Many scholars and historians mark 600 BCE as the end of the ancient era and the start of the medieval period. This era also witnesses the rise of feudalism in India, which paves the way for the self-sufficient villages, and national and international trade. It was also the period when many strong and famous dynasties rose to power, one of them being the Rashtrakuta empire. The origin of Rashtrakuta is traced to 600 CE, they established their stronghold in Deccan in the later period and simultaneously extended their power till Kannauj, making them part of the famous tripartite struggle. This dynasty is the most studied and explored by historians for its warfare, expansion, administration and trade. Yet the subject of Rashtrakuta coinage is not explored on a large scale due to the few varieties and types of coins available. In recent archaeology excavation new scope to study and research the monetary system of India during the Imperial Rashtrakuta has opened.
Rashtrakuta coinage is distinguished in three metals: gold, silver and copper. Amongst these gold coins are much rare in comparison to the other two metals. There are also a few coins available in potent metal. The coinage denomination is known through different inscriptions and copper plates of the Rashtrakuta dynasty, the different denominations of the coins go as dramma, Suvarna, Gadayana, Pana, Ponnu, Kalanju, Kasu, Manjadi.
Through Rashtrakuta charters (inscription) it is clear that coins were used for a variety of transactions. Gadayana denomination was used for giving donations to the temple, construction of the building and paying the fee of the priest. Gold Dramma was donated to the needy for the purchase of clothes, health expenses and for procuring religious books. Ordinary drama minted in silvers and Panna minted in gold was used to pay tax, fines and donations. Suvarna is used for donation. The loan, taxes or fines were paid through the Kalanju or Dramma.
The coinage of Rashtrakuta is quite complex and scary, most of the coins of the Rashtrakuta dynasty consist of an epithet or Birudu, it’s the title of kings mentioned on the coin. A few famous epithets are Prithvivallabha, Vallabharaja, Maharaja, Khadgavaloka, and Akalavarsha. Kings like Dantidurga or Dantivarman have epithets like Prithvivallabha or Vairamegha, Krishna I is also tilted has Akalavarsha or Srivallabha, King Amoghavasha I bear the epithet like Nripatunga or Lakshmivallabha. Each of the Rashtrakuta branches had more than five epithets, it is the tradition followed by the Imperial Rashtrakutas and its branches.
Yet there were many kings of the Rashtrakuta lineages whose epithets are not deciphered like those of Shubhatunga, Amogavarsha Nityadeva, Vikramaloka, Shubhatunga, Dhora, and etc. A few of the best examples of the undeciphered Birudu on the Rashtrakuta coinage is of kings like Gunatunga, Nirupama and Sankaragana.
While studying Rashtrakuta coinage researchers and numismatics found different variations, it was assumed that this difference was due to the widespread of the empire or the different minting units. There can be many reasons, but these coins followed a certain pattern that connects them to Rashtrakuta dynasties like the legend, the title adopted by the king or crest. Hence, when we talk about the systematic classification of the coins, they are differentiated on the basis of metal, type and variety. Type is based on the obverse design and varieties are based on the reverse design.
As far as the discussion of the scholars on the coinage of the Rashtrakuta dynasty, they have agreed about the various coins issued by the kings without the deciphered title. These coins are a major part of the coinage studied today. But there are also coins issued by the anonymous Rashtrakuta rulers, their title name is unknown. Many of these anonymous rulers issued the coins in gold. This anonymous coinage depicts one of the finest designs and craftsmanship of the Rashtrakuta dynasty.
The gold coin depicted the crest Garuda seated in padmasana position (cross-legged) with Anjalimudra (folded hands) in the centre within the floral whorl. The reverse of the coin depicts a temple in the centre, a crescent is shown above it. The swastika is depicted at the top with the two lamp posts on either side within the line shaped border. This coin is attributed to Rashtrakuta on the ground of the typical depiction of a seated form of Garuda.
It is understood that sometimes connecting coins to a certain ruler is difficult, so it becomes important to connect its attribute to a dynasty. So in these circumstances, the script plays an important role. Hence, around the early medieval period, there was a transition from late Brahami to regional scripts like Sharda, Nagari, Telgu-Kannada etc. The two types of transition that can be seen in the script when focusing on the Rashtrakuta period are the transition of Gupta Brahmi to Nagari Script and the Kadamba script to Telugu-Kannada Script. Hence, many coins become unreadable, but the typology still can help attribute the coins. The anonymous issues as connected to the same second method (typology), but they’re also other factors that help in recognising the coins.
The first coin in the image belongs to the Rashtrakuta king from the Achalpur branch. This coin was issued by Druva Dharavarsha. The obverse of this coin depicts the bust of a king facing right. It is slightly titled 3/4 axis with a long moustache. The reverse side depicts a Garuda in the centre facing left with a dotted halo. It is seated in padmasana on a blossomed lotus flower. The hair is tied high-up with Brahmi legends ‘Shree Dho’ within the dotted border.
The final junction of the Rashtrakuta coinage belongs to the contemporary ruler of the Rashtrakuta dynasty. This coin is counted within the Rashtrakuta coinage under the assumption that they are either feudatories of this dynasty or the ruled side by side to them. The probability of their ruling under the Rashtrakuta is more possible due to the strength that the Rashtrakutas exerted in the region.
This copper coin was issued by King Madhavaman, he was a contemporary ruler to the Rashtrakuta kings. The obverse of this coin depicts a horse prancing towards the right with a rider/king holding a spear in the right and rein in the left hand within the dotted border. The reverse of this coin depicts a three-letter characteristic Brahmi legend in the centre. It reads ‘ Sri Mu/Mha Va/Dha’ ( Ma Shri) within the dotted border.
To study and understand Rashtrakuta coinage, one has to under the geographical making of the region they ruled. The widespread of this empire and the constant power struggle in the north had a heavy impact on the Rashtrakuta coinage. The coins that we discussed today are segregated according to the typology, metal and epithet illustrated on them. The anthropomorphic seated and standing Garuda is the most common image on the Rashtrakuta coinage followed by Garuda with wings spread or the Garuda face. The Rashtrakuta coinage also has portraits of the king depicted on the coins. The animals that appear on this coinage are a lion, elephant, elephant rider, bull, and horse rider. Even lotus is also depicted in this fascinating coinage. There is more to study and explore in this section of Indian coinage, as new archaeology excavations are taking place many sites with Rashtrakuta coins are coming out. In the coming decade, there will be advanced study about this dynasty coinage. Hence, one can also say what we know today about Rashtrakuta coinage may be a tip of the iceberg.