A diamond is a girl’s best friend. And some diamonds seem to take this friendship so seriously, they hate being possessed by men. The Kohinoor diamond, once the largest uncut diamond in the world, has brought death and destruction upon every male who owned it but granted long lives and prosperity to the women who wore it.
Queen Elizabeth II of England, who passed away on September 8th, 2022 was the most recent possessor of the diamond. A quick search for Queen Elizabeth Age tells us that she lived to a ripe old age of 96, becoming the longest serving English monarch. By contrast, most of the men who have owned the Kohinoor throughout history barely lived to see their 40th birthdays!
This is the bloody and fascinating tale of one of the most expensive diamonds on earth.
The Curse of the Kohinoor
The name Koh-i-Noor means the mountain of light in Persian. The diamond is believed to have been mined in the famous Golconda mines in southern India – the source of some of the most famous diamonds in the world. India, in fact, was the only source of diamonds in the world until diamonds were discovered in South Africa in 1869 by the De Beers brothers.
The bloody history of the Koh-i-Noor begins from the day of its extraction. Its earliest possessor is believed to have been a king of the Kakatiya dynasty that ruled south-eastern India in the late 13th century. At an estimated 187 carats, the diamond was a rarity for its time, and its fame soon spread far and wide. However, the Kakatiya king did not get to bask in its glory for long. The fame of the diamond attracted the attention of the Turkic Sultans of Delhi who invaded the Kakatiya kingdom, reduced the king to submission, and demanded the Kohinoor in tribute.
The acquisition of the diamond however did not bode well for the Delhi Sultans either, as their own empire soon descended into a Shakespearean tragedy of murder, mayhem, and betrayal with each king being murdered by his friends and kinsmen, only for the incumbent to in turn find a similar fate awaiting him. At long last, after passing through some two dozen hands, none of whom died a natural death, the diamond reached Babur, the founder of the famous Mughal dynasty in India.
Babur was, among other things, a keen diarist, and it is in Babur’s autobiographical account, the Baburnama, that we find the first clear, written account of the Kohinoor, its weight, and its reputation.
Babur did not live long to soak in the pride of possessing the Kohinoor. He was dead within 4 years of acquiring it at the age of 47. The Kohinoor then passed on to his son Humayun, who met an even more terrible fate. In a series of battles marked by exemplary military ineptitude, he lost the kingdom his father had so painstakingly won in India and was forced into exile in Persia, all the while being hunted down by his own brothers. Humayun would later win back the throne of Delhi with Persian help but would only live to rule it for six months.
He died at the age of 49 when he slipped from a staircase after stepping on his own robe. Humayun’s life was a tragedy of errors and misfortunes. As one historian put it – he tumbled through life and out of it. His name in Persian meant “the fortunate one”, but he was anything but that. In the words of Stanley Lane-Poole, “there is no one in history named as wrong as Humayun. If there was a possibility of falling, he was not the man to miss it.”
After venting its fury on Humayun though, the Kohinoor enjoyed a rare period of peace for a century, until it reached his great-grandson, Shah Jahan, who had the stone embedded in his famous peacock throne. This somehow seems to have reawakened the Kohinoor’s dormant wrath. Shah Jahan’s beloved wife soon died in childbirth and he found himself imprisoned by his own son in the mausoleum he had built for his wife – the Taj Mahal. The new possessor of the Kohinoor, Aurangzeb, the last of the great Moguls, struggled to hold his empire together, and with the onset of the 18th century, the Mughal empire folded up like a pack of cards.
In the turmoil that ensued, the Kohinoor was carried away to Iran by the Persian invader Nadir Shah. However, Nadir Shah like so many others before him, did not live long to enjoy the conquest. He was dead within 9 years – cut to death in his sleep by 15 of his own men. The diamond then changed hands quickly between a number of Persian and Afghan potentates all of whom met similar grisly ends, until it reached Ranjit Singh, the Sikh ruler of Punjab who was so enamored of the jewel that he rarely let it out of sight, wearing it in his turban.
Upon Ranjit Singh’s death in 1839 however, the usual happened – the next two inheritors of the jewel met swift, violent ends and within 5 years, the jewel came in possession of Ranjit’s grandson, the child Maharaja Duleep Singh. Duleep was promptly dispossessed of both his kingdom and his diamond in 1849 by the East India Company and the famed jewel traveled to London to become the property of Queen Victoria.
The Slayer of Men, the Protector of Women
By now, after more than 500 years of bringing misfortune upon the humans who owned it, the Kohinoor had acquired a definitive reputation as the fatal object that captures the fancy of kings, drives them mad with desire to possess it, and once they have it, destroys them.
However, it seemed, a way had finally been found to tame the wrath of this notorious and most precious of stones. The English, being the children of the renaissance and scientific thinking hit upon a simple and ingenious solution after analyzing the stone’s sordid history – all its possessors, and thus victims were men. They, on the other hand, were ruled by a woman. So what if……
And the rest as they say is history. Queen Victoria promptly had the diamond cut and embedded in her crown, which she wore till the end of her long and prosperous reign. Victoria was succeeded upon her death in 1902 by King Edward. However, mindful of the diamond’s curse, the Kohinoor was not passed on to him but to his wife, Queen Alexandra, and from there, passing down the line of female consorts it found a lasting home in the crown of Elizabeth, the reigning queen of England, and where its rests to this day.
The cutting of the Kohinoor in England reduced its size-from 186 carats to 105.6 carats but increased its brilliance. It is a colorless, oval-shaped type iia diamond, which means it is almost entirely free from impurities. This, and its intricate cutting by Levie Benjamin Voorzanger in 1852 gives the Kohinoor a dazzling sparkle, justifying its name as the mountain of light.
So how much is the Kohinoor worth?
The answer is that no one really knows. Given its history and the sentimental and political value attached to it – no less than 4 countries including India, Iran, Pakistan, and Afghanistan lay claim to it as its rightful owners – the Kohinoor has never been evaluated for worth. This priceless gem is just one of those things that money can’t buy.