The foundation of the Mughal Empire was by Zahir-ud-din Muhammad Babur (r.1526-1530) who adopted the central Asian ‘Shahrukhi’ (named after Timur’s son Shahrukh Mirza) as the prototype for his silver currency and minted silver Shahrukhis from Kabul initially and finally from Agra which was captured by him from the last Lodhi Sultan, Ibrahim Lodhi in the first Battle of Panipat on 21 April 1526.
The Shahrukhi standard was adopted by both Humayun and Akbar (in his initial years). The Shahrukhis are thin broad pieces of silver with Kalima and the names of the first four caliphs on obverse and the king’s regnal titles with date and mint place on the reverse. The mint names on the reverse help indicate the extent of each emperor’s actual domains. The Mughal Empire was unsteady in its initial period and Humayun the second Mughal emperor was deposed by Sher Shah Suri in 1540 A.D till he regained his power after 15 years with the Persian ruler, Shah Tahmasp’s help. Humayun’s later issues from Qandahar bear the name of Shah Tahmaspa as a formal acknowledgement along with the Shia Kalima which was a compromise accepted by Humayun to survive at the Shia Safavid Court.
His rival, Sher Shah began his coinage by employing newer weight standards and terms; the silver coin was christened ‘Rupaiya’ a term still current in modern India! He stopped the use of billon and introduced tri-metallic coinage which was adopted by Akbar and the later Mughals. Thus Sher Shah can be considered as a pioneer of Indian monetary system as his system was adopted till the British took charge in 1835 A.D.
Akbar (r.1556-1605) began his reign by adopting the Shahrukhi standard but reformed the Suri standard to issue gold coins called Muhars, silver Rupees and copper coins called Dams; 40 dams were equal to one rupee; 9 silver rupees were equal to 1 Muhar. He also issue heavier Muhars fetching 10 and 12 rupees. His coins were issued in square and polygonal shapes called ‘Mehrabi’ in addition to the circular.
The coinage of the Mughals can be divided into three phases on the basis of the place of issue and condition of Mughal authority:
v Wandering or regional phase (1526-1556) Babur and Humayun
v Classical phase (1556-1707) Akbar, Jahangir, Shahjahan and Aurangzeb
v Decadent phase (1707-1720) late Mughal Emperors beginning with Shah Alam I and his successors ending with the beginning of Muhammad Shah’s reign
v Quasi-Mughal phase (1720-1835) issuing of ‘Mughal’ coins under regional powers like the erstwhile Nawabs of Awadh, Hyderabad, Rohilkhand, enemy powers like Marathas, Sikhs, Rajputs and European colonial powers like the French, the English, etc.
|Babur's Silver Shahrukhi with Kalima on obverse (top image) and name, title of the Emperor along with mint name on reverse (bottom image)|
|Gold Mihrabi of Akbar from Agra Mint c. A.H. 981 with Kalima on obverse (top image) and Names and titles on reverse (bottom image)|
|Akbar's Gold Illahi Mohur from Lahore Mint with Illahi credo on obverse (top image) and date Illahi 39 Tir Month on reverse (bottom image)|
|Jahangir's Libra Gold Mohur issued in A.H. 1033 (1624-25 A.D.) with image of Libra on obverse representing the month 'Dii' in Persian Caledar (top image) and reverse legend with date, mint (Agra) and regnal year 19 (bottom image)|
|Shah Jahan's Agra Gold Mohur dates A.H. 1042 (1632-33 A.D.) with Kalima on obverse (top image) and names and title of the Emperor including Sahib-e-Qiran Sani on reverse (bottom image)|
|Silver Rupee issued by East India Company in the name of Shah Alam II from Murshidabad with Fixed Regnal Year 19 with obverse legend praising Shah Alam II (top image) and date and mint name on reverse (bottom legend)|
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! It is currently in the Museum of Islamic Art in Kuwait.
Shah Jahan (r. 1628-1658) 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 (r.1658-1707) 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 (r.1713-1719) 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 further reduced during the reign of Muhammad Shah when Delhi was sacked by the Persian adventurer Nadir Shah in 1739 A.D. Muhammad Shah’s subordinates like the 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 (r.1806-1837) forfeited the minting rights in 1835 A.D. 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.