Tag: coinage

The Indo- Sasanians: History and Coinage

The Indo- Sasanians: History and Coinage


The territory of the Kushan Empire captured by Ardashir I, the first Sasanian emperor of Iran (224 AD- 241 AD), was placed under the control of Sasanian princes who were given the title Kushanshah, i.e. Kushan King or King of Kushan. The name of the first of these princes has not yet been deciphered on his coins, which show him being presented with the Kushan crown by the Iranian goddess Anahita. His successor, called Ardashir, minted coins, probably at Balkh, with mixed Sasanian and Kushan designs for circulation in the formar territories of the Kushans around Balkh in northern Afghanistan. Their successors maintained the title Kushanshah and continued to issue coins. In about 260 AD, during the reign of Peroz I, the third Sasanian Kushanshah, Sasanian control was extended into the Kabul and Begram area, and for the next century, Ganghara (modern day Peshawar valley in northwestern Pakistan), remained a contended area between the Sasanians and the Kushans. This group of Sasanian princes is referred to in modern scholarship as the Indo-Sasanian.

Early History

After the victory of the Parthians, the Sasanians extended their area of rule into Bactria during the reign of Ardashir I around 230 CE. It was extended further towards the east in western Pakistan during the reign of Shapur I (240-270 CE). Until the rise of Kidarites, Shapur II remained directly in charge of the southern territory, while the north was pertained to the Kushanshahs. The decline of Kushans and their defeat in the Kushano-Sasanian conflict led to the rise of Hephthalites who conquered Bactria and Gandhara. The Indo-Sasanian period ended with the collapse of Sassanids to the Rashidun Caliphate in the mid 7th century.

ardashir_rock relief

A rock relief of Ardashir I

Some of the important Indo-Sasanian rulers are:

  • Ardashir I (c. 230 – 250)
  • Peroz I (c. 250 – 265)
  • Hormizd I (c. 265 – 295)
  • Hormizd II (c. 295 – 300)
  • Peroz II (c. 300 – 325)
  • Shapur II (c. 325)
  • Varhran I, Varhran II, Varhran III (c. 325 – 350; lasted until the Hephthalites invasion)
  • Peroz III (c. 350 – 360; in Gandhara)

The Sasanian Originators and Entering of Huns

Most of north and northwestern India between the 1st and 3rd centuries CE was under the control of the Kushans. Towards the ebb of this empire, the Sasanian rulers began to press eastward, first conquering the Bactrian region during the reign of Ardashir I (230 CE), then moving further to Gandhara in the reign of Ardashir’s successor, Shapur I (241-270 CE). This brought the Sasnian into direct confrontation with the later Kushans. There were also multi-faceted consequences of this contact in cultural, religious, and artistic arenas. The introduction of the broad flan Sasanian issues from Afghanistan bearing Kushan motifs is such an instance.

The adaptations of Sasanian coin type of bust/ fire altar in Afghanistan travelled into northwestern India in 6th century CE. These follow the pattern of the large stereotype Sasnian coins, featuring the bust of the king on the obverse, and fire altar with attendants flanking it on the reverse. Sasanian coins, which were introduced in the 3rd century CE in Persia, retained a standard pattern throughout their long history of circulation. However, the coins of each king were distinguished by a unique crown on his head, allowing for issues of different kings to be told apart even in the absence of legends and dates.  There is a mention of Bahram II successfully establishing his authority over the whole of Sakastan (the Sakas of Seistan), a martial nation, acquiring the title of Sagan Shah. Also, there is an allusion of the Persians being called back to Khosaran when the Sasanian were engaged in a war with the Romans.

Bahram V (420-438 CE) extended his dominion to include Makran and Sind through a matrimonial alliance with the daughter of the Indian ruler named ‘Shangal’ by Firdausi. Shangal had been identified with Vasudeva, ruler of Magadh and Kanauj. It was during the reign of Bahram V that the Hephthalites (known as Huns according to Chinese sources) suddenly crossed Oxus and overran the province of Merv. The nomadic Hunas, pressured by the Chinese rulers, swung westward only to face prolonged conflicts with the Sasanian rulers in the second half of the 5th century. The presence of Hunas, however, is recorded in literature from even an earlier period i.e. the epic period.  The Sasanian-Huna conflict between the 2nd and 5th century influenced the Huna coinage at a great extent.

The Spread of the Gurjara-Pratiharas

Gurjara Pratiharas of Rajputana:  Harichandra (550 CE) founded the earliest Gurjara kingdom in the erstwhile Jodhpur State of Rajputana. He conquered and fortified Mandor (North of Jodhpur) which became the capitsl of the newly-founded kingdom. This region was then known as Gujarat. Harichandra’s four sons- Bhadra, Bhogabhata, Kakka, Rajjila and Dadda were described as to be very powerful. Not much is known about the first two sons, but Rajjila ruled Mandavyapura while Dadda moved southward and founded a kingdom in the region of Broach in Gujarat. Rajjila’s son Narabhata, also known as Pellapelli succeeded him.

Pellapelli’s son Nagabhata shifted the capital from Mandor to Medanaka. The rise of Gurjaras brought them into conflict with Prabhakaravardhan, father of Harshvardhan, a powerful king who kept Gurjaras in check. King Tata, son of Nagabhatta and his three successors ruled between 640 and 720 CE. Silukha, his great grandson, was successful in defeating neighboring powers and expanding the kingdom. The advent of Arabs weakened this dynasty. Nagabhata succeeded in stemming the Arab advance. The new Pratihara dynasty founded by Nagabhata went on to become a great empire, while the dynasty found earlier by Harichandra continued to rule from Jodhpur as feudatories of the Imperial Pratiharas. On the death of the last king, Kakutta, the feaudatory kingdom was mearged with the Gujjara-Pratiharas Empire.

The Gurjaras of Nandipur: The Gurjaras also established a small principality in the region around Broach in Gujarat. It boundaries extended from the river Mahi in the north to the river Kim in the south, and from the western seacoast to the borders of Malwa and Khandesh in the east. Nandipur, identified with Nandol, became their capital. Dadda I, his son Virraga Jayabhata I and Dadda II Prasantaraga were the first three kings of Nandipur Gurjaras. The second half of the 7th century CE saw the Chalukyas, also known as Kalachuris establish an independent kingdom in south Gujarat with Navasari as their capital. Chalukyan King Avanijanasraya Pulakesiraja crushed the Arabs and gained supremacy in the region. The Gurjaras thereafter acknowledged the Chalukyas as their overlords. The weakening of the Gurjaras led to the emergence of four powers- the Paramaras, the Chahamanas, the Chalukyas or Solankis and the Pratiharas. The Paramars ruled Dhar and Ujjain, Chalukyas ruled Anhilpur, the desert region west of Abu was ruled by Pariars and the Chahamanas were in charge of the northern part.

The Imperial Pratiharas: Nagbhata I of Avanti, founder of the Pratiharas dynasty, defeated the powerful forces of Arbas between 724 and 736 CE. Nagabhata brought under him a large number of states and established his supremacy over Rajputana and Gujarat. At the time of Nagabhata I, the Rashtrakutas became a power to reckon with in the Deccan. Rashtrakuta king Dantidurga defeated the Gurjara leader, but their annexure was not long lasting. Nagabhata I managed to conquer powerful principalities of Malwa and parts of Rajputana and Gujrat. The reigns of Kakkuka and Devaraja, his nephews were uneventful. Upon Devaraja’s death his son Vatsaraja came to power and ruled from Avanti.

End of the Pratiharas Empire

The Gurjara-Pratiharas Empire, which saw its zenith under the all-powerful Bhoja and Mahendrapala, began to weaken under their successors. After the death of Vinayakapala, a series of weak successors resulted in the reign of confusion and chaos in the 10th century CE. The Chandellas, Chahamanas, and Guhilas, feudatories of the Pratiharas declared their independence. The emergence of new poers like Kalachuris in central India, the Paramaras in Malwa, and the Chalukyas in Gujarat further eroded the authority of the Pratiharas.

Early Indo-Sasanian Coinage

The Hunas adopted the coin design of Sasanian ruler Firuz, and then issues their own coins in the region northwest to India. Following the death of Firuz in 484 CE, Firuz’s coins and their imitation made their entry into India. According to K.K. Maheshwari, the Indo-Sasanian coins is attributable to the Mihiras (or Mers) and the Gurjaras who were newly settled in the Ajmer-Beawar region in Rajasthan. Here the closest copies to Firuz’s coins are found.

IMG_115 copy

Fire attendant’s bodies are of dot or herringbone design

A hoard Beawar is an important discovery as it contains earliest imitations of the Indo-Sasanian currency in India. Maheshwari was divided the hoard into two groups. The Firuz type coins, where the reverse depicts attendants with a hand rose on the altar side and the other across waist on the border sides come under the first group. The other group consists of both the hands of attendants raised. The coins of the hoard have thin, large flans with an average diameter of 25mm, so that the entire die is accommodated, leaving enough margin all round. They weigh from 3-4 grams.

Dramma and Gadhaiya

The dramma was a distinct monetary denomination of Gurjara-Pratiharas, their feudatories and successors. The term Dramma is said to signify a coin equal to eight dramas. Dirham itself is derived from drachm. Though the mention of dramma is in various inscriptional accounts, none of the fractional denominations of any of the currencies termed as Indo-Sasanian have surfaced so far. It appears that the dramma was in frequent use in Rajasthan, Gujarat and Malwa between the early 7th and mid- 14th centuries CE which roughly corresponds to the same geographical area and time span as the Indo-Sasanian/gadhaiya coinage.

The gadhaiya coin confirms to the weight standard of 65 grains. Though the term dramma is frequently mentioned in sources, the term gadhaiya has hardly any reference. The absence of the term gadhaiya from literary sources can be explained if it is assumed that gadhaiya to be a type of dramma. Evidently, the term ‘gadhaiya’ was handed down the ages orally. It was a common currency in Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra and Malwa. Rajasthan was the home country where the Gurjara and Mers first struck imitations. The Gurjaras carried this currency with them when they invaded Gujarat, and it remained a popular currency not only during their rule but afterwards too. The Paramaras, an offshoot of the Gurjaras, introduced the gaighaiya in the Malwa region, where it circulated for a short while and was then replaced by the Malwa region of the gadhaiya.

Indo-Sasanian coinage is generally recognized as comprising of two distinct families or evolutionary lineages. These have been categorized variously based on either geographic or political-temporal distinctions. The gadhaiya series, which is the earlier one, of the two great evolutionary lines and the longer-lived, was derived from imitations of Sasanian coins bearing the image of Emperor Firuz but later went on to become quite physically distinctive. Their silver metal content is very high. This evolution was a slow process spread over many years. From their place of origin in the Rajasthan-Gujarat borderlands, they not only became a dominant and thriving currency which circulated widely in the coastal and inland trading regions of western India, but standard currency over time for succeeding dynasties.

Any currency that is copied and circulated for a long time loses its original form and becomes degraded. Indi-Sasanian currency was no exception. The engraver, while engraving a coin die took one of the circulating specimens as a base to do his work, using it as his prototype. Thus imitation of coins began which continued for years to come.

Mapping Findspots

The following are the Indo-Sasania findspots. It reflects the widespread area of circulation of Indo-Sasanian currencies:

State District Findspot
Rajasthan Bikaner Diatra
Pali Pali, Nadol
Ajmer Piplaj, Atitmad, Chandma, Merwara
Jaipur Amarsur, Khijuria, Raniawas, Khejroi, Sakhun, Dayarampura, Siwakawas
Tonk Rairh
Bhilwara Dlapura, Khatwada
Kota Nimod
Haryana Bhiwani  
Uttaranchal Nainital  
Hardwar Hardwar
Uttar Pradesh Saharanour  
Meerat Sakauti
Bulandshahar Madrsa
Budaun Budaun
Bareilly Bunidan, Buzurg, Reyogurgaon, Ahichchtra
Pilibhit Neoria, Pilibhit
Lakimpur Kheri Hydrabad, Khoria, Kotra, Saithu, Kheri
Etah Etah
Sitapur Tikera
Lucknow Narainpur
Barabanki Madanpur, Barabanki
Unnao Attardhani
Kanpur Semri, Raibarelli
Sultanpur Sultanpur
Faizabad Faizabad
Gorakhpur Kusmauli
Jaunpur Jaunpur
Allahabad Allahabad
Jhansi Saprar
Bihar Saran Deoalakhan
Dharbhanga Rauna Berai
Nalanda Nalanda
Gujarat Banaskhantha Samatwada, Bhildi
Mehsana Kheralu
Panchmahal Godhra
Madhya Pradesh Sagar Maharajpur
Damoh Kherua
Jabalpur Murwara, Patan
Nimar Guida
Chhattisgarh Durg Sirsa
Maharashtra Nagpur  
Yeotmal Pahur
Akola Pimparkheda, Lohara, Risod
Prabhani Paheni
Nashik Chandanpuri
Thane Ambesihv
Mumbai Kandivali

The Indo-Sasanian coinage was found in a large number of hoards over a very vast geographic area, with numerous surviving specimens. It was a currency adopted by the Hunas that to begin with was an imitation of Firuz I’s coinage in central Asia, and which continued to imitate that imitation continuously for centuries as the tribes who accompanied the Hunas put down roots in India. Ind- Sasanian coins had a record life of nearly eight centuries, starting from the 5th century CW and coming to an end sometime in the 14th with the advent of Muslim rule in the country. Despite its long circulation and the vast number of coins struck, no two coins seem to have been struck from a single die. Statistically, this indicates that the hoards were derived from an extremely large original coin population, of which only a small percentage managed to survive and find its way into museum hoards and other collections.


Madras Presidency Coins

Madras Presidency Coins


By the end of the eighteenth century the British, in the facade of the East India Company, had extended their power to control large tracts of Southern India, either by direct or indirect rule. They had become the dominant power in the region, with their centre of government at Madras, where they had first established themselves in the middle of the previous century. At that time they had obtained the right to mint their own money, and from then until about 1800 the coins consisted mainly of gold pagodas, silver fanams and copper cash, supplemented during the eighteenth century with silver rupees.

Brief History

On the procurement of Madraspatnam in 1639 by the English East India Company, Agency of Fort St. George was established a year later. This was the antecedent of the Madras Presidency, although there had been Company factories at Machilipatnam and Armagon since the early 1600s. Under the provisions of Pitt’s India Act in 1785, Madras became one of the three presidencies founded by the East India Company.


Map of Madras Province, 1859

The head of the area was called ‘Governor’ and became a subordinate to the Governor-General in Calcutta, a title that would persist until 1947. The province of Madras comprised of twenty-two districts, each under a District Collector, and further sub-divided into talukas and firqas. In 1919, Madras became the first province of British India to execute the system of Dyarchy following the Montague-Chelmsford reforms. Five princely states fell under the political authority of Madras Presidency. They were: Banganapalle, Cochin, Pudukkotti, Sandur, and Travancore.


Flag of Madras Presidency

With the advent of Indian independence on 15 August 1947, the Presidency became the Madras Province. Madras was later admitted as Madras State, a state of the Indian Union at the inauguration of the Republic of India on 26 January 1950. In 1953, Rayalaseema and Coastal Andhra regions became the new state of Andhra, and Bellary district became part of Mysore State. In 1956, South Kanara district was transferred to Mysore. The Malabar Coast districts became part of the new state of Kerala, and Madras State was renamed Tamil Nadu in 1968. The northern district of Madras presidency, Ganjam, was transferred to Orissa (now Odhisha).

Madras Mint

The British East India Company’s first factory or trading post was established in 1611 in Masulipatam on the south-eastern coast. In 1639, the company received a grant of a lease of Madras from the king of Chandragiri. There they built Fort St. George and Madras replaced Masulipatam as the company’s principal settlement on the Coromandel Coast.


Fort St. George

A mint was established at Fort St. George where coins of Vijaynagar style were struck. The Madras mint began minting copper coins after the renovation. In 1689 silver fanams were authorized to be struck by the new Board of Directors.

Silver rupees were introduced into southern India by Aurangzeb after his conquest of Golconda and Bijapur in 1687. The company sought authorization to mint rupees in Madras, and received this permission from Kam Baksh, the son of Aurangzeb, in 1692. The coins mined were circulated locally and also sent to Bengal. A new mint was built in the northwest corner of the Fort in 1695, and later rebuilt in 1727. It became known as the Mint Bastion. The chief competition for the Madras coins was the Arcot rupees. Some of the bulk coins from Madras were sent to the Nawabs mint to be made into Arcot rupees.

In 1742, a second mint was established in Chintadripet. The same year, the Fort mint was permitted to strike the Arcot rupee as well as those of lower denominations. In 1792, the Chintadripet mint was moved to the Fort and these two mints jointly became the gold and silver mints respectively.

The Company decided to establish two bigger mints at Bombay and Calcutta in 1815. From 1835 to 1867 the mint also struck Uniform coinage for circulation. The Madras mint assisted these mints and since its capacity was insignificant. The mint was finally closed down in 1869 to make way for the government press in the same premises.

Mint Master and Assay Master

The Madras Presidency was run by the Madras Council, headed by a Governor, who was responsible for, amongst other things, the coinage of the Presidency. The mint itself was jointly run by a Mint Master and an Assay Master, who, at various times reported either directly, or through a committee, to the Council.

In the early 1800s the roles of Mint and Assay Master were under consideration. The Mint Committee had previously proposed (30th November, 1809), that the duty of refining and alligating metals should be passed to the Mint Master, and that the Assay Master should be responsible only for assaying metal received into the mint and coin delivered from the mint. In this way the two departments could act as a check on each other, and in 1810 this became the subject of a formal proposal. This clarified the job of the Mint Master and the Assay Master.

The following was their job description:

  1. The Mint Master had control over every department of the mint.
  2. Nothing should go in or out of the mint without his permission.
  3. The Mint Master would indent the General Treasury for the quantity of bullion necessary to keep the mint going, and, once this had been approved by the Mint Committee, then the sub- treasurer should comply with the indent and send with each supply of bullion or old coins an invoice of the exact rate at which the coins and bullion had been received into the treasury. The Mint Master would then issue a receipt specifying the weight of the bullion and coins.
  4. Each type of coin or bullion would be weighed separately and put into the crucibles for melting in the presence of the Mint Master and Assay Master or their deputies, melted and then weighed again. The wastage on melting was to be ascertained and recorded in a book kept by the Mint Master. The Assay Master would then take specimens from each cake for assay.
  5. The amount to be melted should be enough for fifteen days’ operation of the mint, so that the activities of the mint were not continually disrupted by this procedure.
  6. After assay the cakes would be refined, as necessary, and cast into ingots for laminating. The Assay Master or his deputy would make assays of the ingots.
  7. If the ingots varied from the standard by more than one pennyweight in the troy pound for silver, or twelve grains in the troy pound for gold, then they would be returned to be re-alligation.
  8. The Mint Master would be responsible for establishing methods to detect fraud in the departments under his control.
  9. The Mint Master would correspond with the Mint Committee on all subjects relating to the mint.
  10. The Deputy Mint Master would perform the duties of the Mint Master if the latter were in- disposed.
  11. The Assay Master was responsible for seeing the coins and bullion delivered into the mint, and overseeing the melting and casting of the cakes. He was responsible for taking samples for assay.
  12. The Assay Master would furnish reports specifying the weight of coin or bullion when put into the crucibles, the weight after melting and the fineness of the resultant cakes. He would also calculate the weight of standard bullion in each cake.
  13. The Assay Master would assay specimens of the ingots.
  14. The fineness would be stamped on each ingot.
  15. In the absence of the Assay Master, the Assistant Assay Master would preside.
  16. The Assay Master or his assistant would personally conduct the assays. These would not be delegated to natives.
  17. The Assay Master would keep a book of every assay.
  18. The Mint Master would initially be debited for the whole amount of each invoice of bullion or coins.
  19. The difference between the invoice and the actual value would be accounted for as profit or loss, the Mint Master being debited for the excess and credited for the deficiency on the invoice.
  20. The Mint Master was to continue the system of accounts for refining, alligating and other departments as had been established by his predecessor (Benjamin Roebuck).
  21. The Mint Master was also to keep a book of the weight of coin and bullion before melting and the weight of the cakes. This was to be jointly signed by the Assay Master and the Mint Master.
  22. The Mint Master was to prepare a quarterly account of the coinage showing the profit and loss.
  23. A selection of coins from the Pix Box would be assayed in the presence of the Mint Committee and the result would be submitted to the Madras Government.
  24. A Pix Box would be kept in the mint under the joint keys of the Mint Master and the Assay Master, and one coin in every thousand would be deposited in the box.


Early Dump Coins: The earliest coins of British East India Company in Madras were small silver pieces issued from their factory at Fort St. George in about 1670’s. These coins were undated with two interlinked C’s on the reverse (assigned to the reign of King Charles II).

During the 18th century silver coins were minted bearing the Company’s bale mark (an orb and a cross) inscribed C.C.E (Charter Company of England) and in some cases G.C.E (Governor and company of merchants trading into the East Indies). All these issues were meant for use within the company’s factory and surrounding areas and also for exchange with European traders. They were not meant for circulation in the interior of the country.

In 1742 company obtained permission from Nawab Sadatulla Khan of the Subah of Arcot to strike rupees in imitation of those struck at the imperial mint at Arcot. These coins were poorly struck with dies bigger than the blanks used. Hence, only a part of inscriptions are generally visible. They bear the name of Alamgir II with Sixth year of reign and have a ‘lotus – mint mark’. This undated series continued for about 50 years. Subsequent issues had Hijri Date ‘1172’ equivalent to 1758 A.D. irrespective of the year of minting. The R.Y-6 also appears on all issues.

Machine Struck Coins:  In 1807 new machinery was introduced.  The mint started producing silver coins in European style with oblique milling. It consisted of the following coins:

Metal Denomination Denomination Unit
Gold Pagoda Two
Pagoda One
Mohur Half
Mohur Quarter
Mohur One
Silver Pagoda Half
Pagoda Quarter
Fanam Five
Fanam Two
Fanam One
Rupee Double
Rupee Single
Rupee Half
Rupee Quarter
Rupee Eighth
Anna Four
Anna Two
Copper Cash Forty
Cash Twenty
Cash Ten
Cash Five
Cash Two and Half
Dub Double
Dub Single
Dub Half
Dub Quarter

Madras also issued 2 rupees coins. Although minted in 1807 and later all bear the frozen date “1172”A.H. Copper coins in this series were called Dub with inscriptions in Persian on one side and Tamil and Telugu inscriptions on the other side indicating the value in Dub units.

The subsequent is the fragmentation of the currency:

  • 3360 Cash = 42 Fanams = 1 Pagoda =31/2 Rupees = 168 Faluce (Dub)
  • 1 Rupee = 48 Faluce (Dub)
  • 1 Faluce (Dub) = 20 Cash; 1 Fanam = 4 Faluce(Dub) = 80 Cash

After 1818, Rupee was made the standard coin and the weight was fixed at 180 grains with smaller pieces in proportion. The pagodas and fanams were demonetized from that year.
Next issues were:-

  • 1812-1835: Struck at Madras Mint with ‘Lotus’ mint mark and indented cord milling.
  • 1823-1825: Struck at Calcutta with ‘Rose’ mint mark and upright milling.
  • 1830-1835: Struck at Calcutta with ‘Rose’ mint mark and upright milling but with a small crescent added on the reverse (rupee and half rupee coins) and on obverse (1/4 rupee coins).

Northern Circars and their Coinage

The Northern Circars was a former division of Madras Presidency and consisted of present-day Indian states of Andhra Pradesh and Orissa. There were five circars namely: Chicacole, Rajahmundry, Ellore, Kondapalli and Guntur. By a treaty, signed in 1768, the Nizam acknowledged the validity of Shah Alam’s grant and resigned the Circars to the Company, receiving as a mark of friendship an annuity of 50,000. Guntur, as the personal estate of the Nizam’s brother Basalat Jang, was accepted during his lifetime under both treaties. Finally, in 1823, the claims of the Nizam over the Northern Circars were bought outright by the Company, and they became a British possession.

The Northern Circars were governed as part of Madras Presidency until India’s independence in 1947, after which the presidency became India’s Madras state. The northern, Telugu-speaking portion of Madras state, including the Northern Circars, was detached in 1953 to form the new state of Andhra Pradesh. Coins for use of Northen Circars division of the Madras Presidency with headquarters at Musalipatnam were:-

  • Silver : 4 Annas and 2 Annas
  • Copper : 1/48 Rupee and 1/96 Rupee

The last set of coins were a set of 3 copper coins in the denominations of 4 Pai, 2 Pai and 1 Pai issued during the period 1824-1825.

Here are some exquisite examples of Madras Presidency coins:

Gold Star Pagoda

Gold Star Pagoda, Madras Mint, 3.43gm, 1648-1740 AD

Obverse: Single standing deity of Vishnu facing front

Reverse: Star in the center with granulated background

Gold Cash, Soho Mint, 1803 AD

Obverse: A lion rampant facing left holding Imperial crown (from the EIC crest); in exergue, 1803

Reverse: The denomination in Persian script; in exergue, 1 Cash

Silver Fanam, Madras Mint, 1704 AD

Obverse: Bale mark with CC/E (Charter Company of England)

Reverse: Ingriz Kampani in Persian in Large Lettering

Silver 2 Fanam, Madras Mint, 1.83gm, 1764-1807 AD

Obverse: Standing deity of Vishnu

Reverse: Two interlinked Cs

Copper Cash, East India Company, Madras Mint, 1.20gm, 1733 AD

Obverse: Bale Mark E/I/ Co. (East India Company)

Reverse: Date 1733

1/48 Copper Guilt Rupee (Dub), London Mint, 1794 AD

Obverse: East India Company Coat of Arms in centre with legend AUSPICIO REGIS T SENATUS ANGLIAE UNITED EAST INDIA COMPANY

Reverse: Bale Mark with legend ENGLISH UNITED EAST INDIA COMPANY (incused)


The Bengal Sultanate

The Bengal Sultanate

The Bengal Sultanate was an independent medieval Islamic state in the Indian subcontinent established on the coast of Bay of Bengal in 1342. Its dominion and influence extended across modern-day Bangladesh, East India and West Burma. The sultanate was dominated by numerous dynasties of Turkic, Arab, and Persian, Bengali and Abyssinian origin. It disintegrated at the end of the 16th-century and was absorbed into the pan-South Asian Mughal Empire and the Arakanese Kingdom of Mrauk U.

Brief History

The important kingdoms that ruled Bengal Sultanate were:

Illyas Shahi Dynasty: Bakhtiyar Khilji annexed the Bengal region as a province of the Delhi Sultanate, but in mid 14th century the governors of Bengal announced their independence. The Bengal Sultanate was then formed in 1352 by Shamsuddin Ilyas Shah when he conquered Lakhnauti, Sonargaon and Satgaon. The dynasty’s rule was interrupted by an uprising by the Hindus under Raja Ganesha. However the Ilyas Shahi dynasty was restored by Nasiruddin Mahmud Shah.

Ganesh Dynasty:  The Ganesha dynasty began with Raja Ganesha in 1414. After Raja Ganesha seized control over Bengal he faced an imminent threat of invasion. With the help of Qutb al Alam, the threat was seized but the Muslim influence continued. Raja Ganesha’s son converted to Islam who was known as Jalaluddin Muhammad Shah. Jalaluddin’s son, Shamsuddin Ahmad Shah ruled for only 3 years due to chaos and anarchy. The dynasty is known for their liberal policy as well as justice and charity.

Hussain Shahi Dynasty: This dynasty ruled from 1494-1538. Alauddin Hussain Shah was considered as the greatest of all Sultans of Bengal. He extended the Sultanate’s territory and trade links. In the later period, the Afghans sacked the kingdom’s capital Gaur and remained for several decades until the arrival of Mughals.


The Cultural heritage of the Bengal Sultanate had many Persian influences along with the traditional Bengali culture. The Sultans of Bengal were termed as the King of Kings in the East. Poetry was appreciated and encouraged in the period. The literature that was used in royal courts included works in Arabic, Persian and Sanskrit. In the 15th century, the Mosque City of Bagerhat was built under the Bengal Sultanate rule. This city, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, has more than 50 Islamic monuments. It has been called as an outstanding example of an architectural ensemble which illustrates a significant stage of human history. The Sufi Baul movement also took birth under their reign.


Literature prospered and grew by leaps and bounds in this era. Persian was the official language used in the region. Many scholars, teachers, lawyers and clerics relocated to the Sultanate. Several Persian manuscripts and books were published. The Rikhta tradition of Bengali Muslim poetry was first introduced by Nur Qutb Alam. These poems written were half in Bengali and the half in Persian. Sufi literature also flourished with the main theme of cosmology. Hindu writers were also encouraged by Sultans. Under the rule of Alauddin Hussain Shah the Bengali adaptation of the Mahabharata was written. Gaudiya Vaishanavism – the Vaishanava religious movement, which was started by Chaitanya Mahaprabhu also came into being in the period of the Bengal Sultanate.


Bengal Sultanate is known for its iconic architecture. A unique Bengali-Islamic form took form. It was inspired by styles from Persia and Byzantium. Single and multiple shaped domes were accessorized with stones and terracotta. One of the best examples of their work is Adina mosque. It looks similar to Great Mosque of Damascus.

The Mosque city of Bagerhat, a lost city in Khulna Division of Bangladesh was set up during the reign of the Bengal Sultanate. It was established by the warrior saint Turkish giant Ulugh Khan Jahan in the 15th century. It is a UNESCO world heritage site which was originally called as, “Khalifatabad” It was one of the major mint towns of Bengal Sultanate.

Administrative Centers

The Bengal Sultanate governed its territories through a network of administrative centers known as Mint Towns. These towns hosted a mint which produced the taka. They were district headquarters and contributed to urbanization. They received migrants from other parts of the Muslim world, including North India, Central Asia and the Middle East.

Mint Town Modern areas
Lakhnauti Maldah District and Rajshahi District
Sonargaon Dhaka District and Narayanganj District
Satgaon Hooghly District and Calcutta District
Chatgaon Chittagong District
Mrauk U Sittwe District
Fatehabad Faridpur District
Khalifatabad Bagerhat District
Ghiaspur Mymensingh District
Barbakaabad Dinajpur District
Sharifabad Birbhum District
Nusratabad Rangpur District and Bogra District
Chandrabad Murshidabad district
Rotaspur Located in Bihar state, India
Mahmudabad Nadia District and Jessore District
Jalalabad Sylhet District
Muzaffarabad Maldah District
Husaynabad 24 Parganas
Tandah Maldah District



Bengal was a high yielding land where agricultural activities flourished. The clothing industry consisted of textile weavers. When the Chinese traveler Ma Huan wrote about the region, he mentioned about the booming shipbuilding industry. Trading activities extended up to different parts of the world such as East Africa. Bengal was connected to the caravan routes of West and Central Asia, through the Grant Trunk road. Items that were exported included salts, fruits, liqueurs, wines, grain, ornaments, handloom items and precious metal. The maritime and land trade routes of the sultanate extended far and wide from Central Asia to the West.


Earlier, coins were issued in the name of the Delhi Sultan. However, that caused a lot of difficulties due to the rulers in Bengal. The first independent sultanate was established in Bengal for the next 300 years after Balban died in 1287 CE. Things took a turn in 1576 CE when Delhi brought Bengal under complete control as a part of the Mughal Empire. When the Muslims ruled, they introduced taka as the standard form of currency. Bengal was considered the richest country to trade with by European traders. The uniqueness of the Bengal Sultanate coinage stands out mainly because of the monometallic design based on the silver tanka. This denomination was based on the tola of 11 grams.

An example of the first Islamic coin struck in the Bengal Sultanate is the Muhammad Bin Sam 20 ratti gold coin. It shows a horseman galloping on the left while he holds a mace. A Nagari legend surrounds it. When Muhammad Bin Sam set up the Delhi Sultanate, his rule extended up to Bengal and he issued coins under the Delhi Sultan’s name.

Fractional Gold Tanka in the name of Muhammad Bin Sam

Later, the Bengal Sultans modeled their coin designs on those of the Delhi sultanate. Most of the coins of the Bengal sultans have several types of test cuts. For example, the big pit in the centre plus the cuts on the rim of reverse sides. This could mean that counterfeiting was a common occurrence.

One of the most iconic coins was issued by Jalal-al-Din Muhammad. It was a silver tanka featuring a standing lion to the right and an inscription. The legend carries the ruler’s titles and is accentuated with an ornamental border. The design of this coin was copied by later Kings and sultans of Bengal.

Most of the coins were inscriptional only written in between geometric shapes such as squares and circles.

Their four main types were:

  • Features the ruler’s name and titles on obverse side. Shahada (a form of expression of faith) on the reverse side sometimes with the “Abbasid Caliph” name.
  • Had the ruler’s name and titles on the reverse side and obverse carried the words “Abbasid Caliph” on reverse.
  • Reverse side same as above but the obverse side contained religious titles.
  • Ruler’s name titles on both sides.

Rare and Scarce Coins:

Hamzah Shah Coins: Hamzah Shah was in power for a short period. Most of his coins are rare to find. An example is the Silver Tanka, that bears the legend “al-mu’ayyad bi-ta’yid al-rahman saif al-dunya wa’l din abu’l mujahid  hamzah shah ibn a’zamshah al-sultan / “ and nasir al-islam wa’l muslimin yamin amir al-mu’minin in a ruled circle. The coin style is similar to those attributed to Muzzamabad. Another rare coin of his is the silver tanka with a scalloped circle on the reverse.

Silver Tanka of Hamzah Shah

Jalal-al-Din Muhammad Coins: His coins are generally believed to have been minted at Sonargaon. One of his rare type of Silver Tanka issued by him is with the legend al-sultan al-‘adil jalal al-dunya wa’l din abu’l muzaffar muhammad shah al-sultan/ in a scalloped circle and the legend asir amir al-mu’minin ghawth al-islam wa’l muslimin in an inverse scalloped circle. It also has a marginal legend with the prophet’s names and probably an AH date.

Silver Tanka of Jalal-al-Din Muhammad

Jalal al-Din-Fath Coins: A silver tanka issued by Jalal al Din-Fath carrying the legend al-sultan ibn al-sultan jalal al-dunya wa’l din abu’l muzaffar with sola countermarks and obverse side with legend fath shah al-sultan ibn mahmud shah al-sultan is one of the scarcest types of Bengal Sultanate coins. It has countermarks that are unlike the standard chop and test marks.

Surya or Chakhra Silver Tanka of Jalal-al-Din-Fath