Anita Anand and William Dalrymple in conversation with Swapan Dasgupta
Rahul Nair, Official Zee Jaipur Literature Festival 2017 Blogger
Diamonds are forever, but the Kohinoor is timeless: a stone that has reached mythic status in folklore, crossing over from the merely expensive to the invaluable. Since 1751, when the first ‘solid reference to its existence’ was recorded, the Kohinoor has borne witness to many vital moments in Indian history. The diamond has changed hands innumerable times, caused huge bloodshed, been named ‘the carrier of wicked luck.’ William Dalrymple and Anita Anand’s took the audience on an enchanting and effortless lesson in history, as they plotted the journey of this priceless stone over centuries.
Anand explained that the diamond’s journey was always interwoven with unforeseen circumstances. She called the history of Kohinoor a ‘tour of gore’, due to the killing and tragedy that it caused. In 1628, Mughal emperor Shah Jahan commissioned the peacock throne, ‘an object of greatest magnificence,’ which cost the empire four times more than the Taj Mahal. The Kohinoor was studded onto the throne. Over time, the Mughals grew weaker, and when Nadir Shah attacked Delhi, it culminated in ‘the biggest act of looting India has ever seen’, dwarfing even the East India Company’s exploits in India. Nadir Shah was eventually assassinated by his bodyguard, who rode away to Afghanistan with the Kohinoor.
The Kohinoor later made its way back to India from Afghanistan, where the diamond came into the possession of Ranjit Singh, founder of the Sikh empire. Ranjit Singh wanted the diamond to be placed in the Jaganath temple in Puri after his death. As such, his death led to carnage, resulting in the death of four more Rajas, a Crown Prince, a Queen Regent and a number of aristocrats, in a very short span of time. Lord Dalhousie tactically, and forcefully succeeded in taking the diamond from Dileep Singh, the five-year-old king, and had it transported to England for Queen Victoria.
The crew on board the ship transporting the Kohinoor all fell ill with a terrible bout of cholera; a typhoon made things worse, and Queen Victoria herself had a black eye and cut on her forehead when she received the diamond, having been attacked by a lunatic a few days earlier.
Years later, when Queen Victoria presented the Kohinoor back to Lord Dalhousie, he could barely recognize it. It was almost half of its size by now. He gave it back to the Queen. ‘He must have been devastated’ speculated Anand.
Today India, Pakistan, Iran, Afghanistan and the self-proclaimed state of Taliban all lay claim to the Kohinoor, which still rests in the Tower of London in England. There is no way of knowing whom it really belongs to; neither can we know the final truth behind these dark myths, but the numinous aura surrounding the Kohinoor only continues to grow.
Photo Credit: Chetan Singh Gill