Saturday, 20 November 2010

New Coins found from the Ranjit Singh era

Rare find

Old silver coins belonging to the Mughal period and the era of Maharaja Ranjit Singh have
recently been found in Bhalur village of Moga district, writes Subhash Parihar

BHALUR is a small village in Moga district of Punjab, situated 25 km southwest of the district headquarters. Recently, the local inhabitants planned to build a new gurdwara in memory of Bhai Des Raj, founder of the village. As usual, kar seva (voluntary work service) started. A digger offered to dig the foundation for the structure at night, free of charge.

The very next morning the kar sevaks were amazed to see some old silver coins in the dug-up earth. On a careful search, 56 coins were found (one coin has been lost since then). A study of the coins revealed that 18 of these belonged to the later Mughal period and the rest to the reign of Maharaja Ranjit Singh (1799-1839).

Each Mughal coin measures 2.7 cm in diameter and weighs about 11 gm. The edges of some coins are still in tact. The complete legend on each reads as follows:

Sikh silver coins from Bhalur

Obverse

Hami din ala Muhammad

Sikka Fazal Shah Alam Badshah

[z]d bar haft kishwar

(Defender of the divine Faith; money [with the grace of] Shah Alam Badshah [struck] seven climes).

Reverse

Sana 45 julus maimanat manus zad Farrukhabad

(In the year 45 of his reign of tranquil prosperity; struck [at] Farrukhabad)

Emperor Shah Alam (literally meaning Lord of the Universe), in whose name these coins were issued, was the Mughal emperor Shah Alam II (reign 1761-1805), son of Emperor Alamgir II. The original name of this infelicitously-styled emperor was Ali Gauhar. In fact, he was the emperor in name only but really a pensioner of the British. After the Battle of Buxar (1764), he submitted to the English who, the next year, took over the administration of what remained of his realm. With this, the company also assumed the right of coinage.

Although Shah Alam lived up to 1806, he had been barbarously blinded 1788 when a new puppet king Bidar Bakht was put on the throne. But soon the Marathas deposed the new king and kept Shah Alam under their control until the British general, Lord Lake, freed him in 1803. He has also left a collection of his Persian and Urdu verse under the title Diwan-e-Aftab (Aftab was his pen name).

The mint name is given as Farrukhabad (situated some 150 km from Agra), which, along with Benaras, was one of the two chief mints that served the upper country in Bengal. It was founded in 1803 and first issued these coins corresponding to the year 1218 Hijri or 1803 of the common era. However, this mint was closed in 1824. It may be interesting to note that the Benaras mint ceased to issue its own rupees in 1819, and instead issued Farrukhabad rupees from 1819 till 1830. After this date, Calcutta and Sagar took up the duty of issuing Farrukhabad rupees.

The remaining 37 coins of the hoard belong to the reign of Maharaja Ranjit Singh (1799-1839). The date is not readable on one of the coins. Of others, the year-wise number of coins is: 1861 (1), 1865 (1), 1869 (4), 1871 (12), 1872 (3), 1974 (4), 1876 (3), 1877 (3), 1878 (4), 1879 (4), 1880 (4), 1881 (3). All these are samvat years which, if converted into common era, fall in between the years 1804 and 1825.

One of the Sikh coins bears on its reverse side along with the date, the mint name as Dar-al-Saltanat, Lahore, and some other coins as Sri Amritsar.

The weight of each Sikh coin is also 11 gm but their size is a bit smaller — 2.4 or 2.5 cm in diameter. Obviously, the Sikh rulers continued the denominations, weight and purity standards as established by the Mughal rulers. Even the Persian script, the lingua franca of the educated people from Turkey to Bengal, continued to be used. What they changed was the legend on the coins.

The following two types of legends were used on the obverse side of the coins:

Deg Tegh o fateh nusrat be-dirang

Yaft az Nanak Guru Gobind Singh

(Abundance, power and victory [and] assistance without delay are the gift of Nanak [and] Guru Gobind Singh). Sikka zad bar har do Alam fazl Sachcha Sahib ast

Fath-i-Gobind Shah-i-Shahan Tegh-i Nanak Wahib ast.

(Coin struck through each of the two worlds by the grace of the true Lord. Of the victory of Gobind, King of Kings, Nanak’s sword is the provide).

All the coins bear a leaf mark on the reverse side, chosen for unknown reasons. Some scholars identify it as a pipal leaf (Ficus Religiosa) but the variations on the shape of the leaf are so many that it does not belong to a botanically identifiable plant but represent the general idea of a leaf. Along with the leaf, the date and mint is also inscribed on this side.

The purchasing power of the Sikh coins can be known by comparison only. Eminent historian Bikaram Jit Singh Hasrat says that between 1830 and 1840, in Lahore and Amritsar, one rupee bought on an average 37.5 kg of wheat, or 76.5 kg of barley, or 46 kg of gram, or 7.7 kg of rice, or 18 kg of gur, or 3.7 kg of cotton. French Generals Alard and Ventura entered Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s service in 1822 at an annual pay of Rs 30,000.

The rupees of Lahore and Amritsar mint were valued at Delhi only at 14 `BD annas. They were supposed to be of pure silver and weighed 11 mashas and 2 ratis, but at Delhi they were valued at only 14`BD annas, i.e. at about 10% discount. Sardar Gurdev Singh Bhalur, president of the village gurdwara, plans to display these historical coins for public viewing in the shrine.

Traibune India, Sunday, November 21, 2010

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