Sikh Coins

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Sikh Coins or Sikh Numismatics (Numismatic - 1829, "study of coins," from numismatic (adj.) "of coins," borrowed 1792 from Fr. numismatique (1579), from L. numisma (gen. numismatis) "coin, currency," from Gk. nomisma "current coin," lit. "what has been sanctioned by custom or usage," from nomizein "have in use, adopt a custom," from nomos "custom, law, usage," from a projected Proto Indo-European source (ie. imagined) base *nem- "to divide, distribute, allot"). (definitions thanks to www.etymonline.com)

Sikh coins, like coins anywhere else were both a commercial necessity and a symbol of sovereignty. (Coin -an English word first attested to in 1304, from O.Fr. coigne "a wedge, cornerstone," from L. cuneus "a wedge." A die for stamping metal (in Rome) was wedge-shaped, and the word came to mean "thing stamped, a piece of money". The "cornerstone" sense is now usually expressed in English by the word quoin.derived from the Latin cuneus, a wedge, through Old French coing and cuigne, "is properly the term for a wedgeshaped die used for stamping money, and so transferred to the money so stamped: hence a piece of money.")

Sikka the Punjabi word for coin, is borrowed from Persian, meaning both "a die for coining" and "rule, law, regulation" (implying sovereignty). Traditionally, coins struck under the orders of various sovereigns had embossed or inscribd on them the name and/or bust of the ruler and the year of that ruler's reign. Sikh coins, however, were dedicated to their Gurus and the year of issue they carried was of the Bikrami era, although the script and language used continued to be Persian as was the vogue under the Mughal rulers.

Early Sikh Coins (circa 1700)

The first sovereign Sikh state, however shortlived, was established by Banda Singh Bahadur with the conquest of Sirhind early in 1710, and the first Sikh coin issued by him from his bastion, Mukhlisgarh in the Sivalik foothills, carried on one side the following inscription : sikka bar har do'alam teghinanak wahab ast fatah gobind singh shahishahan fazal sacheha sahib ast (the coin is struck in the two worlds, its bestower being the sword of Nanak. Victory is of Gobind Singh, the king of kings, by the grace of the True Master); on the other side were the words : zarb ba aman uddahr musawarat shahr zmat al takhtmubarak bakht (struck for the security and peace of the world and the walled town of the elegant throne and blessed fortune).

Sikh Coins (circa 1750)

Half a century later, when the Dal Khalsa. the confederated Sikh force under the overall leadership of Sardar Jassa Singh Ahluvalia, whom the Sikhs fondly gave the epithet Sultan ulqaum (the nation's king), temporarily occupied Lahore in November 1761, a coin was issued bearing the inscription, sikka zad dar jahari bafazi iakal, mulki ahmad shah griftah jassa kalal (the coin struck in the world (when) by the grace of God, Jassa Kalal fJassa Singh Ahluvalia) occupied the territory of Ahmad Shah (Durrani). This coin was soon withdrawn because it bore the name not of the Guru but of a Sikh and that too in a truncated form. It is also considered that this coin was not issued by the Sikhs but was arranged to be struck by some religious leaders of Lahore for despatching it to Ahmad Shah Durrani with the intention of rousing his ire and early suppression of the Sikhs. Another coin struck soon after the conquest of Sirhind by the Sikhs in 1764 came to be known as Gobindshahl sikka (coin of Guru Gobind Singh). It was a silver coin and it continued to be issued from the Lahore mint up to 1777. Inscriptions on it were : on one side, deg tegh fatahonusrat bedrang, yaft az nanak guru gobind singh (kettle [signifying munificence], sword [symbol of power], success and unhindered victory Guru Gobind Singh inherited from [Guru] Nanak. This was the couplet earlier used by Banda Singh Bahadur on his seal. The other side of the Gobindshahl coin bore zarb dar ulsaltanat lahaur sammat 1822 maimnat manus (struck at the capital Lahore in the year 1822 [AD 1765] of intimate prosperity). Gold and silver coins issued from Amritsar from 1777 onwards were called Nanakshahl sikka. They had on one side akal sahai guru nanak jim Gurmukhi letters, and sikka zad bar sim ozar tegh nanak wahab ast fatahigobind shahishahah fazal sacheha sahib ast in Persian (coin struck in silver and gold; Nanak's sword is the bestower : victory by the grace of the True Lord is of Gobind (Singh), the king of kings). The inscription closely resembles that on the earliest Sikh coin issued by Banda Singh Bahadur. The coin bore on the other side the words zarb sn amritsarjalus akal takht sammat 1837 (struck at Sri Amritsar (during ) the reign of Akal Takht (in) the year 1837 (AD 1780).' The Dal Khalsa had during the eighteenth century carried the Sikh flag far into the heart of India. Therefore, as writes Charles J. Rodgers, Coin Collection in Northern India (1894). "It is not astonishing then that there are coins in existence on one side of which is the old Sikh coin distich and on the other the Najibabad mint name and mark. One coin of this kind is known with the Jaipur mint name and mark....I remember seeing years ago a coin struck at Surat with the Sikh coin couplet on it..."

Sikh Coins During the Reign of Maharaja Ranjit Singh

Maharaja Ranjit Singh occupied Lahore in 1799 and proclaimed himself Maharaja in 1801. His coins issued from Lahore from 1801 onwards, from Amritsar since 1805-06, from Multan since 1818 and from Kashmir (Srinagar) since 1819 bore the same inscription as had appeared earlier on the Gobindshahi coins, but Ranjit Singh's coins were called Nanakshahl. Their distinguishing mark was a tree leaf and later a peacock's feather. Coins were also struck during his reign at Pind Dadan Khan, Jharig and Peshawar. The custom was that coins struck at a new mint on the first day were sent to Amritsar as an offering at the Akal Takht. In 1806, Ranjit Singh issued "Morarishahi" or "Arsi di Mohar Vale" coin in honour of his favourite dancing girl whom he took as one of his queens. The offering made of these coins was not accepted at the Akal Takht. Similarly, the coins issued by Maharaja Sher Singh (18414) were not accepted at the Takht Kesgarh Sahib, Anandpur, as offering because instead of the usual legend "Akal Sahai Guru Nanak ji" they bore "Akal Sahai Sher Singh". From 1828 onwards the Lahore mint issued gold mohars popularly called butkis. It contained 111/2 mashas (approximately 10 grams) of pure gold, and had, in addition to the usual distich and legend, the word Waheguru (Sikh name for God) written thrice over in Gurmukhi letters. The rupee coin contained a similar quantity of silver while coins of lower denominations (dhela or taka and paisa) were made from copper. Sardar Hari Singh Nalva was permitted twice to issue coins in his name, first in 1831 in Kashmir and then in 1834 at Peshawar. In honour of Nau Nilial Singh's marriage, Ranjit Singh started an Order of Merit, which was known as Kaukab iIqbali Punjab, Star of the Prosperity of the Punjab. The order had three grades, each having its own medal. The medals bore the effigy of Ranjit Singh on one side and had silk ribands of gold and scarlet colour. Shaped like a star they were meant to be worn round the neck. The first grade medal carried one diamond. It was meant for the members of the royal family and those chiefs who had shown exceptional devotion to the person of the Maharaja and his family. The second grade medal had a diamond and an emerald set in it. It was bestowed on loyal courtiers and sardars. The third contained a single emerald and was open to the civil and military officers who had rendered some special service to the country.

Sikh Coins Under Sardar Ala Singh

The principality of Patiala founded by Sardar Ala Singh received recognition as state in 1761 from Ahmad Shah Durrani, who also conferred on Ala Singh the title of Raja in 1765. Raja Ala Singh died in August of the same year. His grandson and successor, Amar Singh, was given by Ahmad Shah the title of Rajahi Rajgan and permission to strike his own coins in March 1767. The Patiala coins, gold mohar and silver rupee, were called Rajeshahi. They weighed 111/4 mashas (approximately 10 grams) each and bore a Persian distich commemorating Ahmad Shah Durrani (ordained by the Incomparable Almighty through Ahmad Shah to strike coins of silver and gold from the zenith of one moon or month to another). As Charles J. Rodgers, Honorary Numismatist to the Government of India, observed in 1894, "All the Maharajas of Patiala have used the same couplet in their gold and silver coins. Different Maharajas have used different signs, and it is by these that the coins are assigned to those who struck them....One strange thing is noteworthy. The mint is in Patiala city, but the name of the mint coming on the coin is Sarhind or Sahrind. When we consider that the Maharaja is a Sikh and the Sikhs account Sarhind accursed... the retention of the name seems stranger still. Ahmad Shah Durrani coined in this town, and that is perhaps the reason its name is retained on Patiala coins." Coins of Jind state (silver rupee only), similar to those of Patiala in weight and the couplet used, were known as JIndia, Nabha coins (gold mohur and silver rupee), popularly called Nabhashahi, however, bore the couplet "deg tegh fatah...." as it appeared on Maharaja Ranjit Singh's Nanakshahi or, earlier, on Gobindshahi coins. Kapurthala rulers did not strike their own coins. Nanakshahi, and, later, British coins were current there. Coins minted in different states were legal tender only within their territories although they were sometimes accepted in neighbouring markets close to the state boundaries. It needs to be mentioned here that after the merger of Trans-Sutlej Sikh empire into the British India, the Patiala state started to issue Nazrana/Presentation Coins in Gold & Silver bearing the Gobindshahi couplet on the Obverse. According to Herrli, a few hundred of these were minted for presenation at the Temples during the Dusshera celebrations by the Royal family & later withdrawn and reminted the next year. Such coins of Maharaja Rajinder Singh; Bhupinder Singh & Yadwinder Singh have been observed.



References 1. Rodgers, Charles J., Coin Collection in Northern India. 1894 2. Sun, Sohan Lal, Umdat-ut-Twarikh. Lahore, 1885-89