Origins & Ownership
When was the lost palace built and who did it belong too? Peering through the fog of history we can see some clues as to the palaces origins. Although a number of historians and authors have attributed the lost palace to various figures in Sikh history, there does not seem to be any agreement among them or conclusive proof.
The lost palace was the largest structure of its kind on the parkarma of the sacred tank of Amritsar. This indicated that the owner was someone of great influence and power during the time of the Sikh Empire.
Evidence from the French engraving of the Darbar Sahib Complex printed in 1836 and likely based on a sketch recorded one to two years earlier in Punjab indicates that the palace did not yet exist in the early 1830’s. The palace would have had to have been constructed in the time frame between the late 1830’s and before the 1841 visit of artist August Schoefft who depicted it in his epic painting of Ranjit Singh at Darbar Sahib.
An examination of some prominent figures and attributed individuals reveal some interesting possibilities and helps narrow the scope of possible ownership of the lost palace during the era of the Sikh Empire.
Maharaja Ranjit Singh
Being the largest palace on the parkarma surrounding the sacred pool, it would be logical to assume that it must have belonged to Maharaja Ranjit Singh. The Maharaja was known to move about from place to place in his vast empire and had numerous residences.
Runjeet Sing has no regular residence where he constantly lives, but instead is continually on the move, either in the wars in which he is constantly engaged, or moving from one part of his territory to another.
Five Years in India, Volume 1
Henry Edward Fane, London, 1842
Sohan Lal Suri the court historian records that Maharaja Ranjit Singh built his own bunga towards the north-west of Darbar Sahib, close to the sacred tank, to be used for stay if necessary, on the occasion of his visits .
In August Schoeffts famous painting of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, he is depicted as sitting on the balcony of a palace overlooking the sacred pool. In this painting the lost palace appears in the distance on the left side in the painting. The balcony that Schoefft painted his scene from is verified as having been Ranjit Singhs palace by Dr. Martin Honigberger who accompanied Schoefft on his visit to Darbar Sahib.
On the following morning, we went to the house of the Baii Goormuck Sing, who had promised, on the previous evening, to send a servant to point out to us the most elevated terrace in the square ( which was in the mansion of Runjeet Sing ), from which Herr Schofft could get a view of the temple and the surrounding buildings ; on this place he prepared his atelier. He occupied the whole of the day in sketching the scene, and on the following day he also went there, but alone, to continue his work.
Thirty-five Years in the East
L.M. Honigberger, London, 1852
Given that Schoefft painted his scene from a terrace in Ranjit Singhs mansion and that the painting he produced shows the lost palace and that the location of Ranjit Singhs palace is further corroborated by Sohin Lal Suri’s account it is evident that the lost palace and Maharaja Ranjit Singhs palace were two different structures.
The lost palace has also been attributed as the Atari (mansion) of Sada Kaur . In her time Sada Kaur (1762-1832) was the most powerful woman in the Sikh Empire. She was the mother-in-law of Maharaja Ranjit Singh and head of the Kanhaiya clan. She is widely regarded as the powerful king-maker who helped the young Ranjit Singh militarily to conquer Lahore and a number of Sikh chieftain’s territories.
Given Sada Kaur’s wealth as head of a powerful family and her influence she does seem to be a candidate for having constructed the lost palace, but looking at the timeline of her influence it seems less likely. Sada Kaur’s friendship and close ties with Maharaja Ranjit Singh started to wane in 1807 as their relations started souring. Sada Kaur refused to retire and hand over her territories to her grandson Raja Sher Singh when he turned 12 years old  (1819) and would eventually be placed under house arrest in Lahore by the Maharaja. Here she would spend the remainder of her life until her death in 1832 .
Given that Sada Kaur was imprisoned and did not have access to Amritsar in her final years and that the French engraving of the Darbar Sahib complex does not show the lost palace as being there in the early 1830’s, Sada Kaur could not have constructed the palace during this time period.
Raja Nau Nihal Singh
Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s only had one grandson, the much loved Raja Nau Nihal Singh, son of the Maharaja’s only legitimate son Raja Kharak Singh. Nau Nihal Singh (1821-1840) has also been attributed as the owner of the lost palace . Being the only grandson of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, Raja Nau Nihal Singh received a lot of attention and privileges from his grandfather. Barely 13, Raja Nau Nihal Singh was placed at the head of the Sikh military forces in the Peshawer campaign of 1834. Nau Nihal Singh participated in numerous military campaigns on behalf of the Sikh Empire and administered territories in the Attock and Peshawar regions during Maharaja Ranjit Singhs rule.
The wedding of Nau Nihal Singh to the daughter of the powerful Sikh chieftan Sham Singh Attariwala in early March 1837 was a very grand occasion with extensive festivities at Amritsar, Lahore and the brides village of Attari.
We hear at this place that the marriage fete at Umritsir is to last thirteen days, and that the Rajah has made up his mind to spend thirty lacs of rupees (300,000l.) on the occasion.
Five Years in India, Volume 1
Henry Edward Fane, London, 1842
It is noteworthy that the wedding took place at Amritsar, lasting many days and was likely attended by a large number of rulers of other states.
With the death of Maharaja Ranjit Singh in 1839 also came a rise to power for Nau Nihal Singh. Deposing and imprisoning his father Maharaja Kharak Singh in a coup on October 9, 1839, Raja Nau Nihal now achieved command and rule over the Sikh Empire for a period of time until his death one year later on November 9, 1840.
Given the special attention paid to Nau Nihal Singh by his grandfather and the fact that Nau Nihal Singh’s wedding took place at Amritsar and not the capital of the Empire, Lahore, the lost palace well may have belonged to Nau Nihal Singh.
Could Nau Nihal Singh have built the lost palace for himself or could Maharaja Ranjit Singh have built it for his only grandson, possibly even as a wedding gift? Would a part of Nau Nihal Singh’s wedding have taken place at the largest and grandest palace on the sacred pool of Darbar Sahib in Amritsar? Could Nau Nihal Singh when he eventually ruled the Sikh Empire have built a grand palace at Amritsar? All of these questions raise interesting possibilities and unlike others, nothing that we know of Nau Nihal Singh’s life eliminates the possibility that the palace may have been his residence at Darbar Sahib.
Raja Kharak Singh
As Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s only son and heir apparent Raja Kharak Singh (1801-1840) lead a life of privilege, wealth and power as the heir apparent. During the rule of his father Maharaja Ranjit Singh, his son Kharak Singh was put in charge of a number of military campaigns on the behalf of his father. Although he was considered feeble of mind, being the only son it was widely recognized in the Sikh Empire that he would one day succeed his father as ruler. On his death bed Maharaja Ranjit Singh proclaimed Raja Kharak Singh as his official successor. The new Maharaja, ruled the Sikh Empire only for a few months from June to October 1839 before being overthrown by his son Nau Nihal Singh in a coup and imprisoned at Lahore till his death one year later on November 5, 1840.
Although no reference has been found attributing the lost palace to Maharaja Kharak Singh, the possibility cannot be ruled out either. As Maharaja Ranjit Singhs only son and heir apparent, he had a special status in the Sikh Empire and the largest palace at Darbar Sahib could have been constructed by Kharak Singh or for him in the last years of Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s rule by a father for his son a symbol of his sons status as the future Maharaja.
Raja Sher Singh
During the tumultuous times following the death of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, his step-son Raja Sher Singh was eventually able to gain the Royal throne by attacking Lahore and overthrowing Maharani Chand Kaur the widow of Ranjit Singh’s son Maharaja Kharak Singh. Maharaja Sher Singh ruled from January 20, 1841 till his death on September 15, 1842.
During Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s rule Raja Sher Singh was the only step-son that he acknowledged and who was allowed in his presence at the Royal Court.
Rajah Sher Sing was seated on his right hand, and Rajah Heera Sing, his minister's son, upon his left, the only two individuals who are allowed a seat in his presence on public occasions, with the exception of his son and heir, Kurruck Sing, though in private that privilege is sometimes accorded to the three Gooroos, or priests, who act as his spiritual advisers.
The Court and Camp of Runjeet Sing
W.G. Osborne, London, 1840
During Maharaja Ranjit Singhs rule, Sher Singh was also given a number of military campaigns and territories that he controlled. Although he could certainly have built a palace for himself at Darbar Sahib, in all probability Maharaja Ranjit Singh would not have allowed a step-son to have a larger palace at Darbar Sahib than his own son Raja Kharak Singh or his grandson Raja Nau Nihal.
Could Maharaja Sher Singh have built the lost palace during the timeframe of his reign from January 20, 1841 to September 15, 1842? August Schoefft the artist arrived at Maharaja Sher Singh court on November 14, 1841  and likely did the sketches for his famous painting at Darbar Sahib shortly thereafter prior to his departure in 1842. Could the lost palace have been built by Maharaja Sher Singh in the months between his ascension to the throne in January 1841 and Schoeffts arrival in November? This possibility cannot be eliminated but given the scale of construction required to build such a large structure on the parkarma and the potential length of time that such a construction project would have taken it does not seem likely that Sher Singh built the lost palace.
Could one of the influential families at the Sikh Royal Court have built the lost palace for themselves? The lost palace has been attributed by some authors as having been the bunga of ‘Singh Sahib’  or Ladowalia clan .
Only the most powerful and influential families in Punjab had a palace or bunga on the parkarma of the sacred pool at Darbar Sahib. Could one of these influential and powerful families have built the lost palace for themselves? Perhaps, although the chances of Maharaja Ranjit Singh allowing the construction of the largest palace on the parkarma by another family in the years of his rule seem a remote possibility. The Maharaja maintained a very tight rule over his empire, including the confiscation of the property of the various ruling families in the empire as he expanded his rule over Punjab. If the lost palace had been constructed by another powerful family in the earlier years of Ranjit Singh’s rule and then confiscated by him as he consolidated his power than it would appear in the 1836 French engraving of the Darbar Sahib complex. Since the lost palace does not appear in the engraving, it would have to have been built in the mid to late 1830’s during the final years of Maharaja Ranjit Singhs rule. This was a time of absolute rule by Ranjit Singh at a time when he had already consolidated his power in Punjab and especially Amritsar.
The chances of another Sikh family being allowed to construct the largest palace on the parkarma seem remote. Ranjit Singhs successors to the Royal throne would likely have followed the same policy at a tumultuous time when the show of their status and authority would have been paramount to maintaining their throne.
1. Sohan Lal Suri, Umdat ut-Tawarikh (tr. V.S. Suri) Punjab Itihas Prakashan, Chandigarh, 1974, Daftar III, pg. 19, 82, 182, 308 & 525-27
ref The Golden Temple Past and Present,
Madanjit Kaur Guru Nanak Dev University Press, Amritsar, 1983, pg. 54
2. The Golden Temple Past and Present,
Madanjit Kaur Guru Nanak Dev University Press, Amritsar, 1983, pg. 64
3. Ranjit Singh
Sir Lepel Griffin, Oxford at the Clarendon Press, 1892, pg. 165
4. Sikh Encyclopedia list page ref sada kaur death
5. The City of the Golden Temple,
J.S. Grewal, Guru Nanak Dev University, 2004
6. Sikh Portraits by European Artists
F.S. Aijazuddin, Oxford University Press, 1979, pg 14
7. A History & Guide to The Golden Temple,Amritsar
Sodhi Hazara Singh, Amritsar, 1938, pg. 130
8. The City of the Golden Temple,
J.S. Grewal, Guru Nanak Dev University, 2004
Images of Rajas: Thirty-five Years in the East, L.M. Honigberger, London, 1852
Sada Kaur sketch: attributed to Kehar Singh, Central Sikh Museum, Amritsar.