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August 10, 2015
British lawmaker Keith Vaz says it's time for the Queen Mother to return the legendary Koh-i-Noor diamond to India.
The Koh-i-Noor, whose name translates into "Mountain of Light," was seized by the East India Company in the mid-19th century and has become a sore symbol of Britain's colonial past. Vaz, who is a Member of Parliament, is pushing for return of the Koh-i-Noor to coincide with India Prime Minister Narendra Modi's visit to Britain in November.
The 105.6-carat diamond is currently set in the platinum Crown of Queen Elizabeth and is displayed among the British Crown Jewels in the Tower of London.
“What a wonderful moment it would be, if and when Prime Minister Modi finishes his visit, he returns to India with the promise of the diamond’s return,” said Vaz.
The Koh-i-Noor, which was once thought to be the largest diamond in the world, has a long and checkered history that dates back more than 700 years. The enormous rough diamond was unearthed at the Kollur Mine in India and first recorded in Hindu texts as early as 1306 in the time of the Kakatiya Dynasty. The 793-carat stone — the size of a hen's egg — was originally installed as one of the eyes of a temple goddess.
Over time, the diamond passed through the hands of numerous invaders, including Persian ruler Nadir Shah, who gave the precious stone its current name in the 1700s. In 1849, when the British East India Company took over the Punjab region (which is now eastern Pakistan and northern India), the Koh-i-Noor was surrendered by Maharajah Ranjit Singh to British Queen Victoria.
At the time, Britain's Prince Albert — the husband of Queen Victoria — was reportedly very disappointed with the dull look of the Koh-i-Noor, which weighed 186 carats. He spent £8,000 to have it recut to improve its brilliance. The resulting 105-carat oval-brilliant diamond had lost more than 40 percent of its weight, but the Prince reportedly was still not satisfied with the result. The Koh-i-Noor was eventually set in the Queen's crown, along with 2,000 other diamonds.
The on-again, off-again debate regarding the rightful owner of the Koh-i-Noor has gained traction recently. While one faction alleges that the British forcibly took the diamond from an Indian maharajah and should give it back, another faction claims it was generously gifted by the maharajah to the Queen. Still another group believes that a victor in war has the right to claim its spoils — with no givebacks or apologies necessary.
So far, British Prime Minister David Cameron has said that the idea of returning the Koh-i-Noor to India was illogical and that he is more anxious to focus on the present than to "reach back" into the past.
Whoever ends up with the Koh-i-Noor will have to deal with the assertion that the stone may be cursed. Specifically, an ancient Hindu text warns, "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."
In possible deference to that warning, the only British royalty to have worn the Koh-i-Noor, so far, have been female.
Credits: Getty Images