KHAṚAK SIṄGH, MAHĀRĀJĀ (1801-1840), eldest son of Mahārājā Raṇjīt Siṅgh, was born on 9 February 1801. He was married to Chand Kaur, daughter of Jaimal Siṅgh Kanhaiyā, in 1812. The Mahārājā brought him up in the family's martial tradition and assigned him to a variety of military expeditions. While barely six years old, he was given the nominal command of the Sheikhūpurā expedition (1807); was placed in charge of the Kanhaiyā estates in 1811; and deputed in 1812 to punish the recalcitrant chiefs of Bhimbar and Rājaurī. He was invested with the command of Multān expedition (1818) as well as of Kashmīr (1819) . He was also sent on similar campaigns undertaken by Raṇjīt Siṅgh for the conquest of Peshāwar and against the Mazārīs of Shikārpur.
Frail in constitution, Khaṛak Siṅgh ascended the throne in June 1839 on the death of his father. From the very first day he had to encounter the envy of his powerful and ambitious minister, Dhiān Siṅgh Ḍogrā. Dhiān Siṅgh resented especially the ascendancy of the royal favourite Chet Siṅgh Bājvā, a trusted courtier who had also been Khaṛak Siṅgh's tutor. The Ḍogrās started a whispering campaign against the Mahārājā as well as against Chet Siṅgh. It was given out that both the Mahārājā and his favourite were surreptitiously planning to make over the Punjab to the British and surrender to them six ānnās in every rupee of the State revenue and that the Sikh army would be disbanded. To lend credence to these rumours, some fake letters were prepared and discreetly intercepted. Gulāb Siṅgh Ḍogrā, Dhiān Siṅgh's elder brother, was charged to work upon Khaṛak Siṅgh's son, Kaṅvar Nau Nihāl Siṅgh, then travelling in his company from Peshāwar to Lahore. Misled by these fictitious tales, the young prince became estranged from his father.
Matters came to a climax when, in October 1839, Dhiān Siṅgh made a plot to assassinate Chet Siṅgh. Early on the morning of 9 October the conspirators entered the Mahārājā's residence in the Fort and assassinated Chet Siṅgh in the presence of their royal master, who vainly implored them to spare the life of his favourite.
Khaṛak Siṅgh was removed from the Fort and he remained virtually a prisoner in the hands of Dhiān Siṅgh. Kaṅvar Nau Nihāl Siṅgh took the reins of the government into his own hands, but he was helpless against the machinations of his minister, who continued to keep father and son separated from each other. Dhiān Siṅgh subjected Khaṛak Siṅgh to strict restraint upon the pretext that he might not escape to the British territory. Doses of slow poison were administered to the Mahārājā, who was at last delivered by death on 5 November 1840 from a lonely and disgraceful existence.
M. L. Āhlūwālīā