Suruchi Gupta

Archive for December, 2011

Taj Mahal Diamond Should Come To India?

by on Dec.13, 2011, under Lifestyle, Miscellaneous

Taj Mahal Diamond from Elizabeth Taylor Jewellery Sale at Christie’s

It is perhaps something historically (and resignedly) Indian which can make stops at Moscow, London, Los Angeles, Dubai, Geneva, Paris, Hong Kong and New York, and have rare prospects of coming back to India – it’s land of origin. The Taj Mahal Diamond – a name perhaps given to raise its aesthetic and economic value unquestionably – is a heart-shaped diamond, serving as a pendant while positioned in a gold pan-shaped frame and hanging by a gold and ruby chain. Belonging to circa 1627-28, the piece “is believed to have been a gift from the ruler (Mughal emperor Shah Jehangir) to his son (Shah Jahan)” according to the Christie’s press release. Further on, according to the release, it was then gifted by Shah Jahan to his wife, the legendary Mumtaz-i-Mahal, and has a Persian inscription on it:

I gathered that the literal translation of the Persian inscription on the diamond has three entries: ‘Nur Jahan Baygum-e Padshah’; ’23’; and ‘1037’. This means that Nur Jahan was a lady of the Padshah, while the number 23 refers to the regnal year of Jehangir, which was indeed 1037, equivalent to 1627-28 A.D.

Thus, one understands how the necklace got its name, drawing from the Taj Mahal – one of the Seven Wonders of the World, which Shah Jahan commissioned in the memory of Mumtaz-i-Mahal. This jewel is set to go on auction in a few hours time from now (IST: 8 am) at Christie’s London’s ‘The Legendary Jews els from the Collection of Elizabeth Taylor’ auction. Being celebrated as part of Elizabeth Taylor’s enviable jewellery collection, and known to have been gifted to her by Richard Burton in 1972, does this piece hold any significance for India, the country where it originated? Now that it is open for auction, should the government try to bring it back to the country, even as it remains unknown on the route and time of its leaving the country?

Yes, say historians, gallery owners and art curators.

“This piece, if it indeed is what it being claimed as, has a heritage value for the country. India (meaning: Indian museums for example) does not have many Mughal jewels and other Mughal artefacts. In fact, they are very rare in the world – rarely present in any museum. One can find many gold coins, mohars, paintings from those times, not jewels or artefacts,” says Najaf Haidar, historian and scholar on Mughal India.

Haidar explains that “the piece is valuable also from perspective of studying and research. If anyone today wants to study about that period, he or she can refer to this piece, if this is part of a museum – Indian or foreign – which will not be possible if it goes in private collection. A private collection with such a piece either serves a aesthetic or speculative purpose only. Even the inscription on it is valuable and point of study for scholars.”

Debdatta Gupta, curator, however, says that though the piece has a definite historical significance, it does not fall in the realm of national significance – which has been given to belongings and works of the likes of Mahatma Gandhi and Rabindranath Tagore, when they came in the sphere of auction in the past.

“The piece, in a way, signifies the living Mumtaz Mahal for us… for the dead Mumtaz the Taj Mahal is there. This piece brings the image of an alive Mumtaz for us. Since in those times women portraits were not made by seeing the face of the person, and there is no portrait of Mumtaz – we only have imaginary portrait of hers. This may add more life to her memories,” says Gupta.

It is a matter of debate for many on whether the Mughals, or in this case Shah Jahan and Jehangir, were Indians or not. While some may point out that he was born and lived his life in India, Gupta points out that Mughals essentially were Timurs, with their roots outside India.

But as Haidar points out, “Though they were essentially a foreign invasion, in their long rule here, they gave India a definite economic, cultural, social and political character by which it is identified even internationally.”

Gupta adds, “Jahangir was known as a great connoisseur of art and paintings. This informs us that he was also a connoisseur of jewels and had interest in jewels too.”

Reena Lath, director, Akar Prakar gallery, Kolkata, in a discussion, supported the same views. She said, “This piece, if it is indeed what it is being claimed, should definitely be brought back to the country. It has an important value for the country and the government should try to get it back back when it is getting the opportunity to – by a public auction. Or, the least it could do is facilitate those individuals who are trying to bring it back, instead of creating hurdles for them by things like imposing hefty taxes, etc.,” – pointing to the case when Vijay Malliya faced difficulty in bringing back MK Gandhi’s belongings to the country after buying them at a public auction.

I gathered this information while questioning about the necklace and it’s importance with person’s mentioned above and thought it would have done the Indian government good to try and get back piece. But, I seriously doubt if the government is aware of this happening in the first place. Yet, Indians are everywhere around the world. May be it will fall in one such person’s collection. Who knows? Will get to know soon, and update it on the blog too.

I am very thankful to the experts for sharing their invaluable opinion on the subject.

Though it is public knowledge that this auction is happening, I felt not all would know the relevant importance for the jewel. So, wrote about it!

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