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The Diamond Mines Of India

( Originally Published 1911 )



IT is not known when diamonds were first mined in India. As far as we know, all the diamonds of ancient times came from that country. It is possible, however, that some came from Africa. All discoveries of diamonds throughout the world in alluvial deposits, of which we have cognizance, were made by men while washing the sands and gravels for gold. There have been found in Rhodesia of late, in a section in which the alluvial deposits contain gold and diamonds, evidences of mining operations, ancient beyond record. Some of the six kinds of diamonds of which Pliny wrote two thousand years ago may therefore have been African stones. Of these six kinds, he said that the Arabian and Indian were superior, being of " unspeakable hardness." There is no evidence that Arabia ever produced any diamonds. Topaz occurred there, and white topaz was probably thought by the ancients to be a kind of diamond, but it could not have been the stone he coupled with the Indian diamond as equally hard, therefore the Arabian diamond must have been obtained by trade from some other source, either from India further east, or possibly from Africa to the southwest. It is quite possible that the Phoenicians in their day tricked the world as the Portuguese did later with the diamonds from Brazil. The diamonds of India and the East were known to be harder and better than all other so-called diamonds, and those wily traders, having obtained diamonds from Africa, may have sold them as Arabian stones in order to conceal the source of supply, and to secure the ad-vantage of the reputation which diamonds from the East had already attained. The operations of the Phoenicians were widespread. They went after the tin of Cornwall, the silver of the Guadalquiver, and away to the north for amber. If rumor brought news of anything anywhere that could be traded in profitably, they went after it. They circumnavigated Africa 600 years B. C. They probably knew that there was gold and other minerals in that country; they knew what diamonds were, for they traded in Indian stones. It is possible, and even quite probable, that they brought gold from Africa, and equally probable that diamonds were found with the gold. If so, they would not escape the observation of such keen traders, and the Indian and Arabian stones having the reputation of being much superior to all other stones called diamond, the African diamonds would undoubtedly be marketed with those from the East and under the same classification.

Whether the Phoenicians obtained stones from Africa or not, they not only bought and sold Indian stones, but those stones had evidently been known and used for some time and therefore had been regularly mined then in India.

The diamonds of India occur in alluvial deposits which carry gold also. From before records, gold was always sought, and it is probable that in the remote past, men there, as elsewhere later, while mining far gold, attracted by the crystals glistening in the sands, saved them at first as curios. Learning in course of time how very hard they were, they were put in use as cutters and gravers, and attention was drawn to them by their preeminence over all other known substances in the quality of hardness. Writers enlarged upon the theme and invented such fabulous stories about them, that eventually the diamonds of India became a world's wonder. The larger and more perfect crystals would naturally attract the attention of rulers and be used as jewels. Once established in favor with a potentate, they would be desired by others.

The high estimation to which the stone attained was undoubtedly of very slow growth, but as its use for mechanical purposes or as an ornament grew, the search for them would naturally grow with it until, as in later instances, instead of being regarded as a by-product of the gold mines, diamonds would become the chief incentive for mining, and gold the by-product.

Tradition tells that the diamond was worn as a jewel in India, 5000 years ago. The Bible establishes its existence as a graver nearly three thousand years back. The poets and historians of Greece and Rome over two thousand years ago, inform us that India was the source of it. The diamond-mining industry in India is there-fore certainly three thousand years old, and one may reasonably think that it is twice that age.

Notwithstanding Pliny's statement that diamonds were so precious that kings only, and but few of them, could afford to own them, there is no evidence that they were considered a jewel of the first rank in India until comparatively late times. If they had been so regarded, more would have been brought back by the Greeks and Romans when they looted India. Little mention is made of them in the literature of that day. The writers of the New Testament, some of whom used other precious stones freely to typify beauty, magnificence, and worth, ignore the diamond. Pliny probably got his idea of value from the fact that only a small number of the kings of the Orient possessed any. They were found in a few districts in India only, and as the rulers of those districts claimed all the best stones found, and Oriental princes seldom parted with their jewels of any kind, they could not be dispersed to any great extent, nor have any definite value. The diamond was a local jewel. Its wider field was as a cutter and graver.

The reports of early European travelers do not indicate that diamonds were preeminent among the jewels of India. It is said of Sighelmus of Sherborne, that having been sent by King Alfred in 883 to Rome with presents for the Pope, he went on from there to visit the tomb of St. Thomas at Mylapore (Mailapur or St. Thome, a suburb of Madras) and brought back with him jewels and spices. No specific mention is made of diamonds. From the reports of later European travelers into India, it may be inferred that the Indian mines of old, as within the last four or five centuries, yielded few large stones. In those days they could not shape a diamond to the requirements of the jeweler's art. It was mounted as a natural crystal, and when mounted, though a wonderful stone, it was a clumsy jewel.

But rumor spread a knowledge of the stone; imagination endowed it with marvels, and desire for it spread and grew stronger. A world-wide interest was created, and diamond mining in India became an important industry.

It is said that Akbar of the Mogul dynasty derived a revenue of £80,000 per annum from the diamond mines in his kingdom. They were the Panna mines, situated in Panna or Punna, Bundelkhand, Central India. This prince reigned from 1560 to 1605.

The celebrated Golconda mines received the name from an ancient town and fort of that name, now in ruins, near the city of Hyderabad, where the stones were collected and polished. The diamonds were really obtained throughout an extensive region watered by the Kistna or Krishna, and Godavari rivers, and included the modern districts of Krishna, Godavari, Bellary, Cuddapah and Kurnul. Until 1687, when Aurungzebe annexed it to the Delhi empire, Golconda was a large and powerful kingdom of the Deccan, a name given to the central part of India lying south of the Nerbudda or Nabada river, which separated it from Hindustan proper. The Deccan extended south as far as the Krishna river, and in this territory many of the Indian diamond mines were situated.

The most southerly group of mines are on the banks of the Pannar river in the Madras Presidency where it cuts through the Eastern Ghats north of Madras. These must not be confounded with the Panna or Punna mines of the Bundelkhand further north. The diamonds occur in the Banaganpilly, a stratum, two or three feet thick, of water-worn pebbles and clay, lying under several feet of sand and rubble, and a tough clay similar to that which binds the pebbles of the diamondiferous stratum. This is now known as the Cuddapah district. It formerly yielded some very fine stones, but has apparently been long since exhausted.

Some work was done in these mines in 1869, but the results did not warrant a continuance of operations. West of Cuddapah, the diamondiferous layers lie some-what deeper, in places fifteen or sixteen feet, and the diamonds and accompanying minerals are very much waterworn, being sometimes nearly round. As is usually the case with diamonds of this character, they were particularly hard and brilliant. The color ranged from deep yellow to white. The minerals accompanying the diamonds are, various kinds of quartz, corundum, etc., and the stones are fragments of the same kind of rock of which the mountains rising from the river valley are composed.

A little north and west of the Cuddapah district mines, are those of the Bellary district, also situated in what is known as the Madras Presidency. Most of them lie south of the Kistna and about one of its tributaries. Among them are the famous mines of Wajrah Karur. A number of the exceptional stones of the past are said to have come from these mines, and of late years the " Gordon Orr," weighing 62 carats, was found in 1883, and another of 68 carats later. The Gordon Orr changed hands at 5,000 and 15,000 rupees and was cut to a brilliant of 24/ carats. These stones were taken from a section of the Bellary district newly apportioned and called the Anantapur district.

Early in the sixteenth century Bellary was in the Kingdom of Bisnager or Vijayanagar, having Hampi as its capital. The mines were a source of great revenue to the ruler. The kingdom was overthrown by the Mohammedan powers in 1565 after the battle of Telikota.

The diamonds of this district are found chiefly in a surface deposit, and it was evidently the custom to search for them after heavy rains, which would wash them out of the ground. In the modern operations, pits separated by narrow walls, some of them cut to steps leading to the bottom, are dug down into the diamondiferous deposit, the earth being carried up on the heads of natives, in bowls similar to the carimbé of Brazil, for washing. A substratum of rock similar to the Kimberlite of Africa was reached under the deposit 0f diamond-bearing earth, but nothing has been developed to war-rant an expectation that the African chimneys will be duplicated. A scientist thought he had discovered the matrix of the Indian diamonds in numerous veins of eruptive material which channel the underlying gneiss of this district, but the claim was not substantiated. About thirty to fifty miles east of Wajrah Karur, are a number of deserted mines which yielded at one time many diamonds and were worked with good success through the first quarter 0f the nineteenth century. At Banaganpilly, in this neighborhood, are mines ; also at Nandial a little to the northeast, and at Karnul or Kurnul about due north. The diamond-bearing stratum of this section of India is named after Banaganpilly.

West of half way between Banaganpilly and Karnul are mines supposed to. be identical with the mines of Raolconda, which in Tavernier's time were celebrated for their richness. They had been worked then for several centuries, but later passed out of knowledge. Of late years the deposit, which lies deep but is quite extensive, has been worked again spasmodically. They are known now as the Ramulkota mines.

It should be remembered as a qualification of all accounts given of the past history of Indian mines, that there is little absolutely reliable information. India is commonly regarded as one country. To a certain extent it is so geographically, but for many centuries it was not only divided into many principalities, but the boundaries of the divisions and their rulers were constantly changed. The various States preyed upon each other, and outside powers at different times swooped down upon them, looting their treasuries, and establishing foreign dynasties. Lines of demarcation were obliterated, and with them diamond mines were in the centuries sometimes lost and forgotten. Spread over many miles of territory in small patches, as the diamondiferous deposits are; oftentimes concealed by overlying strata of nondiamond-bearing material, if circumstances forced a cessation of work, a few generations of interrupted authority and record would be sufficient to obliterate knowledge of a digging. Eminent and careful men have sought without success to locate mines which travelers of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries mentioned as being renowned in their day. Ancient workings have been located and traditions hooked to them which may properly belong to others that in some unknown quarter await rediscovery. Much of our knowledge of the diamond mines of India is guess-work with the stamp of authority. All that we can say of the celebrated diamonds of India is that they are " said to have been found," in this or that mine. While a dynasty had control of territory in which there were diamond mines, it seized all the large, valuable stones, and imposed a tax so rigorous upon the others ound, that diamond mining was an occupation for the most poverty-stricken people only. When the yield of a deposit became poor, the miners naturally melted away, and unless by chance a new rich strike was made, they were soon neglected and sometimes forgotten.

Diamond mines were simply diggings here and there in a gravelly deposit which to the initiated had the ear-marks of the diamonds. Sometimes it lay on the surface, sometimes in the beds of streams, and at others, under a valueless covering of some other kind of earth anywhere from two to twenty feet thick.

Among those included in the ancient term " Golconda " mines, which probably embraced all those to the south and east of Golconda from which the rough was brought to that place as a center of the industry, were the famous mines of Kollur. From these some of the most celebrated historical stones are supposed to have been taken, among them the Koh-i-noor and the Great Mogul. These mines were on the south bank of the Kistna, directly north of Madras and a little west of the Parteal mines. Tavernier referred to them as the Gani Coulour. V. Ball says Gani should be written Gan-i or " the mines of " Coulour. Hugh Murray, 1834, says : " The mines are in a plain along the foot of some high mountains and yielded Shah Jehan the famous stone of upwards of 700 carats (Great Mogul)." They are said to have been accidentally discovered by the finding of a 25 carat stone, followed soon after by others of good size, about 1560. When Tavernier was in India in 1669 he says there were about 60,000 people employed in connection with the mines.

A governor of Madras visited them in 1679, and describing his visit said he went to the mines upon a hill to see them dig and look for " Dimonds." The ground, he says, " is loose, of a red fat sand and gravel." It contained black, red, and white stones. Some of the miners picked it, while others with iron spades threw it into a heap, where it was winnowed with baskets whereby the dust was driven out. The remaining gravel was carried to a trough in which was water brought thither from above a mile away, on men's heads. There it was washed, the earth melting like sugar and running off with the water through a hole. The gravel was then spread on a smooth place, where the men in ranks, their faces to the sun, under the eye of an overseer, picked it for diamonds. Most of these mines are now deserted.

The Parteal mines, some of which were worked as late as 1850, are situated on the north bank of the Kistna to the east of the Kollur mines, a little east of the junction of the Munyeru river with the Kistna. Some of these are said to have been very rich, tradition with its usual liberality crediting them with " wagon loads " of diamonds. The stones are in an alluvium of a decomposed diamondiferous stratum, which is probably not yet exhausted, though it is abandoned.

There is a sandstone conglomerate further east, at some distance from the Kistna, resting on gneiss, which was worked with some success in the early part of the nineteenth century. Pits fifteen feet or more deep were dug in the deposit, and it was also worked in spots where the decomposed material had been washed to the surface.

About as far directly north of the Kollur mines as the latter are north of Madras, is a diamondiferous de-posit of yellow sandy earth of unknown origin, which some scientists believe is much more extensive than it is generally thought to be. Many years ago it was worked near Wairagahr on the banks of the Wainganga river, in the Chanda district southeast of Nagpur. These mines were called Beiragahr by Tavernier. They are said to have been rich, but have been abandoned for nearly a century.

Following a direct line north from Wairagahr, at a distance about the same as that between Wairagahr and Kollur, and from Kollur to Madras, the Panna or Punna mines of the Bundelkhand are reached. These lie between the tributaries of the Jumna and Sone rivers, which are tributaries of the sacred Ganges river. This group of mines is about 250 miles due north of Madras. The mines form two spurs from the neighborhood of Panna on the Khan river ; one extending due east t0 Rewah, and the other in a northeasterly direction to the Jumna river a few miles west of Allahabad.

The diamonds occur in the Rewah strata of the upper Vindyan formation. The diamondiferous stratum lies at varying depths down to twenty or twenty-five feet. It is not thick, sometimes only a few inches, but extends over a considerable area. In some parts of the district it is found on the surface as a weathered or alluvial de-posit. Near Panna it is extremely difficult to work, as it is overlaid by a thick stratum of clay containing fragments of sandstone and other pebbles, with a quantity of broken, spongy, ferruginous rock called laterite, at the base. This necessitates the digging of pits to reach the diamonds. These excavations, fifty feet or more in diameter and thirty or forty feet deep, make very wet and uncomfortable diggings, as the water constantly seeps in and covers the stratum of diamondiferous material at the bottom. The water is carried up by a chain pump of bowls operated by hand, and the diamond-bearing earth is hoisted in baskets by a pulley to the surface. A hole in the wall of the pit near the bottom affords shelter for the overseers set to watch the miners. When prase is found in abundance it is regarded as a sure indication that the yield of diamonds will be more than ordinarily good.

A few miles northeast of Panna, the geological conditions are more favorable for mining. The overlying stratum is a firm rock of Rewah sandstone which permits considerable tunneling in the underlying diamond-bearing stratum, from the bottom of the pits.

These mines of the northern spur of the Panna group reaching toward Allahabad are all at some depth, except those at the extreme eastern end of it, where the diamond-bearing stratum is a sandstone conglomerate which crops out to the surface. To the south are two waterfalls which carry diamondiferous material from the stratum situated above, to the valley of the Baghin river below, where the diamonds are collected from the sands.

There is a mine southwest of Panna, abandoned some years ago, though it is believed to contain many diamonds yet, which illustrates the first idea the African diamond miners had of the chimneys there, before they understood their volcanic nature. It lies in a great conical basin in the sandstone, several hundred feet in diameter and about t00 feet deep. The basin is partially filled with a green mud covered by a deposit of calcareous tufa. It has been worked to about half the depth, and it is claimed that the yield increases with the depth.

The mines of the southern spur consist of deposits carried down from the diamondiferous stratum. It lies on the surface in some places and under a stratum of yellow clay in others.

The Panna fields are supposed to be among the oldest of the Indian diamond mines. As far as known, the district has never yielded as fine stones as the others, but it has been prolific, and operations have been carried on with more or less vigor constantly to the present time. The entire output of India to-day is insignificant. The returns for 1900 of the Bundelkhand district were but 169 carats. The production of India for 1905 was 172.4 carats and for 1906, 305.9 carats, the increase being chiefly from the Panna mines. For the States 0f Panna, Charkhari and Ajaigarh it was 628 carats, valued at 12,784 in 1907, and 140.75 carats valued at 1940 in 1908. The exactions of the native princes are so great there that they leave little inducement for the miners, yet many of the natives continue to spend their lives in the wretched occupation, probably from lack of better opportunities and an hereditary habit. All stones over about 5% carats, and one-quarter of the value of all under, is the toll exacted.

The diamond mines 0f Sumbulpur are situated on the north bank of the Mahanadi, where tributaries rising in the Baraphar hills join it, and where the flow of the Mahanadi is due east, presenting a trap for washings from the north. They are about 250 miles south and a little east of Benares, in the Bengal province of Chutia Nagpur. Hugh Murray in his Encyclopedia 1834 says of the diamonds of " Sumbulpoor," that they were found mixed with sand of the " Gouel river which falls into the Mahanuddy " and were very fine but small. Later writers think the river Gouel, of which Tavernier also wrote, to be identical with the North Koel river, a tributary of the Sone, which in turn empties into the Ganges to the north. Diamonds are found near Sumbulpur in a mixture of red mud, sand and gravel, but the best yield is obtained from the north branch of the Mahanadi where it is divided by Hira Khund, an island four miles long. This branch of the river, in the dry season about the end of March, is dammed up when the water is low, and when it is as nearly dry as may be, the sands of the river bed are dug out, by men who flock there in great numbers, and carried up onto the banks, where the women wash them for diamonds. Some think that the southern branch must also carry diamonds, but the greater volume of water and a swifter current deter experiments. It appears also to be a settled conviction of the natives that diamonds are only to be found on the north side of the river.

There are traditions of ancient diamond workings to the north and a little east of Sumbulpur among the tributaries of the Brahmani river flowing south, and the North Koel river running north to the Sone, and attempts have been made to verify them, but a new set of suppositions only resulted.

The diamonds of the northern groups of mines oc-cur in the Rewah group of the Upper Vindyan series, and of the southern groups, in the Banaganpilly of the Lower Vindyan section. Quartz, epidote, jasper, limonite, chert and corundum are associated with the diamonds in the Cuddapah and neighboring mines; epidote, ruby and sapphire in the Bellary district; quartz, epidote, limonite, corundum, chert, chalcedony and carnelian in the mines of the Parteal district; quartz, jasper, hornstone and prase in the Panna mines, and quartz, carnelian, beryl, topaz and garnet in the Mahanadi washings, derived probably in this last case from the disintegrated rocks over which the diamondiferous material has been washed.

The entire product of the Indian diamond mines is now undoubtedly very small, yet it is probably larger than is supposed. The most productive, those of the Panna district and the so-called Golconda mines, are con-trolled by native princes who take and hold the most valuable part of the diamonds found, and practically de-bar any effort by Europeans to develop the industry. English capitalists have made experiments at various times of late years, but have not been rewarded with much success, and in some cases have met flat failure.

It has been generally supposed that the octahedron was the distinctive form of the diamond crystals of India, whereas in Brazil it usually occurs as a rhombic dodecahedron. Dr. Max Bauer in his Edelsteinkunde punctures this belief by referring to specimens from the various Indian mines in the museum of the Geological Survey of India at Calcutta and in the mineralogical collection in Dresden. He says a majority show the form of the tetrakis-hexadedron and the hexakis-octahedron, and a few, that of the rhombic dodecahedron.

At the present time, India, the land of gems, which for centuries has glistened in the imagination of the world as a bit of the earth where the rocks are studded with jewels, and the sands become starred with diamonds as the miner turns them to the tropical sun, imports more diamonds in a year and of greater value than all the gems of every kind which she produces. Until Mohammedan invasions about the first part of the eleventh century, the native princes of India held all the best of the yield of the diamond mines, but from that time they were periodically plundered by foreign powers, and a large part of the store of centuries was carried off, until the invaders established dynasties within the country, when they began to accumulate precious stones for themselves, as their despoiled predecessors had done before them. Muhammed Ghori commenced to pillage India in 1176. He founded the Mohammedan rule there, and it is said, had accumulated about 400 lbs. of diamonds by the time he was assassinated in 1206.

It is a curious fact that all the great historic plunderings were made at Delhi and Lahore, two cities outside the known diamond fields, considerably north of the Punna mines, which, as far as we know, were the most northerly of all the Indian diamond mines. There is an Indian tradition that diamonds have been found in the Himalayas. In 1870 it was reported that some diamonds were found after a great storm at Simla on the lower ranges of the Himalayas. Either mines of great importance existed in ancient times far north of those known now, or the princes of that country made incursions far to the south to obtain them. This was certainly done later, for while Shah Jehan reigned in Delhi, his son Aurungzebe, at his command, made war upon his enemies at Allhabahad and as far south as the Deccan. As he was successful in the battles fought, and the Panna and Golconda mines lay in those territories, it is not unreasonable to suppose that a large part of the stored product of the mines went back with him to Delhi. In those days, " to the victor belong the spoils " was an axiom.

The diamond region of India lies within an elevated triangle broken into hills and valleys. It is bounded on the north by the Vindyan mountains, and on the east and west by the Eastern and Western Ghats. The land in the northern part of this triangle consists of what is called the Upper Vindyan series, consisting of various groups of which the second, called the Rewah group, carries the diamonds. This Upper Vindyan series is absent in the south, where the Lower Vindyan series comes to the surface, and in this the Banaganpilly group is diamondiferous. Imagine it. All over this wide territory, thou-sands of years ago, the mother-rock of the diamonds was bared to the weather and little by little broken up and scattered, the waters carrying it as particles, with the precious enclosures freed from its embrace, far and wide. During the centuries, the matrix changed and became altered beyond recognition, but the diamond remained the same except for the rounding of its corners where the journey was long and the ages of its travels very many. More centuries, and the wash of mountain torrents spread the débris of the hills and highlands grain by grain over the thin stratum of diamonds which covered the earth, until they were buried again by the accumulations of ages. More centuries, and new streams cut their paths in the face of this new earth, uncovering here and there the tombs of the diamonds of long ago, rolling the crystals once more along the deep grooves of their sunlit beds, and leaving the diamond stratum exposed again along their banks, or high up on the hillsides where they cut deep into the earth. Who can tell where the wash of ages has carried them, and how many yet lie sleeping under the rocks and hills worn down to grains and deposited by the water upon them as a new stratum. A few small holes in thousands of square miles mark the discoveries of man in thousands of years. Now, few diamonds are found in India except where the rivers wash them from their places of concealment and carry them to light and the eye of man. Nor is it strange, for the diamondiferous strata are thin deposits and scattered. A few inches to a few feet thick at the most; sometimes near the surface, sometimes twenty or thirty feet under it; nothing to betray them except where they themselves appear on the surface, thou-sands might look long and far and not find them. As the ancient mines became exhausted, India as the land of diamonds was eclipsed by Brazil, and now fades to a memory before the rising sun of Africa.



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