Season 1, Episode 3

The Curse of the Kohinoor

The ‘Curse of the Kohinoor’ is this: Any man who wears the diamond will suffer a terrible fate. But is this true? Or was this simply a story that conveniently allowed the British Empire to justify the colonial appropriation of the diamond? 

Maharaja Ranjit Singh was the last Indian owner of the Kohinoor diamond. He was a fair and secular king of Punjab, the Land of Five Rivers, with Lahore as the capital. He was chosen as the greatest ruler of all time by the BBC World Histories Magazine in 2020. When he died in 1839, his 9-year-old son Duleep Singh took over the throne. The British East India Company was watching like a vulture, and conquered the Sikh Empire through treachery. Its representatives plundered the immense wealth of the kingdom and unravelled the socioeconomic fabric of the state in just 6 months. 

The Earl of Dalhousie, who was the governor general at the time, further wanted to destroy all symbols of Sikh power. And to this end, he separated the 9-year-old Duleep Singh from his mother, who was jailed for most of her life. And Dalhousie presented both Duleep and the Kohinoor as trophies to Queen Victoria. 

That’s when news of the terrible curse of the Kohinoor began making the rounds even as the diamond made it onto British shores. Even today, only women in the British Royal family wear the diamond.

But is there really a curse? And should the diamond be returned? This episode reveals the true history of the Kohinoor that is conveniently forgotten by the British.

Time Markers (mins: sec)

  • 00:24 – Prologue – visit to Lahore Fort
  • 03:35 – Intro – What the episode is about
  • 08:33 – Chapter 1 – A Fair King
  • 13:29 – Chapter 2 – Funeral of a King
  • 16:37 – Chapter 3 – A Boy King
  • 20:29 – Chapter 4 – Plunder
  • 30:48 – Chapter 5 –  Reshaped
  • 39:58 – Credits
curse of the kohinoor

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Reading List

Amini, I. The Koh-i-noor diamond. (Roli, 2004).

“Casualty of War: A Portrait of Maharaja Duleep Singh.” National Museums Scotland, https://www.nms.ac.uk/explore-our-collections/stories/world-cultures/india-in-our-collections

Dalrymple, W. & Anand, A. Kohinoor: the story of the world’s most infamous diamond. (Juggernaut Books, 2016).

The East India Company: The original corporate raiders | William Dalrymple. the Guardian http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/mar/04/east-india-company-original-corporate-raiders (2015).

The jewel in the crown: The curse of Koh-i-Noor. The Independent https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/this-britain/jewel-crown-curse-koh-i-noor-5331805.html (2006).

Kinsey, D. C. Koh-i-Noor: Empire, Diamonds, and the Performance of British Material Culture. J. Br. Stud. 48, 391–419 (2009).

Nast, C. Why the British Crown Jewels still fascinate today. Vogue Paris https://www.vogue.fr/jewelry/article/crown-jewels-united-kingdom-royal-british (2021).

See the Crown Jewels. Historic Royal Palaces https://www.hrp.org.uk/tower-of-london/whats-on/the-crown-jewels/.

Sheikh, M. Emperor of the five rivers: the life and times of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. (I.B. Tauris, 2017).

Victoria and Albert Museum, O. M. The Court of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/t/the-court-of-maharaja-ranjit-singh/ (2011).

 Voigt, Friederike. Mementoes of Power and Conquest: Sikh Jewellery in the Collection of National Museums Scotland. Manchester University Press, 2020. www.manchesterhive.com, https://www.manchesterhive.com/view/9781526139214/9781526139214.00022.xml

Voigt, Friederike, et al. “‘Panjab Connections’: A Young Roots Heritage Project at the National Museums Scotland.” Journal of Museum Ethnography, no. 30, 2017, pp. 24–48.

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