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  : : The Koh-I-Noor Diamond
The Legend of the Koh-I-Noor

India has long been revered by gem enthusiasts for its history of ancient and world famous gems. Kings and chieftains of India have often been measured by their collection of jewelry and precious stones, passed down by ancestors, gifted between leaders, and more often than not, won and lost in bloody battles.

Perhaps most famous of all the precious stones that have made their way into Indian and world folklore is the Koh-I-Noor diamond, of which it was once believed, whoever owned this infamous gem ruled the world. It is most likely that the Koh-I-Noor started life in the Golkonda kingdom, in the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh. The Golkonda kingdom was one of the worlds earliest diamond producing regions, and in fact one of the only regions known to mine diamonds until 1725, when they were first discovered in parts of Brazil.

The Koh-I-Noor Diamond

The Koh-I-Noor is currently 105 carats (21.0g), though it was once known to be the largest diamond in the world, at a whopping 793 carats! It is considered to be of the finest white color, clarity and transparency. Not all diamonds are actually white; impurities can cause a diamond to display shades of red, orange, blue and yellow, even green and black. Though some brilliant blue, pink and green mined diamonds are considered to be among the rarest precious stones, a vast amount of diamonds are mined and discovered every year, but less than 20% of them are commonly considered worthy of jewelry, with the remaining 80% frequently used in industry.

The Legend of the Koh-I-Noor
As with many legendary diamonds and gems, there are contrasting stories and rumors as to the origins of the Koh-I-Noor, some believe it was a gift to the earth from Surya (the god of the sun), and that evidence of its existence can be found in ancient Sanskrit writings, dating back over 5000 years ago. Some Hindus believe it was stolen from the great god Krishna as he lay asleep, whilst some say the Koh-I-Noor was in fact the Syamantaka jewel, another famous precious stone from Indian mythology, believed to be blessed with great magical powers.

The first real evidence of the Koh-I-Noor can be found in the memoirs of Barbur, the founder and first leader of the Mogul Empire. Barbur recorded the diamond amongst the treasures of Ala-ud-deen (better known to some as Aladdin), and it was said to have been won in battle in Malwah, 1304 AD.

It was in 1526 when it was obtained by the Moguls. Here it was said to be at its weight of 793 carats but after some awful cutting and polishing by the Emperor's jeweller, Borgio, the stone was reduced to just 186 carats, and Borgio was said to have been severally punished!

The Mountain of Light
In 1739, when the Persians invaded and conquered India, the Indian Emperor, Muhammed Shah, hid the Koh-I-Noor in his turban. Alas, the Persian leader, Nadir Shah had been tipped off about the secreted gem by one of Muhammed's harem, and before returning back to Persia, Nadir invited Muhammed to join in with their celebrations, part of which included a well-known Oriental tradition whereby Shah and Muhammed must exchange turbans to symbolize their new found friendship and lay down peace between the two nations. The Mogul leader was unable to refuse the gesture and this became famously known as the 'turban trick'. When Nadir later unraveled the turban and first laid his eyes on the large brilliant stone he was believed to have proclaimed 'Koh-I-Noor!', which translates as 'mountain of light'.

Through much blood and battle
Nadir Shah took the Koh-I-Noor back to Persia and defended and held on to it until his death, but shortly after which the Koh-I-Noor passed through several owners, being won and lost in a sequence of bloody and fierce battles, finally being acquired by Ahmed Shah, who became the King of Afghanistan. Ahmed held the diamond in very high regard, claiming it to be a true symbol of power and authority, he too would hold on to the Koh-I-Noor for some time, before yet another series of brutal fights and rebellions which would take both the diamond and his life.

The diamond made its way back to India, in 1830, carried by Shuja Shah, the then recently deposed Afghan ruler. He arrived in Lahore and begged the Maharaja to help him win back his throne in Afganistan. It's said that to the astonishment of the Maharaja Ranjit Singh, Shuja refused to offer the Koh-I-Noor as part of the deal, Ranjit Singh hit Shuja several times with his shoe and threatening to kill him, before the diamond was finally handed over and as a result, the kingdom of Afghanistan was won back for the grateful Shuja Shah.

The Koh-I-Noor in Britain,

The Royal British Crown
The Royal British Crown

When Ranjit Singh died in 1839 the Sikh kingdom began to lack leadership and power, and on 29 March of 1849, the British raised their flag in Lahore the Punjab was proclaimed part of the British Empire in India.

In 1850 the British thought it to be fitting that the new Maharaja, Duleep Singh, should personally present the diamond to Queen Victoria, after which the Koh-I-Noor became the centre piece of 'the Great Exhibition' staged in Hyde Park, London, displaying the large diamond in full public view.

A year later, in 1852, Prince Albert ordered for the diamond to be re-cut, reducing it to its current weight of 105 carats, and increasing its brilliance, soon after which it was then set in a royal tiara with over 2000 other diamonds.

The Koh-I-Noor currently resides with the rest of the crown jewels, set in a crown created in 1937 for the coronation of the then Empress of India, Elizabeth, who would later be known as the Queen Mother.

The continuing battle of the Koh-I-Noor
With centuries of war, rebellion, murder and torture in its history, the Koh-I-Noor is still believed to carry a curse, one which will gift its owner the power and right to rule the world, but promises they will meet with misfortune and death; although somewhat contradictory it is said to protect any female wearing it.

Despite the curse and gruesome history both Afghanistan and India claim to have lost the diamond illegal and continue to fight for its return. During Elizabeth II's state visit to India in 1997, marking 50 years of Indian independence, many people protested that the diamond should be returned, including some Indian MPs.

In as recently as July of 2010, the British Prime Minister, David Cameron was challenged during an interview on national Indian TV (NDTV), to return the Koh-I-Noor to India. David Cameron later replied that returning the diamond was not possible, for it would set a dangerous president, and to this day the Koh-I-Noor continues to be in the possession of the British Royal family, but the future of this well travelled gem is still very much unknown.

  • First Published: March-17-2012
  • Last Updated: March-19-2012
  • © 2005-2014 GemSelect.com all rights reserved.
    Reproduction (text or graphics) without the express written consent of GemSelect.com (SETT Company Ltd.) is strictly prohibited.
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