The coins and currency reforms of Sher Shah Suri (Sher Khan) are one of his most outstanding achievements. Sher Shah Suri found on his accession that the currency system had practically broken down. There was debasement of the current coins and the absence of a fixed ratio between the coins and various metals. There was another difficulty, namely, that coins of all previous reigns, in fact of all ages, were allowed to circulate as legal tender.
Sher Shah Suri took steps to issue a large number of new silver coins which, subsequently, became known as dam. Both the silver rupee and copper dam had their halves, quarters, eighths and sixteenths.
Next, he abolished all old and mixed metal currency coins. He fixed a rate between the copper and silver coins. His silver rupee coins weighed 180 grains, of which 175 grains were pure silver. This rupee minus its inscription lasted throughout the Mughal period and was retained by the English East India Company up to 1835.
The most significant monetary contribution of the Mughals was to bring about uniformity and consolidation of the system of coinage throughout the Empire. The system lasted long after the Mughal Empire was effectively no more.
Where coin designs and minting techniques were concerned, Mughal Coinage reflected originality and innovative skills. Mughal coin designs came to maturity during the reign of the Grand Mughal, Akbar. Innovations like ornamentation of the background of the die with floral scrollwork were introduced. Jehangir took a personal interest in his coinage. The surviving gigantic coins, are amongst the largest issued in the world. The Zodiacal signs, portraits and literary verses and the excellent calligraphy that came to characterise his coins took Mughal Coinage to new heights.
Types and Details of Coins
Akbar initially issued coins with the Kalima till 1585 A.D. but in the thirtieth year of his reign he found the new religious creed ‘Din-i-Illahi’ and issued coins with the Illahi credo ‘Allah hu Akbar Jalla Jalaalah’ (God is great, may His glory be glorified). He also began dating his coins as per his regnal era called Illahi era replacing the earlier Hijri era. He also introduced the practice of issuing coins with Persian verses praising the ruler which was emulated by all his successors.
Akbar’s successor, Jahangir (r.1605-1627) began his reign by issuing commemorative coins with portraits of his father and then issued coins with the image of various zodiac signs to illustrate the date; he resumed the use of Hijri era on his coins.
Jahangir also bestowed upon his royal consort, Nur Jahan, the royal privilege of issuing her own coins, making her the first queen after Raziyya Sultan to issue her own coins. Jahangir also issued heavy gold coins as mementos to various dignitaries at his court. One such coin weighing around 1000 tolas (around 12 Kg) has been found making it the heaviest gold coin in the world.
Shah Jahan began his rule by reintroducing the Kalima on his coinage and using the title ‘Sahib-e-Qiran Sani’ (the Second Lord of Fortunate Astronomic Conjunctions) based on an earlier title used by Timur on his coins. Shah Jahan turned to appease the orthodox clergy by ordering the melting of Jehangir’s portrait coins and employed the Kalima almost exclusively on the coinage.
His successor, Aurangzeb forbade the use of Kalima to prevent its defiling as they passed through the hands of men. His coins used poetic verses to praise his rule on the obverse and the reverse had a formula that was copied by all succeeding Mughals including the regnal year of the Emperor along with the name of the minting town.
Aurangzeb’s death in 1707 A.D. began the downward slide of the great Mughal Empire with the emergence of regional and foreign powers who slowly usurped the minting privileges of the Mughal emperor. Farrukhsiyar began the policy of issuing Farmaans for minting rights to interested powers. The East India Company obtained the rights to mint coins in the name of the Mughal Emperor from Bombay in 1717.
The Mughal power reduced during the reign of Muhammad Shah when Delhi was sacked by Nadir Shah in 1739 A.D. Muhammad Shah’s subordinates like Nizam-ul-Mulk of Hyderabad and Saadat Ali Khan, Nawab of Awadh retreated to their provincial capitals to create their own kingdoms and issue their own coinages.
The Mughal power was totally shattered when Shah Alam II (r.1759-1806) lost the Battle of Buxar in 1764 A.D. to the East India Company’s army and became a puppet in the hands of the British when the British entered Delhi in 1803 A.D. The British continued to issue coins in Shah Alam’s name till his death and his successor Muhammad Akbar II forfeited the minting rights when the British East India Rupee became the official currency of the country.
His successor, Bahadur Shah ‘Zafar’ (r. 1837-1858) became the central figure of the revolt of 1857 when his coin was issued by the rebel soldiers after crowning him the ‘Emperor of Hindustan’. However, he was finally deposed by the British in September 1857 and exiled to Rangoon.