Kārshāpaṇa (Sanskrit: कार्षापण), according to the
Ashtadhyayi of Panini, refers to ancient Indian coins current during
the 7th and the 6th century BCE onwards, which were unstamped and
stamped (āhata) metallic pieces whose validity depended on the
integrity of the person authenticating them. Parmeshwari lal Gupta
states that there is no proof that such coins were first issued by
merchants and traders but adds that they did contribute to the
development and spread of coin usage. Kārshāpaṇas were basically
silver pieces stamped with one to five or six rūpas ('symbols')
originally only on the obverse side of the coins initially issued by
Janapadas and Mahajanapadas, and generally carried minute mark or
marks to testify their legitimacy. Silver punch-marked coins ceased to
be minted sometime in the second century BCE but exerted a wide
influence for next five centuries.
The English word, "Cash", is derived from the Sanskrit word,
kārsha. The punch-marked coins were called "Kārshāpaṇa"
because they weighed one kārsha each.
The period of the origin of the punch-marked coins is not yet known,
but their origin was indigenous. The word, Kārshāpaṇa, first
appears in the
Sutra literature, in the Samvidhān Brāhmana. Coins
bearing this name were in circulation during the
Sutra and the
Brāhmana period and also find a mention in the early Buddhist
Dhammapada verse 186) and Persian texts of that period.
his commentary on the vārttikas of
Kātyāyana on Aṣṭādhyāyī
uses the word, "Kārshāpaṇa", to mean a coin –
"he gives a Karshapaṇa coin to each" or
"he gives a Kārshāpaṇa",
while explaining the use of the suffix – शस् taken up by
Sutra V.iv.43, in this case, कार्षापण +
शः to indicate a "coin". The
Shatapatha Brahmana speaks about
Kārshāpaṇas weighing 100 ratis which kind were found buried at
Taxila by John Marshall in 1912. The Golakpur (Patna) find pertains to
the period of Ajātaśatru. The Chaman – I – Hazuri (Kabul)
find includes two varieties of punch-marked Indian coins along with
numerous Greek coins of 600–500 BCE, thereby indicating that those
kind of Kārshāpaṇas were contemporaneous to the Greek coins and in
circulation as legal tender.
During the Mauryan Period, the punch-marked coin called Rūpyārūpa,
which was same as Kārshāpaṇa or Kahāpana or Prati or Tangka, was
made of alloy of silver (11 parts), copper (4 parts) and any other
metal or metals (1 part).The early indigenous Indian coins were called
Suvarṇa (made of gold), Purāṇa or Dhārana (made of silver) and
Kārshāpaṇa (made of copper). The Golakpur (Patna) find is mainly
pre-Maurya, possibly of the Nanda era, and appear to have been
re-validated to make them kośa- praveśya (legal tender); the coins
bearing larger number of marks are thought to be older in origin. The
Maurya Empire was definitely based upon money-economy. The
punch-marked copper coins were called paṇa. This type of coins
were in circulation much before the occupation of
Punjab by the Greeks
 who even carried them away to their own homeland. Originally,
they were issued by traders as blank silver bent-bars or pieces; the
Magadha silver punch-marked Kārshāpaṇa of
Ajatashatru of Haryanka
dynasty was a royal issue bearing five marks and weighing fifty-four
Vedic weight called kārsha equal to sixteen māshas.
Even during the Harappan Period (ca 2300 BCE) silver was extracted
from argentiferous galena. Silver Kārshāpaṇas show lead impurity
but no association with gold. The internal chronology of
Kārshāpaṇa and the marks of distinction between the coins issued
Janapadas and the Magadhan issues is not known, the
Arthashastra of Kautilya speaks about the role of the Lakshanadhyaksha
('the Superintendent of Mint') who knew about the symbols and the
Rupadarshaka ('Examiner of Coins'), but has remained silent with
regard to the construction, order, meaning and background of the
punched symbols on these coins hence their exact identification and
dating has not been possible.
Indian merchants, through land and sea routes, have traded with the
east African, Arab and middle-east people from 12th century BCE
onwards. The term Kārshāpaṇa referred to gold, silver and copper
coins weighing 80 ratis or 146.5 grains; these coins, the earliest
square in shape, followed the ancient Indian system of weights
described in Manu Smriti. Use of money was known to
much before 700 BCE. The words, Nishka and Krishnala, denoted money,
and Kārshāpaṇas, as standard coins, were regularly stored in the
royal treasuries. The Local silver punch-marked coins, included in
the Bhabhuā and Golakpur finds, were issued by the
Janapadas and were
in circulation during the rule of the Brihadratha Dynasty which was
succeeded by the Magadha empire founded by the
Haryanka dynasty in 684
BCE; these coins show four punch-marks - the sun-mark, the six-armed
symbol, arrows (three) and taurine (three) which were current even
during the rule of
Bimbisara (604-552 BCE).
Ajatashatru (552-520 BCE)
issued the first Imperial coins of six punch-marks with the addition
of the bull and the lion. The successors of
Ajatashatru who ruled
between 520 and 440 BCE and the later
Shishunaga dynasty and the nanda
dynasty issued coins of five symbols – the sun-mark, the six-armed
symbol and any three of the 450 symbols. The Maurya coins also have
five symbols – the sun-mark, the six-armed symbol, three-arched hill
with crescent at top, a branch of a tree at the corner of a
four-squared railing and a bull with a taurine in front. Punch-marked
copper coins were first issued during the rule of Chandragupta Maurya
or Bindusara. The Bhīr find includes Maurya coins and a coin of
Diodotus I (255-239 BCE) issued in 248 BCE.
^ Parmeshwari Lal Gupta. Coins. National Book Trust.
^ C.A.S.Williams. Chinese Symbolism and Art Motifs. Tuttle Publishing.
^ A.V.Narsimha Murthy. The Coins of Karnataka. Geetha Book House.
Ashtadhyayi of Panini Vol.2. Motilal Banarsidass.
^ Anand Singh. Bhārat kī prāchīn mudrāyen (Ancient coins of
India) 1998 Edition. Sharda Pustak Bhavan, Allahabad.
pp. 41–42. ISBN 8186204091.
^ Recording the Progress of Indian History. Primus Books.
^ Radhakumud Mookerji.
Chandragupta Maurya and his times. Motilal
Banarsidass. pp. 106, 107, 215, 212.
^ Indian Sculpture. University of California Press. p. 67.
^ Alexander Cunnigham. Coins of Ancient India. Asian Educational
Services. p. 47.
^ Frank L. Holt. Into the Land of Bones. University of California
Press. p. 161.
^ D.D.Kosambi. The Culture and Civilization of Ancient India in
Historical Outline. p. 124,129.
^ hari C. Bhardwaj. Aspects of Ancient Indian Technology. Motilal
Banarsidass. pp. 140, 142.
^ S.N.Naskar. Foreign Impact on Indian Life and Culture. Abhinav
Publications. p. 186.
^ D.R.Bhandarkar. Lectures on Ancient Indian Numismatics. Asian
Educational Services. pp. 55, 62, 79.
^ Parmeshwari Lal Gupta. Coins. National Book Trust. pp. 17–20,
Historic currencies of India
Coinage of Asia
History of the rupee
Ancient and medieval
Punch marked coins
Post-Mauryan coinage (Gandhara)
Sri Lankan rupee
See also: Economy of India