Saturday, 12 January 2013

History of Kohinoor Diamond

 Gray Blue Kohinoor DiamondThe known history of the Koh-I-Noor begins in 1304 when it was first reported as being in the possession of the rajahs of Malwa, the territory which has since been split into Indore, Bhopal and Gwalior. Following the Mogul invasion, the diamond passed into the hands of Sultan Baber, a descendant of Tamerlane and founder of the Mogul Empire in India. A much treasured possession of his, Baber refers to it in his diary in 1526 as "the famous diamond" of such value that it would pay "half the expenses of the world." It remained in the ownership of his descendants for the next two centuries, thus giving some substance to the legend that "he who owns the Koh-I-Noor rules the world." In 1739, however, it was lost to the Persians who, under their ruler Nadir Shah, invaded India and sacked Delhi. 

There is a story that for fifty-eight days the stone could not be found because the conquered Mogul emperor Mohammed Shah had hidden it in the folds of his turban. Told the secret by a member of the ex-emperor's harem, Nadir Shah invited him to a feast and, observing an ancient Oriental custom, proposed an exchange of turbans. Mohammed was in no position to refuse. Once he had the turban, Nadir Shah ran to his tent and on seeing the great diamond among the silk of the unrolled turban, cried "Koh-I-Noor," which means Mountain of Light, thus giving it the name it has borne ever since.
Kohinoor Diamond
Over the next two hundred years, the Koh-I-Noor changed hands many times. Shah Rokh, the son of Nadir Shah, died under terrible torture rather than reveal the diamond's hiding place to his conqueror, the Aga Mohammed, and its bloody history continued once it passed to the Afghan princes. Imprisoned and blinded by his brother Shuja, Shah Zaman defiantly hid the Koh-I-Noor for years in the plaster of his prison cell, and Shuja, now blinded in his turn by a third brother, Mahmud, yielded his prized possession to Runjeet Singh only to save his family from torture and death. 

Runjeet Singh was enormously proud of his new acquisition and had the diamond set in a bracelet which he wore constantly. On his death the gem descended to his son, the rajah Dhulip Singh. It remained in his possession until the seizure of the Punjab by the British after the Indian Mutiny when it was among the jewels in the treasury at Lahore that were confiscated and taken as reparations. Two officers carried the "famous diamond" to London and on June 3, 1850, the Koh-I-Noor was presented to Queen Victoria at a great reception held in St. James's Palace to mark the 250th anniversary of the founding of the East India Company. 

Nadir Shah
 The Koh-I-Noor may have been "coveted and hoarded with insane passion" in India, but Queen Victoria was not all that impressed. Used to well-cut diamonds full of fire and brilliance, she was positively disappointed with the rudely cut 187-carat stone, as were the people who viewed it at the Crystal Palace Exhibition in London in 1851. Finally, the queen decided to have it recut. A special area was set aside in the workshop of Garrard's, the crown jewelers, and for a fee of £9,000 a cutter from Amsterdam was induced to undertake the task. The Prince Consort took a keen interest in the proceedings and is said to have spent many hours "assisting" in the cutting of the stone. Indeed one report says that "Her Majesty herself and nearly all the members of the royal family personally assisted at putting on the facets, which for perfection are unequalled; the Duke of Wellington personally putting on the first." When they had finished, the Koh-I-Noor had been reduced to a 108.93-carat oval and still lacked fire and brilliance. 

To what extent this was due to the inability of the Dutch cutter to check the enthusiasm of his royal helpers is impossible to say, but no one was pleased with the result. In fact, the Koh-I-Noor lay neglected in a strongbox in Windsor Castle for many years, but in 1911 it was placed in the crown of Queen Mary. There it remained until 1937, when it was made the central ornament in a new crown for Queen Elizabeth, consort of George VI, for their coronation. 

The Koh-i-Noor in one of its original Indian settings. It was in this form that Run jeet Singh, the Lion of the Punjab, constantly wore the diamond.
No one can doubt the role that the Koh-I-Noor played in the history of India and that, initially at least, it was insufficiently appreciated by its new owners. However, for the British government to return the stone would set a precedent which could strip the treasuries and museums of the world of some of their most prized possessions, all too many of which came originally from the hoards of Delhi.
Writer - George G.Blakey
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