The Moran Coin

Such coins are called Moran coins, but do not have any symbol denoting Ranjit Singh's courtesan.

Since coins are the most important and primary symbol of sovereignty, any distortion of their history and significance results in distortion of the concept of sovereignty. For instance, historians such as Baron von Hugel, Henry T. Prince, V. Jacquemont, J.D. Conningham, Lepel Griffin, C.J. Rodgers, G.L. Chopra, Bikramjit Hasrat, Khushwant Singh, Muhammad Latif, F.S. Waheed-ud-din, Amarnath, K.K. Khullar, and Gopal Singh state that Ranjit Singh struck coins in the name of one of his courtesans called Moran. It has been established from a detailed analysis of the historical facts and from numismatic investigation of the coins in question that no such coins were struck in the name of Moran.

The doubts raised over the issue of Moran's coins led to detailed examination of both historical and numismatic evidence, viz, the place of concubines in the contemporary society, any instances of coins being struck in the name of a concubine close to the ruler, the dates of the issue of these coins, the places from where these coins were issued, the examination of the actual legends on these coins, and any marks or figures helping to establish such an issue, the concept of sovereignty and its place in the statecraft of the ruler and the ideology of the state. All these aspects besides others relevant to the subject have been examined here and only thereafter has it been concluded that no such coins were struck by Ranjit Singh in Moran's name and that the entire subject is based on hearsay and bazaar gossip.

Unfortunately, a galaxy of seasoned and learned historians and numismatists took the juicy bazaar gossip as adding to the already colourful lifestyle of the Sikh maharaja. Their reasons for recording this alleged incident remain a matter of speculation. However, the uncritical acceptance of this story by later historians has resulted in the distortion of Sikh history.

Excerpted and adapted from Sikh Coinage: Symbol of Sikh Sovereignty by Surinder Singh, Manohar, New Delhi. Pages 283.

From an article by Ramesh Vinayak in India TodayFebruary 21, 2008 about the Sikh coin collection of Narinder Pal Singh -

Singh’s collection is a treasure trove because of the range and rarity of coins that he has painstakingly gathered and studied since 1988. As a self-taught numismatic expert, he has not only pieced together a series of coinage belonging to Sikh rulers since the 18th century, he has also shed new light on hitherto unknown aspects of the Sikh-era metal currency.

His new finds have broken several myths circulated by historians about the Sikh coinage. One such myth was that Sikh rulers never struck coins in their own names but in the name of the Gurus and the almighty. The popular belief about the seal of the Sikh coins was that they were only in the name of Guru Nanak, Guru Gobind Singh or Akal Sahai (the God) and were therefore called ‘Nanakshahi’ coins. But Singh’s latest discovery of coins bearing the name of Maharaja Sher Singh and Maharaja Duleep Singh, who succeeded Maharaja Ranjit Singh between 1839 and 1849 has negated the belief with historical evidence.

“Historians may have their own interpretation, but coins are the unalloyed evidence of history,” says Singh, who learnt Persian from the inscriptions on antique coins. This is the first time that old one rupee coins, made of silver, have been reported. Singh procured them from a scrap dealer in Amritsar, where there used to be a mint. Other mints were at Lahore (the capital of Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s kingdom), Multan, Peshawar, Dera Ismail Khan, Dera Ghazi Khan, Malkerian and Kashmir. Singh’s collection includes coins from all these mints, with zarb (Persian for mint) inscribed on them.

Many of the old Sikh coins found in Pakistan, according to Singh, have either been melted or found its way to foreign collectors. “Old Sikh coins of Punjab are now hard to come by,” he says, adding, “Much of the new finds pertain to the last years of the Sikh rule.”

In fact, Singh’s in-depth numismatic study of vintage coins provides an interesting insight into the little known aspects of Sikh coins. Not many people know that Maharaja Ranjit Singh minted coins with Hindu symbols like ‘Om’, the trident and inscriptions like ‘Ram’, ‘Shiva’ and in the name of Lord Krishna and his mother, Devki. “This bears testimony to the king’s secular credentials,” says Singh.

Another bunch of antique coins from the collection point to the Maharaja’s blind faith in astrology. When he fell sick sometime in 1827, astrologers advised him to ‘freeze’ the year sign on one side of the freshly-minted coins as a panacea to prolong his age. He did just that. This fact is corroborated by the coins ‘freeze’ year on one side and the current year on the reverse side.

He also has coins bearing the leitmotif of a peacock feather, which, according to historians, was symbolic of the coin issued by the Maharaja in the name of Moran (literally meaning peacock), a beautiful dancer at the Lahore Durbar. Some historians argue that the peacock leitmotif on the Moran coin is a symbol of fertility in the wake of famine.

Though the Sikh coinage is believed to have been started by Banda Bahadur and Nawab Jassa Singh Ahluwalia, two Sikh warriors who conquered many territories in Punjab after the death of Guru Gobind Singh in 1708, no coins of that era have so far been reported. Singh's rare collection also includes coins minted by 12 Sikh misls who would capture a territory and issue their coins as a symbol of sovereign authority and the Nazarana gold coins minted by the Sikh rulers of Patiala, Jind, Nabha, Kaithal and Faridkot on special occasions like coronation and for gifting to guests.


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