The rupee has had an interesting historical journey which can be traced back to the ancient India of the 6th Century BC. In 19th century the Britishers introduced paper money into the subcontinent for the first time.
Here’s a glimpse into the evolution of the Indian rupee
6th Century BC:
The first Indian coins were minted in the 6th century BC by the Mahajanpadas (the Republic Kingdoms of ancient India) and were known as Puranas, Karshapanas or Panas. These coins had irregular shapes, standard weights and were made up of silver with different markings like Saurashtra had humped bull, Dakshin Panchala had a swastika and Magadha had several symbols.
Mauryas came up with the punch marked coins minted in silver, gold, copper or lead. IndoGreek Kushan kings introduced the Greek custom of engraving portraits on the coins.
12th Century AD:
Turkish sultans of Delhi replaced the royal designs of Indian kings with Islamic calligraphy by the 12th century AD. The currency was made up of gold, silver and copper and was known as tanka . The lower value coin were known as jittals .
Mughal Empire from 1526 AD consolidated the monetary system for the entire empire. In this era, evolution of rupee occurred when Sher Shah Suri defeated Humayun and issued a silver coin of 178 gms known as rupiya and was divided into 40 copper pieces or silver coins that remained in use during the entire Mughal period.
Late 18th century:
In the 18th Century, the General Bank of Bengal and Bahar (1773-75) and Bank of Hindostan (1770-1832) became the first banks in India to issue paper currency which was introduced by the British.
With the Coinage Act of 1835, uniform coinage came throughout the country. And in 1858, Mughal empire subsequently ended and British crown gained control over one hundred princely states and so, the images on the coins were replaced by portraits of the Monarch of Great Britain.
King George VI replaced the native designs on banknotes and coins but after the revolt of 1857, he made the rupee as the official currency of colonial India. In the honour of Queen Victoria in 1862, series of bank notes and coins were issued with Queen Victoria’s portrait.
The Reserve Bank of India was set up in 1935 and was empowered to issue Government of India notes. It had also printed 10,000 rupee notes, which was later demonetised after Independence. And the first paper currency issued by RBI was a five-rupee note bearing King George VI’s portrait.
After gaining Independence in 1947 and in 1950s when India become Republic, India’s modern rupee reverted to the design of signature rupee coin. The symbol chosen for the paper currency was the Lion capital on the Ashoka Pillar at Sarnath. The first banknote printed by the Independent India was a 1 rupee note.
In 1959 special, Rs 100, Rs 10 and Re 1 notes were issued for the Indian Haj pilgrims so that they could exchange it with local currency in Saudi Arabia.
In 1969, the Reserve Bank of India issued the Mahatma Gandhi birth centenary commemorative design series of Rs 5 and Rs 10 notes. On the reverse, there was a vignette of the sailing boat or dhow , that remained for a very long time.
In 1981, Rs 10 displayed our emblem at front of it and on the reverse it had our national bird peacock in an artistic manner.
In 1983-84, Rs 20 bank notes were issued for the first time and it consisted of the Buddhist wheel on the back side.
In 1996 the smiling face of Mahatma Gandhi on notes, that we all are familiar with now was introduced. Some say that the picture of Mahatma Gandhi on notes is a caricature but this is not true. Actually it was based on a picture of Gandhi taken by an unknown photographer in 1946 and from there it was cropped and used on the notes.
In October 1997, Rs 500 was issued with Gandhi’s face on front and showing his Dandi March (1930) i.e. salt satyagraha which was considered as a huge historically significant movement against the British salt domination in India on the reverse side of the note.
In November 2000, Rs 1,000 (which was scrapped recently) was issued with the front image of Gandhi and reverse image representing the economy of India which includes grain harvesting i.e. agricultural sector, oil rig, manufacturing sector, space satellite dish, science & research, metallurgy, mines and a girl working on a computer; inclusive technology.
In August 2001, Rs 20 was issued with same front image of Gandhi and the reverse image was that of palm trees from the Mount Harriet and Port Blair lighthouse as viewed from Megapode Resort, Port Blair.
In November 2001, Rs 5 denomination was issued with Mahatma Gandhi image in front and the farm mechanisation process showing the progress of the country through agriculture on the reverse.
November 10, 2016:
In November 10, 2016, the new Rs 2,000 note was introduced. On the front it has numeral 2000 written in Devanagari, portrait of Gandhi and emblem and there is year of printing on the note, Swachh Bharat logo with slogan and motif of mangalyan, reflecting country’s first venture in the interplanetary space at the reverse.