If you could change any one event of Indian History, what would that be and why?

Answer by Harish Aditham:

The 3 Minutes that Changed India's Destiny – Prince Dara Shikoh dismounting from an elephant in the Battle of Samugarh

Picture to yourself a Mughal zenana, one of those delicate marble lattice framed structures from where the brutal politics of power played out over the Indian subcontinent in medieval times. Dusk is falling, and in the emblazoned balcony a young prince sits, deep in thought with a quill in hand. Spread out around him are numerous books; of parchment and vellum, from as far as Portugal, Transoxania, Baghdad, Pegu and Kerala, in many exotic tongues archaic and strange, whispering to him the knowledge of the millenia….

As a young man, that prince was the epitome of a leader; in valor, courage, erudition and compassion. As the King – in – waiting, the eldest of four brothers, he was doted upon by his father, the King. Everyday his exploits on the battlefield and in academia won him laurels and the hearts of his subjects. Everyday his name and fame spread farther afar, as a worthy successor to his illustrious ancestors, those who shaped India into the leading economy of those times in the world, into a place, which every other nation looked upon as utopia. This was a prince who had passionately proclaimed that Islam and Hinduism were like two siblings in his book,  ”Majma-ul-Bahrain” (The Mingling of the Two Great Oceans). This was a prince who was a disciple of one of the greatest Sufi saints in India, Hazrat Mian Mir, a saint so respected by all religious sects, that he was invited by the Sikhs to lay the foundation of the Golden Temple in Amritsar. This was the erudite prince who translated all the 50 Upanishads into Persian, from where they found their way into Latin and other European languages, influencing some of the greatest philosophers who shaped human thought in the past three centuries: Hegel, Schopenhauer, Kant and so on. A prince who was a self confessed disapprover of those white skinned traders from across the sea, a passionate upholder of the brotherhood of Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims. India was destined to shine even brighter in the firmament of world history, under his stewardship, the Golden Age was about to reach its peak.

Picture to yourself another prince, dour and sallow. A neglected son, battle hardened, bitter and a master of subversion. Hiding his hunger for power in a shallow cloak of religious piety, he was a master of deceit and dissimulation. A shadow in his brother’s luminescence, banished forever to the sidewings. Made to go on endless campaigns in treacherous far off lands, he was never home to experience the royal pleasures of life like his elder brother. Unloved and uncared for, a lone scheming prince. With seething anguish and jealousy, slowly the prince plays out his moves, to gain what rightfully was not his, but the glory! Oh, the terrible, mad, intoxicating glory!

Ancient taboos lay forgotten, relationships thrown astray. A dying father did not bring the four mourning brothers together, instead he brought along a battle for succession. The father miraculously survived, but the wheels of time had moved on, and set in motion one of the greatest battles for succession ever witnessed in the world, a battle of Mughal princes, the battle to ascend the throne of India, to assume the title, “The Scourge of God”, “The World-Seizer” and “The Refuge of the World”…

With the two other brothers put out of contention by the younger battle hardened prince, using his familiar tricks of treachery and back-stabbing, it boiled down to a battle between the righteous and the evil, the tolerant and the fundamental.

Samugarh Plains, 28th May, 1658

Commanding the Imperial Army,was the eldest prince, the rightful heir to the throne of India, the beloved of masses and the destroyer of foes.

Army: Total strength 60,000 – 80,000, including 20,000 infantry and 80 cannons. The light artillery consisted of camels with 120 swivel guns on their backs.

Advantages: Battle close to capital Agra, troops well rested and ready to fight, numerically insurmountable.

On the other side, was the younger prince, marching all the way from the Deccan with his limited reserves and resources.

Army: 40,000 including infantry and cavalry, 60 cannons, 75 swivel guns

Disadvantages: Weary troops, fear of rebellion.

However, destiny behaves in strange whimsical ways. It grants a kingdom at the drop of a hat and causes a cataclysm in the blink of an eye. It turns a city into a graveyard in the wink of an eye, and makes a peasant wench a princess in a trice. Destiny too played a game in this bitter war, staking its own claim to become the refuge of the world, the scourge of God and the world seizer…

Unbeknownst to the elder prince, the younger had opened up channels of communication with the elder’s generals. Offers of high noblemen posts as Omrahs, of indecent sums of gold, muhars, and land, those boons and banes of the Mughal Empire, had already been made, and in some cases, accepted.
The battle day dawned bright. Resplendent atop their war elephants the two princes commanded their armies with all majesty of the Mughal line, in whose veins runs the ancient blood of both Timur and Gengis Khan. The younger prince was in a defensive position, his numerical disadvantage obviating it. The older prince was poised to attack, his faithful battalions of brave Rajputs charging ahead like blinding terror.

In one deafening thrust, the older prince’s forces pierced the lines of the younger; the rightful lunged out to decimate the evil, victory is at hand! The younger princes forces began to scatter. From atop his elephant he was goading them on in mad despair, knowing full well that defeat in the battle not only meant loss of kingdom, it also meant imminent death.

The older prince could smell victory, the beloved of the masses saw signs that his vision for India begin to fruition, the routing of evil is near finished. One of his generals, Khalil Ullah Khan, the very one whom he had insulted 14 years ago, at this point advised him, that dismounting from his elephant and riding a horse would give him greater speed and safety. A loyal General was Khalil Ullah Khan; very loyal to the enemy: gold can change men into terrible traitors.

The older prince, dismounted his elephant, and all around suddenly rent the cry, that the Prince, beloved of the masses, the destroyer of foes, the rightful heir, was dead. Despair wreaked havoc, the winning army turned into a leaderless pack of dismayed frightened soldiers. The younger prince knowing his plan working pressed home his advantage. With a vengeance his troops tore down on the numerically stronger Imperial army and crushed it. There is no greater weapon than crushing a heart and the younger prince was a master at using it.

And so it was that India came to be ruled by Aurangzeb, The Scourge of God, The Refuge of the World, who defeated his elder brother Dara Shukoh, the beloved of the masses, the erudite scholar, the passionate practitioner of tolerance and brotherhood. Oh, what a defeat it was. Dara Shukoh, the royal heir apparent, the first of Shah Jahan’s issues was paraded through the streets of Agra on a dirty mule, clad in muddied clothes. The wailing mobs beat their chests and pulled their hair in agony, as Dara Shukoh the gentle prince, was brutally murdered by a gang of nobles abetting Aurangzeb.

Three minutes it took, for Dara to dismount the elephant, those three minutes changed a winning army into a losing side, a rightful heir into a wronged criminal, a peaceful country into a melting pot of religious warfare, the Sikhs into a militant race, the Marathas into a Hindu army, Aurangzeb into a tyrannical Emperor, India into a dominion of the British, the Mughal Kingdom into a paltry remnant of its former glory. Those 3 minutes changed India’s destiny irrevocably and irreparably, leaving us with only a sense of wonder, how would it have been? Just, how different, would it have actually been?

It was late evening. Having said his prayers, Shah Jehan, once the monarch of India, now confined to his small ante chamber by his own son, Aurangzeb, sat down to dinner. Aurangzeb’s messenger arrived carrying a covered gold plate.
“Your son Aurangzeb, sends your Highness this gift, and wishes to remind you of his affection”.
“Praise be to God. Blessed be my son”, said Shah Jehan and opened the cover to find the head of his first born, Dara Shukoh, bloodied and with eyes gouged out resting on his dinner table. A bereaved father’s anguish rent the air, a sister’s lament pervaded the zenana, India was never ever the same again.

Disclaimer: All the prime elements in this answer are historically verifiable. The wiki on Battle of Samugarh says: "The outcome of the battle was decided when Dara Shikoh's descended from his Elephant Howdah at the most critical moment of the battle, his elephant then quickly fled from the battlefield. Fleeing elephant was evidence enough for Dara Shikoh's troops who mistook this event to indicate his death. Thousands of Dara Shikohs forces surrendered to Aurangzeb when the Mughal military band of Aurangzeb played the ode of victory."

Dara Shikoh's contributions to understanding of the Upanishads in the West is seminal, and it has indeed influenced people from Hegel to Schopenhauer. Hazrat Mian Mir was indeed very friendly with the Sikhs, Dara and his sister Jahanara Begum Sahib studied Sufism of his order. Infact Jahanara is buried in the Nizamuddin dargah complex in Delhi, she is the "sister in the zenana" referred to here.

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