The Kōh-i Nūr (Hindi: कोहिनूर, Persian/Urdu: کوہ نور, Telugu: కోహినూరు) which means "Mountain of Light" in Persian, also spelled Koh-i-noor, Koh-e Noor or Koh-i-Nur, is a 105 carat (21.6 g) diamond (in its most recent cut) that was once the largest known diamond in the world. The Kōh-i Nūr originated in the state of Andhra Pradesh in India along with its double, the Darya-i-noor (the "Sea of Light"). It has belonged to various Hindu, Mughal, Persian, Afghan, Sikh and British rulers who fought bitterly over it at various points in history and seized it as a spoil of war time and time again. It was finally seized by the East India Company and became part of the British Crown Jewels when Queen Victoria was proclaimed Empress of India in 1877. History Koh-i-Noor originated in the Guntur region of the Hindu Kakatiya kingdom, in what is now the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, one of the world's earliest diamond producing regions. This region was the only known source for diamonds until 1730 when diamonds were discovered in Brazil. The term "Golconda" diamond has come to define diamonds of the finest white colour, clarity and transparency. They are very rare and highly sought after.
The diamond was mined in the Kollur mines near the village Kollur in the present day Guntur district of Andhra Pradesh. The diamond became the property of Kakatiya kings who installed it as a Goddess's eye in a temple. The Khilji dynasty at Delhi ended in 1320 AD. and Ghiyas ud din Tughluq Shah I ascended the Delhi throne. Tughlaq sent his commander Ulugh Khan in 1323 to defeat the Kakatiya king Prataparudra. Ulugh Khan’s raid was repulsed but he returned in a month with a larger and determined army. The unprepared army of Kakatiya was defeated. The loot, plunder and destruction of Orugallu (present day Warangal), the capital of Kakatiya Kingdom, continued for months. Loads of gold, diamonds, pearls and ivory were carried away to Delhi on elephants, horses and camels. The Koh-i-noor diamond was part of the bounty. From then onwards, the stone passed through the hands of successive rulers of the Delhi sultanate, finally passing to Babur, the first Mughal emperor, in 1526. The first confirmed historical mention of the Koh-i-noor by an identifiable name dates from 1526. Babur mentions in his memoirs, the Baburnama, that the stone had belonged to an unnamed Rajah of Malwa in 1294. Babur held the stone's value to be such as to feed the whole world for two and a half days. The Baburnama recounts how Rajah of Malwa was compelled to yield his prized possession to Ala ud din Khilji; it was then owned by a succession of dynasties that ruled the Delhi sultanate, finally coming into the possession of Babur himself in 1526, following his victory over the last ruler of that kingdom. However, the Baburnama was written c.1526-30; Babur's source for this information is unknown, and he may have been recounting the hearsay of his day and mixed up the Emperor of Warangal with the Rajah of Malwa. He did not at that time call the stone by its present name, but despite some debate about the identity of 'Babur's Diamond' it seems likely that it was the stone which later became known as Koh-i-noor.
Both Babur and Humayun mention very clearly in their memoirs the origins of 'Babur's Diamond'. This diamond was with the Kachhwaha rulers of Gwalior and then inherited by the Tomara line. The last of Tomaras, Vikramaditya, was defeated by Sikandar Lodi, Sultan of Delhi and became Delhi sultanate pensioner and resided in Delhi. On the defeat of Lodis and replacement by Mughals, his house was looted by the Mughals and Prince Humayun interceded and restored his property even allowing him to leave Delhi and take refuge in Mewar at Chittaur. In return for Humayun's kindness, one of the diamonds, most likely the Koh-i-noor, in possession of Prince Vikaramaditya was given to Humayun in gratitude. Humayun had much bad luck throughout his life. Sher Shah Suri, who defeated Humayun, died in the flames of a burst cannon. Humayun's son, Akbar, never kept the diamond with himself and later only Shah Jahan took it out of his treasury. Akbar's grandson, Shah Jahan was overthrown by his son, Aurangazeb,
Tavernier's illustration of the Koh-I-Noor under different angles
Stone of the emperors
The Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan, famous for building the Taj Mahal, had the stone placed into his ornate Peacock Throne. His son, Aurangazeb, imprisoned his ailing father at nearby Agra Fort. Legend has it that he had the Koh-i-Noor positioned near a window so that Shah Jahan could see the Taj only by looking at its reflection in the stone. Aurangazeb later brought it to his capital Lahore and placed it in his own personal Badshahi Mosque. There it stayed until the invasion of Nader Shah in 1739 and the sacking of Agra and Delhi. Along with the Peacock Throne, he also carried off the Koh-i-Noor to Persia in 1739. It was allegedly Nader Shah who exclaimed Koh-i-Noor! when he finally managed to obtain the famous stone, and this is how the stone gained its present name. There is no reference to this name before 1739.
The valuation of the Koh-i-Noor is given in the legend that one of Nader Shah's consorts supposedly said, "If a strong man should take five stones, and throw one north, one south, one east, and one west, and the last straight up into the air, and the space between filled with gold and gems, that would equal the value of the Koh-i-noor."
After the assassination of Nader Shah in 1747, the stone came into the hands of Ahmed Shah Abdali of Afghanistan. In 1830, Shah Shuja, the deposed ruler of Afghanistan, managed to flee with the Kohinoor diamond. He then came to Lahore where it was given to the Sikh Maharaja (King) of Punjab, Ranjit Singh; in return for this Maharaja Ranjit Singh won back the Afghan throne for Shah Shuja-ul-Mulk.
Passage from India
Maharaja Ranjit Singh was crowned ruler of Punjab and willed the Koh-i-noor to the Jagannath Temple in Orissa from his deathbed in 1839. But after his death the British administrators failed to execute his will. On 29 March 1849, the British raised their flag 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, the legal agreement formalising this occupation, was as follows:
Lithograph by Emily Eden showing one of the favourite horses of Maharaja Ranjit Singh with the head officer of his stables and his collection of jewels, including the Koh-i-noor.
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.
The Governor-General in charge of the ratification for this treaty was Lord Dalhousie. More than anyone, Lord Dalhousie was responsible for the British acquiring the Koh-i-Noor, in which he continued to show great interest for the rest of his life. Dalhousie's work in India was primarily aimed at appropriation of Indian assets for the use of the British East India Company. His acquisition of the diamond, amongst many other things, was criticized even by some of his contemporaries in Britain. Although some suggested that the diamond should have been presented as a gift to the Queen, it is clear that Dalhousie felt strongly that the stone was a spoil of war, and treated it accordingly. Writing to his friend Sir George Cooper in August of 1849, he stated:
The Court [of the East India Company] you say, are ruffled by my having caused the Maharajah to cede to the Queen the Koh-i-noor; while the 'Daily News' and my Lord Ellenborough [Governor-General of India, 1841-44] are indignant because I did not confiscate everything to her Majesty... [My] motive was simply this: that it was more for the honour of the Queen that the Koh-i-noor should be surrendered directly from the hand of the conquered prince into the hands of the sovereign who was his conqueror, than it should be presented to her as a gift—which is always a favour—by any joint-stock company among her subjects. So the Court ought to feel.
Dalhousie arranged that the diamond should be presented by Maharaja Ranjit Singh's young successor, Duleep Singh, to Queen Victoria in 1850. Duleep Singh was the youngest son of Ranjit Singh and his fifth wife Maharani Jind Kaur. Duleep, aged 13, travelled to the United Kingdom to present the jewel. The presentation of the Koh-i-Noor to Queen Victoria was the latest in the long history of transfers of the stone as a spoil of war. Duleep Singh had been placed in the guardianship of Dr Login. Login was a surgeon in the British Army who served in West Bengal, East India for some years and was a native of Southend, Stromness, Orkney Islands, Scotland. His family had run Login's Inn in Stromness since the early 19th century. Dr Login, his wife Lena and the young Duleep Singh travelled to England for the purpose of presenting the Koh-i-Noor diamond to Queen Victoria.
In due course the Governor-General received the Koh-i-Noor from Login, who had been appointed Governor of the Citadel, the Royal Fort at Lahore, with the Royal Treasury, which Login valued at almost £1,000,000 (£81.6 million as of 2011), excluding the Koh-i-Noor, on 6 April 1848, under a receipt dated 7 December 1849, in the presence of the members of the Board of Administration—the local resident H.M. Lawrence, C.C. Mansel, John Lawrence, younger brother of H.M. Lawrence, and of Sir Henry Elliot, Secretary to the Government of India. The jewel was then sent to England in the care of John Lawrence, and C.C. Mansel for presentation to Queen Victoria, sailing from Bombay in HMS Medea under strict security arrangements.
The ship had a difficult voyage—an outbreak of cholera on board when the ship was in Mauritius had the locals demanding its departure and they asked their governor to open fire and destroy the vessel if it did not respond. Shortly thereafter the vessel was hit by a severe gale that blew for some twelve hours. Legend in the Lawrence family has it that during the voyage, John Lawrence left the jewel in his waistcoat pocket when it was sent to be laundered, and it was returned promptly by the steward who found it.
On arrival in Britain the passengers and mail were unloaded in Plymouth, but the Koh-i-noor stayed on board until the ship reached Portsmouth, from where Lawrence and Mansel took the diamond to the East India House in the City of London and passed it into the care of the Chairman and Deputy Chairman of the EIC. The handing over of the Koh-i-Noor diamond to The Queen on 3 July 1850 as part of the terms of the conclusion of the Sikh War also coincided with the 250th anniversary of the EIC. Dr Login received a knighthood in 1854 from Queen Victoria and was known as Sir John Spencer Login (he had added the 'r' to his middle name to change it from Spence to Spencer). The diamond is now set into the crown worn by the female consort to Monarch of the United Kingdom, and is currently in the Crown of Queen Elizabeth (the late Queen Mother).
The curse of the Koh-i-Noor
It is believed that the Koh-i-Noor carries with it a curse and only when in the possession of a woman will the curse not work. All the men who owned it have either lost their throne or had other misfortunes befall them. Queen Victoria is the only reigning monarch to have worn the gem. According to the legend, if the monarch is a male, the stone is passed to his spouse.
The possibility of a curse pertaining to ownership of the diamond dates back to a Hindu text relating to the first authenticated appearance of the diamond in 1306: "He who owns this diamond will own the world, but will also know all its misfortunes. Only God, or a woman, can wear it with impunity." All the owners of the Koh-i-noor have had a tragedy befall them.
The Great Exhibition
The British public were given a chance to see the Koh-i-Noor when the Great Exhibition was staged in Hyde Park, London in 1851. The correspondent of The Times reported:
The Koh-i-Noor is at present decidedly the lion of the Exhibition. A mysterious interest appears to be attached to it, and now that so many precautions have been resorted to, and so much difficulty attends its inspection, the crowd is enormously enhanced, and the policemen at either end of the covered entrance have much trouble in restraining the struggling and impatient multitude. For some hours yesterday there were never less than a couple of hundred persons waiting their turn of admission, and yet, after all, the diamond does not satisfy. Either from the imperfect cutting or the difficulty of placing the lights advantageously, or the immovability of the stone itself, which should be made to revolve on its axis, few catch any of the brilliant rays it reflects when viewed at a particular angle.
The Crown Jewels
Disappointment in the appearance of the stone was not uncommon. In 1852, in Amsterdam under the personal supervision of Victoria's consort, Prince Albert, and the technical direction of James Tennant, the diamond was cut from 186 1/16 carats (37.21 g) to its current 105.602 carats (21.61 g) to increase its brilliance. Albert consulted widely, took enormous pains, and spent some £8,000 on the operation, which reduced the weight of the stone by a huge 42 percent—but nevertheless Albert was dissatisfied with the result. The stone then was mounted in a brooch which Queen Victoria often wore. It was kept at Windsor Castle rather than with the rest of the crown jewels at the Tower of London.
After Queen Victoria's death it was set in Queen Alexandra's brand-new diamond crown, with which she was crowned at the coronation of her husband, King Edward VII. Queen Alexandra was the first Queen Consort to use the diamond in her crown, followed by Queen Mary and then Queen Elizabeth.
Present claims to ownership of the Koh-i-noor
India has claimed the diamond and have said that the Kohinoor was taken away illegally and it should be given back to India. When Elizabeth II made a state visit to India marking the 50th anniversary of Independence in 1997, many Indians in India and Britain including several Indian MPs demanded the return of the diamond. In a July 2010 interview, British Prime Minister, David Cameron, stated that the gem could not be returned to India as the move would set an unworkable precedent: "If you say yes to one you suddenly find the British Museum would be empty." Therefore, for the present moment, the United Kingdom has unilaterally decided to keep the diamond in Britain, even though it was procured via illegitimate means.
Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan has also officially claimed it independently and applied pressure to Britain to give it to them.
The gem remains the property of the British Crown and is kept in HM Tower of London. It is a popular attraction. Legends
The origin of the diamond is unclear. According to some sources, the Koh-i-Noor was originally found more than 5000 years ago, and is mentioned in ancient Sanskrit writings under the name Syamantaka. According to some Hindu scriptural accounts, Lord Krishna obtained the Koh-i-Noor from Jambavan, whose daughter Jambavati later married Krishna. Krishna was blamed for the theft of the diamond from Satrajit's dead brother, killed by a lion (itself having been killed by Jambavan). Satrajit accused Krishna of having killed his brother. Krishna fought a fierce battle with Jāmbavān to restore his reputation and gave the jewel back to Satrajit. In shame, Satrajit offered Krishna his daughter, as well as the Koh-i-Noor. Krishna accepted his daughter Satyabhāmā, but refused to take the Syamantaka [Koh I Nor].
Comments are closed for this blog post