Sunday, October 1, 1995

The Mountain of Light

Legends and Anecdotes of Hyderabad - 6

The 'Mountain Of Light'
by Narendra Luther

The world-famous diamond, Koh-i-Noor was mined in Golconda. Not in the fort but in the state the territories of which comprised most of the areas of the present Andhra Pradesh and some areas of the states of Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra. Golconda was known as an emporium for diamonds the world over.

A French priest called Abbe Carre was amongst the many travellers who visited Hyderabad and recorded his impressions about it in glowing terms. In 1673 he noted that the city was `full of strangers and merchants and trade is carried on by foreigners and others without any or particular business. There is such a concourse of every kind of people merchandise and riches, that the place seems to be the centre of all the trade in the East'.

The well-known French traveller, Tavernier who was a jeweller by profession came to Golconda in 1695. He observed that diamonds were cut and polished in a place called Karwan. It lies on the road from the Golconda fort to Charminar and is still known by the same name.He saw 60,000 labourers at work in Kollur, in the valley of the Krishna river which was part of the Golconda sultanate. Of all those diamonds, the Koh-i-Noor is the most famous and is the only extant diamond which has the longest history to date. This diamond was mined probably in 1656 and it weighed 765 carats uncut (10 carats make 2 grams).

The story of the Koh-i-Noor diamond begins with that of the emergence of Mir Jumla. His original name was Mir Mohammad Sayyed. He came to Golconda from Ardistan during the reign of the sixth Qutb Shah ruler, Abdullah Qutb Shah (1626 - 1672) as a merchant and rose to be the prime minister (called `Mir Jumla')of the kingdom. He conquered Karnataka (which included much of present Tamilnadu) for Abdullah. Through these conquests he collected a lot of booty which made him very rich and arrogant. Even his son behaved very insolently with the Sultan. When Abdullah pulled him up, he fell out with the Sultan and defected to the Mughals. He met the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan to whom he presented the magnificent diamond in 1656. The diamond at that time was uncut and weight 360 carats valued at 2,16,000 rupees (21,600 pounds sterling). It seems to have been chipped before it was presented to Shah Jahan. Later it was entrusted to a Venetian named Bronzoni and was so damaged and wasted in his hands that when Tavernier saw it in Aurangzeb's treasury in 1665 it weight no more than 260 1/2 English carats.

In 1739 Nadir Shah attacked and ransacked Delhi and on return to Iran, carried a lot of loot with him. The story goes that the then Mughal emperor Mohammad Shah Rangeela hid the Koh-i-Noor diamond in his turban to prevent it from falling into the hands of Nadir Shah. Some body told Nadir Shah that the diamond was in the turban of the Mughal emperor. Nadir Shah then very cleverly suggested that to mark their friendship they must exchange their headgear. Mohammad Shah naturally could not refuse this and that is how the Koh-i-Noor passed on from the Mughal emperor to the Iranian conqueror. It is he who gave the diamond the name Koh-i-Noor by which it became famous in history. It means `Mountain of Light'.After Nadir Shah's death it fell into the hands of his general Ahmed Shah, founder of the Durrani dynasty of Afghanistan. His descendent Shah Shujah at one time sought refuge in India. For that he gave it as a gift to Maharaja Ranjit Singh of Punjab. Ranjit Singh died in 1839 and at that time the Koh-i-Noor was valued at 1 million pound sterling. The Punjab was annexed in 1849 by the British and the diamond was taken by Lord Lawrence and presented to Queen Victoria. In 1852 it was re-cut by Voorsanger. Its weight now is 106 1/2 English carats. The diamond was incorporated as a central stone in the queen's crown fashioned for use by Queen Elizabeth, the consort of George VI at his coronation in 1937. It now forms part of the royal jewellery and is lodged in the tower of London. The crown is used by the British monarch on most formal occasions like the coronation.

Apart from this legendary diamonds, there were others diamonds also like Pitt or Regent diamond found in Paktial near Madras in 1701. It originally weighed 410 carats but was later reduced to 137 carats. It is now hosed in the Louvre Museum of Paris.

Then there was the Nizam diamond, weighing 277 carats. There was also the Great Table diamond which was seen by Tavernier at Golconda. It was considered to be exactly like the diamond called `Darya-e-noor' or the Sea of Light of the Persian monarch. The Hope diamond is believed to be the part of the blue diamond shaped like a drop. That was found and sold by Tavernier himself to the French king Louis XIV in 1642.

Thus Koh-i-Noor was not the only diamond found in the mines of the Golconda Sultanate but it turned out to be the one which had the most chequered and glorious career and is still in use for most glamorous and historic occasions - the coronation of the British monarchs. And what is even more exciting is that you can still see it. All that you have to do is to visit the Tower of London where the British royal jewels are kept.

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