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Infantilizing Bābā Dārā: The Cultural Memory of Dārā Shekuh and the Mughal Public Sphere

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image of Journal of Persianate Studies

The modernist image of the eclectic Mughal prince and patron, Dārā Shekuh (d. 1659 CE), has been almost universally positive, routinely singling him out as an exceptionally tolerant, but ultimately “ill-fated” figure. His defeat and execution by his younger, more conventionally pious brother, Awrangzib 'Alamgīr (r. 1658-1707), is in turn lamented as a civilizational tipping point away from the Mughals' cosmopolitan ethos of “peace with all” toward a more narrowly sectarian vision of empire—one which undermined not only the Mughals themselves, but also the entire Indo-Persian ecumene and, ultimately, the Indian nation. The early modern response to Dārā's character and cultural legacy was, however, far more complex than this caricature of “good Muslim” tolerance versus “bad Muslim” fanaticism would suggest. This article grapples with that complexity by examining the oblique critical discourse surrounding three of Dārā's most well-known interlocutors: Bābā Lāl Dayāl, Chandar Bhān “Brahman,” and Hakīm Sarmad.


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