Aura & mystique of Koh-i-Noor
ACCORDING to a news item published on 26 August 1997 a penniless Indian Beant Singh has written to the British Prime Minister claiming to be the sole owner of the Koh-i-Noor.
He claims to be the only survivor of Prince Daleep Singh, the Sikh prince who had been tricked into presenting the Diamond to Queen Victoria more than a hundred years ago.
The Koh-i-Noor is once again a subject of controversy. Indian politicians, especially the Sikh leaders, are demanding the return of the Diamond.
In Pakistan a similar campaign was launched in the early 1970’s asking the British Government for the return of the Koh-i-Noor to Pakistan.
What are the historical facts? Who is the rightful owner of the Diamond? Unfortunately, there are no definite answers but it is possible and educating to travel back in time to unravel the mystery of the Koh-i-Noor.
In 1738-9 Nadir Shah’s invasion proved to be the proverbial last nail in the coffin of the already decaying and tottering Mughal Empire.
Nadir Shah crossed the Indus at Attock in December 1738 and occupied Lahore with almost no resistance from any quarter. He left Lahore and reached Sirhind on 16 February 1739.
At this stage Nadir Shah was offered a sum of twenty million rupees to turn back without attacking Delhi.
Nadir Shah was after greater booty and glory. On 12 March 1739, he marched into Delhi and the Khutba was read in his name.
On 13 March 1739, some Persian soldiers were killed as a result of a dispute with the locals. Nadir Shah himself was shot at from a rooftop in a Delhi street.
He now ordered a general massacre and pillage of the city of Delhi. By the end of the day 30,000 citizens had paid with their life the cost of Nadir Shah’s anger and outrage.
After the slaughter, loot, plunder and rape Nadir Shah now decided to levy an indemnity on the nobles and the Mughal treasury of Delhi.
The monetary value of Nadir Shah’s forced indemnity and reparations is beyond imagination and calculations.
He returned to Iran with a fabulous treasure trove of pearls, diamonds and sapphires including the priceless peacock throne and the fabulous Koh-i-Noor diamond.
So great was the value of Nadir Shah’s loot that on return to Iran he remitted all taxes for a period of three years.
Koh-i-Noor means “The Mountain of Light” and this is the stone with the longest recorded history.
All the authentic sources of the Mughal period for some mysterious reasons do not shed any light on the origin or early history of this historical, priceless and mysterious gem.
The source material for the Mughal period is really extensive in the form of books such as Tuzk-i-Babri, Tarikh-i-Humayoun, Humayoun Nama, Tuzk-i-Jehangir, Padshahnama and numerous research papers and articles.
Surprisingly, the only detailed account of this diamond is found in the writings of a French traveller Jean Baptise Tavernier.
This Frenchman was a jewel trader who came to India in 1640 and travelled widely. He was more interested in trade and commerce than history or politics.
Jean Baptise Tavernier recorded his experiences in 1665 in which he describes a great Mughal diamond said to be the biggest in the world.
Diamond experts, because of the Koh-i-Noor’s original shape and brilliance, have challenged this account.
The Diamond was originally 191 Carats when it was entrusted to the English jewellers, Gerrards of London in 1852 for cutting and polishing.
The gem was recut polished and reduced to a weight of 109 carats which enhanced its beauty, brilliance and turned it into an oval shape.
According to one Hindu historian the Koh-i-Noor originally belonged to the Raja of Malwa who presented it to Allaudin Khilji in return for political concessions.
Some writers have claimed that the Raja of Gwalior gave it to Babur after the Battle of Panipat in 1526.
Another theory regarding the origin of the Koh-i-Noor is that it was discovered in the Kollur mines and presented to Shah Jehan in 1665.
Nadir Shah or the “Napoleon of Iran” was assassinated by his own officers on 2nd June 1747.
The Jats established control around Agra, Nizam-ul-Mulk in Deccan, Saadat Khan in Owdh, the Rohillas in the Doab and the Sikhs swept across the Punjab and India was once again a divided country full of intrigues and petty quarrels.
The Koh-i-Noor now became the property of Ahmed Shah, the founder of the Durrani dynasty and a General in Nadir Shah’s Army.
The decline of the Durrani dynasty paved the way for the rise of the Sikh Empire in the Punjab.
Shah Shuja a direct descendent of Ahmed Shah became a fugitive in India and had to surrender the Koh-i-Noor diamond to the iron man of the Punjab Maharaja Ranjeet Singh.
After the death of Ranjeet Singh in 1839 the Sikh Empire collapsed and the British annexed the whole of the Punjab in 1849.
No matter what the Sikh leaders claim today the Koh-i-Noor was actually presented by the descendents of Ranjeet Singh to the British in return for political favours.
The Sikh leaders also wanted to prove their respect, loyalty and devotion to the British masters by the gift of this priceless diamond.
The Koh-i-Noor was now taken to England and given a place of honour among the crown jewels of Queen Victoria who had now been proclaimed Empress of India.
Eighty-seven years later England was ruled by another descendent of Queen Victoria, George V1.
In 1937 at the coronation of the King the Koh-i-Noor was fixed as the central stone in the State Crown designed for Queen Elizabeth, consort for King George V1 of England.
—The writer is Professor of History, based in Islamabad.