In order to know the history of money in India and South-East Asia, one needs to go back three thousand years in time. In fact, the pecuniary practice of this sub-continent is resolutely entrenched in the north Indian civilization. And although the north Indian traditions have been swayed by foreign civilizations, including the Iranian, the Graeco-Roman, Islamic and the European communities from time to time during these three thousand years, the culture of the region has maintained its distinctiveness. On the contrary, the inter-mingling with these outside cultures has helped the ancient money and financial traditions to spread far and wide, especially the South Asian nations neighboring the present-day Indian terrain. While this also holds true in the prevailing scenario, in ancient times, Indian money and fiscal practices even spread to Central as well as South-east Asia and had bearing on the economic systems in those regions.
Like in most counties in the world today, the prevailing currency in India and its neighboring nations in South-East Asia is issued both in the form of metal coins as well as paper notes. For instance, the currency in India as well as its neighboring countries like Pakistan, Nepal and Sri Lanka, money is issued in the value of 'rupee' that is equivalent to 100 paise. The English term 'rupee' has been derived from the Hindi, the vernacular language in northern India, word 'rupiya' or 'rupiah' denoting a silver coin. While the currency form is exactly similar in Pakistan, Nepal and Sri Lanka to that in the Republic of India, other neighboring nations also have similar currencies and monetary system, but with different or local names. In Bangladesh, a 'rupee' is known as 'taka', in Afghanistan it is known as 'afgani', Bhutan calls the 'rupee' as 'ngultrum', in Maldives it is called 'rufiyaa' and in Burma or Myanmar it is known as the 'kyat'. In addition to these nations, the 'rupee' is also the common currency denomination in Mauritius and Seychelles - two independent island nations in the Indian Ocean. It also needs to be mentioned that currently Indonesia too circulates an adaptation of the 'rupee' called the 'rupiah'.
Looking back, the different versions of the 'rupee' prevailing in India and other South-East Asian nations today have their genesis in a new regulated currency or a silver 'rupee' system introduced by the East India Company of the British Empire throughout the British colony in the Indian sub-continent way back in 1835. The colonist East India Company introduced this new currency system for circulation in all the regions under its subjugation in South-East Asia for easy trade and commerce within the regions as well as among the regions. Although the East India Company is said to have introduced the new 'rupee' system, it has been prevalent in the region since the 16th century. Hence, the basic difference between the earlier 'rupee' system and the one introduced by the East India Company is that the previously prevailing 'rupee' was not regulated or standardized. In fact, there were approximately 300 different versions of the 'rupee' in circulation in the Indian sub-continent before the East India Company standardized or substituted it by introducing the new and uniform version of 'rupee' acceptable in all the regions in India.
According to records from the British rule in India, James Prinsep, prominent member of the East India Company, was deeply engaged in the creation as well as the circulation of the new and regimented 'rupee' silver coin introduced by the East India Company throughout the Indian sub-continent in 1835. Earlier, James' father John Prinsep, who was engaged in indigo production under the benefaction of the East India Company in Calcutta, was responsible for importing state-of-the-art coin manufacturing equipment to India. In 1780, John Prinsep also succeeded in obtaining authorization from the East India Company to set up a machine mint in the Calcutta neighborhood to mint copper coins. A few years later, in 1785, John Prinsep also tried to persuade the East India Company authorities to permit him to mint silver coins and also circulate them as the official coinage in the eastern part of the country. Although John Prinsep eventually failed in his venture, about half a century later, his son James Prinsep, who was engaged as the Assay Master at the East India Company's mint in Calcutta, fulfilled his father's dreams by bringing in India and other regions subjugated by the East India Company the coinage system prevailing in the Western nations.
James Prinsep's brother Henry Prinsep, who was serving as secretary to the financial department of the Calcutta Administration as well secretary to its government, too was engaged in the proper circulation of the new coinage developed by James. In fact, a year after James developed the new 'rupee' for circulation throughout the territory under the sway of the East India Company; Henry was closely associated with the supervision of the appropriate administration of the Bank of Bengal. Henry was also responsible for preserving the independence of the banking system in India, as he vehemently opposed the move to establish a General Bank of India in London way back in 1836. Much later, Henry Prinsep ascended to the post of a government director in the Bank of Bengal and also the president of the bank's Board of Directors. This is not all; three more Prinsep brothers were engaged in the management of the bank. While two brothers were engaged as directors of the bank, while another served as the bank's solicitor. Later, in 1921, the Bank of Bengal was eventually transformed into the Imperial Bank of India and after India's independence from the British rule, it was renamed as the State Bank of India. From the above discussion, it is evident that John Prinsep and his four sons contributed largely to transform the monetary system in India, so much so that even the prevailing monetary system in India owes much to the Prinsep family.
Looking back, we find that the studies of coins undertaken by James Prinsep and his observations were so valuable that they offered much knowledge and information to the renowned researchers who pursued his findings. Later, scholars have ascertained that these coins were among the most basic coins manufactured in India saying that they belonged to 400 B.C., the era soon after the death of the Buddha. Recent studies on the subject of creation of patterns on coins that are stamped as well as the stockpiles from where they have been excavated hint that the process certainly started in the initial part of 300 B.C. some time before the India invasion by Alexander the Great from Macedonia. Hence, scholars are of the view that the most primitive coins in India date back to the era before Alexander the Great arrived in north-west India between 329 B.C. and 325 B.C. However, these coins appear to have been created as a variation of the Greek coins something similar to the coins unearthed in Afghanistan. In fact, the coins found in Afghanistan date back to the fifth and fourth centuries B.C. and had been manufactured locally emulating the original Greek coins. Although many scholars strongly affirm that the most primitive coins in India dates back to the eighth century B.C., the general view is that they have been drawn from the Greek prototypes that arrived in India through the Achaemenid Empire that reigned over prehistoric Afghanistan and Pakistan prior to the invasion of these regions by Alexander the Great.
What are being debated as the earliest coins in India are little silver pieces usually weighing approximately 3.3 grams, but were found in an assortment of weights from 0.2 grams to 11.5 grams. On one side, these coins are embellished with one to five inscriptions that are engraved and some of these engravings can be identified as symbolizing different animals such as elephants, bulls and turtles, plants like fig trees and palm trees, spiritual characters such as solar wheels, motifs of gods and consecrated hillocks, and even items of daily use like pots, balances and ploughs. While most of the inscriptions are geometric designs that have no patterns that people are yet to decipher, some of the coins even have engravings of human figures believed to be images of different Hindu gods such as Krishna, Karttikeya and Balarama.
Scholars say that two aspects of these engraved small silver pieces imply that they were issued as well as disseminated coins or a form of money. While the stamp marked silver pieces were made according to specific weight benchmarks and followed a usage model that point to a definite system if manufacturing of the coins. In fact, James Prinsep had himself asserted that all the coins he had examined had different figures on them, especially the motif of the sun. It may be mentioned here that the excavation of stockpiles of stamped coins that often comprise coins from the regions of the Greek realms in Afghanistan and north-western Pakistan, hints that they were used as a form of currency.
It may be mentioned here that the initial visual proof of the use of stamped coins as currency dates back to a second century B.C. figurine engraved on a Buddhist memorial discovered at a place called Bharhut adjoining Allahabad in the northern region of India. The engraving illustrates people protecting the ground of a recreational area with stamped coins that are being transported in an ox cart. Scholars interpret this as a tale of a rich trader Anathapindika who purchased the Jetavana Gardens at Sravasti as a sanctuary for the Buddha and his preachers for the cost of layering the area with 'karshapanas'.
Nevertheless, there are definitely several inconsistencies between the proof offered by the art and literature and the coins still persisting from the era. According to one of the major Vedic literatures pertaining to the economy of that period, Arthashastra, coins of denominations of one-eighth, quarter, and half 'panas' were prevalent in pre-historic India. Contrarily, the solitary part of the 3.3 gram of 'karshapana' weighed just 0.2 grams - that is one-sixteenth part of the coin's value in weight. It may be mentioned here that even the near the beginning Buddhist literature or scripts mention about gold 'karshapanas', but no gold coin was in circulation in India prior to the first century A.D. Hence, it is likely that the 'karshapana' was basically an element of weight and not a value as a coinage or currency. And it is also possible that the references made in the texts of that period are actually the value of gold as a bullion rather than coin in trade. It is likely that gold was considered as a precious metal in the value of the form of currency circulated in that era.
Over the years, the Greek regime in north-west India finally fell apart, but this not result to a decline in the impact of the Greek coinage system in the South Asian regions. In fact, following the untimely death of Alexander the Great, his vast empire broke down into small kingdoms that were again captured by nomadic combatant tribes from the Hindu Kush region. These warrior tribes left their region to conquer and rule over the fertile plains along the rivers of northern India. Although the culture of these tribes differed both from that of the Greeks as well as the Indians, they continued the practice of issuing coins as per the Grecian practice and at times they were inspired to even adopt the coins of the Greeks prevailing in neighboring Iran as well as in the distant Roman Empire. Over the centuries, different cultures as well as coinage from outside also had separate impacts on the Indian life and monetary system. Among the foreign cultures that influenced the Indian monetary system include the Scythians (from the first century B.C. to the first century A.D.), the Parthians (the first century A.D.), the Kushans (first century A.D. to fourth century A.D.), the Huns (fourth century A.D. to sixth century A.D.) and the Turks (sixth century A.D. to ninth century A.D.).
In addition to the above-mentioned impacts of foreign currency on the Indian monetary system, the north-western regions of the country witnessed another outside influence during the Kushan and Hun reigns. In effect, the frequent invasions and seizure of different parts of north-western India by the Sasanian rulers of Iran during these regimes too influenced the Indian monetary system of those days. Incidentally, similar to the coins of the nomadic warrior tribes that conquered and ruled over north-western India in different periods of time, even the Sasanian coins too were inspired by the Greek coinage and followed their prototype. While the different warrior nomadic tribes from the West invaded and ruled over north-western India for a few centuries that left an impact on the culture and coinage of the era, merchants from the Roman-ruled Egypt and Syria carried Roman coinage in the form of bullion to the western and southern parts of India as well as Sri Lanka almost around the same period. In fact, in many of these regions, the new coins were in circulation as the home currency and they almost replaced the local coins prevailing in these areas then. It may be mentioned here that during recent excavations, archaeologists excavated the stamped coins from the earlier period along with the Roman coins dating back to the first century A.D. from the same stockpiles. It is interesting to note that during the Gupta period that lasted from the fourth century A.D. to the sixth century A.D. the typical gold coin was known as the 'dinar'. The term was derived from the coins corresponding worth in Roman currency called the denarius aureus.
The coinage, especially the 'dinar' or the gold coins, during the Gupta era depicts a unique variation that probably best demonstrates how the Indian coinage system enhanced itself by soaking up the Western traditions and monetary system. In fact, the issuance of gold coins during the Gupta era was a borrowed concept from their neighbors in the West - the Kushan rulers who governed over the regions earlier subjugated by the Greeks in Afghanistan, Pakistan and the north-western regions of India. The gold coins issued during the Gupta period were similar to the coins issued by the Kushan rulers as they too had engravings or stamps of a standing monarch observing things on one side and a seated goddess on the reverse. However, there was a distinct difference too - the Indian sculptors changed the images according to their personal style. In addition, the writings on the coins were in the prevailing Indian script - Brahmi, but were placed in the same manner as the coins of the Kushan era with Greek inscriptions.
The gold coins of the Gupta era also had an engraving of a man-faced bird Hindu god Garuda beside the sculpture of the king. The presence of the Garuda was symbolic and much alike the coins issued during the first century B.C. It is interesting to note that the designs of these coins were inspired by those issued during the Kushan reign and were obtained from different sources. At the same time, the spherical messages on the reverse side of the coins can be linked to the earlier Greek coins in circulation in the north-western parts of India. Again, the standing figure of the monarch in the Gupta period gold coins was adapted from the Iranian coins influenced by the Greeks, while the sculpture of the seated goddess on the reverse side resembles the gold and silver coins issued during the Roman Empire. Scholars are of the opinion that the Kushan kings derived the concept of issuing gold coins from the early Roman coins that were brought to their kingdom through international trade.
All these progressions notwithstanding, various aspects of the traditional Indian coinage with punch marks endured. However, they underwent gradual and continuous makeovers. The most stable aspects of these coins were their square contour and the use of emblematic signs that have been seen in the Indian coins prevailing even in the nineteenth century. For those who are not experienced in philately, these symbols were as incomprehensible as the marks on the stamped coins found in the primeval times. Although the scholars are yet to decipher the meaning of the punch marks on the ancient coins, findings of the researches undertaken by James Prinsep help us to comprehend the symbols found in the coins that were in circulation during the nineteenth century India. James Prinsep not only possessed the prudence to list the emblems or marks used on 125 kinds of coins that were is circulation during his time, he also recognized the mints where they were manufactured. All these details can be found in the records maintained by James Prinsep and they are a valuable resource for all present day scholars.
At the same time, it needs to be mentioned that the influence of the Islamic culture and rituals has been extensive throughout South Asia. However, the extreme southern regions of India and Sri Lanka remained somewhat free from the influence of the Islamic culture and continued to use the traditional Indian coins until they were finally replaced by the coinage of the different European colonial regimes. These European colonial powers included the Portuguese, the English, the Dutch, French, and Danish in south India in the sequence of their arrival to the sub-continent, and the Portuguese, the Dutch and the British in Sri Lanka. However, the European influence on the remaining Indian regions was not so powerful and it took some time before they were able to impose their coinage on the people in these areas. At the same time, the Europeans needed to radically adjust their monetary systems with a view to go well with the local criteria as well as requirements.
The Portuguese were not only the first among the different colonial powers that came and ruled over different regions of South Asia for varying periods, but they also issued the first coins in India during the latter part of the 16th century. However, instead of developing their own coinage in India, the Portuguese decided on adopting the monetary system prevalent during the Mughal period and issued silver coins in rupee denomination, while copper coins were used in the value of different paisa. These coins, basically in circulation in the Portuguese-occupied Goa in western India, had a predominant European design, including crowns, coats of arms and images of monarchs and saints. In addition, the Portuguese also issued similar coins in the areas occupied by them in Sri Lanka, but their circulation was restricted only to the local areas and had little or no impact on the Indian coinage system.
Later, during the 17th century, the British colonial rulers made an endeavor to pursue a similar model and issued a set of coins for India that were manufactured following the European designs - crowns, coats of arms and the emblem of the East India Company. Even these coins issued by the East India Company had limited circulation as very little Indian territory was under the British colonial rulers till then. However, as the expanse of the British rule spread to new areas, the East India Company felt it necessary to issue more and more coins and they did so by issuing new coins with Mughal designs. The East India Company continued issuing such Mughal-design coins in India till James Prinsep reformed the coinage system in the country in 1835. In fact, before James Prinsep came out with the new monetary system for India, even the coins manufactured by his father John Prinsep were produced in the appellation of the Mughal Emperor Shah Alam II (1759-1806). In effect, the influence of the Islamic culture established by the Mughals in the north and north-western India was so swaying and enduring that even the powerful British colonists had to adjust themselves and their systems with the prevailing system in India then to enable them to sustain a coinage that was feasible as well as thriving.
Several researches have confirmed that in ancient times there was an express relation between money and religion. Many scholars are of the opinion that gold coins were issued during the Gupta period with a view to enable the kings carry out their religious rites that were linked with their position as the Chakravartin. According to history, the Indian kings of the primeval period had to make huge donations or payments to the Brahmins who helped them to conduct several religious rituals and ceremonies such as the 'Ashwamedha Yagna' or the horse sacrifice to establish their supremacy as 'world rulers'. Moreover, ancient Indian scriptures such as the Vedas clearly mention that the Brahmins had to be paid in gold for their services. This is one of the reasons why the Gupta rulers issued gold coins. Although this was not the only reason for issuing gold coins during this period, one thing is clear that the gold coinage was in no way issued to benefit the subjects. Looking back, one will find that the rulers of northern India hardly made any effort to issue coins for day-to-day use of the common people. In fact, the copper coins issued in ancient northern India are rarer than the gold coins, which themselves are always a scarce item.
It may be mentioned here that the account of gold given to the priests mentioned in the Vedic literature are supposed to be the most basic records related to use of money made from precious or any other metal in India. And what is noteworthy about these forms of money is that they were issued mainly for conducting religious and social functions and were not for commercial or political use. Although the specific date of the composition of the Vedic texts is yet to be ascertained, they are commonly believed to have been composed during the period between latter part of the second millennium and early part of the first millennium sometimes around the same time when the Iranian scripture Avesta was composed. The Vedic scriptures endured till the first millennium A.D. through oral communications down the ages. The Vedic scriptures as well as the Avesta are said to be an analogous body of manuscripts.
The mention of gold paid to the Brahmins in the Vedic scriptures is supposed to be either in a vague form or in the form of an ornament worn around the neck known as the nishka. According to the Vedic scriptures, the standard payments made by the kings to the royal priests and poets in gold were anything between 100 and 40,000 nishkas. Apart from the Vedas, even the legal texts of that period 'Manu Shashtra' or the Law of Manu also makes mention of such payments and goes ahead to detail their assessment vis-à-vis cattle. Incidentally, mentions of making payments in the valuation of cattle are also found in the Iranian Avesta and in some initial Greek and Roman scriptures. The kings were entitled to pay the priests in cattle or nishka or both. Incidentally, it is not possible to verify these issues through archaeology and even the descriptions provided in the ancient texts do not throw much light or offer any exactness on their design and form to enable scholars to identify nishkas from the few samples of gold jewellery recovered from that period.
Here, it is pertinent to mention that in the pre-historic period, the nishka was considered to be a unit of gold currency and it remained in use for several centuries. Later, the nishka resurfaces with a new name nikkha in the 'Jatakas' - the Buddhist holy scripture that deals with the different previous incarnations of the Buddha. The Jatakas are believed to have been compiled between the fourth century B.C. and the first century B.C. Like in the Gupta era where niskhas were primarily meant for religious and social spending or making payments to priests and had nothing to do with commercial or political dealings, the nikkha too is believed to have been used for making payments to teachers and as ransom sum. According to the Jatakas and other records available from the period, the nikkha too was not used for any commercial dealings. According to some scholars, the records maintained in the texts of these primeval times were somewhat prejudiced and do not present the true picture of the use of money in ancient India. However, these ancient scripts do help us to learn about the real significance of non-profitable cultural aspects in finding out the approaches concerning the utility of money in the Indian social order, especially in association with issues such as religion and bonds of societal responsibilities.
Like the Vedic texts, the Jatakas too mostly describe about the monetary payments associated with religious or social rituals and ceremonies. Nevertheless, the Jatakas make approximately 25 suggestions of using money for purchasing commodities and this gives us some hint of the fact that market businesses were gradually turning out to be regular by the second century B.C. Now, one may wonder about the association of religion with market in primeval India. To make this issue clear as well as offer evidence we need to cite an anecdote dating back to the first century A.D. from the Kshatrapa province in western India. Two rock inscriptions from the era found at Nasik state about the Kshatrapa king Nahapana's (40 A.D. - 78 A.D.) son-in-law Rsabhadatta who had donated a cave to a group of monks and purchased an agricultural land spending 4,000 karshapanas to enable the community of preachers to cultivate the field and feed themselves. The rock inscriptions also mention that Rsabhadatta further contributed 2,000 karshapanas for the welfare of the monks. In fact, this sum of 2,000 karshapanas was supposed to have been paid to a weavers' association in a nearby city known as Govardhana who were required to pay one per cent monthly interest on the sum to purchase clothes for these monks. These two rock inscriptions reveal that religion and money shared a close relation in ancient India - something lacking in the Islamic and Christian societies of those days.
In addition to this information, one of the two rock inscriptions at Nasik maintains that Rsabhadatta had made an imbursement of 3,000 counts of cattle to royal priests for their services in performing a ceremonial purification following a victory in a combat. The continued existence of payments made in the form of cattle does not come as a revelation as the monarchs in primeval India were keen in preserving this old-fashioned custom documented in the Vedic scriptures. For instance, the word 'dakshina' is still widely used in modern day India and refers to the fees paid or donations given to the priests for their involvement in religious and social rites and ceremonies. Earlier, the term 'dakshina' literally meant 'a cow on the left ' or a cow kept back to pay the fees of the priests for their services on any occasion.
That money was used to carry out large-scale business deals even in ancient India is evident from the records of purchases and sales maintained in the Jatakas as well as the complicated system of deposit and interest agreements made by Rsabhadatta and recorded on the two rock inscriptions from the era found in Nasik. Many scholars are of the view that as trade with money became normal, it also had an influenced on augmenting the complications of economic procedures. The story about Cullaka-Setthi recorded in the Jatakas is an ideal example of this increasing trend and effectively shows the degree to which money is believed to have made its way into the various strata of the social order. At the same time, this account hints at the assortment of goings-on that could be undertaken by paying money as well as the different kinds of payments prevalent in those days.
The Cullaka-Setthi Jataka story is basically a rags-to-riches account of a young man. The story goes like this. The young man first found a deceased mouse and sold it to an inn keeper who bought it in return for a copper coin to feed his cat. The man then used the copper coin to purchase molasses and prepared sweetened water with it. He sold the syrupy water to flower pickers who reimbursed him in terms of flowers. The young man sold these flowers and continued the trading process till he had accumulated eight karshapanas. Next, he changed his trading procedure and utilized children to collect firewood. While he paid the children in terms of molasses, the young man sold the firewood to potters in return for 16 karshapanas and a number of pots. After some time, the man again returned to his old business of selling sweetened water. This time, he sold the syrupy water to grass cutters and took payments in bundles of grass that he sold to a horse trader as fodder for his animals for 1,000 karshapanas! As his business swelled, the young man took a carriage on rent and went to the sea port and arranged for a loan to purchase the cargo of a ship that had just arrived at the port. Later, when the typical traders arrived at the port to purchase the cargo, they had to procure it from the young man who earned a whopping 200,000 karshapanas selling the items to the merchants.
It is pertinent to mention here that the fable concerning the young man is recorded in the Jatakas and is said to have been told by the Buddha himself to his disciples. And this means that the activities of the exploratory young man had the approval of Buddha, who is reported to have said that 'it is possible for any clever and capable person with a modest beginning and trivial funds to earn great wealth.' Nevertheless, Buddhism has always had a different and an array of approaches towards money. It may be noted here that the Vinaya, or the guidelines or disciplinary code for self discipline laid down by Buddha for the monks and nuns, ardently disapproves any member of the community possessing gold and silver in excess of the worth of one-fourth of a karshapana.
Interestingly enough, followers of another religious sect in India seems to have learnt the lessons preached by Buddha. According to the records from the era, subsequently the Jains, followers of Mahavira, a contemporary of Buddha, engaged themselves as the country's bankers since several centuries. Hence, it is not surprising that from the twelfth century A.D. onwards we find numerous adventures of affluent Jain bankers in India and sometimes even abroad. A large number of Jains were also engaged in the money lending and currency exchange businesses and experts are of the view that the earlier the Jains performed the same functions as the shroffs who were in-charge of regulating money during the time of the Prinseps. It is remarkable to note that during the fourteenth century A.D. the Sultans of Delhi depended heavily on the Jain bankers to arrange payments for their soldiers deployed in far-flung areas. According to records from the era of the Sultan regime, Thakkura Pheru, a Jain engaged in the currency exchange business, was engaged as the mint master by three successive Delhi Sultans. A record maintained by Thakkura Pheru of all the coins prevalent in northern India of 1318 has continued to exist through the times.
Over the years, the Indian pecuniary structure has spread beyond the sub-continent, often to far off places outside the continent. This has been possible owing to the powerful and integrated practices that have fashioned the course of the history of money in the country. Towards the north, the influence of Indian money spread as far as Central Asia. During the period when northwestern regions of India was under the subjugation of the Greeks and the different nomadic warrior tribes, the country's geographical boundary included areas that are currently known as Afghanistan and adjoining regions illustrating the expanse of India and influence in ancient times. It is interesting to note that coins from the Kushan region have later been excavated in far-flung places like Chinese Central Asia and Uzbekistan. There is also evidence of the fact that long distance trade carried the coins from the Kushan era to far off places such as Iraq, Iran and even Ethiopia in Africa.
Ancient Chinese writers have recorded that although silver was use as a form of bullion money in the fifteenth century Tibet, the coinage system did not develop in the region till the sixteenth century. It is believed that the first coins in Tibet were actually replicas of the Indian coins that were carried to Tibet via Nepal. As mentioned earlier, the Indian rupee re-designed by the British East India Company was not only well accepted, but also extensively used in Tibet and the adjoining regions that comprised western parts of China during the latter part of the nineteenth century and initial stages of the twentieth century. This, in fact, prompted the authorities of the Chinese mint at Chengdu in the Sichuan Province to manufacture replicates of the British Indian rupee to facilitate long distance trade through the Tibetan borders adjoining northern India. In addition to western China, the Indian rupee developed by the East India Company also entered the Yunnan Province of China and Burma, presently Myanmar, situated along the southern boundary of Yunnan.
The Indian rupee or monetary system was not totally an alien concept in Burma. In fact, the king of Burma had engaged the Calcutta Mint to arrange coins of the size of the Indian rupee for him way back in 1796. He had even entered into an agreement with the authorities of the Calcutta Mint to sell him specific machinery that would enable him to mint the coins in Burma itself. The coins struck by the Calcutta Mint for the Burmese king were an adaptation of a previously circulated typical Indian coinage since the designs of these coins were duplicated from a currency that was circulated in Burma nearly 1,000 years back around the seventh century A.D. These coins had been reproduced and copied the solid gold coins made in Bengal. It may be mentioned here that Burma had rich deposits of silver and, therefore, the spread as well as acceptance of the Indian culture and religions in the South Asian countries, also witnessed the circulation of Indian fashioned coins in places such as Burma, Cambodia, Thailand and even the southern regions of Vietnam.
Until a huge number of immigrants from south-western China populated neighboring Burma and Thailand in the eleventh century A.D., the practice or circulation of Indian coins swayed across south-east Asia. However, when migrants from China settled in Burma and Thailand, they brought along with them their country's monetary system and practices. Between the ninth century A.D. and thirteenth century A.D. the practice of Indian coins made with precious metals like gold and silver also spread to distant lands in south-east Asia that are presently known as the Philippines and Indonesia. Rock inscriptions found in Java offer us sufficient proof of the fact that financial deals such as making religious donations and real estate procurement during this period were done in Indian currency and financial conditions.
While the Indian culture and religion swayed over a vast region, including South Asia, South-East Asia and Central Asia, in the ancient times, the impact of Indian traditions on the neighboring areas is similarly strong even in the contemporary period. The huge success of the Indian rupee especially following its upgrading by James Prinsep during the supremacy of the East India Company in India in 1835 encouraged many other regions to issue and circulates the Indian denomination. Countries such as Indonesia, Burma and Afghanistan were already issuing the standardized Indian rupee during the eighteenth century. While this was in the south-eastern region, the Indian rupee became a benchmark unit of money in the countries in the Persian Gulf and southern Arabia, comprising Oman and Aden, in the west. When the colonial British powers expanded its supremacy to East African regions, the Indian rupee was also issued and circulated in British East Africa and Somalia. While a special rupee denomination was issued for Mombasa in 1888, regions as far off as Natal in South Africa too accepted the Indian rupee as the benchmark monetary system. While parts of Somalia that were under the Italian rule and East Africa under German subjugation struck and circulated their respective versions of the rupee, the British rupee was prevalent as the currency for carrying out day-to-day transactions in the Portuguese ruled Mozambique.