The Jewel in the Queen’s Crown
In those days prior to the popularity and development of South African Diamond mines, the only place where one could find diamonds was in India. Almost all the big diamonds came out of some mine in India, mainly around Golconda and wound their way through the hands of various Indian rulers to now rest with Western or Russian owners. This then is the story of a stone that started out as a chunky lusterless lump, got hived down many times, by so called experts, to less than half its size and caused joy and grief to many of its owners.
As is stated by scientists, the formation of natural diamond requires very specific conditions—exposure of carbon-bearing materials to high pressure, but at a comparatively low temperature range between approximately 900–1300 °C. These conditions are apparently met in two places on Earth; in the lithospheric mantle below relatively stable continental plates, and at the site of a meteorite strike.Something happened in the Deccan plateau or under it many years ago. Perhaps it was a meteorite strike or there were some kind of volcanic activity that brought up the naturally produced stones in the Deccan mantle to a diggable depth, near the banks of Krishna or Godavari in Deccan, or somewhere near Golconda or Kollur in Guntur. But then again, Golconda was a diamond market and many a diamond found in other mines reached Golconda from afar, so we are still just guessing the origins of a stone that got named the Ko-hi-noor…
Symantaka Mani legend
There are speculations that the Syamantaka is the same as the Kohinoor, but historic descriptions allude to the former being a ruby and so the legend may not be quite fitting. The Syamantaka was supposed to produce for its owner about (8 baharas) or 1.5 tons of gold daily, so that would make the British queen rather wealthy, had the Kohinoor been symantaka, but then the fact is that she uses Tupperware for cereal storage (not a joke – see telegraph article hyperlinked )like most of us, not gold tins from the tons she should have obtained by now. Then again, how a ruby would create gold is another matter for alchemists to figure out.
The curse of the Kohinoor
Whoever wears the Kohinoor is doomed, said the ancient curse, and as we shall soon see, its successive royal owners suffered untimely death or lost their kingdoms. Majid Sheikh explains - It appears that when Maharajah Ranjit Singh got a hold of the `Koh-i-Noor`diamond on June 1, 1813, a pandit approached the maharajah and told him that if he kept the so called `Syamantaka Mani` diamond of Golconda, nothing but bad luck and ruin would come his way. He also claimed that the `Samantik Mani` was lucky only for women and that it was fatal for men. Now the religious around the king devised a relief. The Fakir Azizuddin the Sikh occult master and the `pandit` decided that the diamond must always be with a woman, and since then the diamond was kept in the name of a wife of the maharaja. But he was still not happy and though he did not want to part with it, perhaps he wanted to test the curse, he left a will that the diamond be returned to the Krishna Temple of Golconda after he was gone.
Karna’s talisman (Mahabharata Circa 3200BC )
Text Extracted from ‘great diamonds of the world’.
A still more obscure and extravagant tradition identifies this stone with one discovered first some 5,000 years ago, in the bed of the Lower Godavery River, near Masulipatam, and afterwards worn as a sacred talisman by Karna, Rajah of Anga, who figures in the legendary wars of the Mahabharata. That such a stone should have been found in such a place is likely enough, as it may well have been washed down to the delta of the Godavari, which flows through one of the oldest and richest diamantiferous regions in the world. But its identification with the stone under consideration rests on no solid foundation, nor will it readily be believed that a gem, which remained unnamed till the eighteenth century, could be unerringly traced back to pre-historic times. Between this period and 1304, we have no information, but the fact that it remained in the Deccan region till Khilji’s forces took it away to Delhi.
1304 – Alauddin Khilji
Alauddin Khilji organized the invasion of Warangal with Malik Kafur as the General of the Army leading the looting spree. I had covered Malik Kafur earlier in another article. . After a fierce battle, Malik Kafur was able to occupy the Warangal fort. King Prataprudradev of the Kakatiya dynasty signed a treaty with Alauddin Khilji. Khilji thus got his hands on the famous diamonds of Golconda.
Between this period and the Mughal accession, various speculative owners such as the Lodhi’s, the Malwa kingdom etc owned the diamond. Babur is the first to place on record the fact that the large diamond (we still do not know if it is the Kohinoor) previously belonged to a Malwa ruler.
Mughul period 1526 - 1739
In 1526 Babur defeated and killed Ibrahim Lodi, at the battle of Panipat and a person who was killed was Vikramaditya, the former Rajah of Gwalior, who incidentally fought on his side. Before going into battle, Vikramaditya consigned his jewels to the fort of Agra (why he would do that is an unanswered question). Among these jewels was a notable diamond. It has been considered possible that originally Alauddin may have rewarded Vikramaditya's ancestors, two faithful brothers, not only with Gwalior but also with the diamond. Baburnama states - Humayun is gifted the diamond by Vikramjit’s family. Baber records this as a diamond that came to the Lodhis after Alauddin Khilji acquired it. According to Baber, the diamond could meet the whole world’s expense for half a day.
Persia – 1547
Between now and the end of the Moghul period, it went out of Moghul hands and came back. While western authors do not quite account for this period of ownership, the story goes as follows (sourced from famousdiamonds.tripod.com)
mishquals, that was regarded to be worth the expenditure of the whole universe for 2½ days. However, he also said that Shah Tahmasp didn't think so highly of it and that afterwards he sent it to India as a present to Burhan Nizam, the Shah of Ahmednagar. But the emissary trusted with the diamond, Mehtar Jamal, may have failed to deliver the stone because Shah Tahmasp later sent out orders for his arrest. Nevertheless it is assumed that the diamond eventually reached its consignee in Golconda.
Emir Jemla 1652-56
A Persian gem merchant, Jemla became a trusted minister in the Golcondan court, however the king caught Jemla in an embarrassing and compromising situation with his own mother and Jemla fled with all he could get from the palace. He was destined to the Agra courts of Shahjehan. Jemla handed over the diamond he carried away to either the Mogul emperor Shahjehan or Aurangzeb his son. Where did these diamonds come from? From a goddesses eyes as he alluded? Was it just one diamond or did he give a second to Aurangzeb? We do not know. Let us assume Jemla gifted only one stone.
Shahjehan (confused in Tavernier’s accounts as Aurangzeb) wanted the large rough stone to be cut. The contract was given to an Italian gem cutter Hortensio Borgio. He destroyed the stone by hiving away nearly a half of it and earning the rulers wrath and heavy penalties. It is by now 280 carats and shaped like the half of a hens egg.
Confusion here for Baber’s stone was 6 or 8 mishkels heavy, and about 187 carats. If this cut mogul stone was different from the Kohinoor then the 280 carat great mogul gifted by Jemla vanished. Was it perhaps the other half of the gem Boragio cut? One stone became the 187 carat Kohinoor and the other the 280 carat great mogul. So that would mean the Baber diamond was a third stone….
Shajehan held on to his gems during his final days, but the supposedly austere Aurangzeb wanted it badly. During his last days, Shajahan threatened to powder his diamonds if he was not left alone. Aurangzeb used Jahanara to eventually corner the diamonds and after he laid his hands on it, she was found dead, poisoned.
The big stone, said to have been uncut, must be the Great Mogul which Aurangzeb showed Tavernier in 1665. But which is the diamond mentioned by Bernier as the one which Shah Jahan received from Mir Jumla, described as "that celebrated diamond which has been generally deemed unparalleled in size and beauty"? Is it Babur's diamond?
Famous diamonds explains - These and other questions were asked by several authorities following the arrival of the Koh-I-Noor in England in 1850. First there were people who believed that the Koh-I-Noor was the Great Mogul and that Babur's diamond was separate; secondly, there were people who believed that the Koh-I-Noor was in fact Babur's diamond; thirdly, there were others who identified the Koh-I-Noor with both Babur's diamond and the Great Mogul. We know for sure that there are three diamonds in existence which have a direct bearing upon the questions raised concerning the identity of the Great Mogul and Babur's diamond. They are the Orlov, weighing 189.62 metric carats, now in the Kremlin; the Darya-I-Nur, with an estimated weight of between 175 and 195 metric carats and presumed to still be among the Iranian Crown Jewels; and the Koh-I-Noor, whose former weight before it was recut was 186 carats, equivalent to 190.3 metric carats.
Finally on the topic of identifying these truly historic diamonds with gems that we know exist today, the suggestion that the Koh-I-Noor and the Great Mogul once formed parts of the same stone is impossible: the Koh-I-Noor is a white diamond where as the Orlov - if we assume it to be the Great Mogul (which it most likely is) - possesses a slight bluish-green tint. So, the Darya-I-Nur has been identified for sure as the largest fragment of the Great Table Diamond; a very strong case exists for identifying the Orlov as being cut from the
280-carat Great Mogul; and a less-strong, but nevertheless valid case can be made for identifying the Koh-I-Noor as Babur's diamond.
It continued to be in Mogul possession till 1739 when Persian Nadir Shah invaded Delhi. Mohammed Shah the mogul king parted ownership of the Kohinoor, getting tricked by Nadir Shah.
One story says that he carried away the Aurangzeb peacock throne which incidentally had Kohinoor as one of its eyes. But the other and more plausible story mentions that it was originally missing from the booty. Nadir had the palace staff interrogated and finally a lady in the harem divulged that Mohammed Shah carried it in his turban at all times. Nadir shah uses a ruse to obtain it. The interesting story goes thus – recounted form ‘The great diamonds’….
Nadir had now recourse to a very clever trick, in order to secure the coveted prize. Having already seized on the bulk of the Delhi treasures, and concluded a treaty with the ill-fated Mogul emperor, he had no further pretext for quarrelling, and could not therefore resort to violence in order to effect his purpose. But he skillfully availed himself of a time honoured Oriental custom, seldom omitted by princes of equal rank, on State occasions. At the grand ceremony a few days afterwards held in Delhi, for the purpose of re-instating Mohammed on the throne of his Tartar ancestors, Nadir suddenly took the opportunity of asking him to exchange turbans, in token of reconciliation, and in order to cement the eternal friendship that they had just sworn for each other. Taken completely aback by this sudden move, and lacking the leisure even for reflection, Mohammed found himself checkmated by his wily rival, and was fain, with as much grace as possible, to accept the insidious request. Indeed the Persian conqueror left him no option, for he quickly removed his own national sheepskin head-dress, glittering with costly gems, and replaced it with the emperor's turban. Maintaining the proverbial .self-command of Oriental potentates Mohammed betrayed his surprise and chagrin by no outward sign, and so indifferent did he seem to the exchange, that for a moment Nadir began to fear he had been misled. Anxious to be relieved of his doubts, he hastily dismissed the durbar with renewed assurances of friendship and devotion. Withdrawing to his tent he unfolded the turban, to discover, with selfish rapture, the long coveted stone. He hailed the sparkling gem with the exclamation, "Koh-i-Nur!" signifying in English, "Mountain of Light." Now finally the stone gets a formal name Ko-hi noor
Nadir Shah held on to it and but naturally suffered a cruel and destined death, after which the diamond went to his son Shah Rukh. Shah Rukh had a horrible time and was tortured mercilessly by Agha Mohammed Shah for the diamond, but did not part with it for a long time. In fact Shah rukh had handed it over to his Afghan supporter Ahmad Shah Durrani Abdali and thence to his son Timur after which the jewel finally ended up with Zaman Shah and later with his brother Shah Shuja.
The transfer between Shuja and Ranjith Singh the Sikh ruler is a well documented event, and involved much intrigue. However, before being captured, Shuja managed to send his family to Punjab to seek refuge in Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s palace in Lahore. Wafa Begum, Shuja Mirza’s wife, carried the Koh-i-noor diamond with her to Lahore.
Before Ranjit Singh died in 1839, his priests tried to get him to donate the diamond to the Temple of Jaggannath (as we read earlier). Apparently he agreed to donate it, but by this time he was unable to speak and the keeper of the royal treasure refused to release the stone, on the grounds that he has not received such orders.
In 1843 Dhulip Singh, the last of Ranjit Singh's sons, then a minor, became the recognized ruler of Punjab. Two Sikh Wars were fought during his reign, leading to the annexation of Punjab by the British. On March 29th, 1849, the British flag was hoisted on the citadel of Lahore and the Punjab was formally proclaimed to be part of the British Empire in India. One of the terms of the Treaty of Lahore was as follows: "The gem called the Koh-I-Noor which was taken from Shah Shuja-ul-Mulk by Maharajah Ranjit Singh shall be surrendered by the Maharajah of Lahore to the Queen of England."
I will not get into the story thence, about the unsatisfactory cutting of the diamond, the expenses, the reduction in size by another 80 carats and so on, but the stone perhaps overvalued then at £140,000 is finally in one place.
The "Koh-i-Nur" is now preserved in Windsor Castle. A model of the gem is kept in the jewel room of the Tower of London and Indians going to the Tower of London return with awe and much criticism, for they see a lot of things that were taken away by the British, from India.
There was only one living being that had the honor of wearing it on more occasions than even the queen. It was a horse named Asp-i-laila, and it has a remarkable story as well, as Majid Sheik explains in his book ‘Lahore tales without end’. More on that another day
This is available now - Ranjit and Laila