PRABHU'S WEB PAGE ON INDIAN COINAGE
In the early days, the means of acquiring the necessaries was through barter, a mode of exchange. The civilization influenced the society to agree upon a convenient media of exchange. Exchange of available surplus commodities such as pottery, milk & it's products, grains, cowherd, leather, cloth was the barter system. In India, the cow(Go-dhan) stood as the higher unit of barter and at the lower end various units such as beads, shells, knives and metal bars such as copper, iron. The exchange of cows has a documentary evidence from the Rigvedic verses, the oldest literature of the world.
With the discovery of precious metals and an appreciation of gold and silver, the process of exchange simplified further. The obvious choice were these metals which had an advantage of portability and more than it - the demand. Suvarna, the gold like the Persian Daric and Greek Stater substituted the fully grown cow in value. The gold dust washed away from the Indus river could serve only the higher unit of coin, whereas the silver from natural sources served as the lower unit of exchange. Dinara was a Indian gold coin adopted from Roman Dinarius.
In Buddhist Jathakas, the three cases of gold coinage were mentioned : Nishaka-the first order, Suvarna-the second order, and Mashaka - the lowest unit in value. In the Vedic and post Vedic classical ancient Indian literature such as Ramayana, Mahabharatha, there are references of Nishaka, Shatamana and Hiranyapind as the means of exchange of uniform weights.
The introduction of coinage could be attributed to either the inability to deal with a fractional barter trade with a living fully grown cattle or the inhibition to exchange essential commodities with a nonessential commodity. But for sure, coins were never meant to reveal history. In fact it did provide the thread to stitch the history!!! The inventors produced them as a medium of exchange but not to reveal history. The inventors may not have thought that they will leave an imprint to the succeeding generations.
Most of the coins survived today are from the hidden or buried source, done deliberately to safeguard from thieves/enemies prior to the introduction of banking system. Dirt played a major role before the Banking system could evolve. People buried money to safeguard and either forgot where they buried it or they died without telling anybody. Soldiers buried money before battle to hide from their enemies and it stayed intact! The coin finds in earlier days had some fascinating role in tales and later the experts took this to appreciate the quality of art. It is only during eighteenth century, the coins were seriously considered as a subject of study in history, coins thus entered a specialized field called Numismatics.
The coinage thus evolved as the time passed. Offering pure and genuine coins probably ended up in dispute due to adulterations of other precious metals with gold or silver. The royal or trading authorities further refined the system of coinage by punching marks of authenticity and lead to the minting of coins, which probably began with the issue of Punch Marked Coins. The antiquity of these Karshapanas marks back to 700 BC. The indigenous Indian punch marked coins were issued in silver with a uniform weight of around 3.4 to 3.6 gms which often carry marks on both sides.
The Greek coins were in circulation parallel to the punch marked coins. The art in the coinage of the Indian subcontinent was enhanced by the Bactrian Greeks and early Indo-Greek rulers with the Hellenistic art. The craving for realism in portrait modelling, motion, posture and expression can be seen in the coins of the time. The rulers left the appearance of the true monarchs, royal costumes, religious practices etc., on their coinage. The reverse devices on the coins bore galaxy of Greek divinities. The Scytho-Parthians though lacked the liveliness of Indo-Greek coins, introduced several new iconographic traits such as animals.
From late first century BC onwards, flourishing Roman empire influenced the Kushana rulers to introduce gold coins This is the beginning of golden era of Indian coinage. The remarkable number of Kushana gold coins suggest a prosperous monetary economy. They typically depicted iconographic forms drawn from Rome, Alexandria, Hellenized orient, Iran and India thus expressing the broad cultural horizon and habit of syncretism. In fact, the ancient Kharoshti scripts were first deciphered with the help of bilingual coinage of Indo-greek and Kushana rulers.
History on the imperial Guptas were still hidden until the first major hoard containing gold coins were recovered on the bank of Hugli near Calcutta in 1783. They lead to the deciphering of Brahmi script and the monarchs on their coins were identified through the legends they carried. From the various hoards, it is clear that the gold coins were circulated in abundance. The splendid gold coinage of Guptas with its infinite varieties and types and its inscriptions in classical sanskrit are the finest examples of purely Indian art appearing on Indian coins for the first time.
The first indigenous gold coin reported from south India is that of early Chalukyas (Pulakesi II), and had Varaha as their insignia and the legend Satyasraya II in Brahmi around the Varaha on the obverse. The curious coins known as Gadhiya Paisa which circulated in the Rajputana districts and also in Gujarat shows the traces of Sassanian origin. The coins of the various Rajput princes were usually gold, copper and billon, very rarely silver. The usual type of gold coin appears to have been first stuck by Gangeya-deva of the Kalachuri dynasty which bears the familiar seated Goddess (Lakshmi) on the obverse and the king's name in old Nagari. The seated bull and horseman, the almost invariable device on Rajput copper and billon were first introduced by the Brahman kings of Gandhara or Ohind.
Again in the 10th to 12th century, there came the coinage of Kadambas, Yadavas and Cholas in the south. Gold coins were generally used as a treasure and for ornamental purpose. Even the byzantine coins of foreign origin were found in circulation in the south which showed the foreign surplus of India. With the thin and small die struck pieces of gold coin of Viayanagara dynasty, the copper coins decreased in size and the fanam acquired a wide popularity and similarly the silver tares of Calicut.
Earlier Muhammadan rulers conceded much to local sentiment as to reproduce for a time the Bull and Horseman style of Rajputs. As engraving images was forbidden by faith, the pictorial devices ceased to appear on the coins except for few exceptions. The coinage of later Muhammadan rulers and mughals were entirely devoted to the inscription on both obverse and reverses. King's name and title along with the name of mint, date occupied the space and even new features like religious formulae and the couplet were included. The fabric of the coinage underwent a complete transformation though not all of a sudden. Prophet Mohammad proclaimed that anybody who produces God's power of creation by making images of living thing will be required on the day of judgement to give that image life, and if he fails to do so to surrender to its own - this made the later muslim rulers to strictly concentrate and enrich the art of calligraphy and abstract decoration in their coinage.
By the end of sixteenth century, India saw foreign invasion from Europeans and no dynasty had the capability to fight their navy, and India was colonized gradually by the Europeans. The coinage were stamped with their respective insignia or the image of ruling sovereigns on the obverse and the legend showing the monetary value and the year of issue on their reverse.