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Research Coins: Feature Auction


The Rama & Siya Rupee

Sale: Triton XIII, Lot: 2001. Estimate $75000. 
Closing Date: Monday, 4 January 2010. 
Sold For $140000. This amount does not include the buyer’s fee.

INDIA, Mughal Empire. Jalal al-Din Muhammad Akbar. 1556-1605. AR Rupee (5.39 g, 9h). Agra mint. Dated Amardad Ilahi year 50 (AH 1013/4 / AD 1604/5). “Ilahi 50 Amardad” in Persian in two lines surrounded by floral vine; all within linear and pelleted border / Lord Rama, crowned and in royal dress, standing right, holding arrow in right hand and bow in left, quiver over shoulder; behind, Siya (Sita), his consort, also standing right, holding a lotus in each hand; “Rama Siya” in Devanagari across upper field. Nidhi Gallery of Bharat Kala Bhavan Museum ( [reverse only illustrated]) = Rai Krishna Das, “Rama Siya Mudra” in Kala Nidhi (Souvenir of Bharat Kala Bhavan) I.3 (1951) p. 44 = JNSI LI (1989), cover illustration = Journal of the Academy of Indian Numismatics and Sigillography XIV-XV (1998-9), cover illustration; cf. BMC 172 = Friedberg 743b (half mohur; dated Farwardin). Good VF. Great metal quality, the third known example in silver.

This reverse, with its legend, Rama Siya (Siya being the vernacular for Sita in North India, where even today the goddess is still addressed thus) is the only known type of Akbar to feature human figures. All known examples of this type, including the Friedberg specimen in gold, and those in silver, including this coin, are all without mint name, but must have been struck at Akbar’s capital, Agra.

Rama and Sita are portrayed in the various kandas. or books of the Ramayana, one of the longest and most important of the ancient Hindu epics. Written by the poet Valmiki, it tells the story of Prince Rama, the seventh incarnation of the god Vishnu and the eldest and favorite son of Dasharatha, the king of Ayodhya. Rama, along with his wife Sita, an incarnation of the goddess Lakshmi and the epitome of female purity and virtue, was forced through the wicked machinations of Kaikeyi, one of Dashratha’s wives, to relinquish his right to the throne for fourteen years and go into exile. Although the pair live peacefully in the forest for several years, Sita eventually attracts the attention of Ravana the demon king of the island of Lanka, who, abducting her, imprisons her on the island. Assisted by the monkey-god Hanuman, Rama locates Sita and, after an extensive battle, told in the Yuddha Kanda and involving many of Hanuman’s animal allies, Rama slays Ravana and rescues Sita. Initially dubious about his wife’s chastity during her imprisonment, Rama is convinced of her innocence when Sita passes through the agni Pariksha, or test of fire, unharmed; subsequently, the flames are transformed into lotuses. After twelve years in the forest the pair return to their kingdom with great celebrations. Most likely, the reverse of this coin depicts the triumphal return of Rama and Sita, an event commemorated annually in the Hindu festival of Diwali, or festival of light and victory over darkness. This is evidenced by Rama’s holding of the bow, his traditional weapon and symbol of his military prowess against Ravana, as well as the presence of the crown (his eventual accession as king). Similarly, Sita is depicted holding the flowers which symbolize her successful passage through the fire and proclaim her purity. The couple has been a popular subject of art for centuries, including depictions on ramatanka, or special Hindu temple tokens. Under Akbar, the Ramayana and another ancient Hindu epic, the Mahabharata were translated into Persian and distributed as presentation copies among his nobles. A contemporary series of paintings of episodes from the Ramayana was also made during this period (For further information on this, see the British Museum exhibition catalog, The Ramayana: Love and Valour in India’s Great Epic [2008]).

That a Hindu legend should appear on a coin of a Muslim emperor is not surprising in the case of Jalal al-Din Muhammad Akbar (“the Great”). He adopted a policy of religious toleration to foster communal harmony between Hindus and Muslims His acts included the repeal of the jizya, the tax which all non-Muslims were required to pay. He also married a Rajput Princess of Hindu origin who bore the next emperor, Jahangir. His own interest in religious and philosophical issues, including Sufi mysticism, led him in 1575 to begin discussions with various religious leaders at his palace in Fatehpur Sikri at the Ibadat Khana (House of Worship), a building constructed at the palace specifically designed for holding these discussions. Although they ended in 1582 with little success, these discussions fostered in Akbar the belief that all religions contained some several good practices that he then combined into a single new syncretic religious movement. Known as the Din-i-ilahi, it combined elements of many different faiths, including Sufism and Hinduism. To commemorate the inauguration of this new movement, Akbar, beginning in 1584, proceeded to use the Ilahi dating system (calculated back to his accession to the throne) and dated the remainder of his reign by this system. Following Akbar’s death in 1605, this system came to an end.