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Diamond Mines of the World: India's Diamonds of Golconda

India's Diamond Mining History

Historians estimate that diamond (vajra, Sanskrit for "adamantine") were discovered in India during the 4th century B.C., and India was one of the first countries to mine the gem. India's diamonds were prized for their size and beauty for hundreds of years, but the term "Indian diamonds" was used generically to describe any stone that was mined in numerous South/Southeast Asian locations that included Borneo (Landak), Golconda, Hindostan, and Raolconda. The majority of Asia's diamond deposits were alluvial as opposed to kimberlite.

India's most prized diamonds were known as the "diamonds of Golconda," and some of the most famous Golconda stones include the Hope Diamond, Koh-i-Noor Diamond, Darya-i-Nur, Orlov Diamond, and Sanc Diamond. The Darya-i-Nur (Sea of Light) was a rare blue-diamond that weighed 186 carats, which was owned by the last Great Mughal Emperor of Persia, Aurangzeb, until it was plundered from his heirs during the 'sack of Delhi' in 1739.

India's Diamond Mining History

India's Geology

Golconda (aka Golkunda) was a region located between the lower reaches of the Godavari, Wainganga, Wardha and Krishna-Venva rivers, in the present-day states of Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh, central India (map: above, right). Today, the exact source of the so-called "lost mines of Golconda" are unknown, and India's only remaining diamond source is the Majhgawan pipe (kimberlite pipe) near Panna (see map below, under: "Mining in India Today").

The Golconda diamonds originating on the Indian subcontinent were created from the enormous forces generated by plate tectonics, when the Tethys Oceanic Crust collided with, and was subducted under the Asian Continental plate. Although these massive continental plates collided at the incredibly slow rate of 10 centimetres per year; over 100s of millions of years, this was enough force to create the Himalayan Mountain range, and to cause the necessary volcanic activity to create diamondiferous intrusive, and extrusive igneous rock known as kimberlite.

Millions of years of erosion caused by rainfall and snow-melt unearthed the diamonds from their kimberlite tomb, washing them downstream to their final resting place within the shallow alluvial river gravels of India's Golconda region.

India's Diamond Mining History

In the ancient treatise on gemology known as Utpalaparimalä, the characteristics of an ideal diamond as described as having purity (without stain), lightness, six-pointedness, and being a well formed octahedron with 8 facets and pronounced sharp edges [8].

According to ancient Indian texts, there were eight principle "find-spots" for diamonds, each being identified with a distinct diamond color [10]. 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).

Diamonds are inextricably woven into the cultural fabric and mysticism of Buddhism, Hinduism, and Tibetan Lamaism. The 'Dorjes' is an ancient Buddhist talisman shaped like a pyramidal, four-faceted diamond [2]. According to ancient Buddhist legend, the Dorjes represents Mount Meru, a sacred mountain which is situated at the 'center of the universe.'

The 'Valley of Diamonds'

During the 14th through 18th centuries, many young explorers and adventurers were drawn to India and the Far East, by tales of riches beyond one's wildest dreams, and the legend of Sinbad's "Valley of Diamonds." The tales of Sinbad the Sailor and the "Arabian Nights" were derived from an 8th century Persian (Sassanid) book called the Hazar Afsanah, or the "Thousand Myths."

In the "Second Voyage of Sinbad," the sailor from Basrah (Baghdad) was transported by a giant bird (the "roc"), to a land where the floor of the valley was "carpeted with diamonds." In the tale, merchants harvested the diamonds by throwing chunks of meat onto the valley floor where the giant birds would carry them back to their nests, ladened with diamonds. Sinbad strapped one of the pieces of meat to his back, and returned to Baghdad with a fortune in diamonds.

Goa's Diamond Trade Route

During the latter half of the 14th century, most of the diamonds entering Europe originated in India. The Golconda diamond trade route extended from India to Bruges, Paris, and eventually to the diamond Bourses of Antwerp, Belgium. Up until the late 1400s, the only route from India to Europe was over land through Persia, transiting the ancient "Silk Road" caravan routes. This lengthy, and dangerous journey made diamond expeditions a costly affair, and many of the diamonds would fall into Persian hands as a "tariff" for crossing their territory.

Desperate to find an alternative route to India and the Far East; Portuguese explorer Bartolomeu Dias discovered the 'Cape of Good Hope' on Africa's southern most tip in 1488. This led to fellow Portuguese navigator Vasco da Gama's discovery of a sea route to India in 1498, by sailing around the Cape. This new, and easier sea-route soon led to European dominance of the Indian diamond trade.

Goa's Diamond Trade Route

Along India's Malabar Coast, the state of "Goa" grew into a Portuguese trading center, and a diamond-trading route was established from Goa to Lisbon, Portugal and on to Antwerp. In 1510, the Portuguese established a permanent settlement in Velha Goa (Old Goa), after Portuguese admiral Afonso de Albuquerque defeated the ruling Bijapur kings. The city of "Vasco," named after Vasco-da-Gama, remains Goa's largest city.

Goa's Diamond Trade Route

In explorer/court-jeweller Jean Baptiste Tavernier's book Les Six Voyages (The Six Voyages), written in 1679, Tavernier documented his extensive travels throughout India and the Far-East, helping to expand European trade in gems, jewellery, and other valuable commodities. During his travels, Tavernier meticulously illustrated many notable cut diamonds from Indian, such as the "Great Mogul Diamond" (illustration #1: above, right) and the "Great Table Diamond" (illustration #3: above, center)

India and Landak were the only major producers of diamonds until their discovery in Brazil in 1725, and South Africa, in 1866.

Mining in India Today

India is no longer a source for rough diamonds, as most all of India's diamond mines were depleted centuries ago, although there is one active diamond mine at Panna, in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh (below, right). The state-owned Panna mine is run by the National Mineral Development Corporation.

Goa's Diamond Trade Route

DeBeers India is also currently prospecting in the Madhya Pradesh region, as well as in the sothern Indian states of Andhra Pradesh, Chattisgarh, Karnataka, and Tamil Nadu. The DeBeers India mining operation will be a joint venture with Hindustan Diamond, be based in Mumbai.

The Descriptive Term 'Golconda Diamond'

The term "Golconda diamond" is still used (or misused) today as an indicator of very high-quality diamonds. To justify the "Golconda" name, diamonds must have a level of transparency and quality found only in rare, chemically/optically pure type-IIa natural diamonds. The term "Golconda" is also used as a generic term to describe higher quality diamonds with an antique cut.

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