Numismatics: A neglected Discipline

Mir Mohammad Iqbal, formerly Assistant Curator SPS Museum Srinagar, more popularly known by his pen name Iqbal Ahmad is the first local archaeologist of Jammu and Kashmir who has been voluntarily involved in study of Jammu and Kashmir ancient coins. 

Originally an arts graduate, with no any academic background in history, has turned to become the first historian of Kashmir who has elucidated on a series of important questions bearing on the ancient historiography of Kashmir.  

Inspired by the archaeology and numismatic researches of European missionaries, he first learned the numismatic studies from Indian Numismatic Historical and Cultural Research Foundation Nasik Maharashtra; Iqbal has done a commendable work in the archaeology, numismatic and epigraphic researches of this land. 

Iqbal has  no formal education in history or archaeology, as he has done his graduation in simple arts stream, but his passion for numismatic, epigraphic and archaeology studies has made him the historian of repute.

He has been reconstructing the ancient history of Kashmir, writing many books and papers on history, archaeology, numismatic, epigraphy and architectural heritage, of Jammu and Kashmir. Iqbal Ahmad in a conversation with GK, talks about Jammu and Kashmir’s numismatic field.

Have  you been student of history?

No, I have never been the student of history and had no formal education or training in the subject. Economics has been my mainstream subject but when I got a job in Archaeology department, I had to change the field of my interest.  

How you learned history?

Initially it was very difficult for a non history student like me to learn Kashmir history and archaeology, but while studying the archaeology and numismatic reports put forth by few European scholars, gradually I got a little bit grip on the subject.

I studied the history, archaeology, numismatic and travel reports put forth by several European missionaries, which included the reports  of  Alexander Cunningham, W. H. Nicholls,   Treback, Aural stein, Fedric Dew,  W R lawrance,  C. J. Rodgers, R.B.White Head, James Principe,  Mr. E. Thames, Lassen,  Wilson and Brown.  It was from their writings I got inspired.


Did you get inspiration from any local historian? 

Yes, indeed. I got inspiration from the writings of Professor Mohibul Hassan, PNK Bamzai, S L Shali, Professor Fida Mohammad Husnian, and Mohammad Yousuf Taing, and learned much   from their wonderful writings.

What is numismatics, and what is its scope?

Numismatics is basically study of ancient coins and it is one of the major sources to know the history. One can  easily  understand the historic value of these coins, in fact, an unidentified coin is a piece of metal, but when it gets identified it becomes a page of our  history. A coin although carries very little information, but what it carries on it is definite and reliable, provided it is properly identified and deciphered 

Where from your learned the numismatics?

I did little training courses in archaeology, numismatics and epigraphy from the archaeology institution of Archaeological Survey of India, but learned numismatic studies under the world class numismatists like DR, Macdowell,  Dr.Micheal Mitchner,  Dr. P L Gupta, Dr Amitishwar Jha  and others in the numismatic institution of Nasik, which is  a  K. K. Maheshwari Foundation involved in training people in Indian numismatics.

What are your concerns about this field of research?

In fact there is  no arrangement in any institution or university for teaching and learning of numismatics and paleography like vital sources of history.

The ancient history of Jammu and Kashmir which is here taught or written in colleges and universities has been relying mostly on the traditional sources of folklore or on already written records.

There has been hardly any effort on institutional level to look for other sources as well.

For example the archaeology, paleography and numismatics like material sources have not been taken so seriously in reconstruction of the ancient and medieval history of Jammu and Kashmir.

If we talk of only coins, these have perhaps been least exploited source and numismatics has remained a rather sequestered discipline in terms of the incorporation of its insights into main stream works.

Are the numismatic treasure troves still found here?

Yes,  coins are often found through excavations and chance finds. In the recent past the  major   numismatic discoveries were  recorded from scores of places, These included the numismatic treasure troves found at Maidan Chagul,  Handwara, Turkhpura Bandipura, Safapura Barathan Qamawari (Srinager), Valtora (Rafiabad), Watnar Kokernag (Ananatnag), Charari Sharief,  Nunar, (Budgam)   during the years 1987, 1992,  1999,  2010, 2011, 2014 and 2016 respectively.

Besides, there are more than eighty thousand coins already stored in the museums at Srinagar and Jammu 

Is any earlier study of Kashmir coins recorded anywhere?     

It is for your information; General Alexander Cunningham was the first to take up the archaeology and coin study of Kashmir. During his stay in the Valley he collected a large number of ancient coins and as a result of close study of these coins and other finds, he was able to address certain unknown facts of Kashmir history.

In a paper published in the numismatic chronicle for 1846 he communicated the results of his search for ancient Kashmirian coins and proved by their analysis the great value of numismatic evidence for the critical analysis of Kalhana’s Rajtarangni and other ancient records. He was the first numismatist who found a number of Greek and Scythian coins on the banks of the Jhelum River in upper Jhelum valley.

Cunningham was followed in numismatic researches of Jammu and Kashmir by C. J. Rodgers, Sir Aurel Stein, R.B.Whitehead and later on several local scholars also took certain interest in it.  Most of these researches were under taken during colonel period in the 19th and 20th century, but since then numismatic studies particularly in Jammu and Kashmir has remained a forgotten discipline. 


When did you get involved in numismatic researches?

I have been engaged in numismatic research since 1995. I identified several hoards and deciphered their coins. I have deciphered ancient coins of punch mark, Greek, Scythian, Kushan,   Hindu rajas and sultans of Kashmir.

Did any institution help you in your purists?

Nobody. Indeed, I had a passion and I also took it as my hobby.

What are your main concerns about numismatic treasure trove? 

In fact, there had been fears that various treasure troves, found in the distant places (which mostly consisted of the ancient coin hoards)  had  gone unnoticed  as these finds hardly find any genuine takers.  Such treasure  troves are incidentally found by the laborers or farmers, while digging in their respective fields and due to fear of antiquity and art treasure trove act, these finds do not reach to the genuine archaeology or the museum collections.

Under the prevailing conservative art and antiquity laws the treasure finder is afraid of    facing punishments, rather than getting  any reward from the government. It is due to this fear the treasures and antiquities incidentally found by the people  mostly get destroyed  and hardly any such antiquity reaches the state museums. 

What steps shall be taken to  preserve  this heritage?

To clear this fear and encourage the general treasure finders to come forward to  handover  their treasure trove finds to the legal and registered museums, the ancient monuments preservation act of 1920 and the treasure trove act of 1972  requires  to be amended.

The government can also launch a scheme of granting of rewards and appreciation certificates in favor of the treasure finders, who voluntarily hand over their art and antiquity finds to the museums. 

It would to a large extent discourage the wastage, and the trend of illegal trade of antiquities. Besides it will help the concerned museums and archaeology institutions to enrich their respective collections. The history departments of various colleges and universities shall also create certain space for numismatics and paleography learnings.   

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.

The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not refl ect the views of GK.

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