Diamonds are precious gemstones which, from ancient to modern times, have typically been used for adornment because of its gemological and shining characteristic of dispersing white light and bursting it into different spectral and sparkling colors. It cannot be denied that people are primarily fascinated by these precious stones for their crystalline beauty and elegance as well as the widespread knowledge that they could last “forever.” But, of course, not all diamonds and other gemstones are famous simply for their physical attributes, but for the notorious reputation, they gained over several generations for purportedly being cursed.
Many of the oldest gemstones that survive today bring with them tales of mystery, intrigue as well as a series of misfortunes that have been passed down from one owner to the next. With so many people going to great lengths to possess them, and with so many deaths believed to have been caused by these precious diamonds, a lot of individuals today are left wondering if the pricelessness of these gemstones is worth the curse that comes with owning one.
One of the most famously known diamonds believed to possess a deadly curse is the Koh-i-Noor.
The Koh-i-Noor, which is Persian for “Mountain of Light,” is currently ranked as the 90th largest diamond in the world, and is arguably the most infamous one. It is a large, dazzling, oval-cut and colorless diamond, which currently weighs at 105.6 karats or 21.12 grams. Its earliest officially recorded weight was 186 karats or 77.2 grams, though it is believed by some to have weighed as much as 793 karats before its first cutting.
As for when it was first found and where it originally came from, no one knows for certain. But what is common knowledge is the fact that it is an unspeaking witness to centuries of violent and bloody wars and conquests, having been passed on from one ruler or conqueror to another, sometimes by inheritance but mostly by force. The story and lives of those who once held ownership of this gemstone went down in history as rulers whose legacies were plagued with ill fortune, and whose kingdoms and empires eventually met their downfall.
Even now, ownership of this precious diamond is still being fought about by various nations, which is probably why some people have thought of the Koh-i-Noor as the deadliest cursed diamond on the planet.
There are conflicting views regarding the possible origins of the Koh-i-Noor. Some say that the legendary diamond’s existence dates back to more than 5,000 years ago, and was found in the river bed of the Lower Godavari River, which is part of the second longest river in India. Others say that the legendary diamond came from Surya, the sun god, and was given to the world as a unique gift. There also those who claim that the diamond was originally the property of the Hindu god Krishna, while others believe that the Koh-i-Noor is the prized jewel called Shyamantaka mentioned in the written texts of Indian mythology. Another story suggests that the diamond was worn by Raja Karna as a talisman when he fought in the Mahabharata war.
The Journey of the Koh-i-Noor From India to England
While it may be impossible now to find out where exactly the Koh-i-Noor was found, it is widely believed that the prized gemstone came from the Kollur Mines in the Guntur District, which was located in what is known today as the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh.
They say that the diamond was the eye of the Devi, or the goddess, in a Hindu temple during the reign of the Kakatiya dynasty sometime in the 13th century. However, during the early 14th century, the Turkic Khilji dynasty of the Delhi Sultanate marched to southern India. The army of Alauddin Khalji – the dynasty’s second ruler – raided the kingdoms of the area for their wealth, and it is believed that among the riches and prized possessions taken by the Khilji’s army is the Koh-i-Noor diamond.
The stone supposedly remained in the custody of the Khilji dynasty for several years until it was later passed on to subsequent dynasties of the Delhi Sultanate. However, most historians agree that the first reliable recording of the Koh-i-Noor was in the Baburnama or the Memoirs of Babur, an autobiographical work written by the founder of the Mughal Empire, Babur. The jewel was obtained by the conqueror and at the time, he referred to it as the “Diamond of Babur.” He also mentioned in his memoirs that it had belonged to an unnamed Raja of Malwa in India. It has also been said that the emperor treasured the diamond so much that he compared its worth to “the value of one day’s food for all the people in the world” who lived at the time.
The Mughal Empire ruled over most of the Indian subcontinent for around two centuries, and it is believed that the Koh-i-Noor was passed from one emperor of the Mughal Empire to the next until the fifth Mughal emperor, Shah Jahan, had the jewel placed onto his ornamental Peacock Throne. Unfortunately, Jahan’s sons got caught up in a power struggle that led to his imprisonment, and the ailing emperor eventually passed away in captivity. When his son Aurangzeb came into power, ownership of the Peacock Throne and the diamond passed onto him before it eventually came into the possession of Aurangzeb’s grandson, Sultan Mahamad.
In 1739, Delhi was invaded by the ruling Shah of Persia, Nader Shah, who went down in history as the “scourge” of the Ottoman Empire. With the invasion of Nader Shah’s army came the exhaustive looting and acquisition of the riches and valuable possessions of the Mughal nobility. Along with other jewels and treasures, the Peacock Throne which contained the diamond was transported to Persia. As the story goes, when the Shah finally got his hands on the famous stone, he allegedly exclaimed “Koh-i-Noor!” which is how the jewel got its name.
The Koh-i-Noor did not last for very long in Nader Shah’s possession as he was assassinated in 1747. With the fall of his empire, the diamond fell into the hands of his general, Ahmad Shah Abdali, who eventually rose to power as the Emir of Afghanistan. When he and his son died during their respective reigns, Ahmad Shah Abdali’s descendants were caught in a civil war. Amid the chaos, Shah Shuja Durrani, a descendant of Ahmad Shah who briefly assumed power as king, escaped from the wrath of his feuding brothers and brought the Koh-i-Noor with him in India.
Shah Shuja Durrani sought asylum in Lahore, which was granted by Maharaja Ranjit Singh, the ruler and founder of the Sikh Empire. However, his safety came at a very high price, as the Sikh emperor required that the Koh-i-Noor be given to him in exchange for his hospitality. And so, Shah Shuja Durrani surrendered ownership of the diamond, and the Sikh emperor took possession of the stone in 1813.
The new owner of the Koh-i-Noor purportedly loved the diamond so much that he wore it on all kinds of public occasions. Perhaps to make sure that the jewel will be taken care of by capable hands, the Sikh emperor willed that the Koh-i-Noor be given to a Hindu temple. However, when he died and after the assassinations of the next Maharajas, his youngest son, Duleep Singh, ascended the throne at the tender age of five in 1843. And when the British Empire won the Second Anglo-Sikh War in April 1849, the ten-year-old Duleep was made to sign the Last Treaty of Lahore. Having done so, he resigned his claim to the sovereignty of Punjab and officially ceded ownership of the Koh-i-Noor to Queen Victoria along with his other assets to the East India Company.
When the Koh-i-Noor came into the possession of the British royal family, Queen Victoria’s husband, Prince Albert, commissioned the re-cutting of the diamond to its current size and appearance, and it was worn by the queen as a personal brooch. After Queen Victoria’s death, it became a part of the crown jewels of the British royal family. It was mounted onto the crown of Queen Consort Alexandra before it was transferred to Queen Consort Mary’s crown in 1911, and was finally placed on the crown of The Queen Mother Elizabeth in 1937.
Today, the crown is publicly displayed along with other Crown Jewels of the royal family at the Tower of London.
The Curse of the Koh-i-Noor
Considering that the ownership of the Koh-i-Noor transferred from one person to another for so many times to the point that it became difficult to pinpoint who had it when we can’t help but ask: Is the curse of the Koh-i-Noor real?
There’s an old saying about the Koh-i-Noor, and it states: “He who owns this diamond will own the world, but will also know all its misfortunes. Only God, or woman, can wear it with impunity.”
If we take a look at the events that transpired around the time the Koh-i-Noor was in possession of an emperor or a ruler, it will not be difficult to see the pattern of violence, gore, and tragedies that are very apparent in the diamond’s history. The stories of the people who gained ownership of the jewel and their descendants who ended up inheriting the stone usually ended in torture, murder, mutilation, treachery and the collapse of their dynasties.
While the British royal family may never admit that they believe in the curse of the Koh-i-Noor, its history cannot be dismissed so easily, and it seems the threat of receiving the curse is frightening enough for the long-reigning monarch to handle it with caution. After the reign of Queen Victoria, the use of the Koh-i-Noor diamond has so far only been granted to the wives of the male heirs to the British throne. Even Queen Elizabeth II has steered clear of wearing the diamond with a crown or as an accessory, even though the Koh-i-Noor’s curse supposedly only applied to male rulers.
Of course, this does not confirm that the diamond is cursed and deadly, but it does leave us wondering if the jewel is indeed the source of the problem of its owners, or its role in the violent history of many fallen empires is not any more special than any other spoil of war. Did the owners of the Koh-i-Noor and the empires and kingdoms they ruled experienced horrible misfortunes and terrible fates because the diamond in their possession was cursed? Or, did people come to believe that the Koh-i-Noor was cursed simply because its previous owners incidentally experienced misfortunes along with the collapse of their empires?
We may never know for sure if the Koh-i-Noor is indeed cursed, or its supposed menacing power to destroy the lives of its owners and their descendants is nothing more than a long-standing myth. And perhaps answering this mystery should be the least of our concern at the moment as there are more pressing issues about this diamond that remains unresolved today, particularly the disputes over its ownership.
Although under the possession of the British royal family, other countries such as India, Pakistan, Iran, and Afghanistan have called for the United Kingdom’s relinquishment of the diamond’s ownership and the return of the Koh-i-Noor to the care of their respective nations. And although the jewel’s presence in London is largely contested, it looks like the British royal family will not be ceding possession of this diamond anytime soon.