Thursday, May 10, 2018

A Silver Tanka of a Holy Warrior Sultan of Delhi

Ghiyas-ud-din Tughluq Shah was a Turkoman soldier of humble origin who began his career as a lieutenant in the army of the Delhi Sultan, Ala-ud-din Muhammad Khalji (1290-1316 CE). His original name was Ghazi Mallik, probably a nom-de guerre essential to thrive in the army of an ambitious Muslim sultan. He was despatched by Ala-ud-din Khalji to the frontier region of Punjab during the Mongol invasion with an army of 10,000 foot soldiers. Ghazi Mallik managed to secure the frontier region of  Sindh, Multan and Uch and based himself in the area of Dipalpur towards the end of Khalji's reign.
He did not venture to the capital during the succession crisis after Alauddin's death in 1316 or even during the new sultan, Qutb-ud-din Mubarak's four year debauched reign as he was secure in his region. However, the crisis caused by Qutb-ud-din's murder by his converted Hindu male slave who was enthroned briefly as Khusro Shah in 1320 CE forced Ghazi Mallik to move to the outskirts of Delhi. Ghazi Mallik easily overwhelmed the 'non-believer' sultan (a Gujarati Hindu slave converted to Islam and not believed to be a true believer by the Turkish nobility) and took over the Sultanate of Delhi as Ghiyas-ud-din Tughluq Shah. He ruled Delhi from 1320 till his 'unnatural' death brought about the collapse of a wooden pavilion constructed to welcome him on his return from a long campaign in Bengal.
Ghiyas-ud-din's reign saw the increase in thrust towards punishing and finishing off the Mongol threat on the sultanate's northwestern border. Ghiyas-ud-din also consolidated his hold over Bengal and ventured farther into the south with the help of his son, Jauna Khan (the future Muhammad bin Tughluq) who implemented the successful subjugation of Warangal's last Kakatiya ruler, Prataprudra in 1323.

Numismatically, Ghiyas-ud-din's achievements were modest as his origins as he employed the staid style of his predecessors, the Khalji and their predecessors, the Slave Sultans especially for the major tankas of his reign. Ghiyas-ud-din employed the typical title legends with his religious name, Laqab, Ghiyas-ud-din (literally 'Helper of the Faith') preceded by the title, Al-Sultan with a minor variation, he substituted the usual adjunct title, Al-Azam employed by his predecessors by the title Al-Ghazi (literally 'The Holy Warrior') recalling his nom de guerre, Ghazi Mallik.
Ghiyas-ud-din's taking of this religious title is significant for another reason. He fell afoul with the noted Sufi saint of Delhi, Hazrat Nizam-ud-din Auliya over more secular matters but which turned both religious in terms of the sultan's acceptance as a pious Muslim as well as political.
It is stated that the differences between Sultan Ghiyas-ud-din and Nizam-ud-din Auliya turned so acrimonious that the latter was advised by his well-wishers at the court to leave the city for his own good as the Sultan planned to turn on him after his return from a campaign in Bengal.
However, the Sufi refused to budge stating 'Hunuz Dilli door ast' meaning "Delhi is still far away (for the sultan)". The saying turned prophetic as the Sultan was killed outside Delhi by the collapse of the wooden pavilion constructed to welcome him!

Ghiyas-ud-din issued his vastly common silver and occasional gold tankas (weighing around 10.8g) with similar titles from several mints viz. known cities like Hazrat Dehli and Qila' Deogir (later known as Daulatabad), some vague locations in the Deccan termed as Mulk-i-Tilang (Telangana country) and some with Islamicate names like Sultanpur (Warangal) and an unknown one termed as Dar al-Islam (probably an epithet for the new city of Tughluqabad founded by him). Interestingly, the mint name is inscribed on the reverse on its margin along with the date in words in the Arabic language.

The coin featured in this post is a silver tanka issued from Hazrat Dehli mint in the Hijri year 724 corresponding to 1324-25 CE the last year of this ruler. The beauty of this specimen is in the complete date and legend in the margin of the reverse (see description on the jpeg).

Ghiyas-ud-din Tughluq was succeeded by his son, Jauna Khan who took the title Muhammad bin Tughluq and unleashed a number of different style coins during his 25 year long reign which ended in 1351 CE. Thus, Ghiyas-ud-din Tughluq though a founder of a dynasty is not remembered due to the more spectacular and attention-seeking recollection of his successor, Muhammad's reign. However, he was responsible for preserving and continuing the political power of the Dehli Sultanate during a potentially unstable period of the kingdom's history.  

Sunday, April 29, 2018

A Nineteenth-Century Quasi-Mughal Coin issued at the Poona Mint by the East India Company

The eighteenth and nineteenth centuries set off the slow decline of the Mughal Empire across the Indian sub-continent with the rise of independent powers in various regions at the cost of Mughals. These powers triggered the decline of Mughal power by usurping various aspects of executive and fiscal powers of the Mughal state handing it to local supporters of each power.
The pace of this process varied from region to region but was steady enough by the middle of the eighteenth century. The period of this process spanned from 1712 on the death of Shah Alam II till 1835 when the British formally declared themselves as the formal rulers of the country.

One aspect of Mughal power which changed more slowly than other insignia and symbols of power was its coinage issued in three metals of gold, silver and copper since the time of Akbar (c. 1556-1605 CE) in a standardized way from imperial mints across the country. Eighteenth century powers chose to continue Mughal coins from regional mints almost in the same fashion with the name of the Mughal emperor on the obverse and the mint's name on the reverse with the date in Hijri era and his regnal year.

The coinage of the new powers however differed from the imperial Mughal coinage in two aspects. Mughal coinage at its height was centralized and the engraving of its dies in particular was the work of Master Engravers selected by the Emperor himself. The Ain'-i-Akbari names one such Master Engraver named Maulana Ali Ahmad  who is described as "having no equal in any country, cuts different kind of letters in steel, in such a manner as to equal the copyslips of the most skilful calligraphers. He holds the rank of a Yuzbashi (commander of 100 and paid 500-600 rupees per month)". Thus, the Great Mughals exercised great care in the engraving as in other departments of minting from the imperial centre even for their regional mints. In many case, engraved dies were said to be despatched from the centre to ensure the quality of the die-struck coins of the imperial mints.

However, as the imperial centre weakened under the Later Mughals, the quality of die engraving suffered as is evident in the coins struck by the Marathas, Rajputs and even colonial powers like the English and the French. These changed calligraphy with even corrupted Persian legends speak volumes of the fall in the calligraphic quality of later coins aptly termed as quasi-Mughal coins in modern numismatic nomenclature.
Another quality of these quasi-Mughal issues was the inclusion of Mint marks and regional symbols adopted as per the local power's own heritage and cultural legacy. In the case of the Marathas, various symbols from the Hindu pantheon were adopted and included in the reverse die's design. Thus, we find Trishul, Ankush, Pharsi and Nagphani (snake hood) among various emblems seen on Maratha Rupees issued in the Peshwai period from 1740s till 1818 when the Peshwas were defeated in the Third Anglo-Maratha War.
The Poona mint which functioned directly under the Peshwas from 1764 and issued the Hali Sikka Rupee with a prominent Nagphani symbol on the reverse. These Hali Sikka rupees continued to be issued in the late Peshwai period as well as by the British after 1818. An important change was the addition of Devanagari numerals on the reverse indicating the date in the Fasli era used only in the Deccan.
The featured coin is one of a Hali Sikka Rupee issued in Fasli Era year 1236 (1826 CE) with the Nagphani emblem on the reverse with an obverse and reverse set of Persian legends which show poor calligraphy as compared to a proper Mughal Rupee even in the period of Ahmad Shah (c. 1748-1754 CE) or Alamgir II (1754-1759 CE). The Quasi-Mughal Rupees increased in number and variety during the ignominious ruler of the titulary Emperor, Shah Alam II (r. 1759-1806 CE) also known by his pre-accession name, Shah Ali Gauhar on some Quasi-Mughal Rupees as this series

Emperor Shah Alam II c. 1790s Image Courtesy:


Thursday, April 19, 2018

An Octagonal Relic of Assam's Past under the Ahom Dynasty

Medieval Assam, also known as Kamarupa, came under the Ahom rulers in the thirteenth century during the reign of Sukapha (c. 1228-1268) when the Ahom people crossed over the Brahmaputra valley and occupied the region centred over Charaideo.
The Ahom kingdom's polity was a mixed one comprising of Tai' language speakers of their homeland and native Assamese who were assimilated in the new kingdom's power structure as well as social system which was essentially Ahomese under the early Ahom Kings from the thirteenth till the sixteenth century including the Tai' language of the Ahoms.
Assamese language entered the court in the sixteenth century and came to dominate the court culture from the seventeenth century along with Hinduisation of the court culture including the use of Saka era to record court events.
Most of the Ahom Kings and queens (their names also featured on Ahomese coins) took Hindu names along with their Ahomese names.

The Ahoms began to issue silver and gold coins essentially to monetize their economy with Tibet and other regions and also to mark the ceremonial customs of the court especially coronations of new rulers. The coronation series had legends in the Ahom-Tai script along with the date in the Ahomese calendar. These coins were supplemented with silver coins featuring Bengali and Nagari script. The earliest coins of Assam were issued by Jayadhvaja Simha (Sutamla) (c. 1648-1663 C.E.) who issued coins with Bengali and Chinese character legends on his coins. His descendants used Ahom-Tai and Bengali/Nagari legends on their coins.
However, later rulers like Rajeswara Simha (1751-1769 C.E.) also issued Persian script coins in accord with the growing influence of the language around.
The other marked feature of Ahom coins was their octagonal shape which was adopted, according to one theory, as it was believed that the land of Kamarupa was octagonal in shape.
The Ahoms looked to the Bengal Sultanate's silver tankas as the chief inspiration for the weight of their coins and thus we have their silver units called Rajamohuri taka or rupas weighing 96 rattis followed by their half (adhuli adhataka), quarter (Siki/Maha), one-eighth (Adamaha), one-sixteenth (Charatiya) and its one thirty-second part (teeni-rattiya 3 rattis).
Later Ahom coins also have the names of Ahom queens reflecting on the importance of the chief queen in the kingdom's power structure in the period.

Most of the coins in Bengali script have religious invocations on one side of the Shaivite or Vaishnavite inclination and the reverse has the king's name and titles along with the date in Shaka era. The fractions do not have any date on them due to the coin's limited space and long titles of the ruler.
 The coin featured in this blog post is one of the best examples of an Ahom Bengali script silver coin with legends on one side praising Lord Shiva and the reverse having the titles of the ruler, Rajeshwara Simha.

Historically, Ahom coins represent the long glorious period of North-East History where two cultures of diverse origin met and assimilated in a very organic fashion with mutual respect for each other's customs. Additionally, these coins reflect the high volume of trade in the region which would have compelled the mint to issue these coins. The coins continued issuing in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries is also a reflection of the robust opposition offered by the Ahoms to the Mughals during the latter's attempts to subdue the kingdom and bring it under imperial command.
Ahom power came to an end in the first quarter of the nineteenth century when they came under the Burmese influence and after the defeat of the latter in the First Anglo-Burmese war with East India Company, it passed into the hands of the East India Company in 1826 when the last ruler Chandrakanta Simha reigned under the Company's influence.
The last of the Ahomese coins were issued by the dynasty's penultimate ruler, Jogeshwara Simha (1821-1824 CE)

Monday, April 9, 2018

A Silver 'Two Dirham' from the Mongol Ilkhanate of Persia

The Ilkhanate of Persia was a Mongol state which rose in 1259 C.E. from the fragmentation of the Mongol Empire and was ruled by Hulagu Khan, the grandson of Chingiz Khan. Hulagu's armies dominated the south-western parts of the Mongol Empire majorly comprising of Iran and its neighbouring regions. Hulagu was responsible for the sack of Baghdad and killing of the last Abbasid Caliph, Al-Muta'sim in 1258. At its height, the Ilkhanate thus ruled a vast region comprising of modern day Iran, Iraq, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Turkeministan, parts of Turkey and Western Afghanistan.
Hulagu and his immediate successors were close to Buddhism, Nestorian Christianity but embraced Islam under Ghazan in 1295 C.E. when the character of the state became decidedly Islamic, though some later rulers continued to flirt with Buddhism and other pagan faiths.
The last ruler of the clan was Abu Said Khan who strangely fell to the Black Death of the 1330s with his sons thus bringing the Ilkhanate to its disintegration and eventual dissolution.

Abu Said 'Bahadur' Khan lorded over the Ilkhanate for almost two decades and he issued a vast coinage in gold and silver from various mints of his vast empire. Silver coins were issued from at least 150 mints with few minor variations in their design. The silver coins were issued in three denominations, Half dirham (0.72g-0.90 g), 1 dirham (1.44g - 1.80g) and 2 dirhams (3.24g -3.60g)

Shown below is a 2 Dirham of Abu Saeed probably issued from Tabriz mint (similar to S. Album # 2214 Type 'G') in the collection of our institute. It is a fairly common coin with worn out features reflecting its rich circulation history in the period of its issue. Abu Said Khan also took the epithet Bahadur the Brave not seen on this coin but seen on his other coins. The coin has the Sunni Kalima on the reverse reflecting his strong links to Sunni Islam as a ruler of the Ilkhanate. The calligraphy on the coins is late Kufic type with the geometric features of the script fast being replaced with curves and designs and the multiple-cartouche design also shows a late embellishing nature seen on Islamic coinage compared to the bland designs of the early Islamic coinage shorn of any designs or decoration.
Importantly, this coin matches the later Islamic tradition of autonomous rulers issuing their own coins without any recognition of the higher authority of caliph which was a situation created by Hulagu's killing of the last Abbasid Caliph during his siege of Baghdad. The Ilkhanate's rulers' conversion of Islam did not stop their aggression towards fellow Muslim kingdoms. In fact, like most medieval empires, it sought to engulf neighbouring kingdoms and take over their resources and sovereign rights including Sikka, the right to coin independently, a pragmatic principle adopted in Islamic world after the exit of the Abbasid Caliphs. 

Map of Ilkhanid Persia Image Courtesy: wikipedia