Sutradhara’s tales: When Pune minted coins…literally!

In the age of digital banking, the hassle of carrying currency of coins and paper notes is slowly becoming unnecessary, but not yet completely. The token money we use today may slowly lose its value in the days of inflation, but the various metal coins minted in the medieval era are still in demand for their ancient significance and inherent value. The city of Pune is blessed with some enthusiastic coin collectors who opened their treasures to me to reveal historical coins minted in the city three to four centuries ago.

Pune was never the capital of any significant dynasty, but rose to power under the Peshwas in the 18th century. However, the first printed coins of Pune were issued half a century earlier, apart from Emperor Aurangzeb.

Aurangzeb’s victory over Pune in the 17th century was no small event. The event commemorates the conquest of the land that was once the abode of Shivaji Maharaja. To commemorate this victory, he renamed Pune as Muhiyabad in memory of his grandson’s untimely death and minted a rupee for the first time in Pune’s history. The coins minted in 1701-02 marked the forty-fifth regnal year of his reign. Historical records are silent about the name and location of the mint.

Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj is known to have minted gold coins called “Gaurava” as ruler in 1674 as he declared his sovereignty. He minted copper coins called “Shivarai”, which were in use till the beginning of the 19th century.

The first known Maratha coin issue from Pune was a rupee struck in the mid-18th century in the name of Emperor Muhammad Shah. This issue was printed when Pune was under Maratha rule but the exact date is lacking. Thus we gather that, unlike Shivaji Maharaja, the later Maratha regime did not declare its sovereignty by minting coins with special marks uniting them under one rule.

Records of agreements relating to mints commissioned by Nanasaheb Peshwa exist, but we are yet to find a record of the mint’s existence.

His descendant Madhavrao Peshwa confirmed the establishment of a mint at Pune. In a letter to Madhavrao Pethe, he pointed out a shortage of coins (probably due to losses in the Battle of Panipat) which had to be dealt with by minting coins at Pune. They gave their personal artefacts and jewelery to be melted down and solidified.

As standard practice, the “Patashahi Shikkah” (impression of the Mughal emperor) was used to ensure that the coins were acceptable throughout India. Mint mints various coins like Rupees, “Adheli” (Half Rupee) and “Golden Mohrs”. Coinage officially and regularly began in Pune in the mid-18th century.

Mints were operated by Kamavidars who would make deposits to the government and set up mints. Merchants and moneylenders in need of coins would submit the metal to mint coins, either gold, silver or copper.

In the case of large sums, moneylenders in Pune would offer a “hundi” (like modern traveller’s cheques) to the bearer, offering delivery of coins throughout India.

The first contract for setting up a mint was awarded to Dullabshet (from the Gujarati Bernath community) for five years in exchange for a deposit. 75,000. This is a huge amount considering the then price of gold was Rs15 per tola (10 grams). A manufacturing fee was charged to people who attempted to mint coins. There were typical fares 15 to 23 to mint 1,000 coins. One third of these is the share of the government.

Workers associated with mining jobs included goldsmiths (to check metal purity), clerks (bookkeeping), blacksmiths (foremen), bhatekaris (pumping air), die strikers (quarries), avati (melting ingots) and so on. Protection of coins.

The coinage agreement was with Dullabhashet for forty years (1761-1801). After 1801, Bajirao II decided to increase mint manufacture in Pune and awarded several contracts. One of his close companions and a notorious historical figure, Trimbak Dengale, received one such agreement. The chronicles mention that Brahmaji Kansi, Nanaji Tambat and Bhawani Singh Mainsingh of Bundelkhand were appointed by Bajirao as contractors of the mint in 1804.

In the early days, mints were distributed in the towns of Vasai, Neral, Kalyan, Belapur and Atgaon, before being closed due to inconsistency in purity, standards and operations and shifted to Pune.

According to research by senior historian GH Khare, there were three mints (Tanksal in Marathi) in Pune (Muhiabad) and one each in Chakan (Navinabad) and Chinchwad (Ganeshpur) in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

City historian Mandar Lavat mentions that mint locations were not permanent and often moved around the town. The mansions of Sripad Namji and Narasimha Mandavgane are mentioned as the site of the mint, which has not yet been discovered. The site of the Gopalakrishna marriage hall near Sonya Maruti, hosting the Gopalakrishna temple, is another possible location of the mint built by Dullabashet. Pune Nagar Samshodhan Vritta, a compilation of Pune City by historians, mentions a mint near the Dulya Maruti temple. Normal rent is Rs12 which is high.

The mint at Pune always installed an idol of Narasimha and Sri Balaji at the site. All festivals are celebrated locally throughout the year.

The types of coins minted at the Pune Mint are Hali Sikka, Sri Sikka, Dahu Sikka (started by Bajirao II), Shetshahi coins, Chandwadi rupee, copper Shivarai, Ga coin (symbolizing Ganapati), silver and gold coins, gold muhars.

The Peshwas are known to have minted coins bearing the ‘Parshu’ (battle axe) mark which may represent their Kokanastha origin and association with Parasurama. These coins cannot be precisely dated. The Now Sri Sikka was a coin minted by Peshwa Amrit Rao during his six-month reign in 1802-1803 when the Holkars annexed Pune. Ganapati (Ga Sikka) was first struck by Peshwa Bajirao II in 1805 at the newly established mint. It was discontinued as traders did not accept it. Apart from Shivaraya another copper coin was minted in Pune as “Muhiabad Puna”.

The Ankushi or Chinsuri rupee with the symbol Ankusha (used to control an elephant) was produced at several mints in Maratha territory but was first struck at Chinchwad and Pune by Narayanarao Peshwa. The Ankushi rupee was recognized as a guarantee of purity after its issue through the Saraf (bankers and moneylenders) system. Fresh=printed coin was called “Kora”, some with Saraf marks “Nirmal Chapi”, medium marked “Madhyam Chapi”, several marked “Naram Chapi”. “Naram Chapi” was re-minted and remade as bullion. Counterfeit coins were in vogue in those days and even counterfeit coins were melted down in silver form and recreated with standard purity.

The mints operated during the Peshwa period from 1861 until the fall of the Maratha Empire in 1818, except for a few interruptions due to the invasion of Holkar Nagar in 1802 and 1804-05.

Coinage continued for some time after Pune was taken over by the British from 1820 until 1834-35. The main change made by the British was the addition of the Fasli year in Marathi numerals on the reverse. The minting system was greatly improved during the colonial period and what remains of the Pune mint are coins scattered in museums and private collections.

Saili Palande-Datar is an Indologist, environmentalist, historian and agriculturist. She can be contacted at sailikdatar@gmail.com

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