The famed Koh-i-Noor diamond is one of the British Crown Jewels' most valuable and storied gems. Legend has it that only women or a god can wear it; a man who does will only encounter a violent death. Unfortunately, legend tells us that any man who possesses the Koh-i-noor will also possess the world.
So, human males being human males, have lusted after it for centuries. True to the legend, almost all have met with untimely and very gruesome ends. Only royal British women have worn the piece (just in case the legend is anywhere near true) since becoming part of the Crown Jewels back in 1849. Governments are still fighting over the diamond, however. Just last month, the Indian government of Prime Minister Modi (quite the Hindu nationalist) announced that they are making “all possible efforts” to get back the diamond.
A little background: The first known mention of the Koh-i-noor can be found in the writings of the Mughal ruler Babur. He acquired the diamond after defeating the Delhi Sultan — Ibrahim Lodi. It then passed to Shah Jahan (of Taj Mahal fame) and then to Aurangzeb. When the Persian (Iranian) Nader Shah sacked Delhi in 1739, he took most of India's fabled jewels back to Iran. Included in this war booty was the Koh-i-noor. It was actually Nader Shah who gave the diamond its name. It is said he exclaimed “koh-i-noor!” (“mountain of light!” in Persian/Farsi) when he saw it. After his death, the diamond passed to one of his generals, Ahmad Shah Durrani. Durrani would go on and found the modern Afghanistan. It passed from ruler to ruler until it found its way to the Kingdom of Sikh (today part of Pakistan and India). And then the British get involved...
Persia's Nader Shah
The diamond was either gifted to the British or taken by the British at the conclusion of the Anglo-Sikh Wars in the Punjab. The fact that the Sikh ruler was a mere ten years old (his mother was in jail) adds to the murky legality of both the treaty signed and the rightful ownership of the Koh-i-Noor.
Once in London, the diamond got a face lift. The diamond's traditional rose cut was not a hit with with Prince Albert or visitors to the Great Exhibition in 1851. So, they re-cut the diamond as an oval brilliant, losing about 40% of its weight in the process. I mean, I guess the victor can technically do anything with the spoils?
The diamond set in the late Queen Mother's crown via thegaurdian.com
The diamond is now part of the late Queen Mother's crown (remember: NO MEN). So should the British give it back to the Indian state? Historian and author William Dalrymple — currently working on a book on the diamond — says it best:
“My personal view of all this is that history is far too complicated and entangled to think that there is anything to be gained by asking for retribution. Where does one stop? Should Britain seek retribution from Norway and Sweden for the Viking raids? Equally, should the Sri Lankan government send a bill to India for the Chola raids of Anuradhapura? This is not a healthy way of conducting international relations. One should be educated in history in the least biased way possible.”
Featured photograph via the bbc.com