Coins in Medieval India - Informative & researched article on Coins in Medieval India
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Home > Reference > Indian Administration > Indian Coins > History of Indian Coins > Coins in Medieval India
Coins in Medieval India
Coins in medieval India were governed by severance and distinctiveness in each of the Islamic rulers and their vision.
 With the advent of Muslims in India, i.e., the arrival of Medieval Period in India, Indian coinage had acquired an innovatively novel pattern. As a beginning, the illustration of figures is tremendously disdained in Islam; thus, like the other coinage of the Islamic world, Indian coins too, with a few outstanding exceptions, carried inscriptions on both sides in Arabic or Persian script. In Islam, the inscribing of the ruler's name on the coins was empowered with special grandness. This licence, with the reading of his name in the khutba (public prayer) connoted the definite assuming of legal power by him. This prerogative of the Muslim rulers led them to issue coins on each occasion when they appropriated a country or kingdom or venue a fort or a town and to immortalise on them their names with all their titles and the date in the Hijri era (also referred to as withdrawal, Hijri is the emigration of Muhammad and his followers to the city of Medina in 622 and marks the start of the Hijri year of the Islamic calendar) and the place of issuing of coins. Medieval coins and mintage in India is integrally linked with the crusading zeal of the early Khalifas of Syria in the 8th century A.D. It was the Khalifas who had introduced the Kalima or profession of faith - La ilah-il-illah Muhammad-ur-Rasool Allah (implying that there exists no God but Allah and Muhammad is the prophet of Allah). Much later, this saying had formed an essential part of Muslim coins. Here in the Indian scenario too, the Kalima was used on the coins during Medieval India.

Medieval Indian era was ushered in by the serial arrival of invading sinister rulers from Persia, Arab and Turkey, precisely by Mahmud of Ghazni and Muhammad Ghori within a time span of early and late 1100s. The Arabs had conquered Sindh in 712 A.D. and ruled it as a province of the Caliphate. By 9th century A.D., provincial governors had declared independent rule and had also begun to cast their own coins. Medieval Indian coins and art mf casting them had received its first stamp under the pillaging and ruthless Mahmud of Ghazni, who had issued an atypical mintage system. His silver coins are regarded as holding extraordinary place in Indian numismatics, as they have Mahmud of Ghazni's name inscribed on coins in two different languages. On the obverse, legends were penned in Arabic, but on the reverse, legends can be witnessed in Sanskrit, written in Devanagri script. The legend on reverse reads thus - Avyaktamekam Muhammad Avatar Nrupati Mahmud in centre and around it, the legends reads Avyaktiya Name Ayam Tankam Hato Mahmudpur Sanvanto 418. Quite apparently, the local population were completely unaware about Arabic, a foreign language and this truth made him issue these bilingual coins, a phenomenon not new to north-western India. On the other side of medieval Indian Muslim invasions stood Muhammad Ghori, whose medieval Indian coins stood in stark similarity with the intimidating Prithviraj Chauhan, Muhammad Ghori's contemporary during his incursion. During his stay at Delhi, Ghori had minted silver coins which were almost identical to Prithviraj Chauhan's coins. The obverse represented a bull, whereas, the reverse had a horseman with the legends which read Muhamamad bin sam instead Prithvi Deva. The second battle of Terain (near Panipat), between Prithviraj Chauhan and Muhammad Ghori, had practically laid the foundation of Muslim dominion in northern India.

However, it was with the emergence of Turkish Sultans of Delhi in the 12th century that a crucial break was performed with the past and the still-subsisting motifs were gradually replaced by Islamic devices, mostly calligraphy. Coins in Medieval India had begun to have their own path of movement under major metamorphoses. The unit of account came to be strengthened and coalesced and was referred to as the 'tanka' with the 'jittals' as the smaller value coins. Eventually, with the very historic and momentous stepping in of the Delhi Sultanate (1206-1526 A.D.), came in the attempt at standardisation. This period was distinguished by a respectable and substantial expansion of the 'money economy'. Coins were cast and moulded in gold, silver and copper. In the monetary system, the equation between gold and silver probably stood at a ratio of 1:10. The very foremost trace of coins of medieval India can be attributed to the Slave Dynasty (1206-90), who had introduced new reforms in Indian monetary system, which lasted for centuries. A coin of approximately 11.6 gm in gold and silver was issued, popularly named Tanka. The weight represents the Indian measure of precious metal Tola. The later silver and gold coinage minted by Mughals (Mohur and Rupee) were also based upon this weight standards.

Next in line to the illustrious tracing of coins of medieval India can be attributed to the Khilji Dynasty rulers, who had issued coins in abundance with magniloquent titles (Ala-ud-din Khilji indeed had cast coins donning the title Sikandar al Sani, or, 'the second Alexander') as well as honorific epithets for mints (the Delhi mint bore titles like Hazrat Dar-al-Khilafat, etc.).

Succeeding in line to the Delhi Sultanate, as well as to the development of medieval coins of India, were the Tughlaqs. Coins from the Tughlaq Dynasty (1320-1412 A.D.) were acknowledged to be more superior in design and finishing to those of the Khiljis. Muhammed bin Tughlaq (1325-1351 A.D.) was much celebrated during his times, who had taken much delicate and special interest in his coinage; however, his monetary experiments were a failure and had gradually incurred much despair. Muhammed bin Tughlaq's very first experiment was to make his coinage reverberate the gold/silver price ratio predominating in the free market. When this experiment went awry, the old gold and silver coins of approximately 11 grams were reintroduced. The next 'experiment' was instigated very much by Chinese paper currency which had stimulated the development of trade and commerce. The Tughlaq emperor had also endeavoured to establish a fiduciary system of coinage within the period from 1329 to 1332 A.D. Medieval coining in India also had remained witness to Muhammed bin Tughlaq's attempts to issue souvenirs of brass and copper. These souvenirs bore the legends such as: 'Sealed as a tanka of fifty ganis' together with solicitations such as 'He who obeys the Sultan, obeys the Compassionate'. Mass counterfeits translated the experimental project as a complete disaster and Muhammed bin Tughlaq, to his credit, redeemed all tokens, counterfeited or unfeigned, in mintage. It may be noted that the experiments of this Tughlaq ruler were nevertheless unfeigned experiments: while they were pressured upon on the populace, they were not dictated by a penniless and ruined treasury. Coins of medieval India under the Tughlaq Dynasty did begin with gold coins, which were issued in colossal numbers during the reign of Muhammed bin Tughlaq; thereafter, however gold coins were hard to trace.

By the time of the arrival of the Lodhi Dynasty, coins were moulded almost absolutely of copper and billon. In the provinces, the Bengal Sultans, the Jaunpur Sultans, the Bahamanis of the Deccan, the Sultans of Malwa, the Sultans of Gujarat, etc. had also begun to mould coins. In the South, however, the Vijayanagara Empire had evolved a coinage of different metrology and design, which was to remain as a standard in the region and influence coin designing up to the 19th century.

Looking down towards south India, the Vijayanagara Empire, contemporaries of the Delhi Sultanate and Mughals, were the other dynasty whose currency represents a rare instance of a standardised issue, which later rendered a model for the European and English trading companies. The Kingdom of Vijayanagara was founded approximately in 1336 A.D. by Harihara and Bukka in the region south of the River Krishna. The Vijayanagara period had very much remained witness to the advent of European traders, especially the Portuguese. Back the, medieval coins of India did receive its Midas touch with such able rulers shelling out their intelligent thought process. Krishnadevaraya had verily encouraged foreign trade and this called for more panoptic use of currency. Coins of the Medieval Indian Vijayanagara kingdom were mostly cast in gold and copper. Most Vijayanagara gold coins held a sacred image on the obverse and the royal legend on the reverse. Amongst the momentous gold coins of the Vijayanagara Empire, were those assuming the image of the deity of Tirupati, i.e., Lord Venkateswara, interpreted either singly or with his two consorts. These coins were the ones which had indeed inspired the 'Single Swami' Pagodas of the Dutch and French and the 'Three Swami' Pagodas of the British East India Company.

Leaving aside the Delhi Sultanate or any other Hindu kingdom that had ever existed in India, Medieval coins in India and minting in the country was completely veered towards a fresh direction under the Mughal Empire (1526 till mid-19th century). Just as with other domains while ruling and governing the country, the Mughals had been influential enough to even preserve their touch and artistry and intelligence in making and casting of coins, that had forever remained a benchmark for medieval India. The first to arrive in the Mughal throne, Babur had much to consolidate during his nascent ruling upon India, which perhaps had taken a toll upon the coins from this period in Medieval India. Coins minted by Babur, had lacked beauty and sophistication demonstrated by his successors, Akbar and Jehangir. Often the dies employed to cast these coins were so dilapidated or used inappropriately, that only part of legends were visible on Babur's coinage.

As a king Humayun, Babur's successor and son to the throne, had proved to be a disappointment and letdown. Humayun could not retain control over his Sultanate and soon lost to the undaunted Sher Shah Suri, an Afghan leader born in India in a very humble family. Sher Shah had exhibited religious tolerance towards the Hindus thus helping him to strengthen his empire. Indeed, during this time, the medieval coins in India did take a dramatic turn with the focus shifting from the Mughal ruler to Sher Shah Suri. The currency, 'Rupee' or 'Rupaya', with which modern India identifies itself, had also become popular during the reign of Sher Shah. However, under the third Mughal, Akbar, Mughal Empire had seen its sublime version of respect and what it took to become a successful administrator, by consolidating several crucial aspects. Medieval coins in India during Akbar were indeed captivating and charming a lot; all that were issued depicted a unification of religious aspects. One of his most significant coin displays - Rama, bears the embossing of the protagonist of the Hindu Epic Ramayana and his wife Sita on obverse, whereas a word Ramaraj, in Devnagari script on reverse. This must have been a Nazarana gold Mohur minted for presentation to Hindu general or aristocrat. Akbar's successor, Jehangir was known to be much inclined towards the performing arts and everything that was associated with art. He had owned partial capability of his illustrious father and even had issued coins in his name as a rebellious prince.

Mughal Empire coinage from medieval India certainly was unique amongst all Islamic monetary systems. Islam severely prohibits displaying the images or idols of human or animals upon anything. In spite of such prohibitions by Islamic religion, both Akbar and Jehangir had minted coins depicting their portraits on coins. Two such example of Jehangir's coin can be governed with judgement. In one of these named coins, the couplet read "On the face of the golden coin, ornament and the grace gave, the picture of Shah Nur-ad-din Jehangir, son of Akbar Shah. The shah, refuge of the faith, struck this coin of gold at Ajmer, Shah Nur-ad-din Jahangir, Son of Akbar Badshah". These two are the most notorious coins of medieval Islamic India, wherein the ruler is presented lifting a goblet for drinking the wine, reflecting the secularism that Jehangir wished to intimate. Since, both portrayal of human figure/s and drinking of wine are strictly prohibited by Islam, with this series of his coins, Jehangir, a son of Hindu mother and secular father had thoroughly departed from orthodox Islam. He had made forays in unifying Hinduism with Islam, the attempts which however had remained largely futile.

Both the Mughal emperors (referring to Akbar and Jehangir) had exhibited marvellous imagination and minted world's most awe-inspiring examples of numismatic art. One of the most remarkable of these were the Zodiacal coins minted by Jehangir. During 1028 AH to 1033 AH (Regnal years 13-18), Jehangir had minted beautiful specimens of numismatic arts in silver and gold. These coins from medieval India hold much special position and are extremely popular in the world of numismatics. The Zodiacal coins became extremely popular during Jehangir's reign itself and were extensively exchanged for 20 times higher value than their face values. Thus, they were stashed up by all the sections of population.

Majority of the silver zodiacal coins of medieval India under Jehangir, having later dates were often minted using dies for gold zodiacs. The gold zodiacs were minted with all the 12 distinct signs; they all are extremely rare and highly sought after by collectors during the then Mughal scenario. The silver zodiac coins were minted for barely five months in 1618 A.D. or 1027 AH (regnal year 13), whereas, gold zodiac mohurs were cast for full five years. Most of gold zodiacs were minted in Agra, while most silver zodiacs (but not all) were principally minted at Ahmedabad. Few silver coins were minted in Agra using dies for gold zodiac mohurs. Some of Jehangir's coins were planned in colossal and gigantic dimensions. It is mentioned in Badshah Nama that on Jehangir's birthday, a Persian ambassador was presented with 4 Gold Ashrafis wighing 400 tolas (4.6 Kg), 300 tolas (3.5 Kg), 200 tolas (2.3 Kg) and 100 tolas (1.2 Kg)! Jehangir is also recognised to have displayed his flamboyant lifestyle by producing world's biggest gold coin during his medieval Indian times. The gargantuan Mughal coins from medieval Indian domain are of extraordinary importance in India as well as world numismatics. The one thousand tola gold mohur of 12 kgs minted by Jehangir in 1613, rationally display the wealth that was amassed by this dynasty. Most of these gold muhars/mohurs further possessed poetic couplets in Persian and were the finest samples of craftsmanship and metallurgy.

With the arrival of succeeding Mughals, Shah Jahan and his son Aurangzeb, medieval coins and coinage in India was awaiting to take its once more dramatic turn towards grandiloquence and yet dichotomous sense of cruelty between the mentioned father-son relationship. Known to have exhaustively minted gold and silver coins of various kinds, Sha Jahan was much less pompous and exhibited moderateness in his approach towards everything. Quite engaged and engrossed in annexing their empire (referring to Aurangzeb) and predisposed towards the finer and softer side of life (referring to Shah Jahan), somewhere they had lost the substantiality to mint coins for the country, a factor which was gradually to take its tax upon the late Mughal ruling and their pattern of moulding coins for medieval India.

(Last Updated on : 10/04/2009)
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