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Excerpts from the history of Uttarakhand through coins

B. C. Joshi

     My daughter has interest in collecting the coins. During my last visit to my village in Uttarakhand, she asked her grandmother if she has some old coins. My mother took out a hand made purse of olden days which itself looked like an antique piece. She gave her many coins. Some of them were very old and few of them didn’t even looked like a coin. I too was curious and she explained me that these coins were of ‘Gorkhiya Raj’ Then she narrated some ill famed incident told in folk songs of Uttarakhand.

     I was even more curious and bought a book on history of Kumaon. Here are some excerpt from the history of Uttarakhand from Gorkha period onwards in chronological order viewed through the coins, i.e. History through coins that I want to share.

Gurkha Rule

Gurkha Invasion:
     Gorkha army wedged war against Chand Kingdom in the early months of the year 1790, from ‘Kali Kumaon’ under the leadership of Chautariya Bahadur Shah, Kazi Jagjit Pandey, Amar Singh Thapa and Sur Singh Thapa. They were assisted by Pt. Harsh Dev Joshi. After a fierce battle, Gorkha’s succeeded in the war and captured Almora, the capitol of Kumaon on Chaitra Krishna Paksh Purnima (full moon) of samvat 1847 i.e. year 1790.

     Coin from Gorkha rule

     In 1803, Gorkhas took over Garhwal also. Gorkha warrior Subba Amar Singh, Hastidal Chautariya, Bamshah Chautariya and Ranjor Thapa commanded a huge army in the crusade against Gadhwal King Pradyumna Shah and his sons, Kuwar Parakrama Shah and Kuwar Pritam Shah. A 12,000 strong army fought with Gorkhas at the palce known as ‘Khurhbure’ where king Pradyumn Shah was killed. Gradually, Gorkhas captured Dehradoon, Saharanpur, Kangada and Shimla.

Gurkha Tyranny:
     Gorkha dynasty was known to be very cruel. They introduced land tax @ Rs 1 per ‘beesi’ (20 nali cultivated land) and ‘Manga’ Tax @ Rs 1 per adult person. Rs 2 per family were charged as ‘Dhurahi-Pichahi’ tax. Also Rs 1.6 were taxed from every village as ‘Subangi Dastur’ to meet the expanses of administration. Brahamins were specially taxed Rs 5 per jyula of land and this tax was known as ‘Kushahi’.

     Undated coin from Gorkha rule

Cruel Gurkha Regime:
     Gorkhas is known as an evil administration. They used to horde thousand of people from all over Gadhwal and sold them at Gorkha Chauki, Haridwar. Adult men/women upto the age of 30 were sold for Rs 30 and Rs 10 respectively. For not paying money to Gorkha army officers, whole family was arrested and sold. Gorkhaali used to snatch anything they liked from common man. They would enter anybody’s house and house owner was asked to leave the place. Then they would loot the house and after looting they used to damage the property. Killing a human was as easy as killing a bird for them. It is said that once they introduced a new tax which was refused by the public. They called the ‘Pradhans’ of 1500 villages to explain the taxation system and killed them all to terrorise the public.

     The system of justice was very absurd and weird in Gorkha raj, rather there was no justice at all. During the court case hearings, if there were no witness, ‘Agni-Pariksha’ was carried out for the accused in following manner -

Gola - Deep: The accused had to walk for some distance with a red hot iron bar in his hand. If he received burn injury, he was considered guilty.
Taraju - Deep: The accused was weighed with stones and again he was weighed next day. He found heavier them previous day, he was considered innocent. Losing of weight means guilty.
Kadai - Deep: Accused had to dip his hands in boiling oil. Guilty if received burn injuries else innocent.
     According to Mr Trail, an expert historian of the period, there were some other ‘Agniparikshas’ also, such as, Drowning in the water till another person brought an arrow from some distance. Survival means innocent and if died by drowning, it showed he was guilty. Sometime accused was given poison to eat. If died - guilty, if survived - innocent.

     The punishment was also very severe and inhuman. For cheating - death, for murder, death penalty by hanging on the tree. Similarly death penalty was there for killing the cow, touching the hukka of a Brahmin by a ‘shudra’ by chopping head. Sometime they amputed the limb of thieves and put salt and chilly power in the wound.

     Finally, Gorkha regime ended in 1815 when Britishers fought a fierce battle and made them to run away from Uttarakhand.

     Undated coin from Gorkha rule

British Rule

     This is a 1840 coin of early British period in India. I found this 165 years old coin with other old coins in my ancestral home. One side of the coin depicts Queen Victoria and other side have moulded ‘East India Company’ and ‘Rupee One’ in it. This coin made me curious about British reaching uttarakhand hills and capturing it. While going through the history, I found following excerpts interesting to post here.


British Rule Excerpts:
     During 1787 to 1812, Gorkhas captured nearly 200 villages falling under company rule. Britishers argued with king of Nepal but to no avail. Finally in1814 an army of 8000 under Major Genera Marley attacked Kathmandu, 4000 army under Maj Gen Wood started operation from Gorakhapur and 3500 soldiers attempted to take over Dehradoon under the captaincy of Maj Gen Zileswy. Gorkha army of 300 – 400 in Dehradoon was led by Balbhadra Thapa. Gorkhas fought a fierce battle to crush the British army, which had to be reinforced to 5000, and cannons. Finally English army captured Dehradoon on 30 Nov 1814.

     Lord Hasting then diverted his attention towards Kumaon . He was aware of the Gorkhas misrule and agony of the common public. On 14th Dec 1914, Britishers distributed a declaration in general public that they are aware of the misdeed of Gorkha dynasty and hence they are against Gorkhas. They also humbly sought the support of kumaonis in their tyrest against Nepali rule. This trick succeeded and people tired of Gorkha misrule, took it as a golden opportunity to get free from their clutches. Britishers also invited Pt. Harsh Dev Joshi, a renowned politician of the these days to join them who in turn wrote to all kumaoni soldiers in Gorkha army to join English forces against Gorkhas. This proved very effective and almost all kumaoni soldiers left Gorkha army and joined company forces.

     On 11th Feb, 1815 Col. Gardner took command of the army and moved from Kashipur to conquer Kumaon. They moved ahead capturing the areas and reached Katarmal (Where there is a famous sun temple) on 28th.

     Another contingent of 1500 Soldiers under Capt Harishy marched towards Tamli fort in Kali Kumaon. Later, a fierce battle was fought under the command of Col Nicoles at Vinayathal where Gorkha commander Hastidal and Jayrakha were killed. Thereafter, they launched attack on Almora. The war ended under an agreement with Gorkha supreme commander Bamshah and thus, British rule started in hills.

     East IndiaCompany came to India in 1600 and how they spread the roots of British dynasty in India is known to all of us. Same East India company established a factory in Kashipur. Company officers visiting the hills gasped seeing the beauty of nature in this part of the earth. Mr Gatt in 1802, Mr Moorcraft and Capt Herishy and later Mr Gardner sent detailed report about the land, climate, scenic beauty, natural resources. Lord Moyara also sent a confidential report to company saying,”I see the natural beauty of Kumaon hills and Himalaya even in my dreams. I pray to almighty, let the day come sooner than later when this beautiful country will be ours”. Opposing Gorkha rule was only a pretext to capture this beautiful hilly terrain.


British Parliament before Independence of India:
     India was ruled by the Britain for 132 years from 1815 to 1947 and governed through its bureaucracy in the name of King / Queen and British Parliament. The hierarchy of British rule in India was as shown.

     The King was the emperor of over 600 native kings and called ‘Raj Rajeshwar’ in India. The Minister for India was the main administrator for the country and he was responsible for British Parliament and Public but not for Indian Public. This basic approach and system of governance gave them a free hand to do anything that favoured Britain irrespective of its repercussion on Indians. The currency was also British.

     A silver coin of 1906 with photo of King Edward the VII embossed in it

     Mr. Gardner, who played an important role in winning the war against Gorkhas was made first Commission of Kurmanchal but transferred within six months. He was replaced by Mr. Trail. He was almost a dictator but just to some extent in his verdicts. He deeprooted the British rule in Uttarnchal during that initial period. He worked out a new theory of land ownership in Kumaon and it was “ The East India Company have sovereign rights over lands in Kumaon”.

     The state of Tehri Garhwal was however, handed over to King Sudarshan Shah in 1820. People in Kumaon also wanted the state governance back in the hands of native kings like Tehri Garhwal but Commission Trail strongly denied it. His stern and dictatorial attitude was given the name ‘Trailgardi’.

     Silver coin of 1916 when Mr. Windhom (?) was the commissioner of Uttarakhand is displayed here. These coins have Rupee One India written in one side and bust of George–V King Emperor on other side.

     Mr Goin (Goyan?) became the Commissioner in 1831. In 1836, the slavery was abolished totally. Selling and buying of men and women was prohibited. Britishers had promised to Pt. Harsh Dev Joshi that prohibition on Cow slaughter would be continued but Commissioner Trail breached it. However, it was confined to cantonments but public of pahar agitated against it.

     One Anna (Rupees ¼ ) coin of 1917 and 1936

     In 1987, Mr Bird was sent to examine the administration of Kumaon and Garhwal. In his report, he criticized the administration of Mr Trail and Mr. Goin.

     Reverse side of the Anna with bust of Goerge–V King Emperor

     Affectionately known as ‘King of Kumaon, Major General Sir Henry Ramsey (Ramjey ?) of Scotland worked in Hills for nearly 44 years out of which he was commissioner of kumaon for 28 years (from 1856 to 1884). He ruled this land unchallenged for such a long time that he was conversant with the language and customs and spoke local dialect with the ease of natives. Even his name of localized and he was called ‘Ram Ji Saheb’. He used to mix up with local people and visit the houses of local small time farmers. Pt. BD Pande has even written that “ He used to eat ‘Madua ki roti’ with the locals. He used to live 4 months in Almora, 4 months in Binsar and remaining 4 months in Bhawar. After his retirement in 1884, he lived here in Almora and wanted to remain here for the rest of his life but in 1892 his sons took him back to England against his wish. It is said that he cried like a child when he left Almora. He is still known here and a lot of establishments were named after him. This is the charm and attraction of our beautiful land that people once there, never want to leave the place.

     One Quarter Anna Copper Coins of 1919, 1929 & 1941 (British Era)

     Administration of Henry Ramsey left a deep impact and so many systems of administration are still in vogue. The system of Revenue Police in place of civil police was the result of his insistence. He opposed settlement of Englishmen in Kumaon for the reason best known to him but he strongly favoured the church in their endeavour to convert pahari hindus into Christians.

     Reverse of One Quarter Anna Copper Coins of 1919, 1929 with bust of George V King Emperor and 1941 coin with the Bust of King George VI

     His significant contribution in the development of the area was construction of roads, canals and cultivation and establishment of new cities / clustered habitats in inaccessible Bhawar area. He motivated business by simplifying rules and taxation and giving protection to business community. His justice system was considered to be very effective and just. Inspite of the fact that he was a foreign ruler, Sir Henry was considered to be a better ruler that many native kings and succeeded in winning public respect and affection.

     One Pice (Paise) coin of 1933 (British Era) with Hole

     This coin was initially a subject of joke in public in Uttarakhand as they were used to Gold or silver coins. With this coin in circulation, this joke was also popular – Angreza tero raj chu khwat Ter Raj mei dabal mei le padi go twat (Aye angrez (Britishers) your rule is unjust hence even the coins have a hole in it).

     People in the hills were always keen to get education and had always a favourable education policy from the rule of native kings. Katyuri and Chand dynasty always facilitated education for all those deserved.

     In 1923, Commissioner Trail wrote to British Govt. “There are no general schools in Kumaon. Private schools are there which impart high quality education to its pupils. The teachers are Brahmin Pandits who teach language and mathematics. Children of high class Brahmins learn ‘sanskrit’ and go to Kashi for higher studies where they are taught as per hind religion.”

     Mr Barren, who got the deed of Nainital signed in the name of Company by terrorizing the Thokdar nar Sigh during boating in Naini Lake writes in his book ‘Himmala’ in 1840 “All the paharis, however poor , could read and write”.

     Education system and establishment, like all other, were demolished during Gorkha Raj. Inspite, there were 121 Hindi / Sanskrit schools in Kumaon alone and a lot more if included those in Garhwal. These schools were in personal houses of Brahmins. Out of these 121 schools, 54 did not charge any fee.

     Mr Thorton wrote in 1850, “there were 522 students in these 121 school. Apart from these 121, there was one more school which taught Urdu language. In 1840, a school was opened in Srinagar. Teachers were paid Rs 5 per month from ‘Lawarish fund’. Later, as per the recommendations of Calcutta Education Samiti, two more schools were opened; one in Kumaon with a monthly budget expenditure of Rs 20 and another in Garhwal with Rs 15 per month expenditure granted to it.

     In 1857, Education department was constituted in Kumaon, which was known as ‘Kumaon Circle’. In September 1858, schools were opened at Someshwar, Dhalarh, Satrali, Dwarahat and Nirai and in 1859 at Champawat, Bhikiyasain, Pithoragarh, Gangolihat, Syalde, Ganai, Bhikiyasaid and Deghat.

     In 1871, Pandit Biddhi Ballabh Pant as Education Inspector replaced Major Garden. At that time, there were 2 middle schools and 116 primary schools with a total student count of 8488 and in 1889 when he left, there were 17 middle schools and 204 primary schools with 10927 pupils. This was a phenomenal progress.

     Ever since, the education has been spreading in the hills but over a period of time there is a clear cut ‘pen divide’. Big Cities Like Nainital, Dehradoon and Masoorie had developed as education centers and earned reputation nationwide. Education facilities in cities were further enriched with opening of new English medium, convent and public schools apart from Govt schools but rural areas are still deprived off. Children have to walk for 2 to 5 kilometers to reach their school even today. Where there are schools, they are not manned as per the requirement.

     Another Silver coin of 1/4 Rupee denomination with Goerge-VI inscipted on it

Waves of Nationalism in India:
     The mutiny of 1857 spread the waves of nationalism all over India. In 1858, Queen issued an order to abolish East India Company rule in India and arrogated all the powers. She issued a declaration that there would be no discrimination between white and native black populace of India and every one will be given due position in administration according to his ability / suitability but it proved to be a false promise. All powers were concentrated in the hands of white officers and they did what they like. English education system introduced by Lord Macale was advantageous for some Indians and they went to England for higher studies. The educated mass of natives was not given due postings in the beaurocracy. This led to further dissatisfaction in public.

     On 28th December 1885, Indian National Congress was formed with only 28 members. They were –

  1. Diwan Bahadur Raghunath Rao
  2. Mahadeo Govind Ranade
  3. Baijnath
  4. K. Sunderam
  5. Ram Krishna Bhandarkar
  6. Hume
  7. Umesh Chandra Bannerjie
  8. Narendra Nath Sen
  9. Baman Sadashiv Apte
10. Gopal Ganesh Agarkar
11. Ganga Prasad Verma
12. Dada Bhai Neroji
13. Kashi Nath Tailang
14. Firoz Shah Mehta
15. Deenasha Vaacha
16. Narain Ganesh Chandawarkar
17. P. Rangaiyah Naidu
18. Subramanium Aiyyer
19. M.Veer Raghavacharya
20. Keshav Pillai
21. Remaining 7 were the editors of well known news papers of the time

     There were few Britishers who were equally vocal for the cause of India’s independence and fought with us against the Raj. They were –

  1. John Bright
  2. Henry Frossate
  3. Hume’
  4. Sir William Waderburn
  5. Charles Bradla
  6. W. Gradeston
  7. Lord Northbroke
  8. Duke of Argil
  9. Lord Stanley
10. Norton
11. General Boothe
12. Mr Mantegueo

... and India declared independent

     India broke the clutches of slavery and declared a sovereign nation in 1947 after sacrifice of many brave sons of the land like Chandra Shekhar Azad, Bhagat Singh, Raj Guru, Shubhas Chandra Bose and untiring efforts of father of the nation Mahatma Gandhi treading a new and untested path of non-violence. British people had to leave India. But all this happened with a deep scar in the minds of Indians and split of the nation. Iron man Sardar Patel, then home minister was instrumental in merger of many independent states like Hyderabad in India whereas Kashmir was left (the root of a poison tree). Jinnah got his pakistan at the cost of the lives of thousand of people and migration of millions. Those who witnessed the partisan, still spill blood and venom on the excesses they suffered.

     This coin of the year of Independence reminds us the cost of independence we had to pay.

     ‘Pav rupaya’ (Quarter Rupee) with George VI King Emperor in one side and a lion on the reverse

     1948, just one year after the nation was liberated, Nathu Ram Godse shot dead Father of the Nation Mahatma Gandhi. ‘He Ram’ was the last words from that legendry icon of non-violence. This brass 20 paise coin reminds us of Mahatma and his contribution in securing independence and his indestructible, unconquerable determination to liberate the country by way of his principle of non-violence.

     Coins minted in post-independence period

     After independence in 1947, everything started to change. On 15 August 1950, India was declared a sovereign Union Republic with its own constitution and the same is also reflected in coins minted after 1950. Instead of old Anna / pice (Rs 1 = 16 Anna) the system of Rupee and new Paise was started (Rs 1 = 100 paise) and Anna system was discontinued. Accordingly, the currency was minted.

     One Naya Paisa coins of copper minted in 1957, 1961, 1961, 1962 and 1963

     The new coins minted in post independence era were having the four lions from ‘Ashok Ki Lat’ taken from the Buddh Stupa of Sarnath which was accepted as our National Emblem. Following is the reverse of One Naya Paisa coin.

     Another coin of One Naya paisa minted from Aluminum metal in 1957

     Reverse side of the above coin

     Coins of different denominations were minted after independence. Here are two paise steel coin of 1961 & 1964.

     Coins of 3 Naya paise and 5 Naya paise denominations minted during 1965 – 75.

     Coins of One Rupees denominations minted during 1965 – 75.

     In the year 1982, IX Asian Games were held in New Delhi. To commemorate the occasion, a 25 paise coin was minted and brought to circulation.

     Rhino became center of attraction when their number was found very low during a nationwide counting. Poachers killed a large number of rhinos for its tuft. To develop awareness in public for preservation of this animal which reached at the verge if extinction, a 25 paise coin was minted in eighties with rhino caste on it.

     10 Paise coins of Aluminum minted in post independence India.

     1985 was celebrated as “ International Youth Year”. To commemorate the year and give it due importance, a one rupee coin was minted.

     Father of the nation, Mahatma Gandhi was born in 1869 and left for heavenly abode in 1948. To pay homage to father of the nation, a 50 paise coin was minted with Mahatma Gandhi in one side.

     A 20 paise denomination aluminum coin of 1986.

     1988 a coin of Rupee one was minted emphasizing the importance rain water irrigation for farming activities. The coin depicts a woman working in field and clouds raining.

     Coins of 5 Rupees denominations minted out of steel. These coins used to be very heavy in weight due to its material and size.

     Pundit Jawahar Lal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India was born in 1889. To commemorate the Nehru centenary celebrations held in 1989, a coin with Nehru was minted in 1989. Another coin is depicting Indira Gandhi (1917 – 1984).

     Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS) was launched in 1975. To mark the success of this scheme (15 fifteen years of ICDS), a coin was issued in 1990 showing a mother with her child. This coin also delivers the message of “Basudhaiv Kutumbakam”.

     After assassination of late Prime Minister Mrs Indira Gandhi, her son Rajiv Gandhi was put at helm of affairs in Congress party and became Prime Minister of India. He contributed in the development of the nations by promoting and importing modern technology, particularly related to electronics. He was assassinated by LTTE suciede bomber at Sriperumbudoor in 1991 during an election meeting. A one rupee coin depicting Rajiv Gandhi.

     Quit India Movement started in 1942. It was one of the massive movements for independence of India with participation of general public in very large number. To commemorate the Golden Jublee of “Bharat Chhodo Andolan” (Quit India Movement), a coin was minted in 1992.

     A one rupee coin on the theme of National Integration was issued in 1994. 1993 was celebrated as “World Food & Bio Diversity Day”. To commemorate the year, a coin was launched.

     1994, “International Year of The Family” showing ‘hum do – hamare do’.

An article by B. C. Joshi
The writer can be contacted at highlanderbcj@yahoo.com