This series covers the history and securities behind the INR currency note

This entry is part of a series, INR»

I’d be covering some of the security features available in the currency we use daily in this three part series (thanks to bench life). What I would not be discussing is the economy/ fall and rise of the INR. I would try to make it as informative as possible and highlight many of those features that would otherwise go noticed…

To start off with a brush with history the oldest coins, more of seals to be exact, in India (or Hindustan) trace back to 2500 BC, the days of the Indus Valley Civilizations. But there are arguments as to whether the seals were actually used for trading i.e. as currencies[1]

The usage of silver/ gold in making coins can be traced to around 5th century BC when Punch Marked coins were introduced. Then there were the dynastic coins of Kushan, Satavahana, Kshatrapa, Mauryans, Gupta etc which mainly depicted king on one side of the coin and deity on the other end. Depiction of events and occasions in the coins came in a bit later. Trading between Europe and Middle East with ancient Indians ensured intermixed currencies that were in circulation.

Conquests by Arabs did see a big difference in use of Arabic styled Calligraphy. This was the case with that of Khiljis, Tughlaqs etc. In came the paper currencies inspired by the Chinese, which however turned out to a failed experiment thanks to the forgeries (yes even during that time). When Gold became scarce, it was time of metals like Copper to take over. But a method of standardizing currencies didn’t exist, that is till the period of the Vijayanagar Empire.

The dynasty in Vijayanagar evolved coinage of different metrology and design which was to remain as a standard in the region and influence coin design up to the 19th Century[2]. Amongst the significant gold coins of the Vijayanagar Empire were those bearing the image of the deity of Tirupati, i.e., Lord Venkatesvara represented either singly or with his two consorts. These coins inspired the ‘Single Swami’ Pagodas of the Dutch and French and the ‘Three Swami’ Pagodas of the English East India Company.

The actual birth of the Rupee can be attributed to the system of tri-metalism which came to characterise Mughal coinage was largely the creation, not of the Mughals but of Sher Shah Suri (1540 to 1545 AD), an Afghan, who ruled for a brief time in Delhi. Sher Shah issued a coin of silver which was termed the Rupiya. This weighed 178 grains and was the precursor of the modern rupee[3]

The regimes of Marathas, Sikhs and kingdom of Mysore followed more or less a similar pattern. The first machine struck coins were made by the Princely State of Hyderabad in the beginning of the 20th century[4]

By the time British power came into India Silver, Copper and Nickel formed the basic elements of coinage and rigid weight standards came into practice. Shortage of Silver by end of 1st world war ushered in the time for (re)appearance of paper currencies (for lower denominations).

The Anna system was introduced by the Republic India after a brief transition period in the post-independence age. The King (or Queen) portraits on one side of the coin was replaced by top half (Three Lions) of the National Emblem. Conversion wise this is how it stood: 1 rupee = 16 annas = 64 pices = 192 pies

This[5] was the way things stood till the concept of decimalization came into effect (1957-1964). The Rupee was divided into 100 Paisa instead of 16 Annas or 64 Pice and this system was termed Naya Paisa to gain public recognition. In addition to the decorations on either side of the coin, weight, metals used, shape and, thickness aided in forging the correctly valued coins. Low denominations began to be predominantly made out of Aluminium/ Magnesium.

From coins our focus will shift to paper notes and the current security features in them, that are being employed to prevent forgeries.

1.  Ancient India Coinage
2.  Medieval India Coinage
3.  Moghul India Coinage
4.  Pre-Colonial India & Princely States: Coinage
5.  Republic India Coinage

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Author: Rajesh Narayanan

A small speck of dust in the ever expanding ether

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