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Kohinoor could well have adorned Lord Jagannath’s idol

india Updated: Dec 08, 2016 21:32 IST
Nirupama Dutt

William Dalrymple and Anita Anand with their book ‘Kohinoor: The Story of the Most Infamous Diamond’ at its launch in Chandigarh on Thursday.(Ravi Kumar/HT)

Instead of becoming a jewel in the crown, the diamond of destiny — Kohinoor — could well have been adorning the idol of Lord Jagannath at the Puri temple. It is said that it was the dying wish of mighty Maharaja Ranjit Singh that all his jewels, including the famous or now labelled the ‘most infamous diamond of history’, to the Puri temple. However, his wish conveyed by his head Brahmin, Bhai Gobind Ram, when the Maharaja was on his deathbed was opposed by his chief treasurer Misr Beli Ram and the diamond moved to the crown.

This episode is described at length in ‘Kohinoor: The story of the world’s most infamous diamond’, the book authored by William Dalrymple and Anita Anand, which was launched here on Thursday. Speaking to HT, Dalrymple said: “Many myths and legends surrounded Kohinoor, but this last wish of the Maharaja is sourced from the Maharaja’s court journal ‘Umtad-ul-Tawarikh’.”

The less-told story of Maharaja’s last wish finds prominent place in the fifth chapter ‘Ranjit Singh: The Kohinoor in Lahore’. It is said that when the Maharaja of the Punjab was nearing his end and suffered a major stroke in June 1839, he started giving away his most valuable possessions. During his last pilgrimage to the holy city of Amritsar, he donated much of his wealth before he assembled his officers and made them take the oath of allegiance to his eldest son Kharak Singh.

On June 26, 1839, a day before his death, when he grew fainter, a serious argument broke out on what the fate of the most prized possession was to be. It is said that supported by the gestures of the dying king, the Brahmin held that the Maharaja wanted to give all his jewels to the temple of Lord Jagannath. However, the chief treasurer argued that the diamond did not belong personally to him but to the Sikh state and should go to his heir. The book refers to the Maharaja’s court journal ‘Umtad-ul-Tawarikh’. Dalrymple said: “The chief treasurer hid the Kohinoor and later did give it to Kharak Singh. However, the saddest part of history of this turbulent diamond is when the innocent 10-year-old Maharaja, Duleep Singh, was made to sign the formal Act of Submission which was later known as the ‘Treaty of Lahore’ and handed over to the East India Company on March 29,1849. The treaty demanded the Maharaja to surrender the diamond to the Queen of England”.

Anita, who has authored Part 2 of the book said, “Kohinoor had a name but Punjab gave it its fame and England turned the diamond into a super star when it was exhibited in a huge glass case in Hyde Park in 1851, along with other jewels and 6-million people came to see it.” The authors said because of the emotional connect of the diamond, the first of the world launch of the book was done in Chandigarh. “It could have either been here or at Lahore,” said Dalrymple. He added, “Every Indian wants the Kohinoor back but it is also wanted by Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan and also the Taliban!”