The history of Chennai’s coinage is over 2500 years old. Other than the ancient coins of Pallava, Pandya, Chera and Chola, the Vijayanagara influence left an indelible mark on the South India coinage.
It all began in 1361 when Kumara Kampana II, son of Vijayanagar Emperor Bukka Raya I, conquered and established the Vijayanagar rule in Tondaimandalam.
The Vijayanagar rulers installed viceroys to rule the various parts of the present Tamil Nadu.
In 1535 Achyuta Deva Raya, the brother and successor of Krishna Deva Raya, granted Sevappa Nayak, the Governor of Thanjavur, the permission to establish a feudatory kingdom. Later, King Viswanatha Nayak, who was the Vijayanagara Viceroy to Madurai, became the King of Madurai. He is known as the founder of the Nayak dynasty of Madurai.
At that time the Coromandel Coast was ruled by the King of Chandragiri, Peda Venkata Raya, who was a descendant of the famous Rajas of Vijayanagar Empire. Under the King, his governors known as Nayaks, ruled over the different districts.
Damarla Venkatadri Nayakudu, local governor of the Vijayanagar Empire and Nayak of Vandavasi ruled the coastal part of the region, from Pulicat to the Portuguese settlement of San Thome. He and his brother Ayyappa Nayakudu resided at Poonamallee, now part of Madras, and looked after the affairs of the coast.
Beri Thimmappa, a dubash (Interpreter) of Francis Day of the East India Company, was a close friend of Ayyappa Nayakudu. He requested Ayyappa Nayakudu to persuade his brother to lease out the sandy strip to Francis Day and promised him trade benefits, army protection, and Persian horses in return.
On 22 August 1639, Francis Day secured the Grant from Damarla Venkatadri Nayakudu, which accorded the East India Company a three-mile long strip of land, a fishing village called Madraspatnam, copies of which were endorsed by Andrew Cogan, the Chief of the Masulipatam Factory. The Grant was for a period of two years and empowered them to build a fort and castle on an approximate land of 5 sq km.
The grants empowered the English to administer justice and authority to acquire additional land and coinage.
Right from the advent of the Vijayanagara in 1361, coins of the Vijayanagara kingdom were put in to circulation in Madurai, Thanjavur, Gingee and other parts of the Coromandel Coast.
Similar in design to Vijayanagara coins
Though locally minted by the governors the design, figures, size, and weight of all these coins were similar to those of Vijayanagara coins. These coins show walking soldier, Uma-Maheswara, Ganesha, Lakshmi-Narayana, Bala Krishna, Durga, Ganda Bernunda, Sita-Rama-Lakshmana, Venkateswara, Venugopala, Venkateswara with Sridevi and Bhoodevi respectively. The reverse bears the title of the ruler in Nandi-nagari or granulated surface (particularly on the coins of the last rulers).
Most of these coins were issued in gold. The copper varieties occur mostly with Garuda, Venkateswara, Nandi and other symbols. Gold one pagoda weighs 3.4g while half pagoda weighs 1.75g. Weights of the copper coins (Dodda Kani, Kani, Jittal, Kasu and Ara kasu) were between 250 grains to 15 grains.
The coinage of Sriranga II, Ramadevaraya, Venkatadevaraya III, Sriranga III from 1614 to 1672 invariably carried the portrait of Lord Sri Venkateswara. It appears to identify with the locals. The British adopted the same portrait of the deity on their gold and silver coins.
The gold one, half and quarter pagoda and silver fanams carried the image of Venkateswara with granulated reverse, and the silver fanams with interlinked C on its reverse. The British followed this custom of using the figure of Lord Venkateswara till 1808.