The definitive biography of the eldest son of Emperor Shah Jahan, whose death at the hands of his younger brother Aurangzeb changed the course of South Asian history.
Dara Shukoh was the eldest son of Shah Jahan, the fifth Mughal emperor, best known for commissioning the Taj Mahal as a mausoleum for his beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal. Although the Mughals did not practice primogeniture, Dara, a Sufi who studied Hindu thought, was the presumed heir to the throne and prepared himself to be India’s next ruler. In this exquisite narrative biography, the most comprehensive ever written, Supriya Gandhi draws on archival sources to tell the story of the four brothers—Dara, Shuja, Murad, and Aurangzeb—who with their older sister Jahanara Begum clashed during a war of succession. Emerging victorious, Aurangzeb executed his brothers, jailed his father, and became the sixth and last great Mughal. After Aurangzeb’s reign, the Mughal Empire began to disintegrate. Endless battles with rival rulers depleted the royal coffers, until by the end of the seventeenth century Europeans would start gaining a foothold along the edges of the subcontinent.
Historians have long wondered whether the Mughal Empire would have crumbled when it did, allowing European traders to seize control of India, if Dara Shukoh had ascended the throne. To many in South Asia, Aurangzeb is the scholastic bigot who imposed a strict form of Islam and alienated his non-Muslim subjects. Dara, by contrast, is mythologized as a poet and mystic. Gandhi’s nuanced biography gives us a more complex and revealing portrait of this Mughal prince than we have ever had.
An astonishing work. Gandhi…has written an early candidate for biography of the year; and this short, sparkling book does perhaps the best service to our common understanding of the Mughals than any other recent work.
A well-researched biography of the heir-apparent, showing how unrealistic it is to burden a historical figure with present-day guesswork… Aurangzeb’s allegations of kufr (unbelief) against Dara were likely an afterthought. What had bothered him was the way Dara kept thwarting his own ambitions. The picture that emerges from Gandhi’s book is that it was politics as usual: religion is an angle that was mostly brought in much later by the colonial historians and later Indian scholars.
The Emperor Who Never Was is that rarity: a work of deeply researched, painstaking historical scholarship that is also a model of fine writing and clear, flowing prose. Supriya Gandhi explores a wide web of original primary sources in a variety of languages to establish the facts about Dara Shukoh and separate, in the words of the Emperor Akbar, ‘the firm ground of truth from the marshy land of tradition.’ With this remarkable debut a huge new talent is born, and one who is likely to make as much of an impact in the world of literature as she already has done in the world of academe.
Reads like a novel…A fascinating look [at] a family, the succession to the throne, and the politics that happened in its wake…Reclaims history and gives us a complex, nuanced biography of a man who was not known at all, and also of a family that was different and always at loggerheads with each other.
Supriya Gandhi has restored Dara Shukoh to his much-deserved magnificence. The prince we imagined we knew now comes alive in a world of overlapping Indian and Islamic splendor—the Mughal court in all its beauty, sanctity, precarity, and danger.
Beautifully written and thoroughly researched, Supriya Gandhi’s biography brings Dara Shukoh alive within his own historical context. The remarkable story of the ‘emperor who never was’ provides crucial perspectives on kingship in Mughal India and on controversies shaping modern South Asian history.
Dara Shukoh or Aurangzeb? India, the very idea of it, at a fateful crossroad: Could a philosopher be a king, could blind imperial ambition be any less fanatical? In her beautifully conceived, full-dress biography of the legendary Mughal prince, Supriya Gandhi has mastered the fine art of storytelling with the rare gift of historiography. This is the drama of a nation on a historic precipice, told with impeccable verve and confidence. A joy to read, the masterstroke of a brilliant scholar.
Based on a wide range of primary sources, Gandhi has produced an excellent work on the life and times of one of the most fascinating Mughals.
- 352 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Belknap Press
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