Nur Bai and the Kohinoor Diamond

Image of a Tawaif
Image of a Tawaif

During the Mughal period of Indian history, courtesan culture was widely popular. Known as Tawaifs, the courtesans of noble society were considered to be the authority on etiquette, and were highly respected. Tawaifs were experts in music, dance, poetry, and the art of conversation. Many were also highly educated – Bahadur Shah Zafar II, the last Mughal Emperor, would personally tutor his courtesans, giving them a noble education.

Among the Tawaifs, Nur Bai was particularly famous for her expertise in poetry and conversation, and of course, her beauty. She would receive huge sums of money and precious gifts from the noblemen who requested her company (such was also her demand – only the richest could afford her time); she would ride an elephant into town, and every public appearance was a grand affair.

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Nur Bai was a favourite of Emperor Muhammad Shah Rangila, and would regularly visit his chambers. It was there that she came across a precious jewel whose existence was only a rumour – the Kohinoor diamond. Rangila kept this diamond hidden in his turban, which is why precious few had ever laid eyes on it. But he could not hide it from Nur Bai.

Alas, Nur Bai did not keep this knowledge a secret. When Nader Shah invaded Delhi, she told him about the diamond, betraying her Emperor. Nader Shah strategically orchestrated an agreement for peace, and used a ritual involving an exchange of turbans to obtain the diamond from Muhammad Shah Rangila.

Muhammad Shah Rangila and Nader Shah
Muhammad Shah Rangila and Nader Shah

With Nur Bai’s betrayal, the Kohinoor diamond was lost. Nader Shah took it away with him, thus beginning its long and bloody journey, which ended on the British crown, where it remains even today.


Works Cited

Das, Debasish. “The ‘Tawaifs’ of Shahjahanabad”. Live History India. March 11th, 2020. Web. < > as seen on May 19th, 2020.

Dalrymple, William. The Last Mughal. Haryana: Penguin Random House India, 2007. Print.

Faruqi, Shamsur Rahman. The Sun That Rose From The Earth. UK: Penguin. 2016. Print.

Smith, R.V. “Of Nur and Kohinoor”. The Hindu. June 9th, 2013. Web < > as seen on May 19th, 2020.

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