S: The Sardars of Vahali :: A Family History
BC: June 2012
FC: The Sardars of Vahali A Family History
1: The Sardars of Vahali A Family History
2: This book is dedicated to our dear Jiji,Mokshinder Singh of Vahali, on his 60th birthday. Though he lives far from his ancestors' homeland, Jiji cherishes his family's history and legacy. Thank you for instilling this enduring identity in each of us. Love, Neha, Simran & Dilveer
3: These pages tell the story of the Sardars of Vahali, a renowned family of Sikh landowners hailing from the Jhelum district of Punjab. The family traces its ancestry back to the Mughal era in 16th century Hindustan. Over the years, its members have served rulers from Shah Jahan to Maharaja Ranjit Singh, the Rajas of Poonch and Her Majesty Queen Victoria of the British Empire. The Wahali estate and village from which the family takes its name was the administrative center of the family's landholdings for several decades. It was also the family's last ancestral home before the partition of India and Pakistan in 1947.
5: Dewan Karan Mal (Died 1675) | Baba Sehaj Ram Ji | Baba Meher Chand Ji | Sardar Bhag Singh | Surat Mal Ji | Sardar Hara Singh (Died 1869) | Sardar Hari Singh (1864-1946) | Sardar Darshan Singh (1891 - 1962) | Partition of Hindustan | Sardar Mokshinder Singh Vahali (Born 1952) | Sardar Dilveer Singh Vahali (Born 1985) | Vahali Family Line
6: Early Ancestors
7: The earliest known ancestor of the Sardars of Vahali is Diwan Karn Mal, who was employed in the Mughal court of Emperor Shah Jahan. According to family history, he advised the Emperor to begin building large-scale projects by pointing out that it would add to his legacy and create jobs within the kingdom. Diwan Karn Mal personally supervised the building and laying out of the gardens at the Taj Mahal, Shah Jahan’s greatest architectural achievement. Years later, Diwan Karn Mal was executed by Shah Jahan’s son, Emperor Aurangzeb, because he refused to adopt Islam. The family's original caste surname was "Jauhar," sometimes spelled "Johar." Diwan Karn Mal’s great-grandson, Baba Sehaj Singh, is assumed to be the first Sikh in the family line. Prior to him, the family practiced orthodox Hinduism in the Muslim darbar. For at least two generations after Baba Sehaj Singh, only one son in the family was made a Sikh and took on the title of Sardar and the surname "Singh." The remaining sons in each of the two successive generations were practicing Hindus who kept "Jauhar" as their surnames. Baba Sehaj Singh had four sons: Dasonwandhi Ram, Karam Chand, Bhag Singh and Dharam Chand. Dharam Chand - the youngest - died in his infancy. Bhag Singh became a soldier who raised the family’s wealth and status to a new level in the early 19th century.
8: Sardar Bhag Singh | This room in the Khewra Salt Mines was mined in the Mughal era | Sardar Bhag Singh moved through Jhelum with the army of Hari Singh Nalwa
9: In about 1809, Commandant Bhag Singh was commanding a small artillery regiment of Sikh and Muslim soldiers in the army of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. His men accompanied Hari Singh Nalwa, the Maharaja’s military commander, on an operation to settle the area around Jhelum for the Sikh kingdom. After the conquest, Bhag Singh was left to manage the Maharaja’s newly acquired salt mines. He made his administrative headquarters in the village of Wahali, near Pind Dadan Khan. The village was named “windy valley,” for its cool temperatures, which made it a pleasant place to escape from the humid plains climate. This area became the center of the family’s estate in the generations that followed. The salt mines controlled by Bhag Singh later became known as the Khewra mines, the second largest salt mines in the world today. They were discovered by Alexander the Great in the seventh century and had been mined since Mughal times. Bhag Singh managed the mines for the rulers of the Sikh kingdom until 1849. Thereafter, they were transferred first to Raja Gulab Singh of Kashmir, and eventually to the British Empire. The salt mines were fully functioning until as recently as 2006. Commandant Bhag Singh had four sons: Sardar Hara Singh, Shri Moti Ram, Shri Jawahar Mal, and Shri Rattan Chand. The descendants of the younger three sons eventually relocated to Dehradun in post-Partition India. Captain Kirpa Ram Johar, Narian Das Johar and Prabh Dyal Johar were all the grandsons of Shri Rattan Chand. Sardar Kirpal Singh Johar was the grandson of Shri Moti Ram. Sardar Kirpal Singh's grandson, Sardar Raghunand Singh Johar, was born in 1931, and was a contemporary of Sardar Darshan Singh Vahali. | Sardar Bhag Singh made his administrative headquarters in the village of Wahali, known for its cool climate. | Sardar Kirpal Singh Johar (top) and Sardar Raghunand Singh Johar (left) are also descendants of Sardar Bhag Singh
10: Sardar Hara Singh Died 1869
11: In January 1849, in the midst of the Second Anglo-Sikh war, the Sikh army fought aggressive British forces in the bloody battle of Chillianwala. Though the Sikhs won the battle, they lost some strategic positions, including the salt mines at Wahali. The mines were transferred to the Raja of Kashmir by the British government after the Battle. With the land went the Sardars of Vahali. Due to their longstanding administration of the salt mines, the Sardars were promised ministerial positions in the royal durbar of Kashmir. Commandant Bhag Singh’s eldest son, Sardar Hara Singh, was a young man when the Maharaja of Poonch, Raja Moti Singh, made him a minister in his new court. There, he helped to build the foundations of the Poonch state. He organized the various State departments and developed the territory’s resources. Hara Singh was granted several villages in perpetual jagir in return for his service. These included the village of Salotri in the Haveli Tehsil and the village of Manhagir. In 1865, Hara Singh was given the title of Wazir Aazam, Mukhtar Kul – Madarul Manani of Poonch. With this position came the hereditary title of “Sardar” and the village of Kalhota, which was added to his jagir. In addition to these gifts, being Wazir also entitled Sardar Hara Singh to several favorable business contracts. For example, all salt sold in Poonch would come only from the salt mines in Wahali and Khewra, which were still being managed by members of the Vahali family. The family also held monopolies on the sale of Kuth (buckwheat), Chikari wood and Chil wood in Poonch. To facilitate these trading revenues, Sardar Hara Singh also established side businesses in money lending and banking in Poonch, Wahali, Rawalpindi and Pind Dadan Khan. By the time he passed away, Sardar Hara Singh had amassed a substantial fortune worth for his descendants. Sardar Hara Singh continued his service to the Rajas of Poonch until his death in 1869. At the time of his death, his eldest son, Kartar Singh, was only 10 years old. Sardar Hara Singh was also survived by his wife, two older daughters, and three younger sons. These boys were named Hari Singh, Jit Singh and Ram Singh. Both Jit Singh and Ram Singh - toddlers at the time - died of smallpox in 1870. | oonch had been included in the transfer of hill country to Raja Gulab Singh by the British in 1848. Before this transfer, Poonch was considered a district of Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s kingdom. In 1850, Raja Gulab Singh granted Chibal, Poonch and other areas to Jawahar Singh and Moti Singh. Though the area was separately governed, the Raja of Poonch could not effect any administrative changes in the territory of Poonch without consulting the Raja of Kashmir. Modern-day Poonch is one of the eight districts in Azad Jammu & Kashmir, bordering Indian-administered Kashmir. | P
12: Family Landholdings | Sardar Hara Singh and his son, Hari Singh, were primarily responsible for growing the land wealth of the Vahali Family. In 1909, this was one of the largest landowning families in the province, holding close to 14,000 acres and paying nearly Rs. 20,000/year in land revenue. Over these two generations, the family held land, homes and businesses throughout Punjab, Kashmir, Jammu and modern-day Haryana.
13: Mari | Sultanpur | Rawalpindi | To the North, the family had built large havelis in Rawalpindi and Murree. These were the closest family landholdings to Poonch, the princely state where Sardar Kartar Singh was appointed to a ministerial position. In Poonch, the family owned the villages of Salotri, Kalhota and Mungbajri.
14: Choa Saidan Shah | Wahali Zer | Wahali Bala | Basharat | Shahpur | The core of the Vahali family's holdings were around the Khewra Salt Mines, where the family had first been employed by Maharaja Ranjit Singh. Family members were based in Wahali Zer and Wahali Bala, but the they ran their business from firms in Pind Dadan Khan and Jhelum.
15: Shahpur | Shahpur | Jhang | Faisalabad | Under the leadership of Sardar Hari Singh, the family expanded their ownership to lands in the southern districts of Lyallpur, Shahpur and Sheikhpura, among other places. Hari Singh purchased lands in military cantonments and along the routes of the British government's proposed canal project. Upon completion of the canals, the value of this land went up exponentially. New villages sprung up, some of which were originally named after members of the family.
16: Sardar Kartar Singh | (1849 - 1900) | Moti Mahal in Poonch | Poonch Fort
17: At the tender age of 14, Kartar Singh - the eldest son of Sardar Hara Singh - became both Mashir-i-Khas (Private Minister) of Poonch, and the head of the Vahali family. He was allowed to continue holding much of his father’s jagir in Poonch and was granted a new village - Mungbajri - as part of his appointment. Many of Sardar Hara Singh’s managers helped guide the young Wazir through the initial months of his administration of the family’s business affairs in Poonch and Wahali. Sardar Kartar Singh was subsequently promoted to the office of Madar-ul-Maham and granted the title of “Sardar Bahadur.” During the Afghan War in 1879, Kartar Singh and his brother Hari Singh offered their services to the British Government and were given another grant of land in appreciation. Again in 1887, at the time of Queen Victoria’s Jubilee, Sardar Kartar Singh received a Sanad (land grant) from the Viceroy in recognition of his public spirit and services to Poonch. Over time, however, the relationship between the family and the Poonch State had begun a slow decline. Around 1873, the Raja of Poonch confiscated the Vahali family’s monopolies over several forest products, instead choosing to administer them directly. Fifteen years later, when Kartar Singh was visiting his family in Wahali in 1889, a rival Wazir, Sundar Singh, took possession of his village lands in Poonch. Though the Raja of Poonch called Kartar Singh back to the kingdom and returned some of his customs leases by the end of the year, these jagirs were never restored to him. Kartar Singh died at the age of 41 in 1900, and left his family and all of the business in the hands of his younger brother, Hari Singh. Kartar Singh’s family included his first wife, the Sardarni of Chakwal; his second wife, Sardarni Lakshmi Devi, whom he had married in 1889; and his 1-year old son, Krishnadev Singh. These tangled relationships eventually led to a great deal of disruption in the family’s wealth and administration of its lands.
18: Because Kartar Singh’s first wife did not have children, Sardarni Lakshmi Devi became the matriarch of that line of the family. She was a strong-willed woman who put a lot of stock in her position as Krishnadev’s mother. After her husband’s death, Lakshmi Devi lived mostly in Jhelum, separate from the rest of her husband’s family, and took issue with the lifestyle she was afforded by Hari Singh’s allowance. Still, Hari Singh took her son under his wing. Krishnadev was educated at Aitchison College and then at the Government College in Lahore. He lived in his own apartment there. This arrangement continued until 1917, when Hari Singh discovered that the boy had cut his hair. Krishnadev’s behavior was contrary to Hari Singh’s Sikh beliefs. It created a great deal of tension between them and led to Krishnadev’s marriage engagement, which had been arranged by Hari Singh, being called off. The boy also stopped his studies and moved in with his mother, who purportedly defended his decision, saying he looked “handsome” with short hair. The relationship with his uncle soured, and Krishnadev and his mother spent the next two years trying to split the Vahali landholdings in half, laying claim to Kartar Singh’s share. Shortly thereafter, Krishnadev Singh died suddenly at the age of 19 in the Influenza Pandemic of 1918. Days before his death, he had created a new will that granted his entire share of the family's wealth to his mother. What followed were years of legal wrangling and court cases between Sardarni Lakshmi Devi and Sardar Hari Singh. A Privy Council case eventually determined that the will was valid and that the land was to be divided in half. This was a major blow to Sardar Hari Singh, who wanted to keep the family’s landholdings and wealth together, and he created additional legal hurdles to the Sardarni’s obtaining possession of the property. The result was a mass of further litigation. Both parties borrowed money freely for the litigation, plunging the family into deep debt. Sardarni Lakshmi Devi sold land recklessly to make up these costs, leaving the estate at a fraction of the size it had been when her husband had inherited it. Many of the details provided in legal documents and deposition papers from this era of litigation have contributed to the family's understanding of its history since then.
19: The Family's Faith | The Vahali family line has always been deeply spiritual. Like most Sikh families, the Vahalis were descended from Punjabi Hindus. That is why the caste of the Vahali family is listed as “Thattal Jatt” in all historic texts. The term “Jatt” in this context means simply those Sikhs who originated from Hindu families. Baba Sehaj Ram - the father of Sardar Bhag Singh - appears to have been the first Sikh member of the Vahali family. After that, although the family worked and lived in largely Muslim and Hindu villages in Wahali and Poonch, respectively, they continued to follow Sikhism. Most importantly, the family’s men maintained the Sikh identity of wearing turbans and unshorn hair. The Vahali men of Hari Singh’s generation and his sons and nephews were also all amritdhari Sikhs, meaning that they had participated in the amrit pahul ceremony, a serious commitment to the faith. Still, because of their circumstances as government officials and landlords in non-Sikh areas, the family held on to various elements of Hinduism and Islam, even when these were prohibited by Sikhism. For example, the women of the family travelled in Purdah and wore burkas when outside of the home. Hari Singh took amrit while wearing a holy Hindu thread (janeu), performed six Hindu fasts a year and in 1909, he published flyers against legalization of the Sikh Anand Karaj marriage ceremony. Hari Singh’s family, wives and sons made pilgrimages to numerous Hindu holy sites. At his request, Hara Singh had been cremated in the holy place of Amar Nath Budha, and an idol of Shiva was installed both over the place of cremation and in a special mandir built in Wahali. Hari Singh described the family as “Sanatani Sikhs” who believed in “everything which Sanatani Hindus believe and in the Gurus and the Granth Sahib,” and he regarded Sikhs as “the strength of Hinduism.” Nevertheless, the family clung to the Sikh identity in a very strong tradition. When Krishnadev Singh cut his hair, Hari Singh worked for many months to convince him to change his mind. Sardar Ravi Inder Hari Darshan Singh was practically disowned by his mother for cutting his hair when he went to England. In later years, the Vahali boys were married into high-pedigree Sikh families that descended directly from the ten Sikh gurus. Sardarni Iqbal Kaur’s family, in fact, was the chief family of Anandpur Sahib, and was the only one authorized to administer amrit in that region at the time of her marriage.
20: Sardar Hari Singh Rais (1864 - 1946/50)
21: Born in 1864, Hari Singh was only five years old when his father, the powerful Wazir of Poonch, died. He lived with his mother in Wahali, but moved to Poonch when he completed his study of Persian at age 13. Working in Poonch alongside his brother for a year, Hari Singh learned Hindi and Sanskrit and became familiar with systems of accounting and business departments. He never learned English, but he had studied Roman, which facilitated his understanding of English when needed. Hari Singh helped Sardar Kartar Singh to organize the cavalry and stables in Poonch, and it was here that he first became known for his administrative prowess. At the end of the year, Hari Singh moved back to Wahali to take charge of all the affairs there himself. Over time and after his elder brother’s death in 1900, Sardar Hari Singh maintained the family’s hereditary connection with Kashmir and Poonch, | but he himself never took on a ministerial position. The administration of the family’s growing land estates and businesses took up all of his time. During his leadership of the family, he built havelis in the cantonments of Murree and Rawalpindi and held nearly 127 squares in the Lyallpur Canal Colony. When the British began to develop the Canal system in Punjab, Hari Singh bought up thousands of acres of land around the proposed canals in Sabota (now in Uttar Pradesh) and Sheikhpura (near Nankana Sahib in Pakistan). He was the lambardar (a political title given to landholders who were akin to an English duke) of six villages in Jhelum and Lyallpur (now Faisalabad) and he and his brother had themselves founded four villages named after various members of the family. Over time, he became a model landlord. British government officers praised his offices in Wahali for their systematic management of the estate.
22: During his life, the Sardar also worked hard to maintain friendly relationships with the British government of India. He was a member of the Jhelum District Board and Cantonment Committee. He built schools, dharamsalas, mosques, temples and drinking fountains. He was recognized by the Viceroy for building a hospital at Wahali in honor of Queen Victoria’s Jubilee. During World War I, Sardar Hari Singh helped recruit men from his villages in Poonch, Kashmir and Rawalpindi. He supplied the British with 500 men in just six months in 1918. He also subscribed Rs. 10,000 to different charitable War funds, and a separate amount to the War Loans.
23: Hari Singh's Family Life
24: Sardar Hari Singh was first married in 1872, at the age of 8 years. His wife was Lakhshmi Devi - Sardarni of Chutala - the granddaughter of Sardar Bishan Singh. Sardar Bishan Singh had been a general in the Sikh Army and assisted the British during the Indian Mutiny of 1857. In Maharaja Sher Singh’s time, Bishan Singh was placed in charge of the artillery park of Lahore. He was known and praised by the British for his gallantry and effectiveness in the army, The Sardarni of Chutala bore Hari Singh three sons - Sardar Amar Singh, Sardar Darshan Singh and Sardar Gurbachan Singh - of Vahali. She then died in 1912. Of the three sons she left behind, both Amar Singh and Gurbachan Singh were killed in 1899. They had fallen victim to a cholera outbreak while on a business trip to Benaras. Amar Singh had been married and had two sons, Sardar Devendra Singh and Sardar Surendra Singh, at the time of his death. Responsibility for both these boys and their mother fell on Sardar Hari Singh - their grandfather - and Sardar Darshan Singh, an uncle nearly their age.
25: After the death of his sons, Sardar Hari Singh remarried in 1915. His new wife, Sardarni Heran Devi, was the daughter of Sardar Gurmukh Singh of Butala. She gave birth to three daughters and one son - Sardar Sarvinder Singh - who was born in 1919. Not much is known about how this family line proceeded, since it is unclear whether Sardar Sarvinder Singh ever married. Once his brother died, Hari Singh took on a strong patriarchal role in the family. He already managed all of the family’s landholdings throughout Punjab and Kashmir, and had two wives of his own. In addition, he took on the obligation to care for the widows of his brother and son, as well as their children’s education and upbringing. In legal documents, he made clear that he intended to treat all the “young boys” in the family equally. They were each educated at Aitchison College in Lahore and employed personal attendants and servants for their care. Hari Singh set up an extensive accounting system for each member of the family to receive their expense allowances, wherever they were travelling or living at the time. For the women of the family, he maintained households in Lahore, Jhelum, Murree and Wahali simultaneously. At one point, he described how kitchens in each location were instructed to prepare dinner every evening, whether or not he himself was living there at the time. He attended and arranged religious and marriage ceremonies for each of the family members, ranging from their Rit Jhand ceremonies after birth to their death rites. Hari Singh died around the time of the Partition of India and Pakistan. Some family records cite his death as being in 1946, while others claim he was still alive in 1947. One account recalls that he was spending the summer with his nephew, Devinder Singh, when the Partition riots began. He remained on the India-side of the newly drawn border and died two or three years later.
26: This family portrait, commissioned by Sardar Hari Singh, depicts (from right to left) Darshan Singh, Devindar Singh, Sardar Hari Singh (center), Surendra Singh, and Sarvinder Singh.
27: Sardar Amar Singh's Family | Sardar Hitendar Singh Vahali (left) and his son, Sardar Dilbir Singh with the latter's wife, Renu Vahali (right). | Sardar Amar Singh, the eldest of Sardar Hari Singh’s sons, fell victim to a cholera outbreak in 1899 and died in Benaras. He had been married to the daughter of Sardar Mahtab Singh of Butala, and the couple had two young sons at the time of his death. Sardar Devindar Singh was born in 1897, and was later married to a daughter of the Lamba family. He had one son, Sardar Hitender Singh, who was born in 1921, and two daughters - Parminder Kaur and Gajinder Kaur. Sardar Hitender Singh went on to become the ambassador to Brazil of newly independent India. He was married to the daughter of Baba Devinder Singh Bedi, and the couple had two children. Their eldest son, Dilbir Singh, married Renu Kaur in 1984. They both taught at Doon School, Dehradun until 2001. Hitender Singh's daughter, Jayshri, married Captain S.S. Brar in 1976. They have a daughter named Bani. Parminder Kaur's children are Rupinder, Indira, Rimlu and Rana. Gajinder Kaur has one son, Shiv. | Sardar Amar Singh’s second son, Surendra Singh, was a newborn when his father died. He was later married to Sardarni Sumitra Rani, daughter of Sardar Jhanda Singh Chimni. The couple had two children – a daughter named Rupinder Kaur and a son named Sardar Harinder Singh. Rupinder Kaur married Sardar Narinder Singh Oberoi. They have four children – Dimple, Diamond, Honey and Bobby Oberoi. Sardar Harinder Singh married Sardarni Harinder Kaur and the couple have three children – Queeny, Cutie and Shailender Vahali. | Sardar Devindar Singh was Sardar Amar Singh's eldest son.
28: Sardar Darshan Singh (1891 - 1962)
29: Sardar Darshan Singh, born in 1891, was the only surviving son from Hari Singh’s first marriage. The death of his elder brother when Darshan Singh was just eight years old left him to eventually take on the responsibility of the family’s businesses and legacy. Darshan Singh attended Aitchison College in Lahore and went on to study in England at the Royal Agricultural College in Cirencester. He took his diploma from there with first class Honours in 1913. Darshan Singh was also a qualified barrister. He studied at the Honourable Society of Middle Temple in London and was called to the Bar in 1922. During his time as a student in England, Sardar Darshan Singh was invited to several multicultural and royal events as a representative of Punjab’s aristocracy. He attended the Coronation of King George V in both London and Delhi and his family donated generously to the British efforts in World War I with both money and recruits. In fact, he himself later offered to go to War, but the British rejected his offer.
30: Sardar Darshan Singh was the first member of the family to be called to the Bar, though he never formally practiced as a barrister. | While studying in London, Sardar Darshan Singh lived at 1 Aymler Road in Shepherd's Bush, pictured here in 2012. | As a foreigner on British soil, Sardar Darshan Singh often found himself in the ideal position to bridge cultural gaps between his British and Indian classmates. For example, in this reference letter from his dairy and poultry instructor, Darshan Singh was recognized for high marks in "buttermaking" and the school hoped that he would take these skills back to enhance India's agricultural sector. | Sardar Darshan Singh was also invited to attend the first ever Universal Race Congress in 1911 at the University of London. It was an early effort against racism, at which distinguished speakers from many countries discussed race problems and ways to improve interracial relations.
31: Sardar Darshan Singh was recognized both for his personal accomplishments with the Indian Department of Agriculture and for the historic significance of the Vahali family's relationship with the British Raj. In this capacity, he was invited to attend the coronation celebrations of King George V in both Delhi and London.
34: In the same year as his graduation, the British Secretary of State of India selected Sardar Darshan Singh for an Imperial appointment in the Department of Agriculture. He was promoted to Deputy-Director of Agriculture in Punjab and transferred to an experimental farm in Hansi (now in the Indian state of Haryana). There, the Sardar spearheaded groundbreaking initiatives in cotton and wheat production, which were recognized by several levels of the British administration. At the same time, Darshan Singh continued to manage the family’s considerable estate, which was spiraling into debt as a result of the litigation against his aunt, Sardarni Lakshmi Devi. In 1934, Darshan Singh and his nephews convinced Hari Singh to put the majority of the family’s land into the British Court of Wards. The Court began administration of the land to retrieve it of its debts, and Hari Singh and his son spent the rest of their days trying to rehabilitate the land so that they could remove it from the Court’s oversight. As both a senior government officer and the eldest son of one of Punjab’s chief families, Darshan Singh enjoyed a lavish life. He lived between grand havelis in Rawalpindi, Jhelum and Wahali. In each, he slept on beds made of silver and received guests on sofas made of silver. He had a personal valet, Om Prakash, and a personal accountant, Buta Singh. Both men accompanied him everywhere. His family ate meals prepared by a slew of servants, off of plates made of solid silver and engraved with his initials. Every member of the family dressed formally for dinner in suits, ties and heavy jewelry. His children were educated at the best schools in the region and he arranged their weddings to children from renowned Sikh families like his own. | A claims adjuster's document created post-Partition provides this in-depth description of the Vahali mansion. The three-storey palace had more than 100 rooms, each with engraved walls and wooden ceilings. The massive front door was made of solid walnut wood, and the rest of the palace was red stone. | Vahali Estate Palace
35: Darshan Singh himself was married twice. The first marriage to Sardarni Iqbal Kaur, daughter of Tikka Ram Narain Singh of Anandpur, ended with the Sardarni’s death in 1939. Her family, descended directly from Guru Gobind Singh Ji, had been the head of the Gurudwara at Anandpur Sahib at the time of their marriage. The couple had three children: Sardar Ravi Inder Hari Darshan Singh (1914), Bibi Harinder Hari Darshan Kumari (1919), and Sardar Ominder Singh (1928). Bibi Harinder Kumari was married to Indian Civil Service Officer Sardar Kapur Singh, who became a renowned Sikh scholar in later years. He authored the Anandpur Sahib Resolution in 1978, which talks about a federal structure for a separate Sikh homeland. They had one son - Sardar Inderjit Singh - in 1941, who moved to the United States and became a professor at the National Defense University in Washington DC. At the time of his wife’s death, Sardar Darshan Singh was not yet 50 years old, and had a young son, Ominder Singh, still to be raised. He decided to remarry and in 1940, he took Sardarni Mohinder Kaur of Rampur as his wife. Born in 1915, the Sardarni was several years his junior, and was even a year younger than his eldest son. She came from the prominent Sikh family of Bedis, direct descendants of Guru Nanak Dev Ji. Despite grim outlooks for her health because of a heart condition, she remained Darshan Singh’s companion until his death. Sardarni Mohinder Kaur died in 1993 at 77 years of age. The couple was survived by their two children: Bibi Nripinder Kumari (1943), known as "Biba," and Sardar Mokshinder Singh (1952),who was affectionately called "Mokshi." All four members of the family are shown in the photo on the right. | Sardar Inderjit Singh | Sardarni Mohinder Kaur
36: Partition :: 1947 | At midnight on August 15, 1947, the British government announced the independence of both India and Pakistan, splitting its ex-colony into two parts -one Hindu and one Muslim. Over the next several weeks, at least half a million people perished and twelve million became homeless as entire populations of Sikhs, Hindus and Muslims crossed the newly formed border in the midst of religious riots. On that historic day, many members of the Vahali family were on summer vacations far from their homes. They had never anticipated that by the end of the summer, they would have nowhere to come home to. The rumblings about Partition had begun in April 1947. Sardar Darshan Singh heard them, but downplayed the risk to his family. “Governments change, but people don’t change,” he explained. He did not anticipate the large Muslim mobs that gathered around the palace later that summer, threatening the Sikh family and its Hindu employees. As the mobs closed in, Sardar Darshan’s Singh’s aide, Buta Singh, finally convinced him that the area had become unsafe. With just an hour to pack and leave, everyone was limited to a single trunk of luggage. Nevertheless Sardarni Mohinder Kaur slipped a few extra pieces of silver and a small fraction of the family’s jewels into her bags. The family loaded into their saffron car, driven by their devoted Muslim driver. Along the way, the car hit a farm animal in the dark and villagers gathered around. Fearing for the family’s life, the driver asked Sardarji for the pistol he carried on him. Darshan Singh hesitated, unsure whether the gun would be used on the mob or on him. But he took a chance and handed it over. The driver jumped on to the hood of the car, shot into the air and demanded that everyone get back. He provided compensation for the dead animal, and the family was allowed to continue to the border. At the border, Darshan Singh gifted the man his car, taking only the silver medallion from the hood as a rememberance. | Maharaja of Jubbal
37: ike so many homes on both sides of the newly drawn border, the Wahali palace and estate fell victim to looters in the wake of Partition. Begum Jahanara Shahnawaz, a prominent political figure in Lahore, had often visited the house and admired Darshan Singh’s collection of rugs and antiques. Her requests to buy a few of them were rebuffed, since the Sardarji considered them part of his personal collection. When Om Prakash returned to Simla, through tears he reported seeing the Begum directing workers to load Darshan Singh’s entire collection of prized antiques into waiting trucks headed for her home before the palace was burned down. The man had been able to recover only a few family paintings and some paperwork from the house. Everything else was gone. | L | Darshan Singh’s Munshi, Om Prakash, had stayed back in Wahali after the family had left. When he finally arrived in Simla several weeks later, he sat before Sardar Darshan Singh and sobbed. He told the Sardar that before he left, he had seen new Muslim mobs from the city enter Wahali. Some of the remaining Hindu locals sought refuge from the mob behind the Wahali palace’s tall walls and had locked the entry gates to the compound. Upon being unable to access the grounds, he watched the mob lob lighted firebrands into the palace’s courtyard, causing the palace to burn to the ground and taking the lives of many people who had sheltered there. Darshan Singh’s friend, the Maharaja Bhagat Chand of Jubbal, had sent an envoy to meet the family. They were escorted to Woodville Palace, the Rani Sahiba of Jubbal’s palace in Simla, where they were lodged in Rooms 1 & 2 for nearly six months before they accepted that there would be no going back. The family was then invited to stay with Sardar Kirpa Ram Johar, Darshan Singh’s cousin, in Dehra Dun. Kirpa Ram was a wealthy landholder who owned the stylish Savoy Hotel in Mussoorie, popular with celebrities of the British Raj. The Vahalis lived in Dehra Dun for two years and visited the hotel with their hosts on occasion. On one of these trips, their rooms were burgled and Sardarni Mohinder Kaur lost several of the precious remaining family heirlooms that had crossed the border with her just months earlier. | Woodville Palace
38: Sardar Darshan Singh bought and converted Mar Lodge in Simla for his family. He, his wife and his daughter moved into the home in the summer of 1950. His youngest son was born there two years later.
39: L | Post-Partition :: Building a New Life | After Partition, the Vahali family dispersed. With relatives in Dehra Dun, Simla, Panipat, and even as far afield as Hyderabad, the strong core of this joint family disintegrated. Many of the elders who had held it together died within a decade or so of Partition. The litigation with Kartar Singh’s wife and the horror of Partition had wiped out most of the family’s landholdings and all of their grand homes. Though Darshan Singh and his cousins went from court to court trying to receive compensation for the lands and wealth they had lost, very little was returned. Often, even if they managed to make their way through the bureaucratic hurdles of proving ownership of the land, the compensation being offered would be just 1 or 2 paise on the rupee. In the summer of 1950, Darshan Singh used some of this compensation to purchase a new home in Simla. His family moved into Mar Lodge, a historic British residence, which they planned to renovate. It was renamed Darshan Villa, and became the new family home until it burned to the ground in 2000. What happened to the homes and land of the Vahali family’s vast estate in Pakistan remains a mystery, since no member of the family was ever able to return to them once the Partition lines had been drawn. On May 13, 1957, Darshan Singh suffered a debilitating stroke, which left him paralyzed on the left side. After the attack, he remained stable but bedridden for nearly five years. He spent that time in his new home in Simla, where he continued to receive guests and supervise compensation efforts for the land lost during Partition. He died on November 9, 1962. He was 71 years old.
40: Air Commodore Sardar Ravinder Hari Darshan Singh (1914 - 2000) | S.S. Comorin
41: Sardar Ravi Inder Hari Darshan Singh was born in 1914 to Sardarni Iqbal Kaur, the first wife of Sardar Darshan Singh. He was educated at the Royal Aitchison College in Lahore and then joined the Prince of Wales Royal Indian Military College in Dehra Dun. He graduated in 1931 and also obtained an “A” Class Pilot certificate in the same year. At the age of 18, he topped the list of successful competitors for admission to the Royal Air Force College at Cranwell and obtained his commission in 1935. He went on to become Secretary of the All-India National League of Airmen, and had a distinguished career in the Indian Air Force after its formation. Along the way, however, Sardar Ravi Inder lost touch with the Vahali side of his family. When he visited England for training, Ravi Inder cut his long hair. Upon his return to Wahali, his mother refused to speak to him and banished him from the house. While Sardar Darshan Singh was hurt, he tried to keep up his relations with Ravi Inder over the years. After his wife’s death, Darshan Singh took Ravi and his siblings on a trip to Kashmir, but to no avail. When Darshan Singh remarried, Ravi Inder was very upset and cut off relations with his father altogether. In 1955, Ravi Inder requested to receive his share of what was left of the family’s lands. Disappointed, his father handed over Ravi Inder’s part of a home in the Ambala Cantonment and some lands in Hissar, and legally separated him from the remainder of the Vahali estate. Sardar Ravi Inder spent his final days at his daughter’s home in Hyderabad, and died in 2000. Sardar Ravi Inder Hari Darshan Singh was married to Sardarni Brijender Kaur, a Rajkumari of Jind, and had two children by her. Their son, Ritendar Singh, was born in 1941. He now goes by the name Deepak Singh, and lives in Boston, Massachusetts. He studied at St. Columbus’ School in New Delhi, and read mechanical engineering at the University of Manchester in England. He worked as a chartered engineer for over twenty years. He now owns his own travel company - Spiritual Journeys - based in Boston. Sardar Ravi Inder’s daughter, Yadavindra Kumari, was born in 1938. She was later married to Anant Prakash Taneja in 1959. The family moved to Hyderabad, where Yadavindra took up fashion and designing. She now runs a family-owned textile business out of her home, Sitara, in the Banjara Hills of Hyderabad. Her two sons, Sharan and Sanjay, both their wives, and Yadavindra’s daughter, Sharmila, all work together with her in the business. | Sardar Ravi Inder Hari Darshan Singh | Sardarni Brijender Kaur | Sardar Ritender Singh
42: Sardar Om Inder Hari Darshan Singh | (1928 - ???) | Sardar Om Inder Hari Darshan Singh | Sardarni Mohinda Kaur of Jhanda Ji | Sardarni Harjinder Kaur | Biba Kaur | Kaki Kaur
43: enerations of Vahali boys, beginning with Sardar Hari Singh’s sons, were educated at one of the most prestigious schools on the subcontinent - Aitchison College in Lahore. The college traces its history to the Ward’s School at Ambala, which was established in 1868 specifically for the education of young Sikh Sardars of the District. In 1886, its name was changed to Aitchison College and the school widened its rules to accept students of all religious denominations. Newly built school grounds included a mosque, a dharmsala, and a mandir on the premises and religious studies were later mandated for Hindu and Sikh students. The school also focused heavily on athletics, in which the Vahali boys were active participants. To date, the school awards the Vahali Challenger Cup for excellent performance in tent-pegging - a game that has a mounted horseman riding at a gallop and using a sword or a lance to pierce, pick up, and carry away a small ground target. The Vahali tradition was so entrenched here that one ancestor estimates there was no year until Partition when there was not a Vahali boy studying at the school. | Sardar Ominder Hari Darshan Singh was born in 1928 and was only ten years old when his mother died. When his father married Sardarni Mohinder Kaur a year later, she took the boy under her wing and promised to care for him. Ominder Singh was educated at Aitchison College. While attending the school, he was hit in the head by a hockey puck, causing some brain trauma that led him to have violent episodes for the rest of his life. After graduation, Ominder was sent to manage his father’s estate in Sirsa (now in the Indian state of Haryana), where he lived with his own family. Ominder was married twice. Sardarni Mohinder Kaur arranged both marriages into her own family, owing to Ominder’s health condition. His first wife, Sardarni Mohindar Kaur of JhandaJi, died in childbirth along with the baby. He was then remarried to Sardarni Harjinder Kaur in 1953. The couple had two daughters: Biba and Kaki. Within a couple of years of that wedding, Ominder visited his father in Simla and asked to be given his share of the family’s inheritance up front. Like his older brother, Ominder took possession of part of the home in Ambala and the lands he was managing in Sirsa, and a portion of the family’s jewels. Having received his inheritance before his father’s death, Ominder was also then legally separated from the remainder of the Vahali estate. Little is known about what happened to Ominder’s family or where they now live. | G
44: Vahali village is now in three parts, due to an increase in population. The first is Vahali Bala, which hugs the side of the mountain. The second is Vahali Zer, which is lower on the hill than Vahali Bala. The third part is between the other two. It is called the Central Dhok. "Dhok" means village. The entire area used to be very poor, but over time, people have emigrated to larger cities and abroad. Earlier, farmers made their houses on the mountains. They were healthy and strong and could climb up the hills easily. They used the jungles for their sheep and herds. Now, people have started moving out of the hills and the cultivated fields have been converted into houses and dwellings. Since Partition, most of the older buildings have been demolished or neglected. Many people have built new mansions, but everyone admires the grace and solid construction of the houses left behind by fleeing Hindus and Sikhs. In the old days, Vahali came under district Jhelum, but it is now under district Chakwal. The nearest town is Choa Saidan Shah, which houses the Tehsil offices of the area. It used to be a very remote, hilly area and people had to walk many miles before they could catch a bus. Now there are several roads running through and near he villages. | Modern Day Wahali | A description of modern-day Wahali village, now in Pakistan, from a local resident:
45: A school located just behind where the Wahali palace once stood | A modern-day view of Wahali Bala | The current division of Wahali into three separate villages | The road where Wahali palace once stood, with stairs dating back to the 19th century
46: Sardar Mokshinder Singh (Born 1952)
47: Mokshinder Singh | Darshan Singh | Mohinder Kaur | Hari Singh | Lakhshmi Devi of Chotala | Hara Singh | Ganda Singh | Ram Rakha Singh | Bishan Kaur | Hira Nand Ji | Sodhi Narinder Singh | The Bedi Family Descendants of Guru Nanak Dev Ji | The Vahali Family Descendants of the Johar Family Line
48: Sardar Darshan Singh’s youngest son was born after Partition, once the family had put down roots in Simla. Sardar Mokshinder Singh was born in Simla’s Military Hospital on June 26, 1952. He was a young boy of 10 years when his father passed away. With his elder sister married at a young age, "Mokshi" spent most of his childhood and school years with his mother at Darshan Villa. Sardar Mokshinder Singh attended Bishop Cotton School in Simla, and went on to complete his Bachelor of Arts in English Honours at Saint Stephen’s College in Delhi. Despite considerable family pressure to join the Indian Administrative Service, as his father had done, Mokshinder decided to pursue his passion for business. In 1972, he was awarded a scholarship to study the airline business in Kansas City, Missouri, and he moved to the United States. On February 20, 1977, Mokshinder Singh was married to Sardarni Renu Pujji in Delhi. She is the daughter of Sardar Narindra Singh Pujji and Bibi Gursharan Kaur Pujji from Amritsar. She was raised in Delhi and studied at the Convent of Jesus & Mary in Delhi and, subsequently at Auckland House School in Simla. She had graduated with a Bachelor’s degree from Maharani College in Jaipur the year before their wedding. After the wedding, the couple moved to the Los Angeles area in California. There, Mokshinder Singh started his own business, Travel Promotions Incorporated in 1981. They acquired Sita World Travel in 1982. Over the next 30 years, he expanded the business to become a multinational company with offices in Toronto, Vancouver, Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, Houston, Mumbai and Delhi. He has become widely recognized as a leader in his field, and has risen the ranks to become President of Skal International, a prestigious trade organization of senior travel executives with over 19,000 members worldwide.
49: Like his ancestors before him, Mokshinder has also invested in land and property throughout Northern India and the Western United States. He owns homes in Calabasas, California; Big Bear, California; Paso Robles, California; Las Vegas, Nevada; and Gurgaon, India. He also owns business properties in several Southern California cities, Las Vegas, and in New Delhi. In 2008, Mokshinder and his wife completed construction on a new family home in Kasauli, India to replace what had been lost at Darshan Villa. Kasauli reminded Mokshinder of what his hometown of Simla, now overrun with people and pollution, used to feel like when he grew up there. The couple has three children: Priyneha Singh (1980), Simran Singh (1983) and Dilveer Singh (1985). | Mokshinder Singh built a new family home in Kasauli, Himachal Pradesh. | Delhi, India | Calabasas, California | Big Bear Lake, California | Paso Robles, California | Las Vegas, Nevada
50: Mokshinder Singh Vahali | Neha Singh Vahali | Renu Singh Pujji | Simran Singh Vahali | Dilveer Singh Vahali | Amit Arun Gohil | Akaal Singh Gohil | Shaan Singh Gohil | Vahali Family Tree
51: Sardar Dilveer Singh (Born 1985) | Sardar Dilveer Singh Vahali was born in Sylmar, California in 1985. Like his father before him, Dilveer attended Bishop Cotton School in Simla, India from 1995 – 1997. He completed high school at Harvard-Westlake School in Los Angeles and went on to study International Relations and Economics at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. During his time at university, Dilveer also studied abroad in Edinburgh, Scotland, where he worked for a Member of the Scottish Parliament. After university, Dilveer worked as an investment banker in Citigroup’s Corporate Mergers & Acquisitions division in New York City. His department helped navigate and restructure the bank during the economic recession of 2007. After leaving the bank, Dilveer came home to Los Angeles and continued the family tradition of purchasing real estate for investment. He was also able to pursue one of his passions and obtained his pilot’s certificate in 2010. At the time of writing, Dilveer is attending the University of Southern California as a candidate for both Juris Doctor (Law) and Masters of Business Administration degrees and is the president of his class. He plans on working as a corporate attorney and businessman in Los Angeles.
52: Sardarni Nripinder Kaur | Bibi Nripinder Kumari (known as Biba) was born in Wahali, but came to live in the newly formed India when she was just four years old. She was very close to her father, Sardar Darshan Singh, and helped her mother care for him during his long illness. She attended the Convent of Jesus & Mary and Saint Bede's College in Simla. Many of the stories told in this book are from her childhood memories. Biba was married to Sardar Manmohan Singh Uppal of Amritsar in 1962. The family owned large textile and embroidery mills in Chherta, Punjab. The couple had three children: Sardarni Reema [Satwant] Singh, Sardar Vikram Singh Uppal and Sardar Mandhir Singh Uppal. Vikram stayed in Amritsar to take over the family's business, while Mandhir moved to the United States for a career in finance. Vikram Singh has two daughters - Meher and Piya. Reema has two sons - Anandjit and Arjunjit. Mandhir has a daughter, Noor, and a son, Dayal. | (Born 1943) | he Vahali family crest has been in use since at least the time of Sardar Hari Singh. The center of the crest consists of the interlaced initials of the head of the family, surrounded by a sun. These are in turn flanked by two Sikh kirpans (swords). The crest incorporates both the Sikh phrase "Ek Onkaar" and the Hindu scripture "Om" at the very top. Inscribed in the banner are three Sanskrit words that translate as "Persevere Together Forever." | T
53: Neha & Simran Vahali | Neha (Priyneha), Sardar Mokshinder's eldest daughter, studied International Relations and British Literature at the University of Souther California. She graduated from Yale Law School in 2004, and went on to practice corporate law at Allen & Overy in New York City. During this time, she worked as part of the legal team that represented several Yemeni detainees at Guantanamo Bay. Inspired by this experience, she went on to obtain her Master's in Journalism from Columbia University in 2007. Neha spent several years working for the Sikh Coalition, a Sikh civil rights organization focused on discrimination against Sikhs in the United States. She assisted Sikh victims of hate crimes, school bullying and employment discrimination across the country. In 2003, Neha married Dr. Amit Arun Gohil from Guildford, UK. They moved to California's Bay Area in 2008, They have two children - Akaal Singh Gohil, born in 2010 and Shaan Singh Gohil, born in 2012. | Sardarni Simran Singh, Mokshinder Singh's second child, was born on November 2, 1983 in New Delhi, India. She attended Auckland House School in Shimla, like her sister and mother before her. She returned home to California to attend Harvard-Westlake School in Los Angeles, and went on to major in Psychology and Spanish at Emory University in Atlanta. During college, she studied abroad in Spain and participated in a medical humanitarian mission to Costa Rica. She also served as an EMT-Intermediate, providing emergency medical attention to patients in her area. After college, Simran went on to medical school at George Washington University, where she focused on international humanitarian aid. She organized a mobile medical clinic in Ecuador, providing healthcare to the underserved regions of the country. She also volunteered at a non-profit hospital in Almorha in the Himalayas and for the Red Cross in Graz, Austria. A the time of writing, Simran is an Emergency Room resident at George Washington Hospital in Washington, D.C.