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Koh-i-Noor: Queen's Death Reignites Controversy Of World's Largest Diamond

The Koh-i-Noor, the largest diamond in the world, is continuing to stir up controversy in the wake of Queen Elizabeth II’s death. Though undeniably stunning and unparalleled in its rarity, this egg-sized diamond has, in the eyes of some, become a potent symbol of bloodshed, stolen history, and the horrors of colonialism.

The 105.6-carat diamond currently sits in the center of the Crown of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother alongside a mere 2,800 other smaller diamonds. This crown belonged to Queen Elizabeth II’s mother and was crafted for her coronation alongside her husband King George VI in 1937.

It was never worn by Queen Elizabeth II (at least not in public) and it’s not the crown that sat on top of her coffin on Monday. However, it was part of Crown Jewels of the United Kingdom and was thereby owned by Queen Elizabeth II. 

Following her death earlier this month, the debate around the ownership of the Koh-i-Noor has been reignited. The Queen Mother’s crown – and the colossal diamond – is being inherited by Queen Consort Camilla and she’s expected to wear it for the coronation of her husband, King Charles III.

Not everyone believes this is fair, however. Over the years, India, Pakistan, and even the Taliban in Afghanistan have all claimed ownership of the diamond. Now, following the Queen’s passing death, many people from the Indian subcontinent have been calling for the return of the diamond to its homeland.

A heavily decorated crown in a museum cabinet that's part of British Crown Jewels on display at the Tower of London.
The Crown of Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother (not pictured here) is on public display in the Jewel House at the Tower of London. Image credit: Joseph M. Arseneau/Shutterstock.com


The History Of The Koh-i-Noor

The history of the Koh-i-Noor is shrouded in mystery and legend, but we do know was likely first unearthed somewhere in what is now India. Some speculate the diamond is mentioned in Sanskrit and Mesopotamian texts as early as 3200 BCE, although that has never been proven. 

There’s also a Hindu belief that even the gods were blown away by its beauty. So the tale goes that "only God or a woman can wear it with impunity." Any man that wears it, it’s said, will suffer from a lifetime of bad luck.

Most scholars agree that the diamond was in the hands of Alauddin Khalji, an emperor of the Khalji dynasty that ruled the Delhi Sultanate in the Indian subcontinent, by 1304. He is said to have obtained it during his invasions of the kingdoms of southern India in the years prior. 

The earliest verifiable source of the diamond comes from Shah Jahan of the Mughal Empire in India. Accounts from the time say this emperor commissioned the “Peacock Throne” in the early 17th century which was adorned by numerous precious stones, including the Koh-i-Noor. 

In the 1730s, Northern India was invaded by the army of Emperor Nader Shah, the Shah of Iran. It claimed that Nader Shah looted much of the wealth of the Mughal Empire, including the imperial Peacock Throne and the Koh-i-Noor. It is he is thought to have named the diamond Koh-i-Noor, which means "Mountain of Light” in Persian.

Years after Nader Shah had died and his empire collapsed, his grandson passed the diamond onto Ahmad Shah Durrani, founder of the Afghan Empire, in a bid to earn his much-needed support. His grandson Shuja Shah Durrani was then forced to surrender the stone to Ranjit Singh, a Sikh ruler, when he become a fugitive in India. Around this time, its thought the Koh-i-Noor was worn as a glitzy amulet strapped to his biceps

In 1849, the British East India Company had won the Second Anglo-Sikh War and the Kingdom of Punjab was taken under British control, as was the great diamond. After a treacherous journey, it was presented to Queen Victoria at Buckingham Palace in 1850. 

Ever since, it has laid in the hands of the British crown. If you wish to see it with your own eyes, you'll have to head to the Tower Of London and pay an admission fee of around £30 where the jeweled crown can be seen behind some glass.

We now live in the post-colonial age. Since the end of World War II, Britain, as well as other European countries, has handed back independence to many of its former colonies. However, the aftermath of the British Empire still rumbles on – and, for many, the Koh-i-Noor stands as a painful reminder of its legacy.

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