Posted on: 19 February 2016

A highly important Sultanate gem-set gold Ring made for Mu'izz al-Din Muhammad bin Sam (AH 569-602/ AD 1173-1206), the first Muslim conqueror of Delhi.

All six gems in the ring are set in kundan technique; the ring with three bezel set octahedral diamonds, the underside of its bezel with an inscription in Devnagri: "Srimad Hamir Mahamad Sam".

Mu'izz Al-Din Muhammad Bin Sam (AH 569-602/ AD 1173-1206)

Muhammed Ghuri was a remarkable figure of the eastern Iranian Ghurid dynasty which flourished briefly as an independent power in the 12th Century AD and the early years of the 13th Century. It was based on the region of Ghur in what is now central Afghanistan with its capital at Firuzkuh [1]. Perhaps due to its inaccessibility, the people of the region accepted Islam quite late, in the 11th Century, but then embarked on a policy of conquest, both in the west, towards Iran, and towards the east and India.

Having recovered Ghazni from the Ghuzz (eastern Turkish Uyghurs), in AH 568/ AD 1173 Muhammed Ghuri set off on the invasion of India. He entered the Indus Plain from the Gomal Pass in search of a potential kingdom rather than indulging in plundering raids as so many of his predecessors had done. First he suppressed Isma'ili power (or more precisely, the schismatic Karmatians' power), in Multan and Uch in AH 571/ AD 1175. He then conquered Peshawar in AH 575/ AD 1179. By AH 578/ AD 1182 the rulers of Sind had to acknowledge his suzerainty, while Sialkot fell to him in AH 581/ AD 1185 and Lahore in AH 582/ AD 1186 [2]. Delhi was the ultimate price however and its conquest took two attempts that are well described in the epic poem by Chand Bardai: the Prithvirajaso:

The last of the Chauhan kings, who had occupied the Tomara Kingdom in the region of Delhi, Prithviraja III, became a romantic hero because of the manner in which he wooed and won the daughter of the King of Kanauj. The poem narrates how the daughter of the king, Sanjogta, was to marry. A svayamvara was held where eligible suitors were assembled and she was expected to choose her husband from among them. Unfortunately, Sanjogta had her heart set on Prithviraja who was an enemy of her father. In order to insult Prithviraja the King of Kanauj had not only denied him an invitation to the svayamvara, but had placed a statue of Prithviraja in the position of door-keeper at the entrance to his court. The princess rejected the assembled princes and instead placed a garland, indicating her choice, around the neck of the statue. Prithviraja, who had been hiding in the vicinity, rode away with the princess and took her to his kingdom".

But they did not live happily ever after. Their happiness was marred by Muhammed Ghuri's invasion from the north-west. Though Muhammed Ghuri was initially defeated by Prithviraja in the battle of Tarain (Taraori), north of Delhi, in 1191, he sent for reinforcements - according to Firishta numbering 120,000 horses, though others say 40,000 - and a second battle was fought the following year at the same place. During this second battle Prithviraja was killed and Delhi taken in 1192 [3]. Muhammed Ghuri thus became the first Muslim conqueror of Delhi and founder of the Sultanate. After this, his last major conquest, Muhammed Ghuri built the great and elegant Adhai din ka Jhonpra, the seven-vaulted mosque in Ajmer, one of the few places in India where a highly refined plaited kufic is used for long inscriptions [4].

Following his brother Ghiyat al-Din's illness and incapacity in Herat, Muhammed Ghuri had to leave his Indian campaign and attend to the western part of the family's holdings. After his brother died (AH 599/ AD 1202-2), Muhammed Ghuri had to repulse the rebellious Shah from Herat and pursue him back into Kh'arizm (Khiva), but the Kh'arizm's allies, the Kara Khitay, routed his army at Andkhuy on the Oxus. It was the beginning of the end. Though Muhammed Ghuri himself escaped, the following year he was assassinated in 1206 at Damyak on the way to the Indus, by an Isma'ili emissary allegedly, whilst returning from a punitive expedition against the Khokars of the Punjab.

The Rings: A Perspective

Diamonds have been treasured in India since time immemorial. Until the late 18th Century, when diamonds were discovered in Brazil, the entire world's supply of diamonds came from India (though diamonds were and are still occasionally found in Borneo, these were mostly used locally and were commercially insignificant). All of history's legendary stones came from Indian deposits and most were, initially at least, cut by Indian cutters. Travelers like Marco Polo, Tavernier and Chardin, diplomats like Sir Thomas Roe and merchants from all over the Occident commented on the "fabulous riches of the East," which were a strong incentive for traders to brave the hardships of perilous journeys across uncharted lands. Diamonds occur in India in both alluvial and mined deposits, though the alluvial stones initially were exploited to a far greater extent[5]. Thousands of people of all ages were press-ganged by local rulers to sift the gravel-bearing sands along current and former river-banks. Security was strict with all gems over a certain size automatically belonging to the ruler. Later, as technology advanced, mine shafts were sunk with the miners using "Persian Wheels" [6] (pottery jars attached to an endless chain), to hoist the diamond bearing rock to the surface where others would crush the rock and search for the diamond crystals. There still are diamond mines in India today with one mine, owned by the State, yielding approximately 100,000 carat per annum with about 40% of gem quality. This same mine, in Mahgawan, has produced several stones of between 25 and 40 carat and is expected to continue producing for the foreseeable future.

There are several early Indian lapidaries that discuss the properties of diamonds - real and perceived - and other gemstones in considerable detail and that show a basic understanding of gemology [7]. The earliest Indian text to discuss diamond (vajra - also thunder bolt, the all-mighty weapon of the war god Indra, and, in the Occident, Zeus), and ruby, (Padmaraga - color of red lotus and blood), is the Arthashastra by Kautiliya (late 4th Century BCE). He mentions both mined and alluvial diamonds thereby confirming the great antiquity of India's diamond workings. He describes the perfect diamond to be: "Big, heavy, capable of bearing blows, i.e. hard with symmetrical points, capable of scratching a vessel, revolving like a spindle and brilliantly shining". According to the late 6th Century Agastimata, diamonds were dedicated to the planet Venus. The more elaborate Navaratnapariksa, written circa 1216 and therefore roughly contemporary with Muhammed Ghuri, supplies perhaps the best description of our diamonds when he writes that "the best diamonds are those with eight equal faces, with two sharp points and without inclusions" (…revolving like a spindle…). Finally, the 14th Century Ratnapariksha, states that the octahedron was the premier diamond shape [8]. This is, of course, the perfect diamond crystal created under optimum conditions in nature. Perhaps not surprisingly, as all diamonds were believed to be masculine, feminine, or neutral, the perfect octahedron was masculine.

Even though Indian gem cutters were aware that diamond dust could be employed to polish and cut gemstones, there was a prohibition against "improving" the natural crystal shape of the diamond (Agastimata, 59-60 and App. 61-62). Presumably it was considered vainglorious to try and improve on perfection. Most likely, this accounts for the five perfectly matched and perfectly shaped natural octahedrons in our two rings, all are of the purest "water", so desirable of Golconda diamonds. The prohibition against polishing was perhaps not observed as closely by the new Muslim rulers as by their Hindu gem polishers, as our gems appear to have their exposed faces finely polished to outline each natural facet. Under microscopic examination the ribs of each crystal are preserved in their natural state, while the usually slightly uneven faces are all polished to a high degree, something not hitherto observed at this early date. Whereas most modern diamond scholars have dated the invention of diamond polishing to the late 14th Century European trading centres of Italy [9], our rings offer incontrovertible evidence of Oriental knowledge and use of this skill at least two hundred years earlier, establishing the rings as important documents in the history of the diamond trade. For a discussion of the arguments about knowledge of diamond polishing, see Laufer, pp. 47-50). Many early Islamic lapidaries discuss diamond as well and, though most draw on the Ancients, many also add observations made since the Arabs established control over the trade between India and the Occident. Among the better known are the works of Pseudo-Aristotle, Al-Biruni, Qazwini, and Ahmad Al-Tifashi - all were writing between the 8th and mid-13th Century. All devote sections to diamonds and show familiarity with the geography of the diamantiferous areas of India. Many Islamic authors note the affinity of diamonds and gold. Gold inclusions and absorption of gold into diamonds while the stones are set are remarked upon frequently and used as arguments for their special nature [10]. It is interesting that Islamic writers note the supposed toxicity of diamond dust, ascribed to the adhesion of toxic saliva from the serpents guarding the valley where the diamonds originated, whereas the Indian (and, indeed Pliny and other Ancient authors), considered diamond dust a sure antidote against poisons of all kinds.

According to myth, most gemstones originated from the remains of the slain demon Bala, with diamond created from his bones and ruby from his blood. Nonetheless, most early rubies came from Sri Lanka, from the valley of the river Ravanaganga (according to the 8th Century India

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