The Coins of the Sultans of Bengal

With the inception of Muslim rule in Delhi in 1192 CE under the leadership of Muhammad bin Sam, a new era started in the socio-economic as well as political history of India. Islam was not much familiar in the Indian context before that. However, with the foundation of the Muslim political rule, Islam became a day to day reality in the life of the Indian masses. The rule of these Muslim rulers is known as the Delhi Sultanate in the history of India. Five different dynasties succeeded each other and ruled up to 1526 CE.

However, the realm of the Sultans of Delhi did not cover the whole of South Asia. Several frontier areas such as Bengal and the Deccan occasionally raised the banner of rebellion against the Sultan. In many cases, they successfully asserted their independence and remained outside the control of Delhi. One such classic example is of the independent Sultans of Bengal.

Shamsuddin Ilyas Shah established the Ilyas Shahi dynasty in Bengal in the year 1339 CE. From this year onwards, Bengal was virtually independently ruled by different local dynasties until it came under the rule of Sher Shah Suri in 1552 CE. Ilyas Shah’s own dynasty ruled uninterruptedly up to 1406 CE and then again from 1442 CE to 1481 CE. Under the rule of the Ilyas Shahi and later, the Husain Shahi dynasty, the economic condition of Bengal was quite satisfactory. And the coins of these Sultans bore the mark of prosperity of their realm.

The coins were issued in gold and silver. There are no known evidences of copper issues of the Bengal sultans. The early issues were struck in the weight standard of 170 grains but later, it was devalued to 166 grains. Lakhnauti, Satgaon, Sonargaon were some of the major mints issuing coins under the name of the Sultan of Bengal.

The coins of the Bengal Sultans are quite similar to that of the Sultans of Delhi in design and shape. They also carried similar sounding titles and epithets of the rulers. However, the edges of these coins marked their distinctness from the coins issued by the Sultans of Delhi. They are marked by double or single borders and are in the shapes of circles, squares, hexagons, xnxx, octagons, etc. The Sultans of Bengal were pious Muslims and consider themselves as the part of the universal Muslim empire under the rule of the Khalifa. This is evident from the inscriptions on their coins. The obverse of their coins proudly described their status as “yamin Khalifah Allah Nasir Amir al-Momin or the right-hand of God’s viceregent, aider of the prince of the faithful. Some of the issues described them as “Ghaus al-Islam wa al-musalmin” meaning succourer of Islam and the Muslims. Jalaluddin Muhammad Shah’s (1414-1431 CE) coins are remarkable for the introduction of the Kalima in the coins. Generally, the obverse of the coins carried the Kalima along with the issuing year and name of the issuing mint. However, Husain Shah (1493-1518 CE) dropped the Kalima to accommodate his title which was so long that it covered both the obverse and the reverse. His full title read as follows- al-sultan al-fath al-kamru wa al-kamatah wa Jajnagar wa vrisa which is indeed long! His title is also an important historical source to ascertain the limits of his rule. The title declared the Sultan’s conquest of Assam in the west and Jajnagar in Orissa in the east.

The coins of the Bengal Sultans, however, lacked artistic sophistication and calligraphic styles which is otherwise, an important aspect of the Indo-Islamic coinage.