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Interfaith Dialogue ( 31 Jul 2022, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Dara Shikoh: The Mughal Prince Who Pioneered the Study of Comparative Religion

By S. Arshad, New Age Islam

1 August 2022

He Translated Hindu Scriptures In Persian And Harmonised Islamic And Vedantic Mysticism

Main Points:

1.    He authored five books in Persian and translated Upanishads and Bhagvad Gita in Persian

2.    He said Islamic Sufism and Vedanta were based on the same philosophy.

3.    He studied Hindu scriptures thoroughly.

4.    He introduced the Upanishadic thought in Persian.

5.    He was killed on grounds of heresy by Aurangzeb.

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Dara Shikoh

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The Mughal dynasty contributed greatly to the arts, literature and culture of India. The Mughals were not only great rulers but also patrons of arts and culture. Since they had adopted India as their own country, they studied the religion and culture of India and tried to bring harmony in the Indian society by finding common grounds between the two major religions of India, Islam and Hinduism. Akbar attempted to bring harmony between the two communities by founding Deen-e-Ilahi. Though the experiment failed and the Muslims criticised him for over treading the path of religion, his aim was religious harmony.

The Mughal prince who contributed greatly to the religious learning and mystic thought of India was Dara Shikoh, a great grandson of Akbar and Shah Jahan's eldest son, though he failed to ascend the throne due to the machinations of his ruthless and shrewd rival Aurangzeb. He was a Sufi minded man from his youth and formally became a disciple of the great Sufi of his time Mulla Shah Badakhshi who was the disciple of the renowned Sufi Mian Mir. Dara Shikoh met Mulla Badakhshi in Lahore in 1635 at the age of 20 during Shah Jahan's stay in Lahore. He was influenced by the mystic thoughts of Miyan Mir who was then alive. Dara Shikoh wanted to be his disciple but Mian Mir soon died.

After his death Dara became a disciple of Mulla Shah Badakhshi who was associated with the Qadriya order of Sufism.

After formally entering the Qadriya Sufi order, Dara Shikoh started studying Sufi literature extensively and deeply immersed himself in Sufi practices and thought. He studied the life and achievements of hundreds of Sufis.

After he gained considerable knowledge of Sufism and Sufis of the world, he ventured out to write a detailed book on the Sufis and authored his first book on Sufism titled Safinatul Awlia in 1049 A.H. This book contains the life and works of 411 male and female Sufis.

The preface of the Safinatul Awlia shows his deep theoretical knowledge of Sufism.

He authored another book on the Sufis of Qadriya order titled Sakinatul Awlia in 1052. Thanks to his depth of knowledge on Islamic Sufism he became an authority on the subject and issued his own magazine on Sufism titled Risala-e-Haq Numa in 1056. In this magazine, Dara Shikoh discussed different mystical issues meant for the Sufi aspirants.

Next he authored another book on Sufism titled TariqatuI Haqiqat.

In 1062, he wrote a book titled Hasanatul Arifin in which he presented his arguments in favour of his mystical thoughts to the mainstream Ulema of the time who had accused him of heresy due to his out of box thoughts on Sufism.

Since he extensively studied Sufi and mystic thought, in course of his study, he came across pundits and Sannyasis with whom he discussed mystic issues. This was the time he heard about Upanishads, Gita and other religious scriptures of Hinduism. He studied Upanishads and Gita with the help of Pandits. He also had discussions with the Pandits of Kabir Panth and this caused a major turn in Dara Shikoh's religious thought.

Therefore, from 1062, he totally devoted himself to the study of Hindu religious mystic literature. Not only did he study the Upanishads and the Gita but also translated them into Persian with the help of the Pandits and Sannyasins of Benares. He was overwhelmed by the striking similarities between Islamic Sufism and the spiritualism of Vedanta. This similarity was surprising and an eye opener for him because he had been taught all these years that Hinduism was all about idol worship.

After studying the Hindu scriptures, he authored a book titled Majmaul Bahrain in which he discussed the similarities between Hindu mystic thought and Islamic Sufism. In this book he discussed identical points in both Hinduism and Islam like Ruh and Atman, Qayamat and Mahapralay, internal and external attributes of God etc. In this book, Dara Shikoh presented a comparative study of Islam and Hinduism and tried to find the point of confluence of the 'two oceans of monotheism'.

Mr Mahfuzul Haque, author of the English translation of Majmaul Bahrain, writes about the merit of the translation:

"The chief merit of the translation lies in its simplicity, and it must always be considered as one of the best specimens of easy flowing style."

About Dara Shikoh's journey from a Muslim Sufi to a scholar of Vedanta, Bikrama Jit Hasrat writes in his book, Dara Shikoh: Life and, Works:

"He studied Sanskrit and got deeply interested in the Vedanta and Yoga philosophy, Hindu ritual and mythology and from the learned Pandits of Benares, he learnt the secrets of Indian thought and legend and initiated himself into the practices of the Yoga by constant association with yogis and Sannyasins. Nine years of constant restlessness in search for truth and knowledge were spent in studying what was best in Indian thought and gradually his religious outlook became more and more broadened; till at last in 1654 a new idea of universal brotherhood dawned upon his mind. During this year appeared the Majmaul Bahrain, or the Mingling of the Two Oceans, a work of remarkable merit and originality wherein is made the first attempt of its own kind to reconcile the doctrines of Brahma Vidya and the tenets of Quran. The Majmaul Bahrain, though a treatise of the technical terms of Indian Pantheism and Sufi phraseology, devoid of any deep insight or spirituality, is of extreme importance to a student of comparative religion in as much as therein Dara Shikoh has tried to bring out the points of similarity and identity between Hinduism and Islam and had endeavoured to show where these two oceans of mystic thought meet."

Prior to Majmaul Bahrain, he had authored a book based on his conversation with a Kabir Panthi sadhu Baba Lal Das.

In 1067 H, he translated the Upanishads with the help of Pandits of Upanishads in six months and named it Sirr-e-Akbar. Dara Shikoh found Upanishads an ocean of monotheism. He found Upanishads helpful in understanding many issues that he could not hitherto understand. The Upanishads provided him all the answers. He wrote:

Any difficult problem or sublime idea that came to my mind and was not solved inspite of my best efforts, became clear and solved with the help of this ancient book which is undoubtedly the first heavenly book and the fountainhead of the ocean of monotheism and in accordance with or rather an elucidation of the Quran."

The excerpt gives an idea how greatly Dara Shikoh was influenced by Upanishads. He considers it the first heavenly or revealed divine book and thinks that it was the Kitab-e-Maqnun mentioned in the Quran.

Since Dara Shikoh was greatly influenced by Ibn Arabi's Wahdat ul Wujud and Upanishad's Advaitavad (Monism), Islamic mullah's of the time declared him a heretic who was popularising Hindu thoughts among Muslims. Dara Shikoh had presented his scholarly counter arguments to the charges in his book Hasanatul Arifeen. He had written in Safinatul Awlia that the the religion of Sufis should not be judged by their outer behaviour or from their mystic assertions. But the ambitious Aurangzeb who considered Dara Shikoh the biggest hindrance in the fulfilment of his dream of becoming the emperor, got fatwas of heresy issued against him and got him hanged on that ground. Dara Shikoh met the same fate as Hussain bin Mansur Hallaj for professing monistic ideas.

Dara Shikoh has left a rich legacy of inter religious study and was the pioneer in the study of comparative religion. He was the first Indian to explore the similarities and common grounds between Islamic and Vedantic mystic thought. Today he is not present among us but his legacy continues to inspire millions of Indians to keep the light of interfaith harmony burning.

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S. Arshad is a columnist with NewAgeIslam.com.


URL:    https://newageislam.com/interfaith-dialogue/dara-shikoh-mughal-comparative-religion/d/127620


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