Some visitors to the Tower of London are very unhappy with one particular historic item on display there: the Queen Mother’s royal crown.
Tourists from India and Pakistan are known to hiss as they pass it because the crown contains a 105.6-carat diamond called Koh-i-Noor, whose name means “mountain of light,” CNN reported.
The rare diamond, some Indians believe, was stolen from them by the British in the 19th century. Others, like the country’s solicitor general, aren’t convinced that the Koh-i-Noor should be returned.
The Indian Supreme Court is currently hearing a case over the diamond after an Indian NGO filed a petition to ask the court to demand the Koh-i-Noor be returned, BBC News reported. Solicitor General Ranjit Kumar, representing the government, was asked whether officials still want the diamond back.
“If we claim our treasures like Kohinoor from other countries, every other nation will start claiming their items from us,” he said, according to the Indian Express. “There will be nothing left in our museums.”
Further, he claimed that the Koh-i-Noor was a gift from the East India Company by the former rulers of Punjab in 1849 and wasn’t stolen as some believe.
These comments led to a firestorm of controversy, debate, and back-tracking among government officials. The Indian Ministry of Culture came out Tuesday to dismiss Kumar’s comments as his own opinion and not the country’s. India as a whole has “reiterated its resolve to make all possible efforts to bring back the Kohinoor Diamond in an amicable manner.”
The battle over the diamond has been raging for a long time.
The Koh-i-Noor was found in central India’s Golconda Mines and was afterward the “subject of conquest and intrigue for centuries, passing through the hands of Mughal princes, Iranian warriors, Afghan rulers and Punjabi Maharajas.”
Afghan Queen Wafa Begum had this to say about the diamond in the 18th century.
“If a strong man were to throw four stones, one north, one south, one east, one west, and a fifth stone up into the air, and if the space between them were to be filled with gold, all would not equal the value of the Koh-i-Noor.”
Then, in 1849, the diamond somehow fell into British hands, according to the UK Royal Palace.
According to BBC News, the Koh-i-Noor was handed over to the Brits as part of a punitive treaty that followed the Anglo-Sikh war. It was signed by the 10-year-old Punjab ruler after his mom was thrown in jail. Today, people believe that his hand was forced.
The diamond appeared at the Great Exhibition in 1851 in its traditional rose cut; the Brits didn’t care for it, so 40 percent of its weight was trimmed away to be re-cut as an oval brilliant. It’s still massive at 105.6 carats — or the size of a hen’s egg.
There’s plenty of debate over whether the Koh-i-Noor should come home. Some say it’s “connected to our emotions.” The great-grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, Tushar Gandhi, said in 2009 that Britain should give it back as an “atonement for the colonial past.” Prime Minister David Cameron said a couple years later that returning the diamond wasn’t “sensible.”
The Indian Supreme Court hasn’t decided what to do with the Koh-i-Noor petition yet and is still considering the issue. It doesn’t want to block the NGO’s claim because it could stymie future efforts to return the diamond.
In two years, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has taken back several of his country’s historic pieces. Germany returned a 10th-century Indian statue of the goddess Durga, Canada gave back a 900-year-old “Parrot Lady” sculpture, and Australia handed over some antique statues of Hindu deities. Perhaps the Koh-i-Noor diamond will be next.
[Photo by Alastair Grant/AP Images]