If the sun is once eclipsed, does it not make its appearance again? Was the motto of the legendary ahoms who ruled assam for almost six centuries. The ahoms, a tribe from upper burma, crossed the patkai range in 1228 A.D. and settled at charaideo, near presentday sibsagar. They gradually expanded their power and empire, conquered their main rivals, the kacharis, in 1540 A.D. and established political and administrative authority over a vast region. The modern history of assam, which has taken its name from ahom, is often referred as commencing with the advent of ahom power.
Though the ahoms were worshippers of tribal gods, in course of time, they assimilated hindu beliefs, as well as the local language and script. Their early coins conveyed their devotion to tribal gods who were later identified with hindu gods, and still later, devotion is expressed directly to hindu gods. Further, their initial coins bore ahom legends in ahom script which gradually made way for sanskrit legends in the assamese script with the year of issue quoted in saka era as prevalent on contemporary hindu coinage. However, most importantly, their coinage traces the steady growth and development of their economy from a barter to a money economy.
The early ahom economy, based on agriculture and barter, was characteristic of a non-monetized economy. The ahom kings gave incentives to farmers and soldiers and surplus grain was exchanged for foreign goods. The king owned al land under his jurisdiction and made land grants, which were generally accompanied with the grant of paiks, men between 15-50, who were to serve the state. Four paiks formed a unit and paiks of the same units were to serve the state by rotation for constructing roads, tanks, maidans, temples as well as fighting wars while the others of his unit cultivated his field keeping his and his family supplied with food and other necessities. As cloth was woven at home. Fruit obtained from forests, and fish from the rivers, there was little scope for money economy.
But over time, responding to the limitations of barter transactions, the ahom ruler started issuing coins to facilitate indirect exchange. Though there are early references to coins being issued by rulers in obeisance to deities as well as later references to the minting of coins on the accession to the throne of ahom princes or religious grants, the earliest discovered rupee coins are of jayadhawaja simha issued in 1648 A.D. other coins are of subsequent rulers who gradually issued smaller denominations along with an increase in the overall volume of coined money. This increasing monetization of the economy indicated its increasing economic development, and by the early 19th century, the ahom economy emerged as a money economy.
The striking features of ahom coins - made predominantly of silver - was their octagonal shape. The uniqueness of the shape has invited numerous explanations. A historical manuscript mentions that coins were octagonal to indicate the eight kingdoms subjugated by the ahoms while another states that they were so shaped because the ahom kingdom was described as being eight-sided. A third explanation states that coins of the sultans of bengal bore their legend in an enclosure surrounded by eight ornamental arcs and that it is this octagonal border that influenced the ahom coinage. The fourth explanation links the shape to tantricism (very popular in assam at the time), which involved the worship of diagrams. It is also suggested that as the people had never seen such a large kingdom as under the ahoms, they expressed the ahom domain as that stretched int eh eight directions off earth and space conceived by the Hindus.
Conflicts with the mughals during the 17th century probably made the ahoms more conscious of the necessity to mint coins as evidentf from the several and different types of coins issued by gadadhar simha. Rudra simha issued the half rupees or ad-taka. He encouraged commercial exchanges with bengal and tibet, which possibly necessitated the issue of coins. The coins of king siva simha. Consecutively bore the names of his three queens, which interestingly were issued in assamese and persian, the latter in a style similar to that of the powerful mughal empress nur jahan. These were round and square in shape and bore the legend in persian script. During the reign of siva simha, coins of one-fourth denomination called siki were issued, and his successor pramata simha issued coins of one eighth rupee and one sixteenth rupee, which indicated the increasing use of coined money in lower value transactions.
Thus by the second half of the 18th century, coins of different denominations were in circulation within the ahom kingdom. Gold coins were rarely used for transactions, which were mostly carried out in silver coins, and for small transactions, cowries were used. By the end of the 18th century, the government of bengal under warren hastings substituted copper coins for cowries, which substituted copper coins for cowries, which decreased the inflow of cowries into bengal. This in turn, affected the inflow of cowries to the ahom kingdom. To redeem the situations gaurinath simha issued coins of a particular denomination.
With internal dissensions brewing in the kingdom, gaurinath simha turned towards the british, who sent a contigent of troops to assam in 1792. As normalcy returned, a commercial treaty was signed between gaurinath simha and the east india company in 1793, which included clauses for commercial relations between bengal and assam. The treaty also decreed that the ahom king defray the expenses incurred on the maintenance of the company's troops to be stationed in assam a his request. This treaty perhaps reflected and stimulated a growth in the money suppoy.
Brajanath simha, who briefly gained control of the region in 1818-19, struck copper coins, for the first time in the numismatic history of assam, which are believed to represent the 128th and 64th part of athe rupee. 1824, the british stepped in to stem the burmese attempts at gaining power in assam. By the treaty of Yandabo in February 1826, the Burmese king gave up claims on assam.
When attempts to reinstate an ahom ruler failed, assam was integrated into british india and no further ahom coins were issued.
The fascinating history of ahom coinage has attracted many researchers. As more coins are unearthed and researched, new information and explanations have been presented much to the interest of the numismatist and lay person alike.