(Last Updated on : 18/08/2009)
In ancient India, for instance, in Indus Valley Civilisation, barter system or the exchange of agricultural products for necessary items was prevalent. With passing of time the cows replaced the agricultural goods as the mediums of exchange. Such practices were also dominant in Gujarat and towards the west in the Punjab and Delhi. But this did not exist as the medium for a long time as a need for stable medium of exchange was felt. Then metal was chosen but the difficulty with the metals was how to maintain uniformity in their weight and size.
Transactions involving metal were tedious as scales were required for every transaction. To overcome this difficulty, metallic pieces of definite weight and value was introduced. In spite of the apparent uniformity in weight and size of ingots and metal sheets or pieces made from them, there was no guarantee as to the quality of the metal. Hence, the need for scales and touchstones arose to determine the quality and quantity of the metals.
With these basic problems of metal and measuring devices, a need for a standard currency was felt. The practice of stamping the metallic pieces with a mark or device of a responsible authority as a sign of guarantee was introduced in many countries. This was the time when the formation of coin was started. According to historical evidences, all the earliest coins were made of silver and these, perhaps, belonged to sixth century B.C. The actual coins of this period were of round, oval and elliptical shape and also bore symbols. Some of the coins were made of silver and copper and bore animal and plant symbols on them. Different states had their different style and pattern for coins. Coinage of Indo-Greek kingdom played the influential role in the Indian history of coins. By this time a large number of tribes, dynasties and kingdoms began started issuing their coins. Coins with Prakrit legends began to appear on their coins. The symbols and inscriptions on the coins were dependent on the kings who introduced several symbols and inscription during their ruling period. The thickness and quality of metal were improved and coins were issued in several denominations. The coins of India tell the anecdote of the Mauryan Empire. The coins issued during this era were punch marked with the royal standard. A theory of bimetallism for coinage was introduced by Kautilya and this included the use of two metals, copper and silver. The coins of Post Mauryan era also maintained a similar pattern of coinage.
The coins of India contribute a considerable part in the domain of religious history. The coins of the Kushanas, for instance, support effigies of a number of Greek, Iranian, Buddhist and Brahmanical gods and goddesses. The representation of Buddha in human form is noticed for the first time on the coins of Kanishka, whereas, in an earlier representation, he is demonstrated rather symbolically. On the coins of the Guptas, one can witness the figures of Hindu goddesses like Durga, Ganga and Lakshmi. In this context of the historical evolvement of Indian coins, quite evidently comes up the study of ancient coins of India, with the ushering in of the Hindu dynasties and its rulers. With the arrival of Muslim invaders and their dynasties from places like Arab, Persia and Turkey, the reigning period of Hindu rulers came to ebb. The ultimate ushering in of the Delhi Sultanate (1206-1526 A.D.) had become successful to entirely alter the outline of Indian coins and mintage. Coins in Medieval India were given special touch, marked as it was by a considerable elaboration of the `money economy`. The Delhi Sultanate namely Ala ud din Khilji of Khilji Dynasty and Qutb ud din Aibak of Slave Dynasty, had issued an immense variety of gold and silver coins in umpteen numbers differentiating in style and pattern. The weighing of the coins was also an important factor in the numismatic history of India.
With the Muslim invasions, some new patterns were introduced in the coins and coinage system of India. Among the important changes of Indian coins, the Persian influence was discernable with the image of the king and sometimes `Kalima` on the coins. Indian coins since the ancient period had differed and gradually improved in the style of inscription, metal, and size like Muhammad Bin Tughlaq from Tughlaq Dynasty, who had minted coins in the name of his dead father. His successor Feroz Shah Tughlaq had brought out coins in the name of his dead son. However, the coining history of India once more took a dramatic turn under the advent of the Mughal Empire in the early 16th century. The coins issued during this time contained Hijri year and the mint name. Since the ruling period of Emperor Zahiruddin Mohammed Babur and perhaps mostly flourishing under the reign of Jalaluddin Mohammed Akbar, Mughal mintage took India towards scaling heights, achieving worldwide fame. The coins issued during this time also have a cultural impact on the society and they also contained valuable historical facts.
The coins of South India underwent a change in the coins and coinage system as rulers issued their coins in silver, billon, copper and probably in gold. Some of the rulers also included inscriptions, sometimes one side of the coin was decked with the Sultan`s name in a circle and the reverse side of the coin contained the date in Arabic numerals. The metrology of the coins was perhaps gained the influence by the metrology of the early South Indian coinage. The copper coins were issued of a number of denominations. The Nizam Shahi dynasty, the later rulers of Imad Shahi dynasty, also issued some coins in copper which bore the name of the issuer and the mint name on one side and the date on the other side of the coin. The rulers of Adil Shahi dynasty issued coins in copper of three denominations. Silver coins were also issued of foreign pattern, sometimes with the name of the king, date, legends and Persian couplets.
The coins and coinage system in India also altered with changing dynasties. At times new inscriptions and portraits on the both sides of the coins were introduced by a new ruler. Early English coins of modern India were developed along three broad strands in rhyme with the local suitability of the coins for the intentions of trade and successful commerce. The coins of Bengal were formulated along the lines of Mughal pattern and the English coins of Western India grew along Mughal as well as English patterns. During the British period, coins were made out of gold, silver, copper and tin. Beautiful and dainty gold coins were begun to be minted in Murshidabad, Calcutta by the East India Company. Coins of modern India for the very first time were being moulded in factories through machine and also struck meticulously, popularly referred to as Mohur or Muhar. The rise of British as the most overriding power after over a hundred years of violent agitation, lead them to enact the Coinage Act of 1835 and since then newly designed coins carrying the image of William IV on the obverse and the value on the reverse in English and Urdu were issued. Initially the British Raj coins were minted with a mature portrait of Victoria, as Queen on the obverse but after her coronation on the throne, coins were issued with her name as Empress, Her Highness. Edward VII had succeeded Queen Victoria and the modern coins in India issued during this moment, thus, bore his model. The Indian Coinage Act, 1906 was passed which governed the establishment of Mints as well as the coins and established the standards that would be maintained while issuing coins.
After the independence, new coins and coinage were introduced by Independent India. The coins issued during this time contained Ashoka`s (the great Mauryan Emperor) Lion Capital motif. The coins of contemporary India include 6 odd-shaped coins. Some of the coins were made of stainless steal and with commodity prices mounting during the sixties, small denomination coins were made. These small denominational coins which were manufactured of bronze, nickel-brass, cupro-nickel and Aluminium-Bronze, were gradually minted in Aluminium. This modification was started out with the introduction of the new hexagonal 3 paise coin. A twenty paise coin was also initiated in 1968, but did not earn much citizen admiration. In 2002 the 11-sided 2 Rupee coins were manufactured that feature a map of India. The 2001, 1 Rupee is struck in stainless steel. The 1999, 50 paisa featured the Parliament building and a map of India. A rhinoceros is featured on the 1994, 25 paise. Moreover, the aluminum 1988, 20 Paisa coin was a seven sided coin, the 1988, 10 paisa was also struck in stainless steel, the square 5 Paisa was manufactured dated 1993 though these coins are not used in present.