Sunday, May 6, 2007

The Koh-i-Noor Diamond

The Koh-i-Noor Diamond, set on the Crown of Queen Elizabeth I of England

The Koh-i-Noor (Persian: "Mountain of Light") is a 105 carat diamond that was once the largest known diamond in the world. Presently, it is estimated to be the costliest in the world. The Koh-i-Noor originated in India, and belonged to various Indian and Persian rulers who fought bitterly over it at various points in history. It 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. It was considered a priceless stone, and its owner often gained the respect not given to other rulers. It was the ultimate symbol of Indian wealth and power.
The Koh-i-Noor kept on passing from powerful rulers to more powerful rulers within India.
However, when the British conquered India in the 19th century, it was taken as a trophy of war, and became part of the British Crown Jewels.

Like all significant jewels, the Koh-i-Noor has its share of legends. It is reputed to bring misfortune or death to any male who wears or owns it. Conversely, it is reputed to bring good luck to its female owners.

Mughal Empire of India

The first confirmed note historically mentioning the Koh-i-Noor dates from 1526. The founder of the Mughal Empire in India - Babur - mentions in his memoirs the "Baburnama", that the stone had belonged to an unnamed Rajah(King) of Malwa in 1294. It was then acquired by the dynasties of the Delhi Sultanate(Muslim Sultans who had Delhi as the capital of their empire), finally coming into the possession of Babur himself in 1526 when he conquered Delhi. Babur held the stone's value to be such as to feed the whole world for two days. Despite some debate about the identity of Babur's Diamond, it is likely that it was the stone which later became known as Kohinoor.

Babur with the Koh-i-Noor

Babur ruled only for four years and died in 1530 after a brief illness. After his death the precious stone was passed on to his son Humayun and later on - to successive generations of Moghul rulers, including Shah Jahan - the builder of Taj Mahal, who set the priceless gem in his famous Peacock Throne as one of the peacock’s eyes. In 1719, Muhammad Shah was crowned the Mughal Emperor of Delhi, when he was barely seventeen years old, inheriting the Koh-i-Noor.

Nadir Shah

During the same period on the other side of the border, the fortunes of the Persian(now Iran) Empire were on the rise. Nadir Shah, a humble shepherd's son and now the King of Persia marched into Delhi and defeated the already crumbling Mughal Empire. However, the Koh-i-Noor was nowhere to be seen. He heard later that Muhammad Shah hid it in his own turban. Consequently, Nadir Shah ordered a grand ceremony to be held where he would hand over the control of the Mughal Empire back to Muhammad Shah. During the ceremony, he reminded Muhammad Shah of the ancient tradition of exchanging turbans between kings as a sign of friendship and fraternal ties, leaving the latter with no choice but to perform the gesture. Nadir Shah hurried into his apartments and eagerly undid the folds of the turban, where he found the hidden diamond. Wonderstruck at its size, beauty, and brilliance, he exclaimed: "Koh-i-noor" , which in Persian means "Mountain of Light", and the gem gained its present name. He then took it to Persia with him.

After the death of Nadir Shah, the Koh-i-noor ended in possession of one of his sons Shah Shuja. In the changing fortunes of war, Shah Shuja was defeated by the allies of his brother, Mahmud Shah. Shah Shuja, now the deposed ruler of Persia, managed to flee with the Koh-i-Noor diamond. In 1830, he then came to Lahore, the capital of Maharaja(King) Ranjit Singh, where he presented it to him. The Maharaja had the prized jewel fitted in his turban. Later he had it sewn into an armlet, which he wore on all the important state occasions, where it remained for twenty years.

In 1849, Maharaja Ranjit Singh's successor surrendered the Koh-i-noor diamond to the British under the terms of a treaty, at the end of the Second Anglo-Sikh War. The treaty specified that, "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."

In 1851, The Koh-i-noor was formally handed over to Queen Victoria in a private ceremony held in Buckingham Palace. In 1936, the stone was set in the Maltese Cross at the front of the crown made for Queen Elizabeth (the Queen Mother). Given the long and bloody history of the diamond, there are many countries with a claim on it. In 1976, Pakistan Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto asked British Prime Minister Jim Callaghan for the Koh-i-Noor to be returned to Pakistan. The prime minister replied to Mr Bhutto with a polite "No", and British diplomats in the countries likely to counter this claim were asked to 'kill the story'. Other claims have been made by India, the Taliban regime of Afghanistan, and Iran.

Today, the Koh-i-noor is kept with other precious objects of the British Crown in a round display case in the basement of the "Jewel House" of the Tower of London, far away from playing any role in intrigues, assassinations, battles, wars and lust - as had happened with its possessors in the past. It only casts its brilliance on the millions of tourists who, for the most part, are unaware of its long history in shaping the destinies of great men.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

interesting article. didnt know a piece of stone could do so much..