Thou art at the same time, the light and the moth,
The wine and the cup, the sage and the fool,
the friend and the stranger,
the rose and the nightingale.
– From The Compass of Truth by Dara Shikoh
WORDS SUCH AS THESE can too easily be picked on to mark out Dara as an infidel. Aurangzeb will soon have his quarry on such subjective charges. Ironically, between the two, it is Dara Shikoh’s legacy that will shine through history.
Loved by the people of New Delhi (Shajahanabad), it is through its wailing streets that he will be paraded after his capture. This prince-mystic, has been a champion of the oneness of religious quests, a patron of the arts, himself an accomplished poet and calligrapher who has undertaken the mammoth collaborative task of translating the Bhagvad Gita and 50 of the Upanishads into Persian. A worthy inheritor of Emperor Akbar’s pantheism, he has drawn comparison between the concepts of mukti and fana; ishq and maya. He wears a ring inscribed with the word prabhu in Sanskrit.
At 44, while cooking a meal for his son and himself, assassins break into his chambers. Dara valiantly defends himself with a kitchen knife, but is overcome. The city goes into mourning. He will be immortalized through his writings and translations of Sanskrit texts that will introduce European thinkers to new insights; it is his translation of the Upanishads that will be further translated into European languages – introducing the continent to the foundational texts of Indian spirituality. The German philosopher Schopenhauer will say: “In the whole world there is no study so beneficial and so elevating as that of the Upanishads. It has been the solace of my life. It will be the solace of my death.”
Image: From a 17th Century painting of a prince recently identified as Dara Shikoh (The British Library Board)