History Optional Paper-1 Solution – 2014: Q.6 (c)

Q.6 (c) Analyse the Mughal monetary system and examine their policy of minting of coins.


Mughal Coinage

The Mughals had a well-organized and sophisticated monetary system. The imperial coinage was unprecedented both in quantity as well as in quality. The credit for attempting to establish a coinage free from any trace of debasement goes to Sher Shah, but it was under Akbar that the currency system fully matured.

Mughal Empire had a tri-metallic currency with a high level of purity and uniformity throughout their vast empire. They coined gold, silver and copper. However, the silver coin was the base of the Fiscal and Monetary System.

The silver coin has a long pre Mughal history. It was used during Delhi Sultanate for long as tanka. Sher Shah for the first time standardized the silver coin. It was call rupaya and had a weight of 178 grains (troy). For minting purposes, an alloy was added which was kept below 4 percent of the weight of the coin.

Akbar continued the rupaya as the basic currency with more or less the same weight. Under Aurangzeb the weight of the rupaya was increased to 180 grains (troy). The silver rupaya was the main coin used for business and revenue transactions.

The Mughals issued a gold coin called ashrafi or mahr. It weighed 169 grains (troy). This coin was not commonly used in commercial transactions. It was mainly used for hoarding purposes and also for giving in gift.

The most common coin used for small transactions was the copper dam which weighed around 323 grains. The weight of the copper dam was reduced by one third during Aurangzeb’s reign presumably because of the shortage of copper.

Further, for very petty transactions kauris (sea-shells) were used in coastal areas. These were brought mainly from the Maldive islands. Around 2500 kauris equaled a rupaya.

Apart from the silver rupaya other types of coins were also used. The most important of these were mahmudis, a long standing silver coin of Gujarat. Even after the establishment of the Mughal rule in Gujarat it continued to be minted and used in Gujarat for commercial transaction.

In the Vijayanagar Empire, a gold coin called hun or pagoda was used. After the disintegration of Vijayanagar, its circulation continued in the kingdoms of Bijapur and Golkunda. In many Deccan kingdoms, an alloy of copper and silver called tanka was in use. After the expansion of the Mughals in Deccan a number of mints were established in that region to produce Mughal silver coins.

Exchange Value of Coins:

The exchange value of gold, silver and copper coins kept fluctuating depending on the supply of these metals in the market. The silver value of gold kept fluctuating throughout the Mughal period, ranging from 10 to 14 rupaya for one gold coin.

As for copper coin, taking 1595 as the base year, Irfan Habib shows that by the early 1660’s it rose to 2.5 times, but by 1700 it came down to the double and again by 1750 it reached the level of the 1660’s.

For transaction purposes during Akbar’s period, 40 copper dams were considered equal to one rupaya. After his death, as the rate of copper appreciated sharply, this ratio could not be maintained. Since all the land revenue assessment and calculations were done in dams, it became necessary to use it as notional fractional units of rupaya. Silver coins of small fractions called ana were also used. It was one-sixteenth of a rupee.

The Minting System

The Mughals had a free coinage system. One could take bullion to the mint and get it coined.  The state had the sole authority to issue coins and no other person could issue them. A very strict standardization was followed to maintain the purity of coins.

A large number of mints were established throughout the Empire. Attempts were made to have these mints in big towns and ports so that the imported bullion could be taken to mints easily. Every coin carried the name of the issuing mint, and the year of minting and ruler’s name.

Loss in value with time

The newly minted coin in the current or previous year was called taza sikka (newly minted). The coins issued and in circulation in the reign of an emperor were called chalani (current). While the coins minted in the earlier reigns were called khajana. Except for the taza all other coins were subjected to reduction in value.

A certain amount was deducted on the value of the coin for successive years from the year of issue. If a coin was for more than one year in circulation around 3 per cent was deducted; if it was for more than 2 years then 5 per cent was to be reduced.

Loss in value with weight

Apart from the factor of age, a deduction in the value was made on account of the loss of weight of coin. Abul Fazl says that if the loss of the weight was less than one rati it was to be overlooked and the coin was treated as standard. If the loss of weight was between 1 and 2 ratis, a deduction of two and a half per cent was made, and if it exceeded 2 ratis the coin was treated as bullion.

The above stated deductions were decided by state, but in actual practice arbitrary deductions were decided by sarafs (money changers) depending on the market.

Working of Mints:

Any person desirous of getting money minted was to carry bullion or old currency for reminting to a mint. The quality and purity of the metal was scrutinized. The currency was minted and delivered to the concerned person. A specific sum was charged as minting charges. This amounted to around 5.6% of the bullion minted.

In the process of minting a large number of personnel and craftsmen were involved. A mint was headed by an officer called darogha-i- darul zarb. The duties of this officer were to supervise the overall working of the mint. He was assisted by a number of officials, skilled artisans and workmen. The sarraf was employed by the mint as assessor. He was to judge the purity, weight and age of the coin and fix deductions on their value. The mushrif was to maintain accounts. The tahwildar kept accounts of daily profit and kept coins and bullion in safe custody. The muhr kan (engraver) was a person who engraved and made dies.The Wazan kash (weightman) weighed the coins. There were many artisans like the zarrab (coin maker), sikkachi (stamper), etc.

It is difficult to estimate the output of mints because it depended on the size of the mint and the commercial activities of the area where the mint operated. By the close of the 17th century, the output of Surat mint was estimated around 30,000 rupaya per day. Aziza Hasan studied the pattern of the issue of coins in 16th & 17th century. According to her estimates in 1639 the total rupees in cirulation were three times than that of 1591. After 1639 there is a decline and by 1684 the total was double of 1591. After 1684 there is an ascent again and by 1700 the total coins in circulation were three times than those of 1591.

Location of Mints:

Abul Fazl gives a list of mints in the Aim-i Akbari. According to him, copper coins were issued by forty-two mints, silver coins by fourteen and gold coins by four mints. The number of mints issuing silver coins increased by the end of the 17th century to forty.

M.P. Singh compiled a detailed list of mints on the basis of a large number of numismatic sources. According to him, a large number of mints which figure on coins do not find a mention in either the A’in or other literary sources.

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