Dara Shukoh – The ill-fated prince of Mughal Empire (20 March 1615-30 August 1659)

‘The fault, dear Brutus is not in our stars, but in ourselves’ – Shakespeare

The Shakespeare quote bears a coincidence with the ill-fated life span of the forgotten Mughal Prince Dara Shukoh who would have changed the course of Mughal empire had he been not killed by his own brother Aurangzeb. Despite born in a royal family, Dara Shukoh was too unlucky to rule the peacock throne. Unlike his ancestors, Dara was secular, highly learned and kind-hearted prince who lacked the tactical cunningness needed to rule the peacock throne. The death of his mother Mumtaz Mahal was a tragic setback in life of Dara. Emperor Shahjahan was so emotionally disturbed by his wife’s untimely demise that he devoted his attention to building a monument in memory of his beloved Mumtaz. Had Shahjahan focused his attention towards upbringing his children, his children wouldn’t have rebelled against him.

Dara Shukoh (20 March 1615 – 30 August 1659)

From the very beginning, Dara was hated by his brothers – Aurangzeb and Murad. An internal civil war was brewing within the family. Shahjahan’s affection towards Dara was the crucial factor that created a rift within the siblings. When Shahjahan became sick, Dara ruled the empire on his behalf, acting as a regent. Though Dara led many war campaigns, he lacked the leadership and ruthlessness of a soldier to drive away the invaders. Despite failing in war campaigns, Shahjahan still had hopes in Dara that he would take Mughal Empire to new heights. In this midst, Aurangzeb’s crafty mind was working to overthrow his father from the throne.

Dara’s lenient nature was one weaker factor that gave his opponents an upper hand over him. The internal moles of Aurangzeb were already keeping an eye on every movement of Dara’s actions. Had Dara been more aggressive and vigilante in his strategies, he would have definitely overthrew his crafty brothers.

Battle of Samugarh & Dara’s execution – The Battle of Samugarh in 1658 was a turning point in history of Mughal Empire, thus weakening the hold of Shahjahan towards his throne. Dara was severely defeated by the powerful army of Aurangzeb and Murad. Thus began the fall of Dara Shukoh who was the rightful heir to the throne. Aurangzeb not only defeated Dara, but also deposed his father Shahjahan from the throne. Apart from the defeat in Samugarh battle, Dara was losing everything on personal front too. The demise of his wife Nadira was one more tragedy that struck him on emotional front. Dara had plans to claim back his throne that was rightfully his. He marched to Sindh with hopes to seek the help of his friend Malik Jiwan whose life he had once saved. Little did Dara realize that Malik Jiwan was a betrayer in disguise. Malik Jiwan cunningly got Dara arrested and handed him over to Aurangzeb’s soldiers. Dara was paraded in chains on elephant by Aurangzeb’s soldiers, thus publicly humiliating him in eyes of the public. On advice of courtiers, Aurangzeb finally got Dara slain in the prison. His remains were buried in an unknown grave in Humayun’s tomb.

The slaying of Dara is darkest chapter in history of Mughal legacy and the beginning of decline of its supremacy. The fortune was not in the favor of the ill-fated prince Dara who was too good to be a Mughal emperor. The tragic story of Dara was featured in Amar Chitra Katha comics – Dara Shukoh & Aurangzeb. I had read about the story of Dara in my school days and somewhere in my mind I held great respect for this tragic Mughal prince. Sadly there is no biopic based on Dara Shukoh. This article is a small tribute to the forgotten Mughal prince Dara whose accomplishments are blurred in the pages of history. Dara Shukoh’s life will be brought to screen by Bollywood director Karan Johar in his upcoming movie – Takht which will feature actor Ranveer Singh as Dara Shukoh while actor Vicky Kaushal will portray Aurangzeb.

Recommended literature – I highly recommend Alex Rutherford’s book – The Serpent’s tooth and author Murad Ali Baig’s historical novel ‘Ocean of Cobras’ based on the sibling rivalry between Dara and Aurangzeb.

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7 Replies to “Dara Shukoh – The ill-fated prince of Mughal Empire (20 March 1615-30 August 1659)”

  1. It is sad that more than being secular and having all other qualities, lack of ruthlessness resulted in Dara’s failure to be a assertive king. Whenever i read anything pertaing to history, i feel sad that more than good qualities, it is being assertive helped in keeping a kingdom. There are many incidents like these. Well written.

    1. Thanks for reading the article, Sujaman. Dara was a righteous prince, a deserved successor to the throne. Sadly, he was too good to be a emperor. Betrayed by his own friend and slain by his own brother, Dara was a star crossed prince. There is no movie on life of Dara. This article is a small effort to highlight his greatness.

      1. I am passionate about reading. Let’s see if Sanjay Leela Bhansali come across Dara and think of making a film!! :-). This is Sujata here. :-).

  2. Great and insightful article on one of the most overlooked and neglected people from the pages of Mughal history…well done and I agree that when such a secular and congenial figure was put away so ruthlessly, the death knell had sounded for the legacy of Mughal culture.

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