Old Bengal Sultan Coins

In 1202 AD Bengal was invaded and conquered by Muhammad Bakhtiyar Khilji, one of the generals of Qutbuddin Aibak. He became the first governor of the province.  Till 1338 AD Bengal was governed on behalf of the Delhi Sultans by officers appointed by them.  These officials, separated by a journey of many weeks from the Imperial court, held always a semi-Independent position and whenever the governor was powerful or ambitious or the emperor of the day feeble, there was a revolt.  Thus Bengal was always in trouble and turmoil.  In about 1310AD the province was split into two parts. Eastern and Western Bengal, came to be administered by two separate governors.  In 1338AD the successful revolt of Fakhruddin Mubarak Shah, the governor of Eastern Bengal, severed the ties with Delhi once and for all.  During this period twenty-five governors were appointed and six of them Ghiya-Suddin Iwaz (1211 – 1226 AD), Mughisuddin Yuzbak (1246-1258 AD), Ruknuddin Kai Kaus (1291 -1302AD), Shamsuddin Firoz Shah (1302-1318AD), Shihabuddin Bughra Shah (1318 AD) and Ghiyasuddin Bhadur Shah (1310 – 1323AD) issued their own coins.  The coins of these governors are mostly of silver. Gold coins found are only of Shamsuddin Firoz Shah and those too are scares. The coins of the first two of the six governors bear the Kalima and the date on the obverse and the name titles of the ruler on the reverse and show Delhi’s influence in fabric and inscription.  The subsequent governors substituted the Kalima by the name of the last Khalifa of Baghad, al Mustasim.

A year after the revolt of Fakhruddin Mubarak, the whole province was brought under the control of Shamsuddin Ilyas Shah in 1339AD.  From 1339 to 1538 AD.  Bengal was ruled by four dynasties: (1) the house of Ilyas Shah (1339-1406 AD and again 1442 – 1481 AD); (2) the house of the Hindu Raja Ganesh (1406 -1442 AD); (3) the Habshi Kings (1486 – 1493AD); and (4) the house of Alauddin Husain Shah (1493 – 1538 AD).  From 1552 – 1563AD Bengal was ruled from Delhi by Sher Shah Suri and his family and later independently by the younger member of his dynasty, and finally by three rulers of the Afghans Kararani family till 1576Ad when Bengal became the province of Akbar’s empire.

The general arrangement of the inscriptions of these rulers is somewhat similar to that on that on the issues of the contemporary Sultans of Delhi.  But the coins were marked by borders, single or double, circles, squares, lozenges, octagons, hexagons and many-foiled or scalloped edges.  The obverse was generally reserved for expression of the king’s religious position as supporter of the Khilafat, for which, like the Sultans of Delhi, these rulers professed devout respect. They used variously yamin Khalifah Allah Nasir Amir al-momin (the right-hand of God’s viceregent, aider of the prince of the Faithful), Yamin al-Khilafat (right hand of the Khilafat), and Ghaus al-Islam wa al-musalmin (succourer of Islam and the Muslims).  This last formula is usually written in tughra by weaving the letters into a sort of arabesque.  Another variety introduced by Azam Shah (1389AD) is Nasir al-Islam wa al-musalmin. Jalaluddin Muhammad Shah (1414-1431AD), son of Raja Ganesh, who had embraced Islam with the devout zeal of a convert, revived the Kalima which was abandoned on the Bengal coins for about two centuries.  The obverse of some of his later issues is entirely filled with the Kalima.  From this time onwards, the Kalima usually occupied the obverse and the mint and date in Arabic numerals were generally written below it.  Husain Shah (1493 – 1518 AD) found his titles too long to be accommodated on a single face of the coin; he spread them over the obverse and the reverse, and this was imitated by his successors.  Shamusuddin Muhammad Shah Ghazi (1552-54AD) of the Suri dynasty followed the coins of his family and restored the Kalima and the names of the Khalifas to their proper places in the obverse area and the margin.

The titles of the Sultans of Bengal, which always occupied the reverse and sometimes extended over the obverse also, are constructed in the same way as those of the Delhi Sultans.  They usually begin with al-sultan al-dzam (rarely al-adil); but sometimes this is omitted or is substituted by al-muwayad ba-tayeed al-rahman (the one strengthened by the support of the Compassionate) or as on the coins of Faith Shah (1481-1486AD) and the sons and grandsons of Husain Shah, Al-sultan ibn al-sultan takes its place.  Then follows the accession name and the title abul mujahid or abu-muzuffar or in the case of Muzaffar Shah (1490-93AD) abu-al-nasr; thereafter followed the proper name of the king with the tiles Shah and al-sultan after which, if there is space, particularly on the later coins, the name of the father and sometimes of the grandfather of the king are also added. Among exceptional titles may be noticed those of Sikandar Shah (1358-1389AD), who appears to have arrogated to himself the title of Imam and employed the titles Al-mujahid fi sabeel al rahman (the warrior on the path of the Compassionate), al-nasir al-din allah al-qahar ali allah (the aider of God’s faith, the subdue of God) and al-wasiq be-tayeed al-rahman (the truster in the support of the Compassionate).  Mahmud Shah II (1489AD) had the curious inscription Khalifa allah ba-lahajjat wa al-burhan (viceregent of God in deed and proof), which he applied to himself.  Hussain Shah (1493-1518AD) introduced several new titles –al-sultan al-adil al-bazil (the just, generous Sultan) and the patronymic wald sayed al-mursalin.  Ilyas Shah (1339-1358AD) styled himself Iskandar al-sani (the second Alexander) and Ali Shah, his predecessor, claimed for himself Sikandar be-Zaman al-makhsus be-inayat Rahman (Alexander of the world, the distinguished one by the grace of the Compassionate).

An unusual inscription min Khiraj Bang is found on the coins of two successive rulers, Jalaluddin Mahmud (686AH) and Nasiruddin Mahmud (687AH).  This shows that the coins were struck from the tributes received by them from Bang.  They were struck at Lakhnauti. This is the first known instance of coins struck out of tribute.  It would seem that during the reign of these rulers the territory of Bang was not under the direct control of the Sultans. 

Alauddin Husain Shah, a later ruler, has used some interesting inscriptions on his coins as epithets, which are variously read as, al-sultan al fath al-Kamru wa al-Kamatah and others as al-sultan al-fath al-Kamru wa al-Kamatah wa Jajnagar wa urisa. These coins were issued by him from the beginning of his reign (899AH / 1494AD) and from several of his mints.  They were issued in declaration of his conquests of Kamarupa and Kamta (Assam) in the east and Jajnagar and Orissa in the west, an achievement of which he was very proud.  The inscriptions on the coins are read to mean that Allauddin Hussain Shah was the lord of the vast territories that extended upto Assam in the east and upto Orissa in the west.  It is interesting to note that no such declarations were ever earlier made by sovereign with many more conquests and territories to their credit.

A notable feature of the coinage of the rulers of Bengal is the number of mints.  There are twenty names, viz., Lakhnauti, Firozabad (Pandua), Satgaon (near Hugli), Sunargaon (near Hugli) Muazzamabad (probably in Mymensingh), Shahr-i-nau (on the Ganges), Ghiyaspur (near Gaur), Fathbad (Faridpur), Husainabad, Khalifatabad (Bagherhat), Muzaffarabad (near Pandua), Chatgaon (Chittagong), Mahmudabad, Muhammadabad Tamdh (near Gaur), Rohtaspur, Jannatabad, Nasratabad, Barbakabad and Cawalistan (alias Kamru).  It is believed that several of these names are merely synonyms and do not represent separate localities.  It is a well-known phenomenon in the Muslim history of India that a ruler changed the name of a town to perpetuate his name or that of his father or celebrate some important event or to gratify a passing whim.

Besides coins bearing Arabic inscriptions, a few coins were issued bearing the Bengali script.  They were issued in the names of Danujamardana Deva and Mahendra Deva and on them are to be found the dates, Saka 1339 and 1340. They were issued from Pandunagar (Pandua), Sunargaon and Chatgaon.  It is believed that they belonged to the family of Raja Ganesh, who was zamindar of Bhaturia in the district of Dinajpur.  He acquired considerable power and, taking advantage of the weakness of the Sultan, rebelled and overcame him in 1409AD.  Later circumstances forced him to consent to the conversion of Islam of his own son Jadu who was placed on the throne of Bengal with the title of Jalaluddin Muhammad in 1414AD. Jalaluddin Muhammad was, however, deposed and imprisoned by his father in 1416AD after an ineffectual attempt to reconvert him to Hinduism.  Raja Ganesh then ascended the throne taking the title Danujamardana but died ascended the throne taking the title Danujamardana but died the next year.  During the period he issued his own coins bearing the Saka years 1339 and 1340 (1416-17AD).  He was followed by Mahendra Deva who continued to rule for some time.  In the meanwhile Jalaluddin escaped from prison and succeeded in establishing himself again on the throne.

Some rare silver coins of Jalaluddin Muhammad Shah and Nasiruddin Mahmud Shah and gold coins of Fath Shah have the linear figure of a lion on the obverse replacing the Persian inscription.  It appears to have been adopted from the coins of Tripura, but with what motive it cannot be explained.

The Bengal Sultans followed in the earlier period the standard of 17o grains of the Delhi Sultans for their coins.  Subsequently the coins are found of a lower weight, of about 155 grains. A ten-tankah coin was also issued by Jalaluddin Muhammad Shah, which is possibly the earliest known coin of any multiple denomination in India, though it was introduced much earlier in the time of Muhammad Shah Khilji, the Delhi Sultan.  The peculiarity of the coins of the Bengal Sultans is that they are frequently disfigured by countermarks and chisel-cuts made by the money-changers.  These coins in most cases lack artistic form and their calligraphy is of the poorest quality.  The Bengal Sultans perhaps did not issue coins in copper.

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