For those who are not familiar with this legendary diamond, here is a brief history:
When the East India Company as Britain’s proxy triumphed over the Sikhs of India in 1849, it was amongst the provisions of the resulting ‘Treaty of Lahore’ that the Koh-i-Noor diamond be transferred to Britain, and be kept as part of Crown Jewels in the Jewel House located in the Tower of London. Well, you might be interested to know that the Indians and Pakistanis now want it back!
As the Daily Telegraph reports, ‘David Cameron defended Britain’s imperial light-fingeredness last week when, during his visit to India, he was asked for the return of the diamond, whose name translates to ‘Mountain of Light’. The British newspaper further reports that Indians ‘have suggested that giving back the gem would serve as “atonement” for the excesses of the Raj’.
“If you say yes to one, you suddenly find the British Museum would be empty,” explained the Prime Minister to his Indian interviewer, with a mind to the Rosetta stone, Elgin Marbles and the rest. “I am afraid to say, it is going to have to stay put.”
Undoubtedly, this provided great relief to Queen Elizabeth II, who is about to undertake her annual Hebridean cruise in a converted car ferry. The loss of the Koh-i-Noor , writes Daily Telegraph, ‘would be a humiliation too far’.
The Koh-i-Noor, by the way, not the biggest diamond in the Crown Jewels , but it enjoys the greatest mystique. Its origins are lost in time and, like all great treasures, it comes with a curse.
Legend has it that whoever owns the Koh-i-Noor rules the world, a claim not entirely borne out by history. The stone which was mined in the Golkonda area of southern India, may, according to some sources, have been discovered in the 1300s, or even earlier.
The first authentic reference to a diamond matching the Kooh-e-Noor’s description is made in the memoirs of Babur, referred to as ‘Baburnama’, the first Mogul ruler of India, in 1526. The stone was part of a haul of jewels seized by Babur following a victory and was described as “worth the revenue of whole countries”. The significantly sized stone passed through numerous royal hands during the subsequent three centuries prior to its seizure by the British.
Ironically, the Marquess of Dalhousie, Governor-General of India who consolidated British rule on the sub-continent, was initially unimpressed by the Kooh-e-Noor, whose transfer was included in the treaty incorporating the Punjab into the empire, commenting that “the Kooh-e-Noor is badly cut; it is rose-cut, not brilliant-cut, and of course won’t sparkle like the latter!”
The stone was delivered to Queen Victoria in July 1850, but not without trepidation in some quarters. The curse accompanying it warns: “He who owns this diamond will own the world, but will also know all its misfortunes. Only God or Woman can wear it with impunity.”
Dalhousie’s response was a clear dismissal of the above, adding ‘if Her Majesty thinks it brings bad luck, let her give it back to me. I will take it and its ill-luck as speculation.”
Under the direction of Albert, the Prince Consort, the stone which weighed over 186 carats and was unattractive in appearance, was sent to and Messrs Coster of Amsterdam to be recut. Thirty eight days later and at a cost of ‘8,000 (at its contemporary value) the Kooh-e-Noor emerged as an ‘oval brilliant’ weighing just under 109 carats – a vast 42 per cent reduction in weight, which was not welcome by Prince Albert!
The newly born ‘Kooh-e-Noor’ was mounted in a tiara for the Queen containing more than 2,000 diamonds, before being incorporated in the coronation crown of Queen Mary in 1911. In 1937 the Kooh-e-Noor was transferred to a crown made for Queen Elizabeth, wife of George VI, set into a Maltese Cross. The crown was placed on Queen Mother’s coffin in 2002 for as she lay in state.
India’s interest in reclaiming Kooh-e-Noor was first put forth in 1947, as soon as the country was granted independence. A second request followed in 1953, the year of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. In 1976, Pakistan joined in by asserting its ownership of the gem. Britain rejected each request with the justification that it had been formally presented to the, then sovereign, by its rightful owner, the Maharajah of Lahore, and ownership was “non negotiable”.
So, as you read about the legendary Kooh-e-Noor diamond, its repatriation remains a pending issue. This means that the ‘Mountain of Light’ continues glittering in the dark Tower of London