Sunday, January 18, 2009

Fabled Jewels of Raj Darbhanga

The successful exhibition of jewellery of the Nizams of Hyderabad has drawn back attention to the great jewel heritage of India. At a time when “izzat” of a royal family was measured by the jewels they possessed, the Nizams , Scindias ,Gaekwads etc... scrambled over each other to build their finest jewel collections. It was estimated that in 1947, India possessed around 150 world class collections of jewels. The finest collection definitely belonged to the Nizams followed by Gaekwads of Baroda. But the third best collection was not in the grand palaces of Jaipur, Gwalior or Mysore but in the heartlands of Bihar belonging to a great family now lost in the mists of time. It would surprise a lot of people that in 1950’s and 1960’s, the third richest man in India was not some parsi industrialist or a marwari businessman but a bihari landlord. The man was Kameshwar Singh , the last Maharaja of Darbhanga and the heir of one of the biggest fortunes ever assembled.

Maharaja Kameshwar singh of Darbhanga (1907-1962) wearing a fabulous diamond and emerald crown as well as several pearl and emerald necklaces

This is the story of Raj Darbhanga and its fabled jewels. The Maharajas of Darbhanga were the biggest zamindars in India owning more than 1400 sq miles of land as well as one of its biggest industrialists. Their annual income was a whopping 55 lakhs when tola of gold could be purchased for a few rupees. With such vast wealth brought by the zamindari, the Raj Darbhanga soon came to be known as “banker to the maharajas”. Less rich princes like Dumraon, Tekari , Cooch behar etc.... would all borrow money from Raj Darbhanga, some times even selling their great jewels. The Darbhanga family combed the whole world and assembled finest collection of Diamonds, Rubies, Sapphires etc.... as well as great historical pieces. Sadly, while very little is known about the entire collection, there are a few pieces which are quiet famous.

Maharaja Kameshwar Singh wearing the “Naulakha Haar”

The most famous of the Darbhanga jewels was the “Naulakha Haar” of the Maratha Peshwas, a long necklace of pearls, diamonds and emeralds, considered to be one of the most fabulous necklaces in the world. It originally belonged to Peshwa Bajirao who acquired it for 9 lakhs. After him every generation of Peshwas added more jewels to it, making it worth 90 lakhs! After the revolt of 1857, Nanasaheb Peshwa took it with him to Nepal where it was sold to Rana Jung Bahadur for a pittance by Nana Saheb desperate for money. Another piece from the Peshwas was a remarkable single emerald three inches in length which Nana Saheb had mounted as a seal called “Shiromani”. The story of how these treasures fell in hands of the Darbhanga family is quiet interesting. After Jung Bahadur Rana, these jewels came in possession of Dhir Shamsher Rana. In 1901, Dhir Shamsher was forced to resign as Prime Minister and flee Nepal after a coup. Low on funds, he was forced to sell his jewels. His only condition was the jewels were to be sold within 24 hours and it had to be paid in cash. The only man rich enough to buy these jewels in cash was the Maharaja Rameshwar Singh of Darbhanga, and to Darbhanga these jewels came.

It would be very difficult to describe each historic piece in the Darbhanga collection and the interesting story behind it. So we shall restrict ourselves to the two most historic items , the Marie Antoinette necklace and the “Great Moghul” emerald. Marie Antoinette was the last Queen of France. On her wedding to the last king of France, she was presented a diamond and emerald necklace as a gift by the city of Paris. This extraordinary necklace was up for auction in 1930s. Maharaja Kameshwar Singh was known for collecting fabulous jewels known for their historic associations. Darbhanga family had purchased many treasures of the Czars of Russia when they were being auctioned at Leipzig as well. Kameshwar Singh acquired this necklace for a few lakhs and bought it to India where it remained till 1960s.

Maharaja Kameshwar Singh wearing the “Great Moghul Emerald” (next to the handle of the sword)

Another great jewel in the Darbhanga collection was the “Great Moghul” emerald. It is the largest carved emerald in the world. It weighed 217 carats and was roughly 2 inches long , 1.75 inches broad and half an inch in thickness. Originally thought to belong to Mughal emperors, it had verses from the koran carved on it. The story behind its acquisition goes as follows. In early 1900s, it belonged to the Maharaja of Cooch Behar. The Maharaja had taken a big loan from Darbhanga keeping the emerald as collateral. When the Maharaja of Cooch Behar’s secretary went to pay of the loan and take the emerald back, he was told by the Maharaja of Darbhanga “Any jewel that comes to Darbhanga is not allowed to leave it” and thus the emerald remained in Darbhanga.

Thus, was built up one of the greatest jewel collections in the world rivalling that of the Nizam of Hyderabad or the Shahs of Iran. This collection remained intact for around 100 years till the death of last Maharaja of Darbhanga, Kameshwar Singh in 1960s. The story of how these jewels left Darbhanga is as interesting as the story of their arrival. After the death of the last maharaja, there was property dispute between the maharani and maharaja’s nephews. A large part of the Darbhanga jewellery was sold in 1967 to Nanubhai Jewellers in Bombay. When famous New York Jeweller Van Cleef and Arpels heard of this sale, he sent a cable to Darbhanga Raj begging them to sell the treasures to him even offering double the money for what he called “Dholpur crown, Marie Antoinette Necklace, Nepal necklaces and other fabulous diamond and emerald pieces”. Arpels knew what he was talking about as Maharaja Kameshwar Singh had invited him in 1954 to make the inventory of his jewellery.

As the property dispute got worse, Patna High Court wanted to see the list of jewels kept in the Darbhanga Jawaharkhana. There was a register which listed each jewellery item in detail as well as what was there and what was taken out. The Maharanis would take out jewellery and return it back after use. It was found that the register of jewellery was “missing” as were the jewels of the family. On orders of the High court, the list of the Darbhanga Jewellery made by Van Cleef and Arpels in 1954 had to be invoked to see what was missing. However, no one knows what happened to the jewellery. Even today, many pieces from Darbhanga collection come up for auction in London or Paris. In September 2001, the “Great Mogul” Emerald was sold at Christie’s in London for 11 Crore. These fabulous reminders of the glory of a great bihari family scattered around the world. A part of Bihar’s heritage lost for ever.......

By Akshay Chavan


  1. Very interesting. I was looking for possible pics of the Naulakha or article in google when I chanced upon ur blog. Very nice article. Urmi

  2. To
    Sri Akshay Chauhan

    I would like to know more about you and about your blogs on royalties of India.


    Ranjay Sinha,
    Nashipur Rajbati
    Dist. Murshidabad, West Bengal

    1. My E-mail id is given below:

  3. What a fantastic and fascinating article. You are a gifted writer too.
    Many Regards,
    Subbiah Yadalam

  4. I am glad that you have liked my article. I this this is really special as it is my first blog post so I will always remember this. Mr Ranjay Sinha, I would love to tell you more but I don't have your contact details. Thank you Urmi and Subbiah for your complements.

    Akshay Chavan

    1. hiiiiiii Akshay...i want to know more about Raja KAmeshwar n about his family...plz mail me...thnx for such a n informative mail id is send me...i'm waiting...

  5. Hi,

    Can you please let me more information on jewels of Peshwa.I am a jewelry designer and currently i am researching on jewelry of Peshwa ans old maharastrian jewelry.


  6. good to know all this .i read most of the royal family stories .Suddenly they got everything and that is also very easily but at the same time it went off very fast too.

    1. Yes its very true! Bcaz I hav seen it from very close.

  7. nice article...pls keep giving more info...dr.rakesh

  8. Hi Akshay,

    I enjoy reading your blogs. Must applaud you for this intensive research. Your work is really commendable! I'm a fashion student and am interested in studying the "nau lakha haar" as part of my dissertation research. I would be very glad if you could throw more light on this or tell me some source for useful information. Thanks in advance!

  9. Its really a great story . i am shocked to know about the how rich was a Darbhanga maharaj. its a great honor . Darbhanga was too rich on that time.

  10. Hello, I am sitting with my 88yo grandmother looking some of her old history. She stayed in, we believe, Maharaja Kameshwar Singh Bahadur guest palace. She was there in 1947 when they were driving out the British. She is not sure of the name, but her husband at the time was friends with the maharagi of darbhanga. Her husband at the time was extrememly wealthy and was well connected. We are looking at your pictures and some pictures that she owns and it is the same guy. I would be interested in knowing more and figuring out names and details. She did know about the emerald, and she talks about how all the Majarajis bragged that they were actually the wealthiest. She also talks about playing with a 12yo wife of his that was one of three different wives. At the time, my grandmother was a model and was exposed to some really worldly things that today she just can't believe. I want to know more so I can keep this memory alive and maybe share pictures of her and of this man of royalty and her husband. Thank you for posting a blog on this. Hopefully, we can chat in the future!, Sincerely, David Jackson please email me at

    1. mail id is
      i also want to know more abt Raja KAmeshwar n his family....plz cotact wid me.....i'm waiting for ur rply..........

    2. i have a familiar relation with Darbhanga Estate.Maharaja Kameswar singh & my father is Cousin .My family also get a Jwellery Box after Maharaja death which was Kept in Treasure by my family.We heard from my parent that there was a rare collection of Black Daiomand which had been sold by some maharaja considering It bring Badluck.Nanu Bhai Jwaller Established a NIRLON Factory at Goregaon ,Mumbai. Thanks for giving a good information .I wiil also like to say recenty Treasure has been open and
      Inside it was a treasure trove which throws ample light on the importance of the Darbhanga Raj during the Mughal- British era. many costly paintings and documents, including a firman of Mughal king Alamgir II inscribed in golden letters, an original copy of Ain- e- Akbari in 12 volunes, written by a calligrapher named Alauddin .

  11. very very good article,and such articles are gift for our generation. and we expect more from u, thank u so much..

  12. Fantastic article n very in depth. Actually came across your article by chance as I have a friends sister who s married to the royal fly of darbhanga , recently saw theirs pics on fb n was a little surprised as they didn't really look or seem like royalty n so did a google search. Apparently there is no hire left of the fly. Am a lil confused

  13. Hi checking out all sites as my mother has always maintained she a princess from india, not sure of exact location but definatley know it not hyderabad...sounds similar to that. My grandfather was Clarence Mitchellborn somewhere in india, calcutta was my mother's main source.Clarence(deceased around 1959)moved to England married Marie (maiden name unknown prononced Mar rhee) had three other children Doreen, Rocky and Colin. My mother is known as the youngest of 13. Not a lot known of her heritage other than the royal connection. she will be 60 on July 8th 2012. any info is gratfully accepted.

  14. P - inamesakedesi@yahoo.comFebruary 13, 2013 at 2:53 AM

    On 10 October 2012 Patna highcourt declared the jewellery belonging to erswhile maharanis kept in the treasury now belongs to Maharani
    Kamsundari Devi.
    Here are the detaile sof the intrigued case

    Maharani Kamasundari Devi now runs a foundation in the premises of her palace which has a goodcollection of raj pictures and articles on display.

  15. Hi,

    My ancesteral roots are in Darbhanga & I remember visiting the palaces during our summer/winter breaks in childhood. Now a couple of decades down the line, it was nostalgia personified readinging this article from you & also for the first time actually raed the history of royalty of Darbhanga. Thank You so much for this !!!

  16. Akshayji,

    I will be glad to receive any further info on Darbhanga, which you may have come across.

    Ranjoy Sinha
    Nashipur Rajbati,
    P.O. Nashipur Rajbati, Dist Murshidabad, West Bengal
    Pin - 742160

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