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Coinage of India

Coins provide not only evidence of art and economy, but also a wisdom for understanding the history and politics of a nation. As a means of communication, they speak to the political and religious ideologies that underpinned a ruler's or state's claim to power.Coinage of India, issued by Imperial dynasties and smaller middle kingdoms of India began during the 1st millennium BCE, and consisted mainly of copper and silver coins in its initial stage.[1] Scholars remain divided over the origins of Indian coinage.[2]

In recent discoveries punched mark 'Mudras'(Coins) of stone have been found in lost city of Dwaraka. Which is said to be existed at least 5000 years ago. What is known, however, is that metal currency was minted in India well before the Mauryan empire (322–185 BCE),[3] and as radio carbon dating indicates, before the 5th century BCE.[2]

The tradition of Indian coinage was further influenced by the coming of Turkic and Mughal conqurors in India, their main influence on Indian coinage was the use of Arabic script.[1] The East India Company introduced uniform coinage in the 19th century, and these coins were later imitated by the modern nation states of Republic of India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh.[4] Numismatics plays a valuable role in determining certain period of Indian history.[4]

Post Maha Janapadas period (400 BCE—200 BCE)

Early coins of India (400 BCE—100 CE) were made of silver and copper, and bore animal and plant symbols on them.[1]

Coins of the Indo-Greeks

The Indo-Greek kings introduced Greek types, and among them the portrait head, into the Indian coinage, and their example was followed for eight centuries.[5] Every coin has some mark of authority in it, this is what known as "types". It appears on every Greek and Roman coin.[5] Demetrios was the first Bactrian king to strike square copper coins of the Indian type, with a legend in Greek on the obverse, and in Kharoshthi on the reverse.[5] Copper coins, square for the most part, are very numerous. The devices are almost entirely Greek, and must have been engraved by Greeks, or Indians trained in the Greek traditions. The rare gold staters and the splendid tetradrachms of Bactria disappear.[5] The silver coins of the Indo-Greeks, as these later princes may conveniently be called, are the didrachm and the hemidrachm. With the exception of certain square hemidrachms of Apollodotos and Philoxenos, they are all round, are struck to the Persian (or Indian) standard, and all have inscriptions in both Greek and Kharoshthi characters.[5]

Coinage of Indo-Greek kingdom began to increasingly influence coins from other regions of India by the 1st century BCE.[1] By this time a large number of tribes, dynasties and kingdoms began issuing their coins; Prākrit legends began to appear.[1] The Mauryan coins were punch marked with the royal standard to ascertain their authenticity.[6] The Arthashastra, written by Kautilya, mentions minting of coins but also indicates that the violation of the Imperial Maurya standards by private enterprises may have been an offense.[6] Kautilya also seemed to advocate a theory of bimetallism for coinage, which involved the use of two metals, copper and silver, under one government.[7]

The extensive coinage of the Kushan empire (1st–3rd centuries CE) continued to influence the coinage of the Guptas (320 to 550 AD) and the later rulers of Kashmir.[1]

During the early rise of Roman trade with India up to 120 ships were setting sail every year from Myos Hormos to India.[8] Gold coins, used for this trade, was apparently being recycled by the Kushan empire for their own coinage. In the first century CE, the Roman writer Pliny the Elder complained about the vast sums of money leaving the Roman empire for India:

The trade was particularly focused around the regions of Gujarat, ruled by the Western Satraps, and the tip of the Indian peninsular in Southern India. Large hoards of Roman coins have been found and especially in the busy maritime trading centers of South India.[9] The South Indian kings reissued Roman-like coinage in their own name, either producing their own copies or defacing real ones in order to signify their sovereignty.[10]

Early Common Era—Middle Ages (200 BCE—1300 CE)

Coins of The Sakas and The Pahlavas (200 BCE-400 CE)

During the Indo-Scythians period whose era begins from 200 BCE to 400 CE,a new kind of the coins of two dynasties were very popular in circulation in various parts of the then India and parts of central and northern South Asia (Sogdiana, Bactria, Arachosia, Gandhara, Sindh, Kashmir, Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar).[5] These dynasties were Saka and The Pahlavas.After the conquest of Bactria by the Sakas in 135 BCE there must have been considerable intercourse sometimes of a friendly, sometimes of a hostile character, between them and the Parthians, who occupied the neighbouring territory. .[5]

Maues, whose coins are found only in the Panjab, was the first king of what may be called the Azes group of princes. His silver is not plentiful ; the finest type is that with a "biga" (two-horsed chariot) on the obverse, and to this type belongs a square hemidrachm, the only square aka silver coin known. His commonest copper coins, with an elephant's head on the obverse and a"Caduceus" (staff of the god Hermes) on the reverse are imitated from a round copper coin of Demetrius. On another copper square coin of Maues the king is represented on horseback. This striking device is characteristic both of the Saka and Pahlava coinage ; it first appears in a slightly different form on coins of the Indo-Greek Hippostratos; the Gupta kings adopted it for their "horseman" type, and it reappears in Mediaeval India on the coins of numerous Hindu kingdoms, and was even employed by Muhammadan invaders until the fourteenth century.[5]

Coins Of Kanishka and Huvishka (100 CE- 200 CE)

Kanishka's copper coinage which came into scene during 100-200 A.D. was of two types: one had the usual "standing king" obverse; and on the rarer second type the king is sitting on a throne. At about the same time there was Huvishka's copper coinage which was more varied; on the reverse, as on Kanishka's copper, there was always one of the numerous deities; on the obverse the king was portrayed (1)riding on an elephant, or (2)reclining on a couch, or (3)seated cross-legged, or (4) seated with arms raised.

Coinage Of The Guptas(320 CE-480 CE)

The Gupta Empire produced large numbers of gold coins depicting the Gupta kings performing various rituals, as well as silver coins clearly influenced by those of the earlier Western Satraps by Chandragupta II.[1]

The splendid gold coinage of Guptas, with its many types and infinite varieties and its inscriptions in Sanskrit, are the finest examples of the purely Indian art that we possess.[5] Their era starts from around 320 A.D. with Chandragupta I’s accession of the throne.[5] Son of Chandragupta I-Samudragupta, the real founder of the Gupta Empire had coinage made of gold only.[5] There were seven different varieties of coins that appeared during his reign.[5] Out of them the archer type is the most common and characteristic type of the Gupta dynasty coins, which were struck by at least eight succeeding kings and was a standard type in the kingdom.[5]

The silver coinage of Guptas starts with the overthrow of the Western Satraps by Chandragupta II. Kumaragupta and Skandagupta continued with the old type of coins(the Garuda and the Peacock types) and also introduced some other new types.[5] The copper coinage was mostly confined to the era of Chandragupta II, and were more original in design.Eight out of the nine types known to have been struck by him have a figure of Garuda and the name of the King on it. The gradual deterioration in design and execution of the gold coins and the disappearance of silver money, bear ample evidence to their curtailed territory.[5] The percentage of gold in Indian coins under the reign of Gupta rulers showed a steady financial decline over the centuries as it decreases from 90% pure gold under Chandragupta I (319-335 CE) to a mere 75-80% under Skandagupta (467 CE).

Coinage of The Rajputs (900 CE - 1400 CE)

The coins of various Rajput princess ruling in Hindustan and Central India were usually of gold, copper or billon, very rarely silver. These coins had the familiar goddess of wealth, Lakshmi on the obverse. In these coins, the Goddess was shown with four arms than the usual two arms of the Gupta coins; the reverse carried the nagari legend. The seated bull and horseman were almost invariable devices on Rajput copper and billon coins. [5]

Late Middle Ages—Contemporary History (1300—2000 CE)

The Alf Coins Of King Akbar (1582-1610 CE)

Political orders in Medieval India were based on a relationship and association of power by which the a supreme ruler, especially a monarch was able to influence the actions of the subjects.[11] In order for the relationship to work, it had to be expressed and communicated in the best possible way. In other words, power was by nature declarative from the point of view of its intelligibility and comprehensibility to the audience and required modes of communication to take effect by means of which sovereign power was articulated in 16th century India.[11]

An examination was done of a series of coins officially issued and circulated by the Mughal emperor Akbar (r 1556-1605) to illustrate and project a particular view of time, religion, and political supremacy being fundamental and co-existing in nature . Coins constitute part of the evidence that project the transmission of religious and political ideas in the last quarter of the 16th century. The word ‘Alf’ refers to the millennium.[11] The following are the extraordinary decisions, though bizarre, were taken by the King Akbar.

  • The date in coins were written in words and not in figures
  • If the intention was to refer to the year 1000 (yak hazar) of the Islamic calendar (hijri era) as is traditionally believed, the expression adopted for it (Alf) was unorthodox and eccentric.
  • Akbar, ultimately and more importantly, commanded Alf to be imprinted on the coins in 990 hijri(1582 CE ), or ten years before the date (1000 CE) was due.

The order was a major departure and extremely unconventional and eccentric from the norm of striking coins in medieval India .Till the advent of Alf, all gold and silver coins had been stuck with figure of the current hijri year.[11]

Akbar’s courtier and critic,Abdul Badani, presents and explains in brevity the motive for these unconventional decisions while describing the events that took place in 990 hijri(1582 CE):-

And having thus convinced himself that the thousand years from the prophethood of the apostle (B’isat I Paighambar) the duration for which Islam [lit. religion] would last was now over ,and nothing prevented him from articulating the desires he so secretly held in his heart; and the space became empty of the theologians (ulema) and mystics (mashaikh) who had carried awe and dignity and no need was felt for them: he [Akbar] felt himself at liberty to refute the principles of Islam and to institute new regulations, obsolete and corrupt but considered precious by his pernicious beliefs. The first order, which was given to write the date Alf on coins (Dar Sikka tank half Navisand) and to write the Tarikh-i-Alfi [history of the millennium] from the demise (Rihlat ) of the prophet (Badauni II:301).

The evidence, both textual and numismatic, actually makes it clear that Akbar’s decisions to mint the Alf coins and commission the Tarikh-i-Alfi were based on a new communication and interpretation of the terminal dates of the Islamic millennium. What the evidence doesn’t explain is the source of the idea as well as the reason for persisting with the same date on the imperial coinage even after the critical year had passed.[11]

The Coinage Of Nepal (1500 CE-1700 CE)

Nepal, at the period when the coinage begins, was divided into three principalities Bhatgaon, Patan and Kathmandu and probably the earliest coins are those of Lakshmi Narasimha, ruler of the last province (1595-1639), although the earliest date, Nepali Samvat 751 (= A.D. 1631) appears on one struck by Siddhi Narasimha of Patan. The usual design on the coins, perhaps suggested by some of Akbar's and Jahangir's issues, consists of elaborate geometrically ornamented borders surrounding a central square or circle, with the legends in Nagari fitted into the spaces left in the design. On the obverse appear the king's name, titles and date, and on the reverse various symbols, accompanied sometimes by a further title or a religious formula. The Gurkhas, who conquered the country in 1768, continued the style of their predecessors (PI. XII, 6), but occasionally struck full as well as the ordinary half-rupees. Girvan Yuddha Vikrama (1799-1816) and Surendra Vikrama (1847–81) also struck gold similar in design to the silver coins, and the latter introduced a copper currency. The silver tang-ka (tankah) of Tibet was directly imitated from the coinage of Jagajjaya Malla of Kathmandu


See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Allan & Stern (2008)
  2. ^ a b Dhavalikar (1975)
  3. ^ Sellwood (2008)
  4. ^ a b Sutherland (2008)
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p Brown C.J (1992)
  6. ^ a b Prasad, 168
  7. ^ Prasad, 166
  8. ^ "The Geography of Strabo published in Vol. I of the Loeb Classical Library edition, 1917". 
  9. ^ Curtin, 100
  10. ^ Kulke & Rothermund, 108
  11. ^ a b c d e f Himanshu, P. R. (2006)


  • Himanshu Prabha Ray (2006), "Coins in India", ISBN 81-85026-73-4.
  • Allan, J. & Stern, S. M. (2008), coin, Encyclopædia Britannica.
  • Agrawal, Ashvini (1989), Rise and Fall of the Imperial Guptas, Motilal Banarsidass, ISBN 81-208-0592-5.
  • Chaudhuri, K. N. (1985), Trade and Civilisation in the Indian Ocean, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 0-521-28542-9.
  • Curtin, Philip DeArmond etc. (1984), Cross-Cultural Trade in World History, Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-26931-8.
  • Dhavalikar, M. K. (1975), "The beginning of coinage in India", World Archaeology, 6 (3): 330-338, Taylor & Francis, Ltd.
  • Kulke, Hermann & Rothermund, Dietmar (2004), A History of India, Routledge, ISBN 0-415-32919-1.
  • Prasad, P.C. (2003), Foreign trade and commerce in ancient India, Abhinav Publications, ISBN 81-7017-053-2.
  • Sellwood, D. G. J. (2008), coin, Encyclopædia Britannica.
  • Srivastava, A.L. & Alam, Muzaffar (2008), India, Encyclopædia Britannica.
  • Sutherland, C. H. V. (2008), coin, Encyclopædia Britannica.
  • Himanshu, P. R. (2006), Coins in India:Power and Communication, J.J. Bhabha Marg Publication, ISBN 81-85026-73-4.
  • Brown, C.J. (1992), The Coins of India, Association Press(Y.M.C.A), ISBN 978-81-8090-192-8.

External links

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