Blood diamonds

Ambrin Hayat traces the fate of the Darya-e-Nur and the violent means by which it changed hands

Blood diamonds
In the southeast of India,touching the shores of the Bay of Bengal, there is a region called Andhra Pradesh, where in the jungles of teak trees, black buck deer play hide and seek with tigers and panthers, where the beautiful roller birds of India, their striking blue tails fanning out, chatter on the branches of Neem and mango trees. According to the Rig Veda (1700-1200 BCE) the ancient Andhra tribe had migrated from the northern parts of India and settled most probably along the banks of the River Krishna, known locally as Krishnaveni, in the present-day region of Andhra Pradesh. The Krishnaveni, flowing rapidly even today, hosts river delta communities around its many tributaries as they flow into the Bay of Bengal.

In these ancient communities along the banks of Krishna, the Andhras evolved a dynamic culture, where ideas were debated and the thought process was enhanced by a constant study of the cosmos, the universe, the Earth and their immediate surroundings. Knowledge and wisdom produced great intellects and philosophers: it is believed that the great sage Nagurjuna (150-250 CE), whose philosophy had a profound impact on the Mahayana, lived here. The region also produced great kings and warriors. It was part of the Maurya Empire (322-180 BCE). As the power of the Mauryas dwindled after Ashoka the Great, the Satavahana ruled the region. Several subsequent regional and conquering dynasties ruled until the region became part of the Chola dynasty in the 12th century AD. Many more ruled after the Cholas – the Hoysalas, the Yadaves, the Kakatiyas and the Sultans, all contributing to the magnificent architecture, the palatial palaces, the formidable forts and the surreal, beautiful temples. Here the captivating Carnatic classical music evolved to great heights. The emergence of the delightful form of Indian classical dance, Kuchipudi, happened in a small village of the Andhra region. Thousands of years of evolution of a magnificent culture impacted every facet of life: exquisite weaving techniques produced alluring fabrics and thousands of artisans with intricate skills produced magnificent pieces of jewellery. The deities in the temples and the queens and kings in the royal households, the common woman and man in the villages, all had to be adorned with gold and silver and of course, the king of all gems, the diamond.

Nader Shah of Persia

On the 16th of May, 1738, Nader Shah left India with the largest booty that the world had ever known

Diamonds had been in use in India for almost 6,000 years. The earliest Indian woman’s penchant for adornment and for jewellery is well documented in the figurines of Mohenjodaro and Mehrgarh. The jewellery pieces discovered from different eras in antiquity prove that gem-studded jewellery was prized by deities and humans alike.

A carbon-bearing material has to go through precise conditions at a temperature of around 900 - 1,300 Degrees Celsius under a pressure of about 60 kilobars in a very specific environment, so as to be able to evolve into a diamond. Such conditions are only present 130 - 300 km deep down in the lithospheric mantle of the Earth, under stable continental plates. A unique volcanic eruption brings the diamonds to the surface of the Earth. The diamonds that are discovered by humans are at least 1 - 3 billion years old.

The Andhra Pradesh region was blessed with splendid mines that produced the most magnificent diamonds that the world has ever seen.

Mughal Emperor Muhammad Shah

Kollur mine on the banks of the River Krishna had an incredible reservoir of diamonds that dazzled the world for centuries. It has produced the most spectacular diamonds known in history. At the height of its productivity, it is said that almost 60,000 people worked at various diamond mines in the region.

The Great Mughal Diamond, which originally was 787 carats, was cut into 280 carats. The diamond was lost after Nader Shah sacked Delhi.

The Regent Diamond weighs 140 carats and is now at the Louvre.

The Nizam of Hyderabad’s Nizam Diamond weighing 340 carats is now with the Government of India

The Orlov Diamond, weighing 300 carats, was encrusted in the Imperial Scepter of Catherine the Great, now at the Kremlin.

The Kohinoor – weighing 105.6 carats, but originally 793 carats – is now part of the British Crown Jewels.

The Hope Diamond weighing 67 carats is now with the Smithsonian Museum in Washington DC.

The Kolloru Diamond weighed 63 carats. Its current whereabouts are unknown.

The Dresden Green Diamond weighs 41 carats and is on display at Dresden in Germany.

Another diamond that came out of the incredible Kollur mine has somehow disappeared from the public discussion on famous diamonds in the world – even though we know precisely where it is. That would be the 182-carat Darya-e-Nur. The story of Darya-e-Nur is entwined with the story of a warrior, conqueror and plunderer who finally became the ruler of Persia.

Asif Jah I, who pleaded with Nader Shah to stop the massacre in Delhi

Nader Shah came from humble origins. He was born in the fort of Dastegard in Dargaz. He was an Afshar, a sub-tribe of the Qizilbash. His father was a herdsman. Nader lost his father at the age of 13. He and his mother went through extreme hardships .At one point they were both captured as slaves. His mother died in captivity. Nader was, at that point, 17. He escaped from slavery and became a bandit. However, he rose to become a warrior and then eventually a general in the army. Finally he declared himself the ruler of Persia. He was a cruel man, not averse to killing people for personal gain as he climbed the ladder.

In 1736, as Nader, now Shah, heard more and more about the opulence and the grandeur of the Mughal court. He was looking for an excuse to loot the riches of India. In 1738 he finally attacked.

As Nader Shah’s army won the battles in Sindh and Punjab and proceeded eastwards, the Mughal Emperor Muhammad Shah, a sophisticated poet and patron of arts and literature, gathered a huge army of 300,000 soldiers to defend Delhi. However, the force was ill-trained and undisciplined.

On the 13th of February 1739 when Nader Shah’s army came face to face with Muhammad Shah’s in the battlefield of Karnal; the Persians were one-third of the Mughal army’s strength. The battle ended in three hours. Nader Shah walked victoriously into Delhi and entered the Mughal household in the Red Fort. The Persian soldiers invaded the city of Delhi.

The Darya-e-Nur diamond, mounted in a diamond-studded frame with the Lion and Sun at the top representing the Imperial Persian monarchy

After some time, rumours were rife in the streets of Delhi that Nader Shah was killed in the Mughal palace by a female guard. Gaining some confidence from such news, the people of Delhi gathered courage and killed a few of the Persian soldiers, who were not only occupying their city but also their homes.

This miscalculated act opened the floodgates of one of the most gruesome, brutal and cruel days that Delhi ever saw. Nader Shah’s army butchered Delhi’s residents mercilessly. Taking a page out of the methods of earlier Mongol and Turkic warlords, successors of Chinggis Khan, Nader Shah resorted to horrific violence to establish the might, authority and superiority of the invader, terrorizing the conquered people. The wretchedness and cruelty of Nader Shah’s army had no bounds in Delhi. While Nader himself stayed in the opulence of Mughal finery in their palaces and exerted pressure on the Emperor to give him more and more from his treasure of gold, rubies, emeralds and diamonds, his army went around the city killing unarmed men, women and children day after day. According to one estimate 30,000 people were killed by the invaders in this carnage.

The lanes of Shajahanabad were littered with bodies, but Nader Shah refused to leave Delhi or to order his army to stop the massacre. Nawab Saadat Ali Khan committed suicide, guilty for his role in giving an estimate of the enormous size of the Mughal treasure to Nader Shah – which brought this calamity on the city of Delhi. As quoted by William Dalrymple and Anita Anand in the book Kohinoor, finally the Nizam of Hyderabad, Asif Jah I, met Nader – bareheaded, with his hands tied with his turban, and begged him on his knees to stop the killings. They would give the Shah more jewels and gold and silver if he would stop the atrocity and release the occupied lands and the city.

Nader quoted an obnoxiously high price of Rs.100 crore (Rs. 1, 000, 000, 000) from the Nizam. The Mughal Emperor and the Nizam, the Nawabs and the Rajas of the immensely rich states in India were ready to give all that they had to rid their land of this barbarity. Mattheus van Leipsig, a Dutch trader who was present in Delhi at the time, wrote that although the killings stopped after the Nizam of Hyderabad’s plea to Nader, the loot and plunder of the Delhi residents continued with impunity.
In 1965, Canadian gemologists and experts from the University of Ontario concluded that the Darya-e-Nur and the Nur-ul-Ain diamonds are two parts of the Great Table Diamond

Anand Ram Mukhlis, an Indian chronicler, documented Nader Quli Khan’s rise from a shepherd to Nader Shah of Persia in his book Tazrikiha. Mukhlis was probably present in Delhi when Nader unleashed terror on its citizens. He writes how families were ruined and how the accumulated wealth of almost 350 years changed hands in a moment.

After the Nizam’s begging for mercy and Nader finally pulling his sword back, according to the terms of that sad treaty, the most magnificent of jewels were given to Nader in return. This was the wealth of probably the richest country of the world. Nader Shah’s courtiers, chroniclers and accountants were simply wide-eyed. The more jewels and riches poured into their coffers, the more they were astounded. They had never seen such wealth, such abundance of gold, silver and gems before. Most of the gold and silver were melted into coins. Tons of jewellery was carried away as it was.

After 57 days of utter humiliation and dehumanisation of Delhi’s populace, on the 16th of May, 1738, Nader Shah left India but – with the largest booty that the world had ever known. According to Anand and Dalrymple’s book Kohinoor, “700 elephants, 4,000 camels and 12,000 horses carrying wagons all laden with gold, silver and precious stones” marched out of Delhi with the Persians that day.

That is when The Great Table Diamond, which was mined from the Kollour mines on the Krishnaveni – a magnificent pink stone, which weighed about 350-450 carats, which Jean-Baptiste Tavernier(1605-1689) , a French gem merchant,had described in his chronicles – was taken away by Nader Shah to Persia.

In that opulent loot, Nader had also swiped the famous ‘Peacock Throne’ of the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan (1592-1666). It is said that the Great Table Diamond was studded in that magnificent throne along with several other unique gems.

The conquest of Delhi and the immense booty that Nader brought back with him gave respite to his subjects in the Persian Empire. He abolished all taxes imposed on his subjects for a full three years. From the riches of India, Nader built ships and enhanced his navy. In the Monetary History of Iran: From the Safavids to the Qajars, the authors Rudi Matthee and Willem Floor say that a very small portion of the Indian loot was spent on building the infrastructure of the Persian Empire: most of it went to Nader Shah’s private treasury and some to the soldiers and generals and courtiers.

The Indian victory was the pinnacle of Nader Shah’s career. It was only downhill for him after that. The alluring Great Table Diamond was captured by his grandson Shahrukh after Nader was murdered in 1747. Shahrukh ascended the throne in (1748-1796). In 1791 a British diplomat Sir Harford Brydges was hired by the Persian ruler to help him sell some jewels to raise capital to wage war on a neighbour. That is when Brydges saw the Great Table Diamond and recognised it from Tavernier’s account. That was the last time that the great pink diamond as a whole was seen and recorded in a document by a Western source. AghaMohammdQajar took the throne in 1796 and then severely tortured Shahrukh to make him give up the jewels that Nader had looted from India. In the end, Shahrukh succumbed and gave away the pink diamond along with other treasures.

In 1797, almost a year after acquiring the Great Table Diamond, Agha Qajar was murdered. His nephew Fateh Ali Shah Qajar (1772-1834) took the throne and the diamond with it. Fateh Qajar was often seen with a beautiful pink diamond on his arm band.

Fateh Ali Shah Qajarwas fond of pomp and grandeur. As he sat on the throne he ordered elaborate chairs for the coronation of the Shah – the Takht-e-Khurshid and Takht-e-Naderi were constructed. Fateh Qajar also commissioned an elaborate new crown, the Taj-e-Kiani for himself; the Great Table Diamond was not used to embellish any of the above.

We are not sure when the Great Table Diamond was divided into two. Was it divided during Fateh Shah’s reign? The two new diamonds that emerged from the Great Table Diamond are the Darya-i-Nur and Nur-ul-Ain. Fateh Shah’s name was engraved on the side of Darya-i-Nur. Is it then possible that the Great Table Diamond was divided by Fateh Shah?

John Malcolm was a British ambassador to the Persian court in 1827. In his book Sketches of Persia, he describes Darya-e-Nur and Taj-e-Mah, another diamond, as the two most important gems in the Persian Royal collection and which were studded in a pair of arm bands for the Shah.

Fateh Shah Qajar’s grandson Naser-ud-din Shah Qajar(1831-1896) was very fond of his possession and wore the Darya-i-Nur often on his arm.

Naser-ud-din was the first modern Persian monarch to interact with modern European royalty and governments. He travelled to Europe at least thrice. In 1873 he wrote an interesting travelogue of his visit to Europe. Probably the European travels changed his preference for wearing armbands. The Dayra-e-Nur was taken out from his arm band and mounted in a frame. The frame around this pink diamond is studded with 457 small diamonds and 4 rubies. In the top portion of the frame are the figures of the Lion and the Sun, representing the Imperial Crown of Persia.

Naser’s grandson Mohammad Ali Shah Qajar (1872-1925) abolished the constitution during his reign. In 1909 he was forced to abdicate the throne. Mohammad Ali fled to Russia and took the Darya-e-Nur and other jewels with him. He was, however, forced to return the diamond and other jewels to the Persian Empire.

The Darya-e- Nur stayed with the Iranian royalty and was passed on to the subsequent monarchs.

In 1937 the Royal Jewels were transferred to the State Treasury of Iran and became the property of the state. The jewels were used as collateral to strengthen the state economy.

The other part of the Great Table Diamond is the Nur-ul-Ain diamond. In 1958 this almost 60-carat diamond was placed in a tiara made for Empress Farah Diba on her wedding with Reza Shah Pahlavi. In addition to Nur-ul-Ain, the tiara is studded with an additional 324 pink, yellow and white diamonds.

In 1965, a team of Canadian gemologists and experts from the University of Ontario did a study of the Crown Jewels of Persia. Through their extensive research they concluded that the Darya-e-Nur and the Nur-ul-Ain diamonds are two parts of the Great Table Diamond.

Both the tiara containing the Nur-ul-Ain and the frame containing the Darya-i-Nur diamonds are now part of the Iranian Crown Jewels at the National Treasury of Iran.