The Great Mogul Diamond


A Stormy Birth and a Tragic End-Two Centuries of History–Intrigue and Murder–The Afflictions of Shah Jehan–An Honest Cutter–The Great Mogul and the Koh-i-Nur–Eastern Magnificence–A King showing his Jewels to a Visitor–Shape of the Great Mogul and its General Appearance–Its Identity Established–A Usurper’s Subterfuge–Shah Jehan’s Desire to Destroy all his Gems–The Peacock Throne–Mysterious Disappearance of the Gem at the Fall of Delhi.

Brought to light in the midst of tumults and wars, the Great Mogul Diamond went out with the expiring flames of a mighty rebellion. Its existence covers a remarkable and eventful period of the world’s history. At the time of its discovery, Round-heads and Royalists were fighting for supremacy in England; and after many tragic incidents of pestilence and battle, the Deccan had just got its first independent sovereign. Ben Johnson and Phillip Massenger were writing plays, and their countrymen, who carried the commercial flag of the land into strange seas, had just obtained authority to trade with the Portuguese ports in India. The Great Powers were busy with their first important explorations; and the East India Company had newly received the charter of Queen Elizabeth. A meteor among gems, the Great Mogul challenged the wonder and admiration of the world from this period for two hundred years, to go to pieces in the last days of the Indian Mutiny. There is a little uncertainty as to the date when the Gani Mine gave up its precious freight; but only in the matter of a few years, and we are inclined to fix it somewhere between 1630 and 1650, It is impossible to ticket and number a gem such as the Great Mogul as if it were a piece of antiquity, the relic of an ancient palace, the capital of a column, the statute of some classic sculptor. The births of the famous diamonds which scintillate the dark traditions of Eastern Courts are all, as we have said before, more or less shrouded in mystery; but few gems have had a more striking career or a more dramatic denouement than the Great Mogul.

It was at a strange and sanguinary period when the first European saw this remarkable stone, under circumstances which we shall presently quote in the narrator’s own words. The year was, November, 1665, a few years before the decease of “the Grand Monarque,” Shah Jehan. The scene was the Palace of Agra, formerly the Metropolis of the Empire, but then the prison of the dethroned and stricken Great Mogul. For seven years he had been kept in close durance; Murad, his youngest son, had just been murdered by the usurper, Aurung-zeb, his brother, who had stimulated the lad’s ambition, in order accomplish his own designs on the life of both father and son; Dara, the eldest son of the captive Monarch, a man of great parts, brave, handsome, and gifted, had been betrayed by his brother’s contrivance. Hurried ignominiously to Delhi, he was led as a captive through that city, cast into prison, and treacherously murdered. His son Soliman had suffered a similar fate. Sujah, the Monarch’s second son, whose intellectual and bodily gifts were certainly not inferior to Dara’s (and whose beautiful daughter had been passionately wooed by Mohammed, Aurung-zeb’s son and heir, but had been rejected by her father), had but recently been murdered; and the bridegroom’s father, after contriving to alienate for a time the confidence of the bride in her husband by a groundless invention, actually contrived to kill his own son, and only stopped his murderous course when the bride’s untimely death rendered her assassination needless. It is hard to believe that Shah Jehan, whose one redeeming quality was his love for the children of his wife, whom he had named the “Light of the World,” and who had been kept informed of the calamities which had befallen his house, should, under the depression of these afflictions have shown a French jeweller his treasures. “These are my jewels,” said the classic mother pointing to her children in response to the Princess’s exhibition of her gems; and we would like to credit “the Grand Monarque” with equal feelings of affection. But Tavernier, as will be seen, is explicit in his statement, and though it may be that he had some purpose to serve in his elaboration of the scene, there is no reason whatever to doubt his description of the famous stone.

Without further preface, let us now discuss the data upon which rests the “strange eventful history” of the Great Mogul. Excluding the doubtful Braganza, this splendid stone was unquestionably the largest diamond of which there is any distinct record. It takes its name from its owner, Shah Jehan, fifth in succession from Baber, founder of the so-called “Mogul” dynasty in Hindustan. As to its early history, there was never any serious doubt until the Koh-i-Nur was brought to Europe in 1850. Since that time its very identity has been called in question, and, while some authorities continue to regard the two famous stones as distinct, others now hold that they are really one under two different names. There is, however, no real foundation for doubting the individual existence of the two. Evidence to the contrary is as weak as the facts on the other side are strong. The histories of the stones differ in this remarkable respect, that the story of the Koh-i-Nur may be said to have no beginning, while that of the Great Mogul seems, on the other hand, to have no end. The available data, if duly considered, must satisfy all candid inquirers that they are undoubtedly two distinct gems, having little in common beyond their unusual size, and their simultaneous presence for nearly a hundred years in the Khazana or treasure-house of the Mogul emperors.

At p. 251 of his translation of Francois Bernier’s Travels in the Mogul Empire, Irving Brock observes that “the largest diamond probably ever heard of is one mentioned by Tavernier, who saw it in the possession of Aurung-zeb. It was about as big as a hen’s egg, and weighed 900 carats in the rough. This was perhaps the ‘unparalleled’ diamond which Bernier informs us Emir Jemla presented to Shah Jehan.”

The Emir Jemla, here referred to, is the Mirgimola of Tavernier, a well-known Persian adventure, who rose to great power in the Court of the Rajah of Golconda, and whose history is inseparably associated with that of the “Great Mogul.” This stone had been found apparently about the year 1650 in the Kollur mine on the Kistna. Soon afterwards it fell into the possession of Jemla, who dealt largely in precious stones, and acquired vast wealth, “by means of his extensive commerce with various parts of the world, as well as by the diamond mines, which he farmed under feigned names. These mines were worked with indefatigable industry, and he was accustomed to count his diamonds by the sack.” When Aurung-zeb began about the year 1655 to intrigue both against his father, Shah Jehan, and his three brothers, Dara, Murad, and Sultan Sujah, he was joined by Emir Jemla, who had become suspected by the King of Golconda, and who consequently sought the first opportunity to withdraw from his power. After dwelling on the important results that flowed from the alliance of Aurung-zeb and Jemla, Bernier tells us in the passage above referred to by Brock that, “Jemla, who had by his address, contrived to obtain frequent invitations to the Court of Shah Jehan, repaired at length to Agra, and carried the most magnificent presents, in the hope of inducing the Mogul to declare war against the Kings of Golconda and Viziapur, and against the Portuguese. On this occasion it was that he presented Shah Jehan with that celebrated diamond which has been generally deemed unparalleled in size and beauty.” The diamond in question, to which this passage contains the earliest known allusion, all are agreed in identifying with the “Great Mogul,” and it is impossible that it could have been the Koh-i-Nur; for that gem, as will be seen further on, had already been in the possession of the Mogul emperors ever since the time of Baber himself.

The next and last distinct reference to the Great Mogul is by Tavernier, who saw it at the Court of Aurung-zeb in 1665, apparently about ten years after it had passed out of the hands of Emir Jemla, and just one year before the death of Shah Jehan, at that time a prisoner in the fortress of Agra. In his Six Voyages, Tavernier refers in three places to this gem, and as his statements are often incorrectly repeated by writers who have not taken the trouble to consult the original work, it will not be amiss here to quote the passages in extenso. At p. 226, Vol. II., he thus describes the occassion on which he saw and examined the stone:–

“On November 1st, 1665, I was at the palace to take leave of the King. But he sent word to say that he did not wish me to leave without seeing his jewels, since I had seen the splendour of his fete. Early next day there came five or six officers from the Nabob Jafer Khan to summon me to the King’s presence. On my arrival at the Court the two keepers of the royal jewels, of whom I have elsewhere spoken, accompanied me to his Majesty, and after the customary salutations they brought me to a small room at one end of the hall where the King was seated on his throne, and whence he could see us. In this room I found Akel Khan, chief keeper of the State jewels, who on seeing us ordered four of the King’s eunuchs to fetch the jewels which were brought on two large trays, lacquered with gold leaf, and covered with small cloths, made on purpose, one of red velvet, the other of embroidered green velvet. After uncovering and counting over the pieces three several times, an inventory of the same was drawn up by three scribes present on the occasion. For the Indians do everything with great care and composure, and when they see anyone acting in a hurry or irritated they stare at him in silence and laugh at him for a fool.

“The first piece that Akel Khan placed in my hands was the great diamond, which is rose cut, round and very high on one side. On the lower edge there is a slight crack, and a little flaw in it. Its water is fine, and weighs 319 1/2 ratis, which make 280 of our carats, the rati being 7/8 of a carat. When Mirgimola, who betrayed his master, the King of Golconda, presented this stone to Shah Jehan, to whom he withdrew, it was in the rough state (brut), and at that time weighed 900 ratis, which make 787 1/2 carats, and there were several flaws in it. Had this stone been in Europe it would have been treated differently; for some fine pieces would have been taken from it, and it would have remained heavier [than it now is], instead of which it has been quiteground down. It was Hortensio Borgis who cut it, for which he was also badly paid. When it was cut he was reproached for having spoilt the stone which might have remained heavier, and, instead of rewarding him for his work, the King fined him 10,000 rupees, and would have taken more if he had possessed more. If Hortensio knew his business well, he would have taken from this large stone some fine pieces without wronging the King, aud without having so much trouble to grind it down. But he was not a very skilful diamond cutter.”

The second passage occurs at p. 277, where he is describing the diamond mine, “called Gani, in the language of the country, and Coulour in Persian, and where he tells us that the Great Mogul was found:–

“A number of stones are now found here from 10 to 40 carats, and even occasionally of much larger size. But amongst others, the great diamond which weighed 900 carats before being cut, and which Mirgimola presented to Aurung-zeb, as I have elsewhere said, had been taken from this mine.”

Lastly, the third passage occurs in his account at p. 305 of all the large gems he had anywhere seen. At the head of the list he places the diamond under consideration as “the heaviest of which I have had any knowledge. This diamond belongs to the Great Mogul, who did me the honour of showing it to me with all his other jewels. The form is shown in which it remained after being cut, and having been permitted to weigh it, I found that it weighs 319 1/2 ratis, which make 279 9/16 of our carats. In the rough state it weighed, as I elsewhere said, 907 ratis, which make 793 5/8 carats. This stone presents the form of an egg cut in half.”

The last passage in this paragraph explains the statement made by Brock, and frequently repeated by others, that this stone “was about as big as a hen’s egg.” But Tavernier does not compare its size to that of a hen’s egg, but only says that in form it resembled an egg, cut in half.” This is fully borne out by the illustration which accompanies his description of the stone in the first edition of his work, Vol. II, p. 334.

But there are a few discrepancies in Tavernier’s own account, which, however, admit of easy explanation. The Aurung-zeb of the second passage is obviously a slip for Shah Fehan, for we know from Bernier that it was to the latter prince, and not to his son, that Emir Jemla presented the stone, as is in fact stated by Tavernier himself in the first passage. The 900 carats of the same passage is also evidently an error for the 900 ratis of No. 1. But the 907 ratis = 793 5/8 carats, of No. 3 is not so readily reconciled with the 900 ratis = 787 1/2 carats, of No. I. But as these figures refer to the stone in the rough, they are really of little consequence, and the discrepancy is easily accounted for when we remember that Tavernier saw the stone only after its reduction by Borgio. Hence he knew nothing of it in the rough state, except on hearsay, and he may at different times have heard two different statements regarding its original size.

In any case all these measurements differ enormously from that of Baber’s gem, which everybody identifies with the Koh-i-Nur, and which Baber himself tells us weighed only “eight mishkels,” or about 186 or 187 carats. Yet Kluge, with others, argues for the identity of both stones, on the ground that they were represented as about the same size, and that consequently it was highly improbable that there were two diamonds in the Delhi treasury, each of which weighed about 186 carats. But in order to create this difficulty, Kluge represents Tavernier as reducing his 319 1/2 ratis to 186 carats, whereas in point of fact he reduces them to 279 9/16, or in round numbers to 280 carats. And lest there should be any doubt at all about it, he writes the numbers out in full, thus: “Il pese trois cent dix-neuf ratis et demi, qui font deux cent quatre-vingts de nos carats.” Why, then, except to fabricate an argument, does Kluge write: “He (Tavernier) describes it as a rosette, in the form of an egg cut in half, and weighing 319 1/1 ratis = 186 carats.” It is not that Tavernier employs one and Kluge another kind of rati; but in order to get at the required 186 carats of the Koh-i-Nur, Kluge suppresses Tavernier’s rati (7/8 to the carat), together with their equivalent of 280 carats, and substitutes his own figures, without informing the reader of the liberty he is taking with the text of the original. And thus vanishes the manipulated difficulty based on the assumed simultaneous presence of two such diamonds of the same unusual size amongst the Great Mogul’s crown jewels. The history of these historical gems is in any case often involved in so much obscurity that the gratuitous invention of needless difficulties might well be dispensed with.

It is also asserted by Maskelyne that Tavernier’s description of the Great Mogul does not correspond with its accompanying illustration, which would seem to answer tolerably well to the form of the Koh-i-Nur before it was re-cut in London. But there must surely be some strange mistake here. The fact that the proper illustrations do not accompany the text in subsequent editions of Tavernier’s work may no doubt have caused some mystification. But there can be no possible mistake about the figure of the Great Mogul as given in the first edition of 1776, which answers exactly to the words, “rose-cut, round, and very high on one side.” If this description be compared with the models both of the Koh-i-Nur and of the Great Mogul itself in our possession, all doubts will be at once removed as to the essentially different character of the two crystals

The above quoted passages from Bernier and Tavernier really embody all the authentic information extant regarding the Great Mogul. Such as it is, it amply sufficies to show that this stone is not the Koh-i-Nur. The two differ absolutely in their origin, history, size, and form. Thus, while the Great Mogul is traced directly to the Coulour mine, the Koh-i-Nur has a legendary history dating back to the remotest times. The former, when found, weighed at least 787 carats, which was reduced by cutting to 280 carats, whereas the latter when it passed into the hands of Baber was only about 187 carats. One was round-shaped, rose-cut, of the purest water, with but one little crack and flaw; the other was an irregular ellipse, very flat, dull and full of flaws.

Shah Jehan virtually ceased to reign from about 1657 till his death in 1666. But Aurung-zeb allowed him to retain possession of the greater part of his jewellery throughout his imprisonment in Agra. Tavernier tells us that a few days before his coronation the usurper begged his father to lend him some of these treasures for the occasion. At this request, which he took for an insult, and which, under the circumstances, was certainly somewhat cool, Shah Jehan fell into a paroxysm of rage which nearly brought him to his end. “In the excess of his anger he asked several times for a mortar and pestle, saying that he wanted to pound all his gems and pearls, so that Aurung-zeb might never have any of them. But his eldest daughter Begum Saheb, who never forsook him, throwing herself at his feet, prevented him from coming to this extremity and … appeased Shah Jehan more in order to preserve the jewels for herself than to please her brother.” It has accordingly been asked how the Great Mogul came into Aurung-zeb’s hands before his father’s death; for we have seen that he exhibited it to Tavernier in November, 1665. But Tavernier nowhere says that Shah Jehan retained all his gems, and he even adds that although when mounting the throne Aurung-zeb had only one jewel in his diadem, had he wished to have others placed in it, there was no lack of them. . . . . having asked his father for his gems only for the purpose of never returning them to him. Besides there was a good reason why the Great Mogul should have fallen into Aurung-zeb’s hands at the time of his father’s imprisonment. It was presented by Emir Jemla to Shah Jehan certainly not earlier than 1655, or about two years before his deposition, and during those two years it was probably in the hands of Borgio, for by the old processes such a large diamond would take fully that time, if not longer, to cut. “Thus,” continues King, from whom we are quoting, “almost immediately upon the great stone being put into Borgio’s hands, its rightful owner had lost all control over it. In fact had he been able or permitted to superintend the operation, there can be no doubt his experience and taste in such matters would have brought about a widely different result.”

The subsequent history of the Great Mogul from the time it was seen by Tavernier in 1665, remains a blank. Henceforth no distinct reference anywhere occurs to it, and although we may presume that it continued in the possession of Aurung-zeb’s successors down to the sack of Delhi by Nadir Shah, we have no knowledge of what became of it on that memorable occasion. The authorities are almost unanimous in assuming that the big stone carried off by the Persian invader, under circumstances to be described further on, was the Koh-i-Nur. But amongst the spoils may of course have also been the Great Mogul, though no distinct mention is made of the fact. Hence some have thought that it is now amongst the treasures of the Shah of Persia under the name of “Darya-i-Nur,” or “Sea of Light.” But it will be seen further on that the Darya-i-Nur is certainly a different stone.

Others arguing from its form have suggested that it may be the Russian Orloff, an equally untenable theory, as will be made evident when we come to deal with that famous gem.

Our own opinion is that the Great Mogul has ceased to exist as such. It was probably stolen either at the sack of Delhi or at the death of Nadir Shah, and then in order to escape detection its possessors had it broken by cleavage into two or more stones. Its form and especially its great size would facilitate this process, a fate which we know has overtaken more than one other large diamond.” In confirmation of this view, the reader is more particularly referred to the statements of Dr. Beke, Mr. Tennant, and Sir David Brewster regarding the Abbas Mirza diamond.

Barbot states that it was of a very pure water, though of a soft rosy tint, and that it has been estimated at pound 420,000, while others have suspected that it was not a diamond at all, but a white sapphire or perhaps topaz. But Tavernier was far too good an expert to be mistaken in a matter of this sort, and the suggestion would probably never have been made but for its altogether exceptional size.


About RAM Chandrakausika राम च 51

Ram51 is a researcher in the various fields of Musicology, Philosophy and History as well as old languages. One of his first topics is the wide scope of Indo-arabic cultures as represented in various art-forms religion and history. Below a list of selected Research topics which sum up partitionally the task of anthropological Frameworks in totaliter : Sanskrit Hinduism and Mythology Hindustani Music, The Muqhal Empire Gharanas from North India Kashmir Sufiyana The Kashmir Santoor Traditional Folk Music from USA Philosophy in Orient and Okzident Genealogy of musical instruments Ethnomusicology, Arabic Maqams, No Theatre fromJapan, North american poetry, Cultural heritage of mankind and Islamic architecture... View all posts by RAM Chandrakausika राम च 51

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