By Jay Turner for PCGS ……
India Mughal Empire Zodiac Mohur AH1033//18 (1624) KM-180.19 Capricorn PCGS AU53. Images courtesy PCGS
Of the many great coins and rarities from India, the Zodiac series of the Mughal Empire is one that is beloved and cherished by numismatists and collectors today. The coins were issued to incorporate the Din-i-Ilahi faith system, pulling religious belief elements from across the Mughal Empire and include the religious 12 Ilahi months represented by the Zodiac calendar.
Abu’l-Fath Jalal-ud-din Muhammad Akbar was an orthodox Muslim but became influenced by Sufi mysticism. He built a house of worship in which he invited theologians, mystics, and others to discuss spirituality with them. Such discussions even questioned the validity of the Quran and caused the orthodox to question Akbar’s leadership due to rumors that he forsook Islam with his mixed religious and spiritual practices.
The religious tolerance of Akbar for those in the Mughal Empire was more accepting than what came before and after. Hindus who had been forced to convert to Islam could reconvert to Hinduism without facing death. He also celebrated Hindu holidays, including Diwali, and accepted Brahman priests’ blessings. With the death of Akbar, rule passed to his son Nur al-Din Muhammad Jahangir, who reigned from AH1014 until AH1037 (1605-1627 CE). Historians argue what religion and beliefs Jahangir held, but some believe he followed his own belief system. What is clear is that Jahangir held a belief in astrological signs and the significance of days and months, waiting for an auspicious day, March 10, 1606, to take the throne of the Mughal Empire after his fathers’ death on October 27, 1605.
The astrological sign for the beginning of Jahangir’s reign is when the sun moved from a position in the sign of Pisces to one in the sign of Aries. This movement is called Nowruz or “New Day” and is still celebrated. This jubilee was celebrated every year under Jahangir’s reign, with festivities including the distribution of new titles and positions as well as the distribution of gold and silver coins to his subjects as gifts for the occasion. From an understanding of these traditions and the coinage itself, we can tell that Jahangir held beliefs that the zodiac and astrological signs were important to him and the Empire.
Originally producing coinage featuring his portrait and the depiction of a lion and the sun, he broke tradition with the coinage of his father and predecessors that had been all in Arabic script featuring only the name of the ruler, mint, and date. Jahangir went on to order the production of coinage featuring the 12 zodiac signs of the constellations. During his reign, gold and silver coinage would feature this iconography, which obviously broke with Islamic practice and proved to be unpopular with the people and his successors. With the death of Jahangir in 1627, his eventual successor, Shah Jahan (Shahab-ud-din Muhammad Khurram) issued a recall of these coins in order to melt them down and destroy the imagery.
Today, all originally Mughal Empire zodiac coinage is very rare and desirable. Countless restrikes and counterfeits have been produced to deceive collectors and fill demand. Finding an original specimen is very difficult and costly. Authentication is difficult because forgeries can be hundreds of years old. A recent submission of an original Capricorn design was certified by PCGS.
The original Capricorn designs of the Zodiac Mohurs feature two very different obverse die designs. Each of these dies was hand cut at the time period and can vary greatly depending on the die cutter. This example dated AH1033 year 18 (1624 CE) was that of the shorter ray variety from the Agra Mint. For this example, authentication was compared to known authentic examples housed in museums. The obverse die (Capricorn side) matched the example housed in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, with that example having the accession number 99.37.7401 and acquired by the museum in 1898. The coin also has the same obverse as the example held in the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, with the identification number 18248281. After authentication was determined the coin was graded PCGS AU53.
It is always an exciting moment to handle such a scarce and historic coin as a Zodiac Mohur. The labor to authenticate such pieces is time-consuming and necessary for the protection of all as today the coins sell for multiple six-figure prices. Yet each piece that has survived is a miracle and tells part of the story of an interesting time in India and the various spiritual and religious beliefs held there and around the world.
* * *