Maharajah Ranjeet Singh, by Jivan Ram, 1832. Lithograph of watercolor and pencil original, 14.7 x 10.6 cm. (Courtesy – Rita and Gurinder Singh Mann.; photo – Library, University of Berkeley.)
To most people, modern India’s dominance in diamond cutting industry is probably an outcome of low-labour cost.
Nothing could be further from truth.
Most of the greatest diamonds in history have an Indian story. Not surprising, many Indians have a sense of loss over these diamonds.
Including Ishaan Tharoor, who made yet another demand (in his column at time.com; extracted below) to Queen Elizabeth that the British give up the Koh-i-noor.
Ishan Tharoor writes,
Dear Queen Elizabeth II:
Congratulations on your Diamond Jubilee. After four days of boat-watching, hoola-hooping and epic, coffer-draining pyrotechnics, you must feel quite feted. So, if you don’t mind, permit me to make one post-Diamond Jubilee request: hand over the diamond.
Which diamond, you ask? You know which one. This, the Koh-i-Noor: a famed, glittering stone one era of medieval Indians deemed the “king” of all diamonds and another later hailed the “Mountain of Light,” a Persian phrase that stuck. The first Mughal emperor, Babur, wrote in his memoirs that the diamond “was worth the value of one day’s food for all the people of the world.” Now, it’s in your late mother’s crown, locked away in the Tower of London. As eight-year-old post-colonial waifs, my twin brother and I glared at the guards flanking the crown’s case and asked for it back. They refused to oblige. But you should take heed.
The Koh-i-Noor may have been in your family’s possession for a century and a half, but it is a notoriously slippery gem. Mined at some point in the 12th or 13th century A.D. in southern India, it quickly became a gleaming prize — a totem of power — for a succession of dynasties. Some say it was a curse. You might say that the Koh-i-Noor is the original blood diamond. Hindu potentates saw it fall out of their grasp into the clutches of a series of Muslim sultans; its movement mapped some five hundred years of tumultuous Indian political history.
The Mughal emperor Shah Jahan — the one who built the Taj Mahal — had the diamond encrusted into his grand Peacock Throne. For his pains, he got locked up in a tower by his son, and successor, Aurangzeb. The Peacock Throne itself was carried away by Persian invaders in the 18th century, but the diamond wandered back, making its way from discord and regicide in Afghanistan into the hands of the then ruler of Punjab. But — with the British on the scene — he didn’t keep it long. The Koh-i-Noor was handed over to Queen Victoria in 1850 in a ceremonial act of surrender. Two years later, it was cut to a smaller 109 carats to eventually adorn the royal crown. And now it sits in its stony silence in London.
I’m not the only one to ask for it back. The Indian government and media have demanded the return of this prize of your Crown Jewels for quite some time; your Prime Minister David Cameron was once forced to awkwardly defend its existence in Britain on national television in India. Think of how modern and 21st century a gesture it would be: debt-ridden Britain voluntarily returns this gem to the country now buying up its luxury cars and fighter aircraft. (via After the Diamond Jubilee, the Queen Should Return the Koh-i-Noor Diamond to India | World | TIME.com).
Diamonds and India go back as far as diamonds are known to man kind. Mentioned in classical Indian texts as vajra, diamond was used in weapons and adornment. Puranas mention how Indra used the vajra-astra, a diamond-tipped weapon to pierce the armour of an asura enemy.
Rig-veda mentions the vajra
Hiranyastra: Astra of Indra’s Vajra, relating to Baglamukhi
so asya vajro harito ya aayaso harirnikaamo hariraagabhastyoh
dyumnee sushipro harimanyusaayaka indre ni roopaaharitaa mimikshire
His is the metallic thunderbolt, golden and gold-coloured, very dear and in his yellow arms.
Effulgent with strong teeth, destroying with it’s golden rage. In Indra are all golden forms.- RV.X.96.3
Diamond mines – and more
South India was the only source of diamonds till middle 18th century. Being the hardest, natural substance on Earth, diamond cutting was a high technology industry and India monopolized this business till the 14th century.
From circa 6th century, we have the Buddha Bhatta’s text “Ratnapariksha” which served as a manual for Indian gemologists. Rasendra Sara Sangrah of Sri Gopal Krishna Bhatt was a 14th century text that further updated the knowledge of chemicals, minerals and elements. The French traveller Tavernier reputedly (call it ancient industrial espionage) took that technology to Europe.
Brazilian diamond finds in 1725, the South African discovery in 1866-67 changed the supply equation. The auction of Napoleon III’s French Royal diamonds in 1871 brought diamonds in limelight. Boucheron, Bapst along with Tiffany and Co. cleaned up this auction. The Koh-i-noor continues to captivate the minds of people.
It is this skill and technology acquired over the centuries that makes India into a global hub for diamonds. The diamond cutting dominance by India is by now a 2500 year old phenomenon.
Keep the Koh-i-noor
2ndlook would be delighted to let the Koh-i-noor remain in Britain. In the crown of the British monarch. A symbol of everything British! Of British loot, genocide, bloodshed, exploitation, slavery.
Also a grim reminder of British history to Indians. The loss of the Koh-i-noor and the Orloff diamonds are no loss really. What can India gain by having two more stones – or losing two stones.
Beautiful stones. Granted
Are you serious
If Britain and Keith Vaz is serious about making amends for the loot, just return the many manuscripts that lie (some say secreted) in the basements of British museums and libraries. India’s biggest loss in the years of colonialism was not the Koh-i-noor but the loss of centuries of learning.
Much of that learning is something Indians today do not even know they have lost.