The Raja of Rajas

Dhayan Singh’s haveli needs urgent attention of the authorities concerned

Athar Ahmed Saeed February 27, 2016
Dhayan Singh’s haveli needs urgent attention of the authorities concerned .


On that October day, the boon companion of the king of the Punjab threatened the prime minister with dire consequences within 24 hours.

Kharak Singh had inherited the vast kingdom from his father Maharaja Ranjit Singh. By all accounts, he had neither the intellect nor the will to manage statecraft and was much given to excessive amounts of opium and wine. He was close to one of his wife’s relatives, Chet Singh Bajwa, who dreamt of becoming the prime minister. Chet Singh was however, as is often the case, ill prepared to take on the establishment.

The top courtier and the de-facto prime minister, Dhyan Singh, moved quickly. He convinced the heir to the throne Prince Naunihal Singh and his mother Rani Chand Kaur that the interest of the state would be best served if Maharaja Kharak Singh retired and Naunihal Singh ruled as regent.

An eyewitness account is provided by an American fortune seeker, Alexander Gardner, aka Gordana Khan who was the colonel of the artillery since the times of Ranjit Singh.

Dhyan Singh and his companions entered the Royal Palace at the dead of night. A servant who sounded the alarm was shot dead. They were accosted by the subedar of the palace guard. Dhyan Singh showed his right hand, on which he had two thumbs. On seeing this well known peculiarity, the subedar stood down his men.

They entered the bed chamber of the Maharaja, where Chet Singh was known to sleep as well, but his bed was empty. Eventually he was found cowering in a corridor and a dagger was plunged into his heart by Dhyan Singh, reminding him that the 24 hours that he had mentioned had not yet elapsed.

Kharak Singh was forced to retire and was soon dead.

Dhyan Singh was the middle of three brothers. He was born in Jammu in 1796. His father was a minor chieftain. He, with his two brothers, Gulab Singh and Suchet Singh, ended up in the employment of Ranjit Singh after he conquered Jammu. During the later years, the Maharaja gave the title of Raja of Jammu to Gulab Singh and Dhyan Singh secured the title of the Raja of Rajas and the Overlord of Bhimber, but much more importantly, he was the prime minister of the kingdom and became the most powerful man in the Punjab. He and his son Hira Singh were very close to the Maharaja. There are credible accounts that he tried to immolate himself on Maharaja’s death.

Kharak Singh’s funeral pyre was lit by his son and the new maharaja, Nau Nihal Singh. Two the Ranis and 11 slave girls of the late Maharaja became suttees. On the way back, Nau Nihal Singh was passing under the archway of Roshnai Gate when the hand of fate dealt a stunning blow to the Crown of Lahore. A decorative piece of masonry fell on Nau Nihal Singh and caused a grave head injury. His constant companion Udham Singh, who was the son of Raja Gulab Singh, was killed on the spot.

Dhyan Singh expeditiously removed the injured King to the royal palace inside the Fort and embargoed any visitors from seeing him, including his wives and his mother. The court doctor, Dr Honigberger was called. He immediately realised that the injuries were fatal. Dhyan Singh had taken the wise counsel of dissimulation, pretending that the king was not dead but merely injured and on his way to recovery. This would allow the next in line to the throne, Raja Sher Singh to hurry back to Lahore from Batala and avoid the possibility of unrest and civil war.

As it happened, there was a standoff between Sher Singh and Chand Kaur, the widow of Kharak Singh. In a few months, Sher Singh gained enough power to depose Chand Kaur and confine her to a haveli in the city. She was later killed brutally by a maid servant dropping a mill stone on her head.

In this factional war, Dhyan Singh was supporting Sher Singh. Sher Singh held celebrations at Shah Bilawal, near Shalamar Gardens, on the birth of a son. Ajit Singh Sandhawalia, a chieftain who was nursing a vendetta on the death of Chand Kaur, presented him with a double barrel British gun and during the presentation, shot him dead. He also shot and killed Dhyan Singh during the ensuing melee, thus ending a remarkable career of gumption, luck, and achievement. His son, Hira Singh succeeded him in his post.

The Anglo-Sikh wars followed a few years later and the Kingdom of Lahore came to an end in 1849.

Rai Bahadur Kanhayya Lal, the engineer of the PWD, writing in 1884, describes Dhyan Singh’s haveli as follows:

“This haveli is more extensive than Khushal Singh’s Haveli. It took many years to build and all the houses of the public in the way were demolished. The main entrance is towards the East. Further down, there is another gate towards the Southeast. After entering it… one finds the stable where the horses and elephants of the Raja were kept. There are numerous buildings towards the North, which are part of the complex. A fair distance after entering the inner big gate, there is another vestibule, which has two paths diverging from it. One toward the North leads to the female quarters and the southern one leads to the court hall which is massive in its dimensions. There is a hallway… where the students of the Government College now study. The magnificence of this is to be seen to be believed. There is a vast courtyard in front, surrounded on all sides by magnificent buildings, with the cenotaph of Dhyan Singh in the centre. In the female qaurters of the haveli, there are big buildings and basements and the ceilings are plated with gold. This haveli is currently in the possession of Ranbir Singh, son of Gulab Singh, the sovereign of Jammu and Kashmir. His Lahore counsel resides here.”

After the British occupation, the haveli housed a church, the Government College Lahore, the District School, and eventually the Dhyan Singh School, which was renamed as City Muslim League School in 1947.

I went there for my scholarship exam at the end of primary school. Those were the times of ink pots, clay coating on wooden tablets (takhtis), reed pens, trademark Elephant ink, Z and G nibs and Eagle fountain pens, with nibs cut across at the tip, to make them suitable for Urdu calligraphy. I remember the Nogaza (nine yard long) grave pointed out to me. I remember the examination hall and the wide open space in front.

I went again recently, after 45 years. There is a narrow entrance opposite the beautiful Said Mitha Hospital. The large complex has been extensively built over with residential houses, except for the pillared hall which was once the diwan khana, complete with a throne platform on the rear wall. This is where Raja Dhyan Singh once held court. In its later incarnations, it was a church, a college, a school, an examination hall and is currently a crumbling ruin. There is a basement which is full of rubble and not accessible any more.

This monument needs urgent attention. I have no doubt that Lashari Sahib has it on his list. He will have to hurry.

Dramatis Personae:

Kharak Singh, heir to Ranjit Singh, deposed in a palace coup and wasted away in a drug induced stupour.

Hira Singh, son of Dhyan Singh, close to Ranjit Singh, gave his name to Hira Mandi.

Dhyan Singh, Prime Minister and kingmaker of Punjab, shot in the head in the wars of succession.

Gulab Singh, brother of Dhyan Singh and the ultimate winner in the Sikh wars of succession, granted the state of Jammu and Kashmir by Lord Dalhousie, in lieu of seventy five lakh rupees. His grandson, Hari Singh ceded the control of the state to India.

Athar Ahmed Saeed is a physician and lives in Durham, United Kingdom. Follow him on Twitter,

Published in The Express Tribune, February 28th, 2016.


Mansoor | 8 years ago | Reply Dhyan Singh with his brothers was involved in the conspiracy of the Lahore Darbar to control the affairs. They inked an agreement with Sher Singh and left Punjab; however, the province ended up in a disarray after Sher Singh`s death in a battle in 1845. Besides,the kardar of Gujrat, Pandit Kahni Ram, was the one who conveyed the information of secret treasure to Gulab Singh, and the latter took it away while leaving Lahore in 1845.
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