Cowry is the shell of a type of dead sea snail (Cypraea moneta), which is found mainly in the Indian Ocean. In many countries in Asia and Africa it was used as a medium of exchange in the Middle Ages. From the sixteenth century to the
nineteenth century, a large part of the slave trade between Europe and Africa was made through cowries. Curry has been used as a medium of exchange in
Bengal and Orissa for almost two millennia. However, curry is not found in Bengal or its environs. Curry was imported from Maldives to Bengal by sea in the Indian Ocean. Ibn Battuta, a 14th century Moroccan traveler, visited the Maldives. He used to buy rice from Bengal in exchange for cow dung. From
the end of the sixteenth century, when Portuguese traders began to control trade in the Indian Ocean, it was mainly the Portuguese who imported cowpea to Bengal.
It is difficult to say when cowrie was introduced as a medium of exchange in ancient Bengal. Probably in ancient times, cowrie was used as a currency in
all of northern and eastern India, from Kashmir to Assam. Bengali proverbs and sayings about cowry, such as 'Fellow cowry, makho oil' and the names Ekkari, Dukari, Tinkari, Panchkari or Satkari still bear witness to the importance of cowry in Bengal. Gold coins almost became extinct in Bengal during the reign of the Pala dynasty in the 8th century, while silver and copper coins were still in
circulation. During this time, cowries were the main means of exchange. In the middle of the ninth century, the Arab merchant Suleiman, in his book Silsilat ut-Tawarikh, stated that at that time curry was the only means of trade in Bengal, the main currency of Bengal. During the Sen dynasty, no other
medium of exchange seems to have existed in most parts of Bengal except the only cow. However, at the same time, silver coins were widely used in the Harikela kingdom ruled by the Chandra dynasty in the south-east coast of Bengal.
Coins called 'Purana' and 'Kapardak Purana' are mentioned in several copperplates of the Sen period. No existence of these coins has been found even today. The origin of the word 'Kari' from the Sanskrit word 'Kapardak' The
names of these two silver coins were used only for the production of calculations, in reality they were exchanged with cowries. Minhaj-i-Siraj wrote in his book 'Tabkat-i-Nasiri' (1259 AD) that during the reign of King
Lakshmanasen, silver coins were used instead of karibas and Lakshmanasena did not donate less than one lakh kari.
The mathematician Bhaskaracharya, in his book Lilavati (1150 AD) (1.2), writes about the exchange rates of the various currencies of the time:
“Baratkanang dasakadvayang yatsa kakini tascha panascatsarah.
In the sixteenth dramma ihabagamyo drammaistatha sixteenth niskah.
That is, 20 baratak (cow) = 1 kakini; 4 kakini = 1 bet; 18 bets = 1 drum; 18 drums = 1 niska Kakini copper coins, paan and dramma silver coins and nishka gold coins. Presumably, the value of 1 silver coin (drumma) mentioned in the book 'Lilavati' as 1260 kari is the value of that period or earlier.
Why did gold, silver and copper coins disappear from Bengal in the Sena era and cowry became the only medium of exchange? According to some modern historians, the decline in foreign trade by
sea in Bengal at this time led to a shortage of gold and silver coins. This assumption is probably incorrect. Because cows used to come to Bengal for trade in the Indian Ocean. Some modern historians speculate. The main reason for the widespread circulation of curry was that at that time the lion's share of
Bengal's trade was with the present-day province of Yunnan in China, and the medium of trade was curry, which was used as currency in both places.
After the end of the Sena dynasty in Bengal with the invasion of Bakhtiyar Khalji, the sultans ruled Bengal for about four centuries (1205-1536 AD) till the Mughal rule. At this time, the coin-minted silver coin Tankar (from ‘Tanka’ came the modern Bengali ‘taka’) was in short circulation at first but later became widely used, but the use of cowry continued as a means of exchange for the common people. Silver is not available in Bengal. Originally, silver was imported to Bengal during the Sultanate period from present-day Myanmar and China's Yunnan Province. It goes without saying that gold and copper coins were almost non-existent during this period. According to Ma Huan, the ambassador of the Ming Dynasty to China during the reign of the independent Sultan of Bengal, Ghiyas-ud-din Azam Shah (reigned 1369-1410 AD), silver coins were used for large commercial transactions and cowries for retail trade in Bengal. Sher Shah Suri conquered Bengal in 1536 AD. In 1542, Sher Shah Suri introduced a new pure silver coin, the rupee. In 156 AD, the army of Mughal Emperor Akbar defeated the Afghan ruler Daud Shah Karnani and conquered Bengal. Although gold, silver and copper coins were introduced during the Mughal period, the circulation of cowries did not stop. Cowrie was used as a medium of local exchange until the nineteenth century. Until the Sultanate period, Afghan rule, Mughal period, Nawabi period, and even the beginning of the East India Company rule, land revenue in Bengal could be given in cowries instead of coins. At this time, in Bengal, those who exchanged gold or silver coins with cowries for a fee were called 'potdars' or 'poddars'.
During the Sultanate period, Afghan rule, Mughal period, Nawabi period and East India Company rule in Bengal, the relation of silver coin to cowry has changed constantly.
“Asitivirvaratkaih bets etc.
Taih shorshai puranang sat rajatang saptavistu taih.
That is, 60 baratak (cow) = 1 bet; 18 bets = 1 myth; Purana = 1 silver. In fact at this time the silver coin of Bengal