The Marathas were a loose group of warrior people residing in the western India. They became politically powerful in the late 17th century under the leadership of Shivaji. Throughout the 18th century, they increased their power at the expense of the Mughals. By the end of the 18th century, they were the most powerful people in the whole of the Indian subcontinent. It was only the vast resources and the superior military forces of the English East India Company which was successful in subduing the Marathas.
The Maratha economy was mainly agrarian. The Maratha coins also lacked high degree of sophistication. The various Maratha kingdoms never issued a uniform series of coin. The currency system was very loosely controlled by the state. The state restrained its duty to the collection of revenues and never beyond it. In this field, the Marathas were much inferior to their contemporary adversaries such as the Mughals or the English who were always keen to maintain proper currency system across the empire.
Even in some cases, the Marathas used the coins issued by the Mughals. During the 18th century, the most common coin in use across the Maratha territory was actually a Mughal currency- the silver Sicca.
However, a notable exception in this field is Shivrai. Shivrai is a copper coin of very low value. It was used extensively by the common folks across western India. The earliest examples of Shivrai came from the reign of Shivaji. It was continued to be used by the people up to late-19th century. Even the English East India Company who became the dominant political force after the Third Anglo-Maratha wars continued to issue Shivrai coins.
The Shivrai coins were mainly round in shape. The obverse of the coins carried the inscription ‘Sri Raja Shiv’ in Devanagari script. The reverse also carried a devanagari inscription- Chhatrapati in honor of the reigning Maratha monarch. The weight of these coins was not uniform. They were valued at 1/74th to 1/79th of a Rupee-the standard unit of currency in the Indian subcontinent.
In 1674, Shivaji’s coronation took place. To assert his rule as a sovereign ruler he minted coins in his own name. The gold coins were known as Shivrai Hon. But they were few in number. Although, Shivrai- the copper coins of low value- were minted in large number for the convenience of the common folk.
After the reign of Shivaji came to an end with his death in 1880, Maratha rule became weak for the next forty years. But the Marathas regained their political prominence under the Peshwas from 1720 onwards. With that we encountered a new series of Maratha copper coins. These new Shivrai coins issued under the Peshwa rule came to be known as Dudandi Shivrai. These new coins, too, carried those same inscriptions in the Devanagari script.
The next series of Shivrai coins were minted when English East India Company subdued the power of the Marathas during the first quarter of the 19th century. These fresh coins were circulated by the Company authority. The Company Shivrai coins carried some additional features. The year of minting in the Fasli era was inscribed on those coins.
In the last quarter of the 19th century, the Shivrai coins increasingly became obsolete. They were replaced by newly circulated Company coins whose value was determined as 1/64th of a Rupee. The standard procedure of dividing the Rupee into 64 divisions continued until independent Indian government introduced the decimal system in 1957.