Numismatics & Epigraphy
Indian coinage has a long and rich historical tradition that provides a key source of information of political and economic changes. It also reflects the cultural and aesthetic development of different periods and regions.
Ancient Indian coinage begins with punch-marked coins, made in silver and copper, found all over India. Issued between the 6th century B.C.E.. and 1st century C.E. by merchant guilds and a few ruling families, it was mainly a trade currency during a period of intensive trade activity and urban development. Towards the close of this period, Roman coins in gold and silver, those of the emperors Augustus and Tiberius being most common, were also brought to India through trade. To the same period belong a series of copper coins of the Janapadas.
The issue of regular dynastic coins began between the 2nd century B.C.E.. and 2nd century C.E., by the Indo-Greeks, the Saka-Pahlavas and the Kushanas.. The Saka coinage of the western Kshatrapas are dated to the Saka era of 78 C.E., thus placing them as the earliest dated coins.
It is with the Kushanas that a variety of interesting features emerge in Indian coinage. While portraiture is common to all the 'foreign' issues and the early indigenous issues inspired by them, the Kushana gold coins introduce us to a series of new concepts attributing divinity to royalty.
However, for sheer variety, aesthetic sensitivity and rich narrative content, the Gupta gold coins remain unsurpassed by any other coinage of ancient India. With the Gupta coinage (4th-6th century) begins a process of indigenization, Greek and West Asian deities got replaced by Indian divinities and Greek legends by Brahmi. Apart from legitimizing dynastic succession, Gupta gold coins commemorate significant socio-political events, like marriage alliances (king-and-queen type of coin of Chandragupta I) and artistic and personal accomplishments of royal members (Lyrist, Archer, Horseman, Lion-slayer). The iconographic representation of Puranic deities indicating the religious predilections of the Gupta monarch, and coin legends with grandiose royal titles are also significant landmarks.
The South Indian coinage tradition of the early period is conservative, the only exception being that of the Satavahanas (1st- 2nd century CE), whose coins with portraits and bilingual legends were inspired by the Kshatrapa types. Decorative features are rare and divinities are almost absent till the medieval Vijayanagar period (14th –16th century CE).
Medieval Indian coinage, represented by the Arab, Sultanate and Mughal coins, is dominated by Islamic traditions. Religious formulae such as the kalima (Islamic creed), the names of the Caliphs as spiritual heads and Quranic verses in beautiful calligraphy as coin legends are characteristic of all the issues. Indigenous elements have been incorporated in various forms from the time of Mahmud Ghazni (10th-11th century CE) whose coins bear legends both in the Arabic Kufic and Sanskrit-Nagari scripts.
Originality and innovative skill characterizes Mughal coinage, which ranks among the greatest currencies of the world. The Zodiacal signs, portraits and literary verses in excellent calligraphy that Jahangir introduced on his coins were preceded by the Ilahi coins of Akbar, which commemorate the religious ideals cherished by the emperor.
Vijayanagar was the only Hindu dynasty whose currency presents a rare example of a standardized issue, which later provided a model for the European and English trading companies. Particularly significant are the Vijayanagar coins with Venkateswara, the deity of Tirupati, represented either singly or with his two consorts, inspiring ‘Single Swami’ pagodas of the Dutch and French and the ‘Three Swami’ Pagodas of the English East Indian Company.
Modern Indian coinage is represented by the issues of European and English trading companies and the Indian states under British rule. Haider Ali issued ‘Pagodas’ depicting Hindu deities, while Tipu Sultan is known for his variety of gold coins incorporating typical Islamic and Hindu features. His gold coins were named after the orthodox Caliphs, his silver coins after the twelve Imams and copper after the astronomical phenomenon.
The European and English trading companies brought with them their respective currencies such as the Dutch Stuiver, Venetian Ducat, Portuguese Cruzado and English Anglina and Carolina. However, imitation of local coins was a common practice among the trading companies with Vijayanagar coins providing well- known prototypes. The adoption of the Mughal rupee by the trading companies and British rulers of India marked the end of independent currency systems and the beginning of a uniform currency for India.
The coinage of independent India has undergone a number of changes. The first major change coincided with the third anniversary of India’s independence on the 15th August 1950, when the designs and the specifications of coins were changed. With the adoption of decimal system from 1st April 1957, a new era was ushered in the history of Indian coinage; rupee was divided into 100 units instead of its 64 paise.
The coin collection of National Museum is remarkable for its variety, rarity and antiquity. It comprises of more than 1 lakh coins, the collection grew through gifts and purchases. The Parrukh, Jhalan, Nagu, Vyas and Deshikachari collections have contributed to making this one of the richest collections of India.
The history of Indian coinage is well represented in the Coins gallery of National Museum. The ancient series of silver punch marked coins of the 4th century B.C.E. and the coins of Indo Greek rulers are some of the oldest on display.
Gold coins of Kushana period, a gold coin of Sailodbhava dynasty with Vindya Shakti inscription, bi-lingual and bi-scriptial coins of Mahmud of Ghazani, gold coin of Delhi Sultanate and Provincial Sultans, Three Mohur and Asirgarh Mohur of Akbar, portrait coins and the Zodiac series of Jahangir, coins of Sangam Age, Ram Tanka of Vijaynagar period and South Indian coins along with the rare coins of Indian Princely States are the main attractions of this gallery.