The Folk-Lore Journal/Volume 4/A Story of the Koh-i-Nûr

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THE following story of the Koh-i-Nûr, which was told by an old Sikh to a person highly placed in the Punjab (from whom I have it), has not, so far as I know, hitherto appeared in print. It should be premised that an idea has always prevailed that the Koh-i-Nûr originally formed one of a pair of exceptionally large diamonds. The legends relating to this are numerous; but the other diamond has never been satisfactorily identified. Many stones have been proposed; among others, the Darga-i-Nûr or Ocean of Light, and the Jehan-Ghir-Shah. Another tradition points to the Koh-i-Tûr or Mountain of Sinai as the stone which figured as companion to the Koh-i-Nûr in the two eyes of the jewelled peacock which ornamented the throne of Aurungzeb, son of Shah Jehan. Unfortunately, the Koh-i-Tûr has a set of legends of its own which do not agree with this supposition. It is said that it formed one of the eyes, not of the peacock, but of Sri-Ranga, a famous idol, whose home was in a temple in Mysore. What became of Sri-Ranga's other eye no one knows; but Mr. Streeter, the great authority on diamonds, believes that the Koh-i-Tûr is the same as the Orloff, which is now in the Russian Imperial regalia.[1] Others, again, have thought that the Koh-i-Nûr, Koh-i-Tûr, and Abbas Mîrza were all fragments of the Great Mogul; but this theory cannot be sustained in the face of the all but certainty that the Great Mogul (which has so strangely vanished out of sight) was only found about the year 1630, while the history of the Koh-i-Nûr dates back to 1304, and its traditional fame extends to a time more remote by many thousand years.

Here is the folk-tale:—

There was question about the Koh-i-Nûr, and the Sikh said: "We have known all about it for ages. In times out of mind it was the property of a great (mythological) rajah who wore this with its twin-brother in an armlet on his arm. This is how it was lost in the depth of ages, and was recovered, and came into possession of the Rajahs of Lahore:—

One day a native was at his occupation by the river, and at noon came his wife and brought him, as usual, his dinner, tied up in a little bag. She set it down before him, but eftsoons a kite swooped down and carried it off. The woman broke into laughter; not so the man, who said—"What is there to laugh at?" and slapped her face, or worse. "Wait, sir," said she, "and I will explain. It suddenly was revealed to my mind that thousands of years ago I myself was a kite, and was hovering over a tremendous battle on those plains between two demigod Rajahs, one of whom wore the diamond in his armlet. This latter fell in the battle, and great search was made for his corpse. When it was found the arm was missing, and I know how. Seeing the arm cut off, I dropped down, and bore it away, but after a time, finding it heavy, I let it fall."

Now, when this tale of the Sikh woman got abroad, it caused much sensation at Lahore, and great search was made for the possible spot where the arm might have fallen, all over the district where the traditional battle had been fought. At last a little heap, or unevenness of the ground was discovered, and on opening the soil the armlet, enriched with the diamonds, was found. This is how they came several hundred years ago into the possession of the Rajahs of Lahore, as every body knows."

The Sikh story-teller naturally likes to assume that the Koh-i-Nûr had belonged to his own rulers for fabulous ages, but such is not, of course, historically the case. A legend current among the Hindus asserts that it was found in the bed of the Lower Godavery Kiver, five thousand years ago, and that Carna, Rajah of Anga, one of the heroes of the Mahâbhârata, wore it as a talisman. In 1304 Ala-ed-dîn Khilji took the stone from the Rajah of Malwa; but on making peace he seems to have given it back to its former owner. Later it belonged to the Mogul emperors, who kept it till Nadir Shah invaded India in 1739. The romantic circumstances under which Nadir got possession of it need not be related here; on first beholding it, he exclaimed "Koh-i-Nûr!" or "Mountain of Light!" and it was thus that it received its name. In 1751 it fell into the hands of the Afghan rulers, and it was only in June 1813 that the Punjab chief Rungît Singh realised the desire of his life and became its possessor. It had always been esteemed a badge of victory and symbol of empire, but as a matter of fact it rather seemed a porte-malheur, which brought horrible sufferings, torture, disgrace, the loss of eye-sight, the loss of empire to all who owned it. Rungît Singh is reported to have acquired conviction upon his deathbed that the stone was unlucky and to have wished to leave it as a propitiatory offering to the shrine of Juggernaut, but his successors could not bring themselves to part with it till 1849, when they were forced to yield it, with all their territory, to the British Crown. It was, I think, Lady Burton who suggested some years ago, that it should be sold to Russia, or at all hazards got rid of, lest the influence of its baleful splendour might be felt anew. Mr. Streeter writes more hopefully: "A strange fatality presided over its early vicissitudes; but its alleged 'uncannie ' powers have now ceased to be a subject of apprehension. Its latest history eloquently demonstrates the fact that extended empire is a blessing, just in proportion as it finds hearts and hands willing to fulfil the high duties which increased privileges involve."

  1. The Great Diamonds of the World (George Bell, 2nd ed. 1882), p. 115.