In a town not far from Nashik city in Maharashtra is an idol that’s missing its crown jewel. But this is no ordinary precious stone; it’s the Nassak diamond, a stone that has dazzled kings and commoners across the ages and has been coveted by aristocrats, world-famous jewellers, art collectors and even the Peshwas of the Maratha empire.
The Nassak, a 43.38-carat diamond and one of the 20 greatest diamonds in the world
The Nassak, a 43.38-carat diamond and one of the 20 greatest diamonds in the world, once adorned the bejewelled, golden crown of Lord Shiva in the Trimbakeshwar Temple near Nashik. The temple is one of the 12 Jyotirlinga temples in India, the holiest shrines dedicated to Lord Shiva.
The early history of the Nassak diamond – the stone derives its name from ‘Nashik’ – is rooted in speculation. What we do know is that, just like its world-famous cousins – the Hope diamond, the Orlov, the Regent and the Kohinoor – this priceless wonder too was mined in Golconda, in either the Kollur or Amaragiri mines, in Guntur district of Andhra Pradesh.
Until the discovery of diamond mines in South Africa in the late 19th century, the Golconda mines were the most important source of diamonds in the world. And, according to the law of the land, all large stones had to be surrendered to the royal treasury. It is believed that the Nassak was seized by the Mughals during their conquest of Golconda in 1687. It later passed as war booty to the Marathas during their expeditions in North India.
Nassak was seized by the Mughals during their conquest of Golconda in 1687
But how did one of the world’s most spectacular diamonds end up in a temple in Nashik?
Trimbakeshwar temple is located 28 km from Nashik city in Maharashtra. The present temple was rebuilt in the late 18th century, by Peshwa Nanasaheb, son of the famous Peshwa Bajirao I. While there is speculation that Peshwa Nanasaheb may have donated the diamond along with the bejewelled crown to the temple, it cannot be verified in absence of historical records to corroborate it.
The diamond remained in the shrine till 1817. Contrary to popular belief, it was not the British but Peshwa Bajirao II, nephew of Peshwa Nanasaheb and grandson of Peshwa Bajirao I, who ordered that the diamond be removed from the crown and delivered to his possession in Pune. That same year, the third Anglo-Maratha war broke out between the Peshwas and the British, and ended in the Maratha’s defeat.
The diamond was sent to London as spoils of the Maratha War
For five months, Peshwa Bajirao II was on the run, with the British in hot pursuit. During this time, he carted his treasure with him, including the Nassak. In 1818, Bajirao II finally surrendered and handed over the diamond to Colonel J Briggs, who in turn handed it over to the Marquess of Hastings, the Governor General of India. The diamond was sent to London as spoils of the Maratha War and, believe it or not, put up for sale.
Oddly, contemporary records show that the London market was not enthused by the stone. The advertisements described it as a diamond of great purity but of ‘bad form’ and a ‘rudely faceted, lusterless mass’. It was acquired by noted London jewellers Rundell & Bridge for just 3,000 pounds. The diamond was recut to 78.62 carats, and in 1837, sold to the Duke of Westminster, then one of the richest men in Britain. The Duke had it set in the hilt of his sword.
In 1927, the Duke of Westminister’s descendant sold the diamond to New York jeweller George Mauboussin, where it gained wide attention. Apparently, although Mauboussin had acquired the diamond for sale, he declared it as an ‘antique’ to customs officials. This was a ploy to avoid customs duty, as genuine antiques were tax-free, while diamonds for sale attracted a heavy tax.
Mauboussin’s rivals got wind of their prized acquisition and soon the diamond became the subject of a long-drawn lawsuit. To complicate matters further, the stone became the target of jewel robbery attempts in 1929 and again in 1930, and only narrowly escaped being stolen as it was kept in a soiled, crumpled envelope!
After being an exhibit at the 1933 World’s Fair in Chicago, Illinois in the US, the diamond passed into the hands of a succession of owners. Over time, it was cut and recut to its present size of 43.38 carats. It is now owned by noted Lebanese millionaire and gem collector Robert Mouawad.
The crown in which the Nassak was set can still be viewed at the Trimbakeshwar temple, every Monday, from 4 pm to 5 pm. Made of gold and studded with diamonds, emeralds and other precious stones, it is an astonishing sight. Yet none of these glittering gems matches the singular beauty of the missing Nassak.
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