The Mughal Emperor Akbar is famous for his tolerance (including the repeal of the jizya on the non Muslim population) and his open encouragement of religious debate that resulted in an attempt to create a syncretic faith the Din-i-ilahi.  While browsing through the upcoming CNG Triton XIII auction, I stumbled across a numismatic example of this tolerance from this coin depicting the Hindu deity Ram and his consort Sita.

This is a fascinating coin on so many levels.  First, it is a rare numismatic representation of Ram and it is ironic that it appears on the coinage of a Muslim ruler. To the extent Hindu coinage represented deities, the goddess Lakshmi (the goddess of wealth) was the most popular choice (See here, here, here and here for examples).  Krishna, Vishnu, Shiva and their consorts make their appearance on Vijayanagar coinage.  But Ram is a rare subject for Indian numismatics (after a quick search I found this coin for Akbar’s Vijayanagar contemporary Tirumala II but have not seen many more) and is more likely to show up on temple tokens.

Then there is the irony that Ram would be the subject matter of this coin.  Akbar’s grandfather Babur allegedly destroyed the temple built on the site of Ram’s birthplace.  A movement to correct this historical wrong has simmered for about 150 years until it burst on to the Indian political landscape in the 1980s.  The after effects are still felt today.

Finally there is the unusual presence of images on Muslim coins.  Since the religion eschews depictions of the human form, Islamic coinage has often relied on calligraphy and geometric forms (See here and here) to enhance the coinage.  Images appeared in transitional coinage like the Arab-Sassanian or the Arab-Byzantine variety or by Muhammad Bin Sam after his conquest of Delhi where he continued the gold coinage with Lakshmi for a while.  There were a few coins on horseback like the Seljuks or Iltumish (See coins 216 and 217 on page 14) of the Delhi Sultanate or the series by Seljuk Sultan Kaykhusraw II honoring his wife.

Akbar’s son and successor Jahangir would commission an equally fascinating (and as a result now widely forged) series of Zodiac coins.  But the open adoption of another deity in a non-transitional coin is unique in Islamic numismatics (indeed the incorporation of Jesus Christ on Byzantine coinage by Justinian II caused the caliph Abd al-Malik to commence the tradition of Islamic coinage largely bearing scripts).

A truly fascinating (and given the estimate, expensive) example how far Akbar’s theological discussions and disputations took him.

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