The Kohinoor: Following the bloodiest diamond across history
It’s a stone that, legend says, should only be worn by a woman or a god; to a man who dares wear it, it will only bring bad luck. But, it adds, one who owns the Kohinoor will own the world, and so for centuries, kings have fought over its possession and for much of the past century, four countries have argued about who gets to keep it now.
It is currently housed in the Tower of London in the United Kingdom.
On April 18, during a court hearing on a suit seeking the diamond’s return to India, Ranjit Kumar, the Solicitor General said that the rock, whose name means ‘mountain of light’, was not stolen by the UK, but was given to them by the Sikh king Ranjit Singh.
Accounts of ownership are often disputed and contentious and it is worth looking at how far the diamond has travelled thus far.
The diamond – not yet christened Kohinoor – is mentioned for the first time in some historical texts as belonging to the Rajas of Malwa around this time, according to some historians.
The ‘exact history is lost in the mists of antiquity,’ reads an account on the stone in The Smithsonian, ‘it is reported to have belonged to the ruler of an ancient oriental kingdom as far back as 3000 BC’. Records, including a book by seismologist Harsh K Gupta, say that the diamond was mined from Guntur in present-day Andhra Pradesh.
The first ‘verified’ mention of the stone crops up in the Baburnama, the writings of Mughal ruler Babur. Babur acquired the rock after defeating Ibrahim Lodi, the last of the Delhi Sultans, in the first battle of Panipat.
Historian NB Sen, among others, has written that from Babur, the diamond passed to Shah Jahan and Aurangzeb, before coming into the possession of his grandson, Sultan Mahamad.
Persian general Nadir Shah defeats Mahamad to conquer Delhi – and the diamond -- in 1739 and gives it its now-famous name. He takes the stone back to Persia but is assassinated eight years later. The diamond now passes into the possession of one of his generals, Ahmad Shah Durrani, in whose family it stays for the next generation, writes Sen in his book, the Glorious History of Kohinoor, the Brightest Jewel in the British Crown.
The diamond returns to India when Shah Shuja Durrani, a descendant of Ahmad Shah, escapes from his quarrelling brothers in Kabul, brings it to Punjab and gives it to Maharaja Ranjit Singh – the founder of the Sikh empire -- in return for being granted asylum.
Much later, Lord Dalhousie wrote in a letter that Shah Shuja’s wife Wufa Begum, was said to have described the rock saying, “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 Koh-i-Noor.”
Maharaja Ranjit Singh dies, leaving the diamond – and his kingdom – to his sons. However, after three of his older sons are killed in quick succession, in 1843, 5-year-old Duleep Singh took the throne, becoming the last Indian sovereign to own the Kohinoor, writes Sen in his book.
The British win the second Anglo-Sikh War and annexe the Sikh kingdom of Punjab under the Treaty of Lahore. 11-year-old Duleep Singh signs over the kingdom and the diamond over to them before stepping down from his throne.
Article III of the treaty reads: The gem called the KohiNoor, which was taken from Shah Sooja-ool-moolk by Maharajah Runjeet Singh, shall be surrendered by the Maharajah of Lahore to the Queen of England.
The diamond is taken to England and showcased to the public. However, after reports of ‘disappointment’ with the stone’s uncut appearance, Queen Victoria’s husband, Prince Albert orders the polishing of the Kohinoor. The final product, which takes 38 days to achieve, shaves off significant portions of the stone, reducing its weight by 42% -- from 186 carats (or 37.2 g) to its current 105.6 carats (21.12 g).
Bearing in mind the myth surrounding the stone, Queen Victoria later asks in her will that the Kohinoor only be worn by a female queen.
The stone is then added to the crowns of her successors and is stowed away in the Tower of London where it has been ever since.
Despite claims of ownership by four countries -- India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Britain -- the United Kingdom has maintained its ownership over the gem.
Reacting to one of the many attempts by Indian groups to push for its return to India, in 2015, British historian Andrew Roberts was quoted as saying: “Those involved in this ludicrous case should recognise that the British Crown Jewels is precisely the right place for the Koh-i-Noor diamond to reside, in grateful recognition for over three centuries of British involvement in India, which led to the modernisation, development, protection, agrarian advance, linguistic unification and ultimately the democratisation of the sub-continent.”