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Home Indian Diaspora History of Kohinoor as explained by William Dalrymple

History of Kohinoor as explained by William Dalrymple

There is no doubt, the Antique rock has a long and complicating history and it is difficult to resolve to which country it belongs to

By Akanksha Sharma

For the past few days, the precious Kohinoor Diamond has been hitting the news again. The Indian govt. informed the court that, the eminent colorless diamond was ‘gifted’ and not forcefully taken away by the British. This revelation by the govt.  has acted as an incentive towards the ongoing debate, whether the famous stone should be returned to India or not?

The Historian/Author William Dalrymple who is working on his upcoming non-fiction history book Kohinoor said, “While I was working on my previous book on Shah Shujah Durrani’s (ruler of the Durrani empire in present day Afghanistan from 1803-1809) life, I got some Persian manuscripts from Kabul. I came across this chapter between the time Nadir Shah (Shah of Persia) left India and when the diamond came back to India with Maharaja Ranjit Singh. So this was information on the Kohinoor that people did not know about, through Afghan Sources”.

 

Kohinoor, Koh-i-noor, Kohinoor diamond, William Dalrymple, Kohinoor William Dalrymple, Kohinoor Dalrymple, Kohinoor history, Ranjit Singh, Shah Shujah Durrani, Kohinoor Ranjit Singh, Kohinoor Shah Shujah Durrani, Kohinoor Nader Shah
Shah Shujah Durrani (left) and Maharaja Ranjit Singh (right) Source: Wikimedia Commons

While doing his research on Kohinoor to understand its complex history, he found manuscripts from Afghanistan and further explained “The Indian case rests on the claim that the British took away the diamond by force. I think there is no doubt about that. It is complete nonsense that, it was gifted by Maharaja Ranjit Singh of the Sikhs. Maharaja Ranjit Singh kept it with him his whole life. It was during the regency of his son Duleep Singh, that the diamond was taken away. There is not much to dispute about that. It was part of the peace treaty of the British and was handed over in the process of the defeat of the Sikhs as one of the spoils going to the victor.”

Related articleIndia says British Queen should keep its Koh-i-Noor

“However, what complicates this is that the diamond did not come peacefully to Ranjit Singh either. Indians claim that Shah Shujah gave the diamond to Maharaja Ranjit Singh. But Shah Shujah’s autobiography clearly mentions that his son was tortured by Maharaja Ranjit Singh before he took away the diamond. So if the Indian case rests on the claim that the British took it by force, so did the Indians.”

By the mid-19th century when it reached the hands of British, it has already been possessed by many leaders and kings, all of which were not ‘Indian’. “By the time the diamond passed from the Afghans to Maharaja Ranjit Singh, the diamond had been with the Afghans of the Durrani Empire for two to three generations. It kept getting transferred peaceably through each generation and finally came into the possession of Shah Shujah. Shah Shujah in his autobiography mentions that his son was tortured and that he was starved for days by Ranjit Singh in order to get the diamond,” explained Dalrymple.

According to the Dalrymple’s perspective, besides India there are other countries also who can lay claims on Diamond like Afghanistan and Iran. During the time when it passed through the hands of many rulers, the national boundaries were not well defined thus, it is difficult to decide to which country it belongs to. Pakistan and parts of Afghanistan were parts of India. When Nadir Shah attacked India and took the possession of Kohinoor, Kabul and Kandahar were being ruled from Delhi. Right now, there are three lawsuits in Pakistan, seeking claims on Kohinoor.

 

Nader Shah during the sacking of Delhi in the aftermath of his victory at the Battle of Karnal, 1739

It is true that the colourless diamond originated in Golconda Mines of India, later Nadir shah passed it to Persians long before British looted Sikhs. “The great looting of the Mughals was not by the British. By the times the British are powerful, the Mughals have already lost everything to the Persians. While the British did loot India, particularly Bengal, the big looting was done by Nadir Shah,” he further said.

“It in only because of the way the British wrote history that people have remembered the Kohinoor while everything else is forgotten. Other objects of loot like the Darya Noor (which is a sister diamond of Kohinoor) and parts of the Peacock throne are in Iran and nobody speaks about it.”

There is no doubt, the Antique rock has a long and complicating history and it is difficult to resolve to which country it belongs to. And Historian Dalrymple explained the reason how it has long lived throughout the history and still remembered.

“It in only because of the way the British wrote history that people have remembered the Kohinoor while everything else is forgotten. Other objects of loot like the Darya Noor (which is a sister diamond of Kohinoor) and parts of the Peacock throne are in Iran and nobody speaks about it.”

Speaking of the claims made by Indians that it should be brought back to India, he further added “It will be a matter of national pride, but it will open up a large number of grievances. Should the Dravidians now put a lawsuit against the Aryans, or should the Shudras start suing the Brahmans? The Kohinoor is a symbol of how complex and intractable history is. History is full of horror stories.”

“My personal view of all this is that history is far too complicated and entangled to think that there is anything to be gained by asking for retribution. Where does one stop? Should Britain seek retribution from Norway and Sweden for the Viking raids? Equally, should the Sri Lankan government send a bill to India for the Chola raids of Anuradhapura? This is not a healthy way of conducting international relations. One should be educated in history in the least biased way possible.” he said.

Akanksha is an intern at NewsGram and pursuing Journalism and Mass Communication in New Delhi. Twitter:@Akanksha4117

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