The Most Valuable Things that British Took From India



The British colonial era in India is marred by various historical, social and cultural incidents. The country fought for its independence and after centuries of being under the British, it finally gained freedom in 1947. This freedom came at a high cost, including the livelihood, family, blood and lives of its freedom fighters and citizens. Yet, even after almost 75 years of Independence the shadow of the past does not fade away. The cynicism of a nation quite ruthlessly plundered and suppressed by its British colonizers are hard to shed off completely. And one of the aspects where the discomfort still lurks, is in knowing the list of valuable things British took from India. Yes, till date, several artifacts and valuables that originally belonged to the royalty and people of India are displayed in museums across the UK. 

An Historical Overview

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Several different dynasties and rulers ruled over India over the years. From invaders to emperors, and other colonizers, such as Portuguese and Dutch, all at different points in history marked their territory over the nation. However, in most cases, the grass root cultural and social influences, as well as the overall economy of the nation were not adversely affected. In fact, in many cases, there was an integration of art, architecture, education etc. that only further enhanced the cultural aesthetics. 

But the British, under the East India Company, brought several changes in the landscape of the country that threatened to disrupt the delicate fabric of society and the economy. Speaking strictly of the financial impact, many researchers estimate that the British took $45 trillion worth in today’s value, out of India. There were economic and trade losses, as the colonizers chose to expand their own country’s status and economy at the cost of India’s resources and labor.

Valuable things that British took from India

Let us take a look at some of India’s most precious assets and belongings that were taken away by the British, and continue to remain with them. 

1. Koh-I-Noor 


Undoubtedly, the Koh-I-Noor is the most expensive and stunning piece of diamond that the British took from India. Weighing 21.6 gm, this 105.6 metric carat stone adored the Peacock Throne of the Delhi and Mughal Empires. It was mined in the Kollur Mine in Andhra and is also called the Mountain of Light. It has a long history of transfer, but it was in 1849 that Duleep Singh surrender the Koh-I-Noor to the British after the defeat in the second Anglo-Sikh war. It was handed to Queen Victoria, as part of the treaty at the end of the war, who later reshaped it and wore it on her crown on many occasions. It is kept in the Tower of London in the Jewel House and continues to be one of the most famous possessions that Indian’s across the world would love to see returned to its home soil.

2. Tipu Sultan’s Ring


Tipu Sultan lost to the British in the 1799 battle. He was slain in the Anglo-Mysore war at Srirangapatna and it is believed that his ring and sword were taken from his body after his demise. The sword was handed to General David Baird and was in 2014 brought by Vijaya Mallaya at Rs. 143 crore in an auction. 

However, Tipu Sultan’s ring was also auctioned and brought by an unknown bidder for 145000 pounds. The gold ring has the name of the Rama inscribed on it in Devanagari script, making it a unique possession by a Muslim ruler. The 41.2 gm ring is considered valuable not only for its structure, but also that it was worn by the Mysore of Tiger, one of the greatest fighters and historical figures of India. 

3. Shah Jahan’s Wine Cup

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The 19th century beautifully designed wine cup that was used by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan was taken by Colonel Charles Seton Guthrie, probably after the 1857 Revolt. The gourd shaped white jade cup has designs and sculptures of lotus, leaves and animals on it. The handle of the cup is in the shape of the head of a ram. It was made around the 17th century in artisan workshops during the Mughal period. Since 1962 till date, it has been displayed in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. 

4. Amaravati Marbles

Image – Wikimedia

120 pieces of Amaravati sculptures and inscriptions on marbles were excavated by the British more than 140 years ago. They were transferred from Madras to the UK in 1859 and were kept in the basement of the British Museum in London for 30 odd years. Only much later were these put on display at the museum. 

Also called the Amaravati Collection, this series of inscriptions and sculptures were taken from the Amaravati Stupa in Guntur, Andhra Pradesh. They are also referred to as the Elliot Marbles because it was Sir Walter Elliot who removed them from Madras. Several of the sculptures are centered on the Jakarta Tales and the life of Buddha. 

5. Nassak Diamond

Image – Wikimedia

Nassak Diamond also known as the Eye of The Idol is a Golconda diamond that was mined in Kollur and initially cut in India. It was placed in the Trimbakeshwar Shiva Temple in Maharashtra. The British India Company, however, took the diamond during the Third Anglo-Maratha war and sold it to British jewelers in the UK. The diamond was later imported by the USA in 1927. Last heard, the Nassak Diamond was sold in 1970 in a New York auction. Today it lies in a private museum in Lebanon. 

6. Sultanganj Buddha Metal Statue

Image: Elliott Brown, Flickr

Around 2m tall, the Buddha metal statue weighs almost 500 kg and was found by railway engineer E.B Harris during the construction of a railway line in Sultanganj in 1862. Estimated to be sculptured during the Gupta-Pala period, this copper statue is perhaps the largest metal statue of Buddha in the world. In fact, it is the only metal statue found today that hails from the Gupta era. The statue today lies in the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery in Britain. 

Besides the above listed items, there are several other statues and valuable things that the British took from India. Some of these include the Saraswati Statue from Bhojshala Temple, now in the British Museum, Granite figure of Nandi from Deccan region, Granite figure of Parvati and Shiv from Odisha, Harihara sandstone sculpture from Khajuraho and many more. 

Artifacts Returned

Though umpteen artifacts and valuable things from India are either in museums across the UK or sold in auctions, there are a few that have been returned back in recent times. In the first ever such attempt, 7 artifacts were returned from Glasgow, Scotland to India in 2022 through an agreement between the Indian High Commission and the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum. 

Some of the artifacts returned include fragments of the stone pillar from the 10th century Kanpur temple, a sandstone statue of Durga or Uma, a stone door jamb taken from a 11th century temple in Kanpur and an Indo-Persian sword dating to the 14th century. 

It has been 75 years of Indian Independence, yet some of the most valuable things that the British took from India remain on foreign soil. One can only hope that as India emerges as one of the most developing and economically viable countries, these artifacts are returned with honor and apology back to their original land. 

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