The Tale of the Koh-i-Noor: Crown, Curse, and Controversy

The Tale of the Koh-i-Noor: Crown, Curse, and Controversy

Coronation Crown with the Koh-i-Noor Diamond

The Coronation Crown with the Koh-i-Noor Diamond // 


The Koh-i-Noor Diamond, often named the "Mountain of Light," is an exemplar of beauty, mystery, and controversy. This 105.6-carat diamond has journeyed across continents, passing through the hands of kings, emperors, and conquerors, only to be nestled today in the heart of the British monarchy. Its size, brilliance, and historical significance have enchanted many, while its legend of a curse has stirred up a fair share of unease.


A Diamond of Immense Size and Value

The Koh-i-Noor diamond, of Indian origin, boasts an unparalleled size and beauty. Weighing an impressive 105.6 carats, it is one of the world's largest known diamonds. The current estimated value of the Koh-i-Noor is hard to calculate due to its immense historical and cultural importance, but it would likely exceed a billion dollars on the open market.


Historical Ownership and Passage

Maharaja Duleep Singh

Maharaja of Punjab Duleep Singh dressed for a state function // Capt. Goldignham


The diamond's historical journey began in India, where it was first documented in 1306 as part of the treasure of the Kakatiya dynasty. The diamond eventually fell into the hands of the Delhi Sultanate, and later, the Mughal emperors.

The Mughals, in particular Emperor Shah Jahan, known for constructing the Taj Mahal, had a special appreciation for the diamond. Shah Jahan incorporated it into his ornate Peacock Throne, emphasizing its importance as a symbol of power and prestige.

In the 18th century, following the invasion of Nadir Shah, the ruler of Persia, the diamond was transported to Iran, where it received its evocative name, Koh-i-Noor, or "Mountain of Light."

After Nadir Shah's death, the diamond was possessed by several Sikh, Afghani, and Persian leaders. 

On the 29th day of March in the year 1849, the youthful Maharajah of Punjab Duleep Singh, merely a decade old, was guided into the grand, reflective Mirrored Hall located in the heart of the majestic Lahore Fort. In a solemn public ceremony, the composed child was forced to yield control to the British East India Company under the controversial terms of the Treaty of Lahore. This formal Act of Submission to Queen Victoria extended not just to the vast tracts of some of the most fertile Indian lands, but also to what many considered the most precious artifact of the subcontinent: the renowned Koh-i-Noor diamond, a symbol of ultimate luxury.


Koh-i-Noor in the Hands of Queen Victoria


Queen Victoria 1887

Queen Victoria wears the Koh-i-Noor diamond as a brooch in 1887 // Wikimedia Commons/Alexander Bassano


Upon receiving the diamond, Queen Victoria ordered it to be recut from its original 186 carats to its present 105.6-carat oval brilliant shape, enhancing its light-refracting properties. The Queen first wore the diamond as a brooch and later set it in a circlet. After her death, it was set in the Crown of Queen Alexandra, wife of Edward VII. The Koh-i-Noor diamond continued to grace the crowns of Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth, also known as the Queen Mother.


The Queen Mother's Coronation Crown

Queen Mother wearing Koh-i-Noor Crown

Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, wearing the coronation crown with the Koh-i-Noor diamond, at the coronation with Princess Elizabeth // 


The 1937 Coronation is particularly noteworthy because it was the first time the Koh-i-Noor was used in the Queen Mother's Coronation Crown. Crafted from platinum and containing over 2,800 diamonds, the crown was designed around the Koh-i-Noor, showcasing it as the main jewel at the front. Following the Queen Mother's death in 2002, the crown, with the Koh-i-Noor still embedded, is displayed with other British Crown Jewels in the Tower of London.


The Legend of the Curse

The history of the Koh-i-Noor is not just limited to its majestic allure; it is also shrouded in the mystery of a supposed curse. The curse, believed to originate from a Hindu text, states that "He who owns this diamond will own the world, but will also know all its misfortunes. Only God, or a woman, can wear it with impunity."

History seems to provide credence to this curse. Many of the male rulers who possessed the diamond faced violence, dethronement, and even death. Since arriving in Britain, the diamond has only been worn by female members of the royal family, perhaps due to this superstition.


Controversy and Claims of Ownership

Today, the diamond is a source of international controversy. India, Pakistan, Iran, and Afghanistan have all staked a claim to the diamond, arguing it was illegitimately acquired by the British during the colonial era. The British government maintains its possession is legitimate, owing to the Treaty of Lahore.



The tale of the Koh-i-Noor extends beyond the physical allure of a precious diamond. It's a story of power and conquest, a testament to the tumultuous history of empires, and a symbol of national identity. As the diamond continues to rest in the Tower of London, its legend echoes through time, captivating the minds of those who know its story. Even as it sparks disputes over ownership, it also unites history and myth in a tale as multifaceted and brilliant as the diamond itself.


Image credits for images 1 & 4: Uknown


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