Two gold and diamonds Rings one with inscription
Lot 293
Two highly important Sultanate gem-set gold Rings made for Mu'izz al-Din Muhammad bin Sam (AH 569-602/ AD 1173-1206), the first Muslim conqueror of Delhi (2)
£300,000 - 400,000
US$ 500,000 - 670,000
Auction Details
Lot Details
Two highly important Sultanate gem-set gold Rings made for Mu'izz al-Din Muhammad bin Sam (AH 569-602/ AD 1173-1206), the first Muslim conqueror of Delhi


  • Estimate refer department.

    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 Indian texts Nitisara and the Garuda Purana). Though India itself also has ruby deposits in several states, especially in the Kangayam area of Tamil Nadu and in Karnataka state, the earliest Sanskrit texts only mention Sri Lanka as a source of ruby. India's ancient jewelers divided gems into two main groups: Maharatnani (Great Gems), and Uparatnani (Secondary Gems) [11]. Both diamond and ruby were placed in the former class with the Padmaraga, the pinkish ruby, most highly prized of all. Ruby was the royal gem par excellence; it symbolized Surya, the sun god, and was always mounted in the center of any jewel, as in our ring, the sun being the center of all phenomena in our solar system [12].

    Later lapidaries mention the ruby deposits at Jagdalek in present day Afghanistan as well as those in the Hunza valley in northern Pakistan, all yielded good quality material that was often cut into cabochons, but Sri Lanka was always considered the source of the finest gems. Al-Biruni, writing in the 11th Century, says about the best color ruby (Yakut): "It has been said about the pomegranate-like color of the ruby that, if scarlet blood is sprinkled and spread over a clean piece of silver, the resultant coloration would be like that of the pomegranate-colored ruby". Al-Tifashi, writing at about the same time, about the perceived properties of ruby, says, among other things, that "…If (a ruby) is worn in a ring, and this person is in a country hit by the plague, (he will not be affected). Ruby also makes him nobler in the eyes of the people, facilitates his errands, and helps him overcome difficult problems in life. It strengthens the heart of its wearer and instills courage in him. It is beneficial for heart palpitations and obsessive anxieties. Lightning never strikes whoever wears it in a ring. Another property is that it prevents blood clots and stops hemorrhage" [13].

    The value of our ruby is underscored by the fact that it was a re-used gem. Under the microscope it shows a partly drilled hole in the otherwise remarkably clear gem, clearly indicating an earlier use in a different jewel. Oriental gem cutters always tried to maximize the size and weight of the finished stone, and therefore, whereas in the Occident this tiny hole might have been polished away, in India the gem was considered so valuable that to remove even so slight a blemish would have been unthinkable.

    The gems are mounted in the rings using the traditional Kundan technique, comprehensively explained by Oppi Untracht in his Traditional Jewelry of India [14]. Our rings are the earliest datable examples employing this technique, though its antiquity had long been assumed.

    Both the date and the attribution of our rings are firmly established by the inscription on the inside of the ruby ring. The inscription, in the Hindi script known as Devanagri, reads "SRIMAD HAMIR MAHAMAD SAM", the standard title of Sultan Mu'izz Al-Din Muhammad Bin Sam. (This inscription was read, transliterated and explained by Admiral Sohail Khan).

    1. Encyclopedia of Islam, 2nd edition, Leiden, 1983, page 1 of 5, vol. 2, p. 1099;
    2. Thapar, R., Early India from the Origins to AD 1300, London, 2002, p. 433;
    3. ibid., p. 433-4;
    4. Schimmel, A., Islam in the Indian Subcontinent, Leiden, 1980, p. 10;
    5. For background information about diamonds in India, vide, Vredenburg, E., Geology of the State of Panna, Principally with reference to the Diamond-bearing Deposits (Records of the Geological Survey of India, vol. XXXIII, part 4, n.d.);Shukla, M. S. A History of Gem Industry in Ancient & Medieval India, Varanasi, 1972;
    6. Rousselet, M. L., Les Mines de Diamants de Pannah, Paris, 1875;
    7. Among the more accessible lapidaries are those translated and edited by Sourindro Mohun Tagore, Mani Mali. A Treatise on Gems, 2 vols. Calcutta, 1879; also Louis Finot in Les Lapidaires Indiens, Paris, 1896; as well as Julius Ruska's Das Steinbuch des Aristoteles, Heidelberg, 1912
    8. Rajeswara Sarma, S. (ed.), Thakkura Pheru's Rayanaparikkha: A Medieval Prakit Text on Gemmology, Aligarh, 1984, p.46-7;
    9. Bari, H. Diamonds: In the heart of the Earth, in the heart of Stars, at the heart of Power, Paris, 2001. p.177;
    10. Ruska, op. cit., p. 151; and also Huda, S. N. A., Arab Roots of Gemology. Ahmad ibn Yusuf Al Tifaschi's Best Thoughts on the Best of Stones, Lanham, MD, 1998;
    11. Hughes, R. W., Ruby & Sapphire, Boulder, CO, 1997, p.357;
    12. Untracht, O., Traditional Jewelry of India, London, 1997, p.323;
    13. Huda, op. cit., p.98-9;
    14 Untracht, op. cit., p.364-6.

    We would like to thank Derek J. Content for his assistance in cataloguing this lot.

Saleroom notices

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