Bengaluru: Kohinoor is easily the most coveted gem in the world and has been in the British possession for 173 years now.
It reached the British hands from India through a ‘peace treaty’ with the Punjab’s 10-year-old king Maharaja Duleep Singh in 1849.
From being one of the most scintillating symbols of opulence and medieval economic dominance of India to being the crown jewel of British colonialism, Kohinoor has travelled far.
But, what is its origin story?
There are multiple theories about the diamond’s origins and the most established story is that the diadem was extracted from Kollur Mine, located in Andhra Pradesh’s Guntur District, which has been variously part of the Vijayanagara Empire, Qutub Shahi Kingdom, Mughals and the Asaf Jahi Nizams.
However, it is not the only priceless diamond that has made its treacherous way out of India. Kohinoor is in the illustrious company of among the world’s most famous gems that originated in India and now find themselves in the crowns and treasures of several queens, princes and oligarchs.
Astonishingly, most of the world’s most precious diamonds, including Kohinoor, the Orlov, the Great Mogul, Hope and Dresden came from Kollur.
So, where is this mine and what happened to it?
The Kollur Mine, on the banks of River Krishna, was the biggest source of wealth for the medieval kingdoms who ruled over it one after another. Obviously, it was a major source of contention for the various South Indian kingdoms of the time.
The mine was so prolific in the 16th and 17th centuries that through its riches the Qutub Shahi capital Golconda became the diamond capital of the world, attracting merchants, prospectors, jewellers and fortune-seekers from across the globe.
Though the mine is now defunct and has gone under water due to an irrigation project, the region is still surrounded by a lot of lore and mystery.
Every year, during the dry the summer months, when the water recedes and the old village of Kollur shows up, former villagers and locals from the vicinity descend down in the hope of striking a fortune.
Mysteriously, it still occasionally throws up some of its scintillating riches.
Located amidst the remote forests of the Guntur district, accessed only through a rocky dirt track or on boats, the backwaters of the Pulichintala Irrigation Project is a hard place to find.
However, the fortune seekers not just brave the arduous path but also brave the scorching sun in the hope of finding another Kohinoor.
Some, like the herder Narsimha and his family camp on the banks throughout the summer, grazing their cattle on the banks while keeping an eye out for the shiny stones.
The prospectors have been buoyed by some recent finds of a couple of local farmers that have changed their fortunes.
“This place has a long history. I was born in this village and grew up on many stories of people finding precious stones. We were relocated from here two decades back due to the irrigation project but every year we come back in search of our fortune and we have found some semi precious stones,” said Narsimha, showing off a big sparkling block, which is apparently a chunk of quartz.
Narsimha and his family were not the only ones on the banks of Pulichintala when we visited the place. As many as half a dozen prospectors were scouring the rocky terrain in search of precious stones.
“On any given day 10-20 people arrive here in the hope of finding a diamond. Some come from other states also, we have had many dealers coming here, offering us money if we found any gems,” added the old herder.
Obscure as the place is, it is not out of reach for the adventurous and ambitious.
Among the fortune seekers who visit the place regularly are the father-son duo of Wali and Abdul. The came all the way from a village 120km away from Kollur.
“We have heard a lot about this place and the riches it holds. One prospector from our neighbouring village found a gem recently so that encouraged us in trying our luck. We have come here whenever we have a day off, but we haven’t been lucky yet, except for finding some quartz. But we are not losing hope, we will come again and you never know, our luck might shine someday,” said Wali, who works as a mason.
Submerged in the waters of modern development and out of reach for most of the year, will Kollur throw up another Kohinoor? It may, it’s hard to guess when the fortune shines!
-- Shafaat Shahbandari is a freelance journalist based in Bengaluru