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The Non-issue of Coinage: The Monetary Policies of the Post-Bahmani Sultanates


In the medieval world of Islamic kingdoms, the Friday sermon in the name of the reigning sultan (khutba) and the striking of coins (sikka) have been thought of as universal declarations of sovereignty. Yet, the sultanates of the Deccan that succeeded the Bahmani kingdom did not strike their own coins for almost a century after they had declared sovereign status. Therefore, two important issues are present here. First, the axiom of sovereign status for Islamic monarchs does have exceptions. Second, the circumstances surrounding the non-issue of coin, by these kingdoms, needs explanation. Similarly, the reasons why they all start to mint their own coins in the last quarter of the sixteenth century is also addressed. Mughal monetary policy is an essential element in this history.

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1 Garg, Sanjay, “The Raj and the Rajas: A Case of Numismatic Diplomacy”, in Felicitas: Essays in Numismatics, Epigraphy and History in Honour of Joe Cribb (Mumbai, 2011), p. 174: “The Mughal rulers of India held the right to strike sikka as inter jura majestatis (the exclusive prerogative of the sovereign). The East India Company, therefore, not only launched a diplomatic offensive against the numismatic subordination that the inscriptions on the coins of the princely states exhibited for the Mughal ruler, but also matched its territorial expansion in India with the establishment of its own coinage and abolition of the native mints”.

2 The interesting numismatic history of the 18th century is expounded in Bhandare, Shailendra, “A Metallic Mirror: Changing Representations of Sovereignty during the Raj”, in Coins in India: Power and Communication, (ed.) Ray, Himanshu Prabha (Mumbai, 2006), p. 85: “For common folk, the name of the emperor on coins offered an everyday testimony to his exalted status and role as the source of authority and legitimacy for governance. No one questioned it and as such, coins struck by a varied group of regional resurgent regimes . . . continued to bear the name of the emperor as the sovereign for a long period, even during the years when his real authority had become entirely nominal . . . Such a situation, alongside the political fragmentation that brought multifarious issuing authorities into the numismatic picture, gave rise to what numismatists regard as ‘quasi-Mughal’ or ‘pseudo-Mughal’ coinage”.

3 Hussain, Syed Ejaz, “Kings and Coins: Money as the State Media in the Indian Sultanates”, in Coins in India, (ed.) Ray, p. 56.

4 Bosworth, C. E., “Sikka”, in Encyclopaedia of Islam (Leiden, 1997), vol. IX, p. 592: “. . . the right of issuing gold and silver coinage was a royal prerogative. Hence in the caliphate, the operation of sikka, the right of the ruler to place his name on the coinage, eventually became one of the insignia of royal power, linked with that of the khutba [q.v.], the placing of the ruler's name in the bidding prayer during the Friday congregational worship. . .”.

5 This is not only a medieval or early modern phenomenon: it exists in the sub-continent as early as the first millennium bc. This has been noted by early historians of India, such as Smith, Vincent, Imperial Gazetteer of India (Oxford, 1909), vol. 2, p. 287: “After the time of Apollodotus, the Indian provinces were governed by sundry Greek kings, known only from their coins, and whose history is in consequence extremely obscure”.

6 Gupta, P. L., “Coinage”, in History of Medieval Deccan, vol. II, (eds) Joshi, P. M. and Sherwani, H. R. (Hyderabad, 1974), p. 438: “The Bahmani coins are equally important for the verification of the dates given in the chronicles. Sikka or the right to coin money, was regarded as one of the royal privileges; and in any dynasty, each claimant to throne and everyone who tried to carve out a kingdom for himself, lost no time in issuing at least a few coins after he came to power”. See also Sherwani, H. K., “Bahmani Coinage as a Source of Deccan history”, in Mahamahopadhyaya Prof. D. V. Potdar Sixty-first Birthday Commemoration Volume (Poona, 1950), pp. 204218.

7 Bosworth, Encyclopaedia of Islam, vol. IX, p. 592: “. . . the new holders of power within the conquered lands finally placed their own names on newly-minted coins or counter-stamped them on older coins, this was not a sign of a prerogative reserved to the caliphs . . . It can thus be said with some certainty that the idea of sikka as a prerogative of caliphal sovereignty had not yet developed in the early years of the Islamic community”.

8 Ibid., p. 595: “While in theory the right of sikka flowed downward from God, through the Prophet, to his vicegerent the caliph, and from him to his vassal/ally, and ultimately perhaps to the latter's heir or an important governor, in practice it now moved in the opposite direction. The local strong man who controlled the mint defined his political and even religious position by acknowledging only those overlords who were valuable to his status, or by choosing Kur'anic and other legends that defined his allegiance in the Sunni-Shi'i divide”.

9 Balsekar, Dilip P. and Bhamre, Sarjerao J., Khandesh Faruqi Gharane Itihas va Nani (Anjaneri, Nasik, 2008).

10 Deyell, John S. and Frykenberg, Robert E., “Sovereignty and the ‘SIKKA’ Under Company Raj: Minting Prerogative and Imperial Legitimacy in India”, The Indian Economic and Social History Review, XIX, 1 (Jan-Mar 1982), p. 9.

11 Bosworth, Encyclopaedia of Islam, p. 592.

12 Devare, T. N., A Short History of Persian Literature: At the Bahmani, the Adilshahi and the Qutbshahi Courts (Poona, 1961), p. 65.

13 This date of death for Kalimullah Shah, the last Bahmani sultan, is itself based on numismatic evidence, creating a slightly circular argument. The actual date of his death in Ahmadnagar, where he was in exile, is unknown.

14 The exceptions are the singular coin issues of the Golconda kings, Jamshid Qutb Shah (1543-50) and Subhan Quli Qutb Shah (1550). These are extremely rare and the coin attributed to the latter is based on an uncertain reading of a single coin. Only one type of rare issue can be attributed to the next king, Ibrahim Qutb Shah (1550-80), even though he ruled for 30 years, suggesting that these coins were not meant for circulation, but were novelty issues.

15 Deyell, John, Living Without Silver: The Monetary History of Early Medieval North India (Delhi, 1990), p. 5.

16 There are also secondary historic references to the common availability of copper coins in the middle of the 16th century. See, for example, a description of the battle of Talikota by Taylor, Philip Meadows, A Student's Manual of the History of India (London, Longmans, Green and Co., 1871), p. 299: “As [the Vijayanagara army] approached it was met by a withering fire from the large guns, of shot, and copper money enclosed in strong canvas bags. . .”.

17 Khan, Mohammad Abdul Wali, Copper Coins of the Adil Shahi Dynasty of Bijapur (Hyderabad, 1980).

18 For a discussion of Islamic coins as a historical source, see Heidemann, Stefan, “Numismatics”, in A New Cambridge History of Islam, Vol. 1, (ed.) Robinson, Chase (Cambridge, 2010), Chapter 16, pp. 648-653.

19 Shah, Hasmukh, “A Pedigree ½ Tanka of Gujarat Sultan Ahmad Shah I and a Silver Coin of Murtiza Nizam Shah I”, Nidhi, Vol. II (Nagpur, 2008), pp. 113114.

20 Gupta, History of Medieval Deccan, Vol. II, (eds) Joshi and Sherwani, p. 443, “From a farman issued by him [Adil Shah], it appears that the bankers, merchants and village people were reluctant to accept his huns”.

21 The Adil Shahi silver currency unit is called a larin (or lari), a hairpin-shaped silver ingot, which was minted and circulated largely in the port town of Dabhol. This currency is of an imported pattern and is only found around the ports of the Adil Shahs, with no real circulation inland. The larin is named after a region in Iran and was an established mode of payment in Gujarat and the western seaboard of India, as part of the more extensive Indian Ocean trade. For more information about the larin, see Wood, Howland, The Gampola Larin Hoard (New York, American Numismatic Society, 1934). There is information about this kind of currency specific to the Deccan in Gupta, History of Medieval Deccan, (eds) Joshi and Sherwani, p. 443. Also see Haider, Najaf, “Precious Metal Flows and Currency Circulation in the Mughal Empire”, Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient: Special issue: Money in the Orient, 39, 3 (1996), pp. 298364.

22 Khan, Mir Fazaluddin Ali, “Qutb Shahi Coins”, in Studies in Archaeology and History: Commemoration Volume of Prof S. Nurul Hasan (Rampur, 2003), pp. 227230.

23 This prevalence of copper coins was also true of the Bahmanis; this can be observed in museum collections. Also see Gupta, History of Medieval Deccan, (eds) Joshi and Sherwani, p. 432, “While gold coins are scarce, copper coins are available in large numbers”.

24 The coin types are based on Goron, Stan and Goenka, J. P., Coins of the Indian Sultanates: Covering the Area of Present-day India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh (New Delhi, 2001).

25 In fact, a typical grouping of a hundred coins will contain around 70 or more Bahmani specimens. This observation is based on groupings of coins from the Deccan as brought by low-level dealers.

26 Gupta, Parmeshwari Lal, Coins-Hoards from Maharashtra. Numismatic Notes and Monographs No. 16 (Varanasi, 1970).

27 See footnote 41 for details of coin groupings and hoards recovered in the past 20 years.

28 The issues and problems in the treatment of coins in South Asia are expounded by Deyell, Living Without Silver, Appendix D, “Coin Hoard Analysis in the South Asian Context”, pp. 272-291.

29 Goron and Goenka, Coins of the Indian Sultanates, p. 314: “Readers should note that it was Ibrahim Adil Shah I who first seems to have called himself shah rather than khan”. According to Sherwani, H. R., “Independence of Bahmani Governors”, in The Proceedings of the Indian History Congress, 9th Session (Annamalai University, 1945), p. 161: “Ibrahim Adil Shah called himself Shah in 1539, and the date therefore may be taken as the death of Waliullah Shah Bahmani”.

30 Shams ud din Muzaffar III issued a scarce ceremonial silver coin in his second reign in 1583, but ten years of Mughal rule had already had an impact on the monetary system. Within certain mercantile circuits in Gujarat, such as Surat, Baroda, and Broach, non-standard coinage such as the Mahmudi were common in circulation, and even the Mughals had to capitulate to this system of local coinage. For more details on such money, see Om Prakash, “Co-existence of Standardized and Humble Money: The Case of Mughal India”, Paper for Session 61 of the XIV International Economic History Congress, Helsinki, Finland, 21 to 25 August 2006.

31 Joshi, P. M., “Adil Shahi Administration”, in Proceedings of the Indian Historical Congress, 4th Session (Lahore, 1940), p. 235: “The Deccan Sultanates copied these Bahmani institutions when they became independent. But, except the Sultan of Golconda, none of them—during the sixteenth century—arrogated to themselves the right of issuing gold coins or of striking the naubat five times a day”. However, Ahmad Nizam Shah I is mentioned as striking coins in his own name by later authors, such as Michell, George, The Architecture and Art of the Deccan Sultanates (New York, 1999), p. 10.

32 Goron and Goenka, Coins of the Indian Sultanates, p. 326: “The coins of this ruler [Murtaza Nizam Shah I (1565-88)], the first of the Nizam Shahi rulers to issue coins in his own name, are known dated from 989 [1581] to 996 [1587]”.

33 Ibid.: “A number of the Nagar copper coins are known overstruck on the coins of the Bahmanis and the sultans of Gujarat”. A couple of the Gujarat (Nasiruddin Mahumad III and Muzaffar Shah II) and Bahmani copper coins counterstruck by the Nizam Shahs can be seen in Sanjay Godbole, “Coins of Sultan of Gujarat Restruck by Murtaza Nizam Shah I of Ahmadnagar” and “Copper Coin of Kalimullah Shah Bahmani Restruck by Murtaza Nizam Shah I of Ahmadnagar”, Journal of the Numismatic Society of India, 73 (2011).

34 Goron and Goenka, Coins of the Indian Sultanates, p. 332: “Qutb ul Mulk declared independence in 1518, upon the death of Mahmud Bahman Shah . . . Jamshid Qutb Shah (1543-50) is the first ruler to have coins minted. There are two types, both rare in their occurrence. Ibrahim Quli Qutb Shah (1550-80) has only one coin type”.

35 Gupta, History of Medieval Deccan, (eds) Joshi and Sherwani, footnote on p. 444: “It is doubtful whether the coins attributed to Jamshid and Subhan are genuine”. However, the coins of Jamshid Qutb Shah and Subhan Quli Qutb Shah have been catalogued as such in Khan, Mohammad Abdul Wali, Qutub Shahi Coins in the Andhra Pradesh Government Museum (Hyderabad, 1961), pp. 1718.

36 Goron and Goenka, Coins of the Indian Sultanates, p. 335: “Despite his thirty year rule, very few coins of this ruler have been found or attributed . . . Otherwise the only other coin published for this ruler is a smallish falus of unstated weight published in NCirc May 1955, again with a reading which is by no means certain from the illustration”.

37 Khan, Mohammad Abdul Wali and Gupta, Parmeshwari Lal, Copper Coins of Barid Shahi of Bidar and Nizam Shahi of Ahmadnagar (Hyderabad, 1982), pp. 34: “It is only the fourth ruler of the dynasty . . . who may, with certainty, be said to have issued coins in the latter part of his reign in the name of his own dynasty. In the earlier coins, he retained the name of the Bahmani ruler Kalimullah on the obverse; it is only on the reverse that he placed a new legend Bi-amr-i-Sultan Barid Shah”.

The mules are also mentioned in Goron and Goenka, Coins of the Indian Sultanates, p. 321: “The first dated coins in the Bidar series were struck during the reign of this ruler [Ibrahim Barid Shah (1580-87)]. Four different types are known so far. One of them has the name of Kalimullah, the last Bahmani ruler, on the reverse”. However, the coin itself is dated 993 ah [1585].

38 Sherwani, “Independence of Bahmani Governors”, p. 161.

39 With the later Bahmanis, the attribution of coins becomes difficult in light of the lack of uniformity in dies and metrology. This is discussed in some detail in the description of the coins of Mahmud Shah in Goron and Goenka, Coins of the Indian Sultanates, p. 305: “. . . the copper is copious and struck in a large number of varieties . . . The style of engraving varies considerably suggesting that the coins were struck at a number of different mints. No mint-name, however, is found on the coins. The weight of the coins varies a great deal and it becomes more difficult to assign them to specific denominations . . . It is noticeable that a greater number of coins with garbled legends occur during the reign. As few of the copper coins have legible dates, it is not possible to determine any sequence in the issue of the coins”. The catalogue lists 29 types, with a note that: “Other copper types of this ruler probably exist”. Also: “Some of the gani coins are quite heavy, weighing around 17 g. The dates on the coins appear to be mainly fixed, from the previous reign or posthumous. Some are dated 930 (like the coins of Waliullah), and some even appear to have 893! While others have dates between 950 and 952. By that time, the Bahmani sultanate had ceased to exist but the successor rulers were not yet bold enough to strike coins in their own names” (p. 309). The posthumous issue is also discussed in Gupta, History of Medieval Deccan, (eds) Joshi and Sherwani, p. 439: “According to Ferishta, Kalimullah left his capital in 934 and took asylum at Ahmadnagar, where he died soon after. But coins dated 942, 950, 951 and 952 are known to have been issued in his name . . . the fact remains that some coins were issued posthumously in his name. They undoubtedly indicate that the Bahmanis held their prestige even after their total extinction”.

40 The numbers of late Bahmani coins found in excellent condition across a very large area of the Deccan confirms this trend. Sherwani, “Independence of Bahmani Governors”, p. 162, suggests: “. . . they [the independent post-Bahmani kingdoms] issued coins in the name of the sovereign without any fear of interference from the center”.

41 Some of the statistical data for hoards can be found in Gupta, P. L., Coin Hoards from Maharashtra (Varanasi, 1970) and Coin Hoards from Gujarat State (Varanasi, 1969). The following statistics have been recovered from personal correspondence with dealer-collector networks and individuals (particularly Sanjay Godbole of Pune and the late Fasihuddin Qazi of Nagpur). In Nanded district, out of 10.0 kg of coins found in 2002-03, 3.0 kg were Bahmani coins from the 16th century, 5.0 kg were minted under Burhan Nizam Shah III (1610-1635), and the rest were from the 17th century or later. At Udgir, 10.0 kg of Bahmani coins were found in 2002-03. In most other places, like Akola, Amravati, and other districts in Berar, the coin hoards mostly comprised Mughal coins minted under Akbar, Jehangir, and Shah Jahan, in addition to later coinage. In 1996, of all the coins recovered from Nevasa (Ahmadnagar district), 40 per cent were Bahmani and the rest were largely Satvahana. In 1991, Bahmani and Mughal coins were recovered in equal quantities in Akola, including 0.5 kg of Bahmani silver coins. In Pune, in 1984, approximately 11.0 kg of coins were recovered, mostly Bahmani. In 1988, a large hoard of almost 100.0 kg of Bahmani coins in near-mint condition was recovered from Pune. In 1989, in the locality of Guruwar Peth in Pune, around 10.0 kg of early Bahmani coins were discovered, along with 2.0 kg of Nizam Shahi coins. In Ahmadnagar city itself, almost 30 per cent of coins found in the past 30 years are Bahmani types, and the rest are largely of the later Nizam Shahs. In Khuldabad, almost 60 per cent of coins discovered have been Bahmani coins, including many rare coins in the name of Daud Shah II. At Bidar, in 2004, 90 per cent of coins found were Bahmani coins, and the remainder were largely Mughal. At Gulbarga, almost 90 per cent of all coins found have been of the Bahmanis. Since most of this information is based on informal and oral accounts, and because these coin groupings have long since dispersed, hoard analysis has not been pursued. However, these data are sufficient to broadly suggest the areas of present-day Maharashtra, eastern Andhra Pradesh, and northern Karnataka as the territories within which Bahmani coinage was widely prevalent.

42 There is some research on monetary flows and trade, mostly centred around intermediary ports like Hormuz: see Haider, Najaf, “Precious Metal Flows and Currency Circulation in the Mughal Empire”, Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient—Money in the Orient, 39, 3 (1996), pp. 298364, and Subrahmanyam, Sanjay, “Precious Metal Flows and Prices”, in his Money and the Market in India: 1100-1700 (Delhi, New York, 1994).

43 Richards, J. F., “Mughal State Finance and the Premodern World Economy”, Comparative Studies in Society and History, 23, 2 (April 1981), p. 297: “Akbar and his successors established mints in every provincial capital city and in other important trading cities throughout the empire. Centrally appointed officers and employees of the mints accepted bullion or coin from local moneychangers, from merchants, or other private individuals. These officers . . . returned to the patron newly struck gold, silver and copper coins . . . The Mughal coinage system, with its uniform imperial standards of weights and measures, was imposed throughout the subcontinent over dozens of local monetary systems. The finance ministry's unyielding requirement that all tax and tribute be paid in imperial coin was the effective impulse for diffusion of the rupee”. See also Joshi, P. M., “Coins Current in the Kingdom of Golkonda”, in Studies in the History of the Deccan: Medieval and Modern—Prof. A R Kulkarni Felicitation Volume (Delhi, 2002), pp. 146155: “By the treaty of 1636 Golconda was reduced more or less to the position of a vassal state of the Mughal empire and one of the conditions of the treaty was that gold and silver coins issued from Golconda were to bear the Mughal coins legends. Moreover the dies of the first issues were engraved at the Imperial Court and sent to Golconda by the order of Shah Jahan”.

44 Strnad, Jaroslav, Monetary History of Mughal India as Reflected in Silver Coin Hoards (Delhi, 2001), pp. 7173.

45 Martin, M. H., “The Reforms of the Sixteenth Century and Akbar's Administration: Metrological and Monetary Considerations”, in The Imperial Monetary System of Mughal India, 1556-1707, (ed.) Richards, J. F. (Delhi, 1987), pp. 6899.

46 Alam, Muzaffar, The Languages of Political Islam in India c. 1200-1800 (Chicago, 2004), pp. 124128.

47 Subrahmanyam, Sanjay and Alam, Muzaffar, “The Deccan Frontier and Mughal Expansion, ca. 1600: Contemporary Perspectives”, Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient, 47, 3 (2004), pp. 367368: “For while the Mughal claim by the 1580s was that the whole of the Deccan fell under their suzerainty, the rulers of neither Bijapur nor Golkonda could countenance such a claim . . . Besides, from the early sixteenth century, there was the Safavid connection, and the fact that both Bijapur and Golkonda had periodically recognised in the Safavids a form of ‘ritual suzerainty’, often inserting the names of the rulers of Iran for example into the Friday prayers in their capital cities. The flow of Iranian migrants into the Deccan in the last quarter of the sixteenth century, and the fact that these migrants constituted a significant part of the elite in both Bijapur and Golkonda, only served to strengthen these ties”.

48 Shea, David and Troyer, Anthony (translators), Dabistan, or School of Manners (Paris, Printed for the Oriental Translation Fund of Great Britain and Ireland, 1843), p. cxlvii: “At last, in the month of December, A.D. 1579, twenty-six years before his death, he substituted for the common profession of the Muhammedans the new: “There is no God but God, and Akbar his khalif (or deputy)”.

49 Subrahmanyam and Alam, “The Deccan Frontier”, p. 362, “The point to be made then is that while there is a certain retrospective inevitability about Mughal expansion, contemporaries did not wholly share this sense until the late sixteenth century”.

50 Sherwani, H. K., The Bahmanis of the Deccan (New Delhi, 1985), p. 87.

51 This would also explain the attitude of deference that all the post-Bahmani sultanates had towards the Bahmani royal family and their presence. Sherwani, “Independence of Bahmani Governors”, p. 160: “It is remarkable that every time a powerful governor like the ruler of Bijapur and Ahmadnagar gets the better of the royal forces against a Barid resulting in the defeat of the [Bahmani] king, he invariably treats him in a right royal manner as befits a suzerain, and never acts as an independent monarch”.

52 The italics indicate rulers in whose names no coins have been minted. The statistics are all from a standard catalogue of coins by Goron and Goenka, Coins of the Indian Sultanates. The series are clusters of coins of similar types, or fractions of the same type.

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