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Experiencing the history of money: My two cents

  • Published at 04:21 pm July 23rd, 2019
Taka Museum
Photo: Courtesy

A day inside Taka Museum

Decluttering was always a therapeutic thing I would do every six months since my childhood. While doing so one book would always catch my eye and I would throw it away thinking it was junk, but it was more than just a shabby book. It was a scrapbook of all the stamps my father would collect while traveling and be on the lookout for rare stamps.

Stamps may be considered an insignificant bit of paper that is used to physically send mail, but rather, collecting them is a hobby for a person who is fascinated by each regions’ designs and the sense of uniqueness stamped in each of them. Driven by my father’s intense joy in collecting stamps, I had to, of course, visit the Taka Museum in Dhaka when I heard of it. The Taka Museum is the monumental display of currencies of all ages and it was a collection I surely wanted to witness.

Extremely thrilled by the thought of visiting the museum, I stubbornly took a two hours journey by car through inclement weather and there I was in front of the Museum at Mirpur, stunned by the terracotta plaque that has a huge display of all kinds of currencies.

The entrance was free of cost and was open to albeit with strict security checkup since its formal inauguration on October 5, 2013. Initially, there was a small section for currency at the main building of Bangladesh Bank at Motijheel. It was secured, preserved, and secluded from public view. It was Dr. Atiur Rahman, honorable governor of Bangladesh Bank who took the initiative of establishing a museum. A collector of coins himself, he understood the educational purpose and necessity of the venture and he collected all the currencies -- some found through thorough research with the help Archaeologists and Antiquarians and some others provided by the Central Bank. Finally, a museum was established for the public.

Growing up, we have all been introduced to the idea of money. With the concept of trading goods with goods, for availing other benefits and to live in society, coins were then coined. Generations passed by, lifestyles changed, and people no longer wanted to walk around with the sound of shillings weighing the pockets and thus paper notes were introduced. Walking to the first of the two galleries, sections of arts were displayed that clearly depicted this concept of monetary transaction and its necessity in the societies.

Besides the art display, you will find yourself in a room filled with coins and notes. Now here comes the fun fact, did you know that the shells that you mostly see in Cox’s Bazar were once used as currency? Back then, these were called the ‘Cowry’ shells and was imported from the Maldives as a form of currency, used from the post-Gupta dynasty up to the first half of the nineteenth century. The displays inside the shelves start from the ancient coins when language was still developing, to the Mughal period when the Sultans stamped their own designs or faces, to the coins of Bengal period, and to the coins of the extinct counties.

As you keep walking past the shelves you learn about the history, the eras and the transition from silver punched mark coins to gold coinage to notes. At the end of the Mughal period, the idea of banking system developed. Interestingly, there was a huge ‘matir hari’ placed at the corner of the second gallery which depicts the time when banks were not there and people would hide their money inside that ‘hari’. Gradually the note system was introduced and it was the British who brought the note system along with their imperialism. Unlike the coins and gold coins which were simply placed inside the display shelves, the ancient gold plates and notes which are rare and priceless were laminated for preservation and were highly secured.

The exhibit does not end there. Other shelves are also dedicated to the people who have been collecting coins and generously donated to the Bank to Display at the Museum. Many of Dr. Atiur Rahman’s self-collected coins are displayed as well. The coin designer, who designed commemorative coins for Rabindranath and Kazi Nazrul Islam, is honoured with a separate shelf too.

There are simply no ends to examine and scrutinize the coins. The more you see the more stories you learn about each of the coins. The more these coins are rare, the most expensive it is. That is indefinably the power of money and rare items.

Minutes after completing my journey through the walkways of the museum, I considered what my verdict is.  Is it educational? Yes! Would I go there again? No! It was definitely worth spending the time there as I gathered empirical knowledge of the history of “taka” and where it all began. It was informative and even awe-inspiring at times. But well trained and lively museum guides in the galleries could have made the visit more engaging and fun. Otherwise, I can only find myself solitarily wandering through the walkways, monotonously observing all little things on my own and trying to piece together the things myself.