In 2009, World Sikh News had the pleasure of showcasing the extensive coin collection of Jatinder Singh Hundal. Jatinder Singh Hundal is associated with The Sikh Coins Group, which focuses on scholarly discussions about Sikh Numismatics. This collection includes coins from CIS Sutlej States like Nabha, Patiala, Kaithal, and Malerkotla. Also included are samples of almost all the coins minted during the Sikh Misl period and the Sikh Raj era.

The author and numismatist, Jatinder Singh Hundal, hails from the village Bundala, near Jandiala Guru in Amritsar. He can trace his lineage back to Baba Hindal, who lived during the time of the third Sikh master, Guru Amardas Ji. Jatinder Singh Hundal actively participates in various religious, political and human rights activities, remaining non-aligned by choice. He organizes Gurmat camps for children and volunteers as a teacher at a local Sikh school. Besides that, he is a founder member of both Sikh Youth of America and the World Sikh Organisation.

As an engineer residing in Sacramento, he has a passion for Sikh coins and old manuscripts, collecting them eagerly. He's built an impressive library on Sikh literature, boasting over ten thousand books, with some dating back as far as 1880. Despite being a well-travelled person, having visited numerous countries worldwide, he hasn't been to India yet.

The Sikh Legacy Through Numismatics

Sikh Numismatics is a relatively new field of study that studies the collection of currency, including coins, tokens, paper money, and related objects, and has gained popularity among young and educated Sikhs, especially in the Diaspora. They feel a connection to their glorious past through coins from that era. Although several individuals have taken this study seriously, there haven't been any formal groups, societies, or associations specifically dedicated to Sikh coins and tokens. However, this is changing with the help of the internet, bringing like-minded people together, like the Yahoo Sikh Coins Group.

Interestingly, many people, both Sikhs and non-Sikhs around the world, are not aware that the Sikh Empire, known as Punjab, once covered a vast area in North and West India. During that time, Punjab had a fascinating monetary system that involved coins made of copper, silver, and gold.

The coins used during the Sikh rule were in denominations of Paisa, Rupee, and Mohur. They were minted in major cities of Punjab, such as Amritsar, Kashmir, and Anandgarh (now part of India), and Lahore (the old Punjab capital), Multan, and Peshawar (now in modern-day Pakistan). Even today, collectors study these coins to identify the cities where they were minted, some of which were previously unknown.

The Sikh rule under Maharaja Ranjit Singh began in 1801, but even before that, the Sikhs had control over Lahore since 1765 and were already minting their own coins. These coins were of a fascinating variety and were used across a large territory for over eighty years. However, the study of Sikh coins, which symbolized Khalsa Sovereignty, has been somewhat neglected.

In 1849, the Sikh Empire collapsed due to intrigue and deception by the Dogras, and internal conflicts within the Royal family. The British took over, and as a result, the Sikh monetary system was replaced. This sudden change caused a shock in the market system of Punjab, leading to a significant decline in the value of Sikh coins, which were previously an essential part of the financial system.

De-valuing of Sikh coins
The treasury of the Sikh empire faced a problem with the value of Sikh coins. People started valuing the metal in the coins more than their actual worth. As a result, the mints were busy melting the Copper, Silver, and Gold coins to sell the metal in the open market. This caused a shortage of Sikh coins for collectors and students of Sikh Numismatics.

The significance of Sikh coinage is closely tied to the discussion of Sikh sovereignty. Especially after the events of 1984, there has been a renewed interest in studying the Sikh Empire, as it reminds Sikhs of how they lost their self-rule in the nineteenth century.

The younger generation of Sikhs, especially those living in developed countries like Europe and North America, have been showing a renewed interest in Sikh Coins in the last couple of years. They see it as a way to connect with the glorious history of the Sikh Raj.
Collections of Sikh coins in the present day 

Most Sikh coins are currently held in private collections or, to a lesser extent, in museums in Punjab. Unfortunately, India's national museums tend to overlook Sikh coins, possibly because they view them as a challenge to the current Indian state. Instead, these coins are usually displayed under the broader category of "Indian Collection" in international museums. This arrangement makes it challenging for students interested in Sikh coins to focus on them since they are just a small part of the larger collection.

Even Sikh institutions like SGPC and the Punjab government have not paid much attention to this area. The exhibitions of coins by SGPC in the Darbar Sahib complex and those by the Punjab government in museums in Chandigarh and Amritsar don't properly represent the significance of the Sikh Empire. The impressive collection and the brilliance of the Sikh Raj's monetary system are undermined in these displays, and they fail to depict the true picture of the former Sikh nation intentionally.

However, despite the lack of support from government institutions, individual Sikhs have taken it upon themselves to preserve their Sikh heritage through numismatics. They have shown keen interest and diligently started collecting and studying Sikh coins.
Coins during the Sikh regime 

Sikh coins come in Copper, Silver, and Gold, and they have interesting markings that help identify the mint where they were made. For example, coins from the Derajat mint feature a lion, while the Amritsar Mint uses weapons like Kirpan and Katar to symbolize the importance of self-defence in Sikhism. Some coins produced in the Kashmir mint also show a crude form of Khanda with one sword and one Chakar.

A common belief among Sikhs is that they must seek protection from Almighty God. This belief is often depicted on coins minted in Amritsar, where the words "Akal Sahai" are inscribed.

Amritsar, being a significant center of Sikhism, is mentioned on many coins from the city. It appears as "Sri Amritsarji."

Throughout history, Sikhs have attributed their success to God Almighty, known as Waheguru. They see the Gurus as guides on the path to Waheguru, and the community's achievements are considered blessings from the Guru. This sentiment is evident in almost every Sikh coin ever produced. The following couplet, written in Farsi on the coins, reinforces this idea:

"Deg Tegh O Fateh Nusrat Bedirang, Yaft Az Nanak Guru Gobind Singh," 

It means, "With Guru Nanak's help, Guru Gobind Singh attained the Kettle to feed, the sword to defend, and the resultant victory."

Sikh coins bear mark of nature 

Many students of Sikh coins believe that the leaf decoration on the coins was unique to the Khalsa Raj period. However, this isn't entirely accurate, as coins from the Sikh Misl era also featured leaves as ornaments.

Different types of leaves found in the Punjabi countryside were used for this decoration, reflecting the Sikh's respect for nature and a balanced life. The Guru Granth Sahib emphasizes the importance of recognizing and appreciating the flora and fauna in nature. Sikh coins incorporated this philosophy into everyday economic life by featuring these leaves as part of their design.
Expansion of the Sikh Empire

The distribution of mints across the empire gives us clues about how the Sikh Raj expanded from Lahore to other parts of South Asia. Before the late 1770s, only the Lahore Mint was used. However, around 1777, the Amritsar mint started producing Sikh Misl coins.

Between 1782 and 1797, there were no Sikh coins produced by the Lahore mint. This happened because Lahore became a dangerous territory during that time due to the struggle between the Khalsa and the Punjab Government. This unrest affected most economic activities.

As a result, the Sikhs moved to safer areas away from Lahore. During the period of 1784 to 1789, the Anandgarh Mint was used, alongside the Amritsar mint, which continued producing coins. Some researchers believe that the Anandgarh mint was just a name and that the coins were actually minted in Amritsar. It's possible that the name of Anandgarh was used to hide this fact.

From 1798 to 1817, both Amritsar and Lahore served as the main mints. By 1820, the Sikh Raj was strong, and its expansion is evident from the fact that from 1818, the Multan mint also became active. Many well-preserved examples of the coins minted in Multan have survived despite the turmoil in Punjab.
Influence of Brahman on the coins 

The Sikh Empire faced its downfall in 1849, and it was partly caused by the influence of Dogras and Brahmins who had infiltrated the top ranks of the empire. This influence is evident from the coins minted during the later part of Sikh rule, which featured Hindu symbols like OM and Trishul.

After the death of Maharaja Ranjit Singh in 1839, the Sikh Kingdom came under the control of the Dogras, and during the reign of Maharaja Sher Singh (1841-1843), most coins featured Hindu figures.

Throughout the duration of the Sikh Empire, from 1835 until its end in 1849, several mints were active in producing Sikh coins. The major mints in places like Kashmir, Multan, Derajat, and Peshawar kept the treasury functioning, and there were smaller mints in the newly acquired territories. However, the Amritsar Mint was the only one that produced Sikh coins continuously from 1777 to the end of the Sikh Empire in 1849.

Study of Sikh Coins

In the past twenty years, a couple of great books have been published about Sikh coins. The first one is called "Coins of the Sikhs" by Hans Herrli, and it was published in 1993 by the Indian Coin Society in Nagpur. A second edition, which was improved and better organized, came out in 2004 by Munshiram Manohar Lal (ISBN: 81-215-1132-1).

Another book on this topic is "Sikh Coinage: A symbol of Sikh Sovereignty" by Surinder Singh, who is based in Chandigarh. It was also published in 2004 by Manohar Publishers and Distributors (ISBN: 81-7304-533-X).

Both books are filled with pictures and illustrations to help explain the coins used during the Sikh Empire. Sometimes, they may read more like textbooks than coffee table books, but they provide valuable insights into the mints, coin types, metals, symbols, writing, dates, and other important details that would interest collectors, dealers, or students of Sikh coins.

Sikh coins carry the mark of the Sikh community's rich heritage.  It not only takes us back to our roots but also gives a glimpse of the prosperity and belief systems that the community had not long ago. For those who wish to know more about the Sikh coins and history, it’s time to start today. Read these books

and explore how Sikhs have been playing a crucial role in the world economy for centuries now. 


*Based on an article by Jatinder Singh Hundal, published in the World Sikh News on 8th January 2009


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