Reading my blogging friend Arv’s latest (excellent) blog on Jaipur, I was reminded that the area that is now the state of Rajasthan was originally called Rajpoot, the area comprising a mix of princely states. This sent me to look at an old encyclopaedia I have – volume two of the 1848 / 1849 Chambers Encyclopaedia. Things were rather different back then, in the days of the British Raj – a complex history I won’t go into here, especially since I know a number of my readers are already familiar with it. But from that volume, here is the map of India, or Hindoostan as it was usually known by the West, although it was occasionally referred to as India and sometimes as the East Indies.

Obviously, the countries of Pakistan and Bangladesh were still part of this country as this was long before Independence. Indeed, this was even before the First War of Indian Independence, also referred to as the Indian Mutiny, in 1857.

There is a lot that can be learned from old encyclopaedias, especially about the attitudes the west had towards other parts of the world, which make for uncomfortable reading today. But again, I don’t propose to go into that now, rather just leave this map here for interest.

But for anyone who has ever struggled with the conversion rates of currency when they have travelled, this extract might bring a wry smile. The circulating medium of India consists of gold and silver coins, paper-money and cowries. The most common silver currency is the new coinage of Calcutta…Cowries are small shells which, not being depreciable by imitation, form a good medium for buying and selling among the lower classes. Their value varies in different places. The following is their value in Calcutta:-4 cowries 1 gunda; 20 gundas 1 pon; 32 pons one current rupee, 0r 2s. sterling (2560 cowries); 10 current rupees £1 sterling. The sicca rupee is 16 per cent less in value than the current rupee, which is an imaginary coin. The Bombay rupee is valued at 2s. 3d.; a pagoda is 8s.

Good luck trying that one in your head in the marketplace.

24 thoughts on “Hindoostan

  1. I don’t know what era used “clams” as slang for money, I think perhaps back in the ’50’s? And I don’t know if that particular colloquialism was ever current in the UK? Supposedly based on the native tribes using wampum as a medium of exchange. I like “simoleons” myself.

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  2. Very interesting information of the currency used in those days from a western perspective. We have heard of these names, and some are even used today like Kauri. Of course, Kauri doesn’t exist but this is used as a representation or maybe idioms.
    The map is also very interesting; I have seen a few others that are similar; the boundaries kept changing from time to time though.

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    1. Thanks, Arv. Until I read the encyclopaedia, I was only really aware of rupee, anna, and paisa. I’m sure that India consisting of such a large area, and with the influence of so many invaders over the centuries, there must have been scores of different local currencies at times. I assume the Kauri must be the cowrie.

      The map, of course, like most maps is fascinating. The boundaries are only put in roughly, no doubt for the reason you give, but I find the spellings especially interesting, and where they are very different to today I assume they are based on the local pronunciations., much as the spelling of Calcutta has now changed to Kolkata.

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      1. You are right, the currencies evolved over the time under various rulers. Also, the name were definitely different back then. For example Jaipur was Jeypore. In my opinion, these names were written from an Englishman’s perespective. It must have been hard to pronounce Indian names for British and therefore what we called Kanpur was called Kanpore or Kawnpore. The change of name from Calcutta to Kolkata or Madras to Chennai is mostly political. Local movements wanted some restorations and corrections.

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        1. There is always a question over spellings when you cross from one alphabet to another. then when you take into consideration changes in pronunciation over time, and that for a long period of time the majority of people were illiterate and so there was probably no standardised spellings, it’s no wonder we have differences of opinion over spellings!

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          1. Quite possibly. I remember witnessing a signboard in Jaipur many years ago. This must have been from pre-independence era. “Ajmere” was written on it in English followed with Urdu. These days we just write Ajmer. It is a town 100 km from Jaipur and was under direct British rule, back then. The place this was installed was the road leading to Ajmer.

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  3. I’m sitting here at my desk looking at a small collection of tribal masks I brought back from Liberia. Two of them are decorated with cowrie shells; clearly, their value was recognized across cultures. When I got to the description of the rupee as an imaginary coin, my first thought was of NFTs, or ‘non-fungible tokens,’ and bitcoin.

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    1. I think cowries have been used in many cultures. I wonder what it is about them, rather than other types of shell, that makes them seem so suitable?

      Yes, they do sound like bitcoins. I must admit I’m not entirely sure what is meant by that ‘imaginary’ description.

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        1. I don’t think so. It’s an English encyclopaedia, describing the currency in British-administered India, so I doubt there could be a translation problem in this case. I suspect it really does imply that the coins in question weren’t in general circulation, even though that seems rather strange.

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