Book Review- Kohinoor: The Story of the World’s Most Infamous Diamond

9780199405459The two writers brilliantly crack down the history of Kohinoor diamond, by displacing it from legendary tales that surrounded it. They use previously untranslated works of Sanskrit, Persian and Urdu sources to sketch the past of the jeweled piece that is far more strange an violent as predicted. Kohinoor: The Story of The World’s Most Infamous Diamond, itself is divided into two sections. Part one of this is titled “The Jewel in the Throne” that is written by William Dalrymple and explains the Indian ideas about the diamond through ancient, religious texts. Dalrymple comments on the analogy drawn between Syamantaka gem in the Bhagavad Purana manuscript. Many devote Hindus, according to him, believe in the idea that Karishna was given the legendary Syamantaka gem which is actually foreshadow of the jewel we know today as Koh-i-noor.

Dalrymple further states that the Kohinoor gem serves as more than just a jewel in the historical context. He elaborates on the idea that possession of the diamond was deemed as owning to power and thus, a symbolic representation of sovereignty. To support his stance, he discusses at length the early modern sightings of this gem during Mughal times. He traces its emergence in history via Nadir Shah, and continues the story through Iran and Afghanistan until its disappearance at the death of Ranjit Singh. Through his captivating narration, he manages to tell a tale full of greed, conquest, torture, seizure, colonialism and appropriation.

Antita Anand, then steps in and begins the second part of this book titled, “The Jewel in the Crown.” She records the history of the gem from the time it was taken from a young boy, Duleep Singh, who lost his kingdom to colonial power; to the point it presently rests in the British crown at the Tower of London. She talks about the Article III of the treaty that vaguely put forth the terms for the young Prince to follow. It states: “The gem called Kohinoor, which was taken from Shah Sooja ool-Mooolk by Maharaja Runjeet Singh, shall be surrendered by the Maharaja of Lahore to the Queen of England.” She writes that she ”further wants to free the Kohinoor diamond from the fog of mythology which has clung to the stone since many of [the] stories were first propagated by Theo Metcalfe’s report 170 years ago.” Later in the book she also presents at length a contested history of the diamond, along with commenting on the changing tastes, ornamentation and personal adornment from the beginning of time.

In all, Kohinoor: The Story of The World’s Most Infamous Diamond, can be categorized as the biography of the Kohinoor diamond that reveals some unexpected and unknown moments in diamond’s history. It talks about the years it was hidden in the Afghan fort, used as a paperweight on a mullah’s table oblivious of its worth and how a significant fraction of it is available Iran and Russia. This book is especially recommended to history enthusiasts.

Author: William Dalrymple and Anita Anand
Price: Rs.995
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Available at OUP Bookstores

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