Rambles and recollections of an Indian official!
Major-General Sir W. H. Sleeman, K.C.B.
The Great Diamond of Kohinūr

The foregoing historical episode occupies too large a space in what might otherwise be termed a personal narrative; but still I am tempted to append to it a sketch of the fortunes of that famous diamond, called with Oriental extravagance the Mountain of Light, which, by exciting the cupidity of Shāh Jahān, played so important a part in the drama.


After slumbering for the greater part of a century in the imperial treasury, it was afterwards taken by Nādir Shāh, the king of Persia, who invaded India under the reign of Muhammad Shāh, in the year 1738.[1] Nadir Shāh, in one of his mad fits, had put out the eyes of his son, Razā Kulī Mirzā, and, when he was assassinated, the conspirators gave the throne and the diamond to this son's son, Shāhrukh Mirza, who fixed his residence at Meshed.[2]


Ahmad Shāh, the Abdālī, commanded the Afghān cavalry in the service of Nādir Shāh, and had the charge of the military chest at the time he was put to death. With this chest, he and his cavalry left the camp during the disorders that followed the murder of the king, and returned with all haste to Kandahār, where they met Tarīkī Khān, on his way to Nādir Shāh's camp with the tribute of the five provinces which he had retained of his Indian conquests, Kandahār, Kābul, Tatta, Bakkar, Multān, and Peshāwar.


They gave him the first news of the death of the king, seized upon his treasure, and, with the aid of this and the military chest, Ahmad Shāh took possession of these five provinces, and formed them into the little independent kingdom of Afghānistan, over which he long reigned, and from which he occasionally invaded India and Khurāsān.[3]


Shāhrukh Mirzā had his eyes put out some time after by a faction. Ahmad Shāh marched to his relief, put the rebels to death, and united his eldest son, Taimūr Shāh, in marriage to the daughter of the unfortunate prince, from whom he took the diamond, since it could be of no use to a man who could no longer see its beauties. He established Taimūr as his viceroy at Herāt, and his youngest son at Kandahār; and fixed his own residence at Kābul, where he died.[4]


He was succeeded by Taimūr Shāh, who was succeeded by his eldest son, Zamān Shāh, who, after a reign of a few years, was driven from his throne by his younger brother, Mahmūd. He sought an asylum with his friend Ashīk, who commanded a distant fortress, and who betrayed him to the usurper, and put him into confinement. He concealed the great diamond in a crevice in the wall of the room in which he was confined; and the rest of his jewels in a hole made in the ground with his dagger.


As soon as Mahmūd received intimation of the arrest from Ashīk, he sent for his brother, had his eyes put out, and demanded the jewels, but Zamān Shāh pretended that he had thrown them into the river as he passed over. Two years after this, the third brother, the Sultān Shujā, deposed Mahmūd, ascended the throne by the consent of his elder brother, and, as a fair specimen of his notions of retributive justice, he blew away from the mouths of cannon, not only Ashīk himself, but his wife and all his innocent and unoffending children.


He intended to put out the eyes of his deposed brother, Mahmūd, but was dissuaded from it by his mother and Zamān Shāh, who now pointed out to him the place where he had concealed the great diamond. Mahmūd made his escape from prison, raised a party, drove out his brothers, and once more ascended the throne.


The two brothers sought an asylum in the Honourable Company's territories; and have from that time resided at an out frontier station of Lūdiāna, upon the banks of the Hyphasis,[5] upon a liberal pension assigned for their maintenance by our Government. On their way through the territories of the Sikh chief, Ranjit Singh, Shujā was discovered to have this great diamond, the Mountain of Light, about his person; and he was, by a little torture skilfully applied to the mind and body, made to surrender it to his generous host.[6]


Mahmūd was succeeded in the government of the fortress and province of Herāt by his son Kāmrān; but the throne of Kābul was seized by the mayor of the palace, who bequeathed it to his son Dost Muhammad, a man, in all the qualities requisite in a sovereign, immeasurably superior to any member of the house of Ahmad Shāh Abdālī.


Ranjit Singh had wrested from him the province of Peshāwar in times of difficulty, and, as we would not assist him in recovering it from our old ally, he thought himself justified in seeking the aid of those who would, the Russians and Persians, who were eager to avail themselves of so fair an occasion to establish a footing in India.


Such a footing would have been manifestly incompatible with the peace and security of our dominions in India, and we were obliged, in self-defence, to give to Shujā the aid which he had so often before in vain solicited, to enable him to recover the throne of his very limited number of legal ancestors.[7]


Notes:


1. Nādir Shāh was crowned king of Persia in 1736, entered the Panjāb, at the close of 1738, and occupied Delhi in March 1739. Having perpetrated an awful massacre of the inhabitants, he retired after a stay of fifty-eight days, He was assassinated in May 1747.


2. Meshed, properly Mashhad ('the place of martyrdom'), is the chief city of Khurāsān. Nādir Shāh was killed while encamped there.


3. Ahmad Shāh defeated the Marāthās in the third great battle of Pānīpat, A.D. 1761. He had conquered the Panjāb in 1748. He invaded India five times.


4. In 1773.


5. Lūdiāna (misspelt 'Ludhiāna' in I.G., 1908) is named from the Lodī Afghāns, who founded it in 1481. The town is now the headquarters of the district of the same name under the Panjāb Government. Part of the district lapsed to the British Government in 1836, other parts lapsed during the years 1846 and 1847, and the rest came from territory already British by rearrangement of jurisdiction. Hyphasis is the Greek name for the Biās river.


6. The above history of the Kohinūr may, I believe, be relied upon. I received a narrative of it from Shāh Zamān, the blind old king himself, through General Smith, who commanded the troops at Lūdiāna; forming a detail of the several revolutions too long and too full of new names for insertion here. [W. H. S.] The above note is, in the original edition, misplaced, and appended to two paragraphs of the text, which have no connexion with the story of the diamond, and really belong to Chapter 47, to which they have been removed in this edition.


The author assumes the identity of the Kohinūr with the great diamond found in one of the Golconda mines, and presented by Amīr Jumla to Shāh Jahān. The much-disputed history of the Kohinūr has been exhaustively discussed by Valentine Ball (Tavernier's Travels in India: Appendix I (1), 'The Great Mogul's Diamond and the true History of the Koh-i-nur; and (2) 'Summary History of the Koh-i-nur'). He has proved that the Kohinūr is almost certainly the diamond given by Amīr (Mīr) Jumla to Shāh Jahān, though now much reduced in weight by mutilation and repeated cutting.


Assuming the identity of the Kohinūr with Amīr Jumla's gift, the leading incidents in the history of this famous jewel are as follows;—



Event. Approximate Date.

Found at mine of Kollūr on the Kistna (Krishna) river Not known


Presented to Shāh Jahān by Mīr Jumla, being uncut, and weighing about 756 English carats 1656 or 1657


Ground by Hortensio Borgio, and greatly reduced in weight about 1657


Seen and weighed by Tavernier in Aurangzēb's treasury, its weight being 268 19/50 English carats 1665


Taken by Nadir Shāh of Persia from Muhammad Shāh of Delhi, and named Kohinūr 1739


Inherited by Shāh Rukh, grandson of Nadir Shāh 1747


Given up by Shāh Rukh to Ahmad Shāh Abdālī 1751


Inherited by Tīmūr, son of Ahmad Shāh 1772


Inherited by Shāh Zamān, son of Tīmūr 1793


Taken by Shāh Shujā, brother of Shāh Zamān 1795


Taken by Ranjit Singh, of Lahore, from Shāh Shujā 1813


Inherited by Dilīp (Dhuleep) Singh, reputed son of Ranjit Singh 1839


Annexed, with the Panjāb, and passed, through John Lawrence's waistcoat pocket (see his Life), into the possession of H.M. the Queen, its weight then being 186 1/16 English carats 1849


Exhibited at Great Exhibition in London 1851


Recut under supervision of Messrs. Garrards, and reduced in weight to 106 1/16 English carats 1852


The difference in weight between 268 19/50 carats in 1665 and 186 1/16 carats in 1849 seems to be due to mutilation of the stone during its stay in Persia and Afghanistan.


7. The policy of the first Afghan War has been, it is hardly necessary to observe, much disputed, and the author's confident defence of Lord Auckland's action cannot be accepted.