The man who gave the Mughals many sleepless nights and defeated Humayun, Sher Shah Suri’s short 7 years (1538-45 CE) tenure on the throne was impactful. So much so, that even today we have a lot to thank him for – take for example his currency reforms and the name he gave his currency the Rupiya. We use it to this day!
Sher Shah Suri, who had served in the Lodi Sultanate army in his early years defeated Humayun in 1538 and took control over Delhi.
Sher Shah Suri’s real name was Farid Khan and he had served in the Lodi Sultanate army in the early years. As the legend goes, as a young man, he had killed a tiger with bare hands, that had attacked Bahar Khan, the Afghan Governor of Bihar. Hence, the title of ‘Sher Shah’ was conferred upon him. A weak center of power under the Lodis meant that many ambitious Afghans like him were making their own plans. By the time Babur defeated the last Lodi Sultan Ibrahim Lodi in the battle of Panipat in 1526 CE, Sher Shah took the opportunity to consolidate his power and even to extend it east into Bengal. Eventually, Sher Shah Suri defeated Humayun in 1538 and took control over Delhi.
In his short stint, he brought in many reforms in the administration and the most noteworthy of these were the changes in the coinage system.
The copper coins, which was used for most transactions, by the masses were known as Paisa.
He minted the substantial number of coins, introducing the 11 gm silver rupee to replace the 10 gm billon (mixed metal) tanka. He also issued copper coins. The silver coins were known as Rupiya, a term that stuck and continues to this day. The copper coins, which was used for most transactions, by the masses were known as Paisa. The term Paisa too is used in India today.
The obverse of Sher Shah’s Rupiya was inscribed with the Islamic Kalima (La ilah-il-illah Muhammad ur Rasool Allah). The obverse carried the name of the first four holy Khalifas – Abu Bakr, Umar, Usman, and Ali. It was also marked by the full name of the ruler Farid ud Dunia wa din Abu al-Muzaffar Sher Shah Sultan and the name of the issuing mint and the year of issue. Some of the Rupiya coins are also marked by Devanagari text which read – Sri Ser Sah, indicating them as issues of Sher Shah.
Some of the Rupiya coins are also marked by Devanagari text which read – Sri Ser Sah, indicating them as issues of Sher Shah.
The origins of the word ‘Rupee’ can be traced down to the Sanskrit word Rupiya meaning ‘wrought silver’ and was used from an early period to denote silver coins in general. The Guptas called their silver coins by the generic name Rupaka and their gold ones as Dinar, before that the Mauryas called their silver coins Rupyarupa and gold coins, Suvarnarupa. But it was Sher Shah Suri who standardized the Rupiya, setting the weight around 180 grains or 11 grams of silver. This was also made the pivot of his monetary system and it stuck. It continued to be the standard under later Mughal rulers and even the British who used the term ‘rupee’ for silver coins and set their weight, close to Sher Shahs’ coins, at 11.66 gms.
Today, the rupya or rupee is the common name for currencies in India, Pakistan, Indonesia, Maldives, Nepal, Bhutan, Seychelles and Sri Lanka.
Cover Image Courtesy – www.coinindia.com
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