As we start a new year, money – making/saving/investing more of it is a resolution for many of us.
However, as a collector, I also view money or coins as a marker of history. You can closely track the history of a country or a region based on its coinage. For instance, 1947 saw one big change for India – also reflected in Indian coinage (see the above image). Going back into the past, we can see similar changes when one dynasty/empire was replaced by another. For instance, the rise, dominance and decline of Guptas, Mughals, Marathas and the British can be easily ascertained via their coinage.
In smaller increments, coins also mark the passage of time. We are familiar with dates on Indian coins – which follow the Common Era or the ‘English’ Gregorian calendar. This has been a consistent feature on Indian coins since 1835. However, the British never had a complete monopoly on money, or time. Going back a hundred years, we find at least four different calendars in use across India.
Pre-1947, large parts of India were governed by local rulers, also called Princely States. Many of these Indian states ruled by Hindu dynasties – Maratha states such as Indore, Gwalior and Baroda, listed the year in Vikram Samvat (VS), not CE. The Hindu calendar is a luni-solar calendar – it combines the lunar and solar calendars. The VS calendar is usually 57 years ahead of the Gregorian calendar. Some Indian states, such as Kutch, carried both dates – the CE and the VS years – on either side. This was also an acknowledgement of the British Empire, the suzerain for the Indian princely states. India has other local calendars as well, at least one of which - the Kollam calendar of Kerala – can be seen on coinage of Travancore state.
Before the British, many of the smaller Indian states carried the date as per the Islamic calendar (AH) on their coins – a holdover of the mughal era that persisted long after their decline. Some of the early British coins in India continued to be issued in the name of the mughal ruler, along with the date as per the Islamic calendar, following the same convention as other currencies of the era. The state of Hyderabad, ruled by the Nizam, continued to use the Islamic calendar on its coins till 1947. The multiplicity of calendars could be confusing. Perhaps to avoid this, the State of Jaora (Central India) listed all the three dates on its coins (CE, VS, AH)!