History of Indian Currency: Ancient India

Harappan seals indian currencyThe Indian Rupee is also known as INR is the official currency of India. The rupee (derived from ‘Rupyakam‘ the Sanskrit word for silver coin) has its origin to ‘rupaiya‘ issued by Sher Shah Suri around1540-45. In this article, we will discuss the evolution of Indian currency from Harappan civilization to modern times.

Did the Harappans use currency?

Pashupati seal
Image Source: Wikipedia

The early Harappan people didn’t use the currency for their transactions. As per historical studies, Indus valley traders probably exchanged goods. Mid-Harappan and late-Harappan periods, seals are excavated but there is no proof that these seals were coins.

Mauryan Coins Indian currency
Image Source: WIkipedia

In the 6th century B.C., ‘Mahajanpadas‘ used coins as currency for the first time. These are called ‘punched-marked coins based on their manufacturing technique. Silver coins with different seals were most common. After Mahajanpadas, Mauryas came to power. In Arthshastra, Chanakya the Prime Minister of Chandragupta Maurya mentioned the first-ever royal coin minting. They include ‘rupyarupa‘ (silver), ‘swarnarupa’ (gold), ‘tamararupa‘ (copper) and ‘sisarupa‘ (lead) coins.

The Indo-Greek Kushan kings introduced the custom of engraving portrait heads on coins. For the next eight centuries, Kushan Empire inspired many dynasties, tribes, and kingdoms to issue their coins.

Coins of the Gupta Dynasty:

Gupta Coins
Image Source: Wikimedia Commons.

During the Gupta period, Emperor Chandragupta-I was the first one to issue coins. His successor Emperor Samudragupta minted various coins. Inspired by the Romans, ‘Dinara’ were the first known coins. Later, Gupta’s minted coins in Indian style. Samudragupta minted eight different types of coins. They are Standard, Archer, Battleaxe, Chandragupta-I, Kacha, Tiger, Lyricist, and Asvamedha. Due to his immense contribution, Emperor Samudragupta was called the pioneer of the ‘Gupta Currency System’

Later, Gupta rulers minted dozens of different coins. However, almost every coin has the king performing acts showing his royalty and bravery on one side and a carved image of Goddess Laxmi on the other side. Gupta coins showcased their unique craftsmanship and were masterpieces of art and design. These coins provide vast information about economic conditions during the Gupta period. 

Coins of the Chola Dynasty:

Chola Coins Indian Currency
Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

The Chola Dynasty issued coins with carvings of ancient Hindu Gods and Goddesses on one side. They have the Chola emblem inscribed on the other side. The Chola kings minted various metal coins which include gold, silver copper, and lead. However, gold coins were the most common. These coins were produced in India as well as Srilanka. Chola coins were artistic marvels of their period. Above all, they reflected the socio-cultural aspects of ancient India. 

Coins of Kadambas and Satavahana Dynasties:

The numismatics scholars always appreciated Kadamban coins (also known as ‘Padmatankas‘. Generally, Kadamban artisans made gold and silver coins. Punching on these coins was so deep that they appeared to be saucers.
The Satavahanas minted coins of various shapes, metals, and weights. They manufactured coins using metals like gold, silver, copper, bronze, brass, and lead. Coin manufacturing techniques such as die-struck, cast, and punched-mark were most popular.

To be Continued…

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