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The Use of Gold Coins by Commoners in the Gupta Period
The Gupta period is called the Golden Age of ancient India. This may not be true in the economic field because several towns in north India declined during this period.
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But the Guptas possessed a large amount of gold and they issued a large number of gold coins. An important feudal development that surfaced under the Guptas was the grant of fiscal and administrative concessions to priest and administrators.
The practice became a regular affair. Religious functionaries were granted land, free of tax for ever and they were authorized to collect taxes which could have gone to emperor. It was the beginning of feudalism. Whether state officials were paid by grants of land in Gupta times is not clear. Abundance of gold coins would suggest that higher officials continued to be paid in cash. The gold coins issued by Guptas were called dinars. Regular in size and weight, they appear in many types and sub types. But these gold coins were not as pure as Kushan ones. It shows that gold coins may not be used by commoners. These coins served to pay the officers in the army and administration but also to meet the needs of the sale and purchase of land.
After the conquest of Gujarat, the Guptas issued a good number of silver coins mainly for local exchange. With the decline of trade and commerce due to feudal set up brought out by land grants. It has been mentioned by several historians that common people were using cowry for exchange.
Regarding the beginning of the feudalism some school of thoughts are of view that the socio economic relation during Gupata period can be said to be the sign of beginning of feudalism. Hence they are of view that common people were also using gold coins issued by almost each of the Gupta kings.
Reconstruction of Early Indian History is Hardly Possible Without the Help of Inscription and Coins
The greatest handicap in the treatment of history of ancient India, both political and cultural, is the absence of a definite chronology.
The literary genius of India, so fertile and active in almost all branches of study, was somehow not applied to chronicling the records of kings and the rise and fall of the states.
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Ancient India did not produce historians like Herodotus and Thucydides of Greece or Levy of Rome and Turkish historian Al-beruni. We have a sort of history in the Puranas. Though encyclopedic in contents, the Puranas provide dynastic history up to the beginning of the Gupta rule.
They mention the places where the events took place and sometimes discuss their causes and effects. Statements about events are made in future tense, although they were recorded much after the happening of the events. Thus inscriptions and coins become very important to reconstruct early Indian history.
Inscriptions were carved on seals, stone pillars, rocks, copper plates, temple walls and bricks or images. In the country as a whole the earliest inscriptions were recorded on stone. But in the early centuries of Christian era copper plates began to be used for the purpose. The earliest inscriptions were written in Prakrit language in the 3 rd century BC. Sanskrit was adopted in the second century AD.
Inscriptions began to be composed in regional languages in the 9 th and 10th centuries. Most inscriptions bearing on the history of Maurya, Post-Maurya and Gupta times have been published in a series of collection called “Corpus Inscription Indecorum”.
The earliest inscriptions are found on the seals of Harappa belonging to about 2500 B.C. and written in pictographic script but they have not been deciphered. The oldest inscription deciphered so far was issued by Ashoka in third century BC. The Ashokan inscriptions were first deciphered by James Prince in 1837.
We have various types of inscriptions. Some convey royal orders and decisions regarding social, religious and administrative matters to officials and people in general. Ashokan inscription belong to this category, others are routine records of the followers of different religious. Still other types eulogize the attributes and achievements of the kings and their persons.
The inscriptions engraved by emperors or kings are either prosthesis composed by court writers or grants of land assigned to individuals. Among the prismatic of emperors, the most prominent are the prasharti of Samudra Gupta engraved on Ashokan pillar at Allahabad. This was prepared by his court poet, Harisena, the Hathigumpa-Prashasti inscription of king Kharavela of Kalinga.
Some of the notable inscriptions are – the Nasik inscription of King Gautami Balasree, the Gwalior inscription of King Bhoja, the Girnar inscription of King Rudradaman, the Aihole inscription of the Chalukaya King Pulkesinll, the Bhitri and Nasik inscriptions of the Gupta ruler Skandia Gupta and the Deopara inscription of the Sena ruler Vijaya Sen. The inscriptions which were used for the grants of lands were mostly engraved on copperplates.
These inscriptions besides many more, of private individuals or local officers have furnished us with the names of various kings, boundaries of their kingdoms and sometimes useful dates and clues to many important events of history.
Thus inscriptions have been found very much useful in finding different facts of the history of ancient India. The history of Satavahana rulers is fully based on their inscriptions. In the same way, the inscriptions of the rulers of South India such as that of Pallava, the Chalukyas, the Rashtrakutas, the Cholas, and the Pandayas have been of great help in finding historical facts of the rule of their respective dynasties. Certain inscriptions found outside India have also helped in finding facts concerning the history of ancient India. One among such inscriptions is that of Bhagajakoi in Asia Minor, which was inscribed in 1400BC.
The study of coins, called numismatics, is considered as the second most important source for reconstructing the history of India. Coins are mostly found in hoards. Many of these hoards containing not only Indian coins but also those minted abroad, such as Roman coins have been discovered in different parts of the country. Coins of major dynasties have been catalogued and published.
The punched mark coins are the earliest coins of India and they bear only symbols on them. These have been found throughout the country. But the later coins mentioned the name of kings, gods and dates. The areas where they are found indicate the region of their circulation. This has enabled us to reconstruct the history of several ruling dynasties, especially of the Indo-Greeks. Coins also throw significant light on economic history.
Some coins were issued by the guilds and merchants and goldsmiths with the permission of the rulers. This shows that craft and commerce had become important. Coins helped transactions on a large scale and contributed to trade. We get the largest number of coins in post-Maurya times.
These were made of lead, potion, copper, bronze, silver and gold. The Guptas issued the largest number of gold coins. This indicates that trade and commerce flourished during post- Maurya and a good part of Gupta times. But the fact that only a few coins belonging to post-Gupta times indicate the decline in trade and commerce in that period.
In conclusion, careful collection of materials derived from texts, coins, inscriptions, archaeology etc. is essential for historical construction. These raise the problem of relative importance of the sources. Thus, coins and inscriptions are considered more important than mythologies found in the Epics and the Puranas.
How do you justify the view that the level of excellence of the Gupta numismatic art is not at all noticeable in later times?
According to some scholars, the most glorious period of ancient Indian history is the rule of the Gupta dynasty. They ruled large parts of northern India from early 4th century CE to mid-6th century CE. The flourishing state of economy can be ascertained from the large number of gold coins circulated by different Gupta rulers.
The Gupta monarchs were famous for their gold coins. They also issued silver coins. However, coins made of copper, bronze or any other alloy metals are scarce. The abundance of gold coins from the Gupta era has led some scholars to regard this phenomenon as the ‘rain of gold’.
The Gupta gold coin is known as dinaras. The gold coins of the Gupta rulers are the extraordinary examples of artistic excellence. The coins depicted the ruling monarch on the obverse and carried legends with the figure of a goddess on the reverse.
The artists depicted the ruler in various poses. The study of these imageries is very interesting. Mainly the images celebrated the martial qualities and the valor of the ruler. In many coins of Samudragupta, he is depicted as carrying an axe. In others, he is carrying a bow in his left hand and an arrow in his right hand. The coins of Kumaragupta I (c. 415-450 CE) depicted him riding an elephant and killing a lion. Another very interesting image of Samudragupta depicted him as playing a ‘veena’, a stringed musical instrument. There are also some instances of Gupta coins which were jointly issued by the king and the queen. The ‘king-queen’ types of coins were issued by Chandragupta I, Kumaragupta I, and Skandagupta. These coins depicted both the figures of the king and queen in a standing pose. Kumaradevi, the name of the queen of Chandragupta I is known from these coins. But the other two kings did not mention the name of their queens in their joint issues.
The ‘Asvamedha’ or horse-sacrifice coins were issued by both Samudragupta and Kumaragupta I.
Almost every Gupta coin carried the figure of a goddess and an inscription in the reverse. Sanskrit was the language of the inscription. The goddess posed in either sitting or a standing position. There were many goddess depicted in these coins. The most common was the image of Laxmi, the Hindu goddess of wealth. Other goddesses who featured in the Gupta coins included Durga, the Hindu goddess of valor Ganga, the goddess of the river Ganges etc.
Some of the Gupta coins, mainly the silver ones, carried the images of Garuda, a mythical bird of Hindu tradition. These coins are found in large numbers in western India. In some cases, the Garuda is replaced by a peacock. This variety of coins is extremely rare. And thus, carry a great value for the numismatists.
The first hoard of the Gupta coins was found at Kalighat, in Calcutta in 1783.
The collapse of the Gupta dynasty in the fifth century under the pressure of foreign invasions from the north- west led to the demise of the golden age of Guptas reflected most conspicuously in the coinage of the sub- continent. The post-Gupta period saw various regional coinages which were poor in terms of artistic value and minted in baser alloys like billon (silver and copper). The period is seen as a period of numismatic decline in terms of circulation with fewer coins found as coin hoards (buried treasures).
The Guptas were temporarily replaced by the Huns or the Indo-Hepthalites who invaded and occupied the Western parts of the country via Kabul-Qandahar route. Toramana, the Hun leader issued silver and copper coins fashioned on the coins of Sassanid rulers of North-West India he also issued silver coins based on Gupta coinage turning the king’s head to the left and with ‘Toramana Deva’ inscribed on the reverse.
Toramana’s Indo-Sassanid coins have a typical bust of the King facing right on the obverse and a Sassanid fire altar with Gupta Brahmi legends on reverse. Toramana ruled over Malwa region till 510 A.D. but his successor, Mihirkula was driven off Malwa by the joint forces of Narsimha Gupta ‘Baladitya’ and Yashovarman of Malwa in 528 A.D. He captured Kashmir and issued coins based on the Sassanid standards with ‘Jayatu Mihirkula’ engraved in Brahmi on the reverse.
Regional coinages continued to be highly influenced by the Gupta coinage in Bengal, two kings, Samacharadeva and Jayagupta issued debased gold coins resembling the archer type of Guptas with a Bull standard on the coins. The reverse has Lakshmi seated on a lotus suggesting that Samacharadeva replaced the last Gupta ruler, Vishnu Gupta in the middle of the sixth century.
The next major coinage from Bengal was by Sashanka, the king of Gauda who was the rival of Maukharis of Kannauj and their famous ally, Harshavardhana. The coins have images of Shiva reclining on Nandi on the obverse and Lakshmi seated on lotus flanked by an elephant on the reverse.
At the beginning of the seventh century, the entire North India came under the sway of Harshavardhana, the ruler of Thaneswar, a small principality near Kurukshetra. Harsha was a great patron of arts, Buddhism etc. However, Harsha did not initiate any new coinage in his four decade reign. Instead, he chose to copy the ‘Eastern peacock’ type of Kumaragupta with the king’s portrait turned to left.
Available Source Material to Reconstruct the History of the Gupta Age
Reconstructing the History of the Gupta Age!
The period from 200 BC to AD 300, has been aptly characterized as the age of “the disintegration of the concept of empire”. In this period, the rise of many state structures in different parts of India that failed in their attempt to evolve into large kingdoms.
Once again, the idea of an empire became a reality with the emergence of the Guptas in 4th century AD.
In this background of small state structures in important parts of India, the Guptas of uncertain origin rose to prominence, whose core region appears to be eastern Uttar Pradesh.
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A conscious effort is made by historians to portray this Gupta age as the age of ‘Imperial Guptas’ and ‘the Classical Age’. These scholars, in the words of B.D. Chattopadhyaya, were of the opinion, “that an empire is perceived as a political structure assiduously built by the military exploits of several charismatic royal personalities it was simultaneously an outcome of the liberation of Northern India from long standing foreign rule and political unification achieved by successfully suppressing centrifugal elements”.
With this perspective, R.C. Majumdar observed, “the Gupta Empire, at full maturity, once more brings unity, peace and prosperity over nearly the whole of Northern India”. Echoing the same sentimental perspective U.N. Ghoshal also observed, “The greater part of the country undoubtedly enjoyed high prosperity”.
K.K. Dasgupta and R.C. Majumdar also observed, “The imperial Guptas with whom the volume opens, ably countered the centrifugal forces in Northern India and the kingdom, established by Chandragupta I was shortly converted by his son, Samudragupta into an empire. The Gupta Empire, reared by a succession of competent rulers, gave North India not only political stability and imperial peace but also set an exemplary standard in all departments of life and culture. Indeed, the advent of the Guptas on the political stage ushered an epoch which has rightly been called the Golden Age or the classical period of Indian history”.
This perception of an imperial, golden and classical age of the Guptas is created, sustained and perpetuated by a group of scholars as they witnessed in the rise of the Guptas an attempt to unite the different pockets of power in northern India. As described by B. Lahiri, “those controlled by the last rulers of the ‘foreign’ Kusanas the Gana Sangha, Janapadas, unevenly distributed between Punjab and Uttar Pradesh, Himalayas to Haryana and Rajasthan, and petty rulers of what have been called ‘indigenous states’.”
Source material available to reconstruct the history of the Gupta age is scarce.
However, what is available may be classified as:
(3) Chinese travellers’ accounts.
Of all the literary sources, the Puranas occupy an important place. The major Puranas, Vayu, Vishnu, Matsya, Brahmanda and Bhagavata Puranas are very helpful to the students of history. These Puranas were compiled and brought out in written form during this age. Based on the Puranic evidence it is believed that the founder of the Gupta lineage ruled over Prayaga, Saketa and Magadha.
Kalidasa, the famous Sanskrit dramatist and poet is considered to belong to this period but V. Ramachandra Dikshitar thinks that Kalidas’ works do not help us as a source material of the Gupta age. Further, Kamandaka’s Nitisara, Pravarasena’s Setubandha Kavya, Kaumudimahotsava a drama, whose authorship is debatable, Visakhadatta’s Devichandraguptam and Mudrarakshasa and Bana’s Harshacharita are the other valuable literary sources to reconstruct the history of the Guptas.
Epigraphs, coins, seals, monuments and paintings constitute the archaeological source material. A critical examination of Gupta coins helps us not only to deduce the extent of the empire, the artistic excellence and religious beliefs but also the economic soundness of the Gupta period. Gold, silver and copper coins of the Guptas are found in abundance. Generally, the gold coins of the Guptas have the figure of the king on the obverse and a goddess on the reverse with associated symbols like figures of altars, Garuda a dwarf or Tulasi plant.
Gold coins of Chandragupta I, Samudragupta, Chandragupta II, Kumaragupta and Skandagupta have become known. We have also gold coins of Purugupta, Kumaragupta II and Narasimhagupta Baladitya. There are silver coins of Chandragupta II, Kumaragupta I and Skandagupta. We have copper coins issued by Chandragupta II and Kumaragupta I.
The coins contained legends that indicated their reverence for goddesses, and their epitaphs. The coins of Chandragupta I and his queen Kumaradevi exhibit the importance they attached to the matrimonial alliance with the Lichchavis as a means of gaining political authority while the superior gold coins of Samudragupta reflect the economics of the period prosperity.
The inferior gold coins of the later Guptas reflect the deteriorating economic conditions of their period. The coins with Asvamedha symbol reflect their claim to sovereignty. We may conclude by observing that the gold, silver and copper coins of the Guptas bear testimony to the metal working skill and artisanship of the artisans of that period besides their economic condition.
Nearly 42 epigraphs of the Gupta times covering a period from AD 360 to AD 466, besides a number of non-Gupta epigraphs and later inscriptions enable us to reconstruct the history and times of the Gupta period. Of the 42 epigraphs, 19 are official, while the remaining 23 are private records issued by private individuals. Among these epigraphs, 27 are carved on stone and the rest are copper or Tamra Sasanas. The Prasasthis of Samudragupta and two Prasasthis of Skandagupta are very useful in reconstructing the Gupta history. We have also a Prasasthi of Chandragupta II engraved on an iron pillar at Mehrauli in Delhi and the rest of the fourteen copper plates. Generally, the Prasasthis and the copper plates provide us with the geneology of the recipient and the donor.
The private records show the donation of land or utensils to a religious establishment and these private records sometimes mentioned the name and occasionally the achievements of the ruling king. Of the Gupta epigraphs, the most valuable is the Allahabad pillar edict of Samudragupta, written by Harisena, the Mahadandanayaka of Samudragupta. It is a very long Prasasthi as it records the exploits of Samudragupta. Unfortunately, it is undated. It was written in a verse form in classical Sanskrit. Interestingly, 33 lines of this epigraph form a single lengthy sentence. Likewise, the Eran stone epigraph of Samudragupta also provides a glimpse of his achievements.
The hero of the Mehrauli iron pillar, Chandra, has been identified with Chandragupta II and this epigraph deals with his achievements. Chandragupta II’s conquests of western India are recorded in the Udayagiri cave inscription. So also, the Gadhwal stone epigraph, the Bilsad stone pillar epigraph and Mankuar stone-image inscription refer to the achievements of Kumaragupta. The Bhitari pillar epigraph near Benaras contains details of the fight between the Guptas and the Pushyamitras and the Hunas of the time of Skandagupta, the crown prince of Kumaragupta.
The Junagadh rock epigraphs and the Kahum pillar edict are attributed to the time of Skandagupta. Likewise, non-Gupta epigraphs also refer to events that happened during the Gupta regime. An inscription of Kakutsthavarman of the Kadamba dynasty refers to his marriage with the daughters of the Gupta dynasty.
A contemporary inscription of Varman dynasty reveals that they ruled the greater part of Malwa. The inscription does not acknowledge the hegemony of the Guptas. These also provide a clue to the time when the Guptas occupied that territory. About the disintegration and decline of the Gupta Empire, the epigraphs of Toramana and Mihirakula provide valuable information.
The importance of these epigraphs lies in the fact that they enable us to corroborate the information given in the epigraphs of the Guptas. The later dated epigraph of the Rastrakutas, the Saranath epigraph of Pakaditya and the Nalanda record of Yasodharman also indirectly refer to the Guptas and their times.
Besides epigraphs, the monuments of the Gupta period – temples, monasteries and Chaityas – also throw valuable light on the religious and artistic excellence of the Gupta age.
There were three different schools of art and architecture:
(iii) Nalanda, during this period.
The cave paintings of Ajanta and Ellora of the Gupta times reflect the artistic tastes and excellence, social life, festivities and Jatras of that time. Likewish, numerous seals found at Vaishali and its neighbourhood provides very valuable information on the provincial and local government of the Guptas.
Chinese Travellers’ Accounts:
The information obtained about the Guptas from the literary and archaeological sources can be corroborated from the accounts of the Chinese Buddhist pilgrim Fahien and a later dated account of Itsing who visited the region of the Guptas and recorded his impressions. Fahien spent nine years in India, six of them in the Gupta court, interestingly he spent three years at Pataliputra itself and visited the other places like Kanauj, Ayodhya, Sravasti, Kapilavastu, Vaishali and Kusinagara.
His account Fo-Kuo-Kie or ‘The Record of Buddhist Kingdoms’ gives very interesting information regarding different aspects of the Gupta age. Fahien is oddly silent about the name of the Gupta king. His account alone cannot be accepted as a truthful picture of the Gupta times we have to carefully corroborate the information with other sources.
Itsing visited India during the closing years of 7th century AD. He refers to the construction of a place of worship for the Chinese pilgrims at Mrigasikhavana by Sri Gupta. A fair amount of knowledge about the times of the Guptas can be gathered from these sources so that the history of this period can be reconstructed with some sources.
The Bayana Hoard of Gupta Coins
As far as finding treasures go, it was perhaps the greatest windfall.
On 17th February 1946, Maharaja Brijendra Singh of Bharatpur, a descendant of the famous Jat empire builder, Raja Surajmal was on a hunting expedition in the villages of Nagla Chela, within his kingdom. After the hunt, once the Maharaja and his retinue departed, three local village children began searching the area for empty cartridges. For them, these were prized collectibles. While on their ‘hunt’ along a small embankment, in the field of a poor farmer, they plucked out a small shrub and discovered a copper pot buried under. The pot contained more than 2000 Gupta era gold coins. This chance discovery, by three small children in a small nondescript village, would create a sensation in the world of numismatics. What they had found was the now famous ‘Bayana Hoard’, the largest known treasure of ancient Indian gold coins ever found in India!
What is most incredible is that this hoard had been lying undiscovered for 1500 years. The pot had been buried sometime in the early years of the reign of Emperor Skandagupta who ruled between 455 to 467 CE. We know this, as none of the coins of his successors have been found in the hoard.
The story goes, that the children took the pot home to their parents and a part of it was distributed among the villagers. Sadly, around 300 gold coins were melted before the Bharatpur state police arrived on the scene and took possession of the surviving 1821 coins. The villagers were made to pay a penalty of Rs 12,680 for melting the coins without permission.
Maharaja Brijinder Singh who took a personal interest in the hoard, invited Dr AS Altekar, the Chairman of the Numismatic Society of India to visit Bharatpur in May 1947 to catalogue the coins. This monumental work ‘The Catalogue of the Gupta Gold Coins in the Bayana Hoard’ is the only and the most comprehensive work on this treasure. In March 1951, Maharaja presented this Catalogue, along with the Copper pot and around 209 coins to President of India Dr Rajendra Prasad, to be displayed in the National Museum Delhi. Apart from a few pieces at the Bharatpur Museum (78 coins), the CSMVS Museum, Mumbai (20 coins) and the Patna University (18 coins), the remaining hoard was passed on to the Government of Rajasthan, where it remains till this day.
This is not the only Gupta coin hoard found, there have been around 17 such discoveries in the last 200 years. Most of the discoveries have been in Bengal, UP and Bihar. In fact, the latest one was discovered just 5 years back, in 2013, during a highway construction in Murshidabad, West Bengal. The Bayana hoard, however, remains the most significant. They are a window into the grandeur of the Gupta’s, great patrons of the arts, under whom a large part of India saw a ‘golden age’.
Somewhere around the 4th century CE the Guptas rose out of small principality in Eastern Uttar Pradesh or Bihar, and built an empire that lasted for more than two centuries. A king named Gupta was the progenitor. His grandson, Chandragupta I (319-350 CE) was the paramount ruler, who extended his kingdom far and wide. His son Samudragupta (reign. c. 330-375 CE) made extensive conquests and made his influence felt over the rulers of Southern region (Dakshinapatha) as well as rulers beyond his frontiers in the north-west. His son Chandragupta II extended still further the boundaries of his empire up to Kashmir in the west and Odisha in the east. Chandra Gupta II’s son Kumara Gupta I (415-450 CE) performed two Ashwamedha Yajna or horse sacrifice, to ‘declare’ his power and added to the empire, a greater part of central India, Gujarat and Saurashtra.
Towards the end of Kumaragupta’s reign, there were setbacks. The Hunas were conducting raids into the kingdom and over the next two decades, the Gupta kings were busy warding off this threat. While Skandagupta (455-467 CE) managed to defeat the Hunas, by the time he succeeded, the vast Gupta empire had begun to crumble. By the time of Budhagupta (496-500 CE), the western part of the empire was lost after him, the Guptas remained confined to Bihar, Bengal and some parts of Odisha. Ultimately fading into oblivion.
Given the significance of the Guptas in Indian history, the discovery and recovery of the large Bayana Gupta Hoard, was the most sensational numismatics discovery of the time. It is still spoken of, in wonder.
Broadly, the Bayana coins fell into different categories. They are catalogued as lyrist type, the elephant-rider type, the lion-trampler type, the rhinoceros-slayer type and the ashvamedha type. All these are priceless.
1. The King and Queen type: The coin depicts the marriage of Chandragupta I to the Lichchavi princess Kumaradevi on the obverse. The reverse of the coin has a seated goddess Durga. The coin portrays Chandra Gupta I. The coin, however, was issued by his son Samudragupta.
2. The Lyrist type of coin of Samudragupta: Is very beautiful and unique. On this coin, the king is shown seated, at ease, on a high-backed couch, playing a string instrument – probably a simple lyre or lute. The fact that the king wanted to publicize an image of himself as a musician is remarkable and also a window into the values the Gupta state held dear. Samudragupta is known to have been a great patron of the arts and was indeed an accomplished musician and poet.
3. The lion-slayer type of Chandragupta II: This is based on the tiger-slayer type of coin issued by Samudragupta. Also Kumaragupta issues coins of similar fashion. The reverse of the coin has Goddess sitting on a lion and diadem in her hand.
4. Rhinoceros-slayer type of Kumaragupta: The obverse of the coin has the king on horseback holding a sword in his right hand attacking the rhinoceros. The reverse has the Goddess Ganga standing on a makara (mythical crocodile). She holds a lotus in her right hand. The coin is of high artistic quality, notice how the rhinoceros is depicted with scaly skin.
5. Elephant-rider type of Kumaragupta: The obverse of the coin depicts the king sitting on an elephant holding a staff in his right hand, while an attendant is seated behind him. The reverse of the coin has Goddess Lakshmi standing facing the left holding out her right hand, as if to pet the peacock.
6. Karttikeya type of Kumaragupta: The obverse of the coin has the King standing with his right hand stretched out and a peacock to left. The reverse of the coin has Karttikeya seated on a peacock.
7. Chhatra type of Skandagupta: The obverse of the coin has king standing on the left, sacrificing at a fire altar, as an attendant stands on the right, holding up a parasol over the king. The reverse of the coin has Goddess Lakshmi standing holding a diadem. The Chhatra or the Royal Parasol type of Skandagupta coin is extremely rare. Only one specimen of this type was known from the Bayana hoard.
Most of the Bayana hoard coins are currently with the Rajasthan State government, CSMVS Museum, Mumbai and also at the National Museum, New Delhi. One can spot all the Gupta gold coins at the Numismatic gallery of the National Museum.
Gupta Coins The establishment of the Gupta Empire in the fourth century AD heralded a new era in the history of numismatics. The Gupta coinage started with a remarkable series in gold issued by Chandragupta I, the third ruler of the dynasty, who issued a single type- the king and queen - depicting the portraits of Chandragupta and his queen Kumaradevi with their names on the obverse and the goddess seated on a lion with the legend Lichchhavyah on the reverse. Though some specimens of this type have been discovered from the districts of 24-Parganas (North) and Burdwan, Bengal did not come under the Gupta rule till the time of Samudragupta, whose Allahabad inscription places samatata amongst the frontier kingdoms.
Of the seven types of gold coins issued by Samudragupta three viz. Standard, Archer and Ashvamedha are known to be from Bengal. The standard type discovered from Bangladesh, Midnapore, Burdwan, hughli and 24-Parganas (North) depict the standing king holding a standard and offering oblations on a fire-altar. The reverse show a goddess seated on a throne holding a cornucopia and the legend Parakramah. The Archer type, found from 24-Parganas (North), depicts the king standing, holding a bow and arrow with Samudra written under his left arm. The reverse is the same as on the standard type except the legend, which reads Apratirathah ie 'matchless warrior'. The Ashvamedha type, discovered in the Comilla district, shows an uncaparisoned horse in front of a sacrificial post with a flowing banner. The reverse shows a female (probably the chief queen) standing in front of an ornamental spear (suchi) with a flywhisk over her right shoulder and the legend shvamedhaparakramah. No specimens of the battle-axe, tiger-slayer, lyrist and Kacha types of Samudragupta are known from Bengal.
Only two types of coins of Chandragupta II, who incorporated vanga in the Gupta Empire, are known from Bengal. His Archer type coins, which became the most popular type of coinage with the Gupta rulers after Kumaragupta I, have been found in Faridpur, Bogra, Jessore and Comilla districts of Bangladesh and Kalighat (Calcutta), Hughli, Burdwan, 24-Parganas (North) and murshidabad of West Bengal. This type has two classes (one with an enthroned goddess and the other with a goddess seated on lotus on reverse) with several varieties.
His Chhatra (Umbrella) type depicting a king offering incense on an altar while an attendant holds an umbrella over him on obverse and a goddess standing on lotus on reverse is known from the single specimen discovered from Hughli district.
His Lion-slayer, Horseman, Couch, Standard, Chakravikrama and King and Queen on Couch types have not been found in Bengal.
Kumaragupta I, who issued as many as sixteen types of gold coins, is represented by Archer (Hughli), Horseman (Midnapore and Hughli), Elephant-rider (Hughli), Lion-slayer (Bogra, Hughli and Burdwan) and Karttikeya (Burdwan) types in Bengal. The Horseman type coins depict the king riding a caparisoned horse with weapons like a bow and a sword on the obverse and a goddess sitting on a wicker stool, sometimes feeding grapes to a peacock, on the reverse side. The Elephant-rider type shows a king riding on an elephant holding a goad. An attendant holding an umbrella sits behind him. Its reverse has a goddess standing on a lotus with the legend Mahendragajah. The Lion-slayer type has a king, armed with a bow and an arrow, either combating or trampling a lion on the obverse and a goddess seated on a couchant lion and the legend Sri-Mahendrasinghah on reverse. The most beautiful in the entire series is the Karttikeya (or Peacock) type depicting the king in tribhanga posture feeding a bunch of grapes to a peacock on the obverse and the god Karttikeya seated on a peacock and the legend Mahendrakumarah on reverse.
Two types-Archer (Faridpur, Bogra, Hughli, Burdwan) and King and Queen (Midnapore) - of the four known types of Skandagupta, have been found in Bengal. The latter depicts a king and a queen (identified as goddess Laksmi by some) standing facing each other on the obverse and a goddess seated on a lotus and the legend Sri Skandaguptah on the reverse. Archer type coins of Kumaragupta II (Kalighat, North and South 24-Parganas, Midnapore), Vainyagupta (Kalighat and Hughli) Narasinghagupta (Kalighat, Hughli, Murshidabad, Birbhum and Nadia), Kumaragupta III (Hughli and Burdwan) and Visnugupta (Kalighat, Hughli and 24-Parganas, North) have been found in Bengal. Most have metrical legends inscribed in chaste Sanskrit, highlighting the issuer's achievements on the obverse of the coins. A symbol in geometrical design is usually found on the reverse of Gupta coins and a large number bear a Garuda standard on the obverse.
The Guptas followed a complex metrology for their gold coins. Though they were generally believed to have followed the Kusana weight standard of 122 grains for their early coinage after the Roman aurei, and the Indian suvarna standard of 144 grains from the time of Skandagupta onwards, yet we find a gradual increase in their weight from about 112 in the time of Chandragupta 1 to 148 grains for the coins of the last rulers. It is to be noted that their pure gold content remained 113 grains throughout except for the coins of the last three rulers. It is possible that gold coins were not accepted at their face value but at their real value. The Gupta inscriptions use the terms, dinara and suvarna for them, apparently to distinguish the lighter and heavier types respectively.
Some silver coins of Chandragupta II, Kumaragupta I and Skandagupta were discovered at Muhammadpur near Jessore in 1852 and one coin of Skandagupta has been reported from chandraketugarh. Apart from these coins, no other specimens of silver coins are known from Bengal but reference to them in the Gupta epigraphs from Bengal definitely indicate their prevalence in the country. They were issued on the weight standard of 32 grains and referred to as rupaka in the inscriptions. No copper issues of the Guptas have been reported from Bengal. [Ashvini Agrawal]
Bibliography AS Altekar, The Coinage of the Gupta Empire, Varanasi, 1957 BN Mukherji, Coins and Currency System in Gupta Bengal, New Delhi, 1992.
A Short History Of The Indian Monetary Standard
Ten-rupee coin shot taken in 2010 in New Delhi, India. (Ramesh Pathania/Mint via Getty Images)
The history of the Indian monetary standard and the conduct of monetary policy in India over the past three millennia.
The Indian rupee – and, more generally speaking, the Indian monetary policy – has been the topic of much discussion in recent months. The rupee reached an all-time low against the United States (US) dollar in October 2018, hitting close to 74.36 units to a dollar. In December, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) Governor Urjit Patel tendered his resignation, provoking a debate over monetary policy independence.
This might be a good occasion to reflect on the history of the Indian monetary standard and the conduct of monetary policy in India over the past three millennia.
What is the history of the rupee? How did Indians conduct transactions and store value over centuries? When did India move to a fiat currency? What are the problems in attempting to manage the value of currency unit while not maintaining the discipline to rein in inflation?
These are questions of economics, yes. But they are also moral questions. An examination of the history of the rupee illustrates that monetary economics is a moral minefield. It is not possible to have the cake and eat it, too.
Early Indian Coinage
Ancient India is widely regarded as one of the early innovators in money and among the first countries to start issuing coins. This was observed in the coinage associated with several Mahajanapadas (circa sixth to fourth century BCE).
But we cannot find much literature from the time elaborating on the monetary standard in the Mahajanapadas. What we do have are the coins. For literary elaboration on the nature and type of Indian currency, one of the earliest books is Kautilya’s Arthashastra, usually dated to fourth century BCE.
The Arthashastra is also interesting as it carries the first clues to the etymology of the modern word “rupee”. According to Kautilya, the Mauryan state managed the mint headed by a superintendent named Lakshaṇādhyakshah. The silver coins manufactured by the mint are referred to as rūpya rūpa. In Sanskrit, rūpya means wrought silver and rūpa refers to form or shape.
Kautilya, however, does not suggest that the empire had a silver standard by any means. He also refers to other types of coins besides rūpya rūpa, most notably, copper coins called tāmra rūpa.
Also, the name rupya rupa appears to be a bit of a misnomer, as Kautilya in the description of the coins mentions that they are not exclusively made of silver. The silver coin in Kautilya’s words consisted of four parts of copper and the one-sixteenth part of any of the following metals: tikshna (iron), sisa (lead), anjana, trapu (tin). One is not sure of the actual silver content in it. Similarly, tamra rūpa (copper coins) comprised four parts of an alloy named padajivam.
So, the monetary system was most likely not a silver standard, or even a bimetallic standard, where the currency unit is defined in relation to two metals. But it was definitely a tightly regulated system where legal tender had to conform to certain standards of composition. It’s also interesting that Kautilya’s understanding of money is pretty consistent with the contemporary understanding. He acknowledges its role not just as a medium of exchange but also as a store of value.
It also appears that there was a central banker of sorts, the rūpadarśaka, whose job was to regulate the currency in the state. Kautilya also talks of a premium of 8 per cent levied on new coins issued, referred to as rūpika, which acted as a source of revenue to the treasury.
Now, how did this change over the next 1,000 years?
Judging by the coins associated with the great Gupta Empire of the fourth and fifth century CE, it does seem that gold coins were a lot more common in the Gupta Empire relative to the Mahajanapada or Mauryan periods. Here’s a gold coin issued by Samudragupta, circa 350 CE. Interestingly, the coin was called dinara, possibly a foreign word as opposed to the Indian word for a gold coin, suvarna rupa.
One hypothesis is that gold coins became popular in India after the Kushan rule, which introduced the dinara to the country. This was later adopted by the Guptas. The Gupta Empire also issued silver and copper coins but gold coins were very common.
Monetary Standards During Sultanate Rule
Now, let’s fast forward by some 800 years to the period of the Delhi Sultanates. There was a radical change in monetary standards introduced in India with the coming of the Muslim rule after the twelfth century (at least in North India).
The early Sultans did not depart from the Hindu numismatic standards. The earliest conqueror of the North Indian plain was Muhammad Ghūri, in the late twelfth century. The gold coins issued during his reign adhered to the convention, with goddess Lakshmi on one side and the name of the ruler on the other. The manager of the mint at Delhi during the rule of Alauddin Khilji’s son was one Thakurra Pheru, a Hindu or a Jain, who left behind a book in Apabhramsa on the exchange rate and the details on metal composition in coins of different types.
But, despite the early continuity, there were some significant changes in the course of the thirteenth century. The Delhi Sultanate established a firm exchange rate between gold and silver of 1:10 – a bimetallic standard of sorts that we didn’t quite encounter in earlier classical literature. Also, this was a period of political and cultural upheaval. The Khilji and Tughlaq sultans were notorious for their raids on Hindu temples, which inevitably meant a great deal of gold acquisition and subsequent use of that gold by the mint to issue coins.
This monetary indiscipline in the thirteenth century put a strain on the 1:10 ratio between gold and silver. Gold dominated in the general circulation, because of which the unofficial exchange rate between gold and silver dropped to as low as 1:7, though the official rate was at 1:10. This is one of the early examples in monetary history where a fixed exchange rate came under stress and eventually collapsed because it was not accompanied by monetary discipline and austerity.
The greed of the Sultans is well documented by the fourteenth-century historian Ziauddin Barani, who talks of the token currency in copper and brass introduced by Muhammad Bin Tughlaq to arbitrarily replace silver. This had a disruptive effect on commercial activity, forcing Tughlaq to backtrack and revoke the token currency.
Tughlaq’s token currency was an innovation not inspired by thinking rooted in Indian realities but possibly a fad picked up from China at the time. In China, the Yuan dynasty was experimenting with “Chao”, a paper currency that is usually regarded as the world’s first fiat currency. It is not surprising that the “paper currency” model did not work very well in China, either, which was beset with inflation problems at the time.
The gold surplus in the sultanate period also found its way into many foreign countries including Iran and parts of Russia. A fifteenth-century Persian revenue manual suggests that the royal treasury at Tabriz had more gold sourced from India than from any other source.
Presumably, the sultanate was engaging in imports of luxury goods (furs, slaves, warhorses) from countries on the north-west using the gold surplus. It was clearly a policy that promoted certain trade patterns that suited the tastes of the sultans funded by Indian gold. But the chaos induced by monetary instability appears to have eventually led to the issue of fewer gold coins during the later Tughlaq period and a reversion to the mixed metal currencies and copper coins.
Monetary Policy In Mughal India
During the sixteenth century, under Mughal rule, greater standardisation set in after the chaos of the preceding few centuries. At the onset of Mughal rule, north India largely used copper currency known as sikandari. While southern India, less influenced by the monetary chaos in the north, stuck to the gold currency, with the gold coin going by the name pagoda in the Vijayanagar Empire.
Sher Shah Suri’s brief reign from 1540 to 1545 was pivotal in the history of the Indian monetary standard. He established a tri-metallic coinage with strict standards after centuries of debasement:
- Rupaiya: silver coin (and the principal coin in the Empire)
- Mohur: gold coin
- Dam: copper coin
With the spread of the Mughal Empire in southern India in succeeding centuries, the rupee slowly replaced the gold pagoda in many provinces, but the pagoda continued to be dominant in the Tamil country.
So, how do we judge the monetary standard from sixteenth to late eighteenth century under Mughal Rule?
Dr B R Ambedkar, a fine monetary historian in his own right, speaks positively of the monetary discipline during Mughal rule in his work, The Problem of the Rupee, published in the 1920s. It definitely was a less chaotic period compared to the plunder, indiscipline, and thoughtless monetary innovation of the preceding sultanate period.
The silver rupee was the dominant currency. But was it a silver standard? Not quite. As we discussed earlier, it was a tri-metallic system. The mohur, the rupee, and the dam were linked to each other by a fixed ratio. As we know, fixed currency pegs are dangerous, especially when not accompanied by monetary discipline. But the Mughal mints were relatively more disciplined and they desisted from debasement for the most part.
Radical Changes During East India Company Rule And The Ensuing British Raj
One is not sure if the system changed in any material way when the Mughal Empire declined and power moved into Maratha hands in large parts of the country.
The early years of the Company rule in Bengal saw the first issue of paper currency in India, a first in Indian history. The banks that issued paper currency included the Bank of Hindustan (1770-1832), the General Bank of Bengal and Bihar (1773-75), and Bengal Bank (1784-91). But the monetary standard in the late eighteenth century remained a bi-metallic or, rather, a tri-metallic system with primarily silver coins (as well as gold and copper in circulation).
However, at the dawn of the nineteenth century, the Company authorities were irked by the lack of uniformity that had probably crept in with the political chaos in India in the eighteenth century. There were three types of rupees – the rupee sicca of Bengal, the rupee surat of Bombay, and the rupee arcot of Madras.
In 1835, there was an act passed that abrogated bimetallic standards and moved British India to a mono-metallic silver standard. Broadly speaking, we can think of the monetary standard in the British period in three distinct phases:
- 1835-1893: Silver standard
- 1893-1898: Transition to gold standard
- 1898 onwards: Gold exchange standard
So, clearly, the silver standard was effective for the longest period.
While standardisation and a single standard may be viewed as positive developments by some, it also created some problems. The biggest issue was that though India moved to the silver standard, its chief trading partner and ruler, Britain, was on a gold standard.
The period of the Raj was unique in the long Indian monetary history. For the first time, the economy was not primarily self-contained as in earlier centuries, but foreign trade (particularly with Britain) increasingly constituted a large part of economic activity. Given the move to a mono-metallic standard in 1835, it may have made sense to move to gold, as Ambedkar mused a century later.
But the move to the silver standard meant that the two countries were on different standards, and the government made futile efforts to fix a ratio between the two. In 1841, a proclamation authorised the treasuries to fix the gold-silver ratio at 1:15. This proved problematic when new gold deposits were discovered in Australia and the US, bringing down the gold price. As the Indian treasury was honouring the fixed exchange rate of 1:15, there developed a market in shipping gold to India to make a profit. This resulted in vast accumulation of gold in the Indian treasuries.
Eventually, attempts to peg the exchange rate were abandoned in the 1850s, following which there was a major fall of the rupee, as illustrated below.
This was in part triggered in the late nineteenth century by two things:
- Demonetisation of silver in many countries (Germany, Scandinavia in 1870s)
- Discovery of new silver mines
But this turmoil in exchange rates was not really a negative thing. Indian trade volumes actually increased quite remarkably in this period of rupee decline, as shown below.
Also, the rupee decline was not caused by currency debasement or an irresponsible mint (as we saw in the period of the sultanate). Inflation in India remained under control. So, the point to emphasise here is that letting the currency depreciate was not a catastrophe. Sure, it meant increased payment of home charges to the Britain for maintenance and upkeep. But these were the evils of colonial rule, not so much the fall in the rupee, per se.
Under a lot of pressure, India did move to a gold standard in the late 1890s. While pegging may have created a semblance of stability, it meant the country had a very tight money supply and no monetary independence. This ties back to the maxim of the “Impossible Trinity” in international economics. A country cannot have all three of the following:
In the later years of British Raj, under the gold standard, what we had was a fixed exchange rate and free capital movement. But this naturally meant a surrender of monetary independence and a monetary policy ill-suited to the Indian business cycle. In fact, India did not even have an independent central bank till 1934, the year RBI was instituted.
The Rupee Post-1947
After the country’s independence, elections and political accountability meant that there was much greater emphasis and need for having an independent monetary policy that addressed the Indian business cycle. However, we also continued with a fixed exchange rate, with extremely low volatility. The rupee was pegged to 1 US dollar in 1947. In later decades, the low volatility of exchange rate was maintained despite some depreciation forced by crises.
But the combination of a fixed exchange rate and independent monetary policy was achieved by erecting barriers not just on capital flows but also rather needlessly on the current account trade. It was a period of relative isolation from the world – a huge opportunity cost paid by the economy.
Here’s a look at the rupee’s evolution vis-à-vis the US dollar since independence.
Costs Of Currency Pegging
There is little doubt that India’s currency pegging came at a cost. Even though we had barriers on trade and capital flows for most of the post-independence years, we still had to buckle under pressure to devalue the rupee in 1966, when we faced our first severe economic crisis.
India’s unjustifiably high exchange rate was maintained artificially by placing restrictions on imports and subsidising exports. Nevertheless, perhaps the peg could have been maintained if monetary discipline had prevailed and inflation kept in check.
But inflation went out of control in the 1960s, making Indian goods extremely expensive abroad.
India’s fiscal profligacy meant that the deficit was partly funded through increasing money supply, as evident in the numbers below.
Foreign aid throughout the 1950s and 1960s helped to prevent a major crisis. But things came to a head in 1966 when aid was cut off and India was forced to devalue its currency. Though India devalued the currency practically overnight from Rs 4.8 to Rs 7.1, it was not as sharp a decline as it probably could have been. What was needed then was a removal of trade barriers and a much weaker rupee to make India competitive. Yet, we chose a strong rupee over a strong economy.
There was a repeat of the 1966 crisis in slightly different circumstances in 1990-91. The country tethered on the verge of bankruptcy and India could barely finance three weeks of imports. The reforms were forced upon India, in part by an International Monetary Fund bailout. While the reforms involved many pieces, the centrepiece, of course, was abandonment of the fixed exchange rate policy and letting the rupee depreciate.
The rupee depreciated from 17 to a dollar to roughly 35 to a dollar between 1990 and 1996. It has progressively weakened since, against major currencies.
Yet, the Indian economy has strengthened by the day. Today, it is the strongest that it has ever been, at precisely the moment when the rupee is arguably the weakest it has ever been. That’s not an anomaly at all.
The lesson from this quick examination of Indian monetary history from the Mauryan period to our times is to remind ourselves that the monetary standard by itself tells you very little about the robustness of a country’s economic system.
It is the responsibility of the central bank to maintain monetary discipline. In this time of global integration, it is also the responsibility of the government to reduce barriers to trade and capital that could hurt a developing economy. . But, all said and done, it does not behoove the government to prop up the rupee.
The value of the rupee is best left to the market.
Shrikanth Krishnamachary is a data scientist in financial services based out of New York City, whose interests include economics, political philosophy, Hinduism, American history, and cricket.
Indian Currency History: Post-Independence Era
After independence (1947) when India finally became a Republic in 1950, the modern Rupee returned to the signature design of Rupee coin. The Lion Capital at Sarnath was the chosen symbol for the paper currency. This symbol replaced the banknotes with images of King George VI. Therefore, the first banknote that was printed in India post independence was a one-rupee note.
The Reserve Bank of India printed currency notes with the image of Mahatma Gandhi in 1996. These notes are still in circulation and come with enhanced security measures as well as tangible aids for visually impaired people. However, the use of high-denomination notes of Rs.5000, Rs.10000, and Rs.1000 was stalled because they were being used in illegal transactions. After the demonetization in November 2016, Rs.1000 and Rs.500 notes were replaced with new banknotes of the same value. An addition to the denomination has been the 2000-rupee note.
Some Prized Coins of 2018
As far as the numismatics and coin collectors calendar goes, the Annual Coin, Banknote and Philately Fair organized by the Mumbai Coin Society recently was an important event. Up for grabs were some historic and fairly valuable coins. With the highest prized one being the gold coin of King Krishna of the Rashtrakuta dynasty. The annual fair is popular among coin collectors and numismatics enthusiasts , Mumbai being a big center for coin auctions.
Here is a look at the top draws
1. Gold Dinar of Samudra Gupta
The Ashwamedha gold dinar of Samudra Gupta was auctioned for a whopping price of Rs 6 lakhs by Todywalla Auction House. The Gupta gold coins are known as dinars and they are the most extraordinary examples of numismatic and artistic excellence. Samudra Gupta was one of the most celebrated rulers of the Gupta dynasty (4th – 6th century CE). The ‘Asvamedha’ type coins of Samudra Gupta are unique. In these we find a horse standing before a yupa or a sacrificial post with text around the coin mentioning the King as the conqueror of heaven, earth, and the oceans. The coin presented in the auction was one of the finest specimens seen to date and thus commanded a high price.
2. Gold Pardao of John III of Portugal
John III was the king of Portugal from 1521 to 1557. During his rule, Brazil was colonized and Portuguese possessions extended deep into Asia thus giving him the nickname of ‘o Colonizador’ (The Colonizer).
John III’s policy of reinforcing Portugal’s bases in India, secured Portugal’s monopoly over the spice trade. With the development of trade and commerce in Cochin, there was a great demand for coins. The Portuguese therefore established a mint in this city in 1530 to issue coins. The coin in the picture was issued in Cochin in the name of John III. The gold coin is extremely rare and was sold at the price of Rs. 6 lakh by Todywalla Auctions.
3. Gold Gadyana of Krishna II
Another significant coin was the gold gadyana of Rashtrakuta King Krishna II. The gold coin is extremely rare and is in very good condition.
Rashtrakutas controlled most of the western coast of the subcontinent, and hence trade from here, between the 6th and 10th century CE. The dynastic symbol of the Rastrakutas was the Garuda or the eagle. The coin illustrates a cross-legged Garuda seated on a lotus. The coin has an inscription which reads ‘Shri Shubtunga’ in Nagari script and a pseudo-Arabic legend on both the sides of the coin. Pseudo legend means that the original script is blindly copied on the coin and does not necessarily make sense. The pseudo-Arabic legend indicated that they had trade contacts with Arabs and copied their coins.
Though the coin wasn’t sold in the auction, the opening bid was among the highest, at Rs 7 lakh.
4. Gold Mohur of Jahangir
The coins of Mughal Emperor Jahangir are prized by experts and coin collectors all over the world because of their uniqueness and rarity. This gold mohur of Jahangir, issued at the Burhanpur mint is very rare and was sold at Rs 4.1 lakhs by Todywalla auctions. This very rare gold mohur was issued by Jahangir during the month of Di. The obverse of this coin is inscribed as ‘Nur-Al-Din Jahangir Shah Akbar Shah’. The reverse of the coin is inscribed as ‘Ilahi month Di’, on the top, along with the mint name ‘Burhanpur’ in the middle line and Regnal year 17 at the bottom.
5. Silver Rupee of Shah Alam II
The silver rupee coin of Shah Alam II (1759 -1806 CE), the sixteenth Mughal Emperor was sold by Oswal Auction House for Rs. 1.7 lakhs, though the initial bid was Rs. 75 thousand. This coin issued from the Sirhind mint, was one of the biggest highlights of the auction as it is extremely rare and only one other coin is known to exist. That one is at the British Museum.
The coin marks an important historical event. After the death of Aurangzeb in 1707, the once mighty Mughal Empire was crumbling and the Maratha power reached its zenith. The Mughals became mere titular rulers and the boundaries of the Mughal Empire were protected by the Maratha army. During the reign of Shah Alam II, the Mughals faced the wrath of Ahmed Shah Abdali of Afganistan, which led to the Third Battle of Panipat in 1761 between the Maratha army and invading forces of Ahmed Shah Abdali of Afganistan and other allies.
The region of Sirhind was in control of the Afgan Governor Abd us-Samad Khan and he was killed by the Marathas when they captured Kunjpura on 13 October 1760. For a short period, between October 1760 and January 1761, Marathas minted and issued coins under the name of Shah Alam II from the Sirhind mint, making the silver rupee of Shah Alam II historic and valuable.