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Constellation of Varak/Mesha
Aries the Ram

Triton XXII, Lot: 1260. Estimate $150000.
Sold for $200000. This amount does not include the buyer’s fee.

INDIA, Mughal Empire. Nur al-Din Muhammad Jahangir. AH 1014-1037 / AD 1605-1627. AV Mohur (22mm, 10.91 g, 4h). Zodiac Type, Class A. Agra mint. Dually dated [Farwardin] AH 1030 and RY 16 (21 March-19 April AD 1621). Constellation of Varak/Mesha (Aries the Ram): ram, head right, recumbent left; radiate sun behind / zar zewar dar Agra ruye yaft az Jahangir Shah Akbar Shah (Received ornament on gold at Agra from Jahangir Shah [son of] Akbar Shah) in Persian verse; to left, AH date above RY date. Liddle Type G-73 (same dies as illustration); BM 323 (same obv. die); Wright 570; Hull 1380 (same dies); KM 180.1 (same obv. die as illustration); Friedberg 762. Superb EF, minor weakness on edge of obverse and center of reverse.

Previously to this, the rule of the coinage was that on the face of the metal they stamped my name, and on the reverse the name of the place and the year of the reign. At this time it entered my mind that in place of the month they should substitute the figure of the constellation which belonged to that each month that was struck, the figure of the constellation was to be on one face, as if the sun was emerging from it.

The Memoirs of Jahangir [Tuzk-e Jahangiri] (Entry for 20 March 1619)

In the 29th year of his reign, the Mughal emperor Akbar (1556-1605) established the Din-e Ilahi (literally faith of God), a syncretic belief system that incorporated elements of the different religious beliefs in his empire. Immediately thereafter, Akbar began counting his reign in accordance with the tenets this new belief system. Known as the Ilahi Era, dating was now based on a solar, rather than lunar, calendar with the year divided into twelve Ilahi months.

Akbar’s early successors continued to employ this dating system. Jahangir (1605-1628), Akbar’s son and immediate successor, used the Ilahi Era to great artistic effect by issuing two series of mohurs that incorporated Ilahi Era elements. The earliest series, known as the portrait series, since the coins show the emperor on the obverse, all show the constellation Leo superimposed over the sun – a reference to Jahangir’s birth in August. This series was struck within a three-year span early in Jahangir’s reign and are quite rare. The second series, known as the zodiac series, since each of the twelve constellations of the Zodiac is represented on the reverse, was a much larger series. Struck both in gold and silver, the zodiac series was issued from several mints (with Agra being the primary), and like the previous series, minted over three or four years. Since the Ilahi months were solar months and corresponded with the solar ecliptic (an imaginary line in the sky that marks the annual path of the sun), each month was represented by an appropriate sign of the Zodiac, recording its particular month of issue.

Because many of these coins had been recalled and melted by Jahangir’s successor, Shah Jahan, original strikes are very rare. Collector restrikes were periodically issued over the following century, and though they are more often encountered than the originals, are relatively rare themselves. Numismatists have divided the portrait and zodiac series mohurs into four classes:

Class A: undisputed original strikes, characterized by deep relief, somewhat uneven flans, and rounded calligraphy.
Class B: possibly original strikes, but more likely minted in the first decade or two following Jahangir’s death. The relief is shallower, of a more uniform appearance, and the calligraphy is more square.
Class C: mohurs of Class A or B that have had the zodiac type removed and re-engraved.
Class D: later imitations and forgeries.