It took an assistant engineer of the South Delhi Municipal Corporation four years to find the answer to the most enduring puzzle from Mughal history — something that even experts couldn’t confirm for decades — where is Dara Shukoh buried?
In the heart of Lutyens’ Delhi, SDMC engineer Sanjeev Kumar Singh presented his findings to a group of archaeologists and scholars this week, at the India International Centre. His research and evidence confirmed the modern myth that Prince Dara Shukoh — the eldest son of Mughal emperor Shah Jahan and easily one of the most widely-loved and intriguing Mughal-era characters — is buried in an unmarked grave in the Humayun’s Tomb complex.
“I’ve had a soft corner for Dara Shukoh ever since I read an Amar Chitra Katha comic about Dara and Aurangzeb,” Singh told ThePrint. “When I was in college, I went to Humayun’s Tomb with my friends for the first time. While they relaxed, I was looking for Dara’s grave.”
Thirty years later, he says he has found it.
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Singh was confident about his findings, which have been widely contested. His audience consisted of Persian scholars, historians, and archaeological experts — but he held his own during the lecture. While explaining the floor plans for Humayun’s Tomb, he cheekily said that ‘being an engineer comes in handy sometimes.’
“I don’t know if this is a big or small thing,” Singh said modestly, while wrapping up his presentation, “But I hope that my work helps clear old doubts.”
Some members of the audience were unconvinced, with one person calling Singh’s work ‘misleading’. Others said the explanation was too simplistic — why would Aurangzeb, who hated his elder brother Dara and considered him an infidel, bury him in a badshah’s (emperor’s) tomb?
“You have really delivered and worked hard, but I find some things hard to believe,” said Prof Sharif Husain Qasemi, who teaches Persian at Delhi University.
“This is a convincing argument, but we need more scientific and analytical backing,” said B.S. Tiwary, a former bureaucrat who is currently a principal advisor at Sapio Analytics.
Other audience members, including one from a government-appointed panel to locate Dara Shukoh’s grave, termed Singh’s work as conclusive.
The committee, consisting of seven members of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), was set up by the Ministry of Culture in 2020. In its response to an RTI filed in July, the ASI said that it hadn’t yet found Dara’s grave. But B.R. Mani, former additional director general of the ASI, told ThePrint that most members of the committee agree with Singh. They submitted a report incorporating his findings with their own, earlier this year in March.
Singh painstakingly combed through thousands of documents and studied the architecture of cenotaphs and the position of each grave in the complex. There are 140 to 150 graves in the Humayun’s Tomb complex, most of which are not marked or inscribed.
Through a process of elimination, he found one cenotaph that had motifs and architectural features specific to Shah Jahan’s period, while the others were older. That cenotaph was in a chamber with two others, which Singh believes to be the graves of Akbar’s sons — Murad and Daniyal.
Prof Aleem Ashraf Khan, former head of the Persian department at Delhi University, commended Singh. “In Persian texts, it’s evident that his (Dara Shukoh’s) grave is near Daniyal and Murad, and that it’s under a dome,” he said. “But I’m a student of Persian literature. Only a historian can confirm these details.”
There are several accounts of Dara’s assassination that describe the act and confirm his burial, but don’t mention the exact location. The Alamgirnama, written by Aurangzeb’s court historian to record his reign, notes that Dara was buried in a chamber with Murad and Daniyal. Aurangzeb’s teacher also reportedly wrote about Dara being buried in his blood-soaked clothes. Plus, he was apparently assassinated in Khizrabad, which is near the present-day New Friends Colony and only 5 km from Humayun’s Tomb.
Prof Qasemi said that Aurangzeb considered Dara to be an apostate and not a Muslim — he would not have given him the honour of burial in an eminent place. Additionally, Daniyal has a grave in Burhanpur, Madhya Pradesh.
“Mr Singh has laboured hard and his work is commendable, but we’ll be sure only when we see a headstone or inscription,” the professor told ThePrint. “Otherwise we can’t know.”
Singh responded to Qasemi’s comments at the lecture by saying that according to some accounts, Aurangzeb felt remorse after seeing his brother’s body, and therefore allowed him to be buried with Akbar’s sons.
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Seeking Dara Shukoh
Aurangzeb and Dara Shukoh are always pitted against each other — while the former is considered evil and orthodox, the latter is seen to represent wisdom and hope. The question of what would have happened had Dara become emperor is one of India’s favourite “what ifs.”
“India is a land of knowledge and wisdom. Dara Shukoh wrote about the confluence of two different traditions — Hinduism and Islam,” said Swadesh Singh, assistant professor of political science at Delhi University. “He tried to develop a syncretic tradition, which is what we need today,” he said, adding that Dara should be popularised as an icon among Muslim youth, especially given his liberal outlook.
The question of how Dara Shukoh came to be buried in an unmarked grave, captivated Sanjeev Singh for years. As an engineer who works in the Heritage Cell at the SDMC, he documents the 475 heritage sites in South Delhi. It’s a self-described thankless job that runs purely on a passion for the city’s history and heritage.
When he realised that he had identified Dara’s grave, Singh says he sat down with disbelief at the site. “I felt like crying,” he said. “I might have been crying already.”
“It felt like bhai (brother) was lying there below me, and I just wanted him to stand up so I could hug him,” he said.
(Edited by Humra Laeeq)