Tuesday, March 5, 2024

History of India’s Kohinoor

Written By Darshan M (Grade 10)

Never ask a woman her age, a man, his salary, and the Brits, where their Museum articrafts came from because almost every item in the British museum is stolen from different countries they ruled, like the Elgin Marbles a collection of classical Greek sculptures from Orango Easter Island in Chile. Benin bronzes from Nigeria and the Rosetta stone inscriptions from 196 BC, Egypt. But, none is more famous than India’s Kohinoor which was taken by deceit from the son of Maharaja Ranjit Singh around 1850 by Queen Victoria. After the death of her great-granddaughter Queen Elizabeth II in September 2022 who had adorned the diamond at her coronation 69 years earlier, the soon-to-be Crown King Charles III wanted his bride to wear it too. This irked the Modi government no end, who even thought of stopping the ongoing trade talks with Britain as a repercussion and started a clamor to return the diamond to its original owner with the #Kohinoor trending on Twitter. The sustained pressure by the Indian government and an enraged public finally made the Royals change their mind, but not a word from the stiff-upper-lip Brits to return the diamond. 

India’s case for ownership starts with the fact that the diamond was mined in the Kollur of present-day Andhra Pradesh’s Golconda area. The stone when it was first discovered was a massive 793-carat diamond, believing it to be a sacred omen the Kakatia dynasty in CE 1214 had it installed in the left eye of goddess Bhadrikali’s statue in a temple. A few decades later, Delhi’s powerful Sultan Alaudin Khilji’s Army was already nearby raiding Devagiri and turning his attention to the prosperous Kakatia King Pratap Rudra, in 1308 acquiring the grand diamond for his master. The diamonds stayed in Delhi for a few centuries first with the Khiljis then apparently got passed on to the Tughlaqs, Sayyid, Lodhis, and finally Mughals in the 16th century. But, after the Mughal Emperor Humayun was beaten by Sher Shah Suri in 1540 at the Battle of Kannuaj Humayun fled with the diamond, and for the first time, it left the land of what is today modern-day India. The precious stone was given by Humayun to the Persian king Shah Tahmasp in exchange for giving him an army with which he reconquered Delhi. The history of the diamond for the next hundred-odd years is a little murky. According to some historians, it was sent by the Persian king who was a Shia to the Shia rulers of Ahmednagar in Deccan as a gesture of Brotherhood, but the Mughals themselves had Shia blood in them so that explanation seems unlikely. 

Next, we know that the diamond finds its way into the hands of Shah Jahan in the last years of his rule where it got its first name the Great Mughal Diamond. Either Shah Jahan or Aurangzeb the history is not quite clear, calls to his court a Venetian, who is highly skilled at the art of cutting jewellery, and asked him to cut that stone so that it shines like the stars. However, as the diamond had many minerals trapped inside, the Venetian ground away at it until all its flaws were gone reducing the weight to 186 carats which infuriated the Emperor who promptly had him jailed. We pick up the story almost 100 years later in 1738 when the newly crowned Persian King Nadir Shah attacked the crumbling remnants of the Mughal Empire. He ransacked Delhi and stole all the treasures he could lay his hands on but somehow he couldn’t find the Great Mughal Diamond? 

So, he devised a clever scheme to take the diamond from Muhammad Shah and thus Nadir Shah became the new owner of the diamond. He gave the diamond its Persian name that still exists today: Kohinoor, meaning Mountain of Light. Nadir Shah was assassinated within a decade and the Kohinoor passed onto the subsequent rulers of Afghanistan until the last of them, Shah Shuja, is captured by the King of Kashmir. His grieving wife, flees with the diamond straight to the court of Maharaja Ranjit Singh of Punjab and asks him to rescue her husband. If he did so, the fantastic Kohinoor Diamond would be in the Maharaja’s possession. Thus, after the victory of Ranjit Singh over the King of Kashmir, the diamond returned to its country of origin staying in the Sikh’s Kingdom for 40 years. But once Ranjit Singh died his kingdom weakened and the British defeated the Sikhs in the two Anglo-Sikh Wars of 1845 and 1849. His son Duleep Singh just a minor of around 11 years at the time was brainwashed and converted to a Christian English man and sometime during this period, he handed over the Kohinoor to his English Masters. 

So did he give it willingly or was it stolen? This is the main bone of contention between the UK and India. Under modern international law stolen things should be returned but the 1849 Treaty of Lahore following the British conquest of the Punjab, states, that “The gem shall be surrendered by the Maharaja of Lahore to the Queen of England” So did he have a choice especially as his mother was being held prisoner by the British? Duleep was later exiled to London around the age of 16 so that the Sikhs would have no leader under whom to rally. It is reported by British historians that sometime around then Duleep Singh formally gifted the Kohinoor to Queen who wore it proudly on a throne – the first time any woman had adorned it. By this time the Kohinoor was once again polished and reshaped in London to what it looks like today but in the process, the 186-carat diamond was reduced to 105-carats. 

When Duleep Singh grew older he was full of remorse for what he did and wrote multiple letters to the Queen to return the diamond. In recent years museums are returning even stolen antiques they had bought from the black market, Germany gave back to India the 10th Century statue of goddess Durga, Canada returned a 900-year-old statue called Parrot Lady, the U.S recently returned 200 stolen items worth 100 million dollars, while Scotland returned a 14th-century Indo-Persian sword and an 11th century carved stone door jamb. But the British have only given excuses instead they are proudly displaying it as a symbol of Conquest in a permanent Exhibition at the Tower of London immediately after the coronation. Items on display include other Indian Jewels stolen by the British as well like Timur’s Ruby, a rare 361 carat stone, and the 55 carat pale yellow Sancy Diamond. But the Kohinoor is the most popular of them all. Even Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iran are trying to get their hands on it claiming it to be their property. But forget returning it, the British are not even willing to give an apology? But will an apology ever be enough? And will England ever return the Kohinoor? Will Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s efforts in forcing England to repatriate the jewel payoff?

Featured Image Courtesy – Wikipedia


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