SIKH COINS or NUMISMATICS. Sikh coins like coins anywhere else were both a commercial necessity and a symbol of sovereignty. Coin, derived from the Latin cuneus, a wedge, through Old French coing and cuigne, "is properly the term for a wedge-shaped die used for stamping money, and so transferred to the money so stamped : hence a piece of money." The Punjabi word for coin, sikkā, is borrowed from Persian where it means both "a die for coining" and "rule, law, regulation" (implying sovereignty).
Traditionally, coins struck under the orders of various sovereigns had embossed or inscribed on them the name and/or bust of the ruler and the year of that ruler's reign. Sikh coins, however, were dedicated to their Gurūs and the year of issue they carried was of the Bikramī era, although the script and language used continued to be Persian as was the vogue under the Mughal rulers. The first sovereign Sikh state, however short-lived, was established by Bandā Siṅgh Bahādur with the conquest of Sirhind early in 1710, and the first Sikh coin issued by him from his bastion, Mukhlisgaṛh in the Śivālik foothills, carried on one side the following inscription : sikkā bār har do'ālam tegh-i-nānak wāhab ast fatah gobind siṅgh shāh-i-shāhāṅ fazal sachehā Sāhib ast (the coin is struck in the two worlds, its bestower being the sword of Nānak. Victory is of Gobind Siṅgh, the king of kings, by the grace of the True Master); on the other side were the words : zarb ba amān ud-dahr musawarat shahr zīnat al takht mubārak bakht (struck for the security and peace of the world and the walled town of the elegant throne and blessed fortune).
Half a century later, when the Dal Khālsā, the confederated Sikh force under the overall leadership of Sardār Jassā Siṅgh Āhlūvālīā, whom the Sikhs fondly gave the epithet Sultān ul-qaum (the nation's king), temporarily occupied Lahore in November 1761, a coin was issued bearing the inscription, sikkā zad dar jahāṅ bafazl i-akāl, mulki-ahmad shāh griftah jassā kalāl (the coin struck in the world (when) by the grace of God, Jassā Kalāl (Jassā Siṅgh Āhlūvālīā) occupied the territory of Ahmad Shāh (Durrānī). This coin was soon withdrawn because it bore the name not of the Gurū but of a Sikh and that too in a truncated form. It is also considered that this coin was not issued by the Sikhs but was arranged to be struck by some religious leaders of Lahore for despatching it to Ahmad Shāh Durrānī with the intention of rousing his ire and early suppression of the Sikhs.
Another coin struck soon after the conquest of Sirhind by the Sikhs in 1764 came to be known as Gobindshāhī sikkā (coin of Gurū Gobind Siṅgh). It was a silver coin and it continued to be issued from the Lahore mint up to 1777. Inscriptions on it were : on one side, deg tegh fatah-o-nusrat bedraṅg, yāft az nānak gurū gobind siṅgh (kettle [signifying munificence], sword [symbol of power], success and unhindered victory Gurū Gobind Siṅgh inherited from [Gurū] Nānak. This was the couplet earlier used by Bandā Siṅgh Bahādur on his seal. The other side of the Gobindshāhī coin bore zarb dār ul-saltanat lāhaur sammat 1822 maimnat mānūs (struck at the capital Lahore in the year 1822 [AD 1765] of intimate prosperity).
Gold and silver coins issued from Amritsar from 1777 onwards were called Nānakshāhī sikkā. They had on one side akāl sahāi gurū nānak jī in Gurmukhī letters, and sikkā zad bar sīm o-zar tegh nānak wāhab ast fatah-i-gobind shāh-i-shāhāṅ fazal sachehā sāhib ast in Persian (coin struck in silver and gold; Nānak’s sword is the bestower : victory by the grace of the True Lord is of Gobind (Siṅgh), the king of kings). The inscription closely resembles that on the earliest Sikh coin issued by Bandā Siṅgh Bahādur. The coin bore on the other side the words zarb srī amritsar jalūs akāl takht sammat 1837 (struck at Srī Amritsar (during) the reign of Akāl Takht (in) the year 1837 (AD 1780).
The Dal Khālsā had during the eighteenth century carried the Sikh flag far into the heart of India. Therefore, as writes Charles J. Rodgers, Coin Collection in Northern India (1894). "It is not astonishing then that there are coins in existence on one side of which is the old Sikh coin distich and on the other the Najibabad mint name and mark. One coin of this kind is known with the Jaipur mint name and mark....I remember seeing years ago a coin struck at Surat with the Sikh coin couplet on it... "
Raṇjīt Siṅgh occupied Lahore in 1799 and proclaimed himself Mahārājā in 1801. His coins issued from Lahore from 1801 onwards, from Amritsar since1805-06, from Multān since 1818 and from Kashmīr (Srīnagar) since 1819 bore the same inscription as had appeared earlier on the Gobindshāhī coins, but Raṇjīt Siṅgh's coins were called Nānakshāhī. Their distinguishing mark was a tree leaf and later a peacock's feather. Coins were also struck during his reign at Piṇḍ Dādan Khān, Jhaṅg and Peshāwar. The custom was that coins struck at a new mint on the first day were sent to Amritsar as an offering at the Akāl Takht. In 1806-07, Raṇjīt Siṅgh issued "Morāṅshāhī" or "Ārsī dī Mohar Vāle" coin in honour of his favourite dancing girl whom he took as one of his queens. The offering made of these coins was not accepted at the Akāl Takht. Similarly, the coins issued by Mahārājā Sher Siṅgh (1841-43) were not accepted at the Takht Kesgaṛh Sāhib, Anandpur, as offering because instead of the usual legend "Akāl Sahāī Gurū Nānak Jī" they bore "Akāl Sahāi Sher Siṅgh".
From 1828 onwards the Lahore mint issued gold mohars popularly called butkīs. It contained 11-1/2 māshās (approximately 10 grams) of pure gold, and had, in addition to the usual distich and legend, the word vāhigurū (Sikh name for God) written thrice over in Gurmukhī letters. The rupee coin contained a similar quantity of silver while coins of lower denominations (dhelā or ṭakā and paisā) were made from copper.
Sardār Harī Siṅgh Nalvā was permitted twice to issue coins in his name, first in 1831 in Kashmīr and then in1834 at Peshāwar.
In honour of Nau Nihal Siṅgh's marriage, Raṇjīt Siṅgh started an Order of Merit, which was known as Kaukab i-Iqbāl-i-Punjab, Star of the Prosperity of the Punjab. The order had three grades, each having its own medal. The medals bore the effigy of Raṇjīt Siṅgh on one side and had silk ribands of gold and scarlet colour. Shaped like a star they were meant to be worn round the neck. The first-grade medal carried one diamond. It was meant for the members of the royal family and those chiefs who had shown exceptional devotion to the person of the Mahārājā and his family. The second-grade medal had a diamond and an emerald set in it. It was bestowed on loyal courtiers and sardārs. The third contained a single emerald and was open to the civil and military officers who had rendered some special service to the country.
The principality of Paṭiālā founded by Sardār Ālā Siṅgh received recognition as state in 1761 from Ahmad Shāh Durrānī, who also conferred on Ālā Siṅgh the title of Rājā in 1765. Rājā Ālā Siṅgh died in August of the same year. His grandson and successor, Amar Siṅgh, was given by Ahmad Shāh the title of Rājah-i-Rājgān and permission to strike his own coins in March 1767. The Paṭiālā coins, gold mohar and silver rupee, were called Rājeshāhī. They weighed 11-1/4 māshās (approximately 10 grams) each and bore a Persian distich commemorating Ahmad Shāh Durrānī (ordained by the Incomparable Almighty through Ahmad Shāh to strike coins of silver and gold from the zenith of one moon or month to another). As Charles J. Rodgers, Honorary Numismatist to the Government of India, observed in 1894, "All the Maharajas of Patiala have used the same couplet in their gold and silver coins. Different Maharajas have used different signs, and it is by these that the coins are assigned to those who struck them....One strange thing is noteworthy. The mint is in Patiala city, but the name of the mint coming on the coin is Sarhind or Sahrind. When we consider that the Maharaja is a Sikh and the Sikhs account Sarhind accursed... the retention of the name seems stranger still. Ahmad Shah Durrani coined in this town, and that is perhaps the reason its name is retained on Patiala coins."
Coins of Jīnd state (silver rupee only), similar to those of Paṭiālā in weight and the couplet used, were known as Jīndīā, Nābhā coins (gold mohur and silver rupee), popularly called Nābhāshāhī, however, bore the couplet "deg tegh fatah...." as it appeared on Mahārājā Raṇjīt Siṅgh's Nānakshāhī or, earlier, on Gobindshāhī coins. Kapūrthalā rulers did not strike their own coins. Nānakshāhī, and, later, British coins were current there. Coins minted in different states were legal tender only within their territories although they were sometimes accepted in neighbouring markets close to the state boundaries.
Manohar Siṅgh Mārco