By Jay Turner for PCGS ……
The Mughal Empire, which at times covered much of what is today Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh was a domain ruled by Muslim leadership and during its existence led to the spread and consolidation of Islam in South Asia.
The exception to this was two rulers, Abu’l-Fath Jalal-ud-din Muhammad Akbar and his son Nur al-Din Muhammad Jahangir. These two men had differing spiritual beliefs and tolerances and, as a result, some coins issued during their reigns differed from the traditional coinage of the Mughal Empire and even feature themes considered blasphemous to Islam. The resulting coinage was subsequently recalled and mostly destroyed, making the surviving coinage rarities. Of all these rarities, the coinage featuring a Hindu theme currently is the rarest. In 2020, PCGS certified one of three known examples of such a coin.
Muhammad Akbar, who reigned as ruler of the Mughal Empire from 1556-1605 AD, was the most spiritually open and tolerant of the rulers of the Mughal Empire. He studied many faiths under his rule, including Hinduism, and even celebrated holidays such as Diwali. In his last years of rule, a coin was minted featuring a Hindu theme. The imagery of this coin features the god Rama with his bow and his wife Sita behind him. The other side features script that translates to “Ilahi 50 Amardad”; Ilahi 50 is the year in which the coin was minted and would date AH1013-1014, or 1604-1605 AD, with “Amardad” meaning divinity or immortality. Some believe this coin may have been made for the commemoration of Diwali.
India Mughal Empire Yr.50 (1605) ½ Rupee Zeno-77364 Rama Siya – PCGS Genuine XF Details
The epic of Rama and Sita is a long story from the Ramayana. The Ramayana was an oral telling for hundreds of years before being written down, leading to many variations. The story can be abridged to a version in which the god Vishnu is born to an avatar body as Rama, son of Dasartha, king of Kosala. When Rama is old enough, his help is requested to defeat demons. He and his brother pledge to help. After some heroic acts, he ends up meeting the beautiful princess Sita in a neighboring kingdom. Her father, the king, had promised her hand in marriage to anyone who can string Shiva’s divine bow.
Rama is not only able to string the bow, but when he attempts to use it he applies so much force that he breaks the bow. Honoring his word, the king marries Rama and Sita. Twelve years later, his father decides to abdicate and wants Rama to take over his throne. One of his wives, not the mother of Rama, convinces him to instead give power to her son, Rama’s younger half-brother. With his younger brother given power, Rama is banished to the forest for 14 years with his wife Sita and his younger brother Lakshmana joining him.
Over the next 10 years, Rama, Sita, and Lakshmana experience many adventures and wondrous things, including Rama getting a magic bow and quiver which has infinite arrows. The deity Ravana, a king with 10 faces, decides to exact revenge on Rama and targets Sita. Sending his uncle, who transforms into a golden stag so that the brothers follow it for a hunt, Ravana approaches Sita alone. Sita is captured and taken away in Ravana’s flying chariot. When Rama and his brother return, they find out what has happened. Eventually, after a quest and trials from Hanuman, the Monkey King, Rama finds out that Sita is being held across the sea in Lanka. Hanuman, who can fly, travels to Lanka and finds Sita. Hanuman witnesses Ravana ask again for Sita’s hand in marriage, which she again refuses; Ravana gives her two months to choose between marrying him or being sliced up and eaten by him. Hanuman offers to rescue Sita, but she refuses saying that it would only be proper for Rama to rescue her. Returning to Rama, Hanuman gives him the news his wife is alive, and Rama, Lakshmana, Hanuman, and the monkey army travel to Lanka, where a battle ensues.
Over the next few days, Rama and his archery skills defeat Ravana and his army. But even though he rescued Sita, Rama tells her that he could not take her back because she had lived a year in the house of his enemy. To prove her loyalty and purity to Rama she undergoes a fire ordeal where she enters the flames of a pyre. Sita comes out of the fire unburned, proving her purity. Rama now accepts Sita back as his wife. Rama returns to his kingdom with Sita and he is made king, where he rules for the next 10,000 years.
The holiday Diwali, the Festival of Lights, is celebrated to honor Rama-chandra, the seventh avatar of the god Vishnu. With Muhammad Akbar celebrating such a holiday, the minting of this Mughal coin is featuring Rama and Sita was likely approved because of this. It is most likely that the coin is from the Agra Mint, the capital of the Mughal Empire, even though it is not listed on the coin. The coins that survived seem to be very few, as after the reign of Jahangir (which ended in 1627), the coins featuring imagery, especially human forms, were removed and melted. The few pieces that survived the culling often were pieces used in jewelry.
For the few known pieces featuring Rama and Sita, more surviving gold coins are known than the silver counterparts. For this piece certified by PCGS, the coin is made to the half-rupee weight of 5.39 grams and it likely survived because it was once mounted. It is believed that only three examples are known in silver for the Rama and Sita design coins. This example last sold in the CNG (Classical Numismatic Group) Triton XIII sale in 2010 as lot 2001, where it brought $140,000 USD plus the buyer’s premium.
A coin like this is incredibly special. It tells the history of India with its great diversity in religions, peoples, and rich history. The coin is a surviving testament to all that and a cherished piece symbolizing a moment in time when a Mughal king went beyond tolerance and minted a Hindu-themed coin.
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