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SOCIETY - KOHINOOR

 

Koh-i-noor, a Mountain of Light

The anniversary of Koh-i-noor reaching the shores of England draws near again. A brilliant diamond, the 'Koh-i-noor’s trail is littered by misery, unhappiness and war. 

BY HARPREET KAUR

There was a period when Indian diamonds were very famous the world over. These included the Koh-i-noor, Orlov, the Great Moghul, Darya-i-noor, Indore pears, Shah and Arcots. These were all part of the treasure houses of the great emperors of India. Today, they are all in the hands of outsiders.

The legendary Koh-i-noor has been in the eye of the storm ever since it left the hands of its original owners - a diamond which was never bought or sold, but changed many hands. Koh-i-noor has left a trail that speaks of greed, power, murder, mayhem and unhappiness. 

According to all references, Koh-i-noor was never that great to look at in its early days. It was just another diamond that was dull, non-sparkling and a little yellow in appearance. 

Many legends say that the Koh-i-noor was mined in India, and at least 4,000 years old. It received a mention in the 1300s, when it was named in the Baburnama. One account states that Babur got his hands on the diamond in Gujarat; another says he got it in the Deccan. But when Babur came to Agra in May 1526, the ruler Vikramaditya most likely gave him the great diamond. There is also evidence that his son Humayun carried a large diamond that his father had handed back to him at Agra and was known as Babur’s diamond for the next 200 years. 

There are still so many unresolved questions surrounding the precious stone. Many believe that the Koh-i-noor was also the Great Mogul and that Babur's diamond was separate; others say the Koh-i-noor and Babur’s diamond were one and same, while the rest identified it with both Babur's diamond and the Great Mogul. Information gathered over the years shows that in fact, three diamonds existed: - the Great Mogul – was the Orlov, weighing 189.62 metric carats, in Kremlin; and Babur's diamond – was the Darya-i-noor, weight 175 gm and 195 metric carats, the Iranian Crown Jewels; and the Koh-i-noor re-cut, Crown Jewels, England. 

When the peacock throne was handed over to Nadir Shah, the hiding place of this diamond was given away. A member of Mohammad Shah’s harem gave away the hiding place of Koh-i-noor. It is said that the Shah kept it hidden in his turban. So, Nadir Shah devised a plan - he ordered a grand feast to coincide with the restoration of Mohammed Shah to his throne. During the feast Nadir Shah suddenly proposed an exchange of turbans, a sign of brotherly ties and eternal friendship. Mohammed Shah was hardly likely to resist. After the exchange, Nadir Shah entered his private apartment only at night, where he unfolded the turban and found the diamond concealed within. When he set his eyes on it, he exclaimed "Koh-i-noor", meaning "Mountain of Light". 

The next sixty years of its history are the most violent and bloodstained. The final owner was Maharaja Duleep Singh, son of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, in the backdrop of the two Sikh Wars leading to the annexation of the Punjab by the British. The hoisting of British flag was on March 29th, 1849 Lahore where Punjab was formally proclaimed a part of the British Empire in India. One of the terms of the Treaty of Lahore was:- "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." 

Dr Sir John Login was entrusted with two charges: to take the Koh-i-noor out of the Toshakhana (the jewel house), and also the guardsmanship of the young Duleep Singh. It was formally handed over to the Punjab government of Sir Henry Lawrence (1806-1857), his younger brother John Lawrence (afterwards Lord Lawrence, the man who in February of 1859 would break ground on the future Lahore railroad station), and C.C. Mausel. 

The Koh-i-noor sailed from Bombay in H.M.S. Medea. It was put in an iron box and kept in a dispatch box and deposited in the Government Treasury. For security reasons, this piece of news was suppressed, even among officers of the Treasury - and withheld from Commander Lockyer, the ship's captain. HMS Medea's voyage turned out to be a perilous one - cholera broke out on board in Mauritius and the local people demanded its departure. They asked their governor to open fire and destroy the vessel if it did not respond. After leaving Mauritius, a severe gale hit the vessel that lasted for about twelve hours. They reached Plymouth, England, where the passengers and the mail were unloaded, but not the Koh-i-noor, which was forwarded to Portsmouth. 

From there, the two officers took the diamond to the East India House, handing it over to the Chairman and Deputy Chairman of the company. 

The stone
Prince Albert (Prince Consort) and Sebastian Garrard stated that the Koh-i-noor was badly cut, it is rose-not-brilliant-cut. It was decided to seek the advice of practical and experienced diamond cutters. A small steam engine was set up at Garrard's shop, while two gentlemen, Messrs Coster, Mr. Voorzanger and Mr. Fedder, travelled to London to undertake the re-cutting of the diamond. The Koh-i-noor was embedded in lead, two weeks later, after examining the stone. Mitchell thought that it had lost nearly all its yellow colour and become much whiter. The re-cutting took 38 days and cost £8000 ($40,000). The final result was an oval brilliant diamond weighing 108.93 metric carats, which meant a loss of weight of just under 43 per cent. Its was now in stellar brilliant-cut, possessing the regular 33 facets, including the table, while the pavilion has eight more facets than the regular 25 bringing the total number of facets to 66. 

In 1853, it was mounted on a magnificent tiara for the Queen, which contained more than two thousand diamonds. Five years later, Queen Victoria ordered a new regal circlet for the diamond. In 1911, Garrards made a new crown that Queen Mary wore for the coronation - it contained diamonds, among them the Koh-i-noor. In 1937, this was transferred to the crown made for Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, based on Queen Victoria's regal circlet and is set in a Maltese Cross at the front of the crown. 

The controversy
The 20th century saw a war of words over Koh-i-noor and its rightful ownership. In 1947, the government of India asked for the return of the diamond. Also, the Congress Ministry which ruled Orissa staked claim to the stone, saying it belonged to the Lord Jagannath. Ranjit Singh's treasurer mentioned that it was the property of their estate. Pakistan's claim to the diamond was disputed by India. Shortly thereafter, a major newspaper in Teheran stated that the gem should to be returned to Iran. 

Sir Olaf has pointed out that the Koh-i-noor had been in Mogul possession in Delhi for 213 years, in Afghan possession in Kandahar and Kabul for 66 years and in British possession for 127 years. Historically, it maybe difficult to pass judgement on the validity of the various claims, but on the other hand, from a gemological aspect, as a paper report said, the Indian claim is the most valid because it was in that country that it was mined. 

The legend 
Legend goes that Sun God gave this gem to his disciple Satrajit, but his younger brother Persain snatched it from him. A lion in the forest killed Persain and 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 back into the hands of Lord Krishna as dowry when Satrajit gave the hand of his daughter Satyabhama in marriage to him. Lord Krishna gave it back to the Sun God .The Koh-i-noor came into the hands of numerous rulers till it was possessed by Porus, the king of Punjab, who retained the diamond after a peace treaty in 325 BC when Alexander left India. 

Chandragupta Maurya (325-297 B.C.) became the next possessor and passed it on to his grandson Ashoka who ruled from 273-233 B.C. Later it slipped into the hands of Raja Samprati of Ujjain (Ashoka’s grandson). This jewel remained in the custody of Ujjain and the Parmar dynasty of Malwa. When Ala-ud-din Khilji (1296-1316A.D.) defeated Rai Ladhar Deo, the ruler of Malwa in 1306 AD, he acquired the diamond. From this stage up to the time of Mughal Emperor Babur, the history of this precious stone is lost once more. Koh-i-noor comes to light again in year 1526.

Humayun is said to have given the stone to the Shah of Persia for giving him refuge after he lost to Sher Shah. From 1544 to 1547, the Koh-i-noor remained in the possession of Shah Tehmasp of Iran. The Shah sent the Koh-i-noor along with other precious gifts to Burhan Nizam Shah of Ahmednagar (Deccan) for the rulers of the Deccan - Ahmednagar, Golkunda and Bijapur regarded the King of Persia as their religious head. This 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. How it came back to the Mughals is another gap in history. 

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 got hold of Koh-i-noor when he ransacked Delhi in the 1700s and it went to his successors, landing in the hands of the Afghan ruler Shah Shuja who handed it to Maharaja Ranjit Singh in 1813.

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.... I am very happy that the British Crown will possess these jewels for I shall certainly make them Crown Jewels".

Many still await the many treasures which were “stolen” by the British Raj, and no one knows how long the wait will be. But today, if you happen to visit London, please make a stopover at Tower of London and look at the Crown Jewels for the Queen and the Koh-i-noor placed in her crown up front inside a Maltese cross.

BY HARPREET KAUR


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