Monday, September 10, 2012

Articles about the Koh-i-Noor diamond

Here’s two articles I found on “The Telegraph” (UK) website about the Koh-i-Noor diamond:

Indian family launch court action for return of Koh-i-Noor diamond

The descendants of the last Maharaja of the Sikh Empire, who was forced to hand over the Koh-i-Noor diamond to Queen Victoria, will on Monday launch a court action for his body and possessions to be returned to India.
By Dean Nelson, New Delhi
9:28PM BST 09 Sep 2012

Beant Singh Sandhalwalia claims to be heir to Koh-I-Noor diamond Photo: GAMMA/GETTY

The petition from a family claiming to be the descendants of Duleep Singh, who was exiled to Britain, aims to force the Indian government to intensify its efforts to reclaim the Koh-i-Noor.

The family is also seeking the return of Maharaja Ranjit Singh's golden throne and for both to be kept at the Golden Temple, the centre of the Sikh faith, in Amrtisar, India.

Their case reopens a controversial chapter in British colonial history that still arouses strong passions in India, particularly in Punjab, where Sikhs regard the exile of Duleep Singh and his "gift" of the Koh-i-Noor diamond to Queen Victoria in 1850 as a national humiliation.

The diamond had been acquired by his father, Maharaja Ranjit Singh, from the deposed Afghan ruler Shuja Shah Durrani as his price to support his return to power in Kabul.

The legal action seeks to establish the claim of Jaswinder Singh Sandhanwalia, a 50 year old company administrator based in Amsterdam, and his relatives, to be the rightful descendants and heirs of Maharaja Duleep Singh.

According to the family, their great-grandfather Thakur Singh Sandhanwalia was Duleep Singh's blood cousin and his adoptive son. Their claim is based on a letter discovered in the India Office archives by the historical author Christy Campbell, a former Sunday Telegraph journalist, during the research for his 2002 book The Maharaja's Box.

The letter, dated January 7 1889, was written to Duleep Singh by three members of the Sandhanwalia family to explain their plans to ignite a rebellion against British rule and for the Maharaja to return to India with 20,000 foreign fighters to lead the charge.

The Indians had become so demoralised by the defeat of the 1857 Sepoy Mutiny that they would not rise up again without the aid of a foreign army, they said.

The claimants will rely on a paragraph in the letter in which the authors express their gratitude to the Maharaja for adopting them as his own heirs.

"It is impossible for us to express the real sense of indebtedness for the honour of making us son as Y.M (the Maharaja) has been graciously pleased to confer to make us. It is the highest of all honours in the world," they wrote.

Following his exile at 15, Duleep Singh had been raised by guardians in Britain as an English and Scottish gentleman, encouraged to convert to Christianity, and to forget his Indian origins.

He lived in Castle Menzies in Perthshire where his dandyish taste in clothes and love of shooting won him the nickname the 'Black Prince of Perthshire'. He was set up with a shooting estate at Elvedon, Suffolk and later sought in vain to become a Tory MP.
But according to Campbell, he rebelled in 1887 and made contact with the Sandhanwalias.

"He rebelled against his Empress and entered into a bizarre conspiracy with a right-wing Moscow newspaper magnate, Irish nationalists and Sikh patriots (the Sandhanwalias) to reclaim his birthright. As well as the empire of his father, the great Ranjit Singh, which stretched from the Indian Ocean to the Himalayas, it included the Koh-I-Noor diamond.

Duleep claimed he'd been tricked out of it by Queen Victoria. He referred to her as 'Mrs Fagin," he said.

The Sandhanwalia's legal battle for the diamond and their last emperor's body to be returned will begin in Chandigarh's civil court on Monday.

"The great-grandfather of Duleep Singh and the Great-grandfather of the Thakur were from the same family, but he [Duleep Singh] also adopted them as his sons. Our property was confiscated by British rule. This letter establishes us as the rightful heirs of Duleep Singh and we want to get back his remains and his other belongings to the Golden Temple," Jaswinder Singh Sandhanwalia told The Daily Telegraph on Sunday.


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.

Queen Elizabeth (later Queen Mother) wearing the Koh-I-Noor set in her crown on the balcony of Buckingham Palace, after the coronation of King George VI, with daughter Princess Elizabeth, now Queen Elizabeth II. Photo: PA
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

*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

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