Kohinoor changes yet another pair of hands with the passing of Queen Elizabeth II, its owner for the last 70 years.
King Charles III inherited the world’s most coveted diamond from his mother, as part of the crown jewels. Kohinoor has been in British possession for 173 years now. The British extracted the diamond, through a ‘peace treaty,’ out of the tender grasp of Punjab’s 10-year-old king Maharaja Duleep Singh in 1849.
That’s the story of Kohinoor’s passage from India to Britain in a few lines and there is no confusion about it. However, the origin of Kohinoor is not as clear as it presently shines in the Tower of London.
There are multiple theories about the diamond’s origins and the most established story is that the diadem was extracted from the Kollur Mine, located in Andhra Pradesh’s Guntur District, which has been variously part of the Vijayanagara Empire, Qutub Shahi Kingdom, Mughals, and the Asaf Jahi Nizams.
The mine was at its peak during the 16th and 17th centuries, making the Qutub Shahi capital Golconda the global diamond capital.
According to this theory, the Kohinoor reached the treasures of Golconda’s most powerful jewel merchant and Prime Minister, Mir Jumla, who gifted it to the then Mughal Emperor Shahjahan.
However, Kohinoor was neither the most prized possession of the Mughals, nor it was named as such by them. It was one of the countless precious stones in their treasury and one among the many jewels encrusted on Shahjahan’s Peacock Throne.
The Jewel was apparently named Kohinoor ‘Mountain of Light’ by the Persian king Nadir Shah when he set his sight on it for the first time after sacking Delhi in 1739. The Persian Shah ransacked the Mughal treasury, taking away the Peacock Throne along with the Kohinoor.
However, in less than a century of its usurpation from India, Kohinoor made its way back to Hindustan by the tortuous way of Afghanistan into the hands of Maharaja Ranjit Singh of Punjab. It graced the arms of Ranjit Singh and his successors for another four decades, before leaving its land of origins once again.
From being one of the most scintillating symbols of opulence and medieval economic dominance of India to be the crown jewel of British colonialism, Kohinoor has travelled far.
But it is not the only priceless diamond that has made its treacherous way out of India. Kohinoor is in the illustrious company of among the world’s most famous gems that originated in India and now find themselves in the crowns and treasures of several queens, princes, and oligarchs.
These precious stones are representative of a time when India was the only land of diamonds in the entire world.
Astonishingly, until a couple of centuries back when diamonds were discovered in Africa, India was the only source of all of the world’s diamonds.
Even more astonishingly, most of the world’s most precious diamonds, including Kohinoor, Orlov, the Great Mogul, Hope, and Dresden came from a single mine in the Deccan region of south India.
This mine, located in the Guntur district of Andhra Pradesh, variously known as Kollur or Golconda Mine was the biggest source of wealth for kingdoms such as the Vijayanagara, Qutub Shahis, and the Asaf Jahis.
Though the mine is now defunct and has gone underwater due to the Pulichintala Irrigation Project, the region is still surrounded by a lot of lore and mystery.
Every year, during the summer months between April and June, when the water recedes and the old village of Kollur as well as the periphery of the mine shows up, former villagers and locals from the vicinity descend down in the hope of striking a fortune.
Mysteriously, the region still occasionally throws up some of its scintillating riches.
Located amidst the remote forests of the Guntur district, accessed only through a rocky dirt track or through boats, the backwater of the Pulichintala Irrigation Project is a hard place to find.
However, fortune seekers do not just brave the arduous path but also endure the scorching sun in the hope of finding another Kohinoor.