The Kushana Coins

The Kushanas established their rule over a vast area of northern India and central Asia during the 1st century C.E. Many significant rulers of early India belonged to this dynasty including Kujula Kadphises, Kanishka, etc. The Kushanas originally belonged to the Yu-Chih tribe. They took the advantage of political instability in the region of northern India during the 1st century C.E. and established their dominance. The empire of the Kushanas experienced much prosperity due to the trading activities of the merchants. They carried out their trade mainly in silk with the Roman Empire. Their commercial activities generated huge amount of wealth; part of which find its way into the Kushana treasury. The prosperity of the Kushana Empire is well reflected in their coins.

The first two Kushana kings, Kujula and Vima issued gold coins. Archaeologists and Numismatists have also found their copper coins. The Kushana coins are excellent examples of artistic excellence and sophistication. The coins were die-struck and produced in large numbers to facilitate growing trade and commerce. They resembled a great similarity to the earlier Indo-Greek coins as these coins also depicted the portrait of the issuing monarch in a great detail. The Kushanas also closely followed the Indo-Greek weight standard in minting their coins. Some of the coins of Vima Kadphises were minted following the Roman aureus. The early gold coins of the Kushanas weigh around 8 gm. We have also some specimens of silver coins issued by Vima. The silver coins were mainly circulated in the area of lower Indus region.

Another main characteristic of the Kushana coins are the depiction of various deities on the reverse of the coins. Various Greek, Iranian, Bactrian and Indian deities were featured in the Kushana coins. We found the Indo-Iranian deities like Mazda, Mao, Athsho, etc. inscribed on the coins of the Kushanas. This is significant because it showed the syncretism nurtured by the Kushana rulers.

Another significant example of the syncretism of the Kushanas is evident from their issue of bilingual coins. The obverse of the coins carries Greek inscriptions and the reverse Kharosthi inscriptions using the Prakrit language which was the lingua franca of northern India during the early centuries of Christian era.

The greatest of the Kushana rulers is Kanishka I. He expanded the Kushana rule to many far flung areas of central and eastern India. He also reformed the currency system and issued new variety of coins. The martial character of the king is well depicted in the coins. He can be seen carrying a spear in his left hand in many of the coins. The Greek and Indian gods and goddesses continued to feature in the Kushana coins. The prominence of the Indian god Shiva in the coins of Kanishka and later Kushanas is regarded by numismatists as a proof of their conversion to Saivism in later days. Buddhism also had a profound effect on the Kushanas. It is well documented in the archaeological remains. Buddha is also represented in various forms in their coins. Buddha is regarded as Boddo and Sakamano Boddo in these coins. These corroborate the literary texts which described the great patronage provided by Kanishka to Buddhism. Kanishka is still much revered as one of the greatest patrons of Buddhism. However, the policies of issuing bilingual coins were discontinued in favor of Greek or Bactrian legends.

The later Kushana rulers such as Vasudeva, Huvishka, etc. continued to issue highly sophisticated gold coins. The portrait of Huvishka in the coins is highly appreciated for its artistic excellence and exact depiction of the.

Due to the abundance of the gold coins of the Kushanas, they are considered as the worthy predecessors of the Guptas by some scholars.

The Coins of Muhammad Bin Tughlaq

Muhammad Bin Tughlaq was one of the most interesting personalities of Medieval Indian history. He ruled from 1324 to 1351 AD. Muhammad Bin Tughlaq was interested in Persian poetry, mathematics, medicine, and astronomy and was also noted a philosopher.  He was well-versed in the religious topics and fluent in both Arabic and Persian. From the beginning of his kingship, the countrymen had a huge expectation from him. He took some very bold and strong measures to reform the Sultani administration at the advent of his rule.

He took great steps in revenue reformation. He decided to shift his capital from Delhi to Devagiri, which is now known as Daulatabad. Daulatabad is situated in Central India. Though controversial, Muhammad Bin Tughlaq showed a great sense of pragmatism in this decision. He not only saved his capital from the Mongol raids but also ensured the proper administrative rule in both the northern and southern part of the India.

His rule is also significant for the introduction of token currency.  He understood the importance of currency as a medium of commercial exchange and that is why he took keen interest to circulate gold and silver coins. The gold coin was introduced as Dinar. Tughlaq’s silver coin was named Adl.  However, it was difficult to maintain the supply of gold and silver coins on a large scale. So, Tughlaq replaced those coins and started the circulation of copper and brass coins as the token currency which had the same value of gold or silver coins in 1330-32 CE. He was well aware that the state had to act as a responsible guarantor for the token money by ensuring high degree of security which will prevent others from making fake currencies.

But the administrators failed in maintaining the security measures. These coins totally lacked the artistic design and perfection in finishing and even the administrators of the king took no measure to keep the design secured and protected.  In fact, the coins just had some inscriptions and no royal seals. These loopholes make them easier to copy. Thus, ordinary people easily copied the design and started making coins in their house. Soon the entire market was flooding with the fake coins. The ordinary people started to pay the state revenue with their home made coins and this caused a great problem for the state treasury. Within a very short period of time the state treasury was full of fake coins. Historians have argued that the value of the coins decreased for such wholesale forgery and it became worthless like the stones.

As a result, the trade and commercial activities were heavily disrupted. Muhammad Bin Tughlaq was forced to take back all the token currency. He had to exchange them with old gold or silver coins. Thousands of people exchanged their copper coins with silver tankas or gold dinars and the state treasury faced a huge loss. However, the detected forged coins were not exchanged. In 1333 CE, the use of the token coins was stopped. Ibn Batuta, the famous medieval traveler who came to Delhi in 1334 CE wrote an account of contemporary India which had no mention of these token currencies.

Muhammad became very much unpopular among his subjects for his failed administrative reform policies. Soon one by one his provinces started to revolt. He was not able to suppress all those revolts; thus, creating much chaos and confusion everywhere. His failed and ruthless experiments with government policies made him famous in the history textbooks as the “Mad Sultan” of India.

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.