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Coinage Sikh Coinage: Symbol Of Sikh Sovereignty

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Jun 1, 2004
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Reviewed by Professor Hardev Singh Virk

The author of Sikh Coinage: Symbol of Sikh Sovereignty, is a retired civil servant who, after retirement, received his Ph D from the Rabindra Bharati University, Kolkata. The title of his dissertation was Studies in Sikh Coinage. This book is an extended version of his Ph D thesis. In the introduction to the book the author defines his objectives as: (i) to identify the discrepancies and distortions in the existing accounts on Sikh coinage, (ii) to investigate and analyze the reasons for these distortions, (iii) to present the correct picture emerging from the study of relevant Sikh history, and (iv) to highlight the uniqueness of Sikh coins as a symbol of Sikh sovereignty. The author has used both primary and secondary sources to unravel distortions created by historians and numismatists about Sikh coinage. A vast bibliography at the end of the book illustrates the erudition and scholarly labor involved in this venture.


Dr Surinder Singh, the author of Sikh Coinage has published over thirty research papers and is an expert in the field of numismatics. He is working on the concept of Sikh sovereignty as a Senior Fellow of Indian Council of Historical Research, New Delhi, and has combined his historical knowledge, political acumen, and expertise in numismatics with scientific and analytical technique to produce this monumental work.


The study of Sikh coinage has been divided into four periods which comprise the first four chapters of the book. The first chapter deals with the initial Sikh coinage issued under Banda Bahadur's command during his rule in Punjab from 1710 to 1715. The second chapter deals with the coinage of the misl period from 1765-1795, and the third chapter describes the Sikh coinage during the reign of Maharaja Ranjit Singh from 1800-182 AD. The fourth chapter is based on the post Ranjit Singh period from 1839-1849. All these chapters are fully illustrated with plates showing the obverse and reverse faces of Sikh coinage. To remove fallacies and distortions created by European and Indian historians the author critically examines the motifs on the coin.



Sikh coins Source: Anglo Sikh Heritage Trail

Banda Bahadur made an official seal with the legend Degh, Tegh Fateh O Nusrat Baidarang, Yaft uz Nanak Guru Gobind Singh. This legend was struck on the Sikh coin in AD 1765 to commemorate the occupation of Lahore, the capital of Punjab, by the Sikh armies, and reflects the concept of Sikh sovereignty. It means that free langar, the strength of the sword arm, and the resultant victory were the result of the spontaneous help received from Guru Nanak to Guru Gobind Singh.


I appreciate the interpretation by the author of the phrase 'Nanak Guru Gobind Singh' as the entire Sikh Gurudom and not as 'Guru Gobind Singh received from Guru Nanak', which is the the interpretation used by a galaxy of historians. Most historians have written about Sikh coins without actually examining them, and this negligence is in total violation of the requisite norms of numismatic investigation. The author using his critical analysis has exposed a number of such fallacies.


Since coins are the most important and primary symbol of sovereignty, any distortion of their history results in the distortion of the concept of sovereignty. The author has refuted the claim of several eminent historians of Europe and India that coins were struck in the name of Moran (the dancing girl) by Ranjit Singh. How can he carry such a sacrilege like minting coins in the name of a concubine whom he eventually discarded after a few years? He also disagrees that Hari Singh Nalwa issued coins in the capacity of his being a Governor of Kashmir. How could he have taken over the symbol of sovereignty invested with the Khalsa and the Sikh Gurus? He himself was a jealous guardian of Sikh commonwealth created by Ranjit Singh.


The author claims that C. J. Rodgers and his tribe of European historians are responsible for spreading disinformation, whether deliberately or inadvertently, on Sikh coinage which has resulted in the distortion of Sikh history. Many Indian historians including Ganda Singh, Khushwant Singh, J S Grewal et al followed in their footsteps and came to wrong conclusions without concrete numismatic evidence. The author has exposed the plagiarism of some Indian historians and their publishers and extracted an unconditional apology from one such author that is published on page 44 of his book. Indeed a bold step to check this malpractice !



Nanakshahi coins
Source: South Asia Coin Group

What emerges out of this unique study of Sikh coinage is the deep-rooted dedication of the Sikhs to their Gurus and their teachings. Guru Gobind Singh vested his temporal sovereignty in the Khalsa Panth but when the Khalsa became the masters of large areas of Punjab, they struck coins in the name and praise of their Gurus. Although they were the de facto temporal rulers, the de jure temporal sovereignty still vested with the Gurus. Puran Singh calls it the ideal Khalsa commonwealth in his Spirit of the Sikh. Sikh coins are not merely a symbol, but also a mirror image of the concept of Sikh sovereignty. Will the modern day Akali Sikh leadership learn a lesson and follow in the footsteps of Khalsa who once ruled the Punjab?
Numismatic investigations show that the minting of Sikh coins began from the Lahore mint in AD 1765 / 1822 BK Samvat and continued till AD 1849, when Punjab was annexed to the British Empire. Sikh coins were also minted at Amritsar, Multan, Anandpur and some other places by Sikh sardars. The leaf motif on Sikh coins is widely inscribed on the Amritsar coin of AD 1788. The author has given his unique explanation of leaf motifs and exploded the myth of Moran's coins. Sikh coins are generally classified as Nanakshahi and the author rules out Moranshahi or Gobindshahi coins as misnomers. Nanakshahi rupee coins were minted out of pure silver, and were rated higher than other currencies in India.


The learned author has also described the coinage of cis-Satluj states, particularly Nabha and Patiala. While Nabha rulers, following the mainstream, issued Nanakshahi coins, the Patiala dynasty minted Durrani, also called Rajashahi, coins till 1893 and then reverted to British Indian currency. However, they issued Guru Sahib coins only for puja ceremonies and not for treasury. The author has also shown some Mughal coins in Plate III countermarked with the Sikh Khanda ensign. It is presumed that the Sikhs might have counter marked the Mughal coins with Khanda between 1772 and 1833 in order to treat it as Sikh currency.


After, the death of Ranjit Singh the Khalsa state crumbled and the Brahminical influence increased. During this period, Brahminical symbols such as the Trishul, Om, Chhattar, Sat and Shiva started appearing on the Sikh coins. Sikh sovereignty itself was under severe attack both from inside and outside and its symbolic violation appeared on coins. Shiploads of Sikh coins were dispatched to Bombay and Calcutta mints for conversion to British Indian currency after the annexation of Punjab.


The book devotes a full chapter to Sikh coins as a symbol of Sikh Sovereignty, followed by six appendices. The author finds discrepancies in all historical accounts regarding Sikh coinage. I hope some future numismatist will try to find some discrepancy in the author's account also, which is a sign of progress. At the present, I can point only glaring spelling mistakes like Sikhism (page. 209), spescial (p. 231), Phul Sandhu Jat (p. 260) instead of Sikhism, specially and Phul Sidhu Jat. The price of Rs. 995 may seem high but the two silver (?) coins impregnated on the title page as memento may compensate the readers.
 

Randip Singh

Writer
Historian
SPNer
May 25, 2005
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Excellent read. I have this book and is a must buy.

It is in Persian because that was the language of State, court, commerce etc, at that time.

Thanks

Randip Singh
 

sdad

SPNer
Feb 17, 2009
20
24
WGJKK WGJKF!
Agreed this book is an excellent resource, however, unfortunately the author was not able to do too much research on ALL Sikh coins as he was limited to India only, but a Swedish person (Hans Herrli) was able to do this both in India and Pakistan as he could travel freely.
As two thirds of original Sikh territory is in Pakistan, as you can imagine it is more informative, especially the second one released around 3-4 years ago.
If you ever decide to buy any, please beware of the fakes and tokens being sold as coins, I say this as I have been caught out a number of times in the early days.

Gurfateh!
 

spnadmin

1947-2014 (Archived)
SPNer
Jun 17, 2004
14,500
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sdad ji

What simple list of guidelines would you offer forum members so that they are not cheated. From the wisdom of your experience, there must be some stories you can tell from the past when you were still learning how to judge authenticity. We would benefit greatly from your experience. I hope you decide to share it. Many thanks to you for your advice. :)
 

sdad

SPNer
Feb 17, 2009
20
24
WGJKK WGJKF! Narayanjot Kaur-ji,
Unfortunately there is no easy way of distinguishing fakes, expect for the obvious (lifting plating, missing legend, poor edging, etc), obviously having seen the genuine item will certainly help distinguish the difference.
I would suggest anyone interested, should join the sikhcoinsgroup (on Yahoo) and try to have a look at the coins themselves if possible. Here in the UK, The British Museum has several hundred, but currently they are displaying only a single token. They did a lecture on Sikh coinage about 18 months ago (quite poor in content and they displayed only a single coin), only around 10 people turned up, and unfortunately, only two were Sikhs (myself and Parminder-ji).

Myself and Parminder Singh-ji did a lecture and displayed a number of coins at the oldest Gurdwara-sahib in the UK six months ago, god willing, we will be doing more of these in the near future, so for people in UK on this forum, I can let them know when the next one takes place.
I am a small minnow as far as Sikh coins go, there are many giants as far as Sikh coins go (Sikh & non-Sikh), find them on Sikhcoinsgroup, and contact the local ones, they may let you view the actual coins.
BTW: even Hans Herrali has not listed ALL Sikh coins, there is an amazing variety around, and even now, there are a number of things not yet known about them.
I hope this helps somewhat...

Gurfateh!

 

spnadmin

1947-2014 (Archived)
SPNer
Jun 17, 2004
14,500
19,203
sdad ji

Thank you for your reply. When you have your presentations all lined up let me know so that we can put them in the SPN Calendar to alert other members.
 

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