The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) has joined an international network for the return of priceless artifacts taken away during British rule, including the Kohinoor diamond and the Sultanganj Buddha.
ASI Director-General Gautam Sengupta said the list of India's treasures held abroad was "too long to handle" and there was a need for a "diplomatic and legal campaign" for their restitution from institutions, including the British Museum, the Royal Collection and the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery.
Speaking to the British newspaper The Independent, Sengupta said that after decades of unsuccessful unilateral lobbying, India was looking to join a campaign with the support of UNESCO, and other countries with longstanding complaints about the foreign ownership of their artistic riches, including Egypt and Greece.
"As efforts so far to reclaim stolen treasures have proved futile, UNESCO support is required for launching an international campaign to achieve this end.
"Not only India, various other countries like Mexico, Peru, China, Bolivia, Cyprus and Guatemala also the voiced the same concern to get back their stolen and looted antiquities and to join the international campaign," Sengupta said.
While underlining the need to be "realistic" about the chances of large numbers of items being returned, Sengupta told the newspaper that a list of "unique items" that should be returned to their home countries was being drawn up by each of the participating countries.
"Once this list is ready, these countries will jointly initiate a series of steps, including a diplomatic and legal campaign to get back the lost treasures," he added.
Rita McLean, head of the Birmingham Museum, said: "We have not received any official request for the return of the Sultanganj Buddha. Any requests for restitution will be treated on a case-by-case basis."
According to the newspaper report, the British Museum said it was satisfied that the objects highlighted by the Indian authorities had been acquired legitimately.
The world famous Kohinoor diamond is considered one of the best diamonds of the world. Several legends are woven around this diamond. Some say it was derived during Lord Shri Krishna's period, though geologists say it came from the Golconda mines. Kohinoor means Mountain of Light weight 105 carats (21.6 gm).
Hindu historians say Kohinoor was called Swayantak diamond during the Mahabharata period. They quote puranas to say it came from the Sun God to his son Karna, and from him to Arjun and Yudhisthira. These historians say, the diamond then passed on to emperors Chandragupta, Ashoka and Harsha Vardhana. This diamond was noticed in 1306 AD with Maharaja Ramdev of Malwa. Sultan Alauddin Khilji defeated Maharaja Ramdev and acquired the diamond.
Later it passed on to the Mughal emperors from Babar onwards till the last great emperor Aurangzeb. However ‘Jewels of Britain' says, the Kohinoor diamond was found in Golconda in 1655 AD. At that time, its weight was 787 carats. The diamond was gifted by the mine owners to Mughal emperor Shahjehan. The diamond was taken away by the invader Nadir Shah in 1739. It was Nadir Shah who named it Kohinoor. The last great king to acquire it was Maharaja Ranjit Singh. In 1849, it passed on to the British rulers after the defeat of Sikhs. It was gifted to Queen Victoria in 1850. By that time its weight had reduced to only 186 carats. It was again cut and polished and its current weight is 105.6 carats. The diamond was encrusted in the crown of Queen Mary in 1911 and continues to be there till today.
Apart from India, even Pakistan (through its then Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, whose request was firmly declined by the British), the Afghanistan Taliban and even Iran have laid claim on the Kohinoor diamond. Maharaja Duleep Singh's daughter Catherine, who could have provided solid evidence of India's claim over the diamond, passed away in 1942.