Dr Jasbir Singh Sarna
The Koh-i noor is the most talked-about and precious diamond in the world, ‘Koh-i-noor’ literally means ‘mountain of light’. This famous diamond has many legends attached to it. According to Hindu mythological tales, this diamond had been associated with Karan, the king of Anga, who ruled in 3000 BC.This diamond, after remaining in obscurity for a long time, finally came into the hands of Hindu King Vikramaditya of Gwalior. Vikramaditya had fought alongside Sultan Ibrahim Lodhi in the first battle of Panipat. On the day of victory itself, Babar sent his son Humayun alongwith his forces to Agra (the Capital of the Lodhis). Reaching there, he laid a seige on Agra.Ibrahim Lodhi had already been killed in the battle at Panipat. Humayun faced resistance but easily entered Agra alongwith his forces. When he was entering the Agra Fort alongwith his victorious army, women of the royal household offered him precious pearls and diamonds and prayed that their lives be spared. It was here that an elderly woman of the royal household offered him a small box and requested him to spare her life. When Prince Humayun opened the box, he saw the peerless diamond ‘Koh-i noor’ with his awe-inspiring brilliance.
During the Mughal Rule
After installing military administration in Delhi, Babar reached Agra in 1526. As soon as he reached there, Humayun came into his presence and offered him the ‘Koh-i-noor”. Babar was pleased with him and returned it to him as a gift. Before coming into the hands of Humayun, the history of this diamond had been recorded. History tells us that Sultan Allauddin Khilji got it from the ‘Raja of Malwa’ in 1304. How did it go back to the Hindu rulers of Gwalior? History is silent on the point.
After the first battle of Panipat, with the establishment of Mughal rule in India, the Koh-i-noor diamond went into the hands of Zaheer-ul-din Babar, the king of Kabul. For two hundred years, this diamond remained with successive Mughal rulers- Humayun, Akbar, Jahangir, Shah Jahan and others. History also mentions that it remained with Shah Jahan’s wife Mumtaz Mahal also for some time.
In 1739, when Persia’s notorious maruader Nadir Shah plundered Delhi, he robbed all the pearls and diamonds from Aurangzeb’s weak successor Mohammed Shah. These included Koh-i-noor also. Nadir Shah took it to Afghanistan. It was Nadir Shah who gave it the name of ‘Koh-i-noor’, which is the most popular name for it. Babar and Traverner had given it different names. It was for the first time in history that a diamond had been given a special name.
After Nadir Shah’s death
Nadir Shah was murdered at Fatehbad (Khurasan) in the year 1747. After his murder, his nephew Ali-Kuli-Khan (or Ali Shah) ascended the throne, and he inherited the Koh-i-noor diamond. Later, Ali was blinded and then beheaded and in this manner, the diamond reached the hands of his successor Shah Rukh Mirza (Nadir Shah’s grandson). Afterwards, Shah Rukh was made a prisoner by Agha Mohammed who tortured him mercilessly and sought the custody of Koh-i-noor diamond. In 1751, Shahrukh Mirza gave the diamond to Ahmed Shah Durrani in appreciation of the latter’s services. After Ahmed Shah’s death, it came into the hands of his son and successor Taimur Shah. Taimur Shah died in 1793 and then this diamond came into the possession of his elder son Shah Zaman. To have his diamond for himself, Shah Mahmud blinded his brother Shah Zaman and deprived him of the throne, but the latter kept the diamond with himself. Then this diamond reached his third brother Shah Shujah.
Before passing through the hands of Rajas, Maharajas, foreign invaders, kings and emperors for many centuries, this diamond weighed 1000 carat. In 1665, French merchant and Jeweller Traverner recorded its weight as 279/9/16 carat. This weighing was done in the presence of Emperor Aurangzeb. Traverner named it ‘the great Mughal Diamond’. It has also been called the ‘Matchless’ or ‘Babar Diamond’ also, which fact finds mention in ‘Tuzk-e-Babri’ also.In 1852, this diamond was cut again in London. Eight thousand pounds were paid as labour for cutting it. A famous lapidist Woor Sanger was called. He spent 38 days on the job and the diamond’s weight came down to 106/1/16 carat. A London jeweller Gerald cut it from 186 carat to the present Kohinoor weighing 108-93 carat.
How did it come to the Sikhs?
When with Satguru’s grace and through continuous struggle of the Khalsa Panth, ‘Sarkar-e-Khalsa’ was set up in Punjab, Maharaja Ranjit Singh subjugated Kabul and Kandahar in Afghanistan too. Ahmed Shah Durani’s successor Shah Shujah accepted Maharaja’s suzerainty. Diwan Mohkam Chand brought this former king of Kabul to Lahore in March 1813. In view of his position, Kanwar Kharak Singh was sent to Shahdra to receive him.
In Lahore, Mubarak Haveli was reserved for lodging Shah Shujah. First, the king kept dilly-dallying, but his wife Wafa Begum promised to hand over this diamond. For sometime, Shah Shujah evaded handing over of the diamond. Maharaja Ranjit Singh subjected him to various types of inconveniences and warned him that he would be separated from his family and imprisoned in Gobindgarh Fort at Amritsar. Shah Shujah’s wife had promised to hand over the diamond in return for sparing her husband’s life.
On June, 1813, Maharaja Ranjit Singh sent Bhai Gurmukh Singh, Fakir Azizuddin and Jamadar Khushal Singh to procure the rare diamond from Shah Shujah. Shah Shujah sent them back saying that the Maharaja should himself come to receive the diamond. When Maharaja Ranjit Singh got the news, he was delighted and riding his horse and accompanied by his forces and carrying Rs. 1000 in cash, he set out for Mubarak Haveli. The Afghan king received the Maharaja with great respect and honour. They were in conference for about one hour. At last, the Shah brought the diamond and handed it over to Maharaja Ranjit Singh. A declaration of mutual friendship was made.
When the Maharaja sought to know its price, the latter replied, “Its price is ‘stick’ (that is force). My forefathers acquired it in this manner. You too have got it from me by inflicting body blows on me. When a ruler more powerful than you comes, he will take it from you in this very manner only.” The Maharaja did not take it ill and returned after putting the diamond in his pocket. Back to the palace, the Maharaja summoned a royal ‘darbar’ and to celebrate the acquisition of this precious diamond, the entire city was illuminated. Along with two other diamonds, the Maharaja used to tie it on his arm on very special occasions. This diamond remained in the Lahore royal treasury till 1849. After Maharaja Ranjit Singh death, when Kanwar Kharak Singh and Kanwar Naunihal Singh were killed under a deep-rooted conspiracy. Sher Singh, was made the Maharaja of Punjab by ignoring the claims of Chand Kaur. This rare diamond came into his hands thus.
Over to England
As a result of the deep-rooted conspiracies, when the English successfully accomplished the diplomatic task of including the Punjab in their empire, they, at the same time, put up the pretence of making minor Maharaja Dalip Singh the ruler of Lahore on his attaining the age of 18 years. At that time, alongwith Lahore royal treasury, the English deceitfully took away Maharaja Dalip Singh to England. They also took away the Koh-i-noor diamond, the royal chair and many works of art relating to the Sikh Raj. Before being taken away to England, the Governor General first took away the entire treasure to Bombay in the year 1850. There it was handed over to Lt. Col. C.B.Maxon and Capt. Ramsay who took it to Europe. Reaching Europe, the Sikh treasure was entrusted to the Board of Directors, and finally they presented this to the British Queen. For the first time, it was exhibited in London at the first big exhibition held in 1851.
Its present location
First this diamond was prepared for the coronation of the British Queen Mary. For the second time, in 1937, on the occasion of the coronation of George VI, this diamond alongwith 2800 other diamonds was fixed in the crown of the Queen Mother (Mother of the Present Queen Elizabeth who died recently). Now-a-days, it is exhibited in England’s Tower of London amidst very tight security. Other Royal crowns of the Royal family have also been placed alongside this diamond. A few years ago, this diamond had been displayed in the ‘Crystal Palace’. Placed in the centre of 2800 small diamonds, it offers a thrilling experience and glittering view.
Demand for its return
From time to time, demand for the return of the ‘Kohinoor’ as well as the Royal Sikh treasure and other works of art continue to be made from the British Govt. During the last few years, Members of Indian Parliament too had demanded the return of this important Sikh treasure. On the occasion of the celebration of bi-centenary of Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s coronation, this demand was made in the newspaper in a very befitting manner. But the British Govt. show calculated indifference to this demand.
Dr Jasbir Singh Sarna