Chand Kaur, Maharani
Wife of Maharajah Kharak Singh (1802-1882)
Wife of Maharaja Kharak Singh, the eldest son of and successor to Maharaja Ranjit Singh, was born the daughter of Sardar Jaimal Singh of the Kanhaiya misl in 1802 at Fatehgarh, in present-day Gurdaspur district of the Punjab. She was married to Prince Kharak Singh in February 1812 at the age of 10.
After the death in most tragic circumstances of her husband, then Maharaja of the Punjab, as well as of her son, Kanvar Nau Nihal Singh, in November 1840, she staked her claim to the throne of Lahore. She had won the support of the Sandhanvalia collaterals – Atar Singh, Lahina Singh and Ajit Singh, and of other influential courtiers such as Bhai Ram Singh, Bhai Gobind Ram, Gulab Singh Dogra and Jamadar Khushal Singh. She challenged Sher Singh, the second son of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, on the grounds that her daughter-in-law, Kanvar Nau Nihal Singh’s widow, Sahib Kaur, was pregnant and that she would assume regency on behalf of the unborn legal successor to her husband’s throne.
Chand Kaur’s ambition was matched by her courageous spirit. She would, she declared, cast aside her veil and come out of the zenana, don a turban like a sardar, and like a monarch inspect the parade of the army troops. "Why should I not do as Queen Victoria does in England ?" Sher Singh, winning support of a rival group at the court and of a section of the army, marched upon Lahore.
A compromise was, however, arrived at between the two factions by which Chand Kaur became regent and Raja Dhian Singh principal minister of the State. The truce, however, did not last long. Dhian Singh Dogra, who wished Chand Kaur to adopt his son, Hira Singh, as successor to the throne, became estranged when he saw little hope of his ambition being realized.
In January 1841, he openly supported claims of Sher Singh who was proclaimed by the army, also changing sides, sovereign of the Punjab. Chand Kaur was pensioned off with an annual jagir of 9,00,000 rupees, and her Sandhanvalia supporters fled across the Sutlej into British territory. Chand Kaur retired gracefully to the segregation of her late son’s palace inside the city of Lahore. Dhian Singh’s elder brother, Gulab Singh, who looked after her property, had absconded from the Fort with cartloads of gold and silver.
In July 1841, Nau Nihal Singh’s widow, Sahib Kaur delivered a stillborn son. This ended whatever hopes Chand Kaur had of resurrecting her claims. But courtly intrigue had not ceased. Dhian Singh replaced the maidservants of the Dowager Maharani with hillwomen from his own country. The latter tried to kill her by poisoning her food and eventually finished her off on 11 June 1842, smashing her head with wooden pikes from the kitchen. Dhian Singh however had had their tongues cut off to prevent them divulging the plot. In the end, they were executed under his own orders.