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Saturday, 29 September 2012


INDIAN CURSE TO BRITISH CROWN



Man has always had a fascination with bright shiny objects from the heat of fire to the malleable metals that fire can make into beautiful jewelry. And with that fascination is the urge to find the biggest and best – such as these six gems and precious stones.

Unfortunately, some believe these famous prizes may carry their own price for ownership. Looking back at the first appearance and their subsequent journeys has put a question in the minds of the superstitious as to whether they are cursed or not. There is some debate to this day. While myth may be debunked by history, the legend, for many of these gems, lives on.

DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER
There are three diamonds that grace this sextet of possibly deadly jewels: the Koh-i-Noor Diamond, the Hope Diamond and the Black Orlov.

Koh-i-Noor Diamond
The Koh-i-Noor Diamond, though perhaps not the most famous of the six gems, has the most recorded history. According to legend, the "Mountain of Light" was stolen from the god Krishna who was asleep at the time and first appeared in Mogul chronicles as part of captured treasure in 1304 where it remained with the emperors until 1739.

Unfortunately, when Delhi was sacked by the Persians, the Mogul emperor at the time attempted, unsuccessfully thanks to a member of his harem, to hide the diamond in his turban. The Persian Nadir Shah took the turban from the neck up and gave the diamond its name in wonder.

The diamond stayed with the Persians for another 110 years before it was acquired by the British East India Company after the Sikh wars. Fortunately for Queen Victoria, the 186-carat stone seemed to be having more bad luck for men. Since 1911, the now 109 carat stone has been part of the coronation crowns of the Queen consorts, hopefully contradicting any "curse" on the royal males.

Indian Jewels in British Crown by ashish
The Kohinoor Diamond is still the brightest jewel in the British monarch’s crown. Other priceless Indian treasures ‘taken away’ at some point of history are yet to be returned. Akhilesh Mithal on the national treasures still waiting to come back home.
 The Queen at a State Banquet
On June 29, 1850, the British warship HMS Medea docked in an English port carrying a very special object from India – the Kohinoor diamond. The priceless jewel was confiscated at the end of the Sikh War by the British and was shipped off home to be gifted to the Queen.
The story goes that a John Lawrence had tucked in the Kohinoor diamond in his waistcoat pocket and had forgotten all about it. It was his valet who saved the day when Queen Victoria enquired about it. The man remembered that he had indeed seen a ‘piece of glass’ in his master’s pocket. The East India Company had wanted to keep the Kohinoor to “pay for war‿, but Lord Dalhousie scuttled that plan as he had earlier promised that the diamond would “find its final and fitting resting place in the crown of Britain.‿
In a letter to Queen Victoria, Lord Dalhousie wrote: “Formerly placed in the throne of the Emperors of Delhi; captured there in his invasion by Nader Shah – thence transferred to the Kings of Kabul and extorted from Shah Shuja by the Maharaja Ranjit Singh, the Koh-i-noor may be regarded as a historical symbol of the conquest of India, and the Governor General rejoices that it has found fitting rest in Your Majesty’s Crown.‿
Queen Victoria was presented the Kohinoor in a ceremony that took place at 4 pm on July 3, 1850. Hobson-Jobson noted the subsequent cutting of the diamond: “In 1850-51, before being shown at the Great Exhibition in Hyde Park, it went through the process of cutting, which, for reasons unintelligible to ordinary mortals, reduced its weight from 186 1/16 carats to 106 1/16.‿
Queen Victoria’s status improved on acquiring the diamond and on January 1, 1877 she became ‘Kaiser-i-Hind’ or Empress of India. To this day, the Kohinoor rests in the crown of the British monarch and despite India claiming its return, it seems that the diamond has indeed found its “final‿ if not “fitting‿ place.
The British Empire has come and gone, but the British continue to live in the past. How else would one explain the fact that the Kohinoor diamond still remains in England? Britain should return it to India as a gesture of goodwill. An apology would also be appreciated. After all, the Kohinoor was, to put it bluntly, filched.
The Kohinoor is not the only treasure that still remains in the hands of the British Crown. The Crystal Throne of the Last Mughal, Bahadur Shah Zafar, his gold crown, and the jewelled ‘Huma’ bird which adorned the throne of Tipu Sultan are yet to be returned to their rightful place.
If the British were to return these national treasures which no one sees or cares for in Britain, it would cost them nothing and earn a great deal of goodwill.
The Padishahnama of Shah Jahan is another priceless artefact in exile. It was taken away at the end of the 18th century from the Nawab of Awadh in Lucknow. The legitimate heir of Asafuddowlah was dethroned as he was seen as a threat by the British. In his place, the British put up a ‘puppet‿. In a show of gratitude, this ‘successor’ gifted vast sums of money and priceless manuscripts to the British – one of them being the Padishahnama.
This illuminated manuscript of the chronicle of Shah Jahan’s reign was on display for a month – and that too the foreshortened month of February – in the National Museum, New Delhi. The display was poor – book illustrations are not supposed to be mounted above the level of vision but should be seen from above or at the level of the eye – and so was the lighting. Despite all these shortcomings, the visiting Padishahnama created quite a stir. People travelled from everywhere to Delhi to see it.
Britain should consider a new resolution for the forthcoming millennium. This could be to remedy the wrongs done in the past by returning treasures to India that it had “taken‿ in the course of history. The facts speak for themselves. India was the richest country in the world in 1600 and remained so throughout the 17th and even part of the 18th century – despite the rampant looting on a sustained scale unprecedented in history.
Occidental greed started quite early on and it wasn’t an Englishman but a French gentleman who opened the floodgates. John Baptiste Tavernier, a French jeweler visiting India in the 17th century, wrote: “The diamond is the most precious of all stones, and it is the article of trade to which I am most devoted. In order to acquire a thorough knowledge of it I resolved to visit all the mines, and one or two of the rivers where it is found ... I have accordingly been at four mines ... and at one of the two rivers where diamonds are obtained, and I have encountered there neither the difficulties nor the barbarities with which those imperfectly acquainted with the country have sought to terrify me. Thus I am able to claim that I have cleared the way for others and that I am the first European who has opened the route for Feringhees to these mines which are the only places in the world where the diamond is to be found.‿
What Tavernier opened was not so much a route but a floodgate. Readers familiar with Sinbad the Sailor will remember the story of large chunks of meat being thrown down from a precipice to fall on diamonds which would be embedded on the meat. Large birds like eagles would then swoop down and pick up the meat. When they came to the top and settled down to a meal, the awaiting men would make a great noise and drive the birds away, picking up the diamonds from the meat.
Tavernier pointed out that all this was not true and any trader with the courage to brave the seas could safely visit the diamond bearing areas and collect the stones he could afford to buy. Tavernier did rather well himself during his journeys to India. He made six trips between 1631 and 1668 buying and selling gems and jewels. On his return to France in 1668, he became a celebrity and an object of almost universal curiosity.
Louis XIV summoned Tavernier to his court. The meetings resulted in French monarch buying 44 large and 1,122 small diamonds at a cost of what would have been then equivalent to about $200,000. In addition, Tavernier was elevated to nobility by being made a Baron.
The most important diamond in the cache of 44 big stones that Louis XIV bought was a blue diamond with a price tag of 220,000 livres. This was the famous Hope diamond. Today, it is the most popular of the hundreds of thousands of exhibits on display in the Smithsonian Museum in Washington.
The Hope is an Indian diamond and is considered to be cursed as it was stolen from a temple. The story goes that it formed the eye of an icon. Was it the third eye of the Lord Shiva which when gazed upon consumes the viewer with fire? One is not quite sure, but what befell Tavernier and his king after the Hope became French property underlines the legend that bad luck pursues the illegal owners of this stolen diamond. Baron Jean Baptiste Tavernier died penniless and as an obscure exile. Louis XIV, who had till then lived a charmed life, died miserably of gangrene after suffering unbearable pain for three weeks.
The myths and legends of India have gods, goddesses and heroes like Maharathi Karna wearing named jewels. The famous gems (manis) included Kaustubha and Vaidurya. Because the rich and powerful gods and rulers wore jewels, there was a strong belief that gems have the power of altering human destiny. This notion is deeply ingrained in Indians and cuts across religious language and caste lines.
In 1958, the Hope was loaned to the Smithsonian by the jeweler Harry Winston. It no longer carries his name – which means that it has been donated to the institution. Perhaps the US should now consider returning the gem.
India nearly became a basket case in 1947. Today it is limping back to wealth. Here is hoping the British will learn to live in the changed circumstances of the present rather in the past. It is only by restoring property to their rightful owners that they will lift the curse of history from their shoulders.
India's jewel in the British crown
Pressure is mounting on England's royals to return India's
fabled Kohinoor diamond, writes Neena Bhandari.
As the 47th Commonwealth Parliamentary Association
conference concluded last week, images of our "common
wealth" in Britain come flashing to mind.
Growing up in India, I would linger over images of jewels
and marbles, paintings and sculptures that had been shipped
to the British Isles from its numerous colonies. Of
particular interest were pictures of the Kohinoor diamond,
neatly the centrepiece of the Queen Mother's crown.
Several years later, I got a chance to see the real diamond,
said to have caused more intrigue and bloodshed than any
other gem in history. On a cold, wet day, I stood in the
queue with hundreds of others from different nationalities
to have a glimpse of the diamond secured in the Crown Jewels
section of the Tower of London. I must confess the deep
sense of anger and frustration at having to pay a
substantial fee and then wait for hours to see something
that belonged to my country.
The Kohinoor had a chequered history before it was taken
from the 11-year-old Sikh ruler Maharaja Duleep Singh in
1849 by the then Governor-General, Lord Dalhousie, as a
gesture of submission to imperial rule.
The earliest authentic reference to the Kohinoor, which was
unearthed from a mine in South India, is found in the
Baburnama, the memoirs of Mughal Emperor Babur.
One account says that in 1297, Sultan Allauddin Khilji,
ruler of Delhi from 1295 to 1316, defeated the last king of
Gujarat and got the Kohinoor. Another says the diamond came
into the hands of the Hindu ruler of Gwalior and was
presented to Mughal Emperor Humayun by the family of Raja
Bikramajit as a token of gratitude for protection. It formed
part of the Mughal treasure for the next two centuries until
in 1813, Shah Shoojah took refuge with Ranjeet Singh, father
of Duleep Singh.
Once in England, Queen Victoria had the diamond recut,
reducing it from about 190 to 108 carats. In the coronation
crown, which has more than 2,800 diamonds, Kohinoor is set
in the front cross with another large 17.34-carat diamond
given to Queen Victoria by the Sultan of Turkey.
Since then, different individuals have surfaced both in
Britain and in India staking their claim to the diamond. As
the second Anglo-Sikh battle, after which the Kohinoor fell
into British hands, took place on territory now in Pakistan,
Islamabad is yet another claimant to the jewel.
India, along with Greece, China, Sri Lanka and Nigeria, has
been demanding the return of treasures taken during British
rule. The United Nations minimal draft legislation prepared
by the International Institute for the Unification of
Private Law (Unidroit) provides for retrospective moves that
can allow a country to claim back stolen treasures lodged in
another country.
While Britain may have joined 91 other countries in signing
the United Nations Convention on Stolen Treasures in 1970,
it is unlikely to sign the Unidroit draft legislation of
1995 as that would open the legal doors for India and other
countries to reclaim the countless treasures lying in
various British museums and with the royalty.
Bhaskar Ghorpade, president of the Association for the
Restitution of the Cultural Heritage of India (ARCH-India),
says, "The diamond - belonging to a class of property which
was removed in such circumstances that title never passed or
is defective and voidable under contemporary international
law - is ground enough for India to be Kohinoor's legitimate
claimant."
Ghorpade, a London-based barrister who successfully fought
the case for the restoration of the famed Pathur Nataraj
statue to India, says, "The debate of the once richer and
stronger nations holding the cultural treasures of other
nations is moving from museums into parliaments.
International pressure and national sentiment should be
created to get back the Kohinoor through diplomatic
dialogue.
"Kohinoor is India's national treasure and the case for
reclaiming the treasure is very strong. It is time the
British at least concede in principle that they possess
looted property, which has to be returned to the country of
origin.''
Other items that India wants to have returned include the
Mughal manuscript, the Badshahnamah, which is in Windsor
library; the first or second century Amravati marbles; a
gold sword of Emperor Jehangir and the Timor Ruby, both of
which are in the Queen's collection; archives in the former
India Office library (now part of the British Library); and
paintings.
In addition, there are troves of sculptures and manuscripts
in the Victoria and Albert Museum, which were gifted to
successive viceroys or acquired by company collectors such
as William Jones, who founded the Royal Asiatic Society.
A standing commission on museums and galleries had reported
that the Indian collections were scandalously neglected.
Only 1 or 2 per cent of the Indian collection is on display;
most remains stored.
Ghorpade says: "Laser technology enables British museums to
continue to display perfect reproductions while returning
the treasures back to the rightful claimants."



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