Indian coinage: Wikis


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A 2 rupee coin issued by the Republic of India.
Varaha (Vishnu Avatar) on a Pratihara coin (850-900 CE).

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] 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 enriched by the coming of Islam.[4] 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.[5] Numismatics plays a valuable role in determining certain period of Indian history.[5]


Post Maha Janapadas period (400 BCE—200 CE)

Early coins of India (400 BCE—100 CE) were made of silver and copper, and bore animal and plant symbols on them.[1] Coinage of Indo-Greek kingdom began to increasing 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]

Punch marks and visible images of an elephant and the sun on Mauryan coins.
Cast bronze ½ karshapana coin of the Sunga period (2nd-1st century BCE).

The extensive coinage reserves of the Kushān empire (1st–3rd centuries CE) continued to influence the coinage of the Guptas (320 to 550 CE) 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, used for this trade, was apparently being recycled by the Kushān empire for their own coinage. Pliny the Elder (NH VI.101) complained about the drain of specie to India:[9]

"minimaque computatione miliens centena milia sestertium annis omnibus India et Seres et paeninsula illa imperio nostro adimunt: tanti nobis deliciae et feminae constant. quota enim portio ex illis ad deos, quaeso, iam vel ad inferos pertinet?"

India, China and the Arabian peninsula take one hundred million sesterces from our empire per annum at a conservative estimate: that is what our luxuries and women cost us. For what percentage of these imports is intended for sacrifices to the gods or the spirits of the dead?" - Pliny, Historia Naturae 12.41.84.

The Gupta empire issued a surplus of gold coins, depicting the Gupta kings performing various rituals.[1] Large hoards of Roman coins have been found throughout India, and especially in the busy maritime trading centers of South India.[10] The South Indian kings reissued Roman coinage in their own name after defacing the coins in order to signify their sovereignty.[11]

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

Coin of Samudragupta with Garuda pillar, British Museum.
Coins of Chandragupta II.

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).[12] Chandragupta I's coins also depict the then queen of India, Kumaradevi, a Licchavi princess, whose name is also written on the same coin.[13] The more aggressive Samudragupta (335 – 380 CE) is shown as an archer, and holding a battle axe, while Sanskrit verses praise him as an invincible warrior.[13] The Gupta emperors continued to issue coinage until the 6th century, until waves of invasions from the Huns bought their reign to an end.[1] These Huns themselves issued coinage which was imitated from the earlier prototypes.[1]

Allan & Stern (2008) report on Indian coinage of the Middle Ages:[1]

A notable adaptation of a Hun design was the neat silver coinage of the Shahis of Gandhara of the "bull and horseman" type in the 9th and 10th centuries, extensively imitated by the Muslim conquerors of India and the contemporary minor Hindu dynasties. The other type favoured by the medieval Hindu dynasties for their gold coinage was that of a seated goddess—going back to a Gupta reverse—and an inscription with the king's name on the other side.

Arab campaigns in India led to a foothold in Sindh, where very small silver coins belonging to the Umayyads are found.[1] The coinage of the Ghūrid invaders is mainly gold and silver coins, 10.76 grams each.[1]

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

Coin issued by Akbar the Great from the Gobindpur mint.
1/4 anna coin of Gwalior, Indian princely state, 1942.
Coin of Portuguese India, one rupia of 1882.

Shēr Shāh of northern India issued massive silver currency bearing Islamic motiffs, later imitated by the Mughal empire.[1] The coinage issued by emperors Akbar and Jahāngīr bore intricate Islamic calligraphy.[1] Srivastava & Alam (2008) comment on Indian coinage during Akbar's regime:[4]

Akbar reformed Mughal currency to make it one of the best known of its time. The new regime possessed a fully functioning trimetallic (silver, copper, and gold) currency, with an open minting system in which anyone willing to pay the minting charges could bring metal or old or foreign coin to the mint and have it struck. All monetary exchanges were, however, expressed in copper coins in Akbar's time. In the 17th century, following the silver influx from the New World, silver rupee with new fractional denominations replaced the copper coin as a common medium of circulation. Akbar's aim was to establish a uniform coinage throughout his empire; some coins of the old regime and regional kingdoms also continued.

The Chinese maerchant Ma Huan (1413-51) noted that gold coins, known as fanam, were issued in Cochin and weighed a total of one fen and one li according to the Chinese standards.[14] They were of fine quality and could be exchanged in China for 15 silver coins of four-li weight each.[14]

Indigenous coinage of India continued to be issued by the East India Company until 1858, and thereafter by the authorities of British India, but a need for uniform coinage led to the curtailing of coins minted by the princely states in favor of a national coinage system.[1] The modern nation states of Republic of India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka issued their own coinage by 1948.[1] Bangladesh soon followed on the 1 January 1972.[1]

In the Republic of India, the sole right of minting coins lies with the Government of India, as per the terms of the Coinage Act, which has undergone several amendments since it was passed in 1906.[15] Coins in denominations of 10 paise, 20 paise, 25 paise, 50 paise, one rupee, two rupees and five rupees came to be minted at the official Mints situated at Mumbai, Kolkata, Hyderabad, and Noida.[15] The various operations related to coin circulation in the Republic of India are overseen by the Reserve Bank of India.[15]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p Allan & Stern (2008)
  2. ^ a b Dhavalikar (1975)
  3. ^ Sellwood (2008)
  4. ^ a b Srivastava & Alam (2008)
  5. ^ a b Sutherland (2008)
  6. ^ a b Prasad, 168
  7. ^ Prasad, 166
  8. ^ "The Geography of Strabo published in Vol. I of the Loeb Classical Library edition, 1917" (HTML).*.html.  
  9. ^ "minimaque computatione miliens centena milia sestertium annis omnibus India et Seres et paeninsula illa imperio nostro adimunt: tanti nobis deliciae et feminae constant. quota enim portio ex illis ad deos, quaeso, iam vel ad inferos pertinet?" Pliny, Historia Naturae 12.41.84.
  10. ^ Curtin, 100
  11. ^ Kulke & Rothermund, 108
  12. ^ Agrawal, 18
  13. ^ a b Agrawal, 19
  14. ^ a b Chaudhuri, 223
  15. ^ a b c Indian currency (coins): Minting and Issue. Reserve Bank of India.


  • Allan, J. & Stern, S. M. (2008), coin, Encyclopedia Britannica.
  • Agrawal, Ashvini (1989), Rise and Fall of the Imperial Guptas, Motilal Banarsidass, ISBN 8120805925.
  • Chaudhuri, K. N. (1985), Trade and Civilisation in the Indian Ocean, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 0521285429.
  • Curtin, Philip DeArmond etc. (1984), Cross-Cultural Trade in World History, Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0521269318.
  • 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 0415329191.
  • Prasad, P.C. (2003), Foreign trade and commerce in ancient India, Abhinav Publications, ISBN 8170170532.
  • Sellwood, D. G. J. (2008), coin, Encyclopedia Britannica.
  • Srivastava, A.L. & Alam, Muzaffar (2008), India, Encyclopedia Britannica.
  • Sutherland, C. H. V. (2008), coin, Encyclopedia Britannica.

See also

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