Dara Shikoh was very handsome, with perfect features, an elongated face, and a fine, slightly crescent nose, and he wore a well-groomed beard, longer than demanded by the criteria of Shariah. Shah Jahan was so proud of him that he had many miniatures made of him. To keep him close to himself in Agra, he gave him the fictitious post of governor of Kashmir, Lahore, and Kabul, granting him excessive privileges such as being preceded by bearers carrying ceremonial gold and silver maces when he entered the royal presence. As a person, Dara Shikoh was over-confident in his opinion of himself, considering himself competent in all things and having no need of advisers. He despised those who gave him counsel. He assumed that fortune would invariably favour him and imagined that everybody loved him. No courtier dared criticize him or point out his faults to him. The Emperor favoured him implicitly, and it was fully expected that he would be the one to succeed his father. He was conscious of this fact and behaved quite scornfully towards his brothers. However, Dara wasted his opportunities and did nothing to build his position. He mocked the nobles and courtiers. Aurangzeb nicknamed him 'the kafir' and denounced his impiety.
Religious Attitude of Dara Shikoh
Dara's religious attitude was a cause of great concern for the Royal family. He antagonised the orthodox members of the Islamic sect with his impudent behaviour and attitude towards other religions. He patronized Hindu religious literature and Hindu gurus, and he associated with several peculiar fakirs. A particular fakir that he encouraged, whom not only religious leaders but also other upright nobles found particularly objectionable, was a person called Sarmad. The rumour and scandal of his association with this strange person spread all over Hindustan. He was an Armenian Jew converted to Islam, who settled in India in 1654. Sarmad did not profess the faith of any of the acknowledged mystic schools, but preached highly esoteric doctrines and provoked the orthodoxy. He would state before Dara and his disciples, 'I obey the Quran, I am a Hindu priest, I am a Jewish Rabbi, I am an infidel and a Muslim.' This kind of a statement was an outrage at the time, and Dara's association with such a character earned him much ire from the Muslim community.
Dara Shikoh's attitude towards Christians was different from his father's more rigid views and his mother's ardent Shiite convictions. He counted Jesuits, such as Father Busee, Pedro Juzarte and Father Stanislas Malpiqua, among his intimate friends.
Dara was set unorthodox and rash in his outrageous attitudes and infatuations. It seems that actually, Dara was aware of the extremes he sometimes went to in his thinking and poetry. In his scandalous book 'Majma ul Bahrein' he admits that- 'None should evaluate me (by my sayings). Nor should anyone take offence at what I have said.' This erratic attitude may suit a poet, an aesthete, or a philosopher, but it did not gain the confidence of courtiers or responsible officials engaged in the serious business of managing matters of state, especially when joined to quasi-heretical views which outrage orthodox-Muslims.
Dara Shikoh's patronage of Arts
Dara Shikoh was a patron of fine arts, music and dancing. In fact many of Dara Shikoh's paintings are well detailed and well compared to a professional artist of his era. The 'Dara Shikoh album' is a unique collection of paintings and calligraphy gathered during the 1630s until his death. It was presented to his wife Nadira Banu in 1641-42 and she kept them in her care until her death.
Dara Shikoh was acknowledged as a good poet, and Jahanara modestly attempted to follow in his footsteps. Seized with inspiration, he wrote the Sakinat ul Auliya, on the lives of some of the saints of the Qadiri Order, among whom were Hazrat Miyan Mir, Mullah Shah, and others. His later, controversial masterpiece was the Majma ul Bahrein, which shocked the orthodox and earned him the reputation for sacrilegious impiety. It seems that he deliberately tried to shock the courtiers and Ulema to show them that the accepted religious beliefs were not correct. Majma ul Bahrein reflected this extremely radical view. The religious elements were outraged, because they felt that he equated Hinduism with Islam and even went to the extent of condoning idolatry. This book jeopardized his political aspirations. Dara also wrote a collection of maxims inspired by his ecstasies, Tariqat ul Haqiqat (The Path towards Truth). In 1646, he had composed a small treatise, the Risalat-i-Haqnama, on his initiation into the Qadiria sect and the religious practices thereof.
Dara Shikoh and the War of Succession
On September 6, 1657, the illness of Emperor Shah Jahan brought about a fierce and frantic battle for power among the four Mughal princes. However, only Dara Shikoh and Aurangzeb emerged victorious. Aurangzeb at the battlefield of Samugarh defeated Dara Shikoh on May 30, 1658 and consequently Aurangzeb took over Agra Fort and deposed Emperor Shah Jahan on June 8, 1658. After the defeat Dara Shikoh retreated from Samugarh to Delhi and then from there to Lahore. Next, Dara Shikoh went to Multan and then to Thatta (Sindh). From Sindh, he crossed the Rann of Kachchh, reached Kathiawar, and met Shah Nawaz Khan, the governor of the province. Dara Shikoh occupied Surat and advanced towards Ajmer, where again he was defeated by the imperial army of Aurangzeb in the Battle of Deorai (near Ajmer) on March 11, 1659. After his defeat he ran away to Sindh and asked for protection under Malik Jiwan, a Baluch chieftain who was saved in more than one occasion by the Mughal prince from the wrath of Shah Jahan. However, Malik betrayed Dara Shikoh and turned him over to Aurangzeb on June 10, 1659 along with his second son Sipihr Shikoh. Dara Shikoh was brought to Delhi, placed on an elephant, and marched through the streets of the capital in chains. He was put on trial and eventually given the death sentence after being declared as a traitor to Islam. He was killed on the night of August 30, 1659.
Dara's Shikoh was a rather fantastical character. While on the one hand he was deeply attached to worldly luxuries and was volatile and ostentatious, he was also quite deep and philosophical on the other. He sought, above all, to penetrate the secrets of the invisible world. He certainly had confidence in his power of reasoning and placed his superior intellect over others, but before Sufis he acknowledged his limitations. His deepest wish was to surrender himself completely to God and lose himself in Divine love. In this passion he had ardently grasped Mullah Shah's hand to lead him forward on this path. The 'rose' of his chronograph had certainly become the 'rose' of his soul, but despite his passion he was handicapped by his weak character.