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The Kohinoor diamond

The Kohinoor diamond numbers among the most famous diamonds in the world. It was discovered in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh and has passed through the hands of Hindu, Turkic, Mughal, Sikh, Afghan and British rulers in its long history. Most recently, it was seized by the East India Company and given to Queen Victoria in 1877.

According to many reports, the Kohinoor was mined at the Kollur mine in Andhra Pradesh. The date of its discovery remains unclear, though Indian legends claim that the stone is 5,000 years old. Some stories say the precious stone was created by the gods; others report that it was discovered in the Godavari River. The first written reference of the Kohinoor speaks of it belonging to a Rajah of Malwa in 1306. The jewel was described as weighing 186 carats, similar in shape and size to a hen's egg.

The Kohinoor passed to Babur, the first of the Mughal emperors, in 1526, and it stayed with the Mughals for more than two centuries. Shah Jahan, the Mughal emperor responsible for the construction of the Taj Mahal, installed the Kohinoor in his Peacock Throne. His son, Aurangazeb, eventually took the jewel to Lahore and housed it in his own personal mosque. When Nader Shah invaded the area in 1739, he carried the Kohinoor back with him to Persia. It was then that the stone gained its Persian name, which means "mountain of light."

Nader Shah was assassinated in 1747, and the jewel passed to Ahmed Shah Abdali from Afghanistan. There it stayed until 1830, when it was given to the Maharaja of Punjab. In 1839, the Maharaja willed the Kohinoor to a temple in Orissa; however, the Punjab was proclaimed part of the British Empire in 1849, and the East India Company demanded the stone be presented to Queen Victoria.

Victoria's husband, Albert, was unimpressed with the appearance of the diamond. Indian diamond cutters had wanted to preserve the size of the stone, and so it was not cut down to increase its brilliance. Albert ordered the Kohinoor cut from 186 to 105 carats. In the process, the diamond was transformed into a smaller but more brilliant stone. The diamond was then set into a brooch for the queen.

Following Queen Victoria's death, the Kohinoor was worn in turn by Queen Alexandra, Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth. The late Queen Mother was the last person to wear the stone in public. The diamond is now on display in the Tower of London with the other British Crown Jewels.

India believes the Kohinoor was illegally seized by the British and wants it returned, along with a number of other precious objects seized under colonial rule. India has joined a United Nations-backed international campaign seeking the repatriation of treasures to countries such as Greece, Egypt and Turkey. The British High Commission in New Delhi denies India's claim, saying the Kohinoor was legitimately acquired and that its ownership is not negotiable. For now, the Kohinoor remains in Britain, far from its land of origin.