Society Lecture, 20 Mar: Kingship, Court Rituals and Coinage in the Mughal Empire

The next Society lecture in the 2017/18 programme will take place on Tuesday 20th March at 6pm at the Warburg Institute. This lecture will be given by Dr Shailendra Bhandare of the University of Oxford, on Kingship, Court Rituals and Coinage in the Mughal Empire.

Society lectures are open to all and full details on the current programme can be found here.


The right to ‘Sikka’- to have coins struck in the King’s name – constitutes one of the fundamental rights of Kingship in the Islamic concept of Kingship. Exercising the right brought legitimacy to the ruler because coins, by their very nature, circulated as a medium of exchange, and their acceptance as such meant acceptance to the one whose authority they bear. Coins thus were instruments of kingly power apart from being just a monetary medium. 

The Mughal rulers of India exhibited an unusual intimacy with their coinage. Coins to them were a medium to exhibit their prowess, patronage and prerogatives. As such coins played a very important role in court culture, where elaborate performances were constructed around ritual exchange and distribution of coins. At the centre of these rituals, was the concept of the ‘powerful king’, considered to be a ‘shadow of the Divine’, who by his nature as such was visualised to have powers of special grace, favours, healing and authorisation. But occasionally sighting him and being in his close presence could also attract the ‘evil eye’ upon him.

Coins were used in ritualised context at both ends of the spectrum of courtly rituals – as objects of favour they could be proudly shown off by the recipient to show they had received the special grace; as objects of propitiation, they could be used as talismans and charms to bring forth particular results of luck, fortune or benefit; as objects to ‘deflect’ the evil eye, coins could be scattered as largesse so the ‘gaze’ of the lesser mortals could be turned away from the king while he processed in stately splendour.

The paper will contextualise Mughal coins in such instances of courtly and kingly rituals. In particular it will focus on Nazar and Nisar, two rituals of the Mughal court which involved the ‘evil eye’ concept at their heart. Apart from providing an illustrative numismatic summary of Mughal coins struck especially for such purposes, it will attempt to problematize the role of such coins in complex socio-political functions such as ‘gift economy’. It will also highlight how such rituals were continued in the Colonial times, when Mughal sovereignty was replaced by British paramountcy.