Glass replica of the Koh-I-Noor Diamond in its original form. From the Reich der Kristalle museum in Munich.
|Weight||105.6 carats (21.6 g)|
|Country of origin||India|
|Mine of origin||Golconda|
|Original owner||see early history|
|Current owner||British Crown Jewels|
The Kōh-i Nūr (Hindi: कोहिनूर, Persian/Urdu: کوہ نور, Telugu: కోహినూరు) which means "Mountain of Light" from Persian, also spelled Kohinoor, Koh-e Noor or Koh-i-Nur, is a 105 carat (21.6 g) diamond that was once the largest known diamond in the world. The Kohinoor originated at Kollur, Guntur district in the state of Andhra Pradesh in India. It has belonged to various Hindu, Mughal, Persian, Afghan, Sikh and British rulers who fought bitterly over it at various points in history and seized it as a spoil of war time and again. It was finally seized by the East India Company and became part of the British Crown Jewels when Queen Victoria was proclaimed Empress of India in 1877.
The origin of the diamond is unclear, although rumors abound. According to some sources, the Koh-i-noor was originally found more than 5000 years ago, and is mentioned in ancient Sanskrit writings under the name Syamantaka. According to some Hindu mythological accounts, Krishna obtained the diamond from Jambavantha, whose daughter Jambavati later married Krishna. The legend says that the diamond was from the Sun God to Satrajith (father of Satyabhama) which produces 1000 kg of gold daily. Krishna got the blame of stealing the diamond from Satrajith's brother who is killed by a lion which in turn was killed by Jambavantha. Satrajith had alleged that "Krishna probably killed my brother, who went to the forest wearing the jewel on his neck." Krishna, to restore his reputation, fought a fierce battle with Jāmbavān and gave the stone back to Satrajith. Now being ashamed with himself Satrajith offered his daughter's hand to Krishna along with the stone. Krishna accepted his daughter Satyabhāmā's hand but refused to take the Syamantaka.
Historical evidence suggests that the Kohinoor originated in the Guntur region of Kakatiya kingdom, in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, one of the world's earliest diamond producing regions. This region was the only known source for diamonds until 1730 when diamonds were discovered in Brazil. The term "Golconda" diamond has come to define diamonds of the finest white color, clarity and transparency. They are very rare and highly sought after.
The diamond was mined in the Kollur mines near the village Paritala in the present day Guntur district of Andhra Pradesh. The diamond became the property of Kakatiya kings. The Khilji dynasty at Delhi ended in 1320 A.D. and Ghiyas ud din Tughluq Shah I ascended the Delhi throne. Tughlaq sent his commander Ulugh Khan in 1323 to defeat the Kakatiya king Prataparudra. Ulugh Khan’s raid was repulsed but he returned in a month with a larger and determined army. The unprepared army of Kakatiya was defeated. The loot, plunder and destruction of Orugallu (present day Warangal), the capital of Kakatiya Kingdom, continued for months. Loads of gold, diamonds, pearls and ivory were carried away to Delhi on elephants, horses and camels. The Koh-i-noor diamond was part of the bounty. From then onwards, the stone passed through the hands of successive rulers of the Delhi sultanate, finally passing to Babur, the first Mughal emperor, in 1526.
The first confirmed historical mention of the Koh-i-noor by an identifiable name dates from 1526. Babur mentions in his memoirs, the Baburnama, that the stone had belonged to an unnamed Rajah of Malwa in 1294. Babur held the stone's value to be such as to feed the whole world for two days. The Baburnama recounts how Rajah of Malwa was compelled to yield his prized possession to Ala ud din Khilji; it was then owned by a succession of dynasties that ruled the Delhi sultanate, finally coming into the possession of Babur himself in 1526, following his victory over the last ruler of that kingdom. However, the Baburnama was written c.1526-30; Babur's source for this information is unknown, and he may have been recounting the hearsay of his day and mixed up the Emperor of Warangal with the Rajah of Malwa. He did not at that time call the stone by its present name, but despite some debate about the identity of 'Babur's Diamond' it seems likely that it was the stone which later became known as Koh-i-noor.
Both Babur and Humayun mention very clearly in their memoirs the origins of 'Babur's Diamond'. This diamond was with the Kachhwaha rulers of Gwalior and then inherited by the Tomara line. The last of Tomaras, Vikramaditya, was defeated by Sikandar Lodi, Sultan of Delhi and became Delhi sultanate pensioner and resided in Delhi. On the defeat of Lodis and replacement by Mughals, his house was looted by the Mughals and Prince Humayun interceded and restored his property even allowing him to leave Delhi and take refuge in Mewar at Chittaur. In return for Humayun's kindness, one of the diamonds, most likely the Koh-i-noor, in possession of Prince Vikaramaditya was given to Humayun in gratitude. Humayun had much bad luck throughout his life. Sher Shah Suri, who defeated Humayun, died in the flames of a burst cannon. His son Jalal Khan was murdered by his brother-in-law, who was overthrown by his minister, who in turn lost the empire of India by the unlucky accident of getting hit in the eye at the stroke of victory. Humayun's son, Akbar, never kept the diamond with himself and later only Shah Jahan took it out of his treasury. Akbar's grandson, Shah Jahan was overthrown by his son, Aurangazeb, who orchestrated the death and murder of his three brothers.
The Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan, famous for building the Taj Mahal, had the stone placed into his ornate Peacock Throne. His son, Aurangazeb, imprisoned his ailing father at nearby Agra Fort. Legend has it that he had the Koh-i-Noor positioned near a window so that Shah Jahan could see the Taj only by looking at its reflection in the stone. Aurangazeb later brought it to his capital Lahore and placed it in his own personal Badshahi Mosque. There it stayed until the invasion of Nader Shah in 1739 and the sacking of Agra and Delhi. Along with the Peacock Throne, he also carried off the Koh-i-Noor to Persia in 1739. It was allegedly Nader Shah who exclaimed Koh-i-Noor! when he finally managed to obtain the famous stone, and this is how the stone gained its present name. There is no reference to this name before 1739.
The valuation of the Koh-i-Noor is given in the legend that one of Nader Shah's consorts supposedly said, "If a strong man should take five stones, and throw one north, one south, one east, and one west, and the last straight up into the air, and the space between filled with gold and gems, that would equal the value of the Koh-i-noor."
After the assassination of Nader Shah in 1747, the stone came into the hands of Ahmed Shah Abdali of Afghanistan. In 1830, Shah Shuja, the deposed ruler of Afghanistan, managed to flee with the Kohinoor diamond. He then came to Lahore where it was given to the Sikh Maharaja (King) of Punjab, Ranjit Singh; in return for this Maharaja Ranjit Singh won back the Afghan throne for Shah Shuja.
Ranjit Singh crowned himself ruler of Punjab and willed the Koh-i-noor to the Jagannath Temple in Orissa from his deathbed in 1839. But there was dispute about this last-minute testament, and it was not executed. On March 29, 1849, the British raised their flag on the citadel of Lahore and the Punjab was formally proclaimed to be part of the British Empire in India. One of the terms of the Treaty of Lahore, the legal agreement formalising this occupation, was as follows:
The Governor-General in charge of the ratification for this treaty was Lord Dalhousie. More than anyone, Dalhousie was responsible for the British acquiring the Koh-i-Noor, in which he continued to show great interest for the rest of his life. Dalhousie's work in India was sometimes controversial, and his acquisition of the diamond, amongst many other things, was criticised by some contemporary British commentators. Although some suggested that the diamond should have been presented as a gift to the Queen, it is clear that Dalhousie felt strongly that the stone was a spoil of war, and treated it accordingly. Writing to his friend Sir George Cooper in August of 1849, he stated:
Dalhousie arranged that the diamond should be presented by Maharajah Ranjit Singh's young successor, Duleep Singh, to Queen Victoria in 1850. Maharajaah Duleep Singh was the youngest son of Maharajah Ranjit Singh and his fifth wife Maharani Jind Kaur. Duleep, aged 13, travelled to the United Kingdom to present the jewel. The presentation of the Koh-i-Noor to Queen Victoria was the latest in the long history of transfers of the stone as a spoil of war. Duleep Singh had been placed in the guardianship of Dr John Spence Login. Login was a surgeon in the British Army who served in West Bengal, East India for some years and was a native of Southend, Stromness, Orkney Islands, Scotland. His family had run Login's Inn in Stromness since the early 1800s. Dr Login, his wife Lena and the young Duleep Singh travelled to England for the purpose of presenting the Koh-i-Noor diamond to Queen Victoria.
In due course the Governor-General received the Koh-i-Noor from Login, who had been appointed Governor of the Citadel, the Royal Fort at Lahore, with the Toshakhana or Royal Treasury, which Login valued at almost £1,000,000 (£81.6 million as of 2010), excluding the Koh-i-Noor, on 6 April 1848, under a receipt dated 7 December 1849, in the presence of the members of the Board of Administration – the local resident H.M. Lawrence, C.C. Mansel, John Lawrence, younger brother of H.M. Lawrence, and of Sir Henry Elliot, Secretary to the Government of India. The jewel was then sent to England in the care of John Lawrence, and C.C. Mansel for presentation to Queen Victoria, sailing from Bombay in H.M.S. Medea under strict security arrangements.
The ship had a difficult voyage – an outbreak of cholera on board when the ship was in Mauritius had the locals demanding its departure and they asked their governor to open fire and destroy the vessel if it did not respond. Shortly thereafter the vessel was hit by a severe gale that blew for some twelve hours. On arrival in Britain the passengers and mail were unloaded in Plymouth, but the Koh-i-noor stayed on board until the ship reached Portsmouth, from where Lawrence and Mansel took the diamond to the East India House in the City of London and passed it into the care of the Chairman and Deputy Chairman of the HEIC. The handing over of the Koh-i-Noor diamond to The Queen on 3 July 1850 as part of the terms of the conclusion of the Sikh War also coincided with the 250th anniversary of the HEIC. Dr Login received a knighthood in 1854 from Queen Victoria and was known as Sir John Spencer Login (he had added the 'r' to his middle name to change it from Spence to Spencer). The diamond is now set into the crown worn by the female consort to Monarch of the United Kingdom, and is currently in the Crown of Queen Elizabeth.
In 1854 Duleep Singh, who had converted to Christianity in 1853 but who converted back to Sikhism in 1888, travelled to Britain with Doctor Login and his wife. Leading a life of leisure, pleasure and high living on a substantial allowance from the British Government, he was a regular visitor to Windsor and Osborne with the Royal Family. He was befriended by The Queen and the Royal Princes, and treated as next in precedence after the Royal Family. Prince Albert designed a coat of arms for him although it was never recorded at the College of Arms. He was granted British citizenship in 1861 and at that time he was appointed one of the first Knight Commanders of The Most Exalted Order of the Star of India newly created on 25 June 1861, when the following proclamation was issued by The Queen:
He was created a Knight Grand Commander of the Order in 1866. The prince was the main mourner at the funeral of Sir John Spencer Login who died on 18 April 1863 and was buried at Felixstowe, Suffolk, England.
The Kohinoor diamond was then given by Dalip Sing as Maharaja Ranjit Singh's successor (who owned it) to Queen Victoria, Indian historians argue that Prince Dalip Singh was only a minor then, and could not have given the diamond away without coercion from his British advisors. Record also says that the confiscated diamond was presented to the Queen-mother by Lord Dalhousie in 1850 through the young exiled Prince.
It is believed that the Koh-i-Noor carries with it a curse and only when in the possession of a woman will the curse not work. All the men who owned it have either lost their throne or had other misfortunes befall them. The British are wary of this curse and so far, only Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth have adorned the gem as sovereigns. Since Queen Victoria the diamond has always gone to the wife of the male heir to the throne.
The possibility of a curse pertaining to ownership of the diamond dates back to a Hindu text relating to the first authenticated appearance of the diamond in 1306: "He who owns this diamond will own the world, but will also know all its misfortunes. Only God, or a woman, can wear it with impunity."
Disappointment in the appearance of the stone was not uncommon. In 1852, in Amsterdam under the personal supervision of Victoria's consort, Prince Albert, and the technical direction of James Tennant, the diamond was cut from 186 1/16 carats (37.21 g) to its current 105.602 carats (21.61 g) to increase its brilliance. Albert consulted widely, took enormous pains, and spent some £8,000 on the operation, which reduced the weight of the stone by a huge 42% -- but nevertheless Albert was dissatisfied with the result. The stone then was mounted in a brooch which Queen Victoria often wore. It was kept at Windsor Castle rather than with the rest of the crown jewels at the Tower of London.
After Queen Victoria's death it was set in Queen Alexandra's brand new diamond crown, with which she was crowned at the coronation of her husband, King Edward VII. Queen Alexandra was the first Queen Consort to use the diamond in her crown, followed by Queen Mary and then Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother. In 2002, the crown rested atop her coffin as she lay in state.
Given the long history of the diamond, many countries claim it. In 1976, Pakistan's 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 Bhutto with a polite "No", and British diplomats in the countries, likely to counter this claim, were asked to lobby to 'kill the story'. Other claims have been made by India. The gem remains in the Tower of London.