Dynasty within dynasty: Footprints of Sikhs on Mughal era

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By Raiq Qureshi

ISLAMABAD, Feb 02 (APP):Right in the middle of grand Royal Fort of Lahore, the Haveli of Kharak Singh is located on the southeast corner of Jahangir’s Quadrangle — a symbol of Mughal era built by Jahangir and his father Akbar.

Later during the Sikh rule, structures were added in most of the places inside the Fort and so one was added in this quadrangle. This structure was of the Haveli of Kharak Singh who used it as his living chamber.

However, the use of this Haveli was changed during the British Raj. They turned the embellished Haveli into the ‘Commander’s Quarters’ while the ground floor was used as a godown and servant house.

Presently, the first floor of the Haveli is used by the Archeology Department for Archeological Survey Office and the ground floor has the Archeology’s Library which is a remarkable house of antique books.

The library is worth visiting as it is open for all and one can surf through the ages old books there. The whole southern periphery of the quad has been lined with suites similar to the porticoes lining the eastern and western edges of the quad.

Today, the surviving red-stone sehdara (a building with three entrances) alone provides the clue to the ancient lineage of the structure. The structure of the Haveli is intact but it still needs attention for restoration and conservation.

There are several rooms inside the Haveli and one can see the old fresco work on the walls and ceilings. The interior structure is a typical Sikh style of architecture with arches in it. Few rooms are closed and others have staff sitting in them.

Kharak Singh at young age, 06, got into the military of his father who was given the minor command of the Sheikhupura expedition (1807). He was placed as In-charge of the Kanhaiya estates in 1811; and deputed in 1812 to punish the recalcitrant chiefs of Bhimbar and Rajauri.

In 1818, together with Misr Diwan Chand, he commanded an expedition against the Afghan ruler of Multan Nawab Muzaffar Khan, achieving a decisive victory at the Battle of Multan. He was also sent on similar campaigns undertaken by Maharaja Ranjeet Singh for the conquest of Peshawar and against the Mazaris of Shikarpur. Three months before his death, Ranjit Singh awarded Kashmir to Kharak Singh, which was seen as a check on the ambitions of Gulab Singh.

Maharaja Kharak Singh ascended the throne in June 1839 on the death of his father. He didn’t know that this throne would bring death to him. From the very first day after ascending the throne, Kharak Singh encountered the jealousy of his powerful minister, Dhian Singh Dogra. That was the time when the Dogras started a whispering campaign against the Maharaja Kharak Singh.

Talking to APP, Professor Abdul Ghani, a historian in Lahore said that during the Sikhs era, Kharak was very intelligent as well as well aware of his surroundings; he took decisions according to the political and social dynamics which led him to rule Punjab with such a great grip leaving his impression on the history and region.

It is amazing how clever those courtiers were and how the things were manipulated. This incident shows how the addiction of power separated relations and destroyed dynasties. That’s not the end of this story; the climax was in October 1839 when the favourite minister of Kharak Singh, Chet Singh Bajwa, was murdered. History states that the conspirators entered the Haveli of Kharak Singh in the Fort and assassinated Chet Singh in the presence of their royal master who did not bother saving his life.

That was the time when Maharaja Kharak Singh was isolated from the Lahore Fort and remained like a prisoner with Dhian Singh. His son Kanvar Nau Nihal Singh took over the government into but he was helpless against the intrigues.

Dogras kept father and son separated and misunderstandings between them grew. It is said by the historians that Kharak Sigh was being given the doses of slow poison, white lead and mercury. Within six months of this slow poisoning he was bedridden, and 11 months after the poisoning, he died on 5 November 1840 in Lahore