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Tracing the murky history of the much coveted Koh-i-Noor diamond

Speed News Desk | Updated on: 10 February 2017, 1:50 IST

The Koh-i-Noor, which translates into 'mountan of light' in Persian, remains one of, if not the most coveted piece of rock in history. Currently set in the front of the Queen Mother's Crown, the Koh-i-Noor has been in the possession of the British since 1850. However, the story of the Koh-i-Noor's origin and the identity of its rightful owner gets lost in the murky waters of history.

On 18 April, the NDA government clarified to the Supreme court that India does not have a legitimate claim to the Koh-i-Noor diamond - on the grounds that contrary to popular belief, the diamond was not acquired forcibly or stolen. Appearing for the government, Solicitor General Ranjit Kumar told the apex court that the Koh-i-Noor diamond was handed over by Maharaja Ranjit Singh to the East India Company.

While the NDA government's stand has been disputed from all quarters, several versions of where the Koh-i-Noor's legitimate claim lies have also been floating around. The diamond reportedly finds one of its earliest mentions, as the mythical jewel Syamantaka, in a Sanskrit text more than 5,000 years ago.

What is known, however, is that the diamond was mined from Guntur in present-day Andhra Pradesh. Historical texts indicate that it belonged to the Rajas of the Malwas in the 1300s. It was in the year 1304 that the diamond came into the possession of the Alauddin Khilji, the Emperor of Delhi at the time.

Legend has it that in the 1300s, a deadly curse was placed on the diamond - "He who owns this diamond will own the world, but will also know all its misfortunes. Only God, or a woman, can wear it with impunity," is what the Hindi script bearing the curse translated into.

The diamond remained in the possession of the Mughals for about 300 years in the city of Samarkhand. Historical evidence indicates that in the year 1526 Mughal Emperor Babur mentions the diamond is his writings Baburnama. He came into possession of the diamond as a gift from Sultan Ibrahim Lodi.

The diamond was passed on as an heirloom, till the year 1739, when Sultan Mahamad, the grandson of Aurangzeb surrendered his kingdom, and handed over the dazzling jewel to the Persian general Nadir Shah. It was Nadir Shah who gave the diamond its current name, the Koh-i-Noor.

After Nadir Shah's untimely assassination, the Koh-i-Noor came into the possession of Ahmad Shah Durrani, one of his generals. It was then passed onto Shah Shuja Durrani, who brought the diamond back to India, and handed it over to Maharaja Ranjit Singh, the founder of the Sikh Empire in the year 1813, in exchange for help to allow him to regain the throne of Afghanistan.

Its new owner, Maharaja Ranjit Singh, willed the diamond to the Hindu temple of Jagannath in Puri, in modern-day Odisha, India. However, after his death in 1839, the East India Company did not execute his will. On 29 March 1849, following the conclusion of the Second Anglo-Sikh War, the Kingdom of Punjab was formally annexed to British India, and the Last Treaty of Lahore was signed, officially ceding the Koh-i-Noor to Queen Victoria and the Maharaja's other assets to the company.

Although some thought it should have been presented as a gift to Queen Victoria by the East India Company, it is clear that Lord Dalhousie, the Governor Genral of the time, strongly believed the stone was a spoil of war, and treated it accordingly, ensuring that it was presented to her by Maharaja Duleep Singh, the youngest son of Ranjit Singh, who was only 8-years-old, and estranged from his mother, when he signed over the possession of the Koh-i-Noor to the East India Company.

After a long and difficult voyage that was hit by several obstacles including a cholera breakout onboard the ship and a gale, the Koh-i-Noor was finally handed over to Queen Victoria in July 1850.

An ill-advised decision of the Queen, to get it polished and re-cut under the guidance of a renowned jeweller from Amsterdam, named Vorsanger, resulted in the stone being diminished from its original 186 carats to 106 carats.

In the year 1911, the Koh-i-noor was placed in the 'Small King's crown' which was designed for Queen Mary. In 1976, Pakistan made a formal appeal to the British government to return the jewel. India, too, has laid its claim to the diamond, but it still remains a part of 'The Crown Jewels'.

First published: 21 April 2016, 4:59 IST