Wednesday, September 14, 2022

The Divine Syamantaka and the Journey of the Kohinoor

Replica of Kohinoor in Mumbai

Britain legally holds the Kohinoor. But four other countries claim ownership of the diamond. 

India claims ownership because the diamond originated on Indian soil—it is believed that the diamond was discovered in India five thousand years ago. Iran claims ownership because, in 1739, the diamond was taken to Iran by the Persian warlord Nadir Shah. Afghanistan claims ownership because, in 1751, the Afghan warlord Ahmad Shah Durrani wrenched the diamond from Shah Rukh (Nadir Shah’s grandson) and brought it to Kabul. Pakistan claims ownership because the Pakistanis view their country as the true inheritor of the legacy of the Timurid (Mughal) empire, which had possession of the diamond from 1526 to 1739. 

It is not clear how the diamond got the name Kohinoor. This name is of course Persian and it means “mountain of light”—sources attribute this name to Babur in the sixteenth century and to Nadir Shah in the eighteenth century. In 1813, the diamond returned to India—it was taken from Shuja Shah Durrani (one of Ahmad’s grandsons) by Ranjit Singh who kept it in his Gobindgarh Fort in Amritsar. In the late 1840s, Lord Dalhousie extorted the diamond from Dalip Singh (Ranjit Singh’s youngest son) and presented it to Queen Victoria. 

Some Hindu writers have tried to associate the Kohinoor with the lost ancient jewel Syamantaka, which is mentioned in the Bhagavata Purana and Vishnu Purana. This idea originated in the time of Ranjit Singh. 

When the diamond came into the hands of Ranjit Singh, the priests in the Jagannath temple announced that it was the lost Syamantaka. According to Hindu theology, the Syamantaka was endowed with divine power—it would protect its owner if he was virtuous, but if he was evil, it would ensure his downfall. This jewel originally belonged to the Sun God, Surya. It came to earth when Satrajita, a Yadava nobleman, received it as a gift from Surya. Satrajita gave the jewel to his brother Prasena. But a lion killed Prasena and took off with the jewel. After a fierce fight, Jambavan, the king of bears and Lord Rama’s devotee, killed the lion and grabbed the jewel. 

To recover the jewel, Lord Krishna smashed into Jambavan’s cave. They fought for 28 days. Finally, Jambavan realized that Krishna was Rama’s incarnation. He fell at Krishna’s feet, begged forgiveness for failing to recognize him, and gave him the jewel. He also gave his daughter Jambavati in marriage to Krishna. After returning to Dwarka, Krishna returned the jewel to Satrajita. But Satrajita offered the jewel to Krishna along with his daughter Satyabhama. Krishna accepted Satyabhama as his consort but he asked Satrajita to be the guardian of the jewel.

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