Sunday, May 22, 2022

Bhutan’s Earliest Coins: Determining the Place & Year of Coinage

With awful lot of confusing information put out by various writers and historians on Bhutan’s coinage, it has been a most arduous job in trying to determine exactly when and where Bhutan first hammered our coins. The deep delve has been long, laborious and vexing – the delight of a discovery of new and exciting information has most often ended up being just that – excitingly false and inaccurate. But the start of every journey must see an end and I believe that I have reached my journey’s end on this particular subject of when and where.

Contrary to many historical accounts that claim that Bhutan began hammering our coins within the country sometime towards the end of 1700, I discover that it is not quite true. What transpires to be true is that Bhutan is among the most rare countries whose coining journey began in a foreign land – in exercise of the powers and authority of overlordship over a fallen victim – in the conquered Kingdom of Koch Bihar.

Supposedly Bhutan's earliest hammered coin - the silver Ma-tang. If it is true that this is our earliest coin, then it would have to have been hammered at a place called Ghatika in Koch Bihar because in later years this coin came to be called the "Nyingtang Ghatikap" - old coin from Ghatika.

Sonam Wangdi of Koortoe Jarey was a member of the retinue of over 300 who accompanied Trongsa Poenlop Ugyen Wangchuck during his visit to India in 1906. On their return journey he remembers visiting the Ghatika Mint that was still operational. Sonam Wangdi described the sound of minting thus:  Graab Tsring ..... Graab Tsring ..... Graab Tsring.

At the end of hundreds of hours of boring through numerous literatures on the subject – gleaned from accounts authored by writers and historians from US, UK, Belgium, Germany, Nepal, Tibet, India and Bhutan, I narrowed down to two accounts that I find are the most credible – one by the Bhutanese author Dorji Penjore of CBS and another one by a Bengali writer named Nagendra Singh.

These two authors speak of the exact same events that occasioned the start of the journey of Bhutan’s coining in the erstwhile Kingdom of Koch Bihar. Unfortunately while most of the facts tally, these two accounts give the year of coinage that is many decades apart. However, it was not difficult for me to determine which of the two is the more accurate account.

When I examined the two records more closely to determine which of the two accounts is likely to be the more accurate one – I noticed one common factor in the two accounts – the mention of the name - Raikat Darpa Dev. This name appears in both the accounts.

Written historical records I consulted confirm that in 1773, Raikat Darpa Dev was the reigning Raja of the State of Baikunthopur in the present day Jalpaiguri of West Bengal. He is recorded as a staunch ally of Bhutan's Ja Chila (Jagar Poenlop) Punsutama, seated at the capital of the Koch Kingdom at that time.

Now I am clear as to which of the two accounts is the factual one.

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