Saturday, 3 January 2015

Ancient India and diamonds.- diamonds are a girl's best friend .....

Actress Marilyn Monroe 'Diamonds are a girl's best friend'
Life at Golconda mines,
The very mention of diamond conjures up  fantasies of fabulous  treasures of  dazzling diamonds, resplendent precious stones, glittering gold and silver jewelry, etc., reminiscent of the legendary  treasure Cave of Ali Baba. Diamond, nature's most coveted gem has  fascinated people from all walks of life and has  had an impact on   the  economic, regal, social and cultural life of many nations. Rich women's lives are woven around diamond, the Nature's creation from the abyss.
Most of the world famous diamonds were of Indian origin and mined at Kollur  near Golconda (nearest city is Hyderabad, now an important IT center in the world). Golconda town in those days was a major diamond trading center well known for cutting, polishing not only diamonds but also other precious stones such as rubies,Sapphire,   emeralds, Beryls, pink garnets, emeralds, etc. The Golconda - region  covered a vast area   between the lower reaches of the Godavari, Wainganga, Wardha and Krishna-Venva rivers, - parts of the  present-day states of Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh, central India.
Briolette diamond, oldest diamond, India
Since the Vedic ages, India has  been the only source of the most valuable diamonds  until  the early eighteenth century when diamonds were discovered in  other countries . By this time diamond mining in India had practically ceased to exist or become  almost dormant.The ancient Sanskrit texts mention several areas where diamonds were found and exploited, however, verifiable historical records are fewer in number as many of them were lost in antiquity. Many ancient  mining activities in southern India  prevalent  then were confined to preset day Telengana and Andhra states. The source rocks are in many places in the world  now are Kimberlite and  Lamproite rocks and these diamondiferous rocks are found in parts of Andhra and Karnataka. The Indian Geological Survey is yet to locate  economically exploitable deposits.
Kingdom of Golkonda, India.
Punch - PhotoShelter
 Arthasastra of the late fourth century BC was probably the first text to describe the Indian diamond or ''vajra''(Sanskrit for "adamantine")  and its mode  and areas of its occurrence (2.11. 37-41).
Historians estimate that diamonds were discovered in India as far back as  the 4th century B.C., and was among a few first countries to mine the gem. India's diamonds were prized for their size and beauty, purity, reflections,etc for hundreds of years,  The marine and stream deposits were listed as their sources that may lead to major occurrence - placer deposits. Today, the exact sources of the so-called "lost mines of Golconda" are unknown,
Bearman Cartoons

The Golconda diamonds originating on the Indian subcontinent were created during the formation of the Himalayas (''Himalayan Orogeny'' in the Tertiary period) as a result of collusion between the oceanic crust of the ancient sea ''Tethys'' stretching from Assam through the Himalayan states to the present day Mediterranean sea  and the Continental plate (collusion of plates at an incredibly slow rate of 10 centimeters per year). The former sub-ducted under the latter causing volcanic activities that produced intrusive (within the crust) and extrusive ( above the crust) diamond-bearing rocks called ''Kimberlite.'' This was a slow process and took roughly 100 million years. The diamonds at last found their resting place in the gravels and alluvial plains of Golconda after the rocks undergoing  erosion and transportation and continuous rubbing and collusion of broken fragments in transit in the river water, snow melts, etc. The end product will be fine grained sediments mostly made of silt and fine sand.

It is hard to identify precise locations of those names mentioned in Arthasastra, Brhat-samhita, Ratnapariksa, Agastimata, or other texts describing gems, precious stones and  diamond fields, but we may guess the following locations: Wairagadh (ancient Vajragrha) - eighty miles south-east of Nagpur on the Bath river, a tributary of Weinganga (Vena Ganga of the Brhat-Samhita); the Kosala region of Akaravanti around the famous Panna in Madhya Pradesh; the region around the Golkonda mines, formerly known as Matanga; the Paunda or the Chota-Nagpur area around Soumelpur; the Kalinga alluvial resources from the Mahanadi valley, the Sambalpur district, the Koel river Hirakund, etc.

Ancient Indian texts, mentioned  eight principles - ''spots identification'' for diamonds, each being identified with a distinct diamond color. The diamonds found along the banks of the Vena (Wainganga) were considered "pure" (colorless), from the Himalayan region (copper-colored); from  Kalinga (brilliant gold); from Kosala (tinged with Sirisa-blossom - plantain); from Matanga (the color of wheat-blossom); from Pundra (grey to dark-blue); from  Saurastra (tinged with copper-red); and those found in Supara (sable colored).

Diamond-washing/panning has been traditionally done by the tribes of  Savara of Sambalpur area, Kols of  Chota Nagpur, Gonds  of Madhya Pradesh (after whom the famous geological land ''Gondwana land'' was named by the British geologists), etc. It is believed that there were  23 mines in the kingdom of Golkonda and 15 in the kingdom of Bijapur.

800 BC - Diamonds discovered in India.

327 BC - Alexander the Great brings the first diamonds to Europe from India.
296 BC -  Sanskrit manuscript called the 'Arthasastra', or 'the Lesson of Profit' mentions  diamonds.
Briolette of India is a colorless chronological diamond - 90.38 carats. and maybe the oldest diamond on record in the world, still older than the well-known Koh-i-Noor. This beautiful diamond  is cut in a Briolette shape and it dates back to 12th century 
During the later half of the 14th century, most of the diamonds entering Europe were  originally from India. The Golconda diamond trade route extended from India to Bruges, Paris, and eventually to the diamond Bourses of Antwerp, Belgium.The  over land route to Europe through Persia - transiting the ancient "Silk Road"  was risky as  big chunks of  gems were lost by way of paying  transit tariff when crossing various Arab lands.There were other risks such as robbery and attacks from high way bandits. After Vasco de Gama's discovery of new sea route to India in 1498, the Portuguese developed  a diamond-trading route from Goa to Lisbon, Portugal and on to Antwerp. Again sea piracy was a major risk factor, besides attacks from enemy war ships. 

In 1510, explorer, court- jeweller and appraiser Jean Baptiste Tavernier in his  book ''Les Six Voyages'' (The Six Voyages), written in 1679, documented his extensive travels  across  India and the Far-East, and expansion of European trade in gems, jewelry, and other valuable items. Tavernier was a well known authority on diamonds and their quality, cuts, purity, etc and had a close association with the then royal families of  Europe, West Asia and Indian subcontinent.
Tit Bits:
01. Source rocks in many parts of the world  are Kimberlite and  Lamproite rocks and these diamondiferous rocks are found in parts of Andhra and Karnataka. Exploitable and economically viable deposits are not yet found in India after 1947. 

02. Processing of  roughly 100 tons of Kimberlite rocks in the mines of Africa yields  barely 127 carats carats. 

03. The continental shelf areas of the  Namibian continental shelf coast yielded 4.8 lakh carats in 1997 alone, according one scientific study. 

04. India may explore the coastal areas near the confluences of big rivers. Presently the Panna diamond mines, MP  produce diamonds on a very small scale.

05. The famous  song  '' ....... diamonds are a girl's best friend...(Lyrics by Gordon, Martin) sung by the late Hollywood actress Ms. Marilyn Monroe still rings in my ear. 

'' ............ A kiss on the hand may be quite continental
But diamonds are a girl's best friend........

.....Men grow cold as girls grow old
And we all lose our charms in the end
But square cut or pear shape these rocks don't lose their shape
Diamonds are a girl's best friend .....

....... Time rolls on and youth is gone and you can't straighten up when you bend
But stiff back or stiff knees you stand straight at... Tiffany's...
......Diamonds... diamonds... I don't mean rhinestones... but diamonds... are a girls best... best friend ..''

Paradoxically both diamond and the human life that spring from the same "Earth" are transient in nature,  in the sense diamond does not stay with one person for a long time. Is the edit of God?


Biswas, Arun Kumar. 2001. Minerals and Metals in Pre-Modern India. New Delhi: D.K Printworld (P) Ltd.,