On 30th August 1659, Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan’s son Dara Shikoh was put to death by his younger brother Aurangzeb.
Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan had four sons, out of whom Dara Shikoh was his favourite and whom he favoured greatly. This blatant favouritism gave rise to animosity among the rest of the brothers, who formed an alliance among themselves against Dara Shikoh.
Inheritance to the Mughal throne was not based on Primogeniture (the law or custom by which the firstborn son inherits the throne or family estate), but the sons needed to compete for military success. Since all four of Shah Jahan’s sons were governors of various parts of the country under their father’s reign, the competition was intense; especially between Dara Shikoh and his brother Aurangzeb. The reason behind this was that even though all four sons were competent in their own right, it was Dara Shikoh and Aurangzeb who attracted a large number of influential people. There were many differences between the two as well; while Dara Shikoh was an intellectual and liberal in matters of religion, Aurangzeb was much more conservative.
After declaring Dara Shikoh as his successor, Shah Jahan fell ill and was being taken care of by his favourite son Dara Shikoh in his newly constructed city of Shahjahanabad (present day Old Delhi). Soon, rumours of Shah Jahan’s death began doing the rounds and the other sons were worried that Dara Shikoh might be hiding the news of their father’s death for his own selfish reasons. Hence, the three of them began taking action in their own way. Shah Shuja, the then Governor of Bengal began contesting the throne from there. Murad did the same from Gujarat and Aurangzeb from the Deccan.
After some of his health was restored, Shah Jahan moved to Agra where Dara Shikoh pressed him to take action against Shah Shuja and Murad who, in the meanwhile had declared themselves rulers in their own territories. In February 1658, Shah Shuja was defeated in Benaras, while the army which had been sent to tackle Murad was surprised to learn that Aurangzeb and Murad had joined forces. Both brothers had agreed to partition the Empire, once they had control of it.
In April 1658, both armies clashed and Aurangzeb won. Shah Shuja was being chased through Bihar and with Aurangzeb winning the battle; Dara Shikoh was at a loss of what he should now do. Since Dara Shikoh’s forces in Bihar would not be able to return in time to face Aurangzeb’s army, Dara began panicking and rushed to form suitable alliances, only to discover that Aurangzeb had already allied with them. When finally, in desperation Dara Shikoh’s insufficient and ill prepared army met Aurangzeb’s, Dara realized that he was of no match to his brother.
Dara’s folly was also the fact that he grew over confident and did not take the advice of those who warned him that he should not go to war while his father was still alive; he was convinced that it would be him who would succeed the throne. But on the contrary, on 8th June 1658, Aurangzeb gained control of Agra and had his father Shah Jahan imprisoned in the Agra Fort, right across the Taj Mahal he had built for his deceased Queen Mumtaz Mahal.
After having gained control of Agra, Aurangzeb broke off his arrangement with Murad Baksh (which had been his intention all along) and had him imprisoned in the Gwalior Fort. Murad was executed on 4th December 1661 for the murder of the Diwan of Gujarat.
In the meanwhile Dara Shikoh had taken his army and moved to Punjab. The army sent to Shah Shuja was still in the east and two of its Generals, Jai Singh and Dilir Khan joined Aurangzeb, while Dara Shikoh’s son Suleiman Shikoh escaped. Aurangzeb offered Shah Shuja the Governorship of Bengal, who had begun annexing more territory. Aurangzeb then proceeded towards Punjab with a larger army this time. Meanwhile, Shah Shuja was ousted by the forces of Aurangzeb. Shuja fled to Burma, where he was put to death by the local rulers.
With Shah Shuja and Murad out of his way and his father jailed in Agra, Aurangzeb then went after Dara Shikoh. Chasing after him, Aurangzeb declared that Dara Shikoh was not a Muslim anymore and that he had killed the Grand Vizier Saadullah Khan (neither of these claims were verified). After many battles, Dara was betrayed by one of his Generals who arrested him and handed him over to Aurangzeb.
In 1658, Aurangzeb organized his coronation in Delhi and had Dara Shikoh chained and paraded through the streets all the way through Delhi, where he was executed on 30th August 1659. After having gained the throne and becoming the Emperor, Aurangzeb still kept his father imprisoned in the Agra Fort. Shah Jahan was not ill treated and on the contrary was taken care of by his favourite daughter Jahanara Begum.