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The Coin Galleries: Bengal Sultans

When Muhammad bin Sam established the Delhi Sultanate, his armies conquered the entire Ganges basin, all the way to Bengal, and coins began to be issued there in the name of the Delhi Sultan in 1203. Controlling Bengal from as far away as Delhi, however, was a difficult task, and the governors of Bengal periodically exercised their independence, starting with Qutb ud-din Aibak's viceroy Ali Mardan in 1210. Delhi kept trying to reestablish its authority, but Bengal kept pulling away. The first truly independent sultanate in Bengal emerged after the death of Balban in 1287. The Sultanate lasted for close to 300 years, with episodes of greater control from Delhi when the Delhi Sultanate was stronger and then long stretches when Delhi was too preoccupied with its own troubles to worry about Bengal. It was only in 1576 that Bengal was finally brought firmly under Delhi's control, in the guise of the Mughal empire.


     
Muhammad bin Sam (1204-1206)

Muhammad bin Sam (1204-1206) Gold 20-ratti
Weight: 2.30 gm., Diameter: 17-18 mm., Die axis: 6 o'clock
Horseman galloping left, holding mace, Nagari legend around: samvat 1262 bhadrapada /
3-line Nagari legend: srima ha / mira mahama / da saamah,
Ref: GG B3, Raj 104
One of the first Islamic coins struck in Bengal, this coin was struck by the Ghorid general Muhammad Bakhtiyar Khalji in the name of his overlord, Muhammad bin Sam, in 1204, soon after his conquest of the province.
Mughith al-Din Yuzbak (1254-57)

Mughith al-Din Yuzbak (1254-57) Silver tanka
Weight: 10.34 gm., Diameter: 28 mm., Die axis: 1 o'clock
Legend: al-sultan al-a'zam mughith al-dunya wa'l din abu'l muzaffar yuzbak al-sultan /
Legend: fi 'ahd al-imam al-musta'sim amir al-mu'minin,
     marginal legend with AH date 653 (= 1255-56),
     mint Lakhnauti, and citing the land tax of Azmardan and Nudiya
Ref: GG B76, Raj 139
The coins of the Bengal sultans were modeled on those of their original masters, the Delhi Sultanate.
Rukn al-Din Kaikaus (1290-1300)

Rukn al-Din Kaikaus (1290-1300) Silver tanka
Weight: 10.93 gm., Diameter: 28 mm., Die axis: 4 o'clock
Legend: al-sultan al-a'zam rukn al-dunya wa'l din abu'l muzaffar kaikaus
     al-sultan bin al-sultan bin sultan
/
Legend: al-imam al-musta'sim amir al-mu'minin,
     marginal legend with AH date and mint Lakhnauti
Ref: GG B89, Raj 147
Ghiyath al-Din Bahadur (1320-24)

Ghiyath al-Din Bahadur (1320-24) Silver tanka
Weight: 10.87 gm., Diameter: 27 mm., Die axis: 4 o'clock
Legend: al-sultan al-a'zam ghiyath al-dunya wa'l din abu'l muzaffar bahadur shah
     al-sultan bin sultan
/
Legend: al-imam al-musta'sim amir al-mu'minin,
     marginal legend with AH date and mint Lakhnauti
Ref: GG B108, Raj 167
Sikandar bin Ilyas (1357-89)

Sikandar bin Ilyas (1357-89) Silver tanka
Weight: 10.71 gm., Diameter: 24 mm., Die axis: 7 o'clock
Legend: shah sikandar ibn ilyas shah al-sultan /
Legend: al-mujahid fi sabil al-rahman, marginal legend with mint Firuzabad,
Ref: GG B165, Raj 209
Coins of the Bengal sultans are most often found with various kinds of test cuts, such as the big pit in the center and the cuts at around 7 and 9 o'clock of the rim on the reverse of this coin. This suggests that counterfeiting must have been a significant problem.
Ghiyath al-Din A'zam (1389-1410)

Ghiyath al-Din A'zam (1389-1410) Silver tanka
Weight: 10.73 gm., Diameter: 30 mm., Die axis: 10 o'clock
Legend: ghiyath al-dunya wa'l din abu'l muzaffar a'zamshah ibn sikandar shah ibn
     ilyas shah al-sultan bin sultan
, within a fancy diamond-shaped border /
Legend: nasir amir al-mu'minin ghawath al-islam wa'l muslimin khallada
     allah malkahu
, marginal legend with AH date and mint Firuzabad
Ref: GG B242, Raj 229
Saif al-Din Hamzah (1410-12)

Saif al-Din Hamzah (1410-12) Silver tanka
Weight: 10.45 gm., Diameter: 25 mm., Die axis: 12 o'clock
Legend: al-mu'ayyad bi-ta'yid al-rahman saif al-dunya wa'l din abu'l mujahid
     hamzah shah ibn a'zamshah al-sultan
/
Legend: nasir al-islam wa'l muslimin yamin amir al-mu'minin, within ruled circle,
     marginal legend with AH date?
Ref: GG B266, Raj 245
Hamzah Shah ruled for a brief period, and, as a consequence, his coins are scarce to rare. In all probability, he was a puppet king, with real power resting in the hands of Raja Ganesh. No specimen of this coin type has ever had a legible marginal legend; it is attributed to Mu'azzamabad on the basis of its style.

Saif al-Din Hamzah (1410-12) Silver tanka
Weight: 10.45 gm., Diameter: 25 mm., Die axis: 12 o'clock
Legend: al-mu'ayyad bi-ta'yid al-rahman saif al-dunya wa'l din abu'l mujahid
     hamzah shah ibn a'zamshah al-sultan
/
Legend: nasir al-islam wa'l muslimin yamin amir al-mu'minin, within scalloped circle,
     marginal legend with AH date?
Ref: GG B267, Raj ---
This variety has the reverse legend within a scalloped circle ... a very rare variation.
Jalal al-Din Muhammad, first reign (1415-16)

Jalal al-Din Muhammad, first reign (1415-16) Silver tanka
Weight: 10.46 gm., Diameter: 29-30 mm., Die axis: 3 o'clock
Legend: al-sultan al-'adil jalal al-dunya wa'l din abu'l muzaffar
     muhammad shah al-sultan
, within scalloped circle /
Legend: nasir amir al-mu'minin ghawth al-islam wa'l muslimin,
     within inversely scalloped circle, marginal legend with prophets' names and AH date?
Ref: GG B309, Raj ---
Jalal al-Din Muhammad was the adopted name of Jadu, son of the Hindu usurper Raja Ganesh, who became a Muslim in order to forestall an invasion by the Sultan of Jaunpur (see next coin for further details). Although the coins do not have a mint name, they are normally attributed to Sunargaon. The type is scarce, issued over a very short period of a few months.
Danujamarddana Deva (1416-1418)

Danujamarddana Deva (1416-1418) Silver tanka
Weight: 10.69 gm., Diameter: 30 mm., Die axis: 3 o'clock
3-line Bengali legend: sri sri da / nujamardda / na deva /
3-line Bengali legend: sri chandi / charana pa / rayana,
     marginal legend with mint Chatigram (Chittagong) and Saka date 1339 (= 1417 CE)
Ref: GG B316, Raj 305
Although there is some uncertainty about the sequence of events, it appears that around 1414, when Sultan Bayazid died, a Hindu adventurer named Raja Ganesh seized control over Bengal. Facing an imminent threat of invasion at the behest of a powerful Muslim holy man named Nur Qutb al-'Alam, he appealed to the saint to call off his threat. The saint agreed, on condition that Raja Ganesh's son Jadu convert to Islam and rule in his place. Raja Ganesh agreed and Jadu ruled as Jalal al-Din.

Nur Qutb died in 1415 or 1416 and Raja Ganesh was emboldened to depose his son and accede to the throne himself as Danujamarddana Deva. The coins he issued, such as this one, are remarkable in that the legends are in Bengali letters of the time and the dates are in the Saka era. Danujamarddana Deva's reign was relatively short.
Jalal al-Din Muhammad, second reign (1418-33)

Jalal al-Din Muhammad, second reign (1418-33) Silver tanka
Weight: 10.78 gm., Diameter: 29-30 mm., Die axis: 4 o'clock
Legend: jalal al-dunya wa'l din abu'l muzaffar muhammad shah al-sultan
     within scalloped circle /
Legend: nasir al-islam wa'l muslimin khallada mulkahu, within four-petalled flower,
     marginal legend with mint Firuzabad and AH date 82x
Ref: GG B331, Raj 273
Jalal had had a brief first reign, was deposed apparently by his father, and then regained the throne presumably after his father's death. Although he had sonverted to Islam under pressure, it appears he embraced the faith whole-heartedly; we see this in his returning the coinage to using Arabic letters.

Jalal al-Din Muhammad, second reign (1418-33) Silver tanka
Weight: 10.67 gm., Diameter: 29-30 mm., Die axis: 11 o'clock
Lion standing right, inscription above /
Legend: ruler's titles, within ornamental border
Ref: GG B342, Raj 283
Jalal issued these lion type coins, perhaps the most remarkable of the entire Bengal series. It is not known exactly why these coins were issued. One theory is that they were issued to celebrate the arrival of a Chinese ambassador, another that they marked the withdrawal of Jaunpur's threatening army. Regardless, they are most interesting and were copied by two later sultans and by the kings of Tripura.
Rukn al-Din Barbak (1459-74)

Rukn al-Din Barbak (1459-74) Silver tanka
Weight: 10.63 gm., Diameter: 26 mm., Die axis: 9 o'clock
Legend /
Legend: Shahada, marginal legend with mint Dar al-Darb and AH date 873 (= 1468-69)
Ref: GG B527, Raj 367
Jalal al-Din Fath (1481-86)

Jalal al-Din Fath (1481-86) Silver tanka
Weight: 10.62 gm., Diameter: 26 mm., Die axis: 4 o'clock
Legend: al-sultan ibn al-sultan jalal al-dunya wa'l din abu'l muzaffar,
     solar countermarks (bankers' marks?) /
Legend, continued from obverse: fath shah al-sultan ibn mahmud shah al-sultan,
     marginal legend with mint Dar al-Darb, AH date not readable
Ref: GG B615, Raj 411
A scarce type with very interesting countermarks on the obverse, not at all like the usual chop or test marks we see on Bengal Sultanate coins.
Ala' al-Din Husain (1493-1519)

Ala' al-Din Husain (1493-1519) Silver tanka
Weight: 10.32 gm., Diameter: 26 mm., Die axis: 12 o'clock
Legend: ala' al-dunya wa'l din abu'l muzaffar husain shah al-sultan khallada
     allah mulkahu wa sultanahu
/
Legend: Shahada, with mint Fathabad and AH date 899 (= 1493-94)
Ref: GG B706, Raj 467
Nasir al-Din Nusrat (1519-31)

Nasir al-Din Nusrat (1519-31) Silver tanka
Weight: 10.58 gm., Diameter: 24 mm., Die axis: 12 o'clock
Legend: al-sultan bin al-sultan nasir al-dunya wa'l din abu'l muzaffar /
Legend, continued from obverse: nusrat shah al-sultan bin husain shah
     al-sultan al-husaini khallada mulkahu

Ref: GG B806, Raj 514
Ghiyath al-Din Mahmud (1532-38)

Ghiyath al-Din Mahmud (1532-38) Silver quarter tanka
Weight: 2.47 gm., Diameter: 16 mm., Die axis: 11 o'clock
Legend: within central circle: badr shahi, surrounded by usual legend /
Legend: within central circle: badr shahi, surrounded by legend
Ref: GG B903, Raj ---
Ghiyath al-Din Bahadur (1555-60)

Ghiyath al-Din Bahadur (1555-60) Silver rupee
Weight: 11.43 gm., Diameter: 32 mm., Die axis: 1 o'clock
Legend: within central square: bahadur shah bin muhammad shah ghazi khallada
     allah mulkahu wa sultanahu
, below, in Nagari: sri bahadur shah,
     date in left margin: AH (96)5 (= 1557-58)/
Legend: within central square, Shahada, in margins, names of the four caliphs
Ref: GG B967, Raj 587
Note the higher weight of this coin as compared to earlier Bengal Sultanate coins: it is a rupee! Sher Shah became Sultan of Bengal, and indeed of Delhi, in 1539 (AH 945). As part of his major monetary reform soon thereafter, he created and introduced the rupee, which became the standard coinage in Bengal and most of the rest of India. Note the similarity of style of this coin and those of Sher Shah, which can be seen here.

Chittagong Silver trade tanka in name of Ghiyath al-Din Bahadur
Weight: 10.19 gm., Diameter: 23 mm., Die axis: 11 o'clock
Legend: bahadur shah sultan bin muhammad shah sultan khallada
     allah mulkahu wa sultanahu
, AH date (9)59 (= 1551-52) /
Legend: Shahada and al-sultan bin al-sultan
GG B1010, MLW 282
This coin belongs to a rare series of coins of lower weight (tanka standard) that circulated in the Chittagong region to facilitate trade. It is struck in the name of Ghiyath al-Din Bahadur, but dated AH 959, which is before he bacame sultan. Probably he was viceroy in the Chittagong area to his father, Sultan Muhammad.
Ghiyath al-Din Jalal (1560-63)

Ghiyath al-Din Jalal (1560-63) Silver rupee, Satgaon mint
Weight: 11.43 gm., Diameter: 30 mm., Die axis: 10 o'clock
Legend: within central square: sultan jalal al-din bin muhammad shah ghazi khallada
     allah mulkahu
, no Nagari name, date off flan/
Legend: within central square, Shahada, in margins, names of the four caliphs
Ref: GG B971, Raj 592
Jalal Shah was the brother of Bahadur Shah.

Ghiyath al-Din Jalal (1560-63) Silver rupee, mintless (Lakhnauti?)
Weight: 11.42 gm., Diameter: 30 mm., Die axis: 1 o'clock
Legend: within central square: sultan jalal al-din bin muhammad shah ghazi khallada
     allah mulkahu
, no Nagari name, date in left margin: AH (96)9 (= 1561-62)/
Legend: within central square, Shahada, in margins, names of the four caliphs
Ref: GG B972, Raj 594
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