A treasure of ancient coins

Historical pieces

For those who love to study ancient coins, the coin collection at the National Museum in Delhi is nothing less than a treasure trove.

Timeless: Coins of different eras on display at the National Museum.

With a whopping 1672 coins on display, the collection amazes one with its variety, rarity and antiquity.

Starting right from the 6th century BC, when coins are believed to have first appeared in India, the collection takes you through the entire history of coinage in the country. Each coin, highly informative and beautiful par excellence, has a story to tell.

Apart from the coins, which are displayed in a modern and user friendly format, the gallery has thoughtfully prepared dioramas to depict various techniques of coin production.  There are wondrous punch marked silver coins. The most interesting ones are the ‘bent-bar’ shaped coins from the Gandhara region, now in Afghanistan.
Then there are the exquisite coins from the Indo-Greek, Parthian and Scythian rule.

A coin bearing the image of Greek ruler Seleucus is eye-catching. The deputy curator of the museum, Dr R K Tiwari, says that the entire history of Greek rule in India has been constructed through coinage.

Next to it, one sees the amazing ‘re-struck’ coins from the Western Kshatrapa rule. Dr Tiwari explains that many rulers appeared in the regions of Maharashtra and Gujarat shortly after one another during this period. Unable to change all the coins of the previous ruler, they would simply get their names and images re-imprinted on them.

The pride of the gallery, however, remains its Kushan and Gupta dynasty gold coin collection. Dr. Tiwari informs, “There’s a very interesting story behind how we acquired our Gupta coins. A long time back, a historian was visiting the Raja of Bharatpur. He noticed that the Raja was wearing these gold coins as coat buttons. On enquiry, the Raja said that they had been found in a pot in the area. All the 638 coins were recovered from the same pot and donated to the National Museum.”

The Mughal coins are stunning with beautiful inscriptions of Quranic verses and rich, narrative content. On one hand, there are Akbar’s ‘Ilahi’ coins, which celebrate his religious ideals, while on the other, there are coins depicting Jehangir drinking a glass of wine. The British coins are as majestic, bearing images of various Viceroys and Queen Elizabeth herself.

One can also see modern Indian coins and currency notes in their many denominations.

The various credit cards, which are put on display, bring one back to the comfort and convenience of today’s age. But the ancient little beauties leave one marveling at the long history of coinage and skilled artisans.

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