India was amongst the first few countries that used coins as monetary exchanges. Over the centuries Indian coins have changed shape, size, material and minting techniques. With each change, the coins record the changing political and economic situation of the country. The Monetary Museum of the Reserve Bank of India presents a look through Indian coinage from pre-historic eras to modern times.
The earliest materials used as currency were cowries, beads, bracelets and even stones. Different materials were equivalent to different values.
The earliest recorded coins in India, these were used around the 6th Century BC. They belong to the Janapadas, small monarchical or republican states in North and Central India such as Kausambi. Symbols on these coins were drawn from nature or abstract elements.
Dynastic coins are said to have appeared from the Indo-Greek Age around 2nd Century BC. The Kushana Age was an important era of Indian coinage. The Kushanas were the first to issue gold coins in large numbers. The kings were depicted on the obverse, while the reverse depicted Greek, Iranian and Indian deities.
COINS OF THE GUPTA AGE
Coins minted in the Gupta Age were mostly made in gold. These coins consisted of the depiction of Indian deities and legends in Brahmi. Events like the Asvamedha Yagya and the accomplishments of the kings were also depicted on the coins.
COINS OF THE POST-GUPTA ERA
The coins of this age are very similar to Gupta Age coins and depict various dynasties, including kings like Harsha and the early medieval Rajputs. Depictions on theses coins include the Bull and the Horseman, Goddess Lakshmi and Padmatanka among others.
BRITISH INDIA COINAGE
The depictions on the coins of the British era changed with every change of ruler in England. Silver was mainly used for the minting and an attempt was made to standardise coins in terms of weight and fineness.
REPUBLIC INDIAN COINS
Coins of the Indian Republic were introduced on August 15, 1950. Symbols of independent India were used on these coins, including the Lion of the Asoka Pillar. Initial coins were available in the denominations of 1, 2, 5, 10, 25, 50 paise and 1 Rupee. Denominations of 3 and 20 paise were later introduced. Most of these coins have been gradually discontinued.
CONTEMPORARY INDIAN COINS
Indians coins are now available in the denominations of Rs.1, Rs. 2 and Rs. 5. Currency notes have become more popular now leading to a lessening number of coins. Minting of coins is presently done at Hyderabad, Kolkata, Mumbai and Noida.
SOUTH INDIAN COINS
Motifs on South Indian coins were usually dynastic symbols such as the bull (Pallava dynasty), the fi sh (Pandya dynasty), the boar (Chalukya dynasty) and the tiger (Chola dynasty). The legends were usually the names or titles of the issuer in local scripts and languages. These coins had no depiction of divinities.
The coins of this age consisted of calligraphy and abstract designs. Many monetary reforms were also undertaken in this age. The coin came to be called the Tanka and later, the Rupya. The Khilji and Tughluq kings issued a large number of gold and silver coins. The Mughal dynasty introduced a free coinage of gold, silver and copper coins called the Mohur, Rupee and Dam respectively. This age also consisted of coins being issued by breakaway kingdoms and princely states.
Coins not only serve as a medium of exchange, but also tell a story of the rise and fall of empires, the evolution in art forms, the advances in minting technology and the transition from precious metals to tokens.
FROM COINS TO PAPER MONEY
The journey from coins to paper money reveals how society started accepting tokens of money instead of money in terms of the value of metal and how the concept of "promises to pay" originated. The issuing of Indian paper money dates back to the 18th Century.