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Bartered, Gifted, Stolen, But Never Sold, the Elusive Kohinoor Diamond is Still Making History

Entrenched in history, having been passed down by some of the greatest rulers of massive empires in the Indian subcontinent, the Kohinoor diamond is the most desirable, priceless stone.

Bartered, Gifted, Stolen, But Never Sold, the Elusive Kohinoor Diamond is Still Making History

Entrenched in history, having been passed down by some of the greatest rulers of massive empires in the Indian subcontinent, the Kohinoor diamond is the most desirable, priceless stone.

It’s a clear stone the size of a ping pong ball and it fits in the palm of the hand. But the Kohinoor Diamond is priceless, with a deep history engraved in its essence. The stone has seen bloodshed, violence, greed, wonder, deception and wars. It has seen men go mad with power, it has seen men fall from grace. It has seen the thirst, the hunger and the dreams that make humans essentially human. The stone has been brought down through the ages, changing hands and making history on its way.

The assertion of ownership over the stone is still an elusive decision. India, Pakistan and Afghanistan all want the stone back, claiming ownership, while Britain vehemently refuses to part with their most prized possession. As the Indian government claims to bring back to stone ‘amicably’, here’s a look at why this legendary, brilliant cut 106-carat stone is so remarkable and desirable.

From India to Present-day Uzbekistan to England

The Kohinoor Diamond on the royal crown
Source: Wikimedia Commons

According to legends, in the 13th century, the diamond was found in Guntur, in Andhra Pradesh. The first known record of the possession of the diamond was with the Kakatiya Dynasty in South India, and then with the Rajas of Malwa. When the Delhi Sultanate took over the South of India in 1300s, Alauddin Khilji held the stone in his palace.

In 1339, it was taken to Samarkand (present day Uzbekistan), which was its home for the next 500 years. Sultan Ibrahim Lodi gifted it to Babur. After three generations, it was passed on to Shah Jahan. Then his son Aurangzeb took over and imprisoned him, and guarded the stone with his life. It was passed on to Bahadur Shah I and later to his great grandson, Muhammad Shah. Being a weak ruler, the stone was taken from Muhammad by Nader Shah. In 1747, he was assassinated, and his general, Ahmad Shah Durrani, passed on the stone to his grandson, Shah Shuja Durrani.

Durrani took the stone to India, and gifted it to the founder of the Sikh Empire, Ranjit Singh in 1813, in return for help to take down the Afghani throne. Emporer Ranjit Singh had instructed the stone to be part of Jagannath Temple in Puri after his death in his will. But when the East India Company and the British Empire took over the Sikh Empire in 1849, the stone was confiscated, and stored at a treasury in Lahore. Finally, it was taken to the Queen in 1850. Today, it is part of the Crown Jewels, placed in the Tower of London in the UK.

The Curse of the Mountain of Light

In Persian, Koh-i-Noor means the mountain of light. However, the name didn’t come about till the stone reached Nader Shah in the mid-1700s. Legend has it that in 1306, someone wrote that the stone was cursed. According to the curse, any man who owns the stone is likely to own all the riches and power of the world, but also suffer great misfortunes. Only a god or a woman can carry or wear the stone with no ill consequences.

A New, Lighter Cut

The size of the stone before 1852

When the stone was discovered, it was allegedly 793 carats, uncut. By the time it reached the British Empire in 1849, the stone weighed 186 carats. The Queen ordered the stone to be cut in 1852, as it wasn’t as brilliant and beautifully shaped when compared to other cut diamonds in their possession at the Crystal Palace. The stone was cut into an oval shape, and weighed 42% lighter at 105.602 carats.

The Priceless Gem

In the 1500s, Babur had declared that the Kohinoor was worth half the world’s total production costs in a day. However, there’s no certain way of determining the price of the stone. It has changed hands through history mainly because it was bartered, gifted or stolen. Compared to other stones in the world that weigh somewhere close, like the 100-carat flawless diamond sold by Sotheby’s at an auction in 2015, it should cost around $22-30 million (Rs 146 crores). But considering that the stone has been possessed by many of the greatest legends in Indian and world history, the premium for it could be priceless.

The Tug of War

The diamond is currently displayed at the Tower of London, UK
Source: Wikimedia Commons,

When India got its independence in 1947, it asked for the stone back, believing it was supposed to be in India. Even after consequent requests in 1953 and 2000, the British government refused, citing that it was nearly impossible to decide who the stone belonged to, given its various owners throughout history. In 1976, Pakistan laid claim to the stone, but was refused by then-Prime Minister of the UK, James Callaghan, claiming that in a treaty with the Maharaja of Lahore in 1849, the stone was ordered to be transferred to the British Crown. Afghanistan too claimed that the stone should be returned to them.

In 2010, Prime Minister David Cameron said, in a quote that’s now popular, “If you say yes to one you suddenly find the British Museum would be empty. I am afraid to say, it is going to have to stay put.”

It might be a while before a concrete decision has been made about the ownership of the diamond. Until then, it’ll take you a ticket to London to appreciate this beauty, steeped in historical legends!

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