Kohinoor, the mountain of light

From its origin in the Deccan to its present location in the Tower of London, the Kohinoor has had a turbulent journey

July 07, 2016 04:19 pm | Updated 08:52 pm IST - Hyderabad:

Queen Alexandria

Queen Alexandria

Kohinoor diamond has been at the centre of diplomatic rows intermittently ever since the attainment of Indian independence with some sections demanding its return. The priceless diamond which left the shores of India in 1850, now forms part of the British crown jewels displayed in the Tower of London making viewers savour this timeless beauty that rocked many a monarch across countries in the past many centuries.

The Tower of London, the oldest fortress cum Palace of the English kings, built by William I in 1066 on the banks of the river Thames, is visited by millions of tourists annually mainly to have a look at Kohinoor exhibited with tight security in one of its edifices, the Jewel House. As you enter through its steep doorway, there are several dazzling crowns worn in the past, by the British Royalty, neatly perched on attractive cushions in a row at the eye level of the viewers. Visitors are ushered on to a slow moving conveying belt that slides past an array of crowns. For a fleet of a second, you are before the dazzling crown with the historic diamond set in it. As you come out with the thrill of having seen the world famous Kohinoor, you are also reminded of the turbulent journey the diamond made through centuries by changing hands across the countries.

Kohinoor diamond is said to have been found in the Kollur mines in the Krishna basin of the present Andhra Pradesh, then under the Kakatiya kingdom in the 13th. century. The possession of the diamond changed between various powers for the next few centuries. When Warangal was raided by the forces of Alauddin Khilji under Malik Kafur in 1310, Kohinoor along with other riches was taken away to Delhi by the invader. It remained with successive Delhi Sultans and then the Mughals. Kohinoor is mentioned in the memoirs of both Babur and Humayun. Shahjahan, got it set in his fabled Peacock throne.

When Nadir Shah of Persia invaded Delhi and looted the Mughal treasury in 1739, he took away Kohinoor along with Peacock throne from Muhammad Shah. It is said that on seeing the diamond for the first time, Nadir Shah exclaimed, “Koh-i-Noor”, meaning, mountain of light. That is how the stone got its name. Legend has it when Nadir Shah pillaged Delhi, he could not find Kohinoor in the treasury as the Mughal emperor had hid it in his turban. Having come to know of this, Nadir Shah proposed the exchange of turbans as a gesture of goodwill and thus the invader tricked the Mughal emperor to part with Kohinoor diamond.

After Nadir Shah was assassinated in 1747, the diamond fell into the hands of his generals. One such general, Ahmed Shah Durrani fled the country with Kohinoor. Decades later, his descendant, Shah Shuja Durrani, reached Lahore where the Sikh ruler Maharaja Ranjith Singh helped him to become the Amir of Afghanistan. In return for his help and hospitality, Shah Shuja Durrani presented the Kohinoor to Ranjith Singh in 1813.

Subsequently, when the Sikh kingdom was annexed to the British after defeating Dhuleep Singh, the successor of Ranjith Singh in the Second Sikh war in 1849, Kohinoor was taken by Sir Henry Lawrence who negotiated on the Company’s behalf at the treaty. The diamond was dispatched to England by Dalhousie under tight security and presented to Queen Elizabeth on 3 July, 1850

British public were shown the diamond when the Great London exhibition was opened in the Hyde Park in 1851. About the diamond, the Times paper wrote: “The Koh-i- Noor is at present decidedly the Lion of the exhibition”. Prince Albert, the husband of Victoria got the diamond cut to the present weight of 105.6 carats to bring back its sheen.

Queen Victoria wore Kohinoor not in her crown but as brooch on her dress. After her death, Kohinoor was set in the crown of her daughter-in-law, Queen Alexandra the wife of Edward VII, at their coronation in 1902. In 1911, when George V became the king, the diamond was transferred to Queen Mary’s crown and in 1937 to that of Queen Mother’s (mother of the present Queen Elizabeth II) crown, when George VI was crowned. All these crowns now form part of the crown jewels exhibited in the Jewel House. The original bracelet presented along with the Kohinoor to Victoria is also seen here.

“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 the widely spoken curse of Kohinoor. Victoria therefore willed that Kohinoor should only be worn by a female Queen. If the head of State was a male, his wife wears it.

During World War II, the crown jewels were moved to a secret location. It was later revealed that the diamond was hid by George VI in a lake near Windsor Castle, outside London. The only people who knew of the hidden place were the king and his Librarian, Owen Morshead.

There have been no official estimates of the value of this iconic diamond as it was always either gifted, stolen or cheated and never openly sold. However, when Nadir Shah took it to Persia after his invasion, one of his consorts is said to have said of the diamond: “If a strong man were to throw four stones, one north, one south, one east and one west and a fifth stone up into the air, and if the space between these were to be filled with gold, all would equal the value of Koh-i-Noor”.

The governments of India, Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan have all tried to claim ownership of Kohinoor and demanded its return in the past. For all the claims, the British seem to hold a common answer in their present Prime Minister David Cameron’s statement, made on a visit to India in July 2010: “If you say yes, you suddenly find the British museum would be empty. I am afraid to say, it is going to have to stay put.”

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