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The Kohinoor was reporrtedly mined in Kollur, on the south bank of the Krishna River in the former Golconda sultanate, by the Kakatiya dynasty, that ruled over modern-day Telangana, Andhra Pradesh and parts of Karnataka and southern Odisha from the 12th to 14th centuries, with their capital at Orugallu, later Warangal.Consequently, the diamond, then believed to have been 186 carats (huge!), was placed locally in the Bhadrakali temple, from where it was seized in 1290 by Alauddin Khalji, one of the early founders of the Delhi Sultanate, during his numerous marauding campaigns in the luxuriant and prosperous Deccan.

Thereafter, British historian Bamber Gascoigne in “The Great Mughals” says the diamond re-surfaced when the second Mughal king Humayun presented it to his father Babar around 1526. Gascoigne reveals that an unimpressed Babar casually calculated the value of the diamond, declaring that it could provide food for two-days-and-a-half to the entire world, and promptly handed the stone back to his son.Some years later, Humayun presented the stone to Shah Tahmasp of Persia for sheltering him, after he was militarily defeated and driven out of India by his fierce Afgan rival, Sher Shah Suri. After a series of subsequent owners and an opaque riveting and bloodstained journey, the diamond found its way back into the treasury of Shah Jahan, the fourth Great Mughal in the early 17th century, who embedded it into his fabled Peacock Throne that was inaugurated in 1635.

Some decades later this remarkable gold throne, studded with all manner of rubies, emeralds, and of course, diamonds, was carried away by the rapacious Persian king Nadir Shah, who defeated the lesser Mughal ruler Muhammad Shah at the Battle of Karnal, near Delhi in 1738-39. Nadir Shah’s grandson Shahrokh Shah thereafter presented the Kohinoor to the Afghan Empire’s founder Ahmad Shah Durrani in the early 18th century and it remained in his family in Kabul for several years.

However, by now there were new entrants to this fiercely turbulent region, wracked by fratricidal wars and looting freebooters – the hegemonic British, and further west the equally expansionist Russian Czar, both of who had launched their intrigue-ridden ‘Great Game’ to seize Afghanistan. The resultant fascinating minuet resulted in Durrani’s grandson and Afghan King Shah Shuja aligning himself with the English, and there are sketchy accounts of the potentate flaunting the Kohinoor set in a broach when he met Mountstuart Elphinstone, a colonial officer in Kabul, who was part of the Great Game manoeuvring, and who later became the Bombay governor.

In June 1809, Shuja was overthrown by his predecessor Mahmud Shah and went into exile in Lahore under the protection of Ranjit Singh, India’s first and only Sikh ruler to whom he presented the Kohinoor as payment for providing him shelter. And when the Sikh province of Punjab was annexed by the British, after Ranjit Singh’s death in 1849, the Kohinoor was given to Commissioner Sir John Lawrence, who left it lying in his waistcoat pocket for almost six weeks.

It was first set in the crown of Elizabeth, mother of the recently deceased monarch, at the coronation of her husband George VI in 1937 and featured on her coffin at her funeral in 2002, before it was locked away in the Tower of London protected by resplendently uniformed Yeoman Warders.

It is a shame that the British royals never felt the need to hand over back to India, its original owner, this incredibly beautiful and expensive diamond – equally shameful that no Indian Prime Minister ever dared to forecefully claim it. British Museums contain some many priceless antiques, statues, jewels, temple murthis etc, looted from India, but India remains a gracious subject of Her Majesty and ourns a Queen, who may have been good to her subjects, but endorsed colonization and never felt any guilt about it. Here Queen Victoria with the Kohinoor set as a brooch. Am I very Wrong?


Francois Gautier (with inputs from the Wire)

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