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.

A Short History of Indian Coins

The earliest references to coins in the Indian context have been found in the Vedas. Though Vedas are primarily religious texts, they are not solely concerned about Yoga, spirituality or after-life. Rather there are numerous references to ‘nishka’ and ‘nishka-griva’ which are believed to be earliest specimens of Indian coinage.

Another breakthrough in the Indian coinage can be traced back to 6th century BCE. Several small states emerged in the northern India during this period. The trading activities grew rapidly. We came across several terms such as the nishka, karshapana, shatamana, vimshatika which were coins of different weight and value. Interestingly, the weight-system of the coins was based on the red and black seeds of a particular variety of tree called Abrus precatorius. The coins of this age were mainly made of silver and copper. They are known among the numismatists as punch-marked coins. Punch-marked coins did not show any great instance of artistic expertise.

But the coins of the next age which was circulated in India were destined to be the best examples of artistic expertise. They were issued by the Indo-Greek kings of north western India. These coins were found in large numbers in various places of modern Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India. These coins are significant because they carry detail information about the issuing monarch, the year of issue and sometimes even an image of the reigning king. Coins were mainly made of silver, copper, nickel and lead.

The reign of the Gupta dynasty is described by some historians and scholars as the ‘Golden age’ age. And this is quite evident from their coins. Numismatists have found number of gold coins of this dynasty. These coins are also rich in details of their issuing authority. The gold coins of the Guptas were known as dinaras. The writings on these coins were in Sanskrit. These coins depicted the reigning monarch in different poses.

Apart from the coins another major medium of exchange xxx in the early Indian market was the cowrie shell. Cowrie shells were used in large numbers by the ordinary masses for small scale economic transactions. It is said that the cowrie shells carried definite value in the market just as the coins.

With the fall of the Gupta dynasty in mid-6th century CE there was a marked decline in commercial activities in Northern India. This period is also significant in the history of Indian coinage because the decline of monetary system. The decline of coinage can be noted in their number, their appearance, and value.

However, the situation changed with the invasion of the Turks in 11th and 12th century CE. Vast areas of northern India came under the rule of the Sultans. Trade and commerce with West Asia was again flourishing. The various dynasties of the Delhi sultans issued silver and copper coins. The inscriptions on the coins were mainly in Perso-Arabic script. Interestingly the coins did not bear any image of the issuing monarch. The reason was the prohibition of idolatry in Islam.

Muhammad binTughlaq, one of the sultans of 14th century was famous for his monetary reforms. He circulated bronze and copper coins and token paper currency. However, his measures failed miserably as his subjects resorted to wholesome forgery of the currency notes. Ultimately he had to withdraw the currency notes.

The Great Moguls of 16th and 17th century issued coins closely resembling other Central Asian dynasties. Sher Shah, a ruler for a very short period of time in the mid-16th century was a bitter enemy of the Mughals. He is also remembered for his introduction of a kind of silver coin namely rupee. Interestingly, in India money is still known as rupiya.

The Moguls were succeeded by the East India Company’s colonial rule. The Company rule brought the monetary system of India in direct connection with the global economic system. However, the name of the Indian currency continued to be rupee under the Company rule.