Koh-i-Nur - A Diamond's Incredible Journey “The Agate on the wearer strength bestows, With ruddy health his fresh complexion glows; Both eloquence and grace by it are given, He gains favor both of earth and heaven.” – Marboeuf, Bishop of Rennes, (11th century), describing virtues of the Agate. The most famous diamond of India, Koh-i-Nur, has a colorful history and journey over more than five hundred years. It has been said that whoever owned the Koh-i-Nur ruled the world. But there is also a darker side to the story of Koh-i-Nur. Some who have owned this coveted diamond also have suffered torture and blinding, but yet have refused to part with it. The Koh-i-Nur is a veritable household name in many parts of the world. It is mentioned first in Babur-nama, an autobiography by the first Mughal ruler, Babur (1526-1530). After the battle of Panipat, where Ibrahim Lodhi was soundly defeated, Babur rode to Delhi and Humayun, his son, swiftly rode to Agra, the Lodhi capital. Here he found Ibrahim Lodhi’s mother taking shelter and also the family of Raja Vikramaditya of Gwalior. Vikramaditya had fought next to Ibrahim Lodhi in Panipat, where both of them had lost their lives. To appease Humayun and to curry favor with him, VIkramaditya’s family offered him bundles of jewels and diamonds. Among them was the legendary diamond Koh-i-Nur. (However, Babur did not know the name of the diamond as Koh-i-Nur. It was Nadir Shah, more than two hundred years later, who called it by that name). Babur in his biography called Koh-i-Nur as Ala-ud-din’s diamond. Babur perhaps was referring to Ala-ud-din Khilji, who had ventured south to Deccan repeatedly during his rule in Delhi (1296-1316). Even before he usurped his uncle and father-in- law Feroz Shah I, Ala-ud-din had been in Deccan where he had subdued Ramachandra, king of Devagiri. Whether he came to possess Koh-i-Nur here, or from one of his eunuch General Malik Kafur’s several expeditions to the south in order to plunder and raid is unclear. Moreover, diamond mines were in Deccan (Golconda – Hyderabad) and Ala-ud-din was the first of the Delhi sultans to venture that far south. Another historical postulation is that Khilji took the diamond from the raja of Malwa, whom he had defeated. It is generally believed that Sultan Khilji acquired it in the year 1304. Koh-i-Nur was an enormous diamond. It weighed around 186 carats (eight misqals) and according to Babur, its value was enough to feed the whole world for ‘half a day.’ Koh-i-Nur had a reputation of either bestowing its owner the status of world conqueror and ruler, or utter misery, misfortune and death. Because Babur was the first to mention the diamond in his memoir, it came to be sometimes known as ‘Babur’s diamond.’ Babur says that his son Humayun offered it to him because of its beauty and clarity, but he promptly gave it back to Humayun. "Bikermajit, a Hindoo, who was Rajah of Gwalior, had governed that country for upwards of a hundred years. In the battle in which Ibrahim was defeated, Bikermajit was sent to hell. Bikermajit's family and the heads of his clan were at this moment in Agra. When Humaiun arrived, Bikermajit's people attempted to escape, but were taken by the parties which Humaiun had placed upon the watch, and put in custody. Humaiun did not permit them to be plundered. Of their own free will they presented to Humaiun a 'peshkesh' (tribute or present), consisting of a quantity of jewels and precious stones. Among these was one famous diamond, which had been acquired by Sultan Ala-ed-din. It is so valuable that a judge of diamonds valued it at half of the daily expense of the whole world. It is about eight mishkels. On my arrival, Humaiun presented it to me as a peshkesh, and I gave it back to him as a present." – Translation from Babur-nama (entered in the journal May 4, 1526) A Priceless Possession How this diamond came into the possession of the rajas of Gwalior is a mystery that is unsolved. (It is presumed that when the raja of Gwalior and Ala-ud-din Khilji had a peace agreement, the diamond was restored to the Gwalior family by Khilji). Humayun came to power in 1530 after the death of Babur. After a reign of ten years, he had become comfortable in his throne, when an upstart Sher Khan Sur with a well organized army defeated him in a battlefield near Kanauj. Humayun’s forty thousand men army was thoroughly defeated by fifteen thousand soldiers of Sher Khan Sur. Humayun barely escaped with his life and became a fugitive in the deserts of Sind and Rajastan. But he had escaped with his monstrous diamond, which he put to good use in Persia. Humayun’s own brothers refused to lend him a hand in his attempts at regaining Delhi. During his wanderings in search of shelter, Humayun was offered a price for his precious cargo by some men. Humayun became quite irritated by the men and said, “Such precious gems cannot be bought; either they fall to one by arbitrage of the flashing sword, which is an expression of divine will, or else they come through the grace of mighty monarchs." Humayun eventually took refuge in Tehran in the court of Shah Tamasp, the Safavid ruler of Iran. Fortunately for Humayun, the Shah had a fondness for diamonds and Humayun used “Babur’s diamond” as barter in exchange for shelter and military help. This eventually led to Humayun’s march back to Delhi (with twelve thousand Persian troops) to regain his empire in 1555 from the successors of Sher Khan Sur. However, Humayun had to leave his precious cargo in Persia. Koh-i-Nur had thus passed on to the Shah of Iran. Koh-i-Nur had thus passed on to the Shah of Iran. Abul-Fazl in Akbarnama mentions this event in 1547, when Humayun gave the Shah of Persia innumerable jewels as gifts, including Babur’s diamond. However, Shah Tamasp was said to have not been too impressed by the gem. What happened to Koh-i-Nur next is not exactly known. It had somehow slipped back from Persia again into Mughal possession. There is historical record of Shah Tamasp of Persia gifting a great diamond to the Sultan of Golconda. This was then presented on to Aurangzeb during his stay as Governor in Deccan (before he claimed the Mughal throne) by Mir Jumla, a Persian adventurer in the service of the Sultan of Golconda. Mir Jumla had collaborated with Prince Aurangzeb and attacked Hyderabad. Aurangzeb defeated the sultan who was besieged in the fort at Golconda. According to traveler Jean-Baptiste Tavernier, Mir Jumla also met Shah Jahan in Agra and showered him with gifts, one of which was the same Babur’s diamond that his great-grandfather Humayun had gifted to Shah of Persia in order to save the Mughal Empire. There is some evidence that Jahanara, Shah Jahan’s daughter (and Aurangzeb’s sister), presented the diamond to her father. (Legend also says that Aurangzeb is reputed to have been responsible for cutting the diamond from 793 carats to 186 carats, largely due to an inadvertent error by an incompetent lapidary). When Aurangzeb wrestled the throne from his father, killing his brothers, a distraught Shah Jahan wanted to destroy all his jewels and other prize possessions. Jahanara convinced her father not to do so. Whether this is myth or fact is not known. On November 3, 1665 Aurangzeb showed off all his jewels, including Babur's diamond. The collection was viewed and recorded by Jean-Baptiste Tavernier in his The Six Voyages of Jean-Baptiste Tavernier, published in 1679. This exhibition was only three months before Shah Jahan died in February 1666, still under the captivity of his son. The Curse of Koh-i-Nur The Koh-i-Nur stayed in Delhi for another one hundred years until Nadir Shah of Persia, after plundering Delhi, carried the diamond back to Persia in 1739. He had heard of the priceless stone and come particularly in search of it in Delhi. His initial attempts to find the stone were not successful. A woman in the then Mughal emperor Muhammad Shah’s harem betrayed the Emperor, and informed Nadir Shah that the Emperor hid the diamond in his turban. So the shrewd Nadir Shah had to resort to a clever trick. He ordered a grand feast to coincide with the restoration of Mohammed Shah to his throne (which itself was an insult to the Mughal Empire of erstwhile fame and glory). During the course of the ceremony, Nadir Shah suddenly proposed an exchange of turbans, a well-known oriental custom signifying the creation of brotherly ties, sincerity and eternal friendship. Mohammed Shah was taken aback but at the same time was hardly in a position to resist such a request. With as much grace as he could summon, he accepted. Eventually when Nadir Shah went to his private apartment for the night, and unfolded the turban to find the diamond concealed within. He then exclaimed "Koh-i-Nur", meaning "Mountain of Light". The most famous diamond in history now had a name. Later the diamond was in the possession of Shah Rukh, one of the grandsons of Nadir Shah. Shah Rukh had suffered immeasurably and was even blinded by his foes, but refused to part with the Koh-i-Nur. After he was dethroned and blinded, he was allowed to live as the Governor of a province in Persia, but tenaciously held on to the precious diamond. A wily warrior Aga Muhammad by name had a penchant for diamonds and was determined to take it away from Shah Rukh. He crafted a quiet coup on the city and held Shah Rukh’s feet to fire (literally), and demanded that he part with the Koh-i-Nur. Shah Rukh refused and suffered more inhuman torture which he endured. Finally he made alliance with Ahmad Shah Abdali, an Afghani ruler, who helped in his dire plight in 1751. (The infamous Ahmad Shah Abdali had followed in the footsteps of Nadir Shah and attacked Delhi repeatedly in order to fill his coffers in 1756 and againg in 1760). After Shah Rukh’s death, Abdali took the diamond and it stayed in Afghanistan for the next three generations. From Abdali it passed on to his son Timur Shah (who moved the capital from Khandahar to Kabul). Timur was a weak ruler but quite potent in other ways, as he left behind 23 sons to contend for the throne. Upon the death of Timur Shah in 1793, Koh-i-Nur was inherited by his eldest son Shah Zaman. A fraternal dispute developed between Shah Zaman and his brother Shah Shuja and the former lost his eyesight as well as the Koh-i-Nur in the ensuing power struggle. There is an interesting story of the diamond in Shah Zaman’s possession. The Shah, who had been blinded by his brother Shah Mahmud, had hidden the diamond in the wall of his prison cell. A guard accidentally brushed his hand against the chipped plaster and discovered the diamond. Thus another brother Shah Shuja, who now was ruling Afghanistan came to possess the diamond. Shah Shuja wore it proudly on his breast and the British envoy Elphinstone (of Bombay) saw the diamond and mentioned it to his colleagues. (After this the British never lost sight of the diamond, as will be seen later in the story). In any case, Koh-i-Nur did not bestow good fortune on the family of Persians and Afghans who had plundered Delhi. It only brought misfortune and misery to the grandson of Nadir Shah, in his tenacious clinging on to the rock, despite being blinded and tortured. It did not fare well with the Afghan family of Abdali either. His grandson Shah Zaman had been blinded by his own brother and incarcerated, but still refused to part with the diamond. Shah Shuja himself was later overthrown and forced to seek shelter in India, under Raja Ranjit Singh. Back to India - A Short Stay Shah Shuja was evicted and sought shelter in Lahore and was held under the protection of Raja Ranjit Singh, the lion of Punjab. Ruling from Lahore, Ranjit Singh had carved himself an empire that included entire Punjab as well as Kashmir. Ranjit Singh was obsessed with acquiring the diamond. Through starvation and torture as well craftiness he succeeded in getting his information from the Zenana (harem where nothing remained secret for too long). He was able to make a deal with Shah Shuja. He offered protection and support so that Shah Shuja could regain his throne in Afghanistan but the diamond shone brightly on Ranjit Singh’s bracelet. Once again the diamond had been used as a bartering tool to buy protection. After the death of Raja Ranjit Singh, his kingdom languished with internal strife and inept administration. When crafty Dalhousie came to India as the Governor-general in 1848, his sole aim was to annex as much land as possible. After the mutiny in Punjab, the British had used it as a pretext to dispose of its raja, and annex all of Punjab and Kashmir. The Koh-i-Nur remained in Lahore Treasury guarded by British officers. An annexation document was promptly produced by Dalhousie and Punjab came under British control after the Treaty of Lahore. The terms of the Treaty of Lahore also included the surrender of a gem called Koh-i-Nur to the Queen of England. Administration of Punjab had fallen into the hands of John Lawrence, who misplaced the diamond, only to be discovered by a valet. Sir John Lawrence had set aside his coat with the diamond in a small box and forgotten about it. When Dalhousie demanded that Lawrence send the diamond to him, he suddenly remembered about the gem and asked his valet if he had seen the box. The valet brought the box and Sir Lawrence asked him to open it. The valet opened the box and found a “bit of glass’ in it and was least impressed by it. Dalhousie, the Governor-general took great interest in the diamond, and personally transported it from Lahore to Bombay. He never let it out of his sight, day or night. He is said to have sewn it into his belt, and then tied the end of the belt to a chain around his neck. The diamond that Elphinstone had laid eyes on more than fifty years ago, was now firmly in the possession of the British. The diamond was placed in an iron box and shipped to England on aboard HMS Madea. The ship did not have a smooth sailing. In Madagascar, the crew contracted Cholera and the locals demanded that the ship leave port immediately or it would be set ablaze. Even the ship’s captain had been kept in the dark about his precious cargo. Then the ship was hit with a gale that it barely managed to survive. Finally the ship reached Plymouth, England and the two officers who were in charge of delivering the diamond to Her Majesty, quickly disembarked and took the iron box over to the East India House and handed over to the Chairman and Deputy Chairman of the Company. Dalhousie tried to calm fears among the British and attempted to dispel the myth that Koh-i-Nur brought misfortune to its owners. In a letter dated September 1, 1850 he wrote: "I received your letter of 16th July yesterday. The several sad or foul events in England on which it touches have been mentioned by me heretofore, and they are too sad to refer to you. You add that you knew this mishaps lie at my door, as I have sent Koh-i-Nr which always brings misfortune to its possessor. Whoever was the exquisite person from whom you heard this...he was rather lame both on his history and tradition...As for tradition, when Shah Shoojah [Shuja], from whom it was taken, was afterwards asked by Runjeat's [Ranjit Singh's] desire, 'What was the value of Koh-i-Nur?' he replied, 'Its value is Good Fortune, for whoever possesses it has been superior to all his enemies.' I sent the Queen a narrative of this conversation with Shah Shoojah, taken from the mouth of the messenger." The Crown Jewel The Koh-i-Nur was presented to Queen Victoria at Buckingham Palace by the Deputy Chairman of the East India Company. A stone faced Queen Victoria received the diamond nonchalantly on June 3, 1850. The public got its first chance to see the diamond in the Great Exhibition held in Hyde Park. It was the star attraction of the Exhibition. However, the Koh-i-Nur could not be well exhibited as the light was inadequate and the cut of the diamond was thought to be imperfect. Prince Albert, the Queen’s cousin and husband took keen interest in the diamond. It had been crudely cut by the Indian cutters centuries ago and did not show the luster properly. This disappointed Prince Albert immensely. Experts from Amsterdam were brought in for consultation and finally a design was chosen to re-cut the Koh-i-Nur and placed on the mill in July 1852. Before being re-cut the diamond was valued at 140,000 pounds. 8000 pounds had been spent to re-cut it. However in terms of its history and colorful legacy, the Koh-i-Nur will ever remain priceless. Mr. Voorsanger, a Dutch national, cut the stone and reshaped it in thirty eight days, working twelve hours a day. The diamond shone brighter but lost another eighty carats and reduced to 106 carats, much to the dissatisfaction of the Prince Albert. There were other criticisms about the design and the waste that the diamond suffered in its new form. Koh-i-Nur was an oval, flat stone and was not conducive to be re-cut with the design chosen without enormous waste and loss of precious carats. Moreover it had several faults that made re-cutting treacherous in respect to its size and weight. Prince Albert had been warned about this well in advance by many experts. The Koh-i-Nur is kept in Windsor Castle, out of view of the Queen’s subjects. A model is kept in the Tower of London museum to satisfy the curiosity of people who are interested in the legendary stone, only to remind us of its sanguinity, romance as well as the misery and misfortunes it bestowed upon its royal owners.