Dara Shukoh worked with Sanskrit scholars to translate the Upanishads to Persian — an example of the closely intertwined histories of Sanskrit, Persian, Urdu.
The furore over the appointment of the Sanskrit scholar, Firoze Khan, to a teaching position at the Banaras Hindu University has raged on for over three weeks. It now looks as though the protestors are winning and that Khan may be appointed at the faculty of Ayurveda instead of teaching literature at the Sanskrit Vidya Dharma Vigyan faculty.
The relentless attacks on Khan call to mind a very different era in Benares over three-and-a-half centuries ago. In early 1657, a group of Brahmin pandits travelled from Benares to Delhi so that they could join a Muslim prince in his spiritual quest. Prince Dara Shukoh had been interested in Indic religious thought for a while, but he had recently discovered a group of sacred texts — the Upanishads — that he felt were perfect expressions of God’s oneness. Moreover, he also believed they held the key to understanding the Quran’s secrets. He wanted to work with some Sanskrit scholars to decipher and understand them so that he could produce a Persian translation.
Dara did not have to go far to find help. For several years, he and his father, the emperor Shah Jahan, had played host to Kavindracharya Saraswati, a prominent pandit from Benares. This kind of relationship wasn’t unheard of at the time. Shah Jahan’s court was only continuing a longer Mughal tradition of hosting Hindu religious scholars. Still, there was something special about Kavindracharya’s closeness to the imperial family.