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Kohinoor diamond- The real history

The name Kohinoor means the Mountain of Light in the Persian language. Before we get into history there is an unverified theory about Kohinoor that is just too interesting to ignore. The theory says that the diamond was first mentioned more than 5000 years ago in a Sanskrit script. Its name might have been Syamantaka at the time. But as of now, this theory is most likely a speculation.

The origins of Kohinoor are disputed. However it is generally agreed that it came from a mine in South India. This could have been either from present day Karnataka or Andhra Pradesh. Although the exact origin is very difficult to know, in all probability, the diamond was first discovered during the reign of the Wodiyars rulers.

When Alauddin Khilji, who was the second ruler of the Khalji dynasty of the Delhi Sultanate attacked south india in the early 14th century, his army looted the kingdoms of southern India. Malik Kafur who was Khilji’s general at the time actually attacked Warangal successfully and possibly acquired the diamond.

Kohinoor remained in the Khilji dynasty for sometime. It was later passed on to each successive dynasty of the Delhi Sultanate. When Babur established the Mughal Empire in 1526 by defeating The lodhi dynasty, he came into the possession of the diamond. He actually is reported to have called the stone the “Diamond of Babur” even though it had other names before it came into his possession.

Babur and his son Humayun have mentioned the diamond in their memoirs which actually serve as the earliest reliable reference to the Koh-i-Noor.

Shah Jahan who was the fifth Mughal emperor placed the stone placed into his Peacock Throne. Another theory says that while the diamond was in possession of Aurangzeb, he got it cut and reduced the weight substantially. Again according to recent research, this theory is not correct.

When Nader Shah invaded delhi in 1739, the treasury of the Mughal Empire was looted by his army. Nader shah actually carried out a thorough plunder of the Mughal empire’s wealth. He took along with him several valuable items which the Peacock Throne and the Kohinoor. When Nader shah allegedly saw the diamond, he exclaimed Koh-i-Noor, meaning “mountain of light”, which is how the stone finally got its current name.

In fact, one of Nader shah’s contemporaries in an attempt to do valuation of the diamond reportedly said that “If a strong man were to throw four stones, one north, one south, one east, one west, and a fifth stone up into the air, and if the space between them were to be filled with gold, all would not equal the value of the Kohinoor”. The loot gained from the Indian campaign were so much that Nader Shah exempted all subjects of the Empire from taxes for three years.

After Nader shah’s empire collapsed in 1747, the diamond was given by his grandson to Ahmed Shah Durrani who was founder of the Afghan Empire. One of Ahmed’s descendants named Shah Shujah Durrani actually wore a bracelet which contained Kohinoor. Shujah later ended up forming an alliance with United Kingdom to help defend against possible invasion of Afghanistan by Russia.

When Shujah was overthrown by Mahmud Shah, he managed to flee with the diamond and went to Lahore. He met the founder of Sikh Empire Maharaja Ranjit Singh. He gave the gem to him in return for his hospitality.

Maharaja Ranjit Singh, in his will mentioned that the Kohinoor will become the property of East India Company administered temple of Jagannath in Puri which is in modern-day Odisha. However his will was not executed after his death in 1839.

When the Kingdom of Punjab was formally annexed to the Company rule in 1849 following the Second Anglo-Sikh War, Kohinoor was officially ceded to Queen Victoria.

In 1850, the diamond was sent on a ship to Britain via China. It was presented to Queen Victoria at Buckingham Palace on the occasion of company’s 250th anniversary.

Prince Albert, who was the husband of Queen Victoria, was asked to get the diamond polished with the consent of the government. This operation actually reduced the weight of the diamond by 42 percent to 105.6 carats.

When Queen Victoria died, Kohinoor was passed on to Queen Alexandra and later to Queen Mary. It was eventually transferred to Queen Mother’s Crown in 1937.

All these crowns are now on display in Jewel House at the Tower of London. In fact India, Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan have all demanded claimed ownership of Kohinoor at several points and demanded its return from the United Kingdom.


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12 January – Today in Indian History