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.

The Coins of Akbar, the Great Mogul

The Moguls started their reign in India in the year 1526 CE. Babur, the founder of the Mogul rule defeated the reigning Sultan of Delhi and established his rule. From 1526 to 1857, the Mogul emperor was the sole source of legitimate rule in the whole of South Asia. However, after Babur’s death his son Humayun faced crushing defeat at the hands of a Pathan lord, Sher Shah Suri in 1540. Humayun left India and took refuge in Persia. But his son Jalal ud-din Akbar was of extraordinary talent. After the death of Sher Shah Suri in 1545, the Pathans were in a weak position. Humayun took the advantage and returned to India. His son Akbar finally crushed the power of the Pathans and established the Mogul rule on a strong footing.

Akbar’s reign saw the all round development of India. The people of India prospered in every sphere of life. Trade and commerce flourished, arts and aesthetics attained new heights, and religious syncretism of the Moguls became the example of the day. The all round development can also be traced in the coins issued during the rule of Akbar Shah.

The monetary system of Akbar was inspired largely by the innovations of Sher Shah Suri. Sher Shah Suri was an able administrator. Akbar, though from a rival house, adopted several of the administrative measures innovated by Sher Shah Suri. Sher Shah first introduced Rupya. It was a silver currency weighed 178 grains. Akbar continued to issue the Rupya with his own name inscribed. Interestingly, the money is still known by the name of Rupya in India.

Akbar not only copied the measures introduced by Sher Shah, he also reflected innovation and originality. He issued coins in all the three principal metals used for coinage worldwide. The gold coin was known as Mohur. Mohurs weighed about 170 grains. It was mainly used by the traders for large business deals. It was also used by the princes of royal blood, the landlords and the regional governors for large amount of payment. Apart from the continuing usage of Rupya, Akbar also issued a different variety of silver coin known as Shahrukhi. It was of much lighter weight than the Rupya. A typical Shahrukhi weighed about 72 grains. The copper coins of Akbar Padshah were known as Dam. Dam weighed about 330 grains. The Shahrukhi and Dam were circulated in large numbers and used extensively by the common folks. The exchange rate of converting a particular variety of coin into another variety was also clearly defined.

The Akbari system of coinage is significant because of their minute details. A detailed description of the issuing year and the location of the mint were inscribed on the coins. The coins also carried the full title of the emperor. This practice was followed by all the subsequent Mogul emperors. Even the English East India Company who started their career in India as a subordinate power to the Moguls struck the coins in the name of the reigning Mogul emperor. This practice was discontinued by the English only in the year 1837 when the Moguls were in a politically debilitating state.

However, you won’t find a single coin carrying the image of any of the Mogul emperor. Moguls were known for their religious syncretism but they remained Muslim throughout the period. As is well known, idolatry is prohibited in Islam. Thus, the Moguls refrained from inscribing their image on their coins. But they compensated this with beautiful calligraphy. The Mogul coins remained as some of the most excellent examples of aesthetics and artistic excellence in Indian coinage.