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The Reserve Bank of India’s monetary museum is a journey through Indian history
When you walk down Pherozesha Mehta Marg, which is crowded with cars and taxis and shopkeepers shouting out their wares, if you are not observant, you might miss the monetary museum run by the Reserve Bank of India. But once you enter the air-conditioned museum, with its neat glass cases, and overhead lights, you are transported into a world, which is an obsession with most people: money. But it is not just money, but the history of Indian money: from coins dating back 2,500 years to the present ubiquitous Gandhi note.
The idea to set up a monetary museum was there for several decades but it was during the tenure of governor Dr. C. Rangarajan (1992-1997) that it gained momentum. The driving force behind the project was Bazil Shaikh, now chief general manager of the human resources development department of the RBI. “We wanted to demystify money,” says Shaikh. “Through the museum, the bank wanted to reach out to the public and the student community. It is also part of the bank’s communication strategy.”
It was not an easy task. It took two years to complete the research, groundwork, and to acquire exhibits. First, a web site was set up. Work on the physical museum, which was designed by the National Institute of Design, was taken up subsequently. Eminent scholars such as Dr R. Vanaja and collectors like K. Jhunjhunwalla helped with the background work. Says curator P.V. Radhakrishnan: “The majority of the coins have been purchased from private collectors.”
The museum has been divided into six sections: a) ideas, concepts and curiosities. Here, you can see money in various shapes, sizes and metals including some of the smallest coins in the world. b) In the coinage section, you can see ancient coins dating from the sixth century BC to coins of the Mughal Period, the Princely States, the British Indian coinage and commemorative coins of modern day India. It is, in one way, the history of India. When one empire crumbled, the new ruler used to issue new coins. In the Gupta period, the coins were issued mainly in gold. In the Mughal period, there were verses from the Koran on one side and the name of the Emperor on the other side. During Moghul Emperor Jahangir’s reign, he issued a nazrana coin, which weighed 1000 tolas (12 kgs), which was given as a gift. More closer in time: in 1968, a twenty paise coin looked like gold and the people started melting it, to make ornaments even though it was made of nickel brass or aluminium bronze.
In section C, the museum traces the journey from coins to paper money and it shows how the concept of “promises to pay” originated. You can see promissory notes, bills of exchange and cheques. There is a panel on hundies, which were used by local bankers. The other sections include one on paper money, on knowing your notes and the RBI and You.
“The museum also has interactive information kiosks through which children can learn various aspects of currency and coins,” says curator P.V. Radhakrishnan. The museum takes a visitor through a fascinating journey on how money has changed - from gold, silver and copper to fiat money. It also introduces the visitor to what the Reserve Bank, which plays an important role in the economy, means to the common man.