KOH-I-NŪR ("Mountain of Light"), the peerless diamond which today takes the pride of place among the British crown jewels, once belonged to Mahārājā Duleep Siṅgh, the last Sikh sovereign of the Punjab. Duleep Siṅgh was made to surrender it to the British after the annexation of the Punjab in 1849. The stone, which weighed 186-1/6 carats, was exhibited in London in 1851. In 1852, it was entrusted for recutting to a London firm of jewellers who engaged for this purpose a Dutch from Amsterdam. The cutting enhanced the brilliance of the diamond, but reduced its weight by 80 carats. Today it weighs only 106-1/16 carats --- still the most brilliant gem among the British crown jewels, if no longer the largest. It was set in the crown of the Queen Consort in 1937 at the time of the coronation of George VI.

         During the course of its long history, the Koh-i-Nūr has witnessed the rise and fall of many a ruling dynasty. When Nādir Shāh occupied Delhi in 1739, the gem was worn by the Mughal Emperor, Muhammad Shāh, in his turban. Nādir promptly exchanged turbans with Muhammad Shāh as a mark of mutual reconciliation and thus acquired the coveted stone. He was struck by its brilliance and shape and called it Koh-i-Nūr, the Mountain of Light. The stone has since been known by this name. Nādir was murdered in 1747 and the Koh-i-Nūr came into the possession of his grandson, Shāh Rukh, who surrenderd it to Ahmad Shāh Durrānī of Kābul. It passed by descent to Ahmad Shāh's son, Taimūr, and then to his grandson Shāh Zamān. Deposed and deprived of his eyes by his brother Mahmūd, Shāh Zamān contrived to retain the Koh-i-Nūr with him while in prison. Another brother Shāh Shujā', in 1795, dethroned and imprisoned Mahmūd, and acquired the Koh-i-Nūr which he found secreted in a wall of the cell in which Shāh Zamān had lived. During the struggle that followed, Shāh Shujā', became a prisoner in Kashmīr (1812), but his wife, Wafā Begam, escaped to Lahore with other members of the family and with much of the treasure, including the Koh-i-Nūr. She was given asylum by Mahārājā Raṇjīt Siṅgh.

         Fateh Khān, the Kābul Wazīr, sought an alliance with Mahārājā Raṇjīt Siṅgh for a joint invasion of Kashmīr and offered to share with him the booty. When Wafā Begam learnt about Fateh Khān's designs, she became apprehensive for her husband's safety. Through his courtiers, Faqīr 'Azīz ud-Dīn and Dīwān Mohkam Chand, she supplicated the Mahārājā for help and offered to present him with the Koh-i-Nūr if he would rescue her husband from captivity. Raṇjīt Siṅgh who was already preparing to invade Kashmīr, asked his commander, Dīwān Mohkam Chand, to secure the release of Shāh Shujā,' and bring him safely to Lahore. The release of Shāh Shujā' became the primary object of the Sikh expedition. The Sikhs and the Afghāns marched towards Kashmīr in December 1812. The Afghāns were better used to the hills and soon stole a march over the Lahore army. But the Sikhs reached the valley ahead of Fateh Khān striking a shorter, though more hazardous, route. Shāh Shujā', who lay in chains in a dungeon, was rescued and escorted to Lahore. Unwilling to part with such a precious treasure as the Koh-i-Nūr, Shāh Shujā', was in the end persuaded to make good his wife's promise. He invited Mahārājā Raṇjīt Siṅgh to his house on 1 June 1813 and placed on his palm the fabulous Koh-i-Nūr.

         Raṇjīt Siṅgh used to wear the Koh-i-Nūr on his left arm on State occasions. Through his sons Khaṛak Siṅgh and Sher Siṅgh, it descended to his youngest son Duleep Siṅgh who ascended the throne in September 1843 and who was made to surrender it to the British at the end of the second Anglo-Sikh war (1849). Even though a boy of merely ten at that time, Duleep Siṅgh was never reconciled to the loss of his proud possession. At his birthday party in 1849 itself, he sadly recalled that, for his birthday the previous year, he had worn the Koh-i-Nūr among his gems. In Duleep Siṅgh, a minor under British guardianship when he was deprived of his kingdom and property including the Koh-i-Nūr, questioned the legality of the whole transaction. From the time of its surrender till it left Lahore, the Koh-i-Nūr was in the custody of Dr John Spencer Login, guardian and superintendent of Mahārājā Duleep Siṅgh. In 1850, Lord Dalhousie personally took the diamond from Lahore to Bombay for despatch to England.

         The history of the diamond before it came into the hands of Nādir Shāh is shrouded in obscurity. According to one version, the stone was discovered about five millennia earlier in the bed of the River Godāvarī, near Machhlīpaṭnam, in South Golcoṇḍā, now in Āndhra Pradesh. Some trace its origin to the hills of Amrāvatī, in Mahārāshṭra. It is said that it was worn by Rājā Karṇa, the legendary son of Sūrya and one of the heroes of the Mahābhāraṭa war, who had the diamond tied around his arm as a talisman. After Karṇa's tragic end on the battlefield, the diamond passed into the hands of the Paṇḍāvās. It is also surmised that the diamond once belonged to Rājā Vikramāditya, the ruler of the great Hindu kingdom of Ujjain in Central India, who flourished about 57 BC and who drove the Scythians out of the country. The first authentic referenece to the Koh-i-Nūr is considered to be the one in Bābar's memoirs, the Tuzuk. According to the Tuzuk, King' Ālā ud-Dīn (1296-1316) of the Khaljī dynasty was the possessor of the stone. The Khaljī king, according to some accounts, had acquired it from the Rājā of Mālvā in 1304, while according to others the diamond which once adorned the third eye of an image of Śiva in a temple somewhere in Telaṅgānā, was gouged out by ' Ālā ud-Dīn Khaljī during his sack of the Deccan in 1311-12. It later passed into the hands of the Hindu ruler of Gwalior and was presented to Humāyūṅ, son of Bābar, by the family of Rājā Bikramajīt who was killed at Pānīpat in 1526. Whatever its earlier history, the diamond was in the treasury of Emperor Auraṅgzīb and during his reign the Italian jeweller, Jean Baptiste Tavernier, had the chance of seeing and examining it.

         The Koh-i-Nūr is not known to have ever been bought or sold. It always changed hands as a result of conquest. Its value can hardly be estimated. Bābar had valued the gem at "two and a half days' expenses of the world." When Raṇjīt Siṅgh asked the jewellers in Amritsar to evaluate the Koh-i-Nūr, they said that its price was beyond estimate.


  1. Beveridge, Annette Susannah, trans., Babur-nama. Delhi, 1989
  2. Sūrī, Sohan Lāl, 'Umdāt-ut-Twārīkh, Lahore, 1885-89
  3. Waheeduddin, Faqir Syed, The Real Ranjit Singh. Delhi, 1976
  4. Khushwant Singh, A History of the Sikhs, vol. I. Princeton, 1966
  5. Bhagat Singh, Maharaja Ranjit Singh and His Times. Delhi, 1990
  6. Harbans Singh, The Heritage of the Sikhs. Delhi, 1983

Sardār Siṅgh Bhāṭīā