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Travails of a gem

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KALA SAMBASIVAN

The Koh-i-noor diamond has inspired many stories. What's the mystery behind it?

Ah! Your old storyteller, the langur, is back with another wonderful tale! Remember the ones I have told you so far about kings? Well, today I have a captivating one of a glittering stone that brought misfortune to the kings who owned it in the past.

The legend of the Koh-i-noor diamond, though it was not called by that name until much later, goes back a long, long time - to a time when Lord Krishna ruled the land. People say he had a diamond as large as a. . . well, perhaps a mango. (What else can a monkey think of!)

The stone surfaces

One day when the Lord was asleep, someone took off with the magnificent stone. In anger, Lord Krishna cursed the stone and those who would possess it — He who wears this diamond shall rule the world; but for God and woman, shall also suffer many misfortunes.

In time, the prophesy of the stone came to be feared.

Yet, the desire to own it was stronger than the fear of the curse; and, sure enough, it brought misery to many kings who sought after it.

No one can tell what happened to the diamond for many hundreds of years after it was stolen from the Lord. History picks up its trail in the 13 {+t} {+h} century when it was with Malwa kings of central India. Alas, the curse of the stone came true. In 1304 AD, Al-ud-din Khilji plundered their kingdom. He made off with the malevolent diamond.

Bloodshed and death followed the gemstone as it made its way into the hands of Babur, the first Mughal king in India. It remained with this dynasty for over 200 years. Did it bring ill-luck to them? I guess so. Would history have been different if they did not possess the koh-i-noor? Who knows? People say emperor Shah Jehan gazed at the reflection of the Taj Mahal in it as he lay in bed at Agra Fort where he was imprisoned by his own son. Did he know of its curse?

After the death of Shah Jehan, his son Aurangazeb became the owner of the diamond. He ordered his gem-cutters to cut and polish it till it shone like the sun. Sadly, the jewellers were unskilled. They reduced it from 789 carats to maybe a third of its weight. It was now the size of an egg! Was the emperor angry? Of course, he was furious enough to behead them all!

The death of Aurangazeb was the beginning of the end of Mughal rule. The rulers who took over from him were weak and ineffective. The diamond though, still remained with them. That is until Nadir Shah of Persia came to know of its existence.

In 1739, Nadir Shah attacked and defeated the Mughals under Mohammed Shah. He looted heirlooms of the conquered king. But he did not find the gem he had heard so much about. Soon he learned that it was always kept hidden in the king's turban. The crafty conqueror declared peace. He sealed his “friendship” with the exchange of turbans as was the tradition among kings then. What a devious plan that was! With trembling hands, Nadir Shah unravelled Mohammed Shah's turban. He pulled out the luminous stone and exclaimed “Koh-i-noor” which in Persian means “Mountain of Light”.

But, yet again the prophesy came true. Ill-luck followed the Persian ruler and the many generals who possessed it later. It came back to India when Ranjit Singh, ruler of Punjab, got it in exchange for political favours. But when the king died, the British made an unfair treaty with his young son. The koh-i-noor passed into their hands. The stone was once again cut and polished. It was now 109 carats. The stone found its final place in Queen Victoria's tiara..

Do you know something else? Its bloody path ended here. The diamond that destroyed many men did no harm to the queens who wore the tiara!

The Hindu presents the all-new Young World

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