A century back, the Indian rupee was an important regional and international currency – due to India’s large economy and status as a trade hub. The uniform British India Rupee – first introduced in 1835, was a silver coin (0.917 or 91.7%) and 11.66 grams in weight. From 1835 to 1938, the names of the rulers and the designs kept changing, but the two basic factors – weight and purity, remained constant.
For ease of trade, many other smaller economies of the region adopted a currency that mirrored the Indian rupee. Thus, Burma (1853), Portuguese Empire (1881), Mombasa (1888), German East Africa (1890) and Italian Somaliland (1910) – all migrated to a silver coin which was 11.66 grams in weight and was 91.7% silver – 1:1 parity with the British Indian rupee. In fact, except for Burma, which called the coin Kyat, all the others called their currency the ‘rupee’.
The word ‘rupee’ meant money rather than a particular currency, just like dinar and kori. In Sanskrit, one of the words for silver is ‘rupya’, which is probably the origin of the rupee. The first standardized rupee in the recent times was minted by Sher Shah Suri during his brief reign (1540-45) – the coin was retained by the mughal emperors who succeeded him, and then by the British. Many of the Indian Princely States such as Alwar, Bikanir, Baroda, Hyderabad, Indore and Udaipur, which minted their own currency, also called it rupee or rupya. These were silver coins about 11-11.6 grams in weight, easily interchangable with the more widely used British India rupee. All of these kingdoms/states were merged into the Indian union after 1947, and their currencies were replaced by the Indian rupee in 1950.
Even today, the rupee continues to be a currency in some other countries apart from India, notably Indonesia, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Maldives and Mauritius.