Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Story of Indian Money - XVIII- Princely State Coinage

The Mughal Empire underwent a decline after the death of the last Great Mughal, Aurangzeb 'Alamgir in 1707 because of its overstretch in terms of land mass and incessant succession wars at the death of each emperor between his sons and other royal claimants. The weakening at the centre led to the growth of regional powers of different types like successor states in form of Bengal, Hyderabad and Awadh, resuscitated ancient powers like the Rajputana States, warrior states like the Marathas and Sikhs and more importantly colonial powers like the British, Dutch, Danish, French and the oldest, the Portuguese.
The currency of the regions assumed a sovereign role and soon became independent of the Mughal currency system in a gradual but sure manner. This trend led to a variety of regional currencies which led to difficulties in inter-regional trade caused by inferior types of local currencies.
The regional coins were in many cases issued in the name of the Mughal Emperor who became a titular figure but the right to coin either began to be literally sold 'farmed out' as in the period of the desperate Mughal emperor, Farrukhsiyar or taken as a right since the Emperor could not supervise or resist as in the case of all emperors after Muhammad Shah 'Rangeela' who lost the peacock throne and its attendant prestige to the Persian invader, Nadir Shah in 1739.
The Nadir of Mughal currency was the periods of Shah Alam II and Muhammad Akbar II stretching from 1759 to 1835 when the East India Company began to issue coins in the name of the English monarch formally.
The Princely States were soon goaded into discontinuing the Mughal Emperor's name altogether especially after the Revolt of 1857 which saw a revival of token coins in the name of the founthead of the rebellion, Emperor Bahadur Shah 'Zafar' II who was duly packed off to Rangoon.
However, the decline of the Mughals encouraged the other powers to exercise their right to issue coinage to exhibit their sovereignty and hence the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries saw an exponential growth in Princely States' Coinage. What began as an imitative currency acquired its own strength through modern innovations of mechanized coin minting which was introduced by the East India Company at its mints in Calcutta, Bombay and Madras Presidencies. The Princely States were offered facilities to mint their own coins or even encouraged to employ English Mint Masters. However, the East India Company and the Imperial Government that followed it after the 1857 Revolt tried to suppress the local mints giving various reasons like the coins gave trouble to local merchants in exchange, encouraged the money lenders to exploit the poor farmers, encouraged counterfeiting of coins, was a loss of revenue to the Government of India or plain that the coins were made by melting the Imperial coinage!
These reasons however did not deter the Native States from continuing their coinage as is apparent by the multitude of coinage of these powers. Additionally, though expected by the Imperial government, several Princely States like Baroda, Hyderabad did not acknowledge the British monarch as their superior though several of their peers took to using titles like Qaiser-i-Hind or Mallika-i-Hind for Victoria the Empress of India to impress the Imperial government of their support to the colonial project. The modernization of Princely State coinage led to improvement in their standards as opposed to their earlier shoddy monitoring of metallic content, design and market exchange value of the coinage. Hence, we come across the most beautiful samples of coinage from states like Hyderabad, Bahawalpur, Kutch, Baroda, Gwalior, Travancore and Indore with realistic images of their rulers and state emblems like the Char Minar in the case of Hyderabad.  Even religious images were used in the coinage of smaller states of North India. However, all Princely States' could not survive to the modernization and closed the local mints or restricted  them to ceremonial issues in case of accession or marriages to exercise their nominal power.
Another important aspect of the Princely States' Coinage was the use of English legends along with local languages and script
s on the coins like Tamil in case of Travancore, Urdu in case of Hyderabad and Bahawalpur, Hindi with Devanagari legends in case of Indore, Gwalior and Baroda. Mewar came up with the most innovative Devanagari legend of 'Dosti Landhan (London)' to show its solidarity with the British!
Another important cultural aspect of the Princely States' Coinage was the employment of local calendars or the Hindu Vikrama Samavat dates as earlier only the Islamic Hijri calendar dates were permitted by the Mughals. Some Princes also used the coinages to exhibit important events like the completion of 50 years of rule in the case of Maharaja Ganga Singh of Bikaner
Thus, the Princely States' Coinage represents one of the most colourful chapter in the Numismatic History of the Indian sub-continent which has often been neglected.




Coin Images (Top to bottom left to right) 1 & 2  Late Mughal Rupee in name of Muhammad Akbar II issued from Delhi (Umbrella symbol may represent a local power
Images 3 & 4 Gold Hun issued by Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj on his coronation in 1674 with Devanagari legend
Images 5 & 6 Pseudo-Mughal Rupee issued by Marathas with Devanagari 'Shri' as mint marker
Images 7 & 8 Sikh Rupee issued by Maharaja Ranjit Singh with legend praising Guru Gobind Singhji
Images 9 & 10 Machine struck Silver Rupee issued by Baroda State with image of  Maharaja Sayaji Rao III Gaekwad with Devanagari legend/Reverse: State emblem 'Sword' and Vikrama Samavat 1949 (1893 A.D.) in Devanagari
Images 11 & 12 Machine struck Copper denomination issued by Mewar with Devanagari 'Chitrakoot Udaipur/Dosti Landhan V.S. 2000 (1944)
Images 13 & 14 Silver Machine struck Kutchi Kori issued in 1898 in name of Victoria 'Qaisar-i-Hind from Bhuj mint with twin dates of 1898 A.D. (in Persian) and 1954 V.S. in Devanagari
Images 15 & 16 Silver Machine struck Rupee issued by Alwar State with names of Queen Victoria 'Empress' with image/Rev. Persian legend with name of Maharaja Mangal Singh date 1880 A.D. in Persian and English denomination and State name
Images 17& 18 Silver Rupee issued by Hyderabad State with name of Nawab Asaf Jah Nizam ul-Mulk Mir Mahbub Ali Khan (indicated by Persian 'MEEM' in the gate of Char Minar with Hijri dates and reverse circular Mughal 'Sanah Julus' formula
Images Courtesy: National Museum, New Delhi


  1. It is very strange that you have included coins of Marathas and Sikhs under Princely States (!!). IIRC they were Empires and treated as independent kingdoms and not as princely states. Even the auction cataloguers mention them as Indpependent Kingdoms and not princely states

  2. Dear Mr. Murugan, i think these are artificial categories; wasn't the Maratha Confederacy the precursor of the states of Baroda, Gwalior and Indore? Similar various Sikh Princely States owed their powers to the Sikh Empire which was created by Maharaja Ranjit Singh. I have tried to trace the evolution of the Princely States from various political powers which was different for each I.P.S. as it is called by auctioneers!

    1. Thank you for your keen interest nevertheless. I think we have to refine ideas published in older works. These works are not the last word on these topics. Regards