Friday, December 29, 2006

KOH-I-NOOR, the diamond favorable to women but a curse to man

ndia stakes claim over Koh-I-Noor even as UK says no to Pak.

London, Dec. 29 (PTI): Maintaining that it has a "legitimate claim" over the Koh-I-Noor, India has sought the return of the precious jewel from Britain, gifted to Queen Victoria by nine-year-old Duleep Singh, the last Sikh ruler of Punjab.

While the issue figured several times in Indian Parliament with veteran journalist Kuldip Nayyar spearheading the demand for return of the jewel, a spokesman for the Indian High Commission here today said, "The Indian Government has a legitimate claim. We hope to resolve the issue as soon as possible."

According to secret government papers written 30 years ago and released today at the National Archives in Kew, west London, Britain had firmly rebutted a claim made by Pakistan for the jewel in 1976.

The demand for the restoration of the diamond came from then Pakistani Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, in a letter to his British counterpart, James Callaghan.

Dated August 13, 1976, the letter read: "I am writing to you shortly before our annual Independence Day. This occasion never fails to bring to mind Pakistan's historic grievances about the disposition of territories and assets to which we were entitled upon the termination of British rule."

Evoking the "immense sentimental value" of the jewel to Pakistan, Bhutto continued: "It's return to Pakistan would be a convincing demonstration of the spirit that moved Britain voluntarily to shed its imperial encumbrances and lead the process of de-colonization."

But a memo from one senior civil servant made it clear that Britain considered the possession to be nine-tenths of the law.

It read: "The stark facts are these: i) We have the Koh-I-Noor diamond, whether or not our possession of it is legally justified, ii) We have made it clear that we are keeping the diamond, adducing the best arguments to support our contention."

According to a report in the Independent today, the final response was expressed in more diplomatic language and made use of the fact that, such is the allure and mystique of the diamond, at least a dozen emperors, maharajahs, sultans and governments had been prepared to indulge in rare savagery and deceit to obtain it.

Advisors to James Callaghan pointed out that the 1849 Treaty of Lahore, drawn up by Lord Dalhousie to formalize British rule in Punjab, contained a clause formally surrendering the Koh-I-Noor to "The Queen of England".

They also suggested that its passage over the centuries through owners from the Delhi sultanate to the Persian Shah meant there would be competing claims for ownership from Iran, Pakistan and India.

In reply to Bhutto, Callaghan said: "I need not remind you of the various hands through which the stone has passed over the past two centuries, nor that explicit provision for its transfer to the British Crown was made in the peace treaty with the Maharajah of Lahore which concluded the war of 1849.

"I could not advise Her Majesty the Queen that it should be surrendered."

The Koh-I-Noor was mined in India at around 1100 AD and originated from Golconda in the southern region of Andhra Pradesh. With the shape and size of a small hen's egg, the diamond attained a sinister mystique.

It is probably not entirely coincidental that the Koh-I-Noor is reserved for use in crowns used by a female member of the British Royal Family.

A Hindu text from the time of the jewels' first authenticated appearance in 1306 states that the stone carried a curse lethal to male owners.

It read: "Only God or a woman can wear it with impunity."

By 16th century, the stone had fallen into the hands of the first Mughal emperor, Babur, whose son was the first to fall prey to "curse" by being driven from his kingdom into exile.

The late Mughal ruler, Shah Jahan, who built the Taj Mahal, had the diamond placed into the famous Peacock throne of the dynasty but spent his last days watching its reflection through a barred window after being imprisoned by his son, Aurangzeb.

It was only after the mughals had been deposed and control of the diamond passed to the Persians that the jewel received its present day name.

The story has it that Nadir Shah, who defeated mughals, was preparing to return home after sacking Delhi in 1736 when he realized the diamond was missing from his booty.

He was supposedly tipped off by a disenchanted member of the Mughal emperor's harem that his enemy kept it hidden in his turban.

Using an old war custom, Nadir Shah proposed an exchange of turbans. As the gem fell to the ground from the unfurling cloth and caught the light, he is said to have proclaimed: "Koh I Noor."

After Nadir Shah's assassination, the diamond passed to his successors, each dethroned and ritually blinded, until it was passed in return for sanctuary to Ranjit Singh, the Lion of Lahore, self-declared ruler of Punjab and father of Duleep Singh.

Within 40 years, the stone had passed into the possession of Lord Dalhousie after a military campaign every bit as ruthless and blood-soaked as those which had previously been fought for possession of the Noor.

After Prince Albert had it trimmed it was mounted in a tiara, while Prince Duleep was made a ward of the British Crown complete with an annual stipend of 50,000 pounds.

He converted to Christianity and became a member of the racy circle of the young Edward VII, but died in poverty in Paris in 1893.

The precious jewel is now kept in the Tower of London as part of the Crown Jewels collection which is worth an estimated 13 billion pounds.

But despite Callaghan's rebuttal to Pakistan 30 years ago, the attraction of the diamond remains undimmed.

The Indian High Commissioner to London accused Britain of "flaunting" the riches of empire when the Queen Mother's 1937 Coronation Crown was carried atop her coffin in 2002.


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