The Agra Diamond

While famed Mughal diamonds have been seen across forts, treasure chambers, caves, crowns, thrones of kings and in necklaces of socialites; the great Agra diamond, once owned by Babur has a slightly dubious (and equine) legacy.

The Agra diamond traces its ownership to Raja Vikramjit Tomar who ruled Gwalior and Agra in the 16th century CE and was said to have been its original owner. Raja Tomar and Ibrahim Khan Lodi, the Sultan of Delhi, fought together against Babur in the first Battle of Panipat in 1526 CE, in which Babar emerged victorious and Tomar as well as Lodi were killed.

A painting of Babur
A painting of Babur|Wikimedia Commons

Babur captured Delhi and sent his son Humayun to Agra, where he took Raja Tomar’s family captive. The Raja's family offered a large, pale pink diamond to Humayun as a symbol of gratitude for sparing their lives. Humayun in turn, presented this diamond to his father. And this is how the diamond entered the Mughal treasury, and remained there for several hundred years.

The diamond seems to have survived the loot of Delhi by Persian ruler Nadir Shah in 1739 CE. While other notable diamonds like the Kohinoor, Darya-i-Noor and Akbar Shah were taken to Iran, this jewel remained in Mughal treasury till 1858 CE.

The Agra diamond has a slightly dubious (and equine) legacy

The diamond would see the light of day in a curious way. Lord Donegall, an Irish aristocrat posted in India during the Mutiny of 1857, claimed that this diamond was owned by last Mughal emperor, Bahadur Shah Zafar. In 1858 CE, when the British forces retook the city from rebels, the Red Fort was completely looted and the diamond fell into the hands of a few British officers.

Capture of Delhi
Capture of Delhi|Wikimedia Commons

While the war loot was required to be declared and deposited with the army, the officers decided to keep the diamonds for themselves and smuggled it back to England. They coated the stone in a ball of food and had a horse swallow it. They traveled along with the horse to England where it was put down and the diamond extracted.

The diamond reappears in an 1860 CE catalogue of jewels of the Duke of Burnswick, a famed 19th century CE European diamond collector, where it is mentioned as belonging to Babur in 1526 CE, and listed along with 14 other historic Indian diamonds

 Duke of Burnswick
Duke of Burnswick|Wikimedia Commons

In 1891 CE, the diamond was recut from its original size of 41 carats to 32.24 carats to increase the sparkle and remove some black incisions. The diamond then passed into the hands of the Winans, a wealthy American family who made a fortune building railroads for the Russia Czars.

The British coated the diamond in a ball of food and had a horse swallow it

The diamond seems to have passed through several hands before auctioned at Christies in 1990 CE. Interestingly, during the Second World War, the anonymous owner, heir of the Winans family, is said to have prepared an iron casket and buried the diamond along with other jewels in her garden. The diamond remained buried through the Second World War and was later retrieved.

In the 90s auction, it was bought by the SIBA corporation of Hong Kong for a whopping $6.9 million. Presently, the diamond is with the Al-Thani family and on display at a fabulous exhibition in Paris. It appears that diamond was recut again. You can catch a glimpse of the piece in the Al-Thani collection.

Cover Image Courtesy:

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