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Authors: Indu Sundaresan

The Mountain of Light

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Praise for
Shadow Princess

“From a few lines in various historic documents, Sundaresan brings to life two little-known though remarkable women who, though they lived in the shadows of great men, proved that still greater women stood behind them.”

The Oregonian

“Sundaresan marshals extensive knowledge of Indian culture and history to tell the story of Roshanara and Jahangir as well as that of the Taj Mahal. A perfect read for those who wish to delve deeply into the cultural struggles of Indian women and the Taj Mahal's celebrated architecture.”


“Sundaresan has a scholar's fascination with the period; she's at her best describing the opulent court or the construction of the Taj Mahal.”

Publishers Weekly

“Sundaresan brings sober devotion to the dynastic tale. . . . A mine of fabulous detail on the daily lives of the Mughal emperors.”

Kirkus Reviews

“Heavily researched and expertly written. . . . An exhilarating mixture of character and event, emotion and intrigue, extravagance and architecture.”

India Currents

“Enthralling. . . . Sundaresan handles very complicated and varied history with a beautiful simplicity. The book never becomes bogged down in details, yet she provides a vivid look at an amazing period in Indian history. . . . I can't sing her praises highly enough.”

—S. Krishna's Books

. . . and for Indu Sundaresan's other remarkable historical novels

The Twentieth Wife

“Sundaresan's debut is a sweeping, carefully researched tale of desire, sexual mores, and political treachery set against the backdrop of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century India. . . . Sundaresan charts the chronology of the Mughal Empire, describing life in the royal court in convincing detail and employing authentic period terms throughout.”

Publishers Weekly

“Fascinating. . . .
The Twentieth Wife
offers a rich and intimate view into palace life during the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries—and an incisive look at gender roles of that period.”

USA Today

“A rousing tale of the rise of the most powerful woman in Mughal Empire India—she who set into motion the forces that would, among other things and not at all incidentally, result in the building of the Taj Mahal.”

San Diego Union-Tribune

“Rich and realistic. . . . [A] delicious story.”

The Seattle Times

“Indu Sundaresan has written a fascinating novel about a fascinating time, and has brought it alive with characters that are at once human and legendary, that move with grace and panache across the brilliant stage she has reconstructed for them.”

—Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, author of
One Amazing Thing

“Informative, convincing, and madly entertaining. The reader comes away with an unexpected vision of the power behind the veil.”

—Marilyn Yalom, author of
A History of the Wife

The Feast of Roses

“Imaginative storytelling.”

India West

“The novel's scope and ambition are impressive.”

Publishers Weekly

“Pepper[ed] beautifully with her rich and well-informed vision of seventeenth-century Mughal India.”

Seattle Weekly

“Sundaresan weaves a seamless story, integrating solid research about the political affairs of the Mughal kingdom into the fictionalized account of Mehrunissa's life as empress so skillfully that she brings a sense of easy familiarity to Mughal court life.”

The Seattle Times

The Splendor of Silence

“Sundaresan unfolds her bittersweet story in flashbacks that are full of sharply drawn details and adroit dialogue. It's a riveting read.”

The Seattle Times

“Indu Sundaresan expertly blends together history, memorable characters, and the sights, colors, and smells of India to create a hugely compelling novel. It is, quite literally, a feast for the senses.”

—David Davidar, author of
The Solitude of Emperors

“Indu Sundaresan continues to display her talents as a great novelist of historical fiction. Finely researched and full of evocative details, this sweeping tale of intrigue brings to life a fascinating era with richly drawn characters and a story that is engrossing, deep, and surprising. Sundaresan will certainly please her many enduring fans as well as draw in a wave of new ones.”

—Samina Ali, author of
Madras on Rainy Days

For my mother-in-law and father-in-law,
Sarada and Raju
and, always, always
for Sitara

Author's Note

n April 1850, Lord Dalhousie, the British Governor-General of India, ordered the 186-carat Kohinoor diamond secreted from Bombay to London, to adorn the arm of his sovereign, Queen Victoria. Until the diamond reached England, very few people knew it had even left India.

The reason for this furtiveness was the general discontent in India as Dalhousie annexed the lands of the Punjab Empire to those of British India, and dispossessed the boy king of the Punjab—Maharajah Dalip Singh—of his throne, his kingdom, and the massive wealth of his Toshakhana, the treasury house.

The young Maharajah was also the last Indian owner of the Kohinoor.

Although the Kohinoor has belonged to the monarchs of England for the last hundred and sixty-three years, the diamond has a deep reach into Indian history—according to legend, Lord Krishna gave it to a disciple in response to his meditations, many thousands of years ago.

More contemporarily, the first recorded mention of the Kohinoor occurs in the memoirs of Emperor Babur, who
established the Mughal Empire in 1526, and received the diamond from one of the rajas whom he defeated.

The diamond then slips in and out of India—possessed, in its departures, by the kings of Persia and Afghanistan. Nadir Shah, King of Persia, gives it its name, calling it a veritable Koh-i-noor, a “Mountain of Light.”

In 1809, the ruler of Afghanistan, Shah Shuja, is dethroned by his brother. Shuja turns to the ruler of the Punjab, Maharajah Ranjit Singh, for help in regaining Afghanistan, and promises Ranjit the Kohinoor in return.

This is where
The Mountain of Light
begins. And at this point—at Ranjit Singh's court—the history of the Kohinoor becomes inextricably linked with the British in India.

The first ship from the English East India Company touched Indian shores in 1608, during Mughal rule, and for the next hundred years or so, the Company fought to gain a trade treaty with the Mughal kings, excluding the already-present Portuguese and Dutch in India.

As the Mughal Empire disintegrated, the Company acquired influence. It lent armies to various independent kings as they seceded from Mughal lands, and claimed harsh compensations—indiscriminate use of the kings' armies and treasuries—that fell just a little short of actual rule. The Court of Directors of the Company grew massively rich, and corrupt, it was said, controlling vast chunks of India, nominally on behalf of their sovereign in England. In 1773, a regulating act in the British Parliament limited the Company's powers in India, and established the presence of a Crown-appointed, Court of Directors–approved governor-general.

The Mountain of Light,
when the Afghan ruler Shah Shuja comes to the Punjab in the early 1800s with the Kohinoor diamond, there is a flurry of interest in him. Maharajah Ranjit Singh wants the Kohinoor; the British want Shuja—to set him up as a puppet king in Afghanistan.

Years after Ranjit Singh gets the Kohinoor from Shuja, in
1838, a British embassy arrives at his court in the form of the British Governor-General of India, Lord Auckland, and his sisters Emily and Fanny Eden. Auckland wants the ailing and aging Punjab Maharajah's help in invading Afghanistan—which Ranjit Singh does not agree to, and which eventually becomes one of the most disastrous wars the British fight in Asia.

After Ranjit Singh dies, soon after Auckland's visit, four of his sons are killed in wars of succession, leaving only the six-year-old Prince Dalip Singh as heir to his father's empire—and the Kohinoor diamond. While the British did not dare to invade the Punjab under the powerful Ranjit Singh's rule, they now manage to lodge a foot into the door to the Empire, and eventually annex the Punjab to British lands in India.

Although Dalip Singh was called a maharajah until the end of his life, it was an empty title, and his was a flimsy, unsubstantial crown.

During the lengthy process of annexation, Henry Lawrence, a Company employee, comes to the Punjab as the British Resident along with his brother John. The Lawrence brothers are in charge of cataloging the wealth of the Punjab Empire, and facilitating the shift of power from Maharajah Dalip Singh to the East India Company. However dismal their duties, they both, with great diplomacy, manage cordial relations with the Indians they meet during the annexation.

Maharajah Dalip Singh loses his Punjab, and his Kohinoor diamond, which becomes the property of the Queen of England. He follows it to London when he's sixteen years old and is feted and petted there for a long while, until he realizes that all the compensation granted to him cannot make up for the loss of his lands, and his diamond.

Four years after Maharajah Dalip Singh comes to England, in 1858, the British government dissolves the East India Company, and Victoria becomes Queen-Empress of India.
Colonialism begins in India at this date; all of a sudden the British are no longer traders or “Company” men—they are the masters . . . the British Raj has begun.

Here then, in
The Mountain of Light,
are the final chapters of the Kohinoor's existence in India, and the last few years before India loses her sovereignty and becomes a British colony.

Cast of Primary Characters

Paolo Avitabile

Italian soldier; governor of Peshawar; general in Maharajah Ranjit Singh's army

Fakir Azizuddin

Foreign minister to Maharajah Ranjit Singh

Cecilia Bowles

Lady Login's relative; Maharajah Dalip Singh's love interest

Dalip Singh

Fifth Maharajah of the Punjab Empire

Emily Eden

Lord Auckland's sister

Fanny Eden

Lord Auckland's sister

George, Lord Auckland

Governor-General of India (1836–1842)

Ibrahim Khan

Shah Shuja's foster brother

Jindan Kaur

Maharajah Ranjit Singh's wife; Maharajah Dalip Singh's mother

Henry Lawrence

Resident at Lahore (and Agent of the Governor-General of India) (1846–1856); Maharajah Dalip Singh's guardian

John Lawrence

Henry Lawrence's brother; Viceroy of India (1864–1869)

Dr. John Login

Bengal army surgeon; Maharajah Dalip Singh's guardian

Lena Login

John Login's wife; Maharajah Dalip Singh's guardian

Lieutenant Colonel Frederick Mackeson

Political agent to the Governor-General of India, Lord Dalhousie

Misr Makraj

State treasurer for Maharajah Ranjit Singh

Multan Raj

Lieutenant-Colonel Mackeson's servant; Misr Makraj's son

Captain Edward Ramsay

Military secretary to the Governor-General of India, Lord Dalhousie

Ranjit Singh

First Maharajah of the Punjab Empire (1799–1839)


Betrothed to Dalip Singh; sister of Maharajah Ranjit Singh's adopted son, Sher Singh

Shah Shuja Durrani

Ruler of Afghanistan (1803–1809 and 1839–1842)


Bamba Sophia Jindan; Maharajah Dalip Singh's oldest daughter


Queen of Great Britain and Ireland (1837–1901); Empress of India (1876–1901)

Victoria Gouramma

Princess of the Coorg kingdom in India; Queen Victoria's goddaughter

Wafa Begam

Shah Shuja's wife

Harry Wingate

Owner and publisher of the
Bombay Herald

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