powerful symbol of resistance against the security establishment in Pakistan.  No wonder they are being attacked by the Jihadis.  ISI stooges like Imran Khan will never take out a dharna against this attack on Pakistani culture.  We are pleased to cross-post the following note that was posted by Safoora on her blog, “A Sufi Metamorphosis

Dara Shikoh is what Pakistan should be!

DARA SHIKOH: THe Sufi prince

DARA Shikoh, the eldest son of Shah Jehan, has a very special place in the hearts of the people of Lahore. He was a sufi mrtyre and an gnostic and unitarian.

 Above all, he was a man of immense learning and scholarship, and his inclination towards Sufism and negation of rigid fundamentalism endears him to all likeminded people.He created a synthesis of all the religous traditions and focused on the common motifs among all of them.DARA devoted much effort towards finding a common mystical language between Islam andHinduism,his fundamental concern was the quest for the discovery of the Unity of God (tauhid), seeking to draw out the commonalities in the scriptures of the Hindus and the Muslims.

His most famous work, Majma ul-Bahrain (“The Mingling of the Two Oceans”) was also devoted to finding the commonalities between Sufism and Hindu Monotheism

Thus, Dara says, referring to the Divine:

You dwell in the Ka’aba and in Somnath [a famous Shaivite Hindu temple]
And in the hearts of the enamoured lovers

This work in the eye of orthodoxy rendered him an apostate and He was killed by his brother Aurangzeb.Today…we are again fighting Dara’s fight and protecting the true spirit of Islam from literalists….who give religious praphrenelia and appearances more importance than true faith within.So its important to revisit the tale of SUFI Prince Darashikoh who died, crying out to God.

DARA’s initiation into Sufism:

At the age of 19, Dara Shikoh recovered from a serious illness after visiting Hazrat Mian Mir, the Sufi sage of Lahore. His faith in the power of saints and his interest in religion were firmly established. In 1640 he became a disciple of Mullah Shah, one of Mian Mir’s successors. It was in Lahore where he wrote a book containing biographies of Sufi saints. A biography of Mian Mir and his principal disciples followed two years later. He also wrote brief Sufi pamphlets, one of which was a reply to those who criticised him for his statements.Dara Shikoh was a follower of Lahore’s famous Qadiri Sufi Saint Mian Mir, whom he was introduced to by Mullah Shah Badakhshi (Mian Mir’s spiritual disciple and successor).


Dara was a unitarian…he believed in the truth of all the religious traditions.
 In pursuit of this aim, Dara now set about seeking to learn more about the religious systems of the Hindus. He studied Sanskrit, and, with the help of the Pandits of Benaras, made a Persian translation of the Upanishads, which was later followed by his Persian renderings of the Gita and the Yoga Vasishta.


The most well-known of Dara’s several works on the religious sciences of the Hindus is his Majma ul-Bahrain (‘The Mingling of the Two Oceans’). Completed when Dara was forty two years old, this book is a pioneering attempt to build on the similarities between Sufism and certain strands of Hindu monotheistic thought, and it is these two that the ‘two oceans’ in the book’s name refer to.

This book, written in Lahore, was published 150 years later in French in two volumes in 1801 and 1802, and it greatly influenced European thinkers like Schopenhauer, as well as many others He describes this treatise as ‘a collection of the truth and wisdom of two Truth-knowing groups’. It is, in terms of content, rather technical, focussing on Hindu terminology and their equivalents in Islamic Sufism. The basic message that this book conveys is summed up in Dara’s own words thus: ‘Mysticism is equality‘, and, he adds, ‘If I know that an infidel, immersed in sin, is, in a way, singing the note of monotheism, I go to him, hear him and am grateful to him’.

The Majma-ul Bahrain is divided into twenty-two sections, in each of which Dara seeks to draw out the similarities between Hindu and Sufi concepts and teachings. 

The translator then quotes Dara as saying:

My chief reason for this noble command [to have the Yoga Vasishta translated] is that although I had profited by pursuing a translation of the Yoga Vasishta ascribed to Shaikh Sufi, yet once two saintly persons appeared in my dreams; one of whom was tall, whose hair was gray, the other short and without any hair. The former was Vasishta and the latter Ram Chandra, and as I had read the translation already alluded to, I was naturally attracted to them and paid them my respects. Vasisht was very kind to me and patted me on the back, and, addressing Ram Chandra, told him that I was brother to him because both he and I were seekers after truth. He asked Ram Chandra to embrace me, which he did in exuberance of love. Thereupon, Vasishta gave some sweets to Ram Chandra, which I also took and ate. After this vision, a desire to cause the translation of the book intensified in me.

Thus, for instance, the Hindu notion of Mutki, he says, is identical with the Sufi concept of Salvation, denoting the annihilation (fana) of the self in God. Or, for example, the Sufi concept of ‘ishq (Love) is said to be identical with the maya of the Hindu monotheists. From Love, says Dara, was born the ‘great soul’, alternately known as the soul of Muhammad to the Sufis, and Mahatman or Hiranyagarba to the Hindus.

Dara’s translation of certain Hindu scriptures into Persian represents a landmark in the process of developing bridges of understanding between people of different faiths in medieval India, in which the Sufis played the leading role. One of Dara’s earliest attempts at translation was his rendering of the Gita into Persian. Keenly interested as he was in the philosophy of Yoga, slator of the text opens his treatise with praises of God and the Prophet Muhammad thus:

In Majma-ul-Bahrain, completed in 1655, Dara Shikoh traced parallells between Islamic Sufism and Hindu Vedantism. “There were not many differences, except verbal, in the ways we… comprehended the truth.”
His search for traces of monotheism in the religious systems of the Hindus stems, he says, from his faith in the Qur’an, which states that God has, from time to time, sent prophets to all peoples to preach the worship of the One. 
Thus, he goes on to add:
And it can also be ascertained from the Holy Qur’an that there is no nation without a prophet and without a revealed scripture, for it has been said: ‘Nor do We chastise until We raise an apostle’ [Qur’an: XVII, 15]. And in another verse: ‘And there is not a people but a warner has gone among them’ [Qur’an: XXXV, 24]. And at another place: ‘Certainly we sent our apostles with clear arguments, and sent down with them the Book and the Measure’ [Qur’an: LVII, 25].
Dara expresses this concern in his Persian translation of the Upanishads, the Sirr ul-Akbar (‘The Great Secret’) thus:
And whereas I was impressed with a longing to behold the Gnostic doctrines of every sect and to hear their lofty expressions of monotheism and had cast my eyes upon many theological books and had been a follower thereof for many years, my passion for beholding the Unity [of God], which is a boundless ocean, increased every moment. [.] Thereafter, I began to ponder as to why the discussion of monotheism is so conspicuous in India and why the Indian [Hindu] mystics and theologians of ancient India do not disavow the Unity of God, nor do they find any fault with the Unitarians.

It was his these works which were later used be religous orthodoxy in his trial to declare him an apostate and legalize his political murder
DARA’s fight agaisnt religious orthodoxy;
Dara’s next book on Islamic Sufism is the Hasanat ul-‘Arifin or ‘The Aphorisms of the Gnostics’. It consists of the sayings of 107 Sufis of various spiritual orders. Explaining the objective behind writing the book, Dara says in his introduction:

I was enamoured of studying books on the ways of the men of the Path and had in my mind nothing save the understanding of the Unity of God; and before this, in a state of ecstasy and enthusiasm, I had uttered some words pertaining to sublime knowledge, because of which certain bigoted and narrow-minded people accused me of heresy and apostasy. It was then that I realised the importance of compiling the aphorisms of great believers in the Unity of God and the sayings of saints who have, hitherto, acquired knowledge of Reality, so that these may serve as an argument against those who are really imposters.

In the Hasanat ul-‘Arifin, Dara bitterly criticises those self-styled ‘ulama who, ignoring the inner dimension of the faith, focus simply on external rituals. His critique is directed against mindless ritualism emptied of inner spiritual content, and he challenges the claims of the ‘ulama who would readily trade their faith for worldly gain. Thus, he says:

May the world be free from the noise of the Mulla
And none should pay any heed to their fatwas.

As for those ‘ulama who claim to be religious authorities but have actually little or no understanding at all of the true spirit of religion, Dara writes that, ‘As a matter of fact, these are ignoramuses to themselves and learned to the ignorant’, and adds the following couplet:
Every prophet and saint suffered afflictions and torments,
Due to the vicious and ignominious conduct of the mulla.
Orthodoxy extracted its revenge on the inclusive spirit of DARA and used his sufi teachings and books as a proof of heresy and gace his brother Aurangzeb the justification to murder him
Dara on Sufism;
Dara was a Sufi of the Qadiri tareeqa an wrote extensively about Sufism.  The Safinat ul-Auliya, a biography of several leading Sufi saints, was Dara’s first work, composed in 1640 C.E., when he was just 25 years of age. Here he stresses the importance of the Sufi pirs or guides, because, he believes, one can attain knowledge of the mystical path only through the assistance of a spiritual master. In Dara’s words, ‘God never leaves his people without saints to guide them. [.] Therefore, next to the prophets, there are no other persons than the saints nearer in the presence of God, the Almighty’. The true saint is a ‘perfect guide’ (pir-i kamil), for, ‘No one is more compassionate and magnanimous, erudite and practical, humble and polite, heroic and charitable than the members of this hierarchy of the saints’.

The Safinat ul-Auliya is Dara’s second biography of various Sufi saints. Unlike the Sakinat ul-Auliya, which deals with Sufis of various orders, this book discusses only the Qadri Sufis of India. Dara himself was a Qadri, and as he puts it, ‘Nothing attracts me more than this Qadri order, which has fulfilled my spiritual aspirations’. The Qadri order, one of the most popular and widespread of all the Sufi silsilahs, traces its origins to the Prophet through the twelfth century Sufi and Islamic scholar of great renown, Shaikh Abdul Qadir Jilani of Baghdad. The Sakinat ul-Auliya was completed in 1642 C.E., when Dara was 28 years old, three years after his first meeting with the Qadri Sufi Miyan Mir. In the same year, Dara came into contact with another leading Qadri saint, Mulla Shah Badakshani (d. 1642 C.E.), who, like Miyan Mir, exercised a particularly powerful influence on Dara, which is readily apparent in his description of the practices of the Qadris in the Sakinat ul-Auliya.

Two short, yet important, works of Dara on the various stages and practices associated with the Sufi path are the Tariqat ul-Haqiqat and the Risala-i Haq Numa.

The text goes on to discuss the thirty stages (manazil) on the Sufi path, the first of which is detachment from the materialistic world and the last of which is realisation of the Truth. Broadly the same theme is discussed in the Risala-i Haq Numa, where the seeker (salik) is shown as starting from the Alam-i Nasut or ‘The Physical Plane’, and, passing through various stages, finally reaching the Alam-i Lahut or ‘the Plane of Absolute Truth’. Some of the physical exercises employed by the Sufis that are described in the Risala-i Haq Numa are shown by Dara to be similar to those used by the Hindu Tantriks and Yogis. These include astral healing and concentration on the centres of meditation in the heart and brain. Further, he suggests that the four planes through which the Sufi seeker’s journey takes him-Nasut , Jabrut, Malakut and Lahut-correspond to the Hindu concept of the Avasthanam or the four ‘states’ of Jagrat, Swapna, Shushpati and Turiya.

Dara established close and cordial relations with mystics from various backgrounds. Among these were several jogis and sadhus, about some of whom Dara also wrote. One such sadhu was Baba Lal, follower of the renowned Sufi-Bhakti saint Kabir and founder of a small monotheistic order named after him as the Baba Lalis. Many of the teachings of this sect can be traced to a distinct Sufi influence. A summary of these teachings is to be found in Dara’s Makalama Baba Lal wa Dara Shikoh, which consists of seven long conversations between the Baba and Dara held in Lahore in 1653 C.E.. These seven discourses were composed originally in Hindawi, and were later translated into Persian by Dara’s chief secretary, Rai Chandar Bhan. As in the case of Dara’s translation of the Yoga Vasishta, this text focuses particularly on certain similarities in the teachings of Hindu and Muslim mystics.

DARA as a poet:
One of the most intriguing works of Dara’s is his collection of poems, the Diwan, also known as the Iksir-i ‘Azam. Some of the verses from the Diwan, given below, suggest the train of Dara’s mystical thought:

On Monotheism [tauhid]

Look where you can, All is He,
God’s face is ever face to face.

Whatever you behold except Him is the object of your fancy,
Things other than He have an existence like a mirage.
The existence of God is like a boundless ocean,

People are like forms and waves in its water.
Though I do not consider myself separate from Him,
Yet I do not consider myself God.
Whatever relation the drop bears with the ocean,
That I hold true in my belief, and nothing beyond.

We have not seen an atom separate from the Sun,
Every drop of water is the sea in itself.
With what name should one call the Truth?
Every name that exists is one of God’s names.

On Divine Love ;

O Thou, from whose very name rains Love abundant!
And from your message rains Love!
Whoever passes through Your street realises
That indeed from the very door to the terrace of Your house rains l love!

On the Mystical Path

Turn to none except God,
The rosary and the sacred thread are but only a means to an end.
All this piety is conceit and hypocrisy,
How can it be worthy of our Beloved?.

Kingship is easy, acquaint yourself with poverty,
Why should a drop become a pearl when it can transform itself into an ocean?.

Hands soiled with gold begin to stink,
How awful is the plight of the soul soiled with gold!
Day and night you hear of people dying,
You, too, have to die. How strange is your behaviour!.

The more a traveller is unencumbered,
The less he feels worried on his journey.
You, too, are a traveller in this world,
Take this as certain, if you are wakeful.
Drive egoism away from you,
For, like conceit and arrogance, it is also a burden.
So long as you live in this world, be independent,
The Qadri has warned you!

Whoever recognised this, carried the day,
He who lost himself, found Him.
And he who sought Him not within his own self,
Passed away, carrying his quest along with him.
The Qadri found his Beloved within his own self,
Being himself of good disposition, he won the favour of the Good.

To whatever object you may turn your face, He is in view,
Are you blind, for why do you assign Him to yourself?
Dara On The Religious Systems of the Hindus

Among the most noteworthy distinguished Sufi poet that Dara Shikoh was attracted to was Sarmad, a truly remarkable man who was beheaded by Aurangzeb. Indeed, Dara Shikoh seems to have been in the middle of the entire literary, spiritual, and intellectual movement that was to propel Lahore as a centre of a liberal tradition not known in the subcontinent before. His spirit still pervades the way we think, a sort of detached tolerance to every point of view. The execution of Dara by his brother Aurangzeb led to this tradition being badly dented.



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