SHĀM SIṄGH AṬĀRĪVĀLĀ (d.1846), a general in the Sikh army, was the grandson of Sardār Gauhar Siṅgh, who had embraced Sikhism in the early days of Sikh political ascendancy and joined the jathā or band of Gurbakhsh Siṅgh of Roṛāṅvālā. He soon established his rākhī or protection over an area around Aṭārī, a village he had founded some 16 miles from Amritsar. His son, Nihāl Siṅgh was known for his martial prowess and for his personal loyalty to Mahārājā Raṇjīt Siṅgh. Nihāl Siṅgh's son, Shām Siṅgh, entered the service of the Mahārājā in 1817 and, in 1818, took part in the military campaigns of Peshāwar, Attock and Multān. He also fought in Kashmīr in 1819. He led Sikh forces against Sayyid Ahmad of Bareilly who had during the years 1826-31 carried on in the trans-Indus region a relentless crusade against the Sikhs. Sayyid Ahmad was overcome and killed on 6 May 1831, along with his chief lieutenant, Muhammad Ismāil.

        At the Darbār, Shām Siṅgh Aṭārīvālā acted on occasions as Chief of Protocol. In that capacity, he received Sir Alexander Burnes when he had in July 1831 brought from the King of England presents of horses and a carriage for the Mahārājā. He was charged with protocol duties at the Ropaṛ meeting in October 1831 between Lord William Bentinck, the Governor-General of India, and Mahārājā Raṇjīt Siṅgh, as also at the Fīrozpur meeting in November 1838 between the Mahārājā and Lord Auckland. Shām Siṅgh's influence at the court was further enhanced by the marriage of his daughter, Bībī Nānakī, to Mahārājā Raṇjīt Siṅgh's grandson, Prince Nau Nihāl Siṅgh.

        In the cold season of 1844, Shām Siṅgh led a punitive expedition to Jammū against Rājā Gulāb Siṅgh and secured the surrender of Jasroṭā. His troops led the insurrection against Ḍogrā dominance in Lahore which ended the assassination of Hīrā Siṅgh and his favourite, Paṇḍit Jallā. For his influence over the Khālsā army and for his qualities of courage and forthrightness, Shām Siṅgh was nominated to the council of regency set up by Mahārāṇī Jīnd Kaur on 22 December 1844 for the minor sovereign Mahārājā Duleep Siṅgh. In March 1845, Shām Siṅgh led another punitive expedition against Gulāb Siṅgh of Jammū who had refused to surrender to the Lahore government the treasure of Hīrā Siṅgh amounting to 35,00,000 rupees which he had carted away from Jasroṭā to Jammū. The army under Shām Siṅgh reached within 10 km of Jammū and obtained from Gulāb Siṅgh the undertaking to indemnify the arrears of the tribute, pay nazarānās and return to the Lahore government Hīrā Siṅgh's treasure.

        At the outbreak of the first Anglo--Sikh war, Shām Siṅgh was at Kakrālā, south of the Sikh frontier, for the wedding of his second son, Kāhn Siṅgh. As he heard the news, he rushed back to the Punjab. The defeat of the Sikh forces at Ferozeshāh led the Queen Mother, Mahārāṇī Jīnd Kaur, to summon him from Aṭārī. Shām Siṅgh immediately repaired to Lahore. He chided the commanders, Misr Tej Siṅgh and Misr Lāl Siṅgh, who had fled the field, and himself crossed the Sutlej swearing an oath on the Gurū Granth Sāhib that he would lay down his life rather than return in defeat.

        The battle was joined at Sabhrāoṅ on 10 February 1846. Dressed in white and riding his white steed, the grey-bearded Sardār Shām Siṅgh moved from column to column calling upon his men to fight to the last. As the battle was in a critical stage, Misr Tej Siṅgh fled across the Sutlej and sank a part of the bridge of boats after him. Shām Siṅgh, far from disheartened by this, rushed into the thick of the battle. He made a desperate charge along with his fifty men against the advancing enemy. Within minutes he was overpowered and he fell to the ground dead. In the evening as the battle was over, his servants swam from across the river to recover the body. On 12 February 1846, Shām Siṅgh was cremated outside his village. A samādh raised on the site now honours his memory.


  1. Sūrī, Sohan Lāl, 'Umdāt ut-Twārīkh. Lahore, 1885-89
  2. Gaṇḍā Siṅgh, Sardār Shām Siṅgh Aṭārīvālā. Amritsar, 1942
  3. Griffin, Lepel and C.F Massy, Chiefs and Families of Note in the Punjab. Lahore, 1909
  4. Harbans Singh The Heritage of the Sikhs. Delhi, 1983
  5. Khushwant Singh A History of the Sikhs, vol. II. Princeton, 1966

Gaṇḍā Siṅgh