Propagating faith through currency

Iqbal Ahmad
In ancient times the respective rulers of different faiths and dynasties had also been involved in propagating their respective religious beliefs and faiths. They had used their respective currencies for this purpose and displayed such motifs and legends on their coins which not only revealed their individual religious beliefs but also helped them to propagate their respective religious and cultural beliefs.
The Numismatic studies revealed that the ancient coins besides serving as medium of exchange have also been used to propagate the respective faith of the issuer. In fact when in the ancient times, Greeks arrived here, they also propagated their faith through their respective numismatic issues. They placed motifs of their various Greek gods and goddesses on the reverse faces of their coinage, which included Hercules, Zeus and Apollo. Indeed they did not ignore the local traditions and respected the local faith as well while placing the local Hindu and Buddhist deities on their coins. Sakas, Kushans, Huns who followed Indo Greeks also placed Hindu and Buddhist deities. Kushana emperor’s coins depicted Persian gods and goddesses, which included Mao, Miro and Ordo. Mao stands for moon God, Miro for Sun God and Ordo for wind. They also placed several Indian deities which included Shiva Nandi and more interestingly the Kushana emperors Wima Kadphsis and Kanishika in several of their gold and coppers coins. They have given the Persian names of these deities and inscribed their coins with legend Oesho, which stands for the Persian name of the Shiva.
Similarly the Hindu Shahis who in 9th and 10th century AD ruled Kabul and its adjoining principalities depicted Bull, the Vehicle of Shiva on the reverse side of their coins. Later when Turks came in medieval times, they in fact propagated their own Muslim faith in this sub continent, but they also did not at once discontinued the local numismatic traditions and instead struck their coins with the motifs of local goddesses and scripts. Mohammad Gori and Mahammad of Ghaznavi are well known for their Lakshmi and Shiva nandi type series of coins and had placed on their coins the motif of Goddess Lakshmi and Goddess shive nadi with Sharda legends.
Mohammad Ghaznavi coins are known as Bull and Horseman type coins. On such coins he has displayed Shiva nandi bull on obeverse and horseman on reverse with title Shri Samanta Deva in Sharda characters.
In fact the Islamic faith had already reached India but its propagation had not been yet taken up. It was first time in the numismatic history of India when in the period of Mahammad Ghaznavi propagation of Islamic faith was undertaken. He became the first Muslim ruler, who besides respecting the local faith also displayed the Islamic kalmia on Indian coins. He displayed Kalima in Kufic Arabic script on his coins. But his most interesting and extremely rare series of coins consists of those coins wherein his first type displayed the name of Prophet Mohammad with his epitome with local Sharda letters in a Sanskritrised form.
And when in early 16th century Mughals arrived here, they also propagated their Muslim faith with their numismatic issues. They issued Kilama type coins in gold and silver and on such coins placed kilama on the obverse of their coins with names of first four Caliphs.
But the first coins propagating the Islamic faith on Indian soil are the coins, struck here by Mahammod of Ghnavi.
Archaeologists and Numismatists of 19th century are learnt to have found several silver coins of 11th century bearing on obverse the name of the Prophet Mohammad (SAW) as the last messenger of God.
These coins are identified as the Dirhams of Mahmud of Ghaznavi which were minted in 1027 AD in Lahore. The purely silver coins weighed 45 grams, had the legends on obverse in Sharda letters.
Such specimens of this coin are recorded to have been found in Lahore where Mahmud is said to have established his first Muslim sultanate.
His earliest Indian coins are known as Bull and Shiva Nandi type with Sanskrit legends, the type which he had copied from Hindu Shahis of Kabul. He first time issued coins in the name of Prophet Mohammad (SAW) in local Sharda letters and in Sanskrit language. It was just to propagate his own faith with local Sanskrit medium so that Indians could understand it easily. Later, he placed Arabic Kalima in Kufic letters on his coins and continued with this Kalima type coins. But his Bull and Horseman type and Mohammad (SAW) type coins have been rare and interesting issues. Such coins are preserved in various museums of India and Pakistan.
Mahmuds such coins are recorded to have been first made known by E. Thomas, a British numismatist Alexander Cunningham in his catalogue of ‘coins of medieval India’ has also published one of the specimens of Kalimah type coin of Mahmud, and he claims to have possessed four coins of this type. This Kalimah type coin is a significant coin series, which speaks of his Muslim faith and propagation of his faith in the lands of India. Mahmud’s such coins were found in Punjab. His tradition of placing Kalima on obverse side of Indian coins was later on very much followed by Mughals. Most of mughal coinage is kalmia type coins carrying on obverse Kalima in a simple circle or an ornamented one, with margins filled with names of four Caliphs with their epithets, like Ba-Sidiqui Abu Bakar, Ba-Adli-Umar, Ba-Hayayi Usman, Ba-Elmi Ali and the reverse depicts the emperor’s name with its epithet.
The tradition of propagating one’s faith continued in Sikh and Dogra period coins wherein they displayed the names of their Gurus and Avtars. On Sikh coin, the Persian couplets in the praise of their Gurus are displayed, which reads Az Nanak Guru Gobind Singh Yafat , Byed Deg Tegh wa Fatah wa Nusrat, Sikh zad Bar seam wa zar Fazal Shacha Sahib ast Fatah Gobind Singh shahn tegh Nank wajib ast. Similarly on Dogra coinages we find the names of their avtars like Ragunath ji Sahi and Ram Nath ji Sahi. Earlier the motif of Laxmi had been the most favorite motif of Hindu coinages of Kashmir, as this Goddess stands for wealth and was repeatedly followed by almost all medieval period Hindu rulers of this land.
The numismatic studies further revealed that throughout their entire coinage, the Mulsim Sultans of Kashmir and Durani rulers of Afganistan have never propagated their respective faith with their coin issues.