An Artifact of History

Here’s an interesting story: in 1849, under the treaty of Lahore, a certain diamond was taken from India and moved to England. The diamond, originally known as the ‘Samantik Mani’, is still quite legendary. It is known to the world as the ‘Kohinoor diamond’, a name bestowed upon it by Nadir Shah when he first glimpsed it. The man responsible for its removal from its home state was none other than Lord Dalhousie, the wonderful gentleman responsible for everyone’s favourite expansionist policy, the Doctrine of Lapse.

The Kohinoor isn’t the only Indian artifact that the Brits took during their occupation of our fine and glorious nation, though. The Sultanganj Buddha, a 500-kilo metallic buddha statue, was initially found in Sultanganj of Bihar during the construction of a railway line. E.B.Harris, the engineer in charge of the construction of the railway line, then saw fit to send the Buddha off to Birmingham. To this day, the buddha can be found on prominent display at the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery.

The English, during their stay in our country, also took a bit of a fancy to the sword and ring of Tipu Sultan, our very own Tiger of Mysore. After his death, the British took away his sword and ring and looted his arsenal. Both of these were kept at the British Museum until – wait for it – India’s king of good times, Vijay Mallya, bid £175,000 for the sword and brought it back to Indian soil. He bought around 30 other artifacts back, as well. Not bad for a man who is currently hiding from banks in England.

Now, I don’t have anything against the British for barging into our country, robbing us of our goods and setting up religious feuds that still exist 150 years later – anyone could make those mistakes, right? What I think is strange – or at least, used to think was strange – was this unwillingness the British seem to have to return these artifacts. I mean, come on, they left our country 70 years ago, the least they could do is give us our stuff back, right?

Well, it seems like not. While I was researching this post (read: typing, “Indian artifacts British Museum,” into Google), I found a list of various artifacts that the British have taken from other countries and quite forgotten to return. The Rosetta Stone of Egypt, the Elgin Marbles from Greece, the Sion Treasure from Turkey, the list goes on and on. The truth of the matter is, if the British actually start giving back everything they took from one country, they’d have to give everyone else their stuff back, too. In other words, all that will be left in the British Museum will be one extremely old portrait of someone named Clive and a few mothballs.

I can understand the dilemma, of course. On the one hand, the Brits have all these countries clamouring for the return of their national treasures. On the other, they have the fact that absolutely no one is going to visit their museums if they choose to open that particular can of worms. I have a solution to propose, though. I think all the countries which lost artifacts to the British museum ought to form a recovery party, storm the English coastline and take everything that originated in their countries back. Just for good measure, we ought to take the portrait of Clive, too. Wouldn’t that serve them just right?

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