Samugarh 1658, not Plassey 1757, was the tipping point that fixed the subcontinent’s future course – Murad Ali Baig

Prince Dara Shikoh translating the Upanishads.

Murad Ali BaigTwo great Mughal armies, led by Shah Jahan’s eldest son Dara Shikoh and his third son Aurangzeb, clashed on a dusty plain 20 km southeast of Agra. It was not only a battle for the Mughal throne, but a battle for the very soul of India. – Murad Ali Baig

On May 29, 1658, India’s history changed forever. Aurangzeb’s victory over his brother Dara Shikoh marked the beginning of Islamic bigotry in India that not only alienated Hindus but the much more moderate Sufis and Shias as well. Aurangzeb’s narrow Sunni beliefs were to make India the hotbed of Muslim fundamentalists, long before the Wahhabis of Saudi Arabia sponsored the fanatics of Taliban and Islamic State.

Two great Mughal armies, led by Shah Jahan’s eldest son Dara Shikoh and his third son Aurangzeb, clashed on a dusty plain 20 km southeast of Agra. It was not only a battle for the Mughal throne, but a battle for the very soul of India.

It pitted Dara, an eclectic scholar who respected all religions, against Aurangzeb who was an orthodox Sunni Muslim. Dara had translated the Bhagwad Gita and Upanishads from Sanskrit into Persian, to make them known to the public for the first time. The fact that he had been a Sanskrit scholar shows that there had been considerable Hindu-Muslim amity in the time of Shah Jahan.

Mogul Emperor AurangzebBut Dara had been a pampered prince who faced a smaller battle-hardened army that Aurangzeb had marched up from the Deccan, after defeating an Imperial army at Dharmat near Indore. Blocked at the Chambal River, Aurangzeb quietly slipped behind Dara’s lines to reach a secret ford across the Chambal by non-stop double marches over two days.

Dara now realised that Aurangzeb’s armies had outflanked his army and come very close to Agra, so he had to rush east without most of his cannons. The two armies met on a flat dusty plain east of a village called Samugarh, on an unbelievably hot day with the sun like a furnace in a cloudless sky. There was not enough water so many soldiers and horses collapsed of heat and sun stroke.

The battle was more than just a contest between Dara and his rebel brother. It was becoming a religious war with the Hindus supporting Dara and many Muslim nobles supporting Aurangzeb.

Dara was on the brink of victory when he was betrayed by one of his commanders, Khalil Ullah Khan. He then retreated to Lahore and then down the Indus. Eventually, he was brought to Delhi and put on trial.

He had written a book called the The Mingling of the Two Oceans [PDF] showing the many similarities between the Quran and the Brahma Shastras. At the trial the imperial Qazi asked Dara to hand him the jade thumb ring that was still on his left hand. He is reported to have turned it over and asked why the green stone was inscribed with the words ‘Allah’ on one side and ‘Prabhu’ on the other.

Dara ShikohDara evidently replied that the creator was known by many names and called God, Allah, Prabhu, Jehova, Ahura Mazda and many more names by devout people in many different lands. He added that it is written in the Quran that Allah had sent down 1,24,000 messengers to show all the people of the world the way of righteousness and he believed that these messengers had been sent not only to Muslims but to all the people of the world in every age. Aurangzeb casually signed the order of execution after the Qazis found Dara guilty of heresy.

Aurangzeb’s inflexible religious bigotry made him lose the support of his influential Shia subjects as well as his many Hindu and Rajput followers. By persecuting his own Rajput followers he cut off his arms and weakened his military power. The Maratha leader Shivaji initially had no anti-Muslim sentiment and had been quite willing to become a Mughal Amir. Aurangzeb’s obstinate pride however alienated him and gave him a weapon to turn a purely political war against the Mughals into a religious war.

If Dara had won at Samugarh his rule might have promoted harmony between India’s turbulent peoples. A united Mughal empire may have prevented India from becoming so easily colonised by European powers. Samugarh marked the beginning of Islamic bigotry that led over the centuries to the Partition of India, the creation of Pakistan and the backlash of radical Hinduism. Samugarh was a tipping point in India’s history. – The Times of India, 28 May 2016

» Murad Ali Baig subscribes to Sankhya philosophy and writes about Indian history and religion.

Prince Dara Shikoh paraded in public before being executed by his younger brother Aurangzeb.

Dara Shikoh's book "The Mingling of the Two Oceans"

4 Responses

  1. Sir what do you mean? That Mughal Islamic bigotry began with Aurangazeb? It started long ago. What about Akbar before him? He killed 30000 peasants at Chittod. Many Rajput ladies performed Jauhar because of this. In the 2nd battle of Panipat after having killed Hemu, Akbar had his old father killed when refused to convert to Islam. He earned his islamic title of Ghazi here. So much for his tolerance. Akbar sent the severed head to Afghanistan for display.

    What about the first one, Babur? How many temples he demolished and how many Hindus he killed at that time. It is not as if tyranny started with Aurangazeb but much before it. May be he was the worst of all that’s all

    • Of course, Islamic bigotry goes back to the Prophet himself and is recorded in the Koran and Hadith in no uncertain terms.

      However the manifestation of Islamic bigotry appears in waves in Indian history. There are periods when it was less, and periods when it was more.

      Certainly it was more with Aurangzeb on the Moghul throne and except for the Ram Temple destroyed by Mir Baqi in Ayodhya, the temples destroyed by Aurangzeb in Mathura and Varanasi are the temples Hindus wish to reclaim today.

      So in the author’s view, Aurangzeb’s reign marks the beginning of a period of greater Islamic bigotry than usual, which contributed to Partition and continues even till today.

      He speculates that had Dara Shikoh ascended the Moghul throne, the manifestation of Islamic bigotry would have been much less and Hindus and Muslims would have been able to live together more peacefully then and perhaps more peacefully today too.

      Certainly a more powerful Moghul emperor on the Delhi throne whose subjects, Hindu and Muslim, could work together, would have kept the European colonialists at bay for longer, maybe even kept them away permanently.

  2. K. K. Muhammed with Obamas

    Dara Shikoh's Centotaph

    Dara Shikoh offered a carved stone railing to Sri Krishna which was installed in front of the Deity in the Keshava Rai Temple at Mathura. The railing was later torn out by Aurangzeb and Dara’s offering to Sri Krishna was used as evidence against him at his trial for apostasy.

    The Dehra of Keshava Rai built on the Krishna Janmabhumi, was said to be the most beautiful temple that had ever been built in India. It was destroyed by Aurangzeb in 1678 and replaced with a very large mosque (which now stands empty, without access points, under police guard).

    Dara Shikoh’s cenotaph is in Humayun’s tomb in New Delhi. It is in a side room with that of Humayun’s wife Bega Begum and other nobles and is marked in Persian (or maybe Urdu). Those who can read Persian can easily find it.

    Here is one of Dara’s poems (translated from the Persian):

    Paradise is only at a place where no Mullah lives,
    Where no uproar or clamor from a Mullah is heard,
    May the world rid itself of the terror of a Mullah.
    May none pay heed to his fatwa.
    In a city where a Mullah dwells,
    No wise man is ever found.

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