Review of Koh-i-Noor by William Dalrymple and Anita Anand – an infamous diamond and imperial bloodshed

Maya Jasanoff in The Guardian:

1296Investigative journalists know that the way into a great story is to “follow the money”. In this vivid history of one of the world’s most celebrated gemstones, the Indian diamond known as the Koh-i-Noor, Anita Anand and William Dalrymple put an inventive twist on the old maxim. “Follow the diamond,” they realise, and it can lead into a dynamic, original and supremely readable history of empires.

Well before diamonds became a western synonym for wealth, Hindu scriptures endowed gems with magical, even divine, qualities, while central Asians – including 16th-century India’s Mughal rulers – prized rubies as tangible distillations of the light of the setting sun. On festive occasions the Mughal emperor would have himself weighed against offerings of gems, pearls and gold presented by his courtiers – and then distribute the treasure among the people. The imperial treasury of the 1600s, as described by a handful of gasping visitors, cascaded with gems of exceptional size, clarity and colour.

Which of these loose stones was the Koh-i-Noor nobody can say, but by the middle of the 1600s it had pride of place in the magnificent Peacock Throne, commissioned by the emperor Shah Jahan. There would be no greater statement of Mughal splendour than this orgiastic jewel-encrusted confection, “without parallel in any of the treasure of past or present kings” – and no greater prize for any of the Mughals’ enemies. In 1739, the Persian ruler Nader Shah swept into Delhi and conquered the capital in a frenzy of carnage. The throne – with the Koh-i-Noor embedded in it – left India in “a haemorrhage of booty”, carried into Persia on the backs of thousands of elephants, camels and horses.

More here.