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KOH-I-NUR

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KOHINUR ("Mountain of Light"), the peerless diamond which today lakes the pride of place among the British crown jewels, once belonged to Maharaja Duleep Singh, the last Sikh sovereign of the Punjab. Duleep Singh was made to surrender it to the British after the annexation of the Punjab in 1849. The stone, which weighed 1861/6 carats, was exhibited in London in 1851. In 1852, it was entrusted for recutting to a London firm of jewellers who engaged for this purpose a Dutch from Amsterdam. The cutting enhanced the brilliance of the diamond, but reduced its weight by 80 carats.

Today it weighs only 1061-16 carats still the most brilliant gem among the British crown jewels, if no longer the largest. It was set in the crown of the Queen Consort in 1937 at the time of the coronation of George VI. During the course of its long history, the KohiNur has witnessed the rise and fall of many a ruling dynasty.When Nadir Shah occupied Delhi in 1739, the gem was worn by the Mughal Emperor, Muhammad Shah, in his turban.Nadir promptly exchanged turbans with Muhammad Shah as a mark of mutual reconciliation and thus acquired the coveted stone. He was struck by its brilliance and shape and called it KohiNur, the Mountain of Light.

The stone has since been known by this name. Nadir was murdered in 1747 and the KohiNur came into the possession of his grandson, Shah Rukh, who surrendcrd it to Ahmad Shah Durrani of Kabul. It passed by descent to Ahmad Shah`s son, Taimur, and then to his grandson Shah Zaman. Deposed and deprived of his eyes by his brother Mahmud, Shah Zaman contrived to retain the KohiNur with him while in prison. Another brother Shah Shuja`, in 1795, dethroned and imprisoned Mahmud, and acquired the KohiNur which he found secreted in a wall of the cell in which Shah Zaman had lived.During the struggle that followed, Shah Shuja`, became a prisoner in Kashmir (1812), but his wife, Wafa Begam, escaped to Lahore with other members of the family and with much of the treasure, including the KohiNur.

She was given asylum by Maharaja Ranjit Singh.Fateh Khan, the Kabul Wazir, sought an alliance with Maharaja Ranjit Singh for a joint invasion of Kashmir and offered to share with him the booty. When Wafa Begam learnt about Fateh Khan`s designs, she became apprehensive for her husband`s safely. Through his courtiers, Faqir `Aziz udDin and Diwan Mohkam Chand, she supplicated the Maharaja for help and offered to present him with the KohiNur if he would rescue her husband from captivity. Ranjit Singh, who was already preparing to invade Kashmir, asked his commander, Diwan Mohkam Chand, to secure the release of Shah Shuja`, and bring him safely to Lahore.

The release of Shah Shuja` became the primary object of the Sikh expedition. The Sikhs and the Afghans marched towards Kashmir in December 1812. The Afghans were better used to the hills and soon stole a march over the Lahore army. But the Sikhs reached the valley ahead of Fateh Khan striking a shorter, though more hazardous, route. Shah Shuja`, who lay in chains in a dungeon, was rescued and escorted to Lahore. Unwilling to part with such a precious treasure as the KohiNur, Shah Shuja`, was in the end persuaded to make good his wife`s promise.

He invited Maharaja Ranjit Singh to his house on 1 June 1813 and placed on his palm the fabulous KohiNur. Ranjit Singh used to wear the KohiNur on his left arm on State occasions.Through his sons Kharak Singh and Sher Singh, it descended to his youngest son Duleep Singh who ascended the throne in September 1843 and who was made to surrender it to the British at the end of the second AngloSikh war (1849). Even though a boy of merely ten at that time, Duleep Singh was never reconciled to the loss of his proud possession.

At his birthday party in 1849 itself, he sadly recalled that, for his birthday the previous year, he had worn the KohiNur among his gems. In Duleep Singh, a minor under British guardianship when he was deprived of his kingdom and property including the KohiNur, questioned the legality of the whole transaction. From the time of its surrender till it left Lahore, the KohiNur was in the custody of Dr John Spencer Login, guardian and superintendent of Maharaja Duleep Singh. In 1850, Lord Dalhousie personally took the diamond from Lahore to Bombay for despatch to England.The history of the diamond before it came into the hands of Nadir Shah is shrouded in obscurity.

According to one version, the stone was discovered about five millennia earlier in the bed of the River Godavari, near Machhiipatnam, in South Golconda, now in Andhra Pradesh. Some trace its origin to the hills of Amravati, in Maharashtra. It is said that it was worn by Raja Kama, the legendary son of Surya and one of the heroes of the Mahabharata war, who had the diamond tied around his arm as a talisman. After Kama`s tragic end on the battlefield, the diamond passed into the hands of the Pandavas. It is also surmised that the diamond once belonged to Raja Vikramaditya, the ruler of the great Hindu kingdom of Ujjain in Central India, who flourished about 57 BC and who drove the Scythians out of the country.

The first authentic refernecc to the KohiNur is considered to be the one in Babar`s memoirs, the Tuzuk.According to the Tuzuk, King `Ala udDin (12961316) of the Khalji dynasty was the possessor of the stone. The Khalji king, according to some accounts, had acquired it from the Raja of Malva in 1304, while according to others the diamond which once adorned the third eye of an image of Siva in a temple somehwere in Telarigana, was gouged out by `Ala udDin Khalji during his sack of the Deccan in 131112. It later passed into the hands of the Hindu ruler of Gwalior and was presented to Humayuri, son of Babar, by the family of Raja Bikramajit who was killed at Panipat in 1526.

Whatever its earlier history, the diamond was in the treasury of Emperor Aurarigzib and during his reign the Italian jeweller, Jean Baptistc Tavernier, had the chance of seeing and examining it. The KohiNur is not known to have ever been bought or sold. It always changed hands as a result of conquest. Its value can hardly be estimated. Babar had valued the gem at "two and a half days` expenses of the world." When Ranjit Singh asked the jewellers in Amritsar to evaluate the KohiNur, they said that its price was beyond estimate.

References:

1. Beveridge, Annette Susannah, irans., Knbur-nnmn. Delhi, 1989
2. Suri, Sohan Lal, `Umdat ut-Twarikh. Lahore, 1885-89
3. Waheeduddin, Faqir Syed, The Real Ranjit Singh. Delhi, 1976
4. Khushwant Singh, A History of the Sikhs, vol. I. Princeton, 1966
5. Bhagat Singh, Maharaja Hanjit Singh and His Times.Delhi, 1990
6. Harbans Singh, The Heritage of the Sikhs. Delhi, 1983 S.S.B.

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