2ndlook

Dabbulu – Lost History of a Stray Word

Posted in America, European History, Gold Reserves, India by Anuraag Sanghi on November 11, 2011

From the book: Travels of Fray Sebāstien Manrique, 1629-1643: China, India, etc |  Sebastião Manrique, Henry Hosten, Hakluyt Society  |  Page 102

From the book: Travels of Fray Sebāstien Manrique, 1629-1643: China, India, etc | Sebastião Manrique, Henry Hosten, Hakluyt Society | Page 102

Common words – lost roots

The common Telugu word for money is డబ్బు dabbu-lu – which has no relation with either Sanskrit or most other Indian languages. The origin of this word has been long a puzzle – and even though the Telugu dictionary lists some eight other words for currency and money, it is dabbulu which is most commonly used.

After years of puzzlement, a recent visit to Hyderabad gave me some promising threads, that I decided to follow up.

Image source; courtesy; commentary - columbia.edu  |  A gold half-pagoda coin from the reign of Hari Hara II (1377-1404). Kingdom of Vijayanagar, Hari Hara II (1377-1404); gold  1/2 pagoda no date -1,7 gram; obv: Siva enthroned cross-legged with Parvati (Uma-mahesvara type); rev: Devanagari 'Sri Prapati Harihara'.

Image source; courtesy; commentary - columbia.edu | A gold half-pagoda coin from the reign of Hari Hara II (1377-1404). Kingdom of Vijayanagar, Hari Hara II (1377-1404); gold 1/2 pagoda no date -1,7 gram; obv: Siva enthroned cross-legged with Parvati (Uma-mahesvara type); rev: Devanagari 'Sri Prapati Harihara'.

Old words for new

Early European travellers to India reported a local currency that they called the dab or dub, and in a few cases even the దుడ్డు duddu or debua. దుడ్డు duddu as per dictionary is in some places, of four, and in others, of two annas. One of the earliest reports that we get are from a Portuguese priest, whose books were translated in English also – Travels of Fray Sebāstien Manrique, 1629-1643: China, India, etc. All descriptions agree that this was a copper coin – but the exchange rate varied across regions, towns, seasons and economic conditions.

Salary – by any other coin

The tankha, a common coin till colonial era, first popularized as fiat currency token, during Tughlaq rule, was derived from the Hindi word, for a टांका taanka, stitch. Widely forged, the Tughlaqs were forced to withdraw old tankhas, and replace with new standard coins, the tankha remains in use in Bengali as taka – and exists in Telugu as టంకముtankumu.

After Sher Shah Suri decided to replace the tankha, and impose his copper-silver-gold rupiya, State officials started accepting salary in tankha – now used as an equivalent to salary. Derived from tankha, is also the Hindi word for mint – tank-saal, which Telugu also uses as టంకసాలṭanka-sāla.

The Greco-Latin denarius is దీవారము (dīvāramu) or దీనరమ dīnāramu – and also used దినారి dināri, dināri. Probably derived from chavanni, but unclear etymology is చవిలె – cavile;  ṭsavile – Four dubs or coins, of the value of twenty cash each. Four cavilehs equal one టంకముtankumu. A bigger version is the చవలము cavalamu; ṭsavalamu – about half a rupee. Wealth generally can be denoted by the word లపక lapaka.

Image Source; Courtesy; Commentary - columbia.edu  |  A gold half-pagoda from Vijayanagar, 1400's; inscribed word - Shri Krishna-ji.  |  Click for source image.

Image Source; Courtesy; Commentary - columbia.edu | A gold half-pagoda from Vijayanagar, 1400's; inscribed word - Shri Krishna-ji. | Click for source image.

Oldest … after Tamil

Telugu was the language used by Vijayanagar kings extensively. Amuktamalyada (or sometimes called Vishnuchitteeyam) the book by Krishna Devaraya (reigned from 1509–1529), was written in Telugu. Telugu was also a significant language of the Satavahana kingdom, with Telugu inscriptions on Satavahana coins. The hub of wootz steel and diamond trade, merchants from all over the world came to Vijayanagar cities for trade. Portuguese horse-traders proliferated in Vijayanagar – with them came Spanish coins.

New World – and old money

India was in the Portuguese half of the world as per the Papal Bulls – and hence, we see Spanish influence in India through the Portuguese presence in India. For the medieval period, apart from extensive indigenous records, we also have European travelogues by Domingo Paes (a horse-trader), Duarte Barbosa, Fernão Nunes and Niccolò Da Conti. Tavenier was another famous visitor to Vijayanagar kingdom.

The most prominent king of Vijayanagar was Krishna Devaraya, who came to the throne (reigned from 1509–1529) soon after Spanish campaign of American conquest began (after Columbus voyage in 1492). American gold as Spanish coins attracted entire nations in Europe to encourage piracy and loot. India, the centre of world trade then, gave us the common Spanish coin that survives in name today – the peso; a close cousin of the paisa.

But the most famous of Spanish coins was the doubloon.

Tiger by the tale

The paisa has been a apart of Indian currency structure much before the peso became a part of the Spanish currency unit. India, always an importer of gold, may arguably, have also imported the word paisa. Though most Indian coins were named in India – and foreign words were not used much.

Was doubloon an import from Spain – or is it that doubloon was an export from the famed Vijayanagar bazaars into the Spanish currency. For the nouveau riche Spain to name its currency after the famed Vijayanagar word for currency could be an interesting tale to catch.

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5 Responses

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  1. Parag Tope said, on November 12, 2011 at 2:32 am

    Indians were ambivalent to currency – because Dharma did not authorize Hindu rulers to monopolize currency. Therefore, Indians accepted various types of currencies and typically the markets determined their value.

    Because currencies could be minted by anyone in India – any foreigner could bring their currencies.

    Islamic rulers and later the europeans had different systems. Their rulers created sovereign monopolies on currencies and did not allow other currencies to compete with theirs.

    It is unlikely that India was ever an exporter of currency for two reasons:

    1. Indian currency would not have been allowed in desert bloc countries – because of their own sovereign monopolies.
    2. During the period you mention, India was largely an exporter of goods, and received coinage in return – currencies of various sorts.

    India has been the only place, that has always allowed a free market of currencies to exist. Which automatically means that at any point in time there were dozens of currencies that existed within India. Chances are that the currencies you mention were imported into India – and accepted as valid coinage as long as the the markets determined their worth was acceptable.

    Of course all this broke down – when Islamic rulers and later the europeans imposed desert bloc style impositions on currencies within India and began devaluing them routinely. The daam became worthless when the english began forging their coinage, that they had licensed from the mughals in bengal.

    Leading to the phrases such as “who gives a damn” or “not worth a damn”…

    Parag

    • Anuraag Sanghi said, on November 12, 2011 at 10:48 am
      Islamic rulers and later the europeans had different systems. Their rulers created sovereign monopolies on currencies and did not allow other currencies to compete with theirs.

      The general drift of your comment is correct – except that mechanisms in Bharattantra ensured that even Islamic and Christian rulers could not disallow competing currencies to circulate in India. Even during the British Raj, other Indian currencies were used in British territories – and British Raj had to create a complex mechanisms to loot India. But fiat currency they could not use in India.

      The first and the only time that Indians embraced fiat currency was after decolonization – and that too with a rider. The Indian habit of investing in gold continued. So, the use of gold to anchor Indian economy continues – with or without State approval.

      This is why Bharattantra remains one of the most enduring systems, ever designed, that even in Desert Bloc rule, Bharattantra continues to protect its users.

    • Anuraag Sanghi said, on November 12, 2011 at 11:09 am
      Islamic rulers and later the europeans imposed desert bloc style impositions on currencies within India and began devaluing them routinely. The daam became worthless when the english began forging their coinage, that they had licensed from the mughals in bengal.

      I would question this.

      Since India has and had a wide network of gold-valuers, any devaluation in coinage was immediately noticed – and the bazaar ‘corrected’ the price. If you check out the links, you can see that the Indian money bazaar was alive and vibrant – then as it is now.

      The European loot mechanisms were created off-shore – like with the Pitman Act and at the Government-to-Government levels. Elaborate mechanisms were created to do this – but currency devaluation was not one one of them.

      Leading to the phrases such as “who gives a damn” or “not worth a damn”…

      I would imagine that this came not from the Indian coin daam, but from the religious word, damn, which means imprecations and curse. When the Church authority was significant, damnation by the Church could mean end of life as we know it. As Church authority weakened in the last 500 years, nobody gave a damn, anymore.

  2. Ram said, on November 15, 2011 at 4:58 am

    Your analysis of outlines of trading and financing of ‘Bharat Tantra’ is simply great.Finance is the area of my interest and given your grasp of subject I request you to provide more specific writings on arthshastra of ‘Bharat Tantra’ especially in the field of ‘Derivative products’.

    As usual the history of derivatives starts from biblical time then from Greece/Rome it jumps in Japan and so on in almost(always) every standard ‘Financial Derivatives’ book. Given the chaos created by the these ‘great’ modern innovation of USA and Europe, I sincerely hope a second look on them will be timely and apt.

    (Dear Anurag! I keep enjoying your brilliant analysis. After going through your writings I urged to know something more about You.Alas!which u have not provided much.)

  3. Gul said, on November 22, 2011 at 8:06 pm

    Your current post and the one about “Indian Gold reserves” are outstanding!!

    I have been doing my own research on Indian Gold reserves and have come to a figure between 25000 and 30000 tons. Recently an article in The Times of India said that the amount of Gold imported into India officially from 1996 to 2010 was 8250 tons. That’s about twenty percent of the worldwide production of approx. 36000 tons during this period.

    After doing a little more digging on the net I found that during the British rule – (http://www.bgs.ac.uk/mineralsuk/statistics/worldArchive.html) – the average import into India was between 10 to 20 percent of the world production (accept for a period after the Great Depression which saw a net outflow – a case of Bharat coming to the rescue of the Desert Bloc?).

    Historically India was the largest economy in the world – refer Angus Madisson and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_regions_by_past_GDP_(PPP) – for almost 1500 years from 1 AD to 1500 AD and then briefly in 1700. This would have put Gold imports into India in the 20 percent range during this period (probably more? but less the loot by the Ghazni etc) .

    The total Gold in the world above ground is estimated to be about 165000 tons as on 2010 ((2009 by this; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gold_reserve ). Taking the production figure of 36000 tons out from 1996 to 2010 gives a balance of approx. 130000 tons in 1996. Twenty percent of this gives 26000 tons. Fifteen percent gives about 19500 tons. Taking an average gives us 22750 tons. Adding 8250 tons reported by TOI from 1996 to 2010 gives us 31000 tons.

    The new book -http://www.amazon.com/Currency-Wars-Making-Global-Portfolio/dp/1591844495/ref=pd_rhf_ee_p_t_1 – by James Rickards astonishes us by saying that a revaluation of the dollar by the US can happen between $3000 to $44000 per ounce. At an average revaluation of $7500 to $10000 per ounce this will make the INDIAN GOLD RESERVES WORTH ALMOST 9 TRILLION DOLLARS. This is almost equal to 75% of the current US stock market capitalization!!!!!!!!!!!

    go figure…..

    Gul.


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