The rupee is the common name for the currencies of India, the Maldives, Mauritius, Indonesia, Nepal, Seychelles, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka, and of former currencies of Bahrain, Afghanistan, Oman, Kuwait, and the UAE (as the Gulf rupee), Burma, British East Africa, Tibet, and German East Africa.
Around 2 Billion out of 7.5 Billion World Population use ‘Rupee’ as a currency. So, it is imperative to know the origin and history of the world’s oldest surviving currency, right? Let’s explore.
The word “rupee” is derived from the Sanskrit word “rūpya,” which means “wrought silver,” and maybe also something stamped with a coin or an image. As an adjective, it signifies “shapely,” with a more specific meaning of impressed,” “stamped, whence “coin.” It is precisely derived from the noun rūpa, “image, likeness, shape.”
The history of the rupee records back to the ancient Indian subcontinent. The mention of rūpya by Panini, a Sanskrit philologist, grammarian, and revered Hindu scholar, is the most ancient reference in a text about coins in ancient India. Panini uses the term rūpa to signify a piece of precious metal (silver) used as a coin and a rūpya to mean a stamped piece of metal, a currency in the modern sense.
The kingdoms that minted their own rupee in Ancient India included Gandhara, Shakya, Kuru, Kuntala, Magadha, Panchala, Surashtra, and Surasena. They called the currency ‘rūpya.’ So, the origin of the rupee can be traced to circa 1100 BCE.
Indus Valley Civilization from Ancient India used metals of fixed weights such as silver for trade activities. The smallest weight in the Indus Valley civilization was equivalent to eight rattis and was the basis for the weight standards for the original Indian coins in the seventh century BCE.
Arthashastra, written by the Great Chanakya, prime minister to the Maurya emperor Chandragupta Maurya, mentions silver coins as rūpyarūpa, other kinds including suvarṇarūpa (gold coins), tāmrarūpa (copper coins), and sīsarūpa (lead coins) are mentioned.
During his five-year rule from 1540 CE to 1545 CE, Sher Shah Suri set up a new military and civil administration and issued a coin of silver weighing 178 grains, which was also termed Rupiya. Knowing India’s Hindu heritage must be respected to govern the nation, the Mughal ruler issued coins honoring the Hindu deities in 1604 CE–1605 CE and called it ‘Rupiya.’
The coins depicting Mata Sita and Bhagwan Ram were issued in gold and silver; minting ended right after Akbar died in 1605 CE.
The Indian rupee was an old silver-based currency during much of the 19th century CE, which had drastic consequences on the expected value of the currency, as more powerful economies were on the gold standard. During British rule and the first few years of Indian independence, the rupee was partitioned into 16 annas. Each anna was split into four pices. So one rupee was equal to 64 paise (pice), and 192 pies as 1 Pice was equal to 3 pies. In 1957 CE, decimalization occurred, and the rupee was split into 100 naye paise. After a few years, “naye” was dropped.
Yes, around 26% of the world’s population uses a currency with its roots in Sanskrit. I believe language is like nature—the history of nature in the rule of the land. If you forget the history of nature, you will fall. If you forget the language that has given birth to commerce, your civilization will fall. So, perhaps, Sanskrit must emerge as the national language in India, the Maldives, Mauritius, Indonesia, Nepal, Seychelles, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka, right? Yes, that must happen as per the law of nature—something to ponder about.