Qudsia Begum: The Matriarchal Ruler of Delhi and a Story of Diamonds

In the heyday of her unusual sway over the Mughal empire, Qudsia Begum — wife of the emperor Muhammad Shah, and mother of his successor-son, Ahmed Shah — laid out a beautiful garden complex adjoining the west bank of Yamuna. A palace, a summer-house, pavilions, and a mosque were set amidst rolling greens of rose and fruit gardens and murmuring waterfalls. Huge gateways punctured its surrounding wall.

Now, the sprawling greens have been taken over in part by one of the most un-romantic quarters of Delhi: the Inter State Bus Terminus. For the remaining part, one can still enjoy the bountiful well-maintained greenery, home to beautiful birds, resident squirrels, and an exotic splash of lush foliage; but this greenery exists in the unexpected neighbourhood of the bus terminus, from which emanates the incessant growl of modern machines.

Of the original structures, only a few remain today: the main western gateway, a mosque, and a garden pavilion. These too carry the scars of damage inflicted during the 1857 war.


The first remaining structure to encounter upon entering the complex is a building called Jamuna Hall, which houses a dispensary and, according to its signage, a Masonic lodge of the Freemasonry Society. Mostly a colonial-era building, it was built around the ancient nucleus of an original Mughal pavilion, and it is said that the original stable house for the horses of Qudsia Begum once stood here.

Next inside the gardens stands the lofty gateway of Lakhori brick masonry, flanked by two chambers with arched openings on either end of its longest side. A winding staircase at its northern end leads up to its roof, offering a beautiful view of the surroundings. The highlights of this gateway building are its finely-carved red sandstone panels with floral designs, and its four huge semi-detached corner columns topped with lotus adornments.

A little farther, a garden pavilion stands in the rolling grass of the gardens. Its strikingly sweeping staircase and stone-walled rooms are colonial-era additions to the building.

A short walk from the garden pavilion is a handsomely-built mosque, sitting on a raised platform and built of thin Lakhori bricks with plastered finish. It is characterized by three bulbous domes topped with sandstone lotus finials and surmounted upon an equal number of bays (iwans) that are punctured with arched openings. An inscription on its northern wall indicates that it was repaired by Bahadur Shah Jafar in 1833-34. The mosque lies adjacent to a busy road, which was once the course of the river Yamuna.

Qudsia Bagh BL(‘North East View of the Cotsea Bhaug, on the River Jumna’ by Thomas Daniell, 1795, © The British Library Board, P913, plate 3. Reproduced with kind permission. http://www.bl.uk/onlinegallery/onlineex/apac/other/019xzz000004321u00003000.html)

The leisurely riverside garden palace — where the royal family spent a considerable time — was commissioned at some distance to the north of the official residence of the palace fortress. The juxtaposition of both the palaces in the same city was perhaps the manifestation of the ambiguity of a dissipating empire viz-à-viz an escapist fantasy. The original grandeur of this magnificent palace, of which not a single brick is now standing, can only be imagined through the eyes of the great uncle-nephew landscape artist duo of Thomas and William Daniell, who visited Delhi in 1789. In their painting, one can see the beautiful screens of pierced stone on the north-eastern corner tower of the magnificent three-storied palace, with the palace fortress visible in the distant background. It would have been a pleasant feeling to stand in one of those corner rooms up in the turret, catching the wind from the Yamuna flowing below, and forget the sordid affairs of the state for a moment or two…


        Part A : The Life and Times of Qudsia Begum


The ‘Ever Youthful’ Who Ruled Delhi for Decades

After the death of Muhy-ud-din Muhammad Aurangzeb, the fall of the empire started in earnest. If Aurangzeb was the sixth Mughal emperor whose 48-year rule ended in 1707, as many as six more emperors would sit on the Peacock Throne in the next 12 years, some for as short a time as three months. In late 1719, Muhammad Shah ascended the throne, calling himself by the melodramatic sobriquet of ‘Sada Rangila’, or ‘Ever Joyous’. Perhaps he had seen it all: the quick coming and going of his predecessors, the senseless power politics, and the loosening grip of the emperor’s power, all of which were played out in his early life. During his three-decade-long rule extending to 1748, he succeeded in bringing about a complete metamorphosis of the supposedly solemn and self-restrained Grand Mughal culture.

DSC_0018(Remnant of an unknown old structure: enwrapped in the lush greenery of Qudsia Bagh.)

A new cultural Renaissance triggered by Muhammad Shah’s earnest interest in a state-sponsored artistic innovation livened up the literary, artistic, and linguistic flavour of society. From adopting a public dance-girl as his queen, to commissioning painters to depict him playing Holi with courtesan Gulab Bai while looking enamoured in his kohl-contoured languidly dreamy eyes, he certainly lived up to his colourful nom de plume of Rangila.

It was indeed a beautiful veil that cocooned and enwrapped him from the harshness and violence of those turbulent times.

Sadarang,Descendant_of_Naubat_Khan( Sadarang, or Niyamat Khan, the chief musician at the court of Muhammad Shah’s court. Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain, CC-BY-SA-4.0;  https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sadarang,Descendant_of_Naubat_Khan.jpg )

Poets, painters, singers and accomplished maestros of art and culture became attracted to the Mughal court, like birds to a lighthouse. Miniature painters such as Nidha Mal, Kalyan Das, Bhupal Singh, and Muhammad Faqirullah Khan flourished and became famed. Urdu’s popularity became widespread as it was elevated from a language of common men to that of his royalty. Musicians like Niyamat Khan, and his nephew Firoz Khan (also known as Sadarang and Adarang respectively) made the free and flexible classical singing form of Khayal (literally meaning ‘imagination’) popular. Qawwali became accepted in the Mughal court, and prevailed far and wide.

DSC_0048( The handsomely built Qudsia Bagh mosque with three deep iwans; damaged significantly during the 1857 war.)

He is credited with the withdrawal of the controversial Jizzya tax that was enforced by Aurangzeb as well as the pilgrimage tax at Gaya. Sawai Jai Singh, his governor of Malwa and Agra, established the city of Jaipur during his reign. Once, after a passionate brainstorming session of the court, Muhammad Shah asked Jai Singh to work towards establishing accurate astronomical tables for deciding auspicious occasions, based on eclipses and other celestial events. Shortly, between 1727 and 1734, Jai Singh constructed five astronomical observatories known as Jantar Mantar at Jaipur, Delhi, Mathura, Benares, and Ujjain. Two other major cities of Bhopal and Hyderabad were set up during his reign, the latter established by ‘Nizam-ul-Mulk’ Asif Jah.

On the administrative front, however, Muhammad Shah had little interest in these ‘mundane matters’. Immersing himself in the intoxicated world of wine, poetry, and pleasure pursuits, he lost the command over the amirs who were quick to seize upon the welcome scene, and stopped paying their taxes and tributes to the royal treasury. Contemporary chronicler Rustam Ali gives a sketch of Muhammad Shah in his work Tarikh-e-Hind, “The Prince was a lover of pleasure and indolence, negligent of political duties, and addicted to loose habits, but somewhat of a generous disposition. He was entirely careless regarding his subjects.”

DSC_0019( Jumna Hall: Largely a Colonial Era building housing a dispensary and a Freemasonry Lodge. It is said that the hall is built upon an ancient stable house of Qudsia Begum.)

Little could he envisage, that merely 20 years on, he would be pulled out from the very Peacock Throne he was sitting on, and the beautiful bubble of the cultural life wrapped around him would be so mercilessly shattered by the piercing daggers of an invading army. Nadir Shah in 1739, crossing half a continent on horseback, arrived in Delhi like a sudden calamity, accompanied with howls of uproar and mayhem that have been reverberating since then in the pages of history.

But, more of Nadir Shah and his sack of Delhi – a little later.

Ahmed Shah: The New Emperor

Almost nine years had passed since Nadir Shah had descended on Delhi, and now the Persian himself had been slain by his own bodyguards. However, these events could hardly be any solace to Muhammad Shah. Not only was Shah physically wrecked and holding on to a tottering empire, but another dangerous figure soon appeared on the scene: Ahmad Shah Abdali from Kabul, who had chosen to attack the western frontiers of the Mughal Empire at Lahore.


Abdali was one of the chief lieutenants of Nadir Shah, who had praised him as, ‘I have not found in Iran, Turan, or Hind, any man equal to Ahmed Abdali in capacity and character.’ After Nadir Shah’s demise, he had declared himself the successor, and ruled Kabul and Kandahar. This was his first attack on Hindustan in 1748, that continued till 1761.

The emperor ordered his generals to lead the Mughal army there immediately. The force was commanded by Safdar Jung of Oudh (the son-in-law and nephew of Saadat Khan), Raja Isri Singh of Jaipur and Amber (the son of Sawai Jai Singh), Muhammad Shah’s own son, Prince Ahmed Shah, and the maternal uncle of the prince. Safdar Jung had been assigned the overall command of the Indian army while the invaders from Kabul were directed by Abdali himself. Fierce fighting broke out in Sirhind on March 3, 1748, killing scores of men on either side. Soon, the Mughals extended the battlefront to checkmate the Afghans, who were completely routed.

DSC_0025( The main western gateway of Qudsia Bagh )

While the battle was raging on the western frontier, Emperor Muhammad Shah breathed his last on April 15, 1748. Unable to speak, he was carried on a litter to the Masjid Sangi Gate inside the fort. There, he became senseless and expired in front of his nobles and attendants. Per Tarikh-I Ahmed Shah [Elliot & Dowson], in order to conceal the news from the people until the prince returned, the emperor’s body was quickly put into a long wooden case that had formerly contained a European clock. This box was wrapped in a cloth hastily obtained from the kitchen darogha and was buried in the Hayat Baksh Garden. It can, therefore, be safely assumed that the emperor’s body was subsequently interred in the tomb that had been built during his own lifetime inside the Dargah complex of Nizamuddin Auliya.

A communication was sent to the prince, asking him to hurry back to Delhi and, at Panipat, he was received with the royal emblems of a procession bearing the Golden Umbrella. This had been sent by Safdar Jung as a symbolic gesture in acceptance of the crown’s authority. The prince knew at once that his father was no more.

DSC_0028( Beautiful floral patterns on red sandstone panels of the Qudsia Bagh gateway.)


DSC_0030( One of the corner columns with a large lotus capital, and zigzag surface patterns.)

DSC_0037( Northern side of the gateway, showing thin Lakhori bricks underneath its plastered surface, and the winding stairway to its top.)

Throughout his early life and youth, Prince Ahmed Shah had been confined within the harem; his suspicious father was reluctant to pass on any kind of authority to him. The prince did not enjoy the benefits of education, nor was he exposed to royal administration. His movement in public had been greatly restricted, and he was not encouraged to participate in royal sports such as hunting, animal combats, or chaugan (polo).

Major Pollier wrote in 1777 that, after becoming the emperor, Prince Ahmed “gave himself up entirely to the drinking of wine, bhang, charas, and other intoxicating liquors and left a eunuch, the gallant of his mother, the sole disposer of everything.”

Qudsia Begum and Eunuch Nawab: Proxy Rulers of the Mughal Empire

Emperor Ahmed Shah made Safdar Jung his chief Wazir, the position previously held by Nizamul Mulk. He delegated the entire administration to the illiterate eunuch chief of his harem, Jawed Khan, who had an intimate relationship with the Queen Mother, by elevating him to the position of Nawab Bahadur (Vicar of the Emperor). On Qudsia Begum’s recommendation, Jawed Khan was honoured with a mansab of 7000. The highest title of court (mahi-o-maratib) was granted to him along with the position of Superintendent (darogah) of the Water-House (Abder-Khana), the Perfume Office and the Bath.

DSC_0032( A view from the top of the gateway: Two of corner columns.)

Mir_Miran_001( Queen Udham Bai being entertained by actors in Portugese costumes, by painter Mir Miran, 1742. Photographic Reproduction of Original.  Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Mir_Miran_001.jpg)

DSC_0036( The zigzag surface pattern on the columns )

The Mughal Empire had already begun to shrink. To the east, Alivardi Khan independently ruled Bengal, and Maratha Peshwa had a similar hold in the south. Gujarat had gone to the Marathas. Only Agra, Oudh, Lahore and Allahabad remained with the Mughal crown.

The Queen Mother, originally named Udham Bai, was a public dancing girl who had been introduced to the Emperor Muhammad Shah by Khadija Khanam. The emperor had become so enamoured with her beauty that he at once admitted her into the royal harem as his third wife.

Though she remained the favoured queen for some years, fortune deserted her fast. Eventually, it came to pass that she was not allowed to see her own son, even inside the harem.

However, after the death of her husband, due to her proximity to Jawed Khan, she was elevated to a nominal mansab of 50,000. Honorific titles like Bai Jiju Sahiba (“the Parent of the Pure, the Lady of the Age, Sahib Ji Sahiba, on whom be peace!”), Kibla-i-Alam and Hazrat Qudsia were heaped upon her. Even her brother, a vagabond who used to perform in dancing troupes, became a high-ranking officer.

She began to conduct the state’s business from behind a screen. There, officials passed her petitions in envelopes, and eunuchs read them aloud for the Begum to listen and deliver her approvals and judgments. At the zenith of her power, she displayed levels of magnanimity and charity unheard of in those times. She provided regular pensions to all of the children and begums of her husband and gifted large amounts of money to her own children and grandchildren. Any person who could manage to get his or her case heard by her was sure to get some benefit or help.

DSC_0042( Qudsia Bagh Garden Pavilion with its sweeping staircase.)

Qudsia Begum and Nawab Jawed Khan became the rulers of the empire. Ahmed Shah, meanwhile, was a mere puppet engaged in petty pleasures. While his vicar was ruling the empire, Ahmed Shah retired entirely to a large pleasure garden that he had built. He had extended this zenana for more than a mile, and for months on end he would spend his days in the garden, ignoring state affairs.

Although Nawab Jawed Khan was virtually the reigning sovereign, he soon lost the trust and respect of the citizens and soldiers. One day, a number of his troops assembled at his house and, demanding their pay and arrears, tore his clothes and manhandled him. He then collected some money from Qudsia Begum for distribution to his troops, but the soldiers never got any of it. In the meantime, the starving troops started deserting, and the army was reduced to a bare minimum. Recurring mutinies were staged in which soldiers blocked the gates of the palace and mansions.

Arms, books, utensils, carpets, dinner plates and all sorts of articles in the imperial palace were sold off to shopkeepers and middlemen to raise money for soldiers’ salaries, which ran into years of arrears. Sometimes, the troops would forcibly enter amirs’ mansions and take their valuables.

Despite the fact that funding even a standing army was posing difficulties, Qudsia Begum celebrated her birthday with great fanfare, at a cost of two crores of rupees, on January 21, 1754.

DSC_0041( The structure has been significantly modified during the Colonial era, including new rooms and walls of stone.)

The Challenge of Safdar Jung

Safdar Jung was the nephew and son-in-law of Saadat Ali Khan – the famed governor of Oudh, who had died during the Persian occupation of Delhi. Saadat Khan had paid thirty lakh rupees to Nadir Shah, against a demand of one crore rupees. Safdar Jung then paid the balance amount to Nadir Shah to retain Oudh’s governorship. Though he was undoubtedly the ablest among his peers, his end was similar to what Bairam Khan faced in trying to become the lord to his master.

Due to sectarian religious divide, Jung was unable to get sufficient support from either the amirs and nobles, or the royal court. The emperor-eunuch duo had developed a dislike for the strong wazir and devised ways to oust him from his position. The emperor’s mind was poisoned by the idea that Safdar Jung wanted to dethrone him and install the late emperor’s brother as the new sovereign. Numerous foul plots were woven to discredit Jung. This led to open animosity between the trinity of Qudsia Begum, Ahmed Shah, and Jawed Khan on one side and Wazir Safdar Jung on the other.

Within five months of his taking over the position of wazir, an anonymous attack with a volley of matchlock and pistol balls was made on Jung as he was making way homewards from an Idgah to his residence, which was once the mansion of Dara Shukoh. He was passing through the markets at Nigamabodh when the attempt on his life occurred. His horse and servants were fatally wounded, and he narrowly escaped death.

illustration( Watercolour painting of Safdarjung Tomb in urban sketchier style, by N.Ghanapriya)

From 1749 to 1752, Jung remained outside of Delhi. He went on military expeditions in Rohilakhand, where he suppressed the Rohillas with the help of Maratha and Jat armies.

On August 27, 1752, Safdur Jung made perhaps the gravest mistake of his life: in order to finally settle the score against Jawed Khan, he invited the Nawab to his mansion for a discussion at lunch and, taking him to a corner of his massive mansion, knifed to death with the help of his Jat supporters.

On hearing the news, the shocked Qudsia Begum, just like a widow, discarded her jewels and put on a white robe. The emperor stripped Safdar Jung of his governorship of Oudh and Allahabad, and confiscated his estates. Safdar Jung called for his Jat allies, and for one year from March 1753 to November 1753, civil war broke out in Delhi. The loot and plunder of old Delhi by the Jat forces, and the massively chaotic scene thereafter, was depicted as ‘Jat-Gardi’. On the other side, the emperor sought the support of Najib Khan’s Rohilla army, who joined in the conflict with full force. Finally a peace agreement was reached. Oudh and Allahabad were restored to Safdar Jung, but he had to leave the capital. In December 1753 he left Delhi for Oudh. After two years of settling down there, he died at the young age of 46. In Delhi, his son Shuja-ud-Daulah erected a grand mausoleum for his father known as the Safdar Jung’s Tomb, and his body was interred there.

DSC_0049( The center bulbuous dome of the Qudsia Bagh mosque with sandstone finial.)

End of the Dowager Queen

In 1748 Nizam-ul-Mulk died, and the fight for Deccan’s governorship started in full fury. While his eldest son was stationed in the Mughal court under the emperor Ahmed Shah, his two younger brothers laid claim to the seat of power at Hyderabad one after another. In 1752, the eldest son -armed with a farman from the Ahmed Shah, and with a large Maratha force- captured Hyderabad, but he too died soon, possibly of poisoning.

His son, “Imad-ul-Mulk” Ghazi-ud-din Feroz Jung III, – grandson of Nizam-ul-Mulk -, was appointed by the Mughal Emperor as the “Noble of Nobles” (Amir-ul-Umara). Later, when the fight started with Safdar Jung in Delhi, he emerged as a hero in the Mughal camp.

However, a bitter squabble started between the cash-strapped Imad -who had incurred significant expenses in suppressing Safdar Jung’s revolt- and the emperor. By now, the Maratha forces under Malhar Rao Holkar, which had been waiting on the fence to see who would come out victorious in the Ahmed Shah – Safdar Jung civil war, had arrived in full force in Delhi, and were virtually in control of the city. The Maratha army was engaged in the plundering of the city, while the helpless emperor looked on. Finally, a suggestion to promote Imad-ul-Mulk as the Wazir, was given to the emperor, in return for the promise that Imad and Malhar would not trouble his empire.



On 30 May 1754, the helpless emperor made Imad the Wazir under an oath of the Quran. Immediately after assuming his new office, Imad sprang a surprise coup, and announced the Mughal prince Alamgir II as the new emperor. The new emperor ordered his predecessor to be arrested and brought before him.

Ahmed Shah had remained emperor for merely six months since the end of Safdar Jung’s revolt. Little did the new emperor Alamgir II know, that in only a few years’ time he would be mercilessly stabbed to death by the same Imad-ul-Mulk’s men, while Ahmed Shah would still be alive, albeit behind prison bars.

Ahmed Shah and his mother Qudsia Begum were captured hiding in a garden in front of the Rang Mahal. Ahmed Shah, perhaps his face livid with fear and astonishment; and voice coarse with emotion, cried in disbelief to be given some water. He was made to drink from a broken piece of an earthen pot lying on the ground.

Thus narrates the anonymous chronicler of Tarikh-I Alamgir-Sani, “Up to this time Ahmed Shah knew nothing of what was passing until the kettle-drums roused him from his heedlessness. Soon afterwards Ghaziu-d din (Imad-ul-Mulk)’s men, with some harem attendants, arrived, brought out Ahmad and his mother Udham Bai, and were about to make an end of them, when he implored them to send him to the abode of the princes, and there confine him. So, they placed him and his mother in one litter, threw a sheet over their heads and took them to the dwelling of the princes.”

Ahmed Shah was blinded and thrown into Salimgarh prison along with his mother, for the rest of their lives.

It is sad to not find a single tomb built that has been traced to this unusual matriarch who once ruled Delhi and the Mughal Empire.

DSC_0043( Decorative stucco work on the Qudsia Bagh Garden pavilion.)


Part B: Flashback to Nadir Shah – Rise of the Second Alexander


One event that is invariably invoked with any narrative of Muhammad Shah is the attack on Delhi by Nadir Shah. So, let us turn back the clock a bit – from 1754 to 1739 – to dwell upon the conqueror and his audacious conquest.

Nadir Kuli Shah (“Nadir” meaning “wonderful” in Turkish, and ‘Kuli’ meaning “Slave”, i.e. the “Slave of the wonderful”, or  “Slave of God”) was born as a son of an Afshar tribe chief in a small province in Khorasan (“Khor” meaning Sun, the name meant “Land of the Sun”). His father was the chief of a strategically located fortress, that overlooked a narrow mountainous pass, through which Ousbeg Tartar intruders could easily be desisted from entering Khorasan. In those times Khorasan was but a small area; its eastern areas including Isfahan had been captured by Afghans, the western provinces were under the control of the Turks from Constantinople, and the northern areas bordering the Caspian Sea -known as Hyrcania- were controlled by the Russians.


( Inside Muhammad Shah Rangeela’s tomb complex at the Dargah of Nizamuddin Auliya: 1: emperor Muhammad Shah Rangeela; 2: his wife Sahiba Mahall; 3: wife of Nadir Shah’s son; 4: infant daughter of Nadir Shah’s son’s wife; 5: grandson of Muhammad Shah – Mirza Jigru; 6: Mirza Ashuri.)

Nadir Shah became orphaned as a young boy, and soon saw his birthright to the small province usurped by his wily uncle. With no other choice left with him, he abandoned his home and was admitted as an army commander in the neighbouring Masbad province. Soon, the time came for Nadir Shah to prove his mettle, when, in 1720, a large army of Ousbeg Tartars launched an attack on tiny Masbad. Young Nadir Shah displayed unusual bravery and, taking control of the small army of Masbad, he defeated the much bigger Tartar force.

After proving his military acumen, he aspired to join the Persian army as the Lieutenant General. However, none of his prayers could convince the Shah of Persia. When he pestered repeatedly with his request, the indolent Shah ordered him to be bastinadoed (a punishment of canning the soles of the feet) till his toenails came off, and dismissed him from service. Shunned by family and the Kingdom alike, Nadir Shah roamed in the wilderness, slowly gathering a small gang of armed men. Soon, in 1726, he was successful in capturing his home province after killing his uncle.

d in law2

( Tomb of Nadir Shah’s daughter-in-law)

The Persian King could no longer ignore his requests in the face of unceasing attacks by the Turks and Afghans, and invited him to join as the Lieutenant General of the Army. In a couple of years Nadir Shah recaptured the territories of Herat, Isfahan, and Shiraz from the Afghans on the east; and both Hamadan and Carmanshah from the Turks in the west. He then disposed of the king, and declared his infant son as his successor. Soon he led his victorious army to capture Baghdad, and recovered Georgia, Armenia and the whole of the Silk Road countries from the Russians.

In 1736, he declared himself Persia’s Shah, or Emperor; an occasion commemorated by issuing coins with the inscriptions:

Sikka bir Zir Kurd nam e Sultani dir Jehan; Nadir e Iran zemmi v Khosro e Geti Setan

(Coins and Money have proclaimed through the Earth, the Reign of Nadir of Persian Soil, and the King who conquers the world.)

Shahjahanabad in the Crosshairs

During these days, when the Mughal Empire was starting to fall apart, Muhammad Shah recognized the need for some strong amirs to manage the administration. For this he asked Nizam-ul-Mulk, Deccan’s governor, to come to Delhi and join him in the leadership. Nizamul Mulk reluctantly arrived at Delhi after much delay, but soon found that the coterie around the emperor would not let any of his suggestions be implemented. Soon he returned to Deccan, and there he roused the Marathas to march northwards to take advantage of the weak emperor. The Marathas had already started to sweep over the Mughal provinces of Malwa, Gujarat, Gwalior, and Agra, forcing the governors there to pay tribute of a quarter of their revenue to the Marathas. Once they even reached the Kalka locality in the outskirt of Shahjahanbad, looting a religious congregation. Only in Oudh (now Ayodhya) did they face defeat at the hands of its governor Saadat Khan.

Both Nizamul Mulk and Saadat Khan were not happy with the Mughal emperor losing his grip, and the Marathas gaining power. Nizamul Mulk then opened parleys with Saadat Khan, and they decided to dislodge the emperor by inviting a strong force from outside. Who could have better fit the bill than Nadir Shah of Persia, whose name had become synonymous with victory, and was known as the “Second Alexander?” Both of them were of Central Asian origin, and Saadat Khan was a Persian by birth.

When Nadir Shah set out to capture Kandahar, the letters from Nizamul Mulk and Saadat Khan reached him, describing the sorry state of affairs in Hindustan and requesting him to attack Delhi. Though he had not been defeated in his military career to date, the prospect of venturing into the plains of Hindustan was not a welcome one. Hindustan lay beyond numerous mountainous passes and rivers, and he had to subdue Kabul, Peshawar, and Lahore on the way to reach Shahjahanabad, while the Mughal army would definitely offer him a fitting resistance.

While in Kabul in August 1739, he sent a letter to Muhammad Shah, saying, “Be it clear to the enlightened mind of your high majesty, that my coming to Kabul, and possessing myself thereof, was purely out of zeal for Islam, and friendship for you. I never could have imagined that the wretches of Deccan should impose a tribute on the dominion of the king of mussulmen. My stay on this side of the Attock is with a view, that when these infidels move towards Hindostan, I may send an army of the victorious Kuzzlebash to drive them to the Abyss of Hell. History is full of friendship that has subsisted between our Kings, and your Majesty’s predecessors.”

door2( Floral designs on the marble door to the tomb enclosure)

Towards the end of August another emissary of Nadir Shah arrived in Delhi, asking for four crores of rupees and four provinces from the Mughal emperor. Contemporary history chronicler Khwaja Abdul Karim Khan of Kashmir narrates in his Bayan-I Waki that Nadir Shah sent two emissaries to emperor Muhammad Shah, laden with gifts of elephants and gold-handled swords. After an exchange of royal pleasantries they gave a verbal request from the Persian to Muhammad Shah to arrange a handsome fund. Pressing financial needs at home were quoted but the contentment of the unquenchable hunger of the “Second Alexander” was still doubtful, even if this amount were arranged. Muhammad Shah was no visionary in military matters, and the two emissaries returned back with the choicest gifts from Hindustan but not with the money. Nadir Shah then set his vengeful eyes to hunt down the unfortunate emperor of Delhi, in order to punish him for his recalcitrance. By some accounts, he was also miffed with Muhammad Shah for not sealing off his borders at Kabul, as requested by Nadir Shah, to prevent war fugitives from Kandahar fleeing into the Mughal territory and taking sanctuary there.

At last he set out to Hindustan with an army of 1,25,000 Kuzzlebash (an elite Persian army unit called the “Red Hats”), Georgians, Turks, Khorasanis, and Balkhis. Soon he subdued Jalalabad – a place famous for its pomegranates- and crossed the Khyber Pass to reach Peshawar, crossed the river Attock, and reached Lahore. The hardy Afghans raised enough resistance to break the unhindered march of the Persian invaders, but ultimately failed. If, at this time, a strong army would have been dispatched by the Mughal Emperor, perhaps history would be telling a different story today. At the famed Shalimar Gardens of Lahore, his army rested for a week before resuming their march towards Delhi.

During the marches Nadir Shah conducted himself as a common soldier, sleeping on the ground in the open air; wrapped in his cloak and with a saddle as his pillow. He was extremely generous with his men, but he would always mete out death as a punishment for major transgressors, while cutting off an ear was his penalty for minor offences. He never indulged in pleasurable pursuits in daytime, but after sunset he did not like business to be discussed. Once a few of his comrades started advising him in a private evening gathering, and he immediately ordered them to be executed, commenting that, ”Such fools were not fit to live, who could not distinguish between Nadir Shah and Nadir Kuli.” 

door3( Heavy marble doors of the tomb enclosure; built during the reign of Muhammad Shah. )

Carnage in Karnal and the Collapse of the Mughal Order

In Delhi, as the news of Nadir Shah crossing the Attock River reached the emperor, the first thing he did was to summon the superintendent of boats to inquire how many days it would take to flee to Patna or Benares by the riverway. Dissuaded from such thoughts by his amirs, he asked all the provinces to assemble their armies in Delhi at the Shalimar Gardens. Nizamul Mulk did not waste much time, however, in poisoning the minds of the commanders on the futility of defeating Nadir Shah.

After wasting a month in Shalimar Gardens, the Mughal army finally marched out and settled at the riverfront near Karnal. They formed a battle encampment there because of the sufficient water supply required for a large army. An earthen wall was raised around the camp, while 5,000 cannons and artillery were installed in position. The entire Mughal command, including the emperor and his son, rested and waited for the dust clouds from the stamping hooves of enemy horses to appear from a distance. The Mughal army consisted of 2,00,000 men on horse and foot.

On February 11, 1739, the first advance guards of Nadir Shah were spotted in the village Tillauvri, near Karnal. The next day, the full force of the Persians rose up from the horizon—a force of 1,60,000 robust young men who were completely armed and mounted on camels, horses, and mules. Not a single person was on foot. Even the approximately 7,000 captive women were dressed like men: fine cloth pieces covered their faces, small cloths were tied around their heads like turbans, and they were booted and armed as men riding on Persian horses.

DSC_0247( Muhammad Shah and his wife: how much Qudsia Begum must have hoped to have her own tomb here – among the royals)

Simultaneously, the delayed army of Saadat Khan from Oudh reached the encampment. Suddenly, a fierce battle flared up wherein the Indian forces were led by brave Afghans, Sayyids, Shaikhs, and Rajputs. On the first day, the setting sun saw the martyrdom of Indian men numbering in the thousands; by some accounts the count was 17,000, but by others it was 5,000. The Oudh governor, Saadat Khan, was taken prisoner by the Iranian forces. Many of the Indians who survived did so by fleeing from the scene in the night.

On 16 February, Nadir Shah ordered Saadat Khan’s men to shift to the Persian camp. The Indian camp had become very thin, and it became clear that its defeat was certain. The next day, the cunning Nizamul Mulk requested a meeting with Nadir Shah, where he was welcomed with a glass of sherbet. He promised Nadir Shah a tribute of 20 crores of rupees at Delhi, and it was decided that Muhammad Shah should visit the Persian the following day.

The Emperor Muhammad Shah decided to blink his eyes and on 19 February, he proceeded to the tent of Nadir Shah sitting on a mobile throne of gold, where he was received by the Persian King’s son. The two emperors entered the audience tent holding each other’s hands and sat down for a discussion, with all the attendant formalities of both Persian and Mughal royal etiquettes.

infant( Tomb of the infant daughter of Nadir Shah’s daughter-in-law )

Nadir Shah was a well-built man of more than six feet high, of ruddy disposition and inclining to be fat. He had black eyes and eyebrows, and had a loud strong voice. He was more than fifty-five years of age.

Once inside the royal tent, Nadir Shah rebuked Muhammad Shah on his failure to seek reconciliation with him. “Even when I entered your empire, you seemed under no concern for your affairs, nor so much as sent to ask who I was, or what was my design. When I advanced as far as Lahore, none of your people came with a message or salutation.” However, he added that since the royal Timurid house had always been friendly with the Persian people, he had no ambition to take away his power. But as his army was tired, they needed to rest at Delhi, and also the tribute money as promised by Nizamul Mulk must be arranged.

To commemorate his victory at Karnal, coins were struck with the inscription below:

 “Hist Sultan, bir Salatin Jehan; Shab e Shahan Nadir Shaheb e Keran.”

 (Nadir, Fortune’s Master, and King of Kings, is the most powerful of the Princes of the Earth)

Chronicler Warid narrates in his Tarikh-I Chaghatai that Nadir Shah presented coffee to Muhammad Shah in his own hands, saying, “Since you have done me the honour to come here, you are my brother, and may you remain happy in Hindustani empire.” The emperor dined with Nadir Shah, and returned back to his camp.

Muhammad Shah did not commit his agreement to the invader. By 20 February, the Mughal camp was reeling under acute shortage of grains. Wheat was sold at 1.5 seers per rupee, while in the Persian camp, it was being sold as cheap as 12 seers per rupee. On 25 February, Nadir Shah ordered Muhammad Shah to appear in his camp before proceeding to Delhi.

king1( Here lies Muhammad Shah Rangeela: in the blessed courtyard of Nizamuddin Dargah.)

Unthinkable Massacre at Chandni Chowk

On March 8, 1739, Muhammad Shah and Nadir Shah entered Shahjahanabad with much fanfare—the emperor on his choicest elephant, followed by the conqueror on a horse. Nadir Shah occupied the Diwan-i-Khas and the Garden of Hayat Baksh for his own accommodation, and relegated the emperor to an outer quarter of the fort in the Ayesh Mahal in Suliman’s Burj (Solomon’s Tower). Muhammad Shah ‘Rangila’ became a prisoner in his own fort.

On March 10, Persian soldiers reached the Pahar Ganj market. After forcing the granaries open, they mandated a selling price of 10 seers of wheat per rupee. This unprofitable price caused a market brawl. It was the festival of Holi and people were intoxicated, in an excited state. In the narrow lanes of the city, a few Persians were seized and killed. Some Persian soldiers were locked inside a room and set afire. A rumour spread throughout the city that Nadir Shah had been fatally wounded by a gunshot from a female guard within the fort. He was thought to be dead. The citizens of Delhi sprung upon the Persians immediately, and as many as 3000 were butchered in a day.

king2( Elaborate motifs on Muhammad Shah’s tomb: dirtied by the oil soot and unkempt maintenance)

The next morning, Nadir Shah rode from the fort. When he reached Chandni Chowk, he ordered the rioters to be cut up. The inhabitants suddenly climbed their terraces and started throwing bricks and stones. They next used fire-arms and arrows, and one of the guards next to Nadir Shah fell to a gunshot. Nadir Shah—silhouetted against the three beautiful golden domes of the Sunheri Masjid, built by Roshan-ud-Daula,—ordered the mass slaughter of Shahjahanabad’s citizens. Chandni Chowk, Daribah-bazaar, Pul-Mithai (a bridge populated by confectioners), the fruit market, Khanum Bazar, and areas around Jama Masjid were set afire, and everyone in sight was slaughtered. Streams of blood flowed from every house. Even women and innocent children were not spared. In a mere nine hours, not less than 30,000 people had been massacred.

Sonheri Masjid(An old photograph of Sunheri Masjid in Chandni Chowk, from where Nadir Shah ordered the Shahjahanabad massacre in 1739. Picture © ASI, New Delhi, from their publication, ‘List of Muhammadan and Hindu Monuments of Shahjahanabad, Vol-I, illustrations, Calcutta, 1915.’ Reproduced with kind permission.)


An eyewitness to the massacre, Anand Ram Mukhlis writes in Tazkira that, “The author beheld these horrors from his mansion, situated in the Wakilpura Muhalla outside the city, resolved to fight to the last if necessary, and with the help of God to fall at last with honour. But, the Lord be praised, the work of destruction did not extend beyond the above-named parts of the capital. Since the days of Hazrat Sahib-kiran Amir Timur, who captured Delhi and ordered the inhabitants to be massacred, up to the present time, A.H. 1151, a period of 348 years, the capital had been free from such visitations. The ruins in which its beautiful streets and buildings were now involved was such that the labour of years could alone restore the town to its former state of grandeur.”

Anand Ram continues, “For a long time the streets remained strewn with corpses, as the walks of a garden with dead flowers and leaves. The town was reduced to ashes, and had the appearance of a plain consumed with fire. All the regal jewels and property and the contents of the treasury were seized by the Persian conqueror in the citadel. “

mom&child1( Mother and Child: Tombs of Wife and daughter of Nadir Shah’s son. It is not known how or when they died.)

On the 13th of March, when a group of beggars and fakirs sought permission to go out of the city and continue their begging elsewhere, their noses and ears were cut off as punishment. In the city, corpses lay like the planks of a bridge, heaped in mounds like observatory platforms. By March 14th, the stench of dead bodies was unbearable and heaps of carcasses were burned with the timber of ransacked houses. A great many of them were simply thrown down the river.

An interesting anecdote about the fate of the two unfortunate governors is described by Rustam Ali in his Tarikh-e-Hind. One day Nadir Shah heaped abuse and insults on Nizamul Mulk and Saadat Khan, threatening execution. Perhaps he read the dubious character of Nizamul Mulk, who had negotiated a tribute of twenty crore rupees from a pauper Mughal emperor. Or perhaps he guessed the real intent of the duo to lure him to Hindustan was to gain kingship of the empire as his agents by disposing Muhammad Shah. Both came out of Diwan-i-Khas, and once outside, Nizamul Mulk proposed that since there can be no relent expected from the new master, both should consume poison and end their lives.

“After this, the chief of deceivers went to his house, and, having expressed his will to his relations, drank a cup of water mixed with sugar, covered himself with a sheet, and went to sleep. As soon as he heard this, Burhanu-l Mulk (Saadat Khan)—a true soldier who was unaware of his perfidy—drank a cup of poison and went to the next world.”

Saadat Khan committed suicide on March 9, two days before the Chandni Chowk massacre.

Tomb of Muhammad Shah and Royal Family

On the 27th of March 1739, Nesr Alla Mirza – the second son of Nadir Shah – married the great granddaughter of Aurangzeb and daughter of Lesdan Baksh in a glittering ceremony on the banks of Yamuna, illuminated with fireworks. A few days later, Nadir Shah sent her jewels worth five lakh rupees.

Today, in the tomb of Muhammad Shah at Nizamuddin Auliya’s Dargah, we can find the tombs of Nadir Shah’s son’s wife and her infant daughter. It can therefore be conjectured that Nadir Shah left his daughter-in-law, who later gave birth to a daughter, in Delhi while returning to Persia. The circumstances of their deaths are not recorded anywhere.

Muhammad Shah’s tomb enclosure at the Dargah of Nizamuddin Auliya is enclosed with pierced marble screens, 7’2” in height. Visitors enter through a marble door, which is beautifully engraved with floral designs. Corners of the enclosure are marked by sculptured guldastas. At the centre of the enclosure lie the graves of the royal family: Muhammad Shah, his wife Sahiba Mahall, his daughter-in-law, her infant daughter, Muhammad Shah’s grandsons Mirza Jigru and Mirza Ashuri, and one unknown grave in the northeastern corner which is believed, due to its small size, to be of a child. 

Extracting the Tribute Money

On March 30, 1739, auditors were appointed to roam from house to house, noting how much money should be extorted from each person and family. The amount was decided according to the person’s look and appearance. A month earlier in Karnal, Nizamul Mulk had promised a tribute of twenty crore rupees in Delhi. However, the emperor had a maximum amount of three crores, separate from the sealed off vaults in Mughal chambers. Nizamul Mulk arranged 1.5 crores himself, while one crore was given by Saadat Khan, and, after his suicide, by his nephew Safdar Jung.

unknown( An unknown grave at the north eastern corner of the complex: almost detached from other tombs.)

From the citizens, money was extracted in the most vicious and inhuman way. Families were ruined; many took poison or stabbed themselves to death. Even the adopted son of the Kotwal, Folad Khan, committed suicide by stabbing himself, because he was unable to face the extortion tortures. This continued for more than a month until the very last day of Nadir Shah’s departure on the fourth of May. No barbarity or atrocity was left un-practiced on the hapless citizens. They lived in perpetual fear, waiting for officials to come extract the ‘peishkash,’ or tribute money.

Leaving Behind the Plundered City of Delhi

Then, Nadir Shah prepared to return from Delhi. Tazrika, by Anand Ram Mukhlis, describes a grand farewell dinner, followed by a call from a Persian officer to his troops: “On the 29th of Muhamrram, the glory of the realms of Hind proceeded to partake of an entertainment given by the ruler of Iran. A quarter of the day passed in rejoicings. A hundred and one pieces of cloth, within which were precious objects from foreign countries, and several trays of jewels, offered by the Shah, were accepted by the royal visitor, who then took his departure.”

During his farewell function, Nadir Shah placed a golden jewel-encrusted crown on the head of Muhammad Shah with his own hands, apologising at the very same time for his intrusion. His lofty parting advice was to secure the army by appointing one officer called a deh-bashi for every ten soldiers, one officer called a sudival for every ten deh-bashis, and one hazarri for every ten sudivals. He then summoned Nizamul Mulk and other amirs, and threatened them with dire consequences if they ever revolted against Muhammad Shah. He allowed khutbah to be read again in the name of Muhammad Shah, and sent farmans to Maratha Generals Baji Rao and Rajah Sahu to obey Muhammad Shah as the emperor.

It is said that Nadir Shah had two regrets while leaving Delhi, which he could not avoid as he had already promised accordingly: the first was to allow an unworthy emperor to retain Hindustan; the second one was to spare the cunning Nizamul Mulk.

The commander of the Persian Army announced thereafter, “Soldiers, the King of Kings and Lord of beneficence, our master, the protector of the world, conquered the country of Hindustan and restored it. Tomorrow, our victorious banners move towards Irak. Be you prepared!”

While finally leaving Delhi, he gave his final instructions to Hajee Folad Khan, Delhi’s Kotwal, “that if any of his soldiers were found in the city after his march, to cut off their ears and noses, and then send them to him.”

wife( Elaborately done design on the tomb of Muhammad Shah’s wife.)

Chronicler Warid informs us that after Nadir Shah left, Muhammad Shah imposed a strange restraining order that prohibited any historical account to be written. Warid says while ending his book: “After the departure of Nadir Shah, a Royal Order was issued in the following effect: ‘all public officers should occupy themselves in the discharge of their ordinary duties, except the historians. They should refrain from recording the events of my reign, for at present the record cannot be a pleasant one. The reigns of Imperial or Supreme Government have fallen from my hands. I am now the viceroy of Nadir Shah.’ Notwithstanding that the nobles and great officers of the Court, hearing these melancholy reflections of the Emperor, in many complimentary and flattering speeches recommended him to withdraw this order, His Majesty would not be satisfied. Consequently, being helpless, all the historians obeyed the royal mandate, and laid down their pens.”

Fraser [Ref.3] estimates that 70 Crores of wealth was carried away by Nadir Shah from Delhi:

Jewels from Emperor and Amirs: 25 Crores

Utensils and Handles of Weapons set with Jewels, with the Peacock Throne, etc.: 9 Crores

Money Coined in Gold and Silver Coins: 25 Crores

Gold and Silver Plates which he melted into coins: 5 Crores

Fine Clothes and rich stuff, etc.: 2 Crores

Household Furniture, and other commodities: 3 Crores

Weapons, etc.: 1 Crore


       Part C: The Priceless Treasure Trove of the Mughals


The legendary treasure trove of Hindustan has changed hands en masse on two occasions, once in 1739, when it was taken by Nadir Shah, and then again in 1857 by Prize Agents of the East India Company. Apart from these two conquests, a great many priceless gems and jewels were acquired by the early European traders in India and sold in Europe.

Today, many of the world’s famous diamonds have been attributed conclusively to the 1739 sack of Delhi. The most well-known jewels and artefacts among them are listed below—the little toys of compressed and crystallized charcoals that have wended their way through a labyrinth of mankind’s violent history.

1( A lithograph by Emily Eden showing one of the favourite horses of Maharaja Ranjit Singh with the stables officer, along with the collection of jewels, including the Koh-I-Noor which was given to him by Shuja Shah Durrani of Afghanistan. 1844. Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Maharaja_Ranjit_singh%27s_treasure.jpg#filelinks )

During Nadir Shah’s homeward march from Delhi back to Persia, he had ordered all the acquired jewels to be decorated on a tent. The tent is described in great details by an eyewitness Abdul Kurreem, who accompanied Nadir Shah on his return journey, in his memoir:

“ The outside was covered with fine scarlet broadcloth, the lining was of violet coloured satin, upon which were representations of all the birds and beasts in the creation, with trees and flowers, the whole made of pearls, diamonds, rubies, emeralds, amethysts, and other precious stones: and the tent poles were decorated in like manner. On both sides of the Peacock Throne was a screen, upon which were the figures of two angels in precious stones. The roof of the tent consisted of seven pieces, and when it was transported to any place, two of these pieces packed in cotton, were put into a wooden chest, two of which were a sufficient load for an elephant; and the screen filled another chest. The walls of the tent, the tent poles and the tent pins, which latter were of massy gold, loaded five more elephants; so that for the carriage of the whole required seven elephants. This magnificent tent was displayed on all festivals in the Dewan Khaneh at Heart, during the remainder of Nadir Shah’s reign. After his death, his nephew Adil Shah, and his grandson Shahrokh, whose territories were very limited, and expenses enormous, had the tent taken to pieces, and dissipated the produce.” 

  1. Peacock Throne

Ten years after Nadir Shah returned from India with unimaginable treasure in 1739, he was assassinated by his own guards. Immediately, the famed Peacock Throne was dismantled, and its gems and stones were cut out and dispersed in the world market, though the entire lot can never be accounted for.

The Peacock Throne, or the Mayurasan, has been described by many, including historians Abdul Hamid Lahori, Inayat Khan, and French travellers Bernier and Tavernier, but Tavernier’s account can be considered most authentic, as he was officially allowed to inspect it in the Mughal court by Aurangzeb.

JB-Tavernier( French gem trader Tavernier in Oriental costumes. 1679.  Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain: {{PD-US}} https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:JB-Tavernier.jpg )

Tavernier was a French gem merchant who travelled to Persia and India six times between 1630 and 1668.

According to him, the throne was of almost the size of a bed, being 6 ft x 4 ft in dimension. There were four horizontal bars connecting its four legs, upon which 12 columns stand to hold a canopy. At the center of each of the 12 columns, a cross design was made of a ruby surrounded by four emeralds. There were 108 large rubies (100-200 carats), 116 large emeralds (30-60 carats), innumerable diamonds and gemstones were studded in the throne made of solid gold. Its paraphernalia included cushions, swords, a mace, a round shield, umbrellas – all studded with gemstones and pearls. The underside of the canopy was covered with pearls and diamonds.

Abdul Lahori describes the throne and its well-known stones, such as Koh-i-Noor, the Akbar Shah diamond, the Shah diamond, the Timur Ruby, and the Shah Jahan diamond.

      2.   Koh-i-Noor

This diamond – known as ‘Babur’s Diamond’ before 1739 – was acquired from the Kakatiya dynasty by Allauddin Khilji. When Ibrahim Lodi was defeated by Babur, it was apparently handed over to Humayun by the mother of Ibrahim Lodi to guarantee the family’s safety. However, other sources say that it was gifted to Humayun by the Gwalior Royal Family. Thereafter, it was presented by Humayun to the Persian Shah Tamasp (to garner his support to regain Hindustan), who then gave it to the Deccan Kingdom as a gift. It came back to the Mughals during Shah Jahan’s reign – via a Persian diamond dealer, Mir Jumla –and remained with the Mughal emperors until 1739.

Dalip_singh_winterhalter( Duleep Singh (1838-1893) in 1854, Oil on canvas portrait by Franz Xaver Winterhalter, commissioned by Queen Victoria. The British East India Company acquired the Koh-i-Noor from Duleep Singh in 1843. Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain:{{PD-US}} https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Dalip_singh_winterhalter.jpg )

It is rumoured that Nadir Shah was tipped off that the emperor Muhammad Shah was hiding the diamond in his turban. Nadir Shah then invited the emperor to a customary turban-exchange ceremony to foster eternal supportive ties between the two empires. He could not believe his eyes when he found the diamond concealed within layers of the turban, and exclaimed, ‘Koh-i-Noor!’ (‘Mountain of Light!’). Since then, it has been known by that name.

After Nadir Shah was assassinated ten years later, the diamond fell into the hands of Ahmad Shah Abdali of Kabul. After Abdali, it was ceded by the Afghans to Sikh King Ranjit Singh of Punjab. On his death-bed in 1839, Ranjit Singh willed the Koh-i-Noor to the Jagannath Temple at Puri. The British East India Company acquired it from his son (Duleep Singh) in 1843.

Croquis_du_Koh-i-Noor_d'après_Tavernier(Tavernier’s illustration of the Koh-I-Noor. Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Croquis_du_Koh-i-Noor_d%27apr%C3%A8s_Tavernier.jpg )

It is said that the diamond was kept by John Lawrence, who had absent-mindedly put the box in his coat pocket. When Governor General Dalhousie asked for it to be sent from Lahore to Mumbai, Lawrence asked his servant to find it; while rummaging through his wardrobe, the servant replied, ‘There is nothing here, Sahib, but a bit of glass!’

The Koh-i-Noor was transported to England aboard HMS Madea, with Dalhousie carrying it personally. It was cut and put in a crown by the crown jewellers Garrard & Co.; Queen Mary wore this crown to the Delhi Coronation Durbar in 1911. 

    3. The Orloff:

Prior to 1739, this unusual half-egg shaped diamond was known as the Great Mogul. After Nadir Shah’s murder, one of his soldiers sold it to an Armenian merchant, and it was acquired subsequently by the Russian nobleman Grigorievich Orlov. Orlov presented it to his lover, the Grand Duchess Catherine, who mounted it in the Imperial Sceptre during her reign between 1762-96.

orlov( The Orloff diamond in the Imperial Scepter, now part of the Diamond Fund, Moscow. © Elkan Wijnberg.  https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Orlow_(Diamant).jpg )

Another version of the diamond’s history states that it was one of the eyes in a temple in South India, which was stolen by a French army deserter who had converted to Hinduism solely to gain access to the sanctum Sanctorum of the temple to remove the diamond.

    4. The Shah Diamond:

This diamond remained in Iran for nearly a century until 1829, when the Russian diplomat and writer, Alexandr Griboyedov, was murdered in Tehran. Fearing a backlash from Russia, the grandson of the Shah visited Moscow and presented the diamond as a gift for Russian Tsar Nicholas I.

    5. The Great Table Diamond:

Darya-i-Noor( The Daria-e Noor (Sea of Light) Diamond from the collection of the national jewels of Iran at Central Bank of Islamic Republic of Iran. Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain CC-BY-SA-4.0: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:The_Daria-e_Noor_(Sea_of_Light)_Diamond_from_the_collection_of_the_national_jewels_of_Iran_at_Central_Bank_of_Islamic_Republic_of_Iran.jpg )

Jean Baptiste Tavernier, a French traveler to India, mentioned a huge diamond of more than 400 carats that was set in the Peacock Throne, and called it the Diamanta Grande Table. After Nadir Shah’s murder, the diamond was cut many times and scattered throughout the world. Researchers are still trying to locate all of the pieces of this diamond, but only three have been confirmed to date: the Darya-i-Noor (Sea of Light), Noor-ul-Amin (Light of the Eye), and Shah Jahan Table Cut. The former two are among the Iranian Crown Jewels, as confirmed by a Canadian team from the Royal Ontario Museum who conducted a study on Iranian Crown Jewels in 1965. The Darya-i-Noor is the most celebrated diamond among the Iranian Crown Jewels, and has a status similar to that of the Koh-i-Noor in the British Crown Jewels. The Shah Jahan Table cut appeared mysteriously at a Christie’s auction in 1985, and was acquired by H.H.Sheikh Naseer Al-Sabah of Kuwait. It is assumed that it was not sold thereafter and remains in his family.

Table Cut( Drawing of the Great Table Diamond by Tavernier, 1676. [Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Great_Table_Drawing_By_Tavernier.jpg )     

6. Timur Ruby:

After Nadir Shah, Ahmed Shah Abdali of Kabul acquired a huge ruby along with the Koh-i-noor diamond, and later the Afghans ceded it to Sikh King Ranjit Singh. The British later acquired this mammoth 361 carat ruby from Maharaja Duleep Singh of Punjab. The names and dates of its six original owners are inscribed on the stone, as follows: Timur, Akbar (1612), Jahangir (1628), Aurangzeb (1659), Farrukhsiyar (1713), and Ahmad Shah Durrani (1754).

The ruby may be the one that was mentioned in Jauhar-I Samsam while describing its acquisition by Nadir Shah from Muhammad Shah: “His Majesty bestowed on Nadir Shah, with his own munificent hand, as a parting present, the Peacock throne, in which was set a ruby upwards of a girih (three fingers’ breadth) in width, and nearly two in length, which was commonly called khiraj-I alam, or ‘Tribute of the World’.”


Below is a list of those few invaluable translucent rocks that are sprinkled around the world, whose heritage we are aware of, thanks to the researchers and historians. Till date, these are the only jewels that could have been conclusively traced back to Nadir Shah’s sack of Delhi in 1739. An unknown vast majority of the precious stones that Nadir Shah took with him from Delhi, is simply untraceable, and most are probably lost in the passages of time. Few may be lying in private collections, and then also, it is doubtful if their historicity are known even to their owners. In this context, it does not really matter in which museum, or which city of the world these are located and preserved. The important thing is that they are well conserved by experts, to be passed down for generations and generations to cherish and appreciate these priceless items.

Name Characteristics Info
Koh-i-Noor (Mountain of Light) COLOUR: Finest White


CURRENT LOCATION: British Crown Jewels, London

Was known as the ‘Babur’s Diamond’ prior to 1739
Orlov or Orloff COLOUR: Finest White with a faint bluish-green tinge


CURRENT LOCATION: Diamond Fund, Moscow

Was known as the Great Mogul diamond. It is also referred as one of the eyes of the Srirangam Temple idol, Tamil Nadu
Golconda d’or diamond COLOUR: Golden Yellow


CURRENT LOCATION: Dunklings Jewellers, Melbourne, Australia

Darya-i-Nur (Sea of Light) COLOUR: Pale Pink


CURRENT LOCATION: Iranian Crown Jewels, Central Bank of Iran, Tehran

ALTERNATE POSSIBLE LOCATION: As per some other experts, a diamond by the same name is in Sonali Bank, Dhaka ( Ref. 16)

Cut from the Great Table diamond originally of more than 400 carats ( Diamanta Grande Table, as described by French traveler Jean Baptiste Tavernier)
Noor-ul-Amin (Light of the Eye) COLOUR: Pale Pink


CURRENT LOCATION: Iranian Crown Jewels, Central Bank of Iran, Tehran

Cut from the Great Tablet diamond originally of more than 400 carats (Diamanta Grande Table)
Taj-e-Mah (Crown of the Moon) COLOUR: Colourless


CURRENT LOCATION: Iranian Crown Jewels, Central Bank of Iran, Tehran

Considered to be the sister stone of the Darya-i-Noor
Shah Diamond COLOUR: White with a yellowish tinge


CURRENT LOCATION: Diamond Fund, Moscow

Shah Jahan Diamond COLOUR: Pale Pink


CURRENT LOCATION: H.H. Sheikh Naseer Al-Sabah, Kuwait

Akbar Shah Diamond COLOUR: White with light green hue


CURRENT LOCATION: H.H. Samarjitsinh Gaekwad of Vadodara Royal Family

Also called Shepherd’s Stone
Timur’s Ruby COLOUR: Red


CURRENT LOCATION: British Crown Jewels, London


Thanks to Aradhana Sinha, of INTACH Delhi Chapter for leading the exploration of ‘Civil Lines and Qudsia Bagh.’


  1. The Fall of the Mughal Empire: Volume 1; by Sir Jadunath Sarkar, 1934, Calcutta
  2. The History of India, as told by its own historians (Volume VIII) by Sir H.M. Elliot & John Dowson, 1877, London
  3. The History of Nadir Shah, by James Fraser, 1742, London
  4. The Memoirs of Khojeh Abdul Kureem, A Cashmerian of Distinction, by Francis Gladwin, 1788, Calcutta
  5. The Taj, The Magazine of Taj Hotels, Resorts and Palaces, Volume 33, No 2, 2nd Quarter, 2004, Mumbai
  6. Princes and Painters in Mughal Delhi 1707-1857, Asia Society Exhibition, http://sites.asiasociety.org/princesandpainters/decline-of-power-pursuit-of-pleasure-muhammad-shah-1719-1748/
  7. Old Delhi – 10 Easy Walks, by Gaynor Barton and Laurraine Malone, 2005, New Delhi
  8. A Guide to Nizamu-d Din, Memoirs of the Archaeological Survey of India ; by Maulvi Zafar Hasan, 1922 (Reprinted 1998), ASI, New Delhi.
  9. Koh-i-Nur: A Diamond’s Incredible Journey, by Dr. Neria H. Hebbar: http://www.boloji.com/index.cfm?md=Content&sd=Articles&ArticleID=709
  10. Qudsia Begum – The Tale of an Empress, in Fame and Notoriety, by Madhu Singh: http://madhukidiary.com/the-tale-of-an-empress-in-fame-and-notoriety/
  11. Delhi – The Built Heritage, by INTACH: http://www.intachdelhichapter.org/Delhi_Heritage_Listing/intach.swf
  12. Mughal Empire in India, Vol 3, by S.R. Sharma, 1999, Delhi.
  13. Garden glory no more, The Hindu, July 14,2012: http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-national/garden-glory-no-more/article3638033.ece
  14. Delhi; 14 Historic Walks, by Swapna Liddle, 2011, Delhi
  15. Civil Lines and the Northern Ridge, Heritage trail brochure by INTACH Delhi Chapter & World Monuments Fund
  16. Meet Daria-I-Noor, the Koh-I-Noor’s little Known Sibling, by Shyam Bhatia: http://www.tribuneindia.com/2012/20120328/main8.htm

12 thoughts on “Qudsia Begum: The Matriarchal Ruler of Delhi and a Story of Diamonds

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