|Weight||105.602 carats (21.1204 g)|
|Mine of origin||Kollur Mine, Andhra Pradesh, India|
|Cut by||Hortenso Borgia|
|Original owner||Kakatiya dynasty|
|Current owner||Part of the Crown of Queen Elizabeth (see British Crown Jewels)|
The Mountain of Light or Koh-i-Noor is a diamond that was mined at Kollur Mine, in the present state of Andhra Pradesh in India. It was originally 793 carats when uncut. Once the largest known diamond, it is now a 105.6 metric carat diamond, weighing 21.6 grammes in its most recent cut state. The diamond was originally owned by the Kakatiya dynasty, which had installed it in a temple of a Hindu goddess as her eye. The diamond changed hands between various feuding factions in the region several times over the next few hundred years. In 1852, Albert the Prince Consort ordered it cut down from 186 carats. Today the diamond is a part of the Crown of Queen Elizabeth (see British Crown Jewels).
Koh-i-Noor is believed to have been mined in the Kollur Mine in the Guntur district of Andhra Pradesh in India during the reign of the Kakatiya dynasty in the 13th century, which had installed it in a temple of a Hindu goddess as her eye. In the early 14th century, the army of Turkic Khilji dynasty began raiding kingdoms of southern India for loot (war spoils). Malik Kafur, Alauddin Khilji's general, made a successful raid on Warangal in 1310 where he might have acquired the Koh-i-noor diamond.
The diamond remained with Khilji dynasty, and later passed on to the succeeding dynasties of the Delhi Sultanate, until it came into the possession of Babur, a Turco-Mongol war lord, who invaded India and established the Mughal Empire in 1526. He called the stone 'the Diamond of Bābur' at the time, although it had been called by other names before it came into his possession. Both Babur and his son and successor, Humayun, mention in their memoirs the origins of 'the Diamond of Bābur'.
Shah Jahan, the fifth Mughal emperor, had the stone placed into his ornate Peacock Throne. His son, Aurangazeb, imprisoned his ailing father at nearby Agra Fort. While in the possession of Aurangazeb, it was cut by Hortenso Borgia, a Venetian lapidary, who was so clumsy that he reduced the weight of the stone to 186 carats. Legend has it that he had the Koh-i-Noor positioned near a window so that Shāh Jahān could see the Tāj Mahal only by looking at its reflection in the stone.
Acquisition by the Persians
Following the invasion of Nader Shah, the Shah of the Persian Empire, in 1739 and the Battle of Karnal which led to the sacking of Agra and Delhi, the treasury of the Mughal Empire was looted by Nader Shahs army in an organised and thorough acquisition of the Mughal nobilities wealth. Along with a host of valuable items, including the Daria-i-Noor as well as the Peacock Throne, he also carried off the Koh-i-Noor to Persia in 1739. It was allegedly Nāder Shāh who exclaimed Koh-i-Noor! when he finally managed to obtain the famous stone, and this is how the stone gained its present name. There is no reference to this name before 1739.
The valuation of the Koh-i-Noor is given in the legend that one of Nader Shah's consorts supposedly said, "If a strong man should take five stones, and throw one north, one south, one east, and one west, and the last straight up into the air, and the space between filled with gold and gems, that would equal the value of the Koh-i-Noor."
It is estimated that the total worth of the treasures plundered came to perhaps 700 million rupees. This was roughly the equivalent to £90 million sterling at the time. This is the equivalent of approximately £8.2 billion sterling in early 21st century. The riches gained by the Persian Empire from the Indian campaign were so monumental that Nader Shah made a proclamation alleviating all subjects of the Empire from taxes for a total of three years.
After the assassination of Nāder Shāh in 1747 and the collapse of his empire, the stone came into the hands of one of his generals, Ahmad Shāh Durrānī, who later became the Emir of Afghanistan. In 1830, Shujāh Shāh Durrānī, the deposed Emir of Afghanistan and a descendant of Ahmad Shah Durrani, managed to flee with the diamond. He went to Lahore where the Sikh Maharaja Ranjit Singh forced him to surrender the stone and took possession of it.
Acquisition by the British
Maharaja Ranjit Singh was the founder and ruler of the Sikh Empire based in the Punjab region. He willed the diamond to the Hindu temple of Jagannath in Puri, in modern day Odisha, India. However, after his death in 1839 the British East India company did not execute his will. On 29 March 1849, the British raised their flag on the citadel of Lahore and the province of Punjab was formally proclaimed part of the British Company rule in India.
The Governor-General in charge of the ratification for this treaty was Lord Dalhousie. He, more than anyone, was responsible for the British ownership of the Koh-i-Noor as a token of British rule, and he continued to show great interest in it for the rest of his life. Dalhousie's work in India was primarily aimed at development of Indian assets by the British East India Company. His confiscation of the diamond, amongst many other things, was criticized even by some of his contemporaries in Britain. Although some suggested that the diamond should have been presented as a gift to the Queen, it is clear that Dalhousie felt strongly that the stone was a spoil of war, and treated it accordingly. Writing to his friend Sir George Cooper in August 1849, he stated:
The Court [of the East India Company] you say, are ruffled by my having caused the Maharajah to cede to the Queen the Koh-i-noor; while the 'Daily News' and my Lord Ellenborough [Governor-General of India, 1841-44] are indignant because I did not confiscate everything to her Majesty... [My] motive was simply this: that it was more for the honour of the Queen that the Koh-i-noor should be surrendered directly from the hand of the conquered prince into the hands of the sovereign who was his conqueror, than it should be presented to her as a gift—which is always a favour—by any joint-stock company among her subjects. So the Court ought to feel.
Dalhousie arranged that the diamond be presented by Maharaja Ranjīt Singh's young successor, Dulīp Singh, to Queen Victoria in 1850. Dulīp Singh was the youngest son of Ranjīt Singh and his fifth wife Maharani Jind Kaur. Dulīp, aged 13, travelled to the United Kingdom to present the jewel. The presentation of the Koh-i-Noor and the Timur ruby to Queen Victoria was the latest in the long history of transfers of the stones as a spoil of war. Dulīp Singh had been placed in the guardianship of Dr John Login, a surgeon in the British Army serving in West Bengal, East India. Dr Login, his wife Lena and the young Dulīp Singh travelled to England for the ceremony.
In due course the Governor-General received the Koh-i-Noor from Login, who had been appointed Governor of the Citadel, the Royal Fort at Lahore, with the Royal Treasury, which Login valued at almost £1,000,000 (£92.6 million as of 2015), excluding the Koh-i-Noor, on 6 April 1848, under a receipt dated 7 December 1849, in the presence of the members of the Board of Administration — the local resident H.M. Lawrence, C.C. Mansel, John Lawrence, younger brother of H.M. Lawrence, and of Sir Henry Elliot, Secretary to the Government of India. On 1 February 1850, the jewel was sealed in a small iron safe, which was also enclosed in a red despatch box, both sealed with red tape and a wax seal and kept in a chest at Bombay Treasury while awaiting for a steamer ship to arrive from China. It was then sent to England for presentation to Queen Victoria in the care of Captain J. Ramsay in conjunction with Brevet Lt. Col F. Mackeson under strict security arrangements, one of which was the placement of the despatch box into a larger iron safe. They departed from Bombay on 6 April 1850 on board the paddle sloop HMS Medea, captained by Captain Lockyer.
The ship had a difficult voyage — an outbreak of cholera on board when the ship was in Mauritius had the locals demanding its departure and they asked their governor to open fire and destroy the vessel if it did not respond. Shortly thereafter the vessel was hit by a severe gale that blew for some twelve hours. Legend in the Lawrence family has it that during the voyage, John Lawrence left the jewel in his waistcoat pocket when it was sent to be laundered, and it was returned promptly by the steward who found it.
On arrival in Britain on 29 June 1850, the passengers and mail were unloaded in Plymouth, but the Koh-i-Noor stayed on board until the ship reached Spithead, near Portsmouth, on 1 July 1850. On the morning of 2 July 1850, Ramsay and Mackeson in the company of Mr Onslow, the private secretary of the Chairman of the Court of Directors of the British East India Company, proceeded by train to East India House in the City of London and passed the diamond into the care of the Chairman and Deputy Chairman of the British East India Company. The handing over of the Koh-i- Noor diamond to the Queen on 3 July 1850 as part of the terms of the conclusion of the Sikh War also coincided with the 250th anniversary of the Company. Dr Login received a knighthood in 1854 from Queen Victoria and was known as Sir John Spencer Login (he had added an 'r' to his middle name to change it from Spence to Spencer). The diamond is now set into the crown worn by the female consort to the Monarch of the United Kingdom, and is currently on display in the Tower of London.
The Great Exhibition
The Koh-i-Noor is at present decidedly the lion of the Exhibition. A mysterious interest appears to be attached to it, and now that so many precautions have been resorted to, and so much difficulty attends its inspection, the crowd is enormously enhanced, and the policemen at either end of the covered entrance have much trouble in restraining the struggling and impatient multitude. For some hours yesterday there were never less than a couple of hundred persons waiting their turn of admission, and yet, after all, the diamond does not satisfy. Either from the imperfect cutting or the difficulty of placing the lights advantageously, or the immovability of the stone itself, which should be made to revolve on its axis, few catch any of the brilliant rays it reflects when viewed at a particular angle.
The diamond was redisplayed in a shadowed case, designed so the sunlight would catch it better. However, the public were not taken by its brilliance even then, and the diamond was recut in 1852, the year after the exhibition. The Koh-i-Noor here made up part of the larger India Museum collection, but was displayed separately from the industrial and natural history exhibits of the collection.
The Crown Jewels
Disappointment in the appearance of the stone was not uncommon. After consulting Sir David Brewster it was determined by the Prince Consort, with the consent of the Government, to polish the "Mountain of Light". Mozes Coster, one of the largest and most famous Dutch diamond merchants, was employed for the task, and he sent to London one of his most experienced artisans, Levie Benjamin Voorzanger and his assistants. On 6 July 1852, the cutting began, using a steam powered mill especially built for the job. Under the personal supervision of Queen Victoria's consort, Prince Albert, and the technical direction of James Tennant the cutting took 38 days of 12 hours each. The diamond was cut from 186 1/16 carats (37.21 g) to its current 105.602 carats (21.61 g) to increase its brilliance. Prince Albert consulted widely, took enormous pains, and spent some £8,000 on the operation, which reduced the weight of the stone by a huge 42 percent— but nevertheless Albert was dissatisfied with the result. The stone was then mounted in a brooch which Queen Victoria often wore. It was kept at Windsor Castle rather than with the rest of the crown jewels at the Tower of London.
After Queen Victoria's death it was set in Queen Alexandra's brand-new diamond crown, with which she was crowned at the coronation of her husband, King Edward VII. Queen Alexandra was the first Queen Consort to use the diamond in her crown, followed by Queen Mary and then Queen Elizabeth, the Consort of King George VI.
Present claims to ownership of the Koh-i-Noor
India has claimed the diamond and has said that the Koh-i-Noor was taken away illegally and that it should be given back to India. When Queen Elizabeth II made a state visit to India marking the 50th anniversary of independence in 1997, many Indians in India and Britain demanded the return of the diamond. On 21 February 2013, while visiting India, David Cameron, the UK Prime Minister, said of returning the diamond simply "They're not having that back".
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