We know that money does speak. However, for a Numismatics expert, money speaks history and unravels the secrets of the past. Manjit Thakur, Deputy Editor, Awaz-the Voice, spoke about the science of coins or Numismatics with Associate Professor Danish Moin of the Maulana Azad National Urdu University. Excerpts from the conversation:
In Vedic India coins were not used. So, how did the trend begin?
Coins have a very old history. We had introduced coins in Indian in the 6th century BC. It means that in India approximately 2,600 years ago coins had existed. Those coins were not like what we see today. Scholars all over the world agree that coins were introduced in India 2,600 years ago. We call them punch mark coins because of the technique involved in making them.
Now let's talk about the coins of the sixth century BC. The first question would be how these were made. Nothing was written in them. Those has symbols; sometimes three and symbols gave away their identity. Symbols used to be on one side only.
The symbols were mostly drawn from nature like the moon, stars, sun or in some even animals. P L Gupta is a great name in tracking history of coins in India. He did a remarkable research on this aspect of history and founded the Nashik Institute; his books are considered the best for the study of Numismatics. The book he wrote 21 years ago is still the best.
He concluded that during the Mahajanapada period, which is the period of Lord Buddha and Mahavira, we have evidence of coins being in circulation. It’s important to know that symbols on the coins identified 16 different Mahajanapadas to which it belonged to. After this period, it was the Mauryan Empire, the biggest empire in India.
Research has shown that the coins were engraved with two or three symbols and these were made with punch mark technology. The punch mark is divided iof two kinds: the local punch mark and the universal punch mark. The local punch mark is the one found from a particular area of India, like from Kashi, Mathura or Gandhar. These were names of the Janapaddas.
Another group of coins has 5 symbols and on the basis of the evidence it was concluded that these belonged to the Maurya period. It's because the Maurya empire was ruling a considerable area of India.
We got these coins across the lenght of India - from Kashmir to Kanyakumari. If same coins are being found in Tamil Nadu and in Bihar, it means the one who issued these is the emperor ruling all these areas.
And what next....
This lot relates to the sixth century. By then we had technology to make proper coins. These were found in thousands of numbers. Another change was that along with Inscriptions, these coins also had writting engraved on them. This is related to the third century, the Indo-Greek period.
Indo-Greek coins are found in North India. These have inscriptions in Greek. Later, the inscription is in Greek and Brahmi. Our local kings started writing Brahmi on their coins. Brahmi is the oldest script of India and all the scripts you see in today have origins in Brahmi. I am not talking about Urdu and English; languages like Telugu, Tamil, Malayalam. Brahmi is the mother of all these scripts as well.
Coins had names of the Kings, State, etc and the information keeps growing. In the medieval times, attention was paid to encryption.
In ancient times, encryption was often based on images. These had less writing and more images. Sometimes, it will be of the King, the other times a deity or a tree or even a leaf. In many places, even the image of the temple was found. All these things are giving us evidence to interpret history.
Those who have not read history, they understand that in the olden days only gold coins were used. Later, we heard the name of Karshapan in Television serials like Chanakya. So what is the relationship between the state economy and the metal of the coin?
The reference of Karshapana dates back to the Vedic period. Karshapana was not necessarily in gold. It is mentioned in the early period that there is a reference to the bronze coins in the Vedic period, but these were used for a different purpose. It may be that the metallic piece of silver that was used as a block for making seals. Silver and other metals were always valuable and it’s said that people believe in Karshapan, there is no controversy in it.
We have heard that some emperors issued leather coins. Is it true?
No, it is a myth. It is a matter of great regret that we have also read this in books and many experts also quote it. I have answered this a thousand times. The story is about Humayun. It's said that when Humayun was defeated by Sher Shah Suri, he ran from the battle field and his life was saved by a boatman. Humayun established the Mughal Sultanate in 1556, as he asked for the man who had saved his life.
Humayun's people found and brought him to Humayun. The Emperor told him that he cannot forget his kindness and asked him to make a wish for him to fulfill. The boatman asked that he be made the king for a day. His wish was granted and it’s he who minted a leather coin. But historians do not take this episode too seriously as the courtiers of that time haven’t mentioned this important event.
What was next....
Now, we come to the era of Mohammed bin Tughlaq. The concept of Mohammed bin Tughlaq is very important and you must have noticed during the recent demonetization, people referred to the act as Tughlaqi. During his era, the silver coins were called Tanka. Each Tanka, weighed around 11 grams. Mohammed bin Tughlaq took a drastic decision that instead of silver the coins will be made in bronze. He allowed the silver and bronze coins to run concurrently and have the same value.
The most valuable thing in this is the inscription. The inscription of his coins was important; it’s a kind of religious appeal, “People who worship the Emperor, they serve Allah.”
If you are obeying God, then you should obey the king. On the other hand it’s written that I request people to accept this coin as a current coin. You have never seen such an inscription in India. Interestingly today we write I promise India to pay this much..and Tugluq wrote: I request you to accept it Yours Faithful Mohammed bin Tughlaq.
This inscription is awesome. After his decision, coins were minted and yet people were not ready to accept silver as equal to bronze? Even today it will not be acceptable; the bronze has less value than silver. Due to this, the business and financial activity was disturbed in Tughluq'a time. People complained to Sultan that the whole setup was messed up. Mohammad bin Tughlaq withdrew the decision, and his next decision gave birth to a new problem. He told people go to the treasury and exchange their bronze with silver coins. Now people, especially the goldsmiths, started making bronze coins; each house became a mint.
The government had minted one lakh coins and was required to replace two lakh. This caused a lot of damage to the economy. There is another angle to it. The concept of token currency started from here. As we use the word token currency today, it has no intrinsic value. The value of Rs 2000 note and Rs 500 note is because the Government of India has promised so and not the worth of the paper it's made of.
This was the concept of token currency that had come to China in the 13th century. This shows that Mohammed bin Tughlaq was following China's model. The concept of token money was also used in Khorasan (Afghanistan). It failed. However, in China they used paper as token currency and it was a success. Mohammad bin Tughlaq tried that in his country. Although it failed, the concept of token currency fifny ome with the security, otherwise it could have been successful.
You hail from Bihar; Tell me about your personal journey.
I did matriculation from Gaya and then took admission in Gaya College.I completed by graduation from Aligarh Muslim University. Thereafter I got a job in the Indian Institute of Numismatics, Nashik. I did my PhD from Pune University. I worked in Nashik for 23 years and have trained hundreds of students. Practical training in Numismatic happenes only at this place.
Even today, I am attached to that center. I visit the place often for trainings othrs. I do write articles and booksfor training.
In the university I have started specialisation in medieval period at the post graduation level