What is the Kohinoor diamond history and why is it trending?|SBS News

Following on 8 September, the term ‘Kohinoor’ started trending in India.
The Kohinoor diamond is one of the most famous gems in the world and is currently part of the Crown Jewels but – like many other artefacts – wasn’t originally from Britain.

So what is the Kohinoor, where did it come from, and why is it trending?

What is the Kohinoor diamond?

The Kohinoor is one of the largest diamonds in the world, weighing in at 105 carats.
John Zuvrzycki, author and researcher, says the diamond’s exact origins and initial size have been disputed as it changed hands numerous times over hundreds of years through numerous dynasties.

“The origins of the diamond are kind of shrouded in mystery and we can’t be exactly sure when it was first sighted, but we think it dates back to about the 14th century, and was discovered in what is now Andhra Pradesh,” Dr Zuvrzycki said.

“It was in the possession of the Persians and then in the Afghans, and was brought back to India, after the Sikh Maharaja Ranjit Singh took it from the Afghan leader Shah Shujah Durrani, and then it was acquired by the British when they annexed the Punjab, so that was the days of the East India Company.”
Dr Zuvrzycki says the British acquired the stone in the late 1840s after forcing the 10-year-old Punjab Maharaja Duleep Singh to surrender his state to the British.
The diamond eventually reached Queen Victoria in about 1850.
“The Indians claim that it was taken forcibly, whereas the British claim it was compensation given to them and that’s really the nub of the controversy over the rightful possession of the diamond; whether it was taken illegally or whether it was given to the British as compensation.”

Dr Diti Bhattacharya, research fellow at Queensland’s Griffith Centre for Social and Cultural Research, says the Kohinoor diamond represents an important part of India’s history and the impacts of British colonisation.

“I think it’s natural that with the death of Her Majesty the Queen, there are discussions around how certain things can be picked up and taken up to amend some of the violent damages that were done during the (colonial) era,” she said.

“And I think as far as museum culture or heritage protection is concerned, I think, rightfully the sort of possessions that have historical value and cultural value should be returned.”

Where is the diamond today?

The Kohinoor is currently part of the British ‘Crown Jewels’, which is comprised of 100 objects and over 23,000 gemstones.
The diamond is set in the crown of the Queen Mother, which Queen Elizabeth II wore for her 1953 coronation.

Along with the rest of the collection, the crown featuring the Kohinoor diamond is held in trust by the monarch and protected at the Tower of London.

Queen Mother's crown featuring Kohinoor diamond sitting on top of coffin with flowers

The Kohinoor diamond is one of the largest in the world. Source: Getty / Tim Graham Picture Library

Buckingham Palace has not announced official plans for the crown ahead of the coronation of King Charles III, but many believe it will be worn by his wife Camilla, who is now Queen Consort.

Why is #Kohinoor trending now?

Following the announcement of the death of the Queen, users took to Twitter to discuss what would happen to the diamond.
Many are calling for it to be returned to India, which they say is its rightful home.
“It should come back to its origin, the least UK can do towards the centuries of exploitation, oppression, racism, slavery inflicted on people of the Indian subcontinent,”
“Can India get back the kohinoor diamond/everything in the British museum that was stolen?” writer .
The death of the Queen has also spurred conversations about and imperialism, both in India and
Dr Bhattacharya says for many people, artefacts like the Kohinoor diamond are symbolic of the economic exploitation that occurred during the British colonial era.
“I think a big part of this is that this accumulation of gems and other cultural artefacts contributed to the growing economy of UK at a time when our countries were fighting for their independence,” she said.

“They not only symbolize the fact that yes, these things that belong to us were taken away from us, but they were symbolic of systematic economic exploitation.”

A symbol of ‘colonial exploitation’

Dr Zuvrzycki also believes the ongoing controversy and discussions around the diamond represent these wider issues.
“It’s symbolic of Britain’s colonisation or the exploitation that India suffered at the hands of the British under first the East India Company, and then the British Raj,” he said.

“It’s difficult to put a finger on the amount of plunder that the British undertook while they were in India, but one way of looking at it is at a time in the 1600s when the East India Company first gained a foothold in India, India accounted for about 25 per cent of the world’s GDP and when the British left in 1947, it only accounted for about 3 per cent.

“So that’s one way of measuring colonial exploitation of India, and the Kohinoor is just one symbol of that exploitation and violence that was suffered under British rule.”
Dr Adam Bowles, Deputy Head of Historical and Philosophical Inquiry School at the University of Queensland and President of the South Asian Studies Association of Australia, says while Britain has ongoing influence in India, general attitudes toward the monarchy are mixed.
“There are a lot of negative feelings, and that shouldn’t be a surprise given the amount of resource relocation that occurred.”

“The diamond itself really represents them … it’s part of a whole cultural concern with colonial powers that took things away, so we see that at the moment with some things taken from Tibet, Afghanistan, and Australian Indigenous (artefacts) as well.”

Dr Bhattacharya says for colonised countries, appropriately acknowledging the death of the Queen is complicated.
“Having this universal expectation to mourn for this particular event, which is clearly unfortunate … it seems that the expectation erases the historical legacy of the monarchy as a coloniser, and that is problematic to a lot of us,” she said.

“I’d see the value of these materials being returned to the land where they belong, because the gesture of returning, I suppose, can be healing to the violence of coloniality.”

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