Ashoka

Something I did not know: both the state emblem and the state flag of the Republic of India refer to Ashoka the Great, who ruled the Maurya Empire from 268 to 232 BC. This empire was founded by Chandragupta Maurya in 321 in the wake of Alexander the Great’s visit to the subcontinent; Chandragupta’s grandson Ashoka is widely regarded as one of India’s greatest emperors. Legend has it that he converted to Buddhism after witnessing the great destruction of the Kalinga War, and his Edicts – which prescribed benevolence, kindness to prisoners, and respect for animal life, among other things – may still be read on pillars set up throughout India. One of these, at Sarnath, is topped with a sculpture of four Asiatic lions standing back to back; this was adopted as an emblem by the Dominion of India in 1947, and retained by the Republic in 1950.

The State Emblem of India and its model, the Lion Capital of Ashoka (Wikipedia).

For some reason I thought that the emblem at the center of the Indian flag was supposed to be Gandhi’s spinning wheel, but in fact it’s a dharmachakra (dharma wheel). This one has 24 spokes and it appears on a number of edicts of Ashoka, including the one at Sarnath (see the base that the lions are standing on).

Wikipedia.

(The eight-spoked wheel of Buddhism is another dharmachakra.)

I suppose that Ashoka’s Buddhism makes him someone that both Muslims and Hindus can admire.

The Koh-i-Noor Diamond

The Koh-i-Noor, a diamond of Indian origin and currently set in a crown that belonged to the Queen Mother (d. 2002), is a touchy subject between India and the United Kingdom. Like the Elgin Marbles, it came to the UK during the glory days of the British Empire – quite illegitimately, according to the Indians, who have begun a renewed push to get it back:

Koh-i-Noor: India sues the Queen for return of ‘stolen’ £100m diamond

The diamond can only be worn by a woman or a god, according to legend

It was once the world’s largest known diamond, is worth a reported £100m and is currently part of Britain’s crown jewels.

But India wants it back.

Bollywood stars and businessmen have united to instruct lawyers to begin legal proceedings in London’s High Court to return the Koh-i-Noor diamond.

The diamond was in the crown worn by the Queen Mother at the coronation of her husband King George VI in 1937 and again at Queen Elizabeth’s coronation in 1953.

The group, which has called itself the “Mountain of Light” after the translation of the stone’s name, say that the 105-carat diamond was stolen from its true home in India and are demanding that the UK Government returns it.

The stone is “one of the many artefacts taken from India under dubious circumstances”, according to David de Souza from the Indian leisure group Tito’s.

Souza claims the British colonisation of India had stolen wealthand “destroyed the country’s psyche”.

The jewel was given to the reigning Queen of the time by the last ruler of the Sikhs, Duleep Singh, after the British annexe of the Punjab.

Bollywood star Bhumicka Singh, also part of the group, said: “The Koh-i-noor is not just a 105-carat stone, but part of our history and culture and should undoubtedly be returned.”

British Lawyers instructed by the “Mountain of Light” group to seek the stone’s return, said they would base their case on the Holocaust (Return of Cultural Objects) Act, which gives national institutions in the UK the power to return stolen art.

Satish Jakhu, of Birmingham-based law firm Rubric Lois King, said they would make their claim under the common law doctrine of “trespass to goods”, arguing that the government had stolen the diamond. He added that they would be taking their case to the International Court of Justice.

Historian Andrew Roberts told the Mail on Sunday: “Those involved in this ludicrous case should recognise that the British Crown Jewels is precisely the right place for the Koh-i-Noor diamond to reside, in grateful recognition for over three centuries of British involvement in India, which led to the modernisation, development, protection, agrarian advance, linguistic unification and ultimately the democratisation of the sub-continent.”

To say nothing of the destruction of the Indian iron industry, the Sepoy Mutiny, numerous famines, and the Amritsar Massacre!

I think that spreading the Parthenon around acts as insurance against the loss of the whole thing in some disaster, which is why I think that Britain should keep the Elgin Marbles. This dynamic does not apply to the Koh-i-Noor, which I think should go back. Colossal gems are kind of naff anyway.