India and the legacy of the Kohinoor diamond: Five things to know

Pakistan and the Taliban have also asked the Queen to give them the diamond.
India and the legacy of the Kohinoor diamond: Five things to know
India and the legacy of the Kohinoor diamond: Five things to know
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Sparking off a fresh debate on a long-standing issue, the government on Monday told the Supreme Court that the Kohinoor diamond was neither "forcibly taken" nor "stolen" by British rulers but given to the East India Company by the rulers of Punjab.

"Kohinoor cannot said to be forcibly taken or stolen as it was given by the successors of Maharaja Ranjit Singh to East India Company in 1849 as compensation for helping them in the Sikh wars," Solicitor General Ranjit Kumar told a bench headed by Chief Justice T S Thakur.

The apex court then asked whether the government was willing to stake a claim to the Kohinoor, one of the most valuable diamonds in the world. The Solicitor General told the apex court that the demand to get back Kohinoor have been raised time and again in Parliament.

"If we claim our treasures like Kohinoor from other countries, every other nation will start claiming their items from us. There will be nothing left in our museums," Solicitor General said.

The history, mystery and enigma surrounding the world famous stone and its journey from being in possession of several emperors to finally landing with the British Crown is fascinating. The Kohinoor, which came into British hands during the colonial era, is the subject of a historic ownership dispute and claimed by at least four countries.

Here are a few fascinating facts and stories revolving around this mysterious jewel. 

The Kohinoor diamond, once said to be the largest diamond in the world, now sits in the Crown of Queen Elizabeth II.

Queen Alexandra wearing the Kohinoor in her coronation crown, 9 August 1902; By Book by Sir Charles Lawson, photo by W. and D. Downey, via Wikimedia Commons

"Koh-i-Noor, which in Persian mean " mountain of light", is said to have been mined in approximately 1100 in the Kollur mine in a village in Guntur district in Andhra Pradesh. 

It is Nadir Shah who is said to have exclaimed "Koh-i-noor" on seeing the diamond. Originally weighing 793 carats, its weight was subsequently reduced over the centuries after it was cut several times. It now weighs around 105 carats. 

Duleep Singh was ordered to personally "gift" the Kohinoor to the Queen of England

After the subjugation of Punjab in the Second Sikh War in 1849, Duleep Singh, the last Sikh ruler of the Punjab, was ordered by then Governor General of India, Lord Dalhousie, to give the Kohinoor to the Queen personally. 

According a report in The Independent, the viceroy, in a letter to a friend in 1849, wrote: "My motive was simply this: That it was more for the honour of the Queen that the Koh-i-Noor should be surrendered directly from the hand of the conquered prince into the hands of the sovereign who was his conqueror, than it should be presented to her as a gift."

A glass replica of the diamond before it was re-cut in 1852 on display at the Reich der Kristalle museum in Munich, Germany; via Wikimedia Commons

The "cursed" stone

Hindu text dating back to 1306, when the Kohinoor's appearance was first recorded, apparently stated that only a woman could wear the stone, and "misfortunes" would befall any male owner.  

“He who owns this diamond will own the world, but will also know all

its misfortunes. Only God, or a woman, can wear it with impunity.”

The hypnotising gem has a bloody history and is said to have made victims of its male rulers- from Babur, to Shah Jahan to Nadir Shah and Ranjit Singh, no one was spared. It ended with the British crown and since then has only been worn by the female consort to the monarch. 

Mythological association

The Kohinoor is also associated with the Shyamantaka Mani, a jewel in Hindu mythology said to have magical powers. 

Surya, the Sun God wore the Shyamantaka Mani. He had given it to his devotee Satrajit as a gift and it later went to Lord Krishna.   

Not just Indians who want the Kohinoor

Pakistan, where the diamond is said to have been surrendered last, too has asked for the possession of the precious stone. 

In 1976, Pakistani Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto had written to British PM James Callaghan asking for the Kohinoor to be restored for its "immense sentimental value" to Pakistan. 

"Its return to Pakistan," Bhutto wrote, "would be a convincing demonstration of the spirit that moved Britain voluntarily to shed its imperial encumbrances and lead the process of decolonisation."

However, according to The Independent, secret government papers released by National Archives, London, revealed the memo of a senior civil servant of Britain, which stated that "We have the Koh-i-Noor diamond, whether or not our possession of it is legally justified," and "We have made it clear that we are keeping the diamond, adducing the best arguments to support our contention."

In its original setting as part of the armlet given to Queen Victoria, 1851; via Wikimedia Commons

And so did the Taliban

In 2000, the Taliban had asked the Queen to return the Kohinoor since it was Afghanistan's "legitimate property". The terrorist group wanted to display the precious gem in a museum in Kabul, states a report in The Guardian

'The history of the diamond shows it was taken from us to India, and from there to Britain. We have a much better claim than the Indians,' the report quotes Faiz Ahmad Faiz, Taliban's foreign affairs spokesman, as saying. 

But for now, the Kohinoor is not going anywhere. Apart from the Indian government's stand on Monday, UK PM David Cameron, during a visit to India in 2013 had said, "I don't think that's the right approach", when asked if Britain would return the Kohinoor to India. 

PTI Inputs

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