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RBI Monetary Museum Galleries

Reserve Bank of India, Bazil Shaikh, Sandhya Srinivasan
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Reviewed by:
Robert DeCaroli
George Mason University
February 2003

This site, sponsored and maintained by the government-run Reserve Bank of India (RBI), was conceptualized and created by two individuals, Bazil Shaikh and Sandhya Srinivasan. Although the site is updated infrequently, there is a significant amount of numismatic information available and it is arranged in a refreshingly logical and clear manner. The site is intended to document and preserve the numismatic and monetary history of India and to generate interest in the construction of an RBI Monetary Museum. The Galleries page presents three options: Coinage, Paper Currency, and Miscellany. “Paper Currency” offers more than 100 examples of bills dating from the 1700s to the present. Groups of bills are accompanied by brief descriptions (50-150 words) and some bills are further supplemented by images of contemporaneous banks or financial institutions. Unfortunately, images do not enlarge for closer examination. A wide range of paper currency is depicted, including bills issued by Indian royal states and foreign colonial powers. The “Miscellany” section contains an eclectic body of information, ranging from images of 20 former RBI governors to forms of informal currency (hundis). This section also contains examples of Indian bonds and one amusing anecdote about the origins of the RBI seal.

The coinage section is most likely to be of interest to history teachers and students. It has a wide selection of 100 high-quality images depicting coins and seals from the Indian subcontinent. The material is divided chronologically into seven categories: “Ancient,” “Medieval,” “Mughal,” “Late Pre-Colonial,” “British India,” “Republic India,” and “Other Issues.” Each section is further divided according to dynasties and historical periods. A short description and a note on historical context accompany each group of images. Images range from Indus Valley seals and Mauryan punch marked coins (ca. 5th c. BCE) to contemporary coins issued by the Indian government.

The wide selection of currencies and time periods make this useful for classroom instruction and for generating discussion. For instance, the stark contrast between the decorations of the early punch marked coins and the Indo-Greek and Kushan examples could begin a discussion on new art forms that began to appear in the 2nd century. In particular, portraiture and sculptural representation became increasingly common and the iconography of the coins are indicative of these changes.

Similarly, investigating the ways in which the Gupta royalty had themselves depicted could serve as a catalyst for a debate on the qualities and virtues expected of an Indian ruler. Even the selection of Roman and other foreign coins found in India could foster discussion on the importance of trade networks. The presence of foreign money demonstrates India’s success in providing goods and services that were very much in demand.

The later material is equally useful. Coin inscriptions can often be as informative as the decoration. The final Coinage section, entitled Others, provides translations of six coins from various periods in Indian history. These translations offer insights into the ways these emperors chose to represent themselves to the general public or reveal differences in personality and policy from one leader to the next. “The Spotless Moon in the firmament of the Gupta family, invincible, valorous as Mahendra, conquers the enemy” inscribed on 3rd-6th century Gupta coins is rather different in tone from Jehangir’s couplet “[Coin struck] by the order of Shah Jehangir, [This] gold hath a hundred beauties gained with the inscription of the name of Noor Jehan, the Badshah Begum (Empress).”

Unfortunately, the site offers very little information on the techniques used to produce these coins and the descriptions can be a bit thin. Despite these shortcomings, the material can spark important historical discussions.

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