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Was Mughal emperor Aurangzeb responsible for destroying India’s multiculturalism?

New Delhi: In 1658 the Mughal Empire was at the peak of its opulence, but the escalating rivalry between Emperor Shah Jahan’s sons Dara Shikoh and Aurangzeb over the past two decades had split not only the royal family but also changed the history of the nation says author Murad Ali Baig.

“The book is about a gap in Indian history. A lot has been written about the great emperors Akbar, Jahangir, Shah Jahan, Aurangzeb but the battle of succession between the sons of Shah Jahan was actually one of the turning points in Indian history,” says Baig.

Titled Ocean of Cobras the book is a historical fiction and is a recount by a eunuch Mubarak Ali, who is intimate with all the princes, princesses and personages of the Mughal court. He takes the reader from the magnificent royal palace into the harem, to royal hunts and to the kingdoms of rival and vassal rulers. “Roughly 25% of the book is work of fiction essentially to fill in the gaps and the rest is based on pure historical facts with proper foot notes. The book is packed with so much information of five battles, evolution of the religion history of the period and so on,” Baig said.

Dara, the pampered prince was a poet and philosopher who had to turn a soldier to combat his bitter, battle hardened brother. The conflict between Dara’s love of all religions and Aurangzeb’s narrow Islamic beliefs was to make the battle much more than simply one for the throne. It became a series of battles for the very soul of India. “How were we to know that this battle for succession would also be a battle for the very soul of India; that this would be a battle between Dara’s belief in the essential unity of all religions and Aurangzeb’s conviction that the straight path of Islam was the only way to human salvation?” says the author.

Mubarak Ali, the narrator, fights in the armies of the rival princes and describes six exciting battles. His adventures take the reader from the limpid lakes of Kashmir to the deserts of Sind and the lush forests of every part of India. He tells the story of the forgotten Prince of the Mughal Empire. “Dara was rather condemned by the court historians as soon as he lost the battle of Samugarh because of the betrayal by his own commander. Because of that betrayal the whole history of India turned. Dara then vanished from history. Dara was probably the most interesting of all the Mughal Princes and therefore his story is the story that needed to be told,” says Baig.