Peacock Throne

No account of the Mughal Empire would be complete without including the Emperor's fete in 1665, when Tavernier finally gained admittance to Aurangzeb's court. Many of the gems he was allowed to inspect the following day were set in seven magnificent thrones. 

The finest of these, the Peacock Throne, had been designed by Augustin Bordeaux, who was also responsible for the Taj Mahal, (upon which Shah Jahan could only gaze, confined as he was now in the Red Fort at Agra). Tavernier reported that the Peacock Throne was like a small bed with a canopy above it, letting one side open to face the court. 

It had massive feet and bars that were encrusted in gold set with many diamonds, rubies, and emeralds. 'Upon the top of the canopy, which is made like an arch with foul' panes, stands a peacock with his tail spread, consisting all of saphirs and other proper coloured stones. The body is of beaten gold enchased with several jewels, and a great ruby upon his breast, at which hangs a pearl that weighs fifty carats. 

On each side of the peacock stand two nosegays as high as the bird, consisting of several sorts of flowers, all of beaten gold enamelled.' 'When the king seats himself upon the throne there is a transparent jewel with a diamond appendant of eighty or ninety carats, encompassed with rubies and emeralds, so hung that it is always in his eye. The twelve pillars also that uphold the canopy are set with rows of fair pearl, round, and of an excellent water, that weigh from six to ten carats a piece.' 

He also pointed out that this was the famous throne which Tamerlane had begun and Shah Jahan had finished. Almost as a whispered, hushed, aside, Tavernier wrote: 'It is really reported to have cost 160 million and 500,000 livres of our money!' The pageantry seems unimaginable. While the Emperor was seated, 15 horses were held by two men on either side of the throne. All 30 had bridles set with diamonds, rubies, emeralds, and pearls or were mounted with small gold coins. On the head of each horse was a plume of beautiful feathers, and suspended from its neck was a diamond, ruby, or emerald. 

After the first ceremonies were over, the seven bravest war elephants, covered with brocades and with gold and silver chains about their necks, were brought for inspection. In turn, each elephant greeted the Emperor by placing its trunk on the ground then raising its head three times, trumpeting on three occasions! Such then was the splendour of the Mughal Empire, but, like the Peacock Throne, almost everything was to break up and be destroyed. Tavernier drew well-known sketches of some of the great diamonds he had seen in India, and others of those he sold to King Louis XIV. 

Among them were 'The Great Mughal' which later disappeared, and the 'Tavernier (or French Blue)', part of which later became the ill-famed 'Hope'. Today, it is no longer in private hands, but thought to be safer in the Smithsonian Institution, in Washington. In his book, Balfour interweaves the dramatic history of India with its great diamonds, and also writes about what has happened to them since. He believes the 'Great Mughal' may well have since been re-cut from its original 280 carats, losing yet more weight along the line. Possibly, it did become the 189.6 carat 'Orlov', more likely than the 'Koh-i-Noor'. 

The large diamond set in 'a transparent jewel' which Aurangzeb could always see when seated on the Peacock throne, is thought to be the 'Shah'. It is one of the few diamonds to carry an inscription - the names of the ancient ruler of Ahmadnagar, of his conqueror, Shah Jahan, and that ofhis treacherous son. Both the 'Orlov' and the 'Shah' form part of the Russian Diamond Fund, and are housed in the Kremlin, in Moscow. The 'Great Table', of which Tavernier made a model and sketched in 1642, was seized by Nadir Shah, during the first 'Sack of Delhi', by the Persians, in 1739.

When two 'Iranian' diamonds - the 'Darya-i-Nur' and 'Nur ul-Ain/ - were closely examined at the National Bank in Teheran in 1966, it was considered 'probable' that both had come from this significant gem, for which Tavernier had offered and been refused. Today/ because of recent events in Iran their whereabouts are not known. 'The Koh-i-Noor', or Mountain of Light, which Tavernier did not see, (or, if he did, it was as the 'Great Mughal') has been re-cut and now forms part of the British Crown Jewels. But both the way in which the work was done and the claims on its ownership remain sensitive issues. 

Perhaps because the Koh-i-Noor is so well known and can be seen so easily in the Tower of London, this should be the case. No other Indian diamond seems to attract such interest. The Koh-i-Noor left India and the Mughal Empire behind; it passed from Persia to Afghanistan and thence to Ranjit Singh, the 'Lion of the Punjab'. 


All historical texts above from: Een Streling Voor Het Oog, Antwerpen 1997

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