September 29, 2010
It is probably the most famous diamond in the world, with many parties claiming to be its true owners, but David Cameron has stated that the Koh-i-Noor should remain in the UK, with no likelihood of it being returned to India.
Agence France Presse
India wants Kohinoor diamond back. Cameron says no
(AFP) – 4 days ago
NEW DELHI — The real jewel in Britain’s actual crown will not be returning to India, Prime Minister David Cameron said Thursday, as he ruled out any repatriation of the famed Kohinoor diamond.
The 105 carat gemstone set in the coronation crown of the British royals was mined in the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh.
It was seized by the East India Company and became part of the British Crown Jewels when Queen Victoria was proclaimed Empress of India in 1877.
India has made regular requests for its return, but in an interview during his two-day visit to India, Cameron made clear that the diamond was going nowhere.
“What tends to happen with these questions is that if you say yes to one, then you would suddenly find the British Museum empty,” he told the local NDTV news channel.
“I know there is a great argument about the original provenance of the Kohinoor diamond, but I am afraid to say it’s going to stay put,” he added.
The Koh-i-Noor: diamond robbery?
The Koh-i-Noor diamond now sits in a crown in the Jewel House in the Tower of London. Neil Tweedie explains why the Indians, and Pakistanis, want it back.
Published: 9:00PM BST 29 Jul 2010
The British, it is said, acquired their empire in a fit of absent-mindedness. The same cannot be said, however, for the treasures residing in it. When it came to relieving foreign potentates of their valuables – whether by “purchase”, looting or as part of a punitive peace treaty – perfidious Albion was in a league all of its own. So when Britain, or rather its proxy, the East India Company, triumphed over the Sikhs in 1849, it was natural that the resulting Treaty of Lahore should include the transfer of a little booty. And that is why the Koh-i-Noor diamond now sits in a crown in the Jewel House in the Tower of London. And why the Indians, and Pakistanis, want it back.
It was David Cameron’s turn to defend Britain’s imperial light-fingeredness this week when, during his visit to India, he was asked for the return of the diamond, whose name means Mountain of Light. Some 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.”
There was no doubt a sigh of relief from the Queen, who is currently having to undertake her annual Hebridean cruise in a converted car ferry. Losing Britannia was one thing, but the loss of the Koh-i-Noor would be a humiliation too far.
The Koh-i-Noor is not the biggest diamond in Crown Jewels – that distinction belonging to the Cullinan 1 which adorns the sovereign’s sceptre – 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, mined in the Golkonda area of southern India, may have been discovered in the 1300s, or even earlier. The first authentic reference to a diamond matching its description is made in the Baburnama, the memoirs of Babur, first Mogul ruler of India, in 1526. The stone was part of a haul of jewels seized by Babur following a victory, so beginning its career as a spoil of war. Said to be “worth the revenue of whole countries”, it would pass through many royal hands during the next three centuries before its seizure by the British.
The Marquess of Dalhousie, Governor-General of India and the man who consolidated British rule on the sub-continent, was initially unimpressed by the Koh-i-Noor, whose transfer was included in the treaty incorporating the Punjab into the empire. “The Koh-i-Noor is badly cut,” he wrote. “It is rose-cut, not-brilliant, 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 dismissed it thus: “The Koh-i-Noor has been of ill-fortune only to the few who have lost it. To the long line of emperors, conquerors and potentates who through successive centuries have possessed it, it has been the symbol of victory and empire. And sure never more than to our Queen. However, 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.”
The stone weighed in at just over 186 carats, a monster of a diamond but disappointing in appearance. Under the direction of Albert, the Prince Consort, the decision was taken to recut it, and Messrs Coster of Amsterdam were given the job. Thirty eight days and £8,000 later it emerged as an “oval brilliant” weighing just under 109 carats – a vast 42 per cent reduction in weight. Albert was unimpressed by such a radical reduction and said so in the clearest terms; but the cutter had had five flaws to contend with and, in the opinion of most experts, carried out his task with superlative skill.
Reborn, the stone was first 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 Koh-i-Noor was transferred to a crown made for the Queen Elizabeth, wife of George VI. There it remains to this day, set into a Maltese Cross. When the Queen Mother died in 2002 the crown was placed on her coffin for her lying in state.
The Indians were on the case as soon as independence was granted in 1947, requesting the diamond’s return. A second request followed in 1953, the year of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. Then, in 1976, Pakistan joined in, asserting its ownership of the gem. HMG batted away each request with the argument that it had been formally presented to the then sovereign by its rightful owner, the Maharajah of Lahore, and ownership was “non negotiable”. The element of compulsion in the transaction was conveniently ignored.
So, according to legend, the Koh-i-Noor is a girl’s best friend, but not a boy’s. Jack Ogden, chief executive of the Gemmological Association of Great Britain, thinks the curse is just sour grapes. “Like most big diamonds the Koh-i-Noor is associated with bad luck, but that tends to be mentioned by people who no longer own it,” he says.
“Diamond was originally valued for its hardness, its imperviousness to man – the word has its root in the Latin word for invincible. As such, it became a symbol of enduring power. Man only mastered diamond when he started cutting it in the 15th century.”
The historian Anna Keay believes the case for repatriation is a weak one. “The crucial thing is this diamond has been in circulation certainly since the beginning of the 16th century, during which time it has been in the hands of many different rulers. The question is, to which point do you take it back?
“Either you take the view that objects should stay in the country from which they artistically or geologically sprang, or you say things, through the passage of time and circumstance, change hands; and that is the nature of cultural exchange.”
So the Koh-i-Noor still glitters in the dark recesses of the Tower, the symbol of an enduring monarchy. But when will the Mountain of Light again see the light of day? On the head of one Queen Camilla, perhaps? We shall see.
Koh-i-Noors over the world
*Koh I Noor Newcastle’s favourite, windowless Indian restaurant
*Clarus Koh-i-noor a prize winning Yorkshire terrier
*Koh-i-noor Avenue Bushy, Hertfordshire
*Kohinoor 97.3 the jewel of Leicester’s radio waves
*Koh-I-Noor glittery dog collars from dogcollars boutique.com
*Hardy koh-i-noor vintage fishing rod
*Koh-I-Noor wallpaper in white, silver and duck-egg blue, Osbourne and Little
*Koh-I-Noor stationary, with a pencil-shaped head office, Czech Republic.
*Kohinoor hotel, Mumbai
*Kohinoor basmati rice
*Koh-I-Noor nursing home, Wembley, Western Australia
*Koh-I-Noor toiletry range
*The Koh-I-Noor steam boat, 1892
Times of India
British PM rules out return of the Kohinoor
MUMBAI MIRROR, Jul 30, 2010, 11.28am IST
NEW DELHI: British Prime Minister David Cameron, who is on a three-day visit to India, has clearly ruled out the return of the Kohinoor diamond to India, saying if such demands were agreed to, it would lead to empty rooms in British Museums.
“I know there is also a great argument about the original provenance of the Kohinoor diamond. I’m afraid this will disappoint viewers, but it’s going to have to stay put,” Cameron said in an interview to a news channel.
The issue about the fabled diamond , which was mined in the Deccan and is now part of the British crown jewels, had been raised by British MP of Indian origin Keith Vaz just before Cameron began his two-day visit to India.
Cameron, however, pointed out that the return of the diamond would set a precedent, which could lead to the emptying of museums in Britain.
“What tends to happen with these questions is that if you say yes to one, you suddenly find the British Museum will be emptied,” he asserted.
Besides the Koh-i-Noor, other Indian treasures acquired by the UK include:
THE AMRAVATI RAILINGS
These limestone plaques once covered the façade of a “stupa” – a temple built to house Buddhist relics – in south-eastern India.
The Sultanganj Buddha, known as the Birmingham Buddha, is a 2.3m tall bronze statue of the caped deity that was discovered upside-down in a bricked-up cavity by British railway engineer E B Harris in northeast India in 1861. AGENCIES
JEWELS IN THE CROWN
One of the lasting controversies generated by imperialist conquests concerns objects that were acquired by the conquerors as booty. Whose is the rightful claim to those objects? The conquerors or the former colonies from where the objects were forcibly — or even illegally — taken? The persistence of the debate is evident from the fact that the British prime minister, David Cameron, during his recent visit to India, had to say that there was no question of returning the Kohinoor diamond to India. The argument on which he based his refusal is a telling one. He said that if the Ko -hinoor was to be sent back to India, it would lead to an emptying of most of the leading British museums. What Mr Cameron said, in other words, was that most of the objects of history and antiques that are there in the British Museum do not actually belong to Britain. They were all acquired in the course of conquest.
Perhaps the most celebrated of such objects on display in Britain are the ‘Elgin Marbles’ in the British Museum and the Kohinoor in the Tower of London. Both were acquired by means that were not entirely honourable. In the case of the marble sculptures from the Parthenon which are mistakenly named after Lord Elgin, who had nothing to do with them except acquire them, it was clearly a show of power by an individual who claimed that he had the permission of the Ottoman emperor. This claim has never been proven and is probably dubious, despite the fact that the British parliament exonerated Lord Elgin. The transmission of the Kohinoor to the British Isles is a little more convoluted. The diamond was seen by Babur when he entered the Agra Fort after defeating Sikander Lodi in 1525. After that, it stayed with the Mughal emperors till it was taken by Nadir Shah when he sacked Delhi in 1740. From the Afghans it came to the political leader of the Sikhs, Ranjit Singh, in the 19th century. It came into British hands after they conquered Punjab. But to put an honourable gloss on what was nothing but a spoil of war, the British administrators made Duleep Singh, the successor of Ranjit Singh, offer this as a “gift” to Queen Victoria. Thus an imperial prize was made to look like a present.
There are thus justifiable grounds to demand that objects like the marbles from the Parthenon and the Kohinoor diamond be returned to their countries of origin. If this should lead to empty galleries in British museums, Britain will have to find different objects to fill those spaces. Empty galleries in museums cannot be a justification for acts of plunder in the past. India should also be prepared to hand over to China — if such a demand is made — precious objects acquired during the Boxer Rebellion that now lie in the messes of Indian regiments. India was both a victim and an agency of imperialist plunder.
- British Prime Minister’s statements on the Koh-i-Noor diamond : September 29, 2010
- The Indian government is not asking for the return of the Koh-i-Noor diamond : October 19, 2010
- Could Koh-i-noor diamond be leased back to India? : February 22, 2013
- MP Keith Vaz asks British Government to return the Koh-i-Noor diamond : September 28, 2010
- Indian TV show asks David Cameron about returning the Koh-i-Noor diamond : September 29, 2010
- The Koh-i-noor and promoting Britain’s trade ties with India : February 26, 2013
- What David Cameron did not apologise for during his trip to India : February 20, 2013
- The Koh-i-noor diamond, the Parthenon Marbles & the Benin Bronzes – three disputed artefact cases : February 24, 2013