Koh-i-Noor and Maharaja Ranjit Singh

Koh-i-Noor and Maharaja Ranjit Singh

SEN writes that the Kohinoor, the king of diamonds and the diamond of kings, has a legendary origin in the dawn of history, before the times of the Mahabharat, 5000 years ago.and was found in the ancient mine of Kolar, on the right bank of the Kistna (Krishana) river of Karnataka. Some historian says in the bed of the lower Godavari river, near Machlipatnam in central India. Some link its origin from, Kollur mines, Golkunda, Hyderabad in the state of Andhra Pradesh, India under the rule of the Kakatiya dynasty in the late thirteen century. Legend has it that it was used as an eye of the deity in a Kakatiya temple in Warangal in 1310.

The original name of this diamond was ‘Samantik Mani’  which was changed in 1739 A.D when Nadir Shah, after its possession from Mohammad Shah, first time looked at such a sparkling and magnificent diamond that he blurred out,” Koh-i-Noor”.  It was also called The ‘Kŝh-i Nūr’, which also means “Mountain of Light” in Persian, a 793 carats colorless diamond that was once the largest known diamond in the world.

Never bought or sold, the fabled diamond changed many hands as it traveled through several dynasties that included Rajas of Malwa, Khiljis, the Mughals, the Persians, the Afghans, the Sikhs, and .and finally seized by the East India Company from 11 years old Sikh Maharaja, Duleep Singh, in deceitful manners and it became part of the British Crown Jewels of Queen Victoria.

In the early 14th century, Alauddin Khilji, the second ruler of the Khilji dynasty of the Delhi Sultanate, and his army began looting the kingdoms of southern India. During a raid on Warangal, Malik Kafur (Khilji’s general) acquired the priceless diamond and handed over to Allaudeen Khilji. It was then passed on to the succeeding dynasties of the Delhi Sultanate.

In 1526, Babur handed a resounding defeat to Ibrahim Lodi at the Battle of Panipat. The victorious Babur received reports that the Fort of Agra housed an immense treasure, which included a diamond that defied all description. Enraptured by the jewel on its acquisition, Babur called it the ‘Diamond of Babur’ and even mentioned it in his memoir, the Baburnama. He described its value also.” ‘Worth the value of one day’s food for all “

After Babur’s death, the precious stone was inherited by his son Humayun from whom it passed on to successive generations of Mughal rulers, including Shah Jahan, who set the priceless gem in his legendary Peacock throne. Later, when he was imprisoned in the Agra Fort by his son Aurangzeb, Shah Jahan used to see the reflection of the Taj Mahal in the glittering jewel, placed near a window.

It was in Aurangzeb’s reign that Tavernier, an enterprising French traveler and gem connoisseur, Hortense Borgia visited India in the search of rare and wonderful gems. Having been shown the diamond by Aurangzeb, Tavernier made the first sketch of Kohinoor in history. Aurangzeb also entrusted the work of cutting and enhancing the diamond to Hortense Borgia, a Venetian lapidary (gem artist) so clumsy that he reduced the weight of the stone from 793 carats to 186 carats. So enraged was Aurangzeb at the carelessness and stupidity of the lapidary, that he confiscated all his possessions.

During the rule of Aurangzeb’s grandson Muhammad Shah “Rangeela” in 1739, Delhi was invaded by Nadir Shah, the Shah of Persia. His army looted all the jewels in the royal Mughal treasury, which also included the famous Peacock Throne, and Daria-i-Noor, the sister diamond of the Kohinoor. However, the Kohinoor was nowhere to be seen. How Nadir Shah acquired the Kohinoor is a very interesting story.

Muhammad Shah used to carry the prized diamond with him hidden in the folds of his turban, a secret known only to a selected few, including a eunuch in the harem of the Emperor. Hoping to win the favor of the victorious Nadir Shah, the disloyal eunuch whispered the emperor’s secret into his ears. Devising a plan to deprive Muhammad Shah of his prized possession., Nadir Shah ordered a grand feast to coincide with the restoration of Muhammad Shah to his throne.

During the feast, Nadir Shah proposed an exchange of turbans as a gesture of eternal friendship, and Muhammad Shah, unable to refuse the gesture, had to hand over his turban. After the ceremony, Nadir Shah returned to his private chambers where he eagerly unfolded the turban to find the diamond concealed within. Dazzled by its beauty, he exclaimed ‘Koh-i-Noor‘, which in Persian means mountain of light

Nadir Shah was assassinated soon after he returned to Persia in 1747 and the diamond fell into the hands of Ahmad Shah Abdali, one of his ablest generals, who later became the Emir of Afghanistan.

Afghans and Sikhs wars

After the death of Ahmad Shah Abdali, Ahmad Shah’s sons began to quarrel among themselves and there were confusion and anarchy. Tamoor dethroned Mahmud, blinded and imprisoned Shah Zaman in 1795. Another brother Shah Shuja overpowered Mahmud, took his place, firmly installed himself, and also acquired the Koh-I-Noor, but Shah Shuja’s success was short-lived as Mahmud dethroned him in 1809.

Shah Shuja with his wife Wafa Begam and other members of the family managed to left Kabul for Punjab. The Governor of Attock arrested Shah Shuja and sent him to his brother, Ata Muhammad Khan, governor of Kashmir who not only imprisoned Shah Shuja in the fort of Koh-i-Maran but also tortured him in an attempt to get the Koh-i-Noor. However, Wafa Begam with other members of the family and much of the treasury, including the Koh-i-Noor managed to escape. and went to Lahore where Maharaja Ranjit Singh gave them asylum in 1812

So there they were, the Afghan royal family, the very people who had been invading and looting the Punjab and beyond for years, on Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s doorstep begging for his help. Forgetting all the past  Maharaja received them graciously, even granting them a pension. Wafa Begam was given Rs.4, 000 per month to meet the expenses of the whole family.

In December 1812, Wazir Fateh Khan of Afghanistan sought Ranjit Singh’s military help to oust Ata Khan from Kashmir and offered to share the booty. Wafa Begam feared that her husband would be murdered if he was rescued only to fall into Wazir’s Khan’s hands. Wafa Begam offered to give Ranjit Singh the Koh-I-Noor if he would rescue her husband from captivity and bring him safely to Lahore.

The Maharaja became curious about the value of the gem. It is reported that Maharaja told Faquir Azizudin, to get this information. Nooruddin the brother of Faquir Azizudin, asked Wafa Begum about the estimated price of the Kohinoor. Tareekh-e -Kohinoor reveals that Wafa Begum told Nooruddin, “If you throw four stones as far as you can to the north, south, east, and west, and then throw the fifth stone as high up in the air as possible, and fill all of that area with gold, even that wouldn’t be enough to buy the Kohinoor.”

Ranjit Singh got attracted to this offer. He sent a force of 12,000 chosen troops under Diwan Mohkam Chand to accompany the Wazir khan, instructing Mohkam Chand to secure the release of Shah Shuja and bring him safely to Lahore. The Sikh army reached the destination ahead of Fateh Khan, rescued Shah Shuja, and escorted him to Lahore.

Shah Shuja was given a royal reception at Lahore and was handed over to his wife-Wafa Begum. Now it was their turn to fulfill the commitment.  She was asked to hand over the Koh-i-Noor to Ranjit Singh as promised. The Begam and Shah Suja both avoided parting with the diamond and said that it had been pawned to a money-lender at Kandhar.

Ranjit Singh understood her reluctance and even offered to make a token payment of 3 lac rupees and a jagir of Rs. 50,000 to the family. This offer even failed to bring the Begam around. Now Ranjit Singh got angry and placed a heavy guard on the Afghan family.  When there was no alternate left with them Wafa Begum convinced Shah Suja to hand over Koh-i-Noor. After some days, on 1st June 1813, Shah Shuja invited Ranjit Singh to his house and to revive better relations with him, handed over the fabulous diamond to Maharaja Ranjit Singh and later also helped him in acquiring the throne of Afghanistan. As promised by Maharaja, Shah Shuja was continued receiving an allowance from the Sikh kingdom and owned considerable wealth in gold and jewels.

Maharaja Ranjit Singh, the founder of the Sikh empire, had the prized jewel sewn into an armlet, which he used to wear on all the important state occasions. It remained with him for the next twenty years. Suggested by Raja Dhian Singh Dogra, his prime minister, Ranjit Singh had willed the diamond to the temple of Jagannath in Puri, in modern-day Odisha before his death but after his death in 1839, the East India Company did not comply with the terms of his will and even the Sikh Sardars was not interested in this charity.

Ranjit Singh died in 1839. The empire had just begun recovering from the great loss when circumstances forced it into two prolonged wars with the Britishers. Upon the Defeat of Punjab in the Second Anglo-Sikh War, the Last Treaty of Lahore was signed. The Governor-General in charge of this ratification was Lord Dalhousie. He was responsible for the British acquiring the Koh-i-Noor as well the other valuable things for which he was criticized by some of the contemporaries of Britain and Queen Victoria as well. In Article 3 of the treaty, the British demanded the Koh-i-Noor be surrendered to the Queen of England. The conditions under which this treaty was signed were, however, those of deep duress Not only was an additional regiment stationed outside Lahore, but the Resident of Lahore was also given instructions to impose British rule regardless of the outcome of the deliberations of the council of Regency.

The young new King of Punjab, Maharaja Duleep Singh who was just 11 years old with no one around, not even his mother except defeated Sikh war soldiers, who even did not understand the consequences of the treaty signed with honor and composure.

The Diamond was entrusted to Dr. Login the British guardian of the Maharaja. Governor-General Dalhousie himself traveled to Lahore to receive the Diamond from him and brought it to Bombay. The much-coveted Diamond was deposited in the Bombay Treasury in the presence of 4 other officers besides Dalhousie himself and ultimately sent to England on 6th April 1850, reached on the 29th of June 1850, So shrouded in mystery was its departure that even the Captain of the ship did not know the priceless cargo his ship was carrying

It was gifted to the Queen on 3rd July 1850, on the 250th anniversary of the East India Co., in a grand event organized in Hyde Park in London by the officials of the East India Company. Disappointed by its Mughal-style cut, the Queen, along with Prince Albert and others in the court, decided to refashion the diamond to enhance its brilliance. The re-cutting of the Kohinoor, that took a mere 38 days and cost £8000, resulted in an oval brilliant that weighed 108.93 carats from 186 carats resulted in reducing the diamond drastically in weight

The deposed Maharaja Duleep Singh, helpless and forlorn, was taken away from Lahore on December 21, 1849, to Fatehgarh (U.P) and then to England in May 1854, to live there in exile for the rest of his life. Queen Victoria was captivated by Dalip Singh when first introduced to him, the year in which he was brought to England in 1854. She got his paintings made by Winterhalter- the best painter of England.‘Winterhalter was in ecstasies at the beauty and nobility of bearing of the young Maharaja. Victoria is equally captivated by the “grace and dignified manner” of the “extremely handsome” young man. “ those eyes and those teeth are too beautiful ” she used to say. He was very amiable and patient, standing so still and giving a sitting of upwards of 2 hrs’.This was recorded by her as the painting progresses over two sittings

It was during one of those sessions posing for the portrait that the young Maharaja got a chance to hold his once most precious possession the fabled Koh-i-nur diamond which had been recut to almost half its former size by Prince Albert in an attempt to improve its brilliance. After looking at the diamond for a few seconds Duleep Singh was in the pensive mood but did not say anything and handed it back to the Queen. The story of this, his handling the diamond over to the Queen, made headlines all over the world. When Lord Dalhousie heard of the matter, it was reported that he flew into a rage.

Queen Victoria’s fascination with India and Duleep Singh continued throughout her life. He became the favorite of the queen and was accorded the rank of European Prince and loved her as her family member. She became the godmother of her several children even after his death. Maharaja Duleep Singh died in Paris (France) on October 22, 1893, and was buried in the little church at Elveden on October 29, 1893. He left behind three sons and three daughters from his wife Bamba Muller, whom he married at Alexandria in Egypt at the British consulate on June 7, 1864. The maharani died in London on September 18, 1887. The maharaja took Ada Douglas Wetherill as his second wife. He married her in the mayor’s office in Paris (France) on May 21, 1889. The couple had two daughters, Paulina and Ada. His second wife Ada died in 1930 A.D.

Queen Victoria wore the diamond frequently afterward but half-heartedly which indicated in a letter to her friend in which she criticized Dalhousie for Article 3 of the Treaty of Lahore. Before her death she left it in her will that the Kohinoor should only be worn by a queen of the royal family as in 1306 in a Hindi writing, it is said, “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.”

As a result, the diamond was worn only by the female members of the British Royal Family. Queen Victoria, Queen Alexandra, Queen Mary, and Queen Elizabeth. This diamond is now kept with other precious objects of the British Crown in the Tower of London to exhibit to the public.

Koh-i-Noor which was a property of Maharaja Ranjit Singh of Punjab and was cheated out by Lord Dalhousie at the time of the Treaty of Lahore while dethroning  Maharaja Duleep Singh son of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. It was presented to Maharani  Victoria and finally,  became the property of Malika Victoria of England, which was protested many times to return back to India. In 1861 Maharaja Duleep Singh written several letters to the Govt. of India ruled by Britishers in which he had demanded this diamond Koh-i-Noor and was rejected by them.  After Independence Govt. of India and Govt.of Pakistan, both claimed right on Koh-i-Noor. Sandhawalia, being a close relative of Maharaja Ranjit Singh and Shiromani Gurudwara Prabndhak Committee also claimed it but nothing happened.

In 2016, the Government of India took a stand that the Diamond was not a gift and was forcibly taken from Maharaja Duleep Singh. They stated that Indian credentials of ownership of the Koh-I-Noor, given historical evidence, could not be doubted. But still, there is no outcome. Let us pray for it that it should go to its genuine owner and that is Punjab, Govt.of India.

Wahe guru ji ka khalsa waheguru ji ki Fteh

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Nirmal Anand

1 comment

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