PM Narendra Modi has recently launched a new line of coins as a part of the “Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav” celebrations by the Ministry of Finance and Corporate Affairs. The coins of denomination of Re 1, Rs 2, 5, 10 and 20 observe the 75 years of freedom that will be marked with this year’s Independence Day.
However, these aren’t supposed to be mere commemorative coins, but will also be circulated as regular currency. Otherwise, such “special” coins end up getting limited circulation and become extremely rare for collectors, eventually leading to an increase in their value.
It is an interesting journey to go through some of the earlier commemorative coins issued by the RBI. These chunks of metal also end up being invaluable time capsules, giving a glimpse of important highlights of Indian history. Here are a few broad categories in which such coins can be categorised.
The Indian Independence Movement has been a recurring theme in Indian coins, and several major events from the 200-year-old struggle have been documented. While the 75th anniversary coins are the latest ones, anniversaries of Quit India Movement and the First War of Independence (Revolt of 1857) have also been observed through coins.
From political leaders to cultural icons, faces of famous personalities have been a part of commemorative coins from the very start. Some examples include the Carnatic singer MS Subbulakshmi, actor-turned-Tamil Nadu CM MG Ramachandran, Nobel Laureate and missionary Mother Teresa, and so on.
As has been common for even currency notes and postage stamps, Mahatma Gandhi has appeared multiple times on coins. There is the 10-rupee coin with his face that was released in 1969. Then, in 2015, the 100th anniversary of his return from South Africa was celebrated with another Rs 10 coin that featured images of both his “moustached lawyer” phase and his older “bespectacled ascetic” stage.
In 2019, his 150th birth anniversary was marked with a coin of Rs 150. This particular coin featured a standing Gandhi figure along with the khadi-spinning charkha (wheel).
No matter how secular the state might be, religion shows up in public matters like currency in some form or the other. It is common for Hindus to buy silver coins with faces of deities on them. However, the Hindu goddess Vaishno Devi even found a place in an RBI-mandated coin with a face value of Rs 5 and 10. The Vaishno Devi coins aren’t that rare and can still be found easily.
Another 5-rupee coin is related to Jainism as it marks the 2600th Janm Kalyanak (birth anniversary) of the religion’s founder Vardhman Mahavir. Religious symbols such as the Swastika and the hand with a wheel on the palm (symbolising non-violence) can be found.
Last April, PM Modi also released a coin marking the 400th birth anniversary of Guru Tegh Bahadur, the ninth guru of the Sikhs. Interestingly, to coincide with the anniversary, the coin was of a whopping Rs 400! The coin includes a picture of Amritsar’s Guru Ke Mahal, the birthplace of the Sikh leader; and a few Punjabi lines penned by the medieval poet Senapati that translates to “Guru Teg Bahadur came forward and saved the entire world from atrocities.”
As of now, no other prominent coins related to other religions have been released.
India hosted the Asian Games in 1982 and the Commonwealth Games in 2010. Both of these moments in Indian sporting history were marked through coins.
In 1982, the 9th Asian Games were commemorated with coins of 10p, 25p, Rs 2, Rs 10, and even Rs 100. Each of the coins featured the monument Jantar Mantar, a signifier of Delhi; the city in which the games were held.
As for the 19th Commonwealth Games in 2010, the official logo of the ceremony was featured in coins of Rs 2, 5, and 100. The logo featured the Ashok Chakra, the national symbol of unity and power. The silhouettes that come out of the Chakra are meant to represent the country’s growth towards the future.
Apart from the aforementioned birth anniversaries of prominent personalities, the Indian coins also marked the creation of several organisations or government programmes. Some examples include the 2012 Rs 5 coin to mark “60 Years of Indian Parliament”, or the 2015 Rs 50 coin for the Golden Jubilee of the 1965 Operations (Indo-China War).
Sometimes, Indian coins can also honour anniversaries of international entities, as can be seen from the 1995 Rs 5 coin to mark the 50th anniversary of the United Nations, and the 1994 Rs 5 coin on the 75th anniversary of the International Labour Organization.