Definitions

Koh-i-noor

Koh-i-noor

[koh-uh-noor]
Koh-i-noor: see diamond.
This article is about the diamond. For the film, see Kohinoor. For the Czech pencil manufacturer, see Koh-I-Noor (company). For the brush-footed butterfly, see Amathuxidia amythaon.

The Kōh-i Nūr (కోహినూరు; कोहिनूर, , Urdu: کوہ نور, Bangla: কহিনূর) "Mountain of Light"; also spelled Kohinoor, Koh-e Noor or Koh-i-Nur) is a 105 carat (21.6 g) diamond that was once the largest known diamond in the world. The Kohinoor originated at Golconda in the state of Andhra Pradesh in India, belonged to various Mughal and Persian rulers who fought bitterly over it at various points in history, and seized as a spoil of war, was finally taken by the British and became part of the British Crown Jewels when British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli proclaimed Queen Victoria Empress of India in 1877.

Like all significant jewels, the Kohinoor has its share of legends. It is reputed to bring misfortune or death to any male who wears or owns it. Conversely, it is reputed to bring good luck to female owners. According to another legend, whoever owns the Koh-i-Noor rules the world.

Origins and early history

The origins of the diamond are unclear. Many early stories of great diamonds in southern India exist, but it is hard to establish which one was the Koh-i-noor, if any.

According to some sources, the Koh-i-noor was originally found more than 5000 years ago, and is mentioned in ancient Sanskrit writings under the name Syamantaka. According to some Hindu mythological accounts, Krishna himself obtained the diamond from Jambavantha, whose daughter Jambavati later married Krishna. The legend says that the diamond was stolen from Krishna as he lay sleeping. Another source claims that the diamond was discovered in a river bed in 3200 B.C.

Historical evidence suggests that the Kohinoor originated in the Golconda kingdom, in the south Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, one of the world's earliest diamond producing regions. This region was the first and only known source for diamonds until 1730 when diamonds were discovered in Brazil. The term "Golconda" diamond has come to define diamonds of the finest white color, clarity and transparency. They are very rare and highly sought after.

South Indian folklore is definite in claiming a local origin for the stone. It is likely that the diamond was mined in the Kollur mines in the present day Guntur district of Andhra Pradesh. The Khilji dynasty at Delhi ended in 1320 A.D. and Ghiyas ud din Tughluq Shah I ascended the Delhi throne. Tughlaq sent his son Ulugh Khan in 1323 to defeat the Kakatiya king Prataparudra. Ulugh Khan’s raid was repulsed but he returned in a month with a larger and determined army. The unprepared army of Warangal was defeated. The loot, plunder and destruction of Warangal continued for months. Loads of gold, diamonds, pearls and ivory were carried away to Delhi on elephants, horses and camels. The Koh-i-noor diamond was part of the bounty. From then onwards, the stone passed through the hands of successive rulers of the Delhi sultanate, finally passing to Babur, the first Mughal emperor, in 1526.

The first confirmed note historically mentioning the Koh-i-noor by an identifiable name dates from 1526. Babur mentions in his memoirs, the Baburnama, that the stone had belonged to an un-named Rajah of Malwa in 1294. Babur held the stone's value to be such as to feed the whole world for two days. The Baburnama recounts how Rajah of Malwa was compelled to yield his prized possession to Ala ud din Khilji; it was then owned by a succession of dynasties that ruled the Delhi sultanate, finally coming into the possession of Babur himself in 1526, following his victory over the last ruler of that kingdom. However, the Baburnama was written c.1526-30; Babur's source for this information is unknown, and he may have been recounting the hearsay of his day. He did not at that time call the stone by its present name, but despite some debate about the identity of 'Babur's Diamond' it seems likely that it was the stone which later became known as Koh-i-noor.

Both Babur and Humayun mention very clearly in their memoirs the origins of 'Babur's Diamond'. This diamond was with the Kachhwaha rulers of Gwalior and then inherited by the Tomara line. The last of Tomaras, Vikramaditya, was defeated by Sikandar Lodi, Sultan of Delhi and became Delhi sultanate pensioner and resided in Delhi. On the defeat of Lodis and replacement by Mughals, his house was looted by the mughals and Prince Humayun interceded and restored his property even allowing him to leave Delhi and take refuge in Mewar at Chittaur. In return for Humayun's kindness, one of the diamonds, most likely the Koh-i-noor, in possession of Prince Vikaramaditya was given to Humayun in gratitude. Humayun had much bad luck throughout his life. Sher Shah Suri, who defeated Humayun, died in the flames of a burst cannon. His son Jalal Khan was murdered by his brother-in-law, who was overthrown by his minister, who in turn lost the empire of India by the unlucky accident of getting hit in the eye at stroke of victory. Humayun's son, Akbar, never kept the diamond with himself and later only Shah Jahan took it out of his treasury. Akbar's grandson, Shah Jahan was overthrown by his son, Aurangazeb, who orchestrated the death and murder of his three brothers.

Stone of the emperors

The Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan, famous for building the Taj Mahal, had the stone placed into his ornate Peacock Throne. His son, Aurangazeb, imprisoned his ailing father at nearby Agra Fort. Legend has it that he had the Kohinoor positioned near a window so that Shah Jahan could see the Taj only by looking at its reflection in the stone. There it stayed until the invasion of Nadir Shah in 1739 and the sacking of Agra and Delhi. Along with the Peacock Throne, he also carried off the Koh-i-noor to Persia in 1739. It was allegedly Nadir Shah who exclaimed Koh-i-Noor! when he finally managed to obtain the famous stone, and this is how the stone gained its present name. There is no reference to this name before 1739.

The valuation of the Kohinoor is given in the legend that one of Nadir Shah's consorts supposedly said, "If a strong man should take five stones, and throw one north, one south, one east, and one west, and the last straight up into the air, and the space between filled with gold and gems, that would equal the value of the Koh-i-noor."

After the assassination of Nadir Shah in 1747, the stone came into the hands of Ahmed Shah Abdali of Afghanistan. In 1830, Shah Shuja, the deposed ruler of Afghanistan, managed to flee with the Kohinoor diamond. He then came to Lahore where it was given to the Sikh Maharaja (King) of Punjab, Ranjit Singh; in return for this Maharaja Ranjit Singh was able to persuade the East India Company to lend their troops and win back the Afghan throne for Shah Shuja

The diamond passes out of India

Ranjit Singh crowned himself as the ruler of Punjab and willed the Koh-i-noor to Jagannath Temple in Orissa while on his deathbed in 1839. But there was dispute about this last-minute testament, and in any case it was not executed. On March 29, 1849, the British flag was hoisted on the citadel of Lahore and the Punjab was formally proclaimed to be part of the British Empire in India. One of the terms of the Treaty of Lahore, the legal agreement formalising this occupation, was as follows:

The gem called the Koh-i-Noor which was taken from Shah Shuja-ul-Mulk by Maharajah Ranjit Singh shall be surrendered by the Maharajah of Lahore to the Queen of England.

The Governor-General in charge for the ratification of this treaty was Lord Dalhousie. More than anyone, Dalhousie was responsible for the British acquiring the Koh-i-Noor, in which he continued to show great interest for the rest of his life. Dalhousie's work in India was sometimes controversial, and his acquisition of the diamond, amongst many other things, was criticised by some contemporary British commentators. Although some suggested that the diamond should have been presented as a gift to the Queen, it is clear that Dalhousie felt strongly that the stone was a spoil of war, and treated it accordingly. Writing to his friend Sir George Cooper in August of 1849, he stated this:

The Court [of the East India Company] you say, are ruffled by my having caused the Maharajah to cede to the Queen the Koh-i-noor; while the 'Daily News' and my Lord Ellenborough [Governor-General of India, 1841-44] are indignant because I did not confiscate everything to her Majesty... [My] motive was simply this: that it was more for the honour of the Queen that the Koh-i-noor should be surrendered directly from the hand of the conquered prince into the hands of the sovereign who was his conqueror, than it should be presented to her as a gift -- which is always a favour -- by any joint-stock company among her subjects. So the Court ought to feel.

Dalhousie arranged that the diamond should be presented by Maharaja Ranjit Singh's young successor, Duleep Singh, to Queen Victoria in 1851. Duleep, aged 13, travelled to the United Kingdom to present the jewel. The presentation of the Koh-i-Noor to Queen Victoria was the latest in the long history of transfers of the stone as a spoil of war.

The Great Exhibition

The British public were given a chance to see the Koh-i-Noor when the Great Exhibition was staged in Hyde Park, London in 1851. The correspondent of The Times reported:

The Koh-i-Noor is at present decidedly the lion of the Exhibition. A mysterious interest appears to be attached to it, and now that so many precautions have been resorted to, and so much difficulty attends its inspection, the crowd is enormously enhanced, and the policemen at either end of the covered entrance have much trouble in restraining the struggling and impatient multitude. For some hours yesterday there were never less than a couple of hundred persons waiting their turn of admission, and yet, after all, the diamond does not satisfy. Either from the imperfect cutting or the difficulty of placing the lights advantageously, or the immovability of the stone itself, which should be made to revolve on its axis, few catch any of the brilliant rays it reflects when viewed at a particular angle.

The Crown Jewels

This disappointment in the appearance of the stone was shared by many. In 1852, under the personal supervision of Victoria's consort, Prince Albert, and the technical direction of James Tennant, the diamond was cut from 186 1/16 carats (37.21 g) to its current 105.602 carats (21.61 g), to increase its brilliance. Albert consulted widely, took enormous pains, and spent some £8,000 on the operation, which reduced the weight of the stone by a huge 42% - but nevertheless Albert was still dissatisfied with the result. The stone was mounted in a tiara with more than two thousand other diamonds.

Later the stone was to be used as the centrepiece of the crown of the Queen's consort of the United Kingdom. Queen Alexandra was the first to use the stone, followed by Queen Mary. In 1936, the stone was set into the crown of the new Queen Elizabeth (later known as the Queen Mother), wife of King George VI. In 2002, the crown rested atop her coffin as she lay in state.

Politics of Koh-i-noor claims

Given the long and bloody history of the diamond, there are many countries with a claim on it. In 1976, Pakistan prime minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto asked British prime minister Jim Callaghan for the Koh-i-Noor to be returned to Pakistan. The prime minister replied to Mr Bhutto with a polite "No", and British diplomats in the countries likely to counter this claim were asked to lobby to 'kill the story'. Other claims have been made by India, the Taliban regime of Afghanistan, and Iran. As of 2007, the gem remains in the Tower of London.

Koh-i-Noor in popular media

  • In the Turkish movie "Hacivat Karagöz neden öldürüldü?" (2006) the Koh-I-Noor was to be given as a present to the Mongols, but because of greed it does not get there.
  • In "Tooth and Claw", an episode of the 2006 series of Doctor Who set in 1879, the Koh-i-Noor diamond was used by the Doctor to save Queen Victoria from a werewolf. In the story, the reason for Prince Albert cutting down the diamond was to try and make it a suitable prism for a light chamber designed to trap the werewolf. The episode was first broadcast in the UK on 22 April 2006.
  • The Koh-i-Noor features as the object of a heist in Lynda La Plante's "Royal Flush" (2002)
  • In one of the George MacDonald Fraser "Flashman" novels, Flashman and the Mountain of Light (published in 1990), the Koh-i-Noor diamond forms part of the backdrop to the storyline, set during the First Anglo-Sikh War as fought between 1845 and 1846.
  • In Henry David Thoreau's book Walden, the appeal of the Koh-i-Noor diamond is mentioned on page 137 to make a point regarding human's quest for material goods.
  • In Hugh Antoine D'Arcy's poem, "The Face on the Barroom Floor" in [1887], the vagabond describes the woman that led to his ruin with the phrase, "...With eyes that would beat the Koh-i-Noor, and a wealth of chestnut hair..."
  • In James Joyce's "Ulysses", in the section written in dialogue, it is mentioned in his stage directions that "Bloom holds up his right hand on which sparkles the Koh-i-Noor diamond."
  • The plot of Agatha Christie's The Secret of Chimneys revolves around finding the Koh-i-Noor, which, in the novel, was stolen and hidden and replaced by a substitute.
  • In The Jewel in the Crown a television mini-series based upon The Raj Quartet, a four-volume novel, written by Paul Scott the title refers to, at one level, a lithograph which depicts Duleep Singh presenting the Koh-I-Noor to Queen Victoria and at another to India (Bharat-Varsh) as the real Jewel in the Crown.

See also

References

Sources

Search another word or see koh-i-nooron Dictionary | Thesaurus |Spanish
Copyright © 2014 Dictionary.com, LLC. All rights reserved.
  • Please Login or Sign Up to use the Recent Searches feature