Coins provide not only substantiation of our glorious tradition and rich legacies, but also perception for comprehending the history and politics of a nation. As a means of communication, they speak to the political and spiritual ideologies that underlined a ruler’s or state’s claim to power.
Cowry shells were the first confirmation that any form of money existed. As India was ruled by many erstwhile kingdoms and dynasties ranging from the Mughals to The Britishers, it is indeed considered fortunate that we have a myriad of coins from different kingdoms and monarchs that further accentuate and enrich our historic culture.
Punch-marked coins are a type of early currency, dating between about the 6th and 2nd centuries BC. The first coins in India were minted around the 6th century BC by the Mahajanapadas of the Indo-Gangetic Plain, and certainly before the invasion of Alexander the Great in the 4th century BC. The coins of this period were punch-marked coins called Puranas, Karshapanas or Pana. Several of these coins had a single symbol, for example, Saurashtra had a humped bull, and Dakshin Panchala had a Swastika, others, like Magadha, had several symbols.
These coins were made of silver of a standardized weight but with an uneven shape. This was gained by cutting up silver bars and then by standardizing the weight by cutting the edges of the coin. They are mentioned in the Manu, Panini, and Buddhist Jataka stories and lasted three centuries longer in the south than the north of India.
The Mauryan coins were punch marked with the royal standard to determine their legitimacy The Arthashastra, written by Kautilya, mentions minting of coins but also indicates that the violation of the Imperial Maurya standards by private enterprises may have been an offense. Kautilya also seemed to advocate a theory of bimetallism for coinage, which involved the use of two metals, copper and silver, under one government.
The Indo-Greek kings introduced Greek types, and among them the portrait head, into the Indian coinage, and their example was followed for eight centuries. Every coin has some mark of authority in it, this is what known as “types”. It appears on every Greek and Roman coin. Demetrios was the first Bactrian king to strike square copper coins of the Indian type, with a legend in Greek on the obverse, and in Kharoshthi on the reverse.
Copper coins, square for the most part, are very numerous. The devices are almost entirely Greek, and must have been engraved by Greeks, or Indians trained in the Greek traditions. The rare gold staters and the splendid tetra drachms of Bactria are the envy of any avid numismatist.The silver coins of the Indo-Greeks, as these later princes may conveniently be called, are the didrachm and the hemidrachm.
Kanishka’s copper coinage which came into scene during 100-200 CE was of two types: one had the usual “standing king” obverse; and on the rarer second type the king is sitting on a throne. At about the same time there was Huvishka’s copper coinage which was more varied; on the reverse, as on Kanishka’s copper, there was always one of the numerous deities; on the obverse the king was portrayed (1) riding on an elephant, or (2) reclining on a couch, or (3) seated cross-legged, or (4) seated with arms raised.