Coins Numismatic sources are important evidence for the early history of South Asia in the absence of reliable textual materials. A coin is basically a metallic piece as a medium of exchange having a specific metallic weight standard and a certain metallic purity. In general the weight standard and the metallic purity of a coin are authenticated and guaranteed by the sovereign political authority of a given region with the help of certain devices, symbols and legends often associated with the ruling family. On one of the two sides of a coin are often depicted images of divinities, known and possibly worshipped in the area under the control of the issuing authority. The obverse and reverse sides of a coin, therefore, can furnish wealth of information regarding the dynastic and political situations and social, economic and cultural life (including religious beliefs and art traditions) in a given region and during a particular period.
As coins are primarily required in exchange related activities, these are invaluable sources for economic history, especially the history of trade of a given period. It must also be pointed out that coins are one of the media of exchange and besides coins, there are other forms of money (eg cowrie shells), the operation of the latter being visible often in 'traditional' (pre-modern) economies. The appearance of coined money in remote times certainly suggests a complex socio-economic situation, which must have witnessed a considerable growth of commerce, a strong political structure and a sharply differentiated social structure, distinct from a simpler 'tribal' way of life.
In the light of these preliminary remarks will be placed the history of coinage in ancient Bengal (up to 16th century AD). The area in question actually consisted of four principal sub-regions, viz pundravardhana (mainly north Bengal, though from the middle of eighth century onwards embracing wide areas to the east of the Bhagirathi), radha (present districts of Purulia, Bankura, Birbhum, Burdwan and parts of Howrah and Hughli), vanga (Dhaka-Vikramapura-Faridpur regions of Bangladesh) and samatata, harikela (Noakhali, Comilla, Chittagong areas in Bangladesh). The history of coinage in this zone will be treated in terms of the regional features and will also be linked up with the currency system in north India.
Ancient coins Although some terms like niska, shatamana began to figure in the Vedic literature in the sense of metallic pieces or lumps of metal, it is difficult to prove the minting of coins in South Asia prior to c 6th/5th century BC. The discovery of silver coins struck on the weight standard of 32 ratis or 57.6 grains (1 raktika = 1.8 grains; 1.8 ' 32= 57.6 grains) from the Taxila (Bhir mound) and Chaman-i-Huzuri (near Kabul) hoards, datable to 5th century BC, provides the indisputable archaeological evidence of the introduction of minted metallic pieces as coined money in the subcontinent. These pieces are generally identified with the karsapana (kahapana) type of coins, figuring frequently in Pali canonical texts of pre-Maurya times. Mainly made of silver, these coins of various shapes (square, oblong, roundish etc.) do not carry any inscription/legend recording the name of the issuing authority or the name of an area. These instead bear a number of symbols, which were punched on the silver piece with separate punches; this is why these are called punch marked coins. The punches were probably marks authenticating the weight standard and metallic purity of the coin.
As these coins are uninscribed and do not carry any names of rulers, it is likely that the earliest specimens could have been issued by professional 'guild'-like bodies of merchants for whom the availability of minted metallic pieces as medium of exchange must have brought enormous advantages. Significantly enough, the introduction of the earliest coins of India coincided with the burgeoning of trade, emergence of urban centres and growth of monarchical polity in north India (especially the Ganga valley).
We should also mention here the discovery of 14 bent bar silver pieces (with the same device stamped on both sides) from the Chaman-i-Huzuri hoard near Kabul. These coins datable to about fifth-fourth century BC were struck on a weight standard different from that of the karsapana type. These were struck on the 180-grain weight standard which is identified with the satamana metrology figuring in the later Vedic texts and the Astadhyayi of Panini. The bent bar pieces conformed to full satamana, half satamana (90 grains) and even quarter satamana (45 grains) denominations. The satamana is an indigenous weight standard, while the karsapana is sometimes suggested to have been derived from Iranian/West Asiatic source. Though the earliest metallic issues in India were based on two metrologies, the karsapana standard became much more popular and widespread than the satamana system.
Early coinage Though many areas in north India experienced regular metallic currency from c 5th century BC onwards, the definite evidence of the introduction of metal money in Bengal cannot be pushed beyond c third century BC, when Pundravardhana or north Bengal probably came under the Maurya rule. The' mahasthan brahmi inscription, palaeographically assignable to the third century BC, records the filling up of a royal treasury (kosa) at pundranagara with ganda and kakini. The two terms, according to many scholars, stand for two types of coins in circulation. An alternative interpretation, however, suggests the prevalence of cowrie shells counted in the unit of four (ganda). The latter view implies that cowry-shells could have been used as a medium of exchange at least since the third century BC.
That Bengal began to experience the circulation of metallic pieces from this period onwards is clearly evident from the availability of silver punch marked coins from excavated sites like mahasthanGarh, Bangarh (South Dinajpur district, West Bengal), chandraketugarh (North 24 Parganas district, West Bengal), mangalkot (Burdwan district, West Bengal) and also from various places in Medinipur, Bankura, Murshidabad districts in
West Bengal. No less significant is the discovery of fairly large number of punch marked coins from wari-bateshwar near Dhaka, Bangladesh.
At many places punch marked coins occurred simultaneously with the Northern Black Polished Ware, itself a deluxe pottery and possibly an item of trade. There is little doubt that punch marked coinage reached Bengal from the Ganga valley as a result of the expansion of Mauryan control over north Bengal which has also yielded perhaps the earliest evidence of punch marked coins from an excavated site in Bengal. These coins weigh from 1.7 grams to 3. 48 grams, though the weight of the maximum number of these coins range between 3 and 3.45 grams. In other words these were struck on the 57.6 grain (karsapana) standard. Some coins weighing nearly half this weight are considered to have been half karsapanas.
Though karsapana coins were mostly in silver, Bengal was also acquainted with punch marked copper and billon coins, which however number far less than the silver punch marked coins. Copper punch marked coins occur in large numbers in the North and South 24 Parganas (eg Chandraketugarh and Deulpota), Burdwan (eg Mangalkot) and Bankura (eg Dihar) districts. Their weight varies between 1.4 grams and 3.62 grams (ie ranging from 22 to 56 grains). Evidently these copper punch marked coins were struck on the silver karsapana weight standard of 32 ratis or 57.6 grains and not based on the usual copper karsapana standard of 80 ratis or 144 grains. Punch marked coins were also struck on billon and such coins have been found from Chandraketugarh and Harinaryanpur (South 24 Parganas) and Bangarh (South Dinajpur). Square or round in shape, such billon coins range in weight from 11 to 51.75 grains. The billon pieces appear to have been struck, like the silver and copper specimens circulating in Bengal, on the 57.6 grain (karsapana) weight standard; the coins weighing 11 to 13 grains may therefore be taken as quarter unit pieces.
Punch marked coins, as we have already pointed out, emerged in Bengal probably around 4th - 3rd century BC. Stratigraphic evidence does not suggest the continuation of this coinage beyond first century BC in Bengal. A detailed study shows that as many as 172 symbols were stamped on the obverse of these punch marked silver pieces from Bengal. The above survey shows that silver was the most common medium for striking punch marked coins in Bengal.
There is little doubt that the silver punch marked coinage considerably influenced the striking of copper and billon pieces of the same weight standard. The use of copper and billon punch marked coins perhaps indicates that minted currency in baser metals was meant for petty transactions.
Copper was also used for striking cast coins, which have been found from a number of archaeological sites: Harinaraynpur, Deulpota, Chandraketugarh, Atghara and Pakurtala (North and South 24 Parganas), Tamluk and Icchapur (Medinipur.), Dihar and Pokharna (Bankura), Manglakot (Burdwan), Harinaryanpur (Howrah), Bangarh (South Dinajpur) and Mahasthangarh (Bogra, Bangladesh).
Stratified evidence of the cast copper coins from these archaeological sites in West Bengal and Bangladesh suggests the introduction and circulation of cast copper coins during the 2nd and 1st century BC, though in certain areas these might have continued to be in use up to c 2nd-3rd century AD and even in the Gupta age. Cast copper coins are of various shapes: round or nearly round, oval, square and rectangular. Their weight ranges from 72 grains to 9 grains, though the majority of these coins weigh between 45 and 56.75 grains. That it closely corresponded to the well-known silver karsapana standard is clearly evident. Thus like the punch marked copper pieces the cast copper coins of Bengal too were based on the silver karsapana standard of 57.6 grains and not on the usual 80 ratis (=144 grains) standard prescribed for copper coins. Based on the karsapana standard, these cast copper pieces were probably struck as one and a half karsapana, three-quarters karsapana, half karsapana and one-fourth karsapana denominations.
Kusana coinage' While the use of silver and copper for the manufacturing of coins has a fairly long and well-established tradition in South Asia, the credit of introducing gold for the minting of coins in the subcontinent goes to the Kusanas. There is a distinct possibility that V'ima Kadphises issued the earliest gold currency of the Kusanas, following the metrology of the Roman gold coins. The most frequently seen device on the obverse of the Kusana gold coins (king at the altar) was however probably derived from a similar device figuring in the coins of the Imperial Parthian ruler Gotarzes II of Iran. Kaniska I and Huviska subsequently issued large number of die-struck gold pieces of many varieties. Though the region of Bengal did not form a part of the Kusana empire, Bengal yielded a large number of Kusana coins which seem to have reached Bengal by way of trade. Three gold coins of Kaniska I are reported from Mahasthanagarh, pandu rajar dhibi (Burdwan) and Tamluk (Medinipur). Huviska's gold coins are found from Dewanati (North 24 Parganas) and Farakka (Murshidabad). Another place yielding a Kusana gold piece is Mahanad in the Hughli district. Three gold coins, attributed to Vasudeva I, were found respectively from Malda and Murshidabad districts in West Bengal and Bogra in Bangladesh. Mahasthangarh has also yielded another gold piece attributable to Vasudeva II, possibly the last of the Kusana rulers.
It is significant to note that the Kusana copper coins in Bengal far outnumber their gold counterparts. Beginning with the earliest piece attributed to Soter Megas, copper coins of V'ima Kadphises, Kaniska I, Huviska and Vasudeva I have been found from the North and South 24 Parganas, Burdwan, Medinipur and Hughli districts. This indicates the regular circulation of the Kusana copper pieces in the Radha region to the west of the Bhagirathi from c 1st to about 3rd century AD.
There is little doubt that the Kusana copper coins, albeit being imported into Bengal, formed a regular currency in this area. Its outcome can be seen in the emergence of a large number of imitations of the Kusana copper coin-types. Such coins have been found in North and South 24 Parganas, Burdwan and Bankura districts. Their weights range from 16.1 grams to 1.48 grams. On the variations of their metrology a seven fold classification has been proposed: I) c. 12-16.1 grams; ii) c. 8-11 grams; iii) c 6.05-7.25 grams; iv) 5.08-5.67 grams; v) 3.65 grams; vi) 2-2.28 grams; vii) 1.48-1.8 grams. Numismatists have noted a 'concentration' on the weight standard of 3.65 grams.
This weight standard closely corresponds to about 57 grains, ie the well known karsapana weight standard. Thus majority of the imitated Kusana die-struck copper pieces in Bengal followed the karsapana standard, while Kusana copper pieces were struck on the theoretical Attic tetradrachm (= 268.8 grains or 17.417 grams). As the imitated Kusana copper pieces in Bengal were struck on the karsapana standard, the weight standard of the coins of groups i, ii, iii, iv, vi and vii may suggest respectively tetra-karsapana, tri-karsapana, double karsapana, one and a half karsapana, three-fourths karsapana and half karsapan denominations. Thus these copper pieces imitated Kusana devices but followed the karsapana weight standard, instead of the Attic tetradrachm metrology. Considering the combinations of these two features, these imitations have been designated as Kusana-Vanga or Kusana-Radha coins, which had a distinct local character, associated with two important sub-regions of early Bengal.
Besides the die-struck Kusana-Vanga/Radha coinage, a large number of cast copper coins showing a Kusana device (standing king: standing deity Mao) have been found from the South 24 Parganas, Burdwan, Medinipur, Purulia and especially in Bankura districts.
A remarkable discovery in this connection was that of 281 copper pieces from Masuabazar, 32 miles south of Purulia (now in the collection of the Indian Museum, Kolkata). There is a distinct correspondence of the metrology of these cast copper coins to those of the groups iii to vii of the die-struck Kusana-Vanga/Kusana-Radha coinage. This fact and the actual weight of at least one piece of cast copper coin (now in the Asutosh Museum of Indian Art, Kolkata) being 3.63 grams strongly suggest that the cast copper coins of Bengal too conformed to the karsapana metrology of 57.6 grains or 3.65 grams.
These cast copper coins share some common features with the Puri-Kusana copper pieces in terms of their round shape and metrology. The Puri-Kusana coins were in circulation in Orissa and northern Andhra. The close correspondence between the Puri-Kusana and Kusana-Radha/Kusana-Vanga copper coins (though the two being not identical) strongly suggests that 'all these could have formed parts of a complex system of currency', used in upper Andhra, Orissa, West Bengal (including the coastal zones) and the adjoining regions of south Bihar during the period from the 1st century BC/AD to about 4th century AD.
Gupta coinage The numismatic scenario in Bengal becomes much more illuminated during the period from c 4th to the 7th centuries AD. The most remarkable point is the availability of a large number of Imperial Gupta (c320-570 AD) gold coins, generally of excellent quality and execution. On the other hand the silver and copper currencies issued by the Gupta emperors are rather rare in Bengal. Besides the actual specimens of Gupta gold coins found in Bengal, a number of Gupta inscriptions-mainly from the northern part of Bengal-occasionally refer to coin terms which provide further information regarding the monetary system. The facts that Pundravardhana or north Bengal became a bhukti or a province of the Gupta empire (at least from c 414 to 550 AD) and that the imperial Gupta authority could have extended up to the Comilla region in Bangladesh in the early 6th century AD, may explain the regular circulation of the Gupta gold currency in Bengal. In fact the Kalighat hoard in Kolkata provides the earliest discovery of a hoard of Gupta coins.
The imperial Gupta rulers starting from Chandragupta I (c AD 320-35) to Visnugupta (around the middle of the sixth century) issued gold coins of different types with the maximum varieties of gold coins being struck by Kumaragupta I (c 414-54). A brief overview of the different types of the Gupta gold coins found in Bengal may be presented here:
Chandragupta I: king and queen type (total known type 1); Samudragupta: i) standard, ii) archer and iii) axhvamedha types (total known type 6); Chandragupta II: i) archer, ii) chhattra (umbrella) types. (total known type 9); Kumaragupta I: i) archer, ii) horseman, iii) elephant, iv) lion-slayer, v) Karttikeya types (total known type 14); Skandagupta: i) archer type (two weight standards) and ii) king and queen type (total known type 3 or 4); Kumaragupta II: I) archer type (total known type 1); Vainyagupta: i) archer type (total known type 1); Narasinghagupta: i) archer type (total known type 1); Visnugupta: I) archer type (total known type 1).
It is well known that the Gupta emperors initiated the striking of the gold pieces by following the metrology of the gold coinages of the Kusana rulers and their successors, ie 122.9 grains. This weight standard in its turn was based on the Roman aurie of 122.9 grains. The earliest of the Gupta gold coins, probably issued by Chandragupta I, had the metrology of 120-21 grains. This corresponds to what is known as the dinara weight standard. The name dinara as denoting a gold coin regularly figures in the Gupta inscriptions. It appears that possibly during the reign of Kumaragupta I and certainly during that of Skandagupta, the Gupta gold coins were struck on a heavier metrology. This is evident from the metrology of some gold species of Kumaragupta I being 127 grains; some of Skandagupta's gold pieces weigh 130-132 grains. Later, during the reign of Skandagupta the metrology of the Gupta gold coinage was increased to 144 grains, which corresponded to the suvarna standard, equivalent to 80 ratis. It is likely that for some time both the dinara and suvarna metrologies were followed for minting of the Gupta gold coinage. This will be evident from the simultaneous references to the dinara and suvarna types of gold coins in the Gadhwa inscription (from UP) of Kumaragupta I.
Interestingly enough, some of the Archer type gold coins of Skandagupta weigh 121-22 grains, the typical dinara standard; some other gold pieces of the same ruler with the famous King and Queen device weigh 132 grains. The latter variety appears to have been minted by following a heavier dinara metrology. Finally Skandagupta issued another variety of Archer type weighing 144 grains, i.e. the suvarna standard. The pieces struck on the heavier dinara standard appear to have then belonged to a phase of transition of the metrology of the Gupta gold coinage from the dinara to the suvarna standard. Gold coins of the successors of Skandagupta were minted following the suvarna standard. The discovery of these gold pieces from various districts of both West Bengal and Bangladesh clearly points to their regular circulation.
Ancient Bengal's familiarity with the Gupta gold coins is also evident from the references to dinaras in the sense of gold pieces in about nine copper plates of the Gupta rulers, recording the sale of land in north Bengal from c. AD 433 to 544. Though there must have been Gupta gold coins of the suvarna standard, especially of the post-Skandagupta period, the Gupta copper plates, however, use the generic term dinara to denote gold coins both of the dinara and suvarna metrologies. The significant point is though Skandagupta started the heavier gold coinage, these coins - especially during the reign of his successors - contained much less gold. This suggests that later gold coins of the Guptas contained a higher percentage of alloys. Narasinghagupta's gold coins from Bengal, struck on the suvarna standard, contained about 70% gold; but coins of his successors contained 50% or lesser percentage of gold in their issues which were certainly debased gold coins implying some economic problems in the Gupta empire during the first half of the 6th century AD.
Though the Gupta inscriptions of Bengal refer to rupakas or silver coins, these are very rarely found from Bengal. Only a handful of silver coins of Chandragupta II, Kumaragupta I and Skandagupta have been reported. The Gupta silver coinage was begun by Chandragupta II, modelled on the silver pieces of the Western Ksatrapa rulers whom he conquered in c 411/12 AD. The Gupta silver coins were minted on the Ksatrapa weight standard of 30-32 grains and not on the well established karsapana standard of 57.6 grains. On the basis of the Baigram copper plate of the Gupta era 128 (=AD 448) it has been suggested that the ratio between the gold (dinara) and the silver (rupaka) coins was 1:16. On the other hand, it has been inferred on the basis of the Damodarpur copper plate of the Gupta era 128 (= AD 448) that the ratio could have been 1:15. In spite of our definite knowledge that the Guptas did strike copper pieces too, no Gupta copper coins have been found in Bengal. Excavations at Mangalkot (Burdwan dt.) have yielded cast copper coins of pre-Gupta times from the Gupta layers. It is therefore likely that cast copper coins of the pre-Gupta times were in circulation in different parts of Bengal during the period from 4th to the 6th century.
Post-Gupta coinage' Gold and silver coins continued to be issued by rulers who succeeded the Imperial Guptas in Gauda and Vanga regions roughly from the second half of the sixth century to the mid-eighth century AD. These rulers are largely known from their inscriptions but they were also issuers of coins. Of the three rulers, Dharmaditya, Samacharadeva and Gopachandra ruling in Vanga during the second half of the 6th century, Samacharadeva issued gold pieces of two classes, both being struck on the suvarna standard of 144 grains. But his coinage is of debased gold and appears to have been in circulation in the Vanga and Vanga-Samatata regions.
Coins of shashanka (c AD 600-637), the powerful Gauda ruler, offers significant information regarding coinage and currency system in Bengal in the first half of the 7th century. Like the rulers of Vanga, Shashanka also minted gold coins on suvarna standard, but these were debased gold coins. Groups I, II and III of the debased coins contained respectively 49-52%, 33%, 32-36% and 16-34% of gold. The coins of the last group were evidently very debased.
From Samatata area, on the other hand, have been discovered a different kind of Shashanka's gold coins. Chemical analyses show that these coins had a much higher gold content of good metal. These coins were struck not on the suvarna standard, but these weighed about 90 grains. Their weight suggests that these were minted by following the satamana standard of 180 grains and these coins were actually half satamana pieces. It is likely that these half satamana pieces of a much better metallic standard and purity were meant for circulation in the Samatata area only. Thus Shashanka's gold coins of two varieties and weight standards were minted for two different zones, Gauda-Vanga and Samatata.
It is significant that Jayanaga, who probably ruled in the Gauda region after Shashanka, issued debased gold coins of suvarna standard which appear to have been used in Gauda. On the other hand several local rulers of Samatata like Devavarman, Vasuvarman, an anonymous ruler of Samatata, Shrikumara, Jivadharanarata, Shridharanarata, Devakhadga, and Rajabhata continued the tradition of minting good quality gold coins based on satamana weight standard, begun by Shashanka. These coins, generally weighing about 90 grains, were obviously half satamana pieces. Not only were these made of good quality gold, the percentage of gold is also quite high in these pieces. Balabhata of Samatata issued two types of gold coins, both weighing 90 grains; but one variety contained very high percentage gold of the total metallic content, the other variety represented a very debased gold coinage of half satamana weight. The end of the tradition of minting gold coins in Samatata and adjoining regions came with the gold coins of suvarna standard (144 grains) issued by Vangalamrganka Anandadeva of the early Deva dynasty of devaparvata (modern Mainamati) who modelled his gold coinage on that of the Chandra rulers of Arakan. In Harikela, the area around present Chittagong, were issued in 8th century debased gold coinage struck on the 8 gram weight standard.
The gradual fading away of the tradition of the minting of gold pieces in Bengal coincided with the issuance of a large number of silver coins in Harikela and Pattikera. The Harikela silver series is marked by its very high content of pure silver, the device of a recumbent bull and the legend Harikela on the obverse and a tripartite symbol on the reverse. The full unit weighed 8 grams, while the three-quarter, half and quarter units respectively weighed 6 grams, 4 grams and 2 grams. The palaeography of the legend Harikela and its variant forms indicates that the coins were struck in the 7th and 8th centuries. The Harikela silver coinage seems to have been derived from the silver coinage in contiguous Arakan under the Chandras of Arakan. More or less about the same time were issued similar silver coins bearing the name of the locality Pattikera, identifiable with the area around Comilla; the Pattikera silver coinage must have been based on the Harikela silver coinage. It must be pointed out that the silver coins of Harikela and Pattikera do not bear the name of their issuing authorities.
The numismatic scenario of Bengal from c 750 to 1200 AD perhaps offers maximum complexities and has generated immense scholarly controversies. The political situation is certainly dominated by the Palas (c 750-1175) and the Senas (c 1096-1205) who, however, did not control all the four major sub-regions of early Bengal. While these two were the premier regional powers of Bengal during the early middle ages, in the Samatata and Vanga areas ruled the Chandras (c 900-1055), the Varmans (c 1055-1145) and the Later Devas (last quarter of the 12th century to c 1290). What strikes us is the total absence of gold currency of any ruler of Bengal from c 750-1200. No less important is the fact that despite being the outstanding powers of eastern India, the Pala and the Sena kings are not known to have minted any metallic pieces as medium of exchange. On the other hand, inscriptions of the Palas and the Senas often refer to coin-terms like purana, dharana and dramma all of which stood for silver coins of the karsapana weight standard (32 ratis or 57.6 grains). The inscriptions of the Senas and those of more or less contemporary powers occasionally speak of the use of kaparddaka-puranas as a currency. The term kaparddaka stands for cowry shell. The hyphenated expression kaparddaka-purana denoted in all likelihood 'a theoretical unit of account representing the value of a purana, counted in kaparddakas or cowry shells'. The traditional arithmetic tables of Bengal suggest that the ratio between 1 silver coin (purana/dramma etc) and cowrie shells was 1:1280. The image of the circulation of cowries as a currency in early medieval Bengal gains ground from the availability of cowries from the excavations at Paharpur (Bangladesh) and Colgong (near Bhagalpur).
The absence of coins of precious metals in the Pala-Sena domains and the regular use of cowry shells have led some scholars to infer that Bengal suffered from 'monetary anaemia'. The monetary anaemia is thought to have been a consequence of languishing trade in Bengal and the onset of the self-sufficient, enclosed, rural, feudal economy. Cowries are perceived as a poor substitute for metallic money as a medium of exchange and these at the most were used in small-scale and local-level exchanges. The perception that cowries were restrictive of long distance trade does not stand scrutiny, as cowries were not native of Bengal and were themselves brought to Bengal from far away Maldives by sea trade (see trade and commerce).
Though the Pala-Sena realms did not yield any coins of Bengal, the south-eastern most part of Bengal presents a significant contrast to this. Harikela is noted for its uninterrupted silver coins of excellent metallic purity and content from the 7th to the 13th centuries. Like the silver coins of the 7th and 8th centuries, the silver pieces of the post-8th century also do not inform us about their issuing authority or authorities. But the Harikela coins of the post-8th century show some significant changes. The flan of the silver coin was made broader and thinner and the devices of recumbent bull and tripartite symbol with the legend Harikela were stamped only on one side; the reverse was left blank. The palaeogrpahy of the legend Harikela and its variant forms suggests the striking of these coins from 8th/9th to 12/13th centuries.
The most significant change in the later coins is in their metrology: the later coins weigh in their higher denominations from 2.3800 - 3.3600 grams and in the lower denomination from 0.8392 to 1.9912 grams. These were struck on the metrology of 3.7314 grams that closely corresponds to the old karsapana standard of 57.6 grains or 32 ratis. From this point of view, the second and later series of Harikela coinage were probably the same as the puranas frequently figuring in the inscriptions of the Palas and the Senas. These silver pieces have a remarkable correspondence to the reformed Arab silver currency (dirham) in terms of shape and metrology. Harikela area plays a major role in Bengal's seaborne trade with the Arab world in the early medieval times. The Harikela coinage thus explodes the myth of the non-availability of coins of precious metals in early medieval Bengal. As these coins were easily convertible into cowries (ratio being 1:1280), the near absence of metal money in the Pala-Sena domains may not necessarily portray a decline of trade and coinage in Bengal as a whole.
In some inscriptions of the Sena period a new term churnni appears. The term suggests something powdered or in dust form. In many cases the term churnni figures in conjunction with puranas or silver coins, implying thereby that churnni should have denoted a medium of exchange. The Mehar copper plate of Damodaradeva of 1234 AD gives an impression that churnni and purana were used as nearly synonymous and interchangeable terms. Judged from this angle the term churnni, synonymous with purana or a silver coin, should denote powdered dust of pure silver having the same weight standard as that of a purana, ie 32 rati or 57.6 grains. An early medieval Tibetan text and the account of al Marvazi (1142 AD) leave impressions of the use of this 'dust currency' in pure silver and/or gold in Bengal. The churnni could be therefore easily exchanged with and converted into a purana or silver coin or 1280 cowries.
The early medieval period in Bengal, therefore, did not show the symptoms of 'monetary anaemia' and did not experience languishing trade. On the contrary, Bengal in the early medieval times witnessed the emergence of a complex three-tier currency system. At its base were cowry-shells, the perennial currency in Bengal at least from the third century BC; at the apex position were the excellent and very high quality silver coins-minted and circulated in Harikela-Samatata zone to the east of Meghna for over seven centuries-and in the intermediate position was the churnni or dust currency, easily exchangeable and compatible with both metallic pieces and cowry-shells. With the advent of the thirteenth century Bengal once again saw the minting of gold coinage, this time under the Sultans of Bengal to whom the striking of coins was, among other things, a symbol of sovereignty of the ruling authority. [Ranabir Chakravarti]
Bibliography J Allan, A Catalogue of Indian Coins in the British Museum, Catalogue of the Coins of the Gupta Dynasties and of Shashanka, King of Gauda, London, 1914; BD Chattopadhyaya, 'Currency in Early Bengal', Journal of Indian History, LV, 1977; BN Mukherjee, Coins and Currency System in Gupta Bengal (c AD 320-550), Delhi, 1992; Coins and Currency System in Post-Gupta Bengal, Delhi, 1993; Coins and Currency Systems of Early Bengal up to c AD 300, Calcutta, 2000.
Sultani coins Sikka and Khutbah (right of issuing coins in the name of the ruling king and announce his name in the sermons delivered during Friday prayers) are considered symbol of sovereignty in the Islamic world. Therefore, after assumption of power or declaration of independence and sometimes to commemorate victory, sultans used to strike coins. bakhtiyar khalji, to commemorate his victory over Gaur, struck coins in the name of Mohammad bin Sam in 1205 AD from Gauda. That was the first Muslim coin struck in Bengal. From the conquest of Bengal in 1205 to the independence of Bengal in 1338, Bengal had been ruled as a province of the Delhi Sultanate for nearly 130 years. The sultans of Bengal ruled it as an independent state for next two hundred years. Provincial governors struck coins from Bengal in the names of their respective Delhi rulers following the type of the Delhi coins. Among those governors at least four, if not more, were allowed to inscribe their own name along with the name of their respective Delhi sultan. Coins have also been found of a few governors who declared independence and struck coins in their own names. Except a few sultans, whose reign period was very brief, various types of silver coins having different designs of all other sultan's have been discovered abundantly. Generally coins of the Bengal sultans were struck in gold, silver and copper. Several of the sultans issued gold coins and all the sultans issued silver coins, but copper coins are rare. For sundry purchases Cowrie was used in Bengal from ancient time.
Characteristics 'Some important features noticed in the Sultani coins are: (1) Coins struck first by the Arab governors of Sind in the 7th and 8th centuries were direct copies of the Umayyad coins. In India regular Muslim coins struck in the 11th century AD were of two types: a) Prototypes of the coins of the Sultans of Ghazna. These coins were inscribed with Arabic legend; b) Coins struck in northern India bearing bilingual legend in Arabic and Sanskrit. (2) Influence of Hindu culture in Muslim coins is also noticed. Some examples of which are: the effigy of a horseman and the Nagri legend Gauda Vijaye on the coins struck by Bakhtiyar Khalji; horseman appears on the gold and silver coins of Ali Mardan; use of lion motif on the coins of Jalaluddin Muhammad, Nasiruddin Mahmud and seven rayed Sun or wheel symbol appears on the coins of Fath Shah.
Two types of coins were in vogue in the province of Bengal during 130 years rule of the Delhi sultans: coins struck in the name of the Delhi sultans and independent coins of the rulers who rebelled in Bengal. The first group may be divided in to two sub-groups: coins bearing the names of the Delhi sultans and coins bearing the names of the Delhi sultans along with the names of their governors. Coins of seven Delhi sultans were struck from Bengal mints. They are: Muizuddin Mohammad bin Sam (1203-1206 AD); Shamsuddin Iltutmish (1210-1236 AD); Jalalatuddin Raziya (1236-1240 AD); Nasiruddin Mahmud (1246-1266 AD); Ghiyasuddin Balban (1266-1287 AD); Ghiyasuddin Tughlaq (1320-1325 AD) and Muhammad bin Tughlaq (1325-1351 AD). Among them the first two issued gold and silver coins and the rest struck silver coins only. Only Muhammad bin Tughlaq's gold, silver and copper coins have been found.
Bakhtiyar Khalji issued gold coins from Gauda in the name of Muhammad bin Sam in 601 AH/1205 AD to commemorate his victory in Bengal. The obverse of the coin bears the name of the sultan with his epithet in Arabic and the reverse bears the effigy of a horseman with club in hand in the centre, the margin bears the date and the word Gauda vijaye in Nagri characters. But there is no name of Bakhtiyar on the coin. Some silver coins of the same pattern have also been found, issued in the name of Mohammad bin Sam. Iltutmish also issued similar gold coins. Generally the coins of the Delhi sultans bear on one side the name of the sultan with their epithet and on the other side either bear the Kalima or the legend indicating the relation with the Khalifa or Khilafat of Baghdad. Legends such as 'Nasiru amiri'l muminin or 'fi 'Ahdil Imam... (Khalifa's name) '[Struck] in the reign of the leader' [Mustasim...]', and mint name and date and the year have been inscribed in the margin. Sometimes the year is inscribed along with the month and date. The very word Tankah as the name of the denomination and value has been used for the first time in Bengal on the coins of Nasiruddin Mahmud (Delhi). All the silver coins of Bengal were of full tankah denomination and were of more or less one tola weight standard. With a few exceptions generally there were no coins of half or quarter tankah denomination, because Cowries were used for small purchases.
Coins bearing the names of four Delhi sultans along with four of their governors have been found. Four governors are (1) Daulat Shah bin Maudud with Sultan Iltutmish (2) Ikhtiyaruddin Yuzbak Tughral with Sultan Nasiruddin Mahmud (3) Nasiruddin Ibrahim with Sultan Ghiyasuddin Tughlaq and Muhammad bin Tughlaq and (4) Ghiyasuddin Bahadur with Sultan Muhammad bin Tughlaq. All these joint coins are of silver, but a joint gold coin of Ghiyasuddin Bahadur and Muhammad bin Tughlaq has also been found.
These coins sometimes bear the name of the sultan along with the name of the Abbasid khalifa on the obverse and the name of the governor on the reverse. Or the obverse contains only the name of the Abbasid Khalifa and the reverse contains the name of the sultan and governor; or on one side there is the name of the Delhi sultan and on the other the name of the governor with his epithet. The date and mint name are inscribed on the margin.
There are two types of coins of the independent sultans of Bengal: coins of the governors appointed by the Delhi authority who proclaimed independence during 1205 to 1338 AD and the coins of the independent sultans of Bengal struck during 1338 to 1538 AD.
In all four governors issued coins in their own name, they are 1) Ali Mardan Khalji, 2) Mughisuddin Yuzbak, 3) Muizuddin Tughral, 4) Nasiruddin Mahmud (Boghra Khan).
Other than these some adventurers stuck coins before 1338; they were 1) Ghiyasuddin Iwaz Khalji 2) Ruknuddin Kaikaus 3) Shamsuddin Firuz and 4) Ghiyasuddin Bahadur. Three sons of Shamsuddin Firuz were also allowed to strike coins in their respective names during their father's lifetime. They used the term 'Sultan bin Sultan' in their coins to denote that their fathers were also a sultans.
In 1338 fakhruddin mubarak shah declared independence in sonargaon and struck coins in his name. Coins of Mubarak, dated 737 to 750 AH, and those of his son, issued up to 753 AH, have been found. A few gold coins of Fakhruddin and silver coins issued every year during his reign have been discovered. Only silver coins of his son Ghazi Shah have been found.
In 753 AH Iliyas Shah conquered Sonargaon, united the whole of Bengal and issued coins from various mints. All four rulers of the Ilyas Shahi dynasty struck silver coins profusely, and except Hamzah Shah gold coins of other three sultans have also been found.
Bayazid and his son Alauddin ruled Bengal for three years and issued coins in their own names. Alauddin Firuz, son of Bayazid, is known in history only through his coins.
In the coins of raja ganesha legends were inscribed in Bangla script instead of Arabic and xhakabda was intrduced instead of Hijri year. His coins were issued from Pandunagara, Suvarnagrama and Chatigrama mints. His son Mahendra, who also struck coins following after his father's coins in Bangla script. Jadu, another son of Ganesa, was converted in to Islam and he assumed the title of Jalaluddin Muhammad Shah. He introduced Arabic script and Hijri year in the coins of Bengal again. He also reintroduced Kalima in Bengal coins after a long interval.
He ruled from 1415 to 1416 AD and for a second time from 1418 to 1433 AD. His son and successor, Shamauddin Ahmad Shah ruled upto 1434AD and struck coins in his own name. Jalaluddin issued gold coins also. In recent time coin of a new Sultan of Bengal bearing the date 837 AH. (1434 AD) has been discovered. His name is Ghiyasuddin Nusrat Shah. Nothing is known about this Sultan in the history books. He is known by his coins only.
Later Iliyas Shahi rulers, in all five, ruled from 838 AH. Nasiruddin Mahmud Shah (1434-1459 AD), Ruknuddin Barbak Shah (1459-1476 AD), Shamsuddin Yusuf Shah (1476-1480 AD), Nuruddin Sikandar Shah (1480 AD) and Jalaluddin Fath Shah (1481-1486 AD) - all struck coins and their coins have been found. Among those Nuruddin's coins have been found recently. On the basis of the legend in his coins his identity has been ascertained; he was son of Mahmud Shah and brother of Barbak and Fath Shah. He ruled for a very short period.
Next were the Habshis or Abyssirians. Among the four Habshi rulers - Shahzada Barbak (1487-1488 AD), Saifuddin Firuz (1488-1490 A D), Qutbuddin Mahmud (1490 AD) and Shamsuddin Muzaffar (1490-1493 AD) - limited number of coins of Shazada Barbak and Qutbuddin have been found. Mention may be made about the coins of Muzaffar Shah commemorating the victory over Kamtah bearing the legend Kamtah Mardan 898 (AH.).
Next to the Habshis came to power. All the four rulers of the Husain Shahi dynasty - Alauddin Husain Shah (1493-1519 AD), Nasiruddin Nusrat Shah (1519-1532 AD) Alauddin Firuz Shah (1532 AD) and Ghiyasuddin Mahmud Shah (1532-1538 AD) struck gold and silver coins, which have been found. Few copper coins of Nasiruddin Nusrat Shah have been reported.
Among the Husain Shahi coins most important are the commemorative coins of Husain Shah, which have been found abundantly. These coins bear the legend victory over Kamarupa Kamtah Jajnagar and Orissa.
Profuse number of the Husain Shahi coins indicates prosperous economy and trade and commerce of contemporary Bengal. Generally it may be presumed that there were no copper coin in Bengal. Cowrie was used in small purchases.
Bengal coins are generally round in shape, though a single exception is the coin of Jalaluddin Muhammad, which was hexagonal. As regards the weight of the Sultani coins of Bengal, earlier it followed the Delhi weight of 177 grains or 11.6 grams, but later on adopted the reduced weight of 166 grains or 10.8 grams. Gold coins, comparatively are less in number, were used in big purchases and for commemoration or as souvenirs. Generally silver coins were used for trade and commerce
During the rule of Umayyad Khalifa Abdul Malik, Kalima was introduced on the coins and subsequent Muslim rulers followed the system. Most of the Sultans of Bengal, though not all, inscribed the Kalima on their coins. All the Sultans of Bengal prior to Jalaluddin Muhammad, used a legend showing respect to the Khilafat or to the Abbasid Khalifa of Baghdad instead of inscribing the Kalima on their coins. It was Jalaluddin Muhammad (818-836 A H) who reintroduced the Kalima in Sultani coins of Bengal after an interval of about 200 years.
Attitude of the Muslim rulers towards the Khilafat or Khalifa has been expressed through their coins. Being detached from the boundary of the Khilafat and having no communication with it, many Muslim rulers, far and near, used the name of the Khalifa on their coins, with or without the approval of the Khalifa, for legitimising their power or for political or religions causes or for showing veneration of pan-Islamism. It has been observed that the use of the Khilafat title in Bengal coins were in four ways: (1) Use of the Khalafa's name directly on the coins as in the coins of Ghiyasuddin Iwaz Khalji (1213-1227), dated 617 or 619 and 621 AH. They bear on the obverse after the Kalima the legend 'al-Nasiru amiri'l mu'minin', which was meant for the Khalifa of Baghdad al-Nasir lidinillah; (2) There was no name of the Khalifa but allegiance to the Khilafat - as on the reverse of the coins of Sikandar Shah (1357-1389), dated 781 AH, which bear the legend, 'Yaminu Khalifat Allah Nasiru Amir'l Mu'minin xhams ul Islam wa'l muslimin Khullidat Khilafatuh'; (3) Inscribing the Kalima and legend showing allegiance to the Prophet (Sm), as on the obverse of Alanddin Husain Shah's coin (1493-1519) dated 899 AH. It bears the legend 'as Sultan al adil al bazil walad-i-Sayyidul Mursalin' and (4) Directly proclaiming himself Khalifa, as on the reverse of Jalaluddin Muhammad's coin of 831 AH, which bears the legend 'Khalifat Allah nasir al Islam wal Muslimin' or as on the coins of Nasiruddin Mahmud and Rukunddin Barbak which bear the legend 'Khalifat ullah bil Hujjat wal Burhan'.
The sultans of Bengal adopted the policy of decentralising the mints to facilitate the availability of coins to the general people. Other than the capital, mints were established in various administrative and important places and coins were struck from there. More than 27 mints of the Sultanate period have been ascertained. Sometimes the sultans renamed the capital either in his own name or his father's name and those names were inscribed on the coins. However, from the various epithets used before the mint-names, such as Hazrat Jalal, Iqlim, Khittah, Arsah etc, we come to know of the status of the places. Ghiyasuddin Azam Shah used numbers on his coins for the first time. Nasiruddin Mahmud abandoned the marginal legend, and the mint name and date in number were placed with the coin legends in the field (within the circle). From this time the use of epithet before the mint name was dropped and various designs were used to decorate the margin of the coins.
In all there were 27 mint towns of the Bengal Sultans. They are: Lakhnauti, Firuzabad, Satgaon, Sonargaon, Muazzamabad, Shahr-i-Naw, Ghiyaspur, Fathabad, Khalifatabad, Husainabad, Muzaffarabad, Mahmudabad, Muhammadabad, Arakan, Tanda, Rotspur, Jannatabad, Nusratabad, Chawlistan urf Kamru, Barbakabad, Pandunagar, Suvarnagram, Chatigram, Chandrabad, Khalifatabad Badrpur, Vanga and Sharifabad. Though the number is 27, but all were not individual mints; because Sultans of Bengal used to rename or change the name of the capital from time to time.
The reading of the name Rotspur of Rohtaspur is not certain. Jannatabad is identical with Gaur. Shahr-i-Naw, Husainabad. Nusratabad and Mahmudabad seemed to be different names of the capital Gaur. Arakan is not a city but an area on the border of Bengal. Pandunagar and Chatigram are identical with Pandua and Chittagong respectively. By deducting these synonyms of the capital the number of mints comes to sixteen.
Two alternative terms - Khazanah and Daruz zarb - are found in the coins as mints. It is presumed the Khazana means the treasury in the capital and Daruz zarb means 'House of striking' ie the mint. The use of these two terms on the coins probably indicates the centralization of the coinage policy.
The calligraphy of the Sultani coins was elegant up to the time of Fakhruddin Mubarak Shah; later it degenerated. Bhattasali highly praised the calligraphy of the coins of Fakhruddin and ranked it as best specimen among the Sultani coins.
In the absence of contemporary written sources for the history of Bengal, Sultani coins play a great role to fill up the gaps and through the information supplied by the coins alone some of the names of Bengal Sultans have come to light. Otherwise they were not known through any other source.
From the name of the mints and date on the Muslim coins one can ascertain the expansion of the kingdom and the reign period of the sultans and their chronology. By analysing the Sultani coins one may get important information about the economic and cultural history besides those of political history. Therefore as a source of history the Sultani Coins of Bengal are very important.
Pathan (Afghan) coins' After the defeat of the last Hasain Shahi ruler Ghiyasuddin Mahmud Shah at the hands of Sher Shah till the conquest of Akbar (from 1538 to 1576 AD) almost forty years of Bengal history was a period of war and conflict among the Afghan Amirs. First fifteen years of this period Bengal was ruled as a province of Delhi under Sher Shah and his son Islam Shah. Sher Shah's Bengal coin, dated 945 AH, has been discovered. But for short time he was compelled to abandon it in favour of Mughal emperor Humayun, who conquered it, also in 945 AH. and stayed there for nine months. He also struck coins from Bengal in his own name. But during the reign of the third Suri ruler, Mohammad Adil Suri, the governor of Bengal (appointed during the reign of Islam Shah) Muhammad Shah Ghazi declared independence and Bengal regained its independent status. Later on four rulers of this Ghazi family and next to them Karranis ruled Bengal upto 1575, ie up to the conquest of Bengal by akbar, as independent rulerss. Generally the coins of this period were bigger in size and their calligraphy was excellent. But some small coins with degenerated writing have also been found, which are regarded as the products of Chittagong region. There is no mention of mints in these coins.
Suri rulers - sher shah (1538-1545), Islam Shah (1545-1552) and Muhammad Adil (1553-56) - struck coins in their respective names from various mints of Bengal province.
All of them issued silver coins and no copper coins have been found. Cowrie was the medium of exchange for sundry purchases. Few gold coins, 'Axhrafi', of Sher Shah are known from Bengal, they are very limited in number.
It has already been mentioned that humayun by conquering Bengal in 1538 stayed in Gaur for nine months. During this period he struck silver coins in his own name from the mints of Tanda and Bangalah (Gaur, 945 AH). Coins having no mint name and date have also been found.
These were struck following the Mughal 'xhahrukhi' coins, which bear on the obverse the Kalima and Quranic verse 'Allahu Yarjuqu mai yaxha' bighiri hisab' (whoever Allah wants gives countless of wealth) and the reverse bear the name of the emperor with his title and the words 'may Allah perpetuate his power and kingdom' and the mint, Bangalah and date 945 AH. These coins were similar to the Delhi coins, weight is more than eleven grams. On the contrary some coins of Humayun, struck in Bengal, have been found having not mint and date, but the legends and arrangements are same as the Shahrukhies. The calligraphy is crude and 10.6 grams in weight following the earlier coin-weight standard of Bengal.
Sher Shah initiated administrative and various other reforms along with the reform in numismatic sector. He took the 96 rati or tola weight standard for his silver coins, Rupiyya. This has been followed by the Mughals in subsequent period. He changed the secular legends of the period of Husaini rule and reintroduced the Kalima on the coins and for the first time initiated the system of inscribing the ruler's name in Devnagri script. The subsequent Suri rulers except Muhammad Shah Ghazi have followed this. Sher Shah established mints in various important cities in Bengal and struck coins from Fathabad (947-949, 951 AH), Sharifabad (946-949, 951 AH), Pandua (947-948 AH), Satgaon (946, 948, 950 AH) and from Patna (950 AH) and Shergarh (945-952 AH) of Bihar. Other than these, coins having no mint but date 945 to 952 have been discovered. Sher Shah inscribed the Kalima and 'as Sultan al Adil' (the just Sultan) and the names of the four pious Khalifas on the obverse of his coins. On the reverse he stamped his own name 'Faridudduniya wad din abul Mazaffar xherxhah as Sultan'along with the name of the mint and Shri Sher Shahi in Devnagri script.
Islam Shah following his father struck coins, but no gold coins struck in Bengal has been found. His silver coins from Bengal mints of Fathabad (952 AH), Satgaon (952-55, 957 AH), Sharifabad (952-53 AH) and Shergarh (955-56 AH) have been discovered. Adil Shah also struck coins following Sher Shahi coins; his Bengal coins bear no mint name. It may be presumed that these coins were struck in Gaur. His coins bear only the single date of 961 AH. He also continued the practice initiated by Sher Shah of inscribing the name in Devnagri script and assumed the title of 'Mubarijudduniya wad din abul Muzaffar Sultan Muhamad Adil'.
After the death of Islam Shah in 1553 AD, Muhammad Khan Sur, the governor of Bengal, proclaimed independence by assuming the title Muhammad Shah Ghazi (1553-55 AD) and struck coins in his own name. Following the coins of Sher Shah he also issued coins having the Kalima and names of the four Khalifas on one side and his name xhamsuddinya wad din abul Mazaffar Muhammad xhah Ghazi, mint and date on the other side. He dropped the use of Devenagri script on the coins. His coins issued from the sole mint of 'Arkan' having only the date of 962 AH (1554-55 AD). The mint name could be read as Rikab, which means war field, or it may have been issued from a mobile mint. He died in fighting with the Delhi forces in 966 AH/1555 AD.
His son and successor Muhammad Shah Ghazi also struck coins following the coins of Sher Shah and he reintroduced the practice of inscribing of the name in Devnagri. He assumed the title Ghiyasuddduniya wad din abul Muzaffar Bahadur xhah Ghazi. His coins are found from the mints of Hajipur (968 AH), Satgaon (963-65, 967 AH) and without the name of the mint (probably Gaur) dated 964-968 AH.
After the death of Bahadur Shah his brother Jalal Shah ascended the throne with the title Ghiyasudduniya wad din abul Muzaffar Jalal Shah Ghazi (1560-1563 AD) and issued coins from the mints of Hajipur (968-969 AH) and Satgaon (968, 970 AH). His coins having no mint name have also been found dated 968 to 971 AH. All the coins of this family are of silver, no gold or copper coins have yet been found.
Sulaiman Karrani, the Afghan ruler of Bihar captured the throne of Bengal in 961 A H./1563 AD and was able to retain the independence of Bengal against the Mughals with tactful efforts. He, most probably as a tactical measure, did not issue any coin in his own name. But his son Dawood Shah Karrani ascended the throne in 1572 AD and struck coins in the joint names of himself and his father from the mints of Patna, Satgaon and Tanda (980-982 AH). These coins also followed the Shershahi type and bear the Kalima, name of the sultan in Devnagri script and one tola weight standard. He was captured and killed in 1575 in a battle against the Mughals. With the death of Dawood the independence of Bengal as well as the Sultani rule in Bengal came to an end and Bengal again came to be ruled by the Mughals as a province of the Delhi Emperor. [Md Rezaul Karim]
See also currency system.
Bibliography HN Wright, Catalogue of the Coins in the Indian Museum, Vol II, Calcutta, 1907; NK Bhattasali, Coins and Chronology of the Early Independent Sultans of Bengal, Cambridge, 1922; Abdul Karim, Corpus of the Muslim Coins of Bengal (down to AD 1538), Dhaka, 1960; Edward Thomas, The Chronocles of the Pathan Kings of Delhi, Delhi, 1967.