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‘Koh-i-Noor’ mountain of light at the Tower of London

Ansar Ahmed Ullah:

A delegation of writers, researchers & journalists led by Shah Mustafizur Rahman Belal of Bisshobangla Foundation visited the famous Tower of London on 2 August. The visit was part of Bisshobangla’s experience & discovering heritage programme. The team comprised of Abdul Basir, Aminul Haque Jillu, Ansar Ahmed Ullah, Abdur Rashid, Ch i, Matiar Chowdhury, NNB correspondent, Batirul Haque Shorder, Swadesh Bidesh, Shajia Sultana Snigdha, Janakantha, Mahmuda Khanom Mona & Salma Akhter Alam.

The delegation looked at various Towers within the complex and discovered that many animals from the Indian subcontinent were presented as diplomatic gifts and brought back from military campaigns. One such example is the portrait by George Stubbs, of a cheetah with two Indian servants. Evidence has identified one of the men in the picture as John Morgan, a Lascar, who initially came to London with a tiger.

Another image shows an animal gifted from the Nawab of Bengal to Commander-in-Chief of British India, Robert Clive. The animal then made its way to London to the Tower’s menagerie where it was kept along with its keeper. Little is known about the keeper, apart from that he was an Indian servant to the Nawab of Bengal.

The climax of the trip was seeing Ko-i-Noor kept with other jewels. India was considered the ‘Jewel in the Crown’ of the British Empire. It also reflected India’s position as the home of the world’s greatest precious stones; the subcontinent was the only known source of diamonds, rubies, sapphires and pearls before the 18th Century.

The history of the Koh-i-Noor is steeped in myth. Originating from the Kollur Mine on the banks of a river in Andhra Pradesh, this stone was first worn by Mughal prince Babur (1483-1531) in his conquest of Northern India, who described it as being worth ‘half of the daily expense of the whole world.’ The diamond was then taken by the Iranian warrior, Nadir Shah (1698-1747) who upon seeing it said in astonishment ‘Koh-i-Noor’ meaning mountain of light and giving the stone its present name. When Nadir Shah was killed, the diamond changed hands again this time to the Durani rulers of Afghanistan, the last of whom offered it to Maharaja Ranjit Singh (1780-1839), the ruler of Punjab. The diamond was then eventually passed down to his successor, the young Maharaja Duleep Singh (1838-1893). It came into British hands via the East India Company in 1849. Due to the diamond’s contentious past, many countries, including India & Pakistan, have taken claim to it, asking for it to be repatriated.