Dara Shikoh’s library testimony to intellectualism: Experts

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Agra, Feb 23 (IANS) The library of Mughal emperor Shah Jahan’s eldest son Dara Shikoh was once a popular meeting point of scholars, writers and religious leaders and stands as a testimony to the high level of intellectualism and academic excellence that existed in those times, experts said here on Tuesday.

Cultural activists, conservationists and book lovers gathered at the library complex on Tuesday to debate on “Tehzeeb-e-Agra” (culture of Agra) as part of the third edition of the Taj Literature Festival that begins on February 26.

The speakers were on the opinion that though Agra’s socio-cultural profile was cosmopolitan, modern and secular during the Mughal period, the Taj city lost its sheen and stature after independence.

A recent survey by journalism students of the Central Hindi Institute on the ‘tehzeeb’ of Agra revealed that the city was now considered synonymous with foul language, dirt and squalor, crime, and poor civic sense.

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“The linguistic vulgarisation is clearly reflected in the obscenities and abuses mouthed by commoners,” said Maark Jaat, one of the members of the group that conducted the survey.

Some of the experts spoke on Dara Shikoh’s unique contribution to scholarship.

“His library was the centre of scholarship and excellence. Sufi saints regularly met to discuss mysticism and theology, with Dara Shikoh himself initiating the discussions,” said conservationist and writer Rajiv Saxena.

Zed Hasan, who wrote the book “Dara Shikoh: Sufi Mystic scholar”, was also present.

Dara Shikoh (1615-1659) was Shah Jahan’s eldest son and would have succeeded him. But he was defeated in battle and subsequently assassinated by his brother Aurangzeb.

Dara Shikoh, whose name in Persian means “possessing such magnificence as Darius”, set up libraries in many places, including one in Delhi.

The best known one in Agra, also called his haveli, was taken over by the British in 1881 to be converted into the Town Hall, according to the 1921 Agra Gazetteer.

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Dara Shikoh was a great scholar of Persian and Sanskrit. Despite the ravages of wars and his involvement in political crises, he still found time to translate and write books.

“His chief mission was to explore the commonality between Hinduism and Islam and how the gap could be bridged,” said Ashok Jain, director of the Taj Literature Festival.

Several important works including the Upanishads were translated into Persian during his time.

The library had enclosures for book binders, painters and translators.

Dara Shikoh also brought thousands of books from Europe for this library, according to Syed Jafri, director of the Mirza Ghalib Research Academy.

“This structure does not boast of power or royalty but symbolises the spirit of Sulah Kul, Din-e-Ilahi and the later day secularism. The library stands as a testimony to the high level of intellectualism and recognition of academic excellence. It should, therefore, be included in the tourist circuit for visitors,” said Surendra Sharma.

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The red sandstone building is now in the possession of the Agra Municipal Corporation.

Some parts of the complex have been encroached upon, but in its heyday, the building had a scholarly ambience.

The central hall with highly decorative painted windows, stone-carved shelves with proper ventilation and air passages and natural light filters speak of the taste and passion of Dara Shikoh.

In course of time, the library lost its patrons. During the British period, it was briefly used as a court and later for government offices and for the civic body.

Taj Literature Festival organising committee chairman Har Vijay Bahia said there was a need to highlight Dara Shikoh’s contribution and inform the younger generation about his work.

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