The Tribune - Spectrum

Sunday, July 9, 2000
Lead Article


The Koh-i-Noor is not known to have ever been bought or sold. It always changed hands as a result of conquests. This magnificent and matchless diamond passed from one conqueror to the other as a symbol of power and glory and was regarded as the greatest treasure in India ,whose value was beyond estimate. The history of this gem is linked with dynasties of various countries. The Koh-i-Noor was presented to Queen Victoria in London by the East India Company. During its long journey, this wonder diamond has remained and travelled in four countries — India, Persia, Afghanistan and England, says Gurmukh Singh Sandhu.

PERSIAN King Nadir Shah invaded India and defeated Mughal Emperor Muhammad Shah Rangila (1719-1748 A.D.) in the battle of Karnal near Delhi in January, 1739. He got possession of the Koh-i-Noor, the wonder diamond of the world, on May 1, 1739, in the Durbar Hall in Delhi. When Nadir Shah first saw this diamond, he was so dazzled by its size, its beauty and brilliance that he exclaimed in wonder Koh-i-Noor, which in Persian means "Mountain of light". Henceforth this gem came to be known by this name.

The Kohi-i-Noor has a legendary origin and Indian historians differ about it. According to N.B. Sen, the Kohi-i-Noor, the king of diamonds and the diamond of kings was found in the ancient mine of Kolar, situated on the right bank of the Krishna river in Karnataka. Others write that this famous diamond was either discovered about 5,000 years ago in the bed of the lower Godavari river, near Machlipatnam in Central India, or in the Golkunda mines in Andhra Pradesh or in the hills of Amravati in Maharashtra.

The weight of this fabulous gem in the Indian cutting was 186-1/16 of the old carats (191.10 metric carats), but after it was re-cut in London in 1852 AD, the weight was reduced to 108-1/3 metric carats. After the re-cut, the Kohi-i-Noor now weighs 108.93 carats, having lost 43 per cent of its original weight.

Mughal Emperor Zahiruddin Muhammad Babur valued the Koh-i-Noor at "Two-and- a -half days food of the entire world". But his son Humayun said, "Such precious gems cannot be obtained by purchases", either they fall to one by the arbitrament of the flashing sword, which is an expression of Divine Will, or else they come through the grace of mighty monarchs.

The Koh-i-Noor is not known to have ever been bought or sold. It always changed hands as a result of conquests. This magnificent and matchless diamond passed from one conqueror to the other as a symbol of power and glory and was regarded as the greatest treasure in India ,whose value was beyond estimate. The history of this gem is linked with dynasties of various countries . N.B. Sen writes that according to the Hindu science of precious stones, every stone does not suit every possessor. A diamond may bring prosperity to one and misery and agony to others. The Koh-i-Noor is traditionally supposed to bring good luck to a woman who wears it but ill-luck to a man.

  In 1850, the Koh-i-Noor was presented to Queen Victoria in London by the East India Company to mark its 250th anniversary. During its long journey, this wonder diamond remained and travelled in four countries — India, Persia, Afghanistan and England.

This peerless jewel remained in the possession of royal houses of Mughals for 101 years; Persians for 11 years; Nizam Shahi Dynasty of Ahmednagar and Qutab Shahi Dynasty of Golkunda in Deccan (India) for 109 years; Afghans in Kandahar and Kabul for 66 years and the Sikhs (in Lahore) for 36 years. The Kohinoor has been in the possession of the British for the last 150 years.

Legend has it that the Sun-God gave this gem to his disciple Satrajit, but Persain, the latter’s younger brother snatched it from him. Persain was killed by a lion in the forest and one Jamavant took this gem from the body of Persain and delivered it to Lord Krishna, who restored it to Satrajit. Later this jewel again came into the hands of Lord Krishna. Satrajit gave the hand of his daughter Satyabhama in marriage to Lord Krishna and this diamond was given in dowry. Lord Krishna, however, did not retain it and gave it back to the Sun-God .The Koh-i-noor travelled to numerous kings down the ages and it is believed that it came into the hands of Porus , the ruler of the Punjab, who it is believed, was the direct descendant of King Janmejya of Indraprastha. Alexander, the great Macedonian king, invaded India in 327-326 B.C. and defeated Porus, the king of Punjab. However, the Raja retained this diamond in his possession after a peace treaty in 325B.C. when the Macedonian king left India.

King Chandragupta Maurya (325-297 B.C.) became the next possessor of the Koh-i-noor . It passed into the hands of his grandson Ashoka who ruled over the country from 273-233 B.C. Later it slipped into the hands of Raja Samprati of Ujjain (Ashoka’s grand- son). Ujjain was ruled by various rulers and dynasties, and all of them retained the priceless gem . Raja Chandragupta, known as Vikramaditya and founder of the Vikrama era of Hindus which started from 58 BC, annexed Ujjain and acquired this gem. After his death, there was chaos in the country for a long period. This famous jewel remained in the custody of the Parmar dynasty of Malwa. Raja Ram Dev was the last ruler of this dynasty to possess it. It is said that this diamond remained for generations in the possession of Hindu rulers of Malwa before coming into the hands of Muslim rulers. Ala-ud-din Khilji (1296-1316A.D.) defeated Rai Ladhar Deo, the ruler of Malwa in 1306 A.D. and acquired the diamond. From this stage up to the time of Mughal Emperor Babur, the history of this precious stone has once more been lost in obscurity. The Khilji dynasty’s rule ended in 1320 A.D. There seems to be no record to show how this diamond slipped away from the hands of the Sultans of Delhi who ruled over the country from 1320 AD to 1526 AD after the Khilji dynasty.

Babur defeated Ibrahim Lodhi (1517-1526 AD) in the First Battle of Panipat on April 20, 1526. Ibrahim Lodhi and Raja Vikramaditya of Gwalior were slain in the battlefield. The family members of the late Raja, while trying to escape from the fort of Agra, were captured by the Mughal army. They were, however, permitted to leave by Prince Humayun. The family of the late Raja of Gwalior expressed their gratitude and made a voluntary offering of a mass of jewels, included the Koh-i-Noor, and other precious objects to Humayun. There is a mention of this legendary gem in Babur’s memoirs Babarnama .

The historical evidence of the Koh-i-Noor started from the year 1526 AD. History is also silent as to how this gem fell into the hands of the Rajas of Gwalior after the rule of Ala-ud-din Khilji.

After Babur's death, Hum-ayun became the proud possessor of the Koh-i-Noor. Sher Shah Suri, the Sur king, defeated Humayun in the battle of the Ganges or Bilgram near Kanauj on May 17, 1540. From this time, Humayun had to lead the life of a wanderer for about 15 years from 1540 to 1555 AD. In 1544, he took refuge in Persia, where he was received by Shah Tehmasp of Iran. The Mughal emperor presented to the Shah, as a token to his gratitude, a number of precious objects, including the Koh-i-Noor. From 1544 to 1547, the Koh-i-Noor remained in the possession of Shah Tehmasp of Iran.

The Shia Muslim Sultans of Deccan, Ahmednagar, Golkunda and Bijapur regarded the King of Persia as their religious head. The rulers of these principalities: Burahan Nizam Shah (1508-1553 AD), Jamshid Qutab Shah ( 1543-1550 AD) of Golkunda and Ibrahim Adil Shah (1535-1557 AD) of Bijapur were Shia Muslims and as such they were always harassed by the Sunni Muslim Emperor of Delhi. Shah Tehmasp of Iran sent the Koh-i-Noor along with other precious gifts to Burhan Nizam Shah of Ahmednagar (Deccan). It is believed that this precious stone remained in the possession of the Nizam Shahi dynasty of Ahmednagar and the Qutb Shah dynasty of Golkunda in the Deccan for a period of 109 years from 1547 to 1656 A.D.

The Koh-i-Noor passed on to Mir Jumla, former Prime Minister of Sultan Abdula Qutab Shah (Accession: 1611AD) of Golkunda , who presented it to the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan (deposed 1658) in Diwan-i-Khas on July 8, 1656. On this occasion, " Mir Jumla presented Shah Jahan with that celebrated diamond which has been generally deemed unparalleled in size and beauty", William Jessop, an agent of the East India Company at Surat, who was at that time present at Agra, remarked that "Mir Jumla, upon his arrival into the presence of the King, was courteously received by him, entertained and made Dewan." Emperor Shah Jahan was deposed on July 31, 1658. He was succeeded by his third son Aurangzeb (1658-1707), who became the proud possessor of this diamond. Jean Baptiste Tavernier had the chance of seeing and examining this peerless stone from Emperor Aurangzeb on November 2, 1665. After Aurangzeb, this diamond remained consigned into the coffers of the Mughal treasury from 1707 to 1739 A.D. Muhammad Shah Rangila (1719-1748) used to carry this wonder diamond with him in his turban.

Nadir Shah ,the ruler of Persia, invaded India, defeated Mughal Emperor Muhammad Shah Rangila in the battle of Karnal and occupied the fort of Delhi on March 9, 1739. The Mughal king had to part with his crown jewels and other precious objects. But the coveted diamond was in the turban of the emperor. Nadir Shah had definite information that the Mughal king wore this wonder gem and carried it with him in his turban. Before his return journey to Persia, Nadir Shah exchanged turbans with the Mughal emperor as a sign of friendship and fraternal ties in the Durbar Hall on May 1, 1739, and took the Koh-i-Noor away by a trick. Nadir Shah returned to his country on May 5, 1739, and had this diamond in his possession till his death in 1747.

Nadir Shah was assassinated by Muhammad Quli Khan and Salih Khan of the Persian army on June 8, 1747, in Fatehabad. Ahmad Shah Abdali (or Durrani), his Afghan general, rushed to the royal camp to see the body of his slain master and before leaving the royal tent, he managed to remove the seal of Nadir Shah from his finger, and take possession of the Koh-i-Noor diamond and other precious objects.

Ahmad Shah Durrani died on October 23, 1772, in the village of Murgha in the Suleiman mountains. After his death, the Koh-i-Noor gem fell into the hands of Timur Shah, his son, who succeeded him. Timur Shah died on May 20, 1793, and this jewel passed to his son Zaman Shah and eventually to Timur Shah’s youngest son Shah Shuja-ul-Mulk who defeated his half-brother Mahmud and occupied the throne of Afghanistan on July 13, 1803. Mahmud defeated Shah Shuja at Kandahar in 1810 and at Akora in 1811, made him a prisoner and handed him over to Ata Muhammad Khan, the Governor of Kashmir. However, Shah Shuja had succeeded in sending his family to Punjab in November, 1811, under the protection of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, the Sikh ruler of Punjab. The Koh-i-Noor was in the possession of Queen Wafa Begum, wife of Shah Shuja-ul-Mulk, in Lahore.

On the request of Queen Wafa Begum, Maharaja Ranjit Singh secured the release of Shah Shuja-ul-Mulk, the former King of Afghanistan from the prison of Ata Muhammad Khan. The Shah was brought to Lahore by the Sikh army where he joined his family. Both Shah-Shuja-ul-Mulk and his wife invited Maharaja Ranjit Singh to their residence in Lahore, and handed over the Koh-i-Noor to him on June 1,1813. After Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s death, this jewel passed on to his successors.

Maharaja Duleep Singh was the last Indian sovereign to possess the Koh-i-Noor . After the British annexed Punjab in 1849, the 11- year - old maharaja was deposed, deprived of his crown, kingdom and fortune. He surrendered the Koh-i-Noor to the Queen of England as per terms of the treaty. Lord Dalhousie (1848-1856 AD), Governor- General of India, received the Koh-i-Noor from one Dr Login . Lord Dalhousie himself took this gem from Lahore to Bombay, from where it was taken to England.

The Koh-i-Noor left the shores of India on April 6, 1850, and on reaching London on July 2, 1850, it was handed over to the Board of Directors of the East India Company. Sir J.W. Logg, the Deputy Chairman of the East India Company, presented it to Queen Victoria . The queen recorded in her journal: "The jewels are truly magnificent. They had also belonged to Ranjit Singh and had been found in the treasury of Lahore. The very large pearls, 224 in number , strung in four rows are quite splendid and a very beautiful ornament.... I am very happy that the British Crown will possess these jewels for I shall certainly make them Crown Jewels".


The Mountain of Light

The crown of Queen Elizabeth, which carried the Koh-i-Noor (Mountain of Light) is now in the jewel house of the Tower of London. According to the official Buckingham Place website, the crown was created for Queen Elizabeth when she was crowned Queen Consort in 1937. It has over 2,800 diamonds. The main diamond set in the front is the Koh-i-Noor.

When Punjab was annexed, the diamond was given to Punjab's Chief Commissio-ner, John Lawrence who left it lying in his waistcoat pocket for almost six weeks.

The legend

Legend, however, has it that the Lahore Durbar Jewels, of which the Koh-i-Noor was a part, spell doom because of the curse placed on them by Guru Gobind Singh. The legend says that he declared that whoever removed them from their original hiding place would suffer untold miseries for generations.

Maharaja Ranjit Singh disregarded the warning and died soon afterwards in 1839. His empire was annexed by the British and all his eight grandchildren died without heirs.

Similar stories surround the Koh-i-Noor which has brought ill-luck to whoever has possessed it through history.

Maharaja Ranjit Singh's treasure trove, known as the Lahore Durbar Jewels, was discovered accidentally in a Swiss bank vault in Zurich around three years ago.

The legendary Koh-i-Noor before and after it was cutThe jewel box which belonged to Catherine Duleep Singh, one of several daughters of Maharaja Duleep Singh, the last Sikh emperor, turned up in the list of 1,872 'dormant' accounts reported to be held by Jewish victims of the Holocaust. Forty of the account holders, including Catherine Duleep Singh of Penn in Bucks, were from England.

Historians believe that the box may contain the missing Durbar Jewels and documents proving whether the Koh-i-Noor — like countless other treasures from around world — was obtained by the British through trickery, and chicanery.

News of the safe deposit discovery led to a number of Sikhs claiming to be Ranjit Singh's heirs from secret liaisons, and staking their right to the unclaimed treasure.

Should India get the diamond?

India has been campaigning for the return of the jewels, precious manuscripts, paintings etc., confiscated and transported to England during the colonial rule. British High Cimmissioner to India, Rob Young, has ruled out the possibility of the Koh-i-Noor diamond being returned to India any time soon.

"This question (of retuning the Koh-i-Noor) has been discussed so many times. I can only say that nothing is happening," said Young, who was in Chandigarh recently to inaugurate a library at the British Information Centre.