Queen and The Jewel: Elizabeth’s Death Fuels Kohinoor Reclamation Debate


Elizabeth II, the Queen of the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth Head, passed away last Thursday at the age of 96. She died at Balmoral, Scotland. Her death marked the end of Elizabethan era. Her son Charles III succeeded her as the King of United Kingdom. Living through all the major events of 20th century, she became the longest serving British monarch and second longest in the world after Louis XIV of France.

Though millions around the world mourned her death, mixed reactions have come from the countries which were once under the colonial rule. After all she was the symbol of a nation that often rode roughshod over people it subjugated. Countries under colonial rule were exploited resulting in decades of suffering, death and economic devastation. Queen’s passing has renewed calls for reparations including return of the famous Kohinoor.

Kohinoor which means “mountain of light” in Persian is believed to be the most valuable piece of diamond in the world. It weighs 105 old carats and its size resembles that of an egg. There are various stories revolving around its origin the most plausible one being it was mined in antiquity at the Kollur mines which is in present day Andhra Pradesh. 

The first known text about Kohinoor dates back to 1526 where Mughal emperor Babur wrote “There exists a diamond which is worth half of the world’s daily expenses”. He wrote so in his memoir “BABURNAMA”. It is believed that he had won it in a battle. In 1628, Shah Jahan commissioned the Peacock Throne which had invaluable stones like Kohinoor and Timur Ruby embedded on it. In 1539, Nadir Shah the ruler of Persia invaded the Mughal empire and plundering it of its wealth, he eventually took possession of Kohinoor. It was Nadir Shah who exclaimed Kohinoor when he first saw it. Hence, its name. After being dethroned, the last ruler of Shah Empire took refuge in Lahore under Maharaja Ranjit Singh. In return, he asked for the Kohinoor. In 1813, the Kohinoor went to the Sikhs. Ranjit Singh was awestruck when he learnt the value of the diamond. He used to wear it on his armlet and exhibited it to prominent visitors, especially the British. In June 1839, Singh suffered from a stroke which landed him on his deathbed. He willed Kohinoor and other jewels to the Jagannath Temple, Puri. His courtiers refused to send the diamonds given that those were state property. By 1849, the British had defeated the Sikhs in the Anglo Sikh war. Treaty of Lahore was signed according to which the Sikh emperor had to handover Kohinoor to the Queen Victoria. This is how Kohinoor ended up being where it is today-England. Kohinoor is a crown jewel on The Queen Mother’s Crown which is on public display in the Jewel House at the Tower of London.

Another rumour surrounding Kohinoor is its curse. According to an ancient Hindu scripture “He who owns this diamond will own the world, but will also know all of its misfortunes. Only God, or a woman, can wear it with impunity..” Evidently every male ruler who possessed it was killed or met with some misfortune. Hence, the British decided that a woman can only have its ownership. Since then, it has been the crown jewel of the Queen’s crown.

Today Governments of India, Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan have claimed ownership over the stone. All these claims have however been denied by the British Government citing the treaty of Lahore. Most recently, Jagannath Sena renewed their longstanding demand of bringing back the gem and placing it on the crown of the Lord. They have submitted a memorandum to the President of India Draupadi Murmu, seeking her intervention to facilitate the process of bringing back the diamond. They have also requested support from both Centre and state government in this regard.