There are more animals and mortals depicted on coins than Gods. Yet religion is the oldest culture in the world. Kushan kings of India were the first represent gods incuding Shiva and Buddha in their coins as early as 100 to 300 AD.
Religion and deities depicted on coins are construed by some pious people as effacing the value of their gods. Coins are a part of everyday life for everybody, and religious coins can also be a reminder to the presence of god in daily life. In a puritan’s sense the use of religious coins in monetary transactions could mean that god looks over honesty and integrity when his image is used.
The coins have their own caste system or status too, the poorest being cooper or aluminium or copper, silver for the gentry, and gold for the kings and the wealthy.
Since late 19th century there came a new forum to represent gods in daily life: the postage stamps. The expression of gods on stamps and coins also contributed to philatelic and numismatic art in daily life.
India, by far the most ancient culture since the pre-Harrapan period (3500 BC), happens to be the most diverse nation in the world with over 1000 spoken languages and equal or more number of Hindu Gods from which sprout the mythologies, rituals and beliefs which form the backbone of Indian culture. The early Aryans (1700 BC) , Persians (600-500 BC), Greeks (356-100 CE), Parthians (100 BC -395 CE), Sassanians (30-10 BC) and Scythians (100 BC – 400 CE) brought their own culture to the doorstep of India in the north west. The interlude that followed between the invaders and the native dynasties resulted in an epitome of culture brought about by the fusion of the foremost civilized societies of the ancient world. As a result India holds today a bewildering range of ethnicity, culture, color and traditions. The ancient coins of India are a reflection of India’s glorious past and there is no better way than through these coins to realize and relive the splendor that was India.
This article is not meant to be an exercise in numismatics but rather an appreciation of India’s colorful history through its tangible objects in bronze, silver and gold: the coins
Sixteen kingdoms or oligarchic republics existed in ancient India from the sixth century BC to the fourth century BC. These Pre-Buddhist states in the Mahabharata epic, include Kosala, Kuru, Magadha, Malla, Machcha (Matsya), Panchala, Surasena, Vriji and Vatsa. Each of these Janapadas (Jana; people, pada; foot) reflected the culture of its own people of the region and unique. Janapadas are also mentioned in both Buddhist and Jain texts which confirm their historical reality and continuity.
599 BC Traditional birth year of Mahavira of Jainism,
A 19th Century Temple Token of Jainism
Mahavira, 24th Tirthankar is born (traditional date) into a royal family in the present Bihar region of India. At the age of thirty, he left home in pursuit of spiritual awakening and to spread his philosophy which is now followed by over four million people in India.
Persian King Cyrus I “The Great” Ca 559-530 BC
Cyrus, Gold Coin ca 550 BC.
Cyrus, son of Cambyses I, founds the Persian Achaemenid Empire, and conquers the borderline North Western regions of the Indian subcontinent to establish one of the greatest empires of the ancient world.
Empire of Cyrus the Great
Darius I, 522-486 BC
In 516 BC, the Persian king Darius of the Achaemenid tribe embarked on a campaign to Central Asia, Aria and Bactria by marching from Afghanistan to Taxila (present Pakistan) before capturing Gandhara and other regions surrounding the Indus River.
Birth of Buddha 463 BC, Reign of kings Bhattiya, Bimbisara Ca 590-491 BC
First mortal image of Buddha, Gold coin of Kanishka 127 AD
Siddhārtha Gautama, the Buddha-to-be, born in Lumbini into a royal family in the republic of the Shakyas, which is now part of Nepal.
Darius III 450-330 BC
Gold coin of Darius III
Under the last Persian king Darius III the north western part of Indian Achaemenid Empire became fragmented and was ruled by many satraps. Alexander the Great defeated Darius and conquered the region
Alexander III of Macedon (356 BC – 323 BC), commonly known as Alexander the Great
Posthumous Silver coin of Alexander III (Author’s Private Collection)
Alexander defeated Darius III and invaded India in 326 BC, but was eventually forced to turn back at the demand of his troops facing the prospects continued war with King Porus who ruled parts of present Punjab.
Seleucus I Nicator c. 358 BC – 281 BC
Tetradrachm of Seleucus I, the horned horse
Following the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC, his Greek general Seleucus I Nicator (c. 358 BC – 281 BC) carried an expedition to India, where, after two years of war (305-303 BC) with the Indian Emperor Chandragupta Maurya, made peace with him.
Nanda Dynasty 345-321 BC
Karshapana Mahapadma Nanda
Nanda dynasty originated in the region of Magadha and lasted during 345–321 BC. Their empire extended from Bengal in the east to Punjab region in the west, as far south as the Vindhya Range. Chandragupta Maurya conquered the Nanda Empire and founded the Maurya Empire.
Mayuran Empire 320-232 BC, Chandragupta I 340 – 297 BC
Silver Karshapana ca 320 BC
Mauryan Empire was founded in 320 BC by Chandragupta Maurya in Magadha after he defeated the Nanda dynasty and the Macedonian Seleucid Empire. Chandragupta unified the Indian subcontinent, fragmented into Mahajanapadas in the North West, and the Nanda Empire in the Indo-Gangetic Plain
Samudragupta, (c. 335 – c. 380 CE)
Samudragupta, Gold Coin, King and Garuda on a pillai
Samudragupta, the son of Chandragupta I succeeded after his father’s death and conquered almost the whole of India except the south. His vast military campaign added the neighbouring kingdoms of Ahichchhatra (Rohilkhand) and Padmavati (in Central India), whole of present Bengal, Afghanistan and Kashmir to his empire.
Bindusara, the son of Chandragupta inherited the vast regions of northern, central and eastern parts of India along with parts of present Afghanistan and Balochistan at the age of 22 years. Greeks knew him as Amitrochates, the destroyer of foes). Bindusara later conquered almost all the Indian peninsula, except the Dravidian South.
Asoka 268-232 BC
Punch marked coin of Asoka
Asoka, son of Bindusara 268- 232 BC reigned over the entire Indian subcontinent except the present-day Tamil Nadu and Kerala. The misery following his war against the Kalinga state led him to embrace Buddhism. After his death, the Mauryan dynasty lasted just fifty more years.
The Shunga Empire (187 BC – 78 BC)
Shunga Copper Elephant and Swastik Coin
The Shunga Empire, an ancient Indian dynasty from Magadha that controlled vast areas of the Indian subcontinent was established by Pushyamitra Shunga following the fall of the Maurya Empire.
Indo-Greek Kingdom ca 180 BC – 100 AD
Silver Coin of Demetrius the Invincible ca 200 BC
The Indo-Greek kingdom was founded by Demetrius I who invaded the Indian subcontinent in the 2nd century BC. The kingdom had more than 30 Indo-Greek kings. Of them the most famous was Menander (Milinda) who ruled from his capital at Sakala in the Punjab (present-day Sialkot, Punjab, Pakistan). The Indo-Greeks ultimately disappeared as a political entity around 100 AD following the invasions of the Indo-Scythians.
Scythians (Sakas), a large group of Iranian Eurasian nomads migrated to central and northern South Asia including Gandhara, Sindh, Kashmir, Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar in 100BC. The first Saka king in south Asia was Maues established Saka power in Gandhara (modern day Pakistan and Afghanistan region) extended supremacy over north-western India.
Mayuran Empire 380-415 CE, Chandragupta II (Vikramaditya)
Silver coin Rudrasimha III 380-387 CE
Gold Coin of Chandragupta II, 380-415 CE
Author’s Private Collection
Indo-Scythian rule in North Western India ended following the defeat of the last Saka Satrap Rudrasimha III by Chandragupta II, the son of Samudragupta, in 395 CE. During the latter’s rule the Gupta Empire reached its peak in art, architecture, and sculpture and came to be known as the “Golden Age” of India.
From the years 388 to 409 CE Chandragupta subjugated Gujarat, the region north of present Mumbai, Saurashtra, in western India, and Malwa, with its capital at Ujjain. Chandragupta was succeeded by his second son Kumaragupta I
Kumaragupta (415 – 455CE)
Gold Coin of Kumaragupta
Kumaragupta I succeeded Chandragupta II as emperor and kept the empire intact by defeating the invaders Pushyamitras from the banks of Naramada River and the White Huns, a Nomadic tribe from Central Asia. Kumaragupta was succeeded by his son Skandagupta after whom seven Gupta emperors ruled until the middle of 6th century when the greatest empire of ancient India disintegrated into petty chiefdoms.
The Indo-Parthian Kingdom (30-10 BC)
Coin of Gondophares I
Ancient Indo-Parthian Kingdom that occupied the present regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan was founded by Gondophares I or Phraotes of Central Asian Iranian Tribe in ca 30 BC . The city of Taxila is thought to have been the capital of the Indo-Parthians as per excavations by Sir John Marshall in 1913.
Kushan (Guishuang ) Empire (30-240 CE)
Bronze Coin of Kujula Kadphise
Gold Coin of Kanishka I
Gold Coin of Vasudeva I
The Kushan Empire was founded in the early 1st century by Kujula Kadphises (ca 30 – 80 CE) of a Yuezhi Chinese Tribe in the Bactrian region, encompassing much of present Afghanistan, and the northern parts of the Indian subcontinent as far as Sarnath near Varanasi
Vima Kadphises (c. 95 – c. 127) the grandson of Kadphises was Kushan emperor from ca 90–100 CE and his successor and son Kanishka I (c. 127 – c. 140) the Great ruled virtually all of northern India from his two capitals Purushapura (Peshawar) and Mathura.
Vasudeva I (c. 190 – c. 230) was Kushan emperor from about 20 years after the death of Kanishka. He was the last of the “Great Kushans whose rule coincided with the invasion of the Sasanians in the present Afghanistan, Pakistan and northwestern India from around 240 AD.
The Satavahanas (273 BC-220 CE)
Copper Coin of Satakarni 100 BC
Author’s Private Collection
Coin of Gautamiputra Satakarni 2nd century CE
At the decay of the Mayuran Empire a new power arose from the Deccan region which dominated from 1st century BC to 3rd century CE. This new Satavahana kingdom comprised of the present-day Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Maharashtra and led by the early kings like Satakarni and reaching its zenith under the rule of Gautamiputra Satakarni and his successor Vasisthiputra Pulamavi. The kingdom fragmented into smaller states in the early 3rd century CE
South India, Chera. Chola Pandyas 300 BC – 900 AD
Pandya Sangam Period Coin 300-100 BC
While the North of India was subjected to almost continuous invasions and political upheaval the Dravidian peninsular in the south remained unscathed protected by the Vindhya mountain range in the north and the sea. on its either side. Never the less the Chera, Chola and Pandiya Kingdoms were known to King Asoka. The Tamil language and culture flourished through the support of the kings for the Tamil Sangam
The Hephthalites or White Huns ca 450-600 CE
Hephthalite coin of King Khingila, 5th century CE
The Hephthalites or White Huns, were a confederation of nomadic and settled people from Central Asia who expanded their domain westward in the 5th century. They invaded North-West India in ca 450 CE, posing a threat to late Gupta Empire. Although they were repelled, they served to destabilise the Guptas. At the height of its power in the first half of the 6th century, the Hephthalite Empire controlled territory in present-day Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, present Pakistan and other regions of north-west India.
Empire of Harsha 590-647 CE
Silver Coin of Harshavardhana
Prabhakarvardhana the 4th emperor of Vardhana dynasty defeats the Huna invaders, and his son and successor Harsha (c. 590–647), also known as Harshavardhana rules North India from 606 to 647 from his capital Kanauj. The Empire of Harsha at the height of his power spanned the Punjab, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Bengal, Odisha and the entire Indo-Gangetic plain north of the Narmada River. Harsha was defeated by the south Indian Emperor Pulakeshin II of the Chalukya dynasty when he invaded the southern peninsula of India.
First Islamic Expansion into India 695-715 CE
Umayyad dynasty. al-Walid I, 705-715, Silver dirham,
‘Imād ad-Dīn Muḥammad ibn Qāsim ath-Thaqafī ( 695 – 715 CE) was an Umayyad general who conquered the Sindh and Multan regions along the Indus River (now a part of Pakistan) for the Umayyad Caliphate. He was born and raised in the city of Taif (in the present Saudi Arabia). Qasim’s conquest of Sindh and southern-most parts of Multan enabled Islamic expansion into India.
Gold Coin, Dharmapala, Pala Dynasty
Gold Fanam of Chalukyas
Rashtrakuta (753-982 CE) was a royal dynasty ruling large parts of the Indian Subcontinent between the sixth and 10th centuries. Having defeated King Kirtivarman of Chalukiya Dynasty (543-753) they rose to power with Karnataka as their power base in South India ca 753. Their contemporary rulers were the Pala dynasty of Bengal (ca 800-1200) and the Prathihara dynasty of Malwa (700 – 1036) in eastern and north-western India respectively.
Since the earliest times of civilization gold has been the pursuit of kings, emperors and the rich alike as a symbol of their power, glory and splendour. Gold enshrined the Thrones, Crowns, Sceptres and other royal attire of rajas, rulers and tsars alike. Pharaohs even carried the glitter to their graves. As early as 1000 BC King Solomon sent his navy across the world in search of the precious metal to adorn his temple and his 500 concubines. It is not surprising to see these ambitious great men and women to have their symbol of trade, power and gods on the face of glittering gold. Hence the birth of gold coins as early as 500 BC in Greece, followed by the Romans and Persians.
Rome accumulated great wealth in gold through its imperial conquests, including the vast deposits of gold from the Iberian Peninsula, formerly held by Carthage. But like the Greeks, the Romans held most of their gold in reserve and struck gold coins only in emergencies. The first Roman gold coin was struck in 215 B.C. to help finance the Second Punic War against Carthage. Julius Caesar’s Aureus was the first Roman gold coin not struck out of necessity, and made circulating gold coinage more common. In the first century A.D., Emperor Nero further expanded gold coinage by continuing to strike an aureus and adding a gold Quinarius, which was half the value of an aureus. Both coins used almost pure gold and were issued in large quantities.
Gold coins continued to go through various debasements and reforms over the next 200 to 300 years in Rome, but they continued to enjoy widespread circulation in the Roman Empire and found their way to other lands through trade. After the empire was split, its eastern faction, the Byzantine Empire, continued to supply Europe with gold coins as the metal became scarce in Western Europe.
The Kushan kings of India around 100 to 300 AD were the first to adopt Greek style coinage in India and on their coins were depicted the first mortal image of Buddha (Bodoo) and probably the first image of Shiva and Nandi, that too on gold.
In the modern era the rush for gold changed the demography of the world. The discovery of gold nuggets in the Sacramento Valley in early 1848 sparked the Gold Rush, arguably one of the most significant events to shape American history during the first half of the 19th century. By a cruel hand of fate the Mexicans without knowing had signed off their land rich in gold to the Americans in the treaty of Guadelupe Hidalgo on February 2, 1848. Nine days later these Mexicans were being treated as foreign prospectors in a land that was their own. As news spread of the discovery, thousands of prospective gold miners travelled by land and sea to San Francisco and the surrounding area; by the end of 1849, the non-native population of the California territory had risen to 100,000 (compared with the pre-1848 figure of less than 1,000). A total of $2 billion worth of precious metal was extracted from the area during the Gold Rush, which peaked in 1852.
Thousands of miles apart Australia found its gold in the mid-19thcentury. The Australian gold rushes brought about significant immigration of workers, both more locally and from overseas, to areas which had discoveries of gold deposits. A number of gold finds occurred in Australia prior to 1851, but only the gold found from 1851 onwards created gold rushes when gold found its way into the poor prospectors who became rich.
Gold coins became a yard stick of wealth of European colonial powers particularly in the 18th to 19th centuries as seen during the British Empire and remain sought after by collectors. Today these gold coins are prestigious objects in private collections, Museums and wealthy Private Collection
There are more animals and immortals depicted on coins than Gods. Yet religion is the oldest culture in the world. Religion and deities depicted on coins are construed by some pious people as effacing the value of their gods. Coins are a part of everyday life for everybody, and religious coins can also be a reminder to the presence god in daily life. In a puritan’s sense the use of religious coins in monetary transactions could mean that god looks over honesty and integrity when his image is used.
It is notable that the first ever mortal figure of Buddha (Boddo) too was on a coin by Kanishka I (the Great) who was the emperor of the Indo-Greek Kushan Kingdom in 127–151 AD.
First depiction of Buddha , King Kanishka ca 100 AD,
The Hindu religious coins have been issued since at least 2000 years ago, first by the Kushan kings of India in Greco-Roman style. Often made of gold, they are an expression of the power and pomp of the kings when it comes to religion. The high value of these coins is one of the reasons for then being preserved in such pristine condition, but unfortunately they are far and few and rare.
Shiva and Nandi, Kanishka 100 AD from Anton Sebastian Private Collection
The Shiva and Nandi coin of the Kushan kings of Indo-Greek Empire, originating in Bactria (the present Afghanistan, Peshawar and Pakistan) is not only an example of exquisite expression in Hindu Art, but also the earliest known depiction of Shiva and his sacred vehicle, Nandi.
Rama and Sita on the Darbar, Temple Token, 19th Century
In India Temple Tokens were produced since 19th century but more recent productions to generate funds for temples are common. Most of these coins carried the effigies of Rama, Sita, Lakshamanan and Hanuman. The Jain tokens were relativly rare. It would be difficult to precisely date them but the wear and tear and pattern would be of guidance in valuing them. However almost all the gold tokens usually genuine. It is an experience and pleasure to hold these old
Hindu coins in our hands.
At the time of the British withdrawal, 565 princely states were officially recognised in the Indian subcontinent, apart from thousands of regional and local chiefs including taluqars, zamindaris and jagirs. In 1947, princely states numbering 555 covered 48% of area of pre-Independent India and constituted 28% of its population.
The most important states had their own British Political Residencies:
Hyderabad, Mysore and Travancore in the South followed by Jammu & Kashmir and Sikkim in the Himalayas, and Indore in Central India. Gun-salutes were often given for personal distinctions of the ruler rather than the importance of the state and varied from time to time. The most prominent among those – roughly a quarter of the total – had the status of a salute state, one whose ruler was honoured by receiving a set number of gun salutes on ceremonial occasions, ranging from nine to 21. Rulers of salute states entitled to a gun salute of eleven guns and above received from the British the style of His/Her Highness; while the Nizam of Hyderabad had the unique style of His Exalted Highness.
The princely states varied greatly in status, size, and wealth; the premier 21-gun salute states of Hyderabad and Jammu and Kashmir were each over 200,000 km2 in size, or slightly larger than the whole of Great Britain. In 1941, Hyderabad had a population of over 16 million,, while Jammu and Kashmir had a population of slightly over 4 million,
comparable to that of Switzerland. At the other end of the scale, the non-salute principality of Lawa covered an area of 49 km2 with a population of just below 3,000. Some two hundred of the lesser states had an area of less than 25 km2 (10 mi2). At the time of Indian independence in 1947, Hyderabad had annual revenues of over Rs. 9 crore (roughly £6.75 million/$27.2 million in 1947 values, approximately £240 million/$290 million in 2014 values), and its own army, airline, telecommunication system, railway, postal system, currency, radio service and a major public university; the tiny state of Lawa had annual revenues of just Rs. 28,000 (£2100/$8463 in 1947 values, £73,360/$89,040 in 2014 values).[
The era of the princely states effectively ended with Indian independence in 1947. By 1950, almost all of the principalities had acceded to either India or Pakistan. The accession process was largely peaceful, except in the cases of Jammu and Kashmir (whose ruler opted for independence but decided to accede to India following an invasion by Pakistan-based forces), Hyderabad (whose ruler opted for total independence in 1947, followed a year later by the police action and annexation of the state by India), Junagadh (whose ruler acceded to Pakistan, but was annexed by India). and Kalat (whose ruler opted for independence in 1947, followed in 1948 by the state’s annexation