The study of coins is known as Numismatics. The importance of coins as a source of reconstructing history cannot be denied, particularly in case of ancient history where very few chronicles were produced.

  1. Indus Valley Civilization: The Harappan Seal is the most distinctive artefact of the Indus Valley Civilization. It was made of a stone called steatite. However, it’s believed that it was “NOT” used as a coin. It served various other purposes like – sealing a package of trade, as amulets, etc.
  2. Janapadas/ Mahajanapadas: The earliest account of issuing of coins dates back to the 7th-6th Century BC. These coins were ‘punched-mark’ coins made in silver. They were initially issued by merchant guilds and later, by the state.
  3. Post-Mauryan Period: For the first time, we see regular Dynastic coins being issued. The Greeks bring along their old age tradition of issuing coins. They are the first ones to issue gold coins (besides the use of Silver).

‘Punch Marked’ Coins

  • The earliest coins were casted coins and were die-struck only on one side. One to five marks or symbols were incused on single side and were termed as ‘Punch Marked’ coins. Panini’s Ashtadhyayi cites that to make punch marked coins, metallic pieces were stamped with symbols. Each unit was called ‘Ratti’ weighing 0.11 gram. The first trace of this coin was available between 6th and 2nd century BC. Following two classifications are available:
    • Punch marked coins issued by various Mahajanapadas:
      • The first Indian punch marked coins called Puranas, Karshapanas or Pana were minted in the 6th century BC by the various Janapadas and Mahajanapadas of the Indo- Gangetic Plain.
      • These coins had irregular shapes, standard weight and were made up of silver with different markings like Saurashtra had a humped bull, Dakshin Panchala had a Swastika and Magadha had generally five symbols. Magadhan punch-marked coins became the most circulated coins in South Asia.
      • They were mentioned in the Manusmriti and Buddhist Jataka stories and lasted three centuries longer in the South than in the North.
    • Punch marked coins during Mauryan Period (322–185 BC):
      • Chanakya, the Prime Minister to the first Mauryan emperor Chandragupta Maurya, mentioned the minting of punch marked coins such as rupyarupa (silver), suvarnarupa (gold), tamrarupa (copper) and sisarupa (lead) in his Arthashastra treatise.
      • Out of the various symbols used, sun and six armed wheel were most consistent. The coin contained an average of 50–54 grains of silver and 32 rattis in weight and were termed as Karshapanas.
A Magadha Coin five symbols

A Magadha Coin (five symbols)
Mauryan Karshapana with symbols of wheel and elephant. 3rd century BC

Mauryan Karshapana with symbols of wheel and elephant. (3rd century BC)

Indo-Greek Coins

  • The reign of Indo-Greeks was from 180 BC to around 10 AD. Indo-Greeks introduced the fashion of showing the bustor head of the ruler on the coins. The legends on their Indian coins were mentioned in two languages—in Greek on one of the side and in Kharosthi on the other side of the coin. The Greek gods and goddesses commonly shown on the lndo- Greek coins were Zeus, Hercules, Apollo and Pallas Athene. The initial series used images of Greek deities but later coins had images of Indian deities as well.
  • These coins are significant because they carried detailed information about the issuing monarch, the year of issue and sometimes an image of the reigning king. Coins were mainly made of silver, copper, nickel and lead. The coins of the Greek kings in India were bilingual, i.e., written in Greek on the front side and in Pali language (in Kharosthi script) on the back.
  • Later, Indo-Greek Kushan kings introduced the Greek custom of engraving portrait heads on the coins. Kushan coins were adorned with helmeted bust of the king on one side, and the king’s favourite deity on the reverse. The coins issued by Kanishka employed only Greek characters.
  • The extensive coinage of the Kushan Empire also influenced a large number of tribes, dynasties and kingdoms, which began issuing their own coins.
Gold coin of Kanishka I
Gold coin of Kanishka I

Coins by Satavahanas

  • Satavahanas rule started after 232 BC and lasted up to 227 AD.
  • The Satavahana kings mostly used lead as a material for their coins. Silver coins were rare.
  • Next to lead, they used an alloy of silver and copper called ‘potin’. Many copper coins were also available.
  • Although the coins were devoid of any beauty or artistic merit, they constituted a valuable source-material for the dynastic history of the Satavahanas.
  • On one side, most of the Satavahana coins had the figure of an elephant, horse, lion or Chaitya. The other side showed the Ujjain symbol – a cross with four circles at the end of the two crossing lines.
  • The dialect used was Prakrit.
Early coin of Satakarni I
Early coin of Satakarni I
Cowrie Shell
  • Apart from the coins another major medium of exchange in the early Indian market was Cowrie Shell.
  • Cowrie shells were used in large numbers by the ordinary masses for small scale economic transactions.
  • It is said that the cowrie shells carried definite value in the market just as the coins.
Cowrie Shell

Coins of the Western Satraps or the Indo-Scythians

  • The Western Satraps (35–405 AD) had their dominion in Western India, originally comprising Malwa, Gujarat and Kathiawar.
  • They were all of Saka origin. The coins of Western Satraps are of great historical importance.
  • They bear dates of the Saka era, which started from 78 AD.
  • The coins of the Western Satraps have head of the king on one side and on the other side, they carry the device of the Buddhist chaitya or stupa evidently borrowed from Satavahanas.
  • Prakrit language has been found written in many scripts.
Western Satrap Coin of Rudrasimha I
Western Satrap Coin of Rudrasimha I

Coins issued in Gupta Age

  • The Gupta age (319 AD–550 AD) marked a period of great Hindu revival.
  • The Gupta coins were mainly made of gold, although they issued silver and copper coins too.
  • Silver coins were issued only after Chandragupta II overthrew the Western Satraps.
  • There were many types and varieties of Gupta gold coins.
  • On one side of these coins, the king can be found standing and making oblations before an altar, playing the veena, performing ashvamedha, riding a horse or an elephant, slaying a lion or a tiger or a rhinocerous with a sword or bow, or sitting on a couch.
  • On the other side was the Goddess Lakshmi seated on a throne or a lotus seal, or the figure of the queen herself.
  • The inscriptions on the coins were all in Sanskrit (Brahmi script) for the first time in the history of coins.
  • Gupta rulers issued coins depicting the emperors not only in martial activities like hunting lions/tigers, posing with weapons, etc., but also in leisurely activities like playing a Veena, with reverse side of the coin having images of Goddess Lakshmi, Durga, Ganga, Garuda and Kartikeya.
Coins issued in Gupta Age

The end of Gupta rule in the 6th century due to a Hun invasion ushered in a period of uncertainty when again a number of local kingdoms rose in different regions issuing region-specific coins which were poor in both metallic content and artistic design. Thus, during a long period stretching till the 13th century, a mix of designs borrowed not only from the Kushana–Gupta pattern but also from foreign designs, were employed by these dynasties in Western, Eastern, Northern and Central India.

South India developed a different coin paradigm moving towards a gold standard which was inspired from the Roman gold coins, which arrived in the region during the first three centuries of the first millennium.

Coins of the Vardhanas

  • The Varadhanas of Taneshwar and Kannauj were responsible for turning out the Hun invaders from India in the late 6th century.
  • The most powerful of their kings was Harshavardhana whose empire comprised almost the whole of Northern India.
  • The silver coins of the Vardhanas had on one side the head of the king and on the other side, the figure of a peacock.
  • The dates on the coins of Harshavardhana are reckoned in a new era, which most probably began in 606 AD, the year of his coronation.
Coin of Harshavardhana
Coin of Harshavardhana

Coins of Chalukyan Kings

  • The Chalukyan dynasty (6th century AD) was founded by Pulakeshin I with its capital at Badami in Karnataka.
  • One side of the coin had image of a temple or a lion and legends. The other side was left blank.
  • The coins of Eastern Chalukyan dynasty (7th–12th century AD) had symbol of the boar at the centre, with each letter of the king’s name inscribed by a separate punch. The other side here also was left blank.
Chalukyas of Kalyana
Chalukyas of Kalyana

Coins of the Rajput Dynasties

  • The coins issued by the Rajput dynasties (11th–12th century AD) were mostly of gold, copper or billon (an alloy of silver and copper) but very rarely silver.
  • There were two types of Rajput coinage.
    • One type showed the ‘name of the king in Sanskrit on one side and a goddess on the other side’. The coins of the Kalachuris, the Chandelas of Bundelkhand, the Tomars of Ajmer and Delhi and of the Rathores of Kannauj were of this type.
    • The kings of Gandhara or Sindh introduced the other type of silver coins that had a seated bull on one side and a horseman on the other.
Coins of the Rajput Dynasties

Coins of the Pandyan and Chola Dynasty

  • The coins issued by Pandyan dynasty were square shaped with an image of elephant in the early period. Later, fish became a very important symbol in the coins.
  • The gold and silver coins had inscriptions in Sanskrit and copper coins in Tamil.
  • The coins of the Chola King Raja Raja I had the standing king on one side and seated goddess on the other side with inscriptions generally in Sanskrit.
  • Rajendra I’s coins had the legend ‘Sri Rajendra’ or ‘Gangaikonda Chola’ inscribed with the emblems of tiger and fish.
  • The coins of the Pallava dynasty had the figure of a lion.
Ancient Chola and Pandya Coins
Ancient Chola and Pandya Coins
Kerala coins

Turkish and Delhi Sultanate Coins

  • The coins had inscriptions in the form of king’s name, title and the date as per Hijri calendar.
  • The coins did not bear any image of the issuing monarch as there was a prohibition of idolatry in Islam. For the first time, the name of the mint was also inscribed in the coins.
  • The Sultans of Delhi issued gold, silver, copper and billon coins.
    • Silver Tanka and Copper Jital was introduced by Iltutmish.
    • Alauddin Khilji changed the existing design by dropping the name of the Khalif and replaced it by self-praising titles.
    • Muhammad bin Tughlaq circulated bronze and copper coins as token currency which was a flop.
    • Sher Shah Suri (1540–1545) introduced two standards of weight–one of 178 grains for silver coins and one of 330 grains for copper coins. These were later known as the rupee and the dam respectively.
Muhammad bin Sam

Vijayanagara Empire Coins

  • The Vijayanagara Empire (14th–17th century) issued large quantities of gold coins; other metals used in their coinage were pure silver and copper.
    • Pagodas – higher denomination –figure of running warrior along with dagger symbol
    • Gold fanams – fractional units
    • Silver taras – fractional units
    • Copper coins – day to day transactions
  • The earlier Vijayanagara coinage were produced in different mints and were called by different names such as Barkur gadyanas, Bhatkal gadyanas, etc.
  • The inscriptions were in Kannada or Sanskrit.
  • Images found are a double-headed eagle holding an elephant in each beak and claw, a bull, an elephant and various Hindu deities.
  • The gold varahan coin issued by Krishna Deva Raya (1509– 1529) had a seated Vishnu on one side and a three-line legend Shri Pratap Krishna Raya in Sanskrit on the other side.
Vijayanagara Empire Coins
Vijayanagara Empire Coins

Mughal Coinage

  • The standard gold coin of the Mughals was the Mohur of about 170 to 175 grains.
    • Abul Fazl in his ‘Ain-i-Akbari’ indicated that a Mohur was equivalent to nine rupees. Half and quarter mohurs are also known.
  • The silver rupee which was an adoption from Sher Shah’s currency, was the most famous of all Mughal coins.
    • The Mughal copper coin was adopted from Sher Shah’s dam which weighed 320 to 330 grains.
  • Akbar issued both round and square coins. In 1579, he issued gold coins called ‘Ilahi coins’ to propagate his new religious creed ‘Din-i-Illahi’.
    • On this coin, it was written ‘God is great, may his glory be glorified’.
    • The value of an ilahi coin was equal to 10 rupees.
    • Sahansah was the largest gold coin.
    • These coins bore the names of the persian solar months.
  • Jahangir showed the legend in a couplet in the coins. In some of his coins, he added the name of his beloved wife Noorjahan. The most famous of his coins had images of Zodiac signs.
Mughal Coinage
Mughal Coinage

Important Facts

  • The earliest reference of coins in the Indian context can be found in the Vedas. Nishka was the term used for coins made up of metals.
  • Sher Shah Suri, a 16th century ruler of Afghan lineage introduced the Rupee. It was a silver currency.
  • At that moment one rupee was equal to four coins made of copper.
    • The Indian currency is still called Rupee.
    • Rupya was made of silver which weighed almost 11.34 grams during that period.
  • In ancient India, people used ‘money trees’ to store their coins.
    • A money tree was a flat piece of metal, shaped like a tree, with metal branches.
    • At the end of each branch was a round disk with a hole in the centre.
    • Each of these disks was an ancient Indian coin. When one needed money, they simply broke off a coin from the money tree.
  • Gupta kings stamped their given names on the front of their coin and assumed names ending with “aditya,” or sun at the back side of the coin.
  • Chhatrapati Shivaji issued gold huns and copper Shivarais with his titles in the Nagari script.
  • The Wodeyar dynasty (Mysore: 1399–1947) coins of King Kanthiraya Narasa bore the image of the Narasimha avatar of Vishnu and weighed six to eight grains.
    • Haidar Ali who overthrew Wodeyar dynasty for some time continued their coinage with the figures of Shiva and Parvati on the earlier gold pagodas.
  • Tipu Sultan used two eras in his coins.
The Coinage Act, 2011
  • Replaced the Coinage Act, 1906.
  • Term coin means coin made of any metal or any other material stamped by Government/authority empowered by government and includes—
  • The Coinage Act, 2011 gives the central government the power to design and mint coins in various denominations.
    • The role of the RBI is limited to the distribution of coins that are supplied by the central government.
  • The government decides on the quantity of coins to be minted on the basis of indents received from the RBI on a yearly basis.
  • Coins are minted in four mints owned by the Government of India in Mumbai, Hyderabad, Kolkata and Noida.

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