1. Question
  2. Introduction of the Answer
  3. Body#1: Why Gupta coins are spectacular?
  4. Body#2: Why Post-Gupta coins are less spectacular?
  5. Conclusion
  6. After-thoughts


Q. How do you justify the view that the level of excellence of Gupta numismatic art is not at all noticeable in later times? (150 words, 10 marks)

  • Word Limit: 150 words; Marks: 10
  • Exam: UPSC civil Services Mains-2017: General Studies Paper-1 (GSM1)
  • Syllabus: Salient aspects of Art, Architecture, literature from Ancient to Modern Times.

Introduction of the Answer

There are three primary ways to write introduction of an answer (1) DEFINE the term(s) mentioned in the question (2) Write the ORIGIN of the event or issue, or (3) Provide DATA (statistical information) pertaining to the issue. Let’s try first two methods of introduction:

  • (Definition) Numismatics is the study or collection of coins and currency. It’s among the crucial tools for the archaeologists and historians seeking information of trade, economy, religion, society and personages in a particular area.
  • (Origin) Although archeologists have found terracotta seals in the Indus valley civilization sites, there is no consensus on whether these seals were in fact coins. Hence, the earliest of regular dynastic coins are attributed to Indo-Greeks, the Saka-Pallava and the Kushans. Gupta coinage (4th-6th centuries AD) followed the Kushan tradition by depicting the king on the obverse and a deity on the reverse.

You can see that even if we provide definition, we’ll have to write some introduction on how Gupta coinage originated. Hence in this particular question, it’s better to begin with ‘origin’ rather than ‘definition’. Had UPSC asked something about Gupta empire itself from its excavated coins, then it’d have been more apt to begin with ‘definition’.

Body#1: Why Gupta coins are spectacular?

  • Unlike the predecessors, the Guptas did not confine the images of emperors only in martial poses such as Archer, Lion-slayer or Horse-rider. They also depicted socio-political events such as marriage of the king and queen, king performing Ashvmedha yanga, king playing Veena and involved in other leisure activities.
  • The reverse sides of these coins depicted variety of Gods and Goddesses including Durga, Lakshmi, Ganga, Garuda and Kartikeya.
  • Gupta coins were usually minted in gold and silver. This further enhanced the luster and premiumness of coins.

Body#2: Why Post-Gupta coins are less spectacular?

The coins minted after Gupta-period are usually monotonous and aesthetically less interesting. Because:

  1. The continuous internal feuds among medieval kings had kept their kingdoms fragmented and treasury in poor state. Hence coins were minted in metal of inferior quality- usually nickel, copper and lead. Dynastic coins were minted and demonetized in haste because of frequent coups and succession. These factors left little time and little room for grand imaginations, vivid designs and unique motifs. For example:
  2. Rajput coin designs were confined martial motifs of bull and horseman type. Some of them had king’s name on obverse side and a Goddess on the reverse side.
  3. South Indian coin designs were confined to dynastic crests– boar (Chalukya), bull (Pallava), tiger (Chola), fish (Pandya), bow and arrow (Cheras) and lion (Hoysala). Usually, the other side of the coin had image of temple / Goddess or was simply left blank [e.g. Western Chaluykya.].
  4. Prohibition of idolatry in Islam severely limited the scope of inscribing motifs and images in the coins of Delhi sultanate and Mughal empire. Usually these coins bore only textual information such as name of the king and date of issue.
  5. The weakening of Mughal empire and subsequent fall of land revenue had forced Aurangzeb to debase his coins. The subsequent reduction in the content & quality of metal had further reduced the scope of border designs, luster and premium look- even in the coins of highest denomination. [Debasement means using less quantity of gold, silver and using metal of inferior quality such as copper, nickle and lead to mints the coins of same denomination. Watch My Lecture for more on this.]
  6. British-Indian coins were monotonous in design as they had textual information of coin denomination and year on obverse side and portrait of the king or queen on the reverse side. After independence, the king’s portrait was replaced by Lion Capital of the Ashoka Pillar and other indigenous motifs of sovereignty and freedom.
debaesment of Mughal coins

Current Affairs Question: Which political party does this remind you of?


Usually conclusions are of two types: (1) Finding: but here, it was a loaded question wherein the premise itself said Gupta coins were better. (2) Summary: but in the body the points are so diverse, difficult to condense and summarize. So, better just end on a positive note.

Thus, with the aforementioned observations of dynastic coins in the Northern, Southern and Western kingdoms of Medieval India, we can conclude that the level of excellence of Gupta numismatic art is unparalleled in the history of Indian coinage.


This is nearly 300 words answer, as I’ve utilized following sources for the preparation of this answer:-

  1. Nitin Singhania’s Art & Culture, (Second Edition) Chapter-23: Coins in Ancient and Medieval India
  2. RBI’s online coin museum

But, in the actual exam hall, given the vastness of the syllabus and randomness of the questions, you’ll not be able to recollect all the points like Chola had tiger motif or that Aurangzeb’s debasement was one of the reasons for declining quality of coins! Therefore, automatically it’ll compress down to 150 words limit.