Diamond Mining in Ancient India

The diamonds have been first recognized and mined in India. For centuries, India was the only place one could find these precious stones.  The earliest known reference to diamond is a Sanskrit manuscript, dated from 320-296 B.C., but Diamonds have been known in India for at least 3,000 years but most likely 6,000 years.

The words used for diamonds in Sanskrit are “Vajara,” meaning “thunderbolt” which was the weapon of Lord Indra (god of rain and thunderstorms), which reveals much about the spiritual properties attributed in ancient India to diamonds.

The earliest producing diamond mines were in the Golconda region of India. Diamonds were found only in alluvial deposits in Guntur along the rivers Penner, Krishna and Godavari in Southern India.

In 600 B.C. the Mahajanapada Empire had its own units of currency, and it’s own units of measurement for diamonds. The ancient Indians used a Tandula as a unit of measure, which was equivalent to the weight of a grain of rice. Their currency was called the Rupaka, and according to a price list written in Sanskrit in the Third century, a diamond that weighed 20 Tandulas was worth 200,000 Rupaka.

The empire had no banking system, so the citizens had to keep all of the currency they possessed with them. Wealthy citizens of this empire preferred to convert their wealth into diamonds, as it allowed them to better store their riches. This was the first instance diamonds were used as an investment!

In the fourth century B.C., the rules for the assessment of precious stones, the Ratna Pariksa was codified. Ratna Praiksha—an ancient science on testing gemstones—was used by Kosadhyaksha (Superintendent of Treasury) in order to control business of pearl, diamonds and all important gems in the ancient times. It was mentioned in Arthasastra (“The Lesson of Profit”) by Kautiliya (also known as Chanakya), a minister to Chandragupta of the Mauryan dynasty in northern India.  This manuscript is dated to 320-296 BCE.

The author provides an insight into the history of creation of diamonds:

“owing to the great power attributed by the learned to the diamond, the diamond must be treated as the first amongst precious stones…: the eight great diamond deposits are in: Saurashtra (Himalayas), Matanga, Paundra, Kalinga, Kosala, the shores of the Vainya and the Surpara.” “if there is a diamond anywhere in this world, which is completely transparent, light, with a beautiful color, with absolutely even surfaces, with no scratches, no scars, no damages, no scrawls, no signs of cracks—even if it is only the size of an atom, then it is indeed a gift from God…”

Significance of diamonds in ancient India

The significance of diamonds in ancient Indian society was so great that there was a separate profession for it called “Mandalins”, the diamond experts.

The Diamond played such an important role in ancient India that its properties and magic powers were studied right to the minutest detail. Everything was recorded with great accuracy and implemented painstakingly in social life.

At the time of their discovery, diamonds were valued because of their strength and brilliance, and for their ability to refract light and engrave metal. Diamonds were worn as adornments, used as cutting tools, served as a talisman to ward off evil, and were believed to provide protection in battle. In the Dark Ages, diamonds were also used as a medical aid and were thought to cure illness and heal wounds when ingested.

The Hindu religious scripture called the Garuda Purana is considered to be the authoritative reference for ancient Indian Gemology, and it says that the owner of a flawless diamond will be blessed with wealth, livestock, good harvests, a wife, and many children. Furthermore, the diamond will protect the owner from both fear and sorcery.

Diamonds Polishing

Diamonds were polished in India from an early time. Polishing arose from the Indian incentive to make the already nearly perfect rough stone as perfect as possible. Since diamond is the hardest material known to man, what could be used to polish away such defects?

The only material for this was naturally again the diamond.

Indians discovered the possible polishing planes when one diamond polishes another and they invented the first simple diamond polishing board. This knowledge was probably kept secret. Sometime in the late Middle Ages, diamonds began to be polished in India as jewels, and the first jewels were flat diamonds which received a briolette cut (rose-cut).

Indian diamond polshing Boarda
Indian diamond polshing Boarda

Diamonds become known to Europe

Only with the campaign of Alexander the Great did the first diamonds come from India to the Mediterranean region. In 327 BC Alexander the Great invaded north India. He brought some diamonds back to Europe.

Indian diamonds in history reached Venice by two Mediterranean routes: the southern route was by way of Aden, Ethiopia, and Egypt, and the northern route was through Arabia, Persia, Armenia, and Turkey. Then, a direct sea route to India was established by Portuguese.

Because of their expense, Diamonds in Europe, were the possessions of the nobility and had ceremonial use. By the 1700’s, diamonds had come to represent wealth and power, and the European nobility used their wealth to invest in diamonds. Diamonds came to dominate small jewels during the 17th century and large ones by the 18th century.

England’s colonization of India brought large amounts of diamonds. English looted Indian temples and royal dynasties and took vast amounts of diamonds to England. From there, the diamonds were sold to France, Spain, Italy and other European countries.

India’s monopoly in the diamond trade end with the discovery of a diamond deposits in Brazil in 1729, and later in the 1870 in Africa. In Modern days about 49% of diamonds originate from Central and Southern Africa, additional major producers now include  Siberian Russia, Canada, India, Russia, Brazil, and Australia.

Kohinoor Diamond

Koh-I-Noor, dating back to 1304, is a diamond that was originally 793 carats when uncut. Once the largest known diamond, it is now a 105.6 metric carats diamond, weighing 21.6 grammes in its most recent cut state. The Koh-i-Noor was mined in the state of Andhra Pradesh in India. The diamond was originally owned by Kakatiya Kings which had installed it in temple of Goddess as her eye. The diamond was later confiscated by various kings who won over the previous owners. Diamond was stolen by British after the death of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. Today the diamond is a part of British Crown Jewels.

Kohinoor Diamond on Queen's crown
Kohinoor Diamond on Queen’s crown

Diamonds in Modern India

Today diamonds are mined in about 25 countries. However, for centuries India had been the world’s only source of diamonds for a thousand years. Although the supply of India’s main mines were long ago exhausted, diamonds are still found in India.

India has the world’s largest diamond polishing industry. It provides 11 out of every 12 processed diamonds for jewelry around the world. The diamond sector in India employs 1.3 million individuals. Today, 92  percent of the world’s diamonds are cut and polished in India, mostly in the city of Surat in Gujarat.

Even with India’s recent economic downturn, diamonds have overtaken gold in the Indian jewelry market, being considered on trend and a good investment.

Diamonds are the second highest discretionary item purchased after cell phones. Couples now purchase diamond engagement rings and India is the third largest market in the world for diamond jewelry, making up 12% of global demand.
Source: Wikipedia and michaelbonke.com

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