India's sparkling past

Updated: Feb 25, 2020, 09:11 IST | Dalreen Ramos | Mumbai

CSMVS' new jewellery gallery showcases the country's rich and varied history of ornamentation, including replicas of the famous Golconda diamonds.

The jewellery is sourced from the museum's collection; CSMVS acquired 850 hair ornaments from around the country from eminent dancer and collector Veena Shroff and a set of traditional Maharastrian ornaments have been gifted to the museum by Pune’s PN Gadgil & Sons
The jewellery is sourced from the museum's collection; CSMVS acquired 850 hair ornaments from around the country from eminent dancer and collector Veena Shroff and a set of traditional Maharastrian ornaments have been gifted to the museum by Pune’s PN Gadgil & Sons

India was the sole supplier of diamonds to the world for 2,000 years, from the first century of the common era to the late 19th century, when South African mines were discovered. About 28 mines were scattered across the Golconda region, situated in present-day Telangana. The diamonds that came from here were known to have the greatest clarity.

"It was one of those luxury commodities that ensured that the balance of trade was always in India's favour. Plus, they were portable; you could just slide it in your pocket and didn't need a ship to carry a diamond worth a million," jewellery historian and co-curator Dr Usha Balakrishnan shares, when we meet her at Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya's jewellery gallery, which was inaugurated along with their money gallery this weekend. We're standing in front of eight cases that house 15 replicas of the Golconda diamonds. These replicas are true in size, colour and cut. The only difference has to do with the physical weight since the replicas are fashioned from cubic zirconia and not pure carbon. Gifted by the Indian branch of the Gemological Institute of America (GIA), these stones feature in collections around the world.

First impressions

In 1984, Tereschenko resurfaces and was bought by jewellery collector Robert Mouawad for $4.6 million
In 1984, Tereschenko resurfaces and was bought by jewellery collector Robert Mouawad for $4.6 million

Out of the 15, the one that has an exclusive case for itself and instantly catches your eye is the Koh-i-Noor. Embedded with colonial and nationalistic connotations and believed by some to be the original Syamantaka gem (a mysterious stone with magical powers), the diamond — whose name translates to 'Mountain of Light' — has a tumultuous history. It initially found its place with Babur, the first Mughal Emperor, and continued to be in the Mughal treasury through the reigns of Jahangir and Shah Jahan, whose peacock throne was believed to possess the Koh-i-Noor. This treasury was looted by Persian invader Nadir Shah, who is said to have seen the stone and exclaimed, "Wah, Koh-i-Noor!" And the diamond then travelled with him to Iran.

Manisha Nene (left) with the Koh-i-Noor and Usha Balakrishnan with the Orlov. PICS/ASHISH RajeManisha Nene (left) with the Koh-i-Noor and Usha Balakrishnan with the Orlov

After Shah's death, it passed on to Afghan ruler Ahmad Shah Abdali. After his dethronement, Abdali's son Shah Shuja fled the region and took refuge in Punjab, the kingdom of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. In return for this sanctuary provided to him, Shah Shuja gifted Singh the diamond, thus bringing it back to India. After Singh's death, the 186-carat, uncut stone was passed down to his heirs. Eventually, when the British annexed Punjab, the terms of the Treaty of Lahore signed with Duleep Singh allowed for the British to get their hands on the diamond, which was then taken to London and gifted to Queen Victoria. The Empress of India loved it. She had it set in a brooch.

The black orlov was believed to be set inside the eye of the Hindu god Brahma in Pondicherry and stolen by a French soldier who smuggled it to LondonThe black orlov was believed to be set inside the eye of the Hindu god Brahma in Pondicherry and stolen by a French soldier who smuggled it to London

The diamond was also exhibited during the great colonial exhibition in London. "The Britishers felt that it wasn't sparkling enough. Indians cut diamonds in different ways because they valued the weight and size, and so wouldn't waste the stone by cutting it down small. And so, it was cut and reduced to its present weight of 105.6 carats," Balakrishnan says. The diamond was then set into the coronation crown of Queen Elizabeth where it rests today. "There's superstition that the Koh-i-Noor brings bad luck to men, so only women are allowed to wear it," she adds.

Shiny affair

The Dresden Green now finds its place in the royal collection at CopenhagenThe Dresden Green now finds its place in the royal collection at Copenhagen

The other diamonds include the Orlov, Hope, Sancy, Regent, Wittelbach, Beau Sancy, Indore Pears, Terechenko, Florentine, Briolette of India, Black Orlov, Dresden Green, Regent and Nassak. "While the Orlov is set into the Imperial Russian Sceptre, the Sancy and the Regent are in Paris's Louvre. Not everyone has the opportunity to travel to different locations to actually see them and hence the replicas. Some diamonds are safe in private collections and some have disappeared although they have been documented," Balakrishnan informs. She also highlights that the gem bazaar of the world was in India where Burmese rubies, Sri Lankan spinels and Colombian emeralds were traded.

Indian finesse

The jewellery gallery and the money gallery adjoining it tie in well together given the fact that the earliest form of jewels were, in fact, coins strung together. Besides the display of diamonds, you can spot jewellery from the Harappan civilisation as well as from the Maurya and Kushan periods. The museum has acquired 850 hair ornaments from around the country from eminent dancer and collector Veena Shroff. Maharashtrian ornaments were also gifted by Pune's PN Gadgil & Sons. Co-curator Manisha Nene says that jewellery in museums is often thought of as objects belonging to royals, but the CSMVS collection differs from that notion. But then again, jewellery in India is not solely inanimate, since as Nene explains, "Jewellery has entered our vocabulary through several proverbs and idioms. 'Naka peksha moti jad,' [the nose ring is bigger than the nose] implies that one shouldn't do things beyond their capacity."

Free
Time
10.15 am to 6 pm
At Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya, Mahatma Gandhi Road, Fort.
Call 22844484

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