KARACHI: The solicitor-general of India claimed in the Indian Supreme in 2016 that the Kohinoor was gifted to the East India Company by Maharaja Ranjit Singh, which was later handed over to Queen Victoria in 1849. This claim is what prompted William Dalrymple and Anita Anand to write a book to set the record straight.
“To keep away myth from actual fact is the reason why William and I came together and wrote this book,” said Anand while talking to The Express Tribune at the launch of their book, titled Kohinoor: The Story of the World’s Most Infamous Diamond, at Avari Towers hotel on Wednesday.
“The statement of the solicitor made us furious because it is complete false.” The book was published by the Oxford University Press in Pakistan.
Today, the precious diamond is resting like a caged animal in the Tower of London, set in Queen Victoria’s crown, said Anand. At the launch, the writers spoke in detail about the Kohinoor’s journey from southern India to England.
Dalrymple talked about how Pakistan, India, Afghanistan, Iran and recently Oman have all joined the race for the custody of Kohinoor. The next laying claim to the custody of Kohinoor will be Taliban, he laughed.
In the line of Kohinoor
He talked about how the story of the diamond initiated and the number of men and women killed in battles for obtaining the prized jewel. “It is said [that] before 1830s, majority of the diamonds were found from the alluvial beds of southern India,” said Dalrymple.
Other than Kohinoor, he said, there were two more important gems in that era: the great Mughal diamond and the sister of Kohinoor, Darya Noor.
“This gem has the power to create division among rulers and, even today, in politics,” he said, adding that even though the Mughals were fond of red stones instead of pointed crystals, they had an altogether different attitude towards beautiful gems.
The Kohinoor was fixed in the ‘Peacock Throne’, which was the famous jewelled seat of Mughal emperors.
When Delhi was invaded by Nadir Shah of Persia, he carried away the Peacock Throne, shared Dalrymple. He got the Kohinoor detached from the throne and used it as an ornament in his bazu-band (arm band).
After the assassination of Shah, the gem went into the custody of Ahmed Shah Abdali and the stone stayed with them for three generations. Lastly, it was with his grandson, Shah Shuja Durrani.
Shuja who fled to Lahore when a possible invasion of Afghanistan was expected, Maharaja Ranjit Singh gave him shelter to save his life while his wife promised to hand over Kohinoor to Ranjit Singh for his help.
Shuja refused to hand over the gem as he never promised to give the gem to Lahore’s Maharaja. However, he handed over the diamond when his son was tortured in front of him.
Ranjit Singh, after getting his hands on the diamond, said in his will that it should be given to the Jaganath Temple. His will was never fulfilled and the Kohinoor disappeared, said Dalrymple, handing over the presentation to his co-author. She then went on to recount how the diamond reached England.
Journey to England
With the precious diamond lost and Ranjit Singh’s death in 1839, his first son, Karak Singh, inherited the empire. Incapable of handling the empire, he was soon poisoned to death while his 19-year-old son, Naunihal, was found dead in his bedroom soon after he returned from his coronation in Hazuri Bagh.
The only hope left for the wife of Karak Singh, Chand Kaur, was if her pregnant daughter-in-law gives birth to a son who can inherit the throne. Destiny, however, had other plans and the boy was stillborn. Chand Kaur, along with her daughter-in-law, fled Lahore to save their lives.
The twist came in the story when the youngest wife of Ranjit Singh, Rani Jindan, came up with her son, Duleep Singh, who was a child at that time. Jindan decided to rule and came to the darbar full of men to give orders.
The men refused to accept the authority of a woman and that is when James Andrew Brown, the governor-general of India, signed a treaty with Duleep Singh and separated the mother from her only son.
After the signing of the ‘Last Treaty of Lahore’, shared Anand, Duleep was sent to what is now Uttar Pradesh in India to learn how to ‘act like English men and study’.
“He announced to accept Christianity when he was 15 years old and desired to meet Queen Victoria,” said Anand, adding that before Duleep went to England, the Kohinoor had already been found and sent to England.
The diamond was sent to Calcutta to be shipped to England in a cloth patch attached to the shirt of the officer assigned to complete the task.
The Kohinoor had to wait eight months in Calcutta for the right ship to arrive. The mission was so undercover that even the ship’s captain did not know that they are taking the Kohinoor with them, said Anand.
The diamond reached England and local newspapers broke the news. It was displayed in an exhibition but the visitors did not like it as they felt it was an ugly piece of rock. Prince Albert, the husband of Queen Victoria, then decided to get it cut and shaped beautifully.
A workshop was set up in the Hayle market and the gem was halved in size and weight after two years of work.
When Duleep met Queen Victoria, she put the gem in his hands. However, he returned it to her as he considered her a mother figure. That was the first time the Queen wore the Kohinoor as part of her jewellery.
After the Queen, no one ever wore the gem as it is considered to be cursed for the male members of the family, said Anand.
“Duleep always wanted his kingdom and the diamond back from the British but he never tried,” said Anand, answering a question.