Riches of ancient India

Yesterday while luxuriously enjoying my cup of coffee (Yes!! This is indeed a luxury worth mentioning, especially when you have two busy toddlers at home), I happened to flip through all the Aadi sale offers in the newspaper. Most of them were jewellery ads offering huge discounts. Out of all these, one particular ad caught my attention. There was a woman wearing an exquisitely crafted necklace with even more intricate and finely crafted wall panels in the backdrop. Yes!! This was from one of the temple jewellery collections and the backdrop of the photograph was an ancient temple. I was so awestruck and unknowingly kept gazing at the picture. I just couldn’t stop thinking about the fine craftsmanship of the necklace and that of the wall panels in the backdrop. The researcher in me couldn’t take it easy, so I resorted to do a bit of research on ancient jewellery and riches of India. Most of us are only concerned about our personal riches, but what about the nation? What constitutes a nation’s wealth?

While browsing through different articles I discovered some very interesting facts on how rich a nation India was before the British. I decided to delve into History to learn about the various riches of pre-british India. Pre-british India was one of the richest nations of the world and was fondly called the “Golden Bird “(Sone-ki-Chidiya). The British always claimed that they came to civilize India, however they came to trap all the wealth India possessed. The stories of India’s amazing wealth were so enticing that every explorer who had decided to set out on an expedition was determined to find a route to India.

Unfortunately, we do not have many solid archeological evidences to prove the fact that India was a very rich nation. However , many travellers and scholars like Amir Khusrow  have mentioned about diamond trade that was being conducted in the ports of the then Guntur district.

Let us examine some of the findings.

The Vijayanagar Empire



The Vijayanagar empire was considered to be one of the wealthiest kingdoms of South India. The Vijayanagar Empire has witnessed a golden era during the reign of King Sri Krishna Devaraya. Many historical works and paintings depict diamonds being sold on streets of the then capital Hampi. Abdul Razzaq Samarqandi in one of his works described about his stay in India. Abdul Razzaq Samarqandi was a Persian chronicler and Islamic Scholar who was sent to India. During his visit, he has written many narrations about Calicut,Mangalore ,Belur and Hampi. He mentioned that the people of Hampi were extremely fond of roses and jewellers sold publicly in open bazaars. According to Razzaq, they sold pearls, emeralds and diamonds.

Gold bazaar

Gold bazaar

The Kohinoor Diamond

Kohinoor Diamond

Kohinoor Diamond

A talk about the Kohinoor diamond gives a gist of the kind of treasures that India possessed during the Pre-british era.Koh-i-Noor also spelled as Koh-i-Nûr is a large, colourless diamond that was found in Kolluru near the present day Guntur district of Andhra Pradesh. The Diamond initially weighed 793 carats and was under the possession of the Kakatiya dynasty. This stone has seen most part of the history of South Asia and has been in the possession of several hands before landing in the hands of Queen Victoria through The East India company. The diamond now is a part of the Crown Jewels and is set in front of the Queen Mother’s Crown.

The wealth of Somnath Temple

Somnath Temple

Somnath Temple

Courtesy :

The Somnath Temple located in Gujarat is dedicated to Lord Shiva and is one of the 12 Jyothirlingas. History shows that the temple was originally built by The Moon God (SomRaj) in gold. Legends show that the temple was rebuilt by Lord Sri Krishna in silver to hide Samanthaka Mani in the hollow idol. The Samanthaka Mani was known to produce a ton of gold everyday. The immense wealth of the Somnath Temple was first described extensively by eminent Islamic scholar Al-Biruni. The Somnath temple was known to posses enormous volumes of gold, silver, diamonds and other precious. It was this immense volume of wealth that attracted Mohammad Ghazni to invade this temple and to plunder upon all the wealth.

Hidden Vaults of Anantha Padmanabha Swamy Temple



Courtsey :

The Anantha Padmanabha Swamy temple is located in Trivandrum,Kerala. This temple is considered to be the most wealthiest religious institution in the world. The temple is considered to own enormous assets in terms of gold, silver and other precious stones. The temple is known to have eight hidden vaults that house enormous volumes of treasures. Only 5 vaults and their ante-chambers have been opened till date and the treasure discovered so far, is considered to be by far the largest collection of items of gold and fully precious stones in the recorded history of the world, amounting to a whooping Rs.1.2 Trillions.

The wealth of the Nizams

Nizam's jewels

Nizam’s jewels

His Royal Highness Sir Mir Osman Ali Khan, the last Nizam of the Princely state of Hyderabad, was considered to be the richest ever Indian.His fortune was estimated to be $2 billion dollars in 1940’s. He was known to posses one of the longest wardrobes consisting of the finest of silks, brocades,damasks and muslins. His treasury was known to include enormous amounts of pearls, diamonds, jades and rubies along with gold coins and other jewellery. He was known to use a 185 carat diamond as a paper weight just to show off his wealth.

The wealth of the Mughals

Peacock throne

Peacock throne

Whenever we talk about the riches and wealth of India we have to specially mention the Moghuls. The Mughals invaded India for all the treasures that were stored in Indian Temples. Many historical evidences show that Mohammad Ghazni loaded all the gems and jewels, looted from the Somnath temple, on hundreds of elephants. The Mughals mostly inherited all their wealth from their ancestors. Their dazzling wealth was so enormous that it was considered as the richest in their times. The Moghuls’ treasury included magnificent amounts of gemstones such as rubies, diamonds, emeralds and red and blue yaquts along with several magnificent crowns and thrones that were studded with diamonds, rubies, emeralds and pearls.

Speaking of thrones, the Peacock Throne was considered to be one of the most magnificent of all times. The Peacock throne was entirely crafted out of 1150 kilograms of gold and 230 precious stones. The Peacock throne was the official seat of Emperor Shah Jahan at the Red Fort.

Shah Jahan felt that all the jewels and gems in the imperial treasury must be put to good use such that the beholders might praise the splendour of the gems and that the Majesty might shine with brilliance. With this thought Shah Jahan had ordered his officials to get this magnificent throne crafted. .

The throne was to be three gaz in length, two and a half in breadth, and five in height, and was to be set with gems and jewels. The outside of the canopy was to be of enamel work with occasional gems, the inside was to be thickly set with rubies, garnets, and other jewels, and it was to be supported by twelve emerald columns. On the top of each pillar there were to be two peacocks thick set with gems, and between each two peacocks a tree set with rubies and diamonds, emeralds and pearls. The ascent was to consist of three steps set with jewels of fine water.

This throne was completed in the course of seven years at a cost of Rs.100 lakhs. Of the eleven jewelled recesses (takhta) formed around it for cushions, the middle one, intended for the seat of the Emperor, costed Rs.10 lakhs. Among the jewels set in this recess was a ruby worth Rs.1 Lakh.

So, my research made me pretty nostalgic. Are we a rich country today? If so, what are our riches? A young and entrepreneurial India, high quality education to the masses, better infrastructure, investments in clean, green energy projects, better communication networks – these are India’s path to prosperity. India will once again become a top economic player, but will that every look as glamorous as the past?



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Swathi Voleti

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