Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Diamonds: The Two Sisters from Golconda

Koh-i-Noor and Darya-i-Noor – That is how they are known now. The first means “Mountain of light” and the other, “Sea or Ocean of light”. These great diamonds, amongst the largest in the world, were found in the Paritala-Kollur Mine near Golconda, India, perhaps 5000 years ago. Over the centuries several dynasties had possession of them. They symbolized, power, wealth and glory.

Glass copy of the famous Koh-i-Noor in its current (newer) cut from the "Reich der Kristalle" museum in Munich
This Wikipedia and Wikimedia Commons image is from the user Chris 73

Of the two, Koh-i-Noor which was originally called as Samantic Mani (Leader and Prince among diamonds) and then Madnayak (King of Jewels), became better known among the two probably because it came into the possession of Queen Victoria during the mid-19c and formed part of the British Crown Jewels. At that time it was 186 1/16 metric carats (37.21 g).

The Koh-i-Noor’s route to London was quiet circuitous. The diamond seemed to have changed hands frequently accompanied by violence and war. The first identifiable reference to this gem was in 1526 by Babur in his memoirs. But there are claims of earlier ownerships. According to Babur, the value of the diamond could feed all the people in the world for a day.

At that time it was owned by the Raja of Gwalior. But much before that a belief had developed that the Koh-i-noor carried a curse. It was believed that only God or a woman could wear it safely; a man who owns it may rule the world but will know all its misfortunes as well. But conquerors often overlooked this.

Nadir Shah of Persia invaded India and carried the two sister diamonds and the Peacock Throne to Persia in 1739. After Nadir Shah was murdered in 1747 Ahmed Shah Durrani became king of Afganistan and built the Afghan Empire which covered parts of Persia. The Koh-i-noor came into his possession.  He was succeeded by his son  Shuja Shah Durrani who used to wear the gem on his turban.

Durrani was overthrown in 1809. He managed to flee to the Punjab, with the Koh-i-noor still in his custody. He exchanged the jewel to Maharaja Ranjit Singh for winning Afghanistan back for him. Ranjit Singh died in 1839 before that could be done. The British took over Punjab and the Koh-i-noor.  The gem was presented to Queen Victoria. It was mounted on her crown with, according to certain estimates, over 2000 other diamonds.

The British were aware of the Koh-i-noor Curse. Therefore, only women - the queens or queen consorts - used it. But nevertheless, within a century of obtaining the gem the Empire, on which the sun never set, was lost. Was the curse still there in spite of the woman factor?

Or was it because a man got involved and the Koh-i-noor lost too much with the British? Under an obvious misconception that reduced size would increase the brilliance of the diamond, Prince Albert, the Consort of Queen Victoria spent about 8000 pounds to have about 42% cut off from the Koh-i-noor, reducing it to 105.602 carats. It is sai
d that the prince himself was not satisfied with the result.


The newly cut gem was used on the crown of Queen Alexandra for the coronation of her husband King Edward VII in 1902. See the photo below by W. and D. Downey. Wikimedia Commons sourced it from Memories of Madras by Sir Charles Lawson.

All this while, the other sister diamond, the182 carat Darya-i-Noor remained in Persia as a favourite of the rulers. It is one of the prettiest gems in the world. It has a pink hue which is rare in diamonds, and great clarity. Darya-i-Noor has the company of a gem of its own, Noor-ol-Ain (Eye of Light) which is believed to be 60 carats and has identical qualities.

There is a story behind this. The largest uncut diamond found in the world was from Golconda. It was referred to as Great Table Diamond. This was either cut or broke into two accidentally. When or where this happened is not known. Most experts believe that the larger piece is Darya-i-Noor and the smaller one .Noor-ol-Ain


And now there are three beauties – Mountain of Light, Sea of Light and Eye of Light. The first one is on the Crown of Queen Elizabeth and can be seen in the Tower of London. The other two are safely kept in the Treasury of National Jewels in the Central Bank of Iran in Tehran.

A diamond is for ever, it is said. But not necessarily in the same hands always. There was a demand for the return of the Koh-i-noor to India and Pakistan but the British firmly turned it down earlier this year.

Why go through another Partition!

(All images from Wikimedia Commons. Click to enlarge



Haddock said...

Though I am not a diamond fan, this was informative. Thanks for sharing.

Abraham Tharakan said...

Haddock, thank you for the comment.