There’s a farrago of fact and myth about the Kohinoor diamond. The Koh-i-noor (Mountain of Light in the Persian) is a large colourless diamond found in the river-bed of the Krishna at Kolluru, bordering Krishna and Guntur districts of Andhra Pradesh in the 13th century. It was passed on to the Kakatiya rulers of Telangana and remained with Pratap Rudra-II till 1309.
It changed hands several times, and finally ended up with the British. To say that the Kohinoor was “gifted” to the British is far from truth. It was ordered, under a treaty, to be surrendered to the Queen of England at the hands of Sikh ruler Duleep Singh. Duleep Singh, a minor, travelled to England in 1849 and handed the gem over to the Queen. It is worth noting how the diamond went out of the hands of the Telugus.
In 1309, Allauddin Khilji’s general Malik Kafur stormed the Warangal fort and pillaged it. Among other things, he took possession of the precious diamond. After his successful conquest of the Deccan, Kafur returned to Delhi and presented this diamond to his master, Allauddin Khilji. In recognition of Kafur’s adventures, Allauddin not only presented him with expensive gifts, but also conferred him the title of ‘Hazar Dinari’. After the fall of the Khiljis, the diamond was passed on to the Turko-Afghan dynasties which ruled Delhi — the Tughlaqs, the Sayyids and the Lodi dynasty.
Subsequently, it fell into the hands of Raja Vikramjit, the Raja of Gwalior. This historical jewel, at that time, was valued equal to “half the daily expenses of the world.” He presented the Kohinoor to the Mughal ruler Humayun. That’s how the Mughals got possession of this diamond. In turn, Humayun presented it to his father, Babur. This is as mentioned in the autobiography of Babur, Tuzuk-i-Baburi. Diamonds however held no allure to Babur and he handed it back to Humayun.
Finding it too large to wear, Emperor Shah Jahan placed this diamond on his ornate peacock throne. An interesting article by H. Beveridge in the Calcutta Review, 1897, traces the history of the Kohinoor. Ball’s Travels of Tavernier-II also throws light on the history of the Kohinoor diamond. Persian adventurer Nadir Shah pillaged Delhi in 1739 and took possession of this diamond. When he saw it for the first time, he exclaimed, “Koh-i-noor”. That’s how the name of ‘Kohinoor’ was appended to the Telugu people’s diamond.
After Nadir Shah’s assassination in 1747, the diamond came into the possession of one of his generals, Ahmad Shah Durrani, who later became the Afghanistan Amir. One of Ahmad Shah’s descendants, Shah Shuja Durrani, fell into bad days and fled to Lahore and sought the support of Raja Ranjit Singh. While negotiations were in progress, Shah Shuja was wearing this diamond in his turra (headgear). The clever Ranjit Singh could see the diamond.
The Sikh king asserted that he was agreeable to all terms of Shah and would extend support to all his demands in his endeavour to regain his throne. Ranjit Singh also asserted that as a mark of friendship they should exchange their headgear. The story goes that in his anxiety to get military support, Shah Shuja unwittingly exchanged his headgear with Ranjit Singh’s turban.
That’s how once again the Kohinoor came back to India. After the death of Ranjit Singh, the Sikh kingdom was dismembered. His son, Duleep Singh, was 11 years old. After the second Anglo-Sikh war in 1849, a treaty was drawn up at the behest of the East India Company. It was a one-sided agreement and forced the vanquished to append his signature. Duleep Singh being a minor, somebody else might have signed the treaty on his behalf.
More often than not, many quote the writings of Lady Lena Campbell Login (1890) in Sir John Login and Duleep Singh (Patiala Language Dept., Punjab, P.126). According to this book, Article III of the treaty reads: “The gem called the Koh-i-noor which was taken from Shah Shuja by Maharaja Ranjit Singh shall be surrendered by the Maharaja of Lahore to the Queen of England.” The book also says that Duleep Singh travelled to England under the guardianship of Dr John Login, who was the tutor of the king, and presented the diamond to Queen Victoria in 1849.
The words in the treaty, “shall be surrendered”, means it was an order. In addition to that, Duleep Singh was a minor. Hence, the question of his gifting the diamond to anyone does not arise. The incumbent Solicitor-General of India, Ranjit Kumar, has not done his homework. While the Kohinoor changed hands, no single possessor sold the diamond to anybody: no seller, no buyer. That means, its ownership lies with the Telugu people. The Union government may take note.
The writer is a Member of Royal Historical Society (London).
With inputs from
Dr Kolluri Chiranjeevi,
P. Sathwik Reddy,
P. Pratik Reddy