As the towns and cities of the Gangetic plain got established, coins were also introduced in trading activity. Silver punch-marked coins, copper punch-marked coins and cast copper coins were used as currency. These coins were called punch-marked, following the manufacturing technique, where the symbol was punched on the metal in a separate action.
Then there were coins that imitated the Greek, Roman and Iranian styles. Coins minted elsewhere such as the denarii of the Roman Empire, were also used in India. But the most commonly used coin was called the karshapana or pana. Kautilya uses pana in his Arthashastra quite a lot. He wrote that high officials were to be paid 48,000 panas every year, provincial and frontier governors 12,000 panas and Grade I courtesans 3,000 panas.
The reason we are talking about karshapana today is due to the the discovery that the Late Priyamvada Birla had some of these coins concealed in her library and since it was not declared to ASI, she would have been jailed if she were alive.
According to National Museum’s numismatist Rita Debi Sharma, who saw photographs of the treasure, the coins included the most rare karshapana belonging to the Gandhara Janapada, dating back between 5th and 6th century BC.
The treasure also included 5th century AD gold coins from the Gupta period and 16th century Mughal gold coins. The treasure trove was inside a secret room, whose door was concealed behind a wooden panel of Priyamvada’s library. Three pistols, along with their licences, were also found. Another safe in the vault is yet to be opened.
According to Sharma, “The karshapana coin found in the vault is very rare. Generally such bent bar coins have two symbols engraved on them. Those which have been found to have a single symbol are even more rare. However, the gold coins from the Gupta and Mughal periods are comparatively younger in age.”
Director of National Museum Dr K K Chakroborty added, “I have not seen the coins found in the vault of Priyamvada Birla. But I know that some from Samudraguptas time are rare and aesthetically and artistically very valuable. Finding so many from one place is unbelievable.” [Birla gold: Coins other side ]
Food for thought: How does a Grade III courtesan become a Grade I courtesan?