The numismatic society of India

The Indian sub-continent has a long history of trade, commerce and financial activities. Thus, coins and bank notes are very important part of Indian public life from ancient times. This is evident from the archaeological remains of ancient civilizations and cities. As early as in 1790, some Roman coins were discovered in India. The Asiatic Society of Bengal which was situated in Calcutta started to study those coins. From then on, to study the ancient coins in a scientific manner and prepare information for the professional historians, there is a very well organized and learned body of numismatists in India. However, with the expansion of their activities and findings they felt the need of a centralized organization. To fulfil this need they established the Numismatic Society of India on 28th of December, 1910.

There were only six members at the time of the Society’s establishment. It was established in the north Indian town of Allahabad. Among the six founding members, five were British and only one, Framji Thanawala was an Indian Parsi. The then Chief Justice of the Allahabad High Court, Sir John Stanley was its first elected president. R.B.Whitehead took the charge of the secretary and treasurer of the society. The membership fee was decided to be Rs. 5.

The Numismatic Society of India emerged from a coin conference. The conference was held at the house of either Nelson Wright or R. Burn. They decided to form the society to encourage the hobby and scientific study of coins. The society was a spectacular success among the scholars and the enthusiasts. Within one year, the membership of the society increased to 46. This is one of the largest scholarly communities in India today with more than 2000 individual life members and 300 annual members. More than 150 Institutes and Centers of higher learning are also its members.

The organizational structure of the Society has also seen some change over time. In 1947, the post of President was made honorary and the administrative charges were assigned under the newly created post of Chairman. Many eminent historians and scholars have adorned the posts of the society including A.S.Altekar and Prayag Dayal.

The location of the society also changed several times. It found its first permanent office in the premises of the State Museum situated in Lucknow. But later it shifted to the Banaras Hindu University Campus in Varanasi. In 1966, with the assistance from the Central Government of India and State government of Uttar Pradesh, the Society builds its own building. The members of the Society, too, actively contributed in this initiative to have a building of their own. Since then, the Society is housed inside the campus of Banaras Hindu University campus.

The Society maintained a large library of scholarly books and journals in its building. There is also a museum in the building which preserves the old coins found in India and the adjacent countries. 

The scholarly activities of the Society claimed to be mentioned. They supervised the collection and preservation of old coins all over India. The Society also organized annual conferences where scholars came from all over India and even abroad to discuss their findings and new technologies in the field of numismatics. More than 90 such conferences had been taken place till date. The Society also published scholarly books, journals and monographs on numismatics. The most respected and famous journal on India- Journal of the Numismatic Society of India- is regularly published by the Society since 1939. In this way, the Numismatic Society of India upheld the scientific and scholarly study of coins in India in a very good manner.

The coins of Shah Jahan

Shihabuddin Muhammad Shah Jahan Badshah Gazi was the fifth Mughal ruler. He ruled from 1628 C.E. to 1658 C.E. The reign of Shah Jahan is considered by the historians as the most glorious period of the Mughal rule in India. Shah jahan was a great admirer of artistic excellence. The world famous monument Taj Mahal was a creation of this emperor. But at the same time he was a devout Muslim. So, he was against any form of idolatry. Thus, in his we see a great amount of artistic work without depicting any living being which was prevalent in the coins issued by his father and predecessor Jahangir.

After his coronation as the Mughal Badshah, Shah Jahan immediately banned the Zodiac coins issued by Jahangir. The Zodiac coin carried figures of humans as well as animals which was considered by Shah Jahan as un-Islamic.  He also announced death penalty for those found using these coins. All the Zodiac coins were brought from the market and melted. After this, Shah Jahan issued new coins in his name. In course of time, the Zodiac coins issued by Jahangir became one of the rarest coins of India and a much valued possession of the modern numismatists in India.

The new coins issued by Shah Jahan were no less elegant. Coins were issued in gold, silver and copper as well. They were in various shapes such as round, square, and octagonal. Kalima or Islamic religious messages were introduced in the inscriptions of the coins in accordance with the orthodox Islamic belief of the emperor. The Kalimas were inscribed on the obverse. The name of the issuing mint was also inscribed on the obverse. Some famous places where Mughal mints were situated were Agra, Thatta, Surat, etc. The reverse carried the name and the full title of the emperor. The coins were marked with the Hijri date on the obverse which was prevalent among the Islamic dynasties. Apart from the regular coins of gold, silver and copper; Shah Jahan issued special silver coins called Nisar to present them to his favorites and notables. The Nisar can be regarded more as a medallion than a proper coin but it was designed and regarded as a coin.

As idolatry was prohibited according to the religion, the emperor took the refuge of calligraphy to design his coins. The religious messages, the name and title of the emperor- all were inscribed on the small space of the coin in a very beautiful manner and with great precision. The excellence of Persian calligraphy mesmerized the audiences till date.

However, the end of Shah Jahan’s reign was not a happy one. After Shah Jahan fell ill, his four sons engaged in a fratricidal civil war for the throne. Aurangzeb Alamgir emerged victorious in this struggle. He promptly imprisoned his father and declared himself the new emperor. He also started issuing coins in his name as the mark of a sovereign emperor. Aurangzeb was a more orthodox Muslim than his father. The Islamic orthodoxy of Aurangzeb is a different story need not to be narrated here in detail. What is important for us is the story of his redesigning of the Mughal coins according to a more orthodox Islamic fashion. He removed the Kalima from his coins. He feared that whenever such a coin bearing the kalmia fell in the hand of a non-Muslim or Kafir it became polluted which is not desirable in Islam. Apart from this, his coins were more or less the of his father’s.