Atar Singh Sandhanvalia
Of the Sandhanwalia Family. (D.1844)
Son of Amir Singh, was a collateral of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. After the direct descendants of the Maharaja, he, as the eldest of the Sandhanvalia family, stood close to the throne. A daring soldier, Atar Singh was a calculating and shrewd courtier. He took part in several trans-Indus campaigns in Peshawar and Hazara.
After the death of General Hari Singh Nalva, he was considered to be the "champion of the Khalsa." He carried the titles "Ujjal Didar [of immaculate appearance], Nirmal Buddh [of clear intelligence], Sardar-i-ba-Wagar [the Sardar with prestige], Kasir-ul-Igtadar [eagle of power], Sardar-i-Garoh-i-Namdar [leader of the renowned group], ‘All Taba’ [of exalted nature], Shuja’-ud-Daula [valour of the State], Sardar Atar Singh Shamsher-i Jang Bahadur [the valiant sword of battle]." But he was fickle-minded and ambitious. At Ranjit Singh’s death he refused to swear fealty either to Kharak Singh or Nau Nihal Singh, and became an active partisan of the Dogra faction at the court.
Soon afterwards he changed sides and joined Kanvar Nau Nihal Singh’s party against the Dogra minister, Dhian Singh, and went to Ludhiana to find in the British territory a possible substitute for the Wazir. When both Kharak Singh and Nau Nihal Singh died in November 1840, he endeavoured to raise a group which would check Dogra dominance at the Darbar; and, at the same time, prevent the succession of Sher Singh.
The Sandhanvalias became staunch supporters of Rani Chand Kaur, and Atar Singh Sandhanvalia, who had led a force against Sher Singh when he stormed the Lahore Fort in January 1841, had to flee when the Fort fell. Later feeling insecure in the Punjab, he took asylum in British territory at Thanesar along with his nephew, Ajit Singh. Both of them kept up an attitude of open hostility towards Maharaja Sher Singh who had since succeeded to the throne.
They solicited British interference in favour of Rani Chand Kaur, and wrote letters to the officers of the Khalsa army inciting them to rise against their sovereign. A mild flutter was caused at Fort William when Atar Singh hobnobbed with Dost Muhammad Khan, the deposed Amir of Afghanistan at Ludhiana, to what purpose nobody could tell. However when, as a result of British mediation, a reconciliation was brought about between the Sandhanvalias and Maharaja Sher Singh, they were pardoned and allowed to return to Lahore. But Atar Singh refused to come back to the Punjab, and continued to conspire against the Maharaja.
When in September 1843, Maharaja Sher Singh was treacherously assassinated by Ajit Singh Sandhanvalia and Lahina Singh Sandhavalia, Atar Singh was at Una. On hearing of the retribution which soon overtook both the Sandhanvalia sardars, he hastily fled to Thanesar before a column of troops sent by Hira Singh could capture him.
Atar Singh lived in exile at Thanesar along with the few remnants of the Sandhanvalia family who had escaped destruction in 1843 – his son Kehar Singh, and a nephew Ranjodh Singh, a brother of Ajit Singh. He nursed enmity against Hird Singh and kept in touch with the disaffected elements in the Punjab. When in May 1844, Kanvar Pashaura Singh and Kanvar Kashmira Singh revolted, he raised a small force and joined them at Naurangabad after crossing the Sutlej, near Harike. The Lahore Darbar protested to the British at Ludhiana for allowing the rebels passage through their territory. A Sikh force 20,000 strong under Mian Labh Singh and General Gulab Singh crossed the Sutlej and surrounded the dera of Bhai Bir Singh Naurangabadi. However, the Lahore commanders, respecting the sanctity of Bhai Bir Singh, repaired to his camp to bring about an amicable settlement. As negotiations were in progress, Atar Singh flew into a rage and fatally stabbed General Gulab Singh with his dagger. The attendants of the General instantly fell upon Atar Singh and hacked him to pieces. This was in May 1844.