Taj Mahal Sunken Treasure 1702
Coins "Like the Shining Full Moon in the World"
Just over three hundred years ago, an Indian trader sailed from the bustling port of Surat, India, bound for the Far East via “the Spice Route.” She carried a treasure to satiate desire: bag after bag, containing 1,000 coins each, of exquisitely minted silver rupees. The rupees had been minted by order of Shah Aurangzeb Alamgir (1618-1707), the sixth and last great Mughal (Mogul) emperor of India. Aurangzeb was the son of Shah Jahan, builder of the most magnificent memorial in the world: the sun-white, glistening, marble towered Taj Mahal, built as a memorial to his wife, Mumtaz Mahal.
On its way to the East, the trader probably put in at the Portuguese trading post on the tiny island of Ceylon (present day Sri Lanka), but disaster struck as it continued on its voyage around the southern tip of the island. Those waiting for her return to Surat never left any record of the loss. And it is doubtful Aurangzeb ever missed his rupees.
In 1961, the remains of the shipwreck was discovered, and in 1963, Sir Arthur C. Clarke, and his dive associates recovered the treasure on the treacherous Great Basses Reef. Buried among the debris were concreted masses of silver rupees. Flowing across the obverse, just below the date, is the poetic couplet “Shah Aurangzeb Alamgir, the ruler, throne adorner, world grasper, struck coin in the world like the shining full Moon.”
Further translation indicated that the coins had been minted in Surat, India, in the Hijri year AH 1113, or the latter part and beginning of the Gregorian years 1701 and 1702, during the 45th and 46th regnal years of Emperor Aurangzeb. Until the Great Basses discovery, no other examples of these coins were known to exist.
Most people know Clarke as the Nobel-nominated “father of satellite communications,” and the author of “2001: A Space Odyssey” among nearly 100 other books. But few know about his life before “2001: A Space Odyssey."
By about 1956, Clarke had tired of the English weather and adopted the tropical Ceylon (as it was known back then) as his new home. He was an avid scuba diver and often wrote about underwater exploration along with his science papers and science fiction stories.
In 1961, his dive partner and underwater photographer, Mike Wilson, was exploring Great Basses Reef along with two boys from the American consulate. As they swam over one of the massive coral heads, the remains of a shipwreck came into view, scattered along the bottom. Among the debris were clusters of silver rupees, still in the shape of the bags that had once carried them. After 259 years, the fate of the Indian trader was finally known.
An archaeological salvage expedition was planned for 1962, but Clarke was suddenly stricken with polio. By 1963 he had regained some mobility, and the team returned to the reef. They recovered thousands of coins and many artifacts, but they didn't get all of them. A year later, Clarke published “Treasure of the Great Reef” for adults, and “Indian Ocean Treasure,” for young readers.
Clarke contacted Mendel Peterson, maritime curator at the Smithsonian Institution, and donated donated one of the coin clusters to the Smithsonian.
The silver rupees in our Taj Mahal Sunken Treasure collection are exclusive to Cannon Beach Treasure Company. They are from Clarke’s personal collection and are the last that are available in our collection. Each coin comes with a 15th Anniversary Edition of Robert’s documentary, “Arthur C. Clarke: return to the reef” with nearly two hours of programs and behind the scenes videos with Sir Arthur C. Clarke and Carl Fismer.
Personal Note from Robert: Perhaps one of the most memorable experiences I have ever had, right up there with swinging down over a 300-foot cliff and into a mine shaft deep in a Mexican jungle, was four years working with Sir Arthur C. Clarke, bringing a little-known part of his life to light.
In the Florida Keys, I was working with renowned treasure hunter Capt. Carl Fismer in the early 1990s when he acquired a number of silver rupees from retired Smithsonian curator, Mendel Peterson. Clarke had gifted rupees to both the Smithsonian Institution and Peterson for the work done to help identify the origins of the wreck.
I contacted Clarke, who was delighted to hear that someone wanted to talk to him about something other than “the meaning of ‘2001: A Space Odyssey.’” And after a year of planning, Fismer, and my brother, Richard, and I finally landed, halfway around the world, in Colombo, Sri Lanka. The plan was to interview Clarke and go diving on the shipwreck.
Clarke suffered from post-polio syndrome and was mostly confined to walking aides and a wheelchair and thus wouldn't be diving with us. But when we arrived, he gleefully announced that he would be joining us... for a dive – only his second in nearly 30 years! Apparently he had seen my documentary, Where Wheelchairs Are Not Allowed, about scuba divers with disabilities, and told me, “I'm Carl Lewis compared to your divers.” A few days later we took Arthur to a depth of over 100 feet.
Near the end of my documentary, “Arthur C. Clarke: before 2001,” Clarke exclaims, “If I never do another dive, this will be a good way to go out - BEAUTIFUL!”
Due to weather, we were never able to dive on Great Basses Reef. And Clarke left an open invitation to return to dive again, and to even attempt to salvage the remaining treasure and donate it to the museum in Colombo. But that wasn't to be.
As it turned out, that was Clarke’s last dive. In 2008, he passed on to the Great Reef in the sky.
And as I sit here now, writing this, I can still hear Clarke, in his deep British accent, reading the end of “Treasure of the Great Reef”: “No theatrical designer could have contrived a more splendid stage setting. We seemed to be looking straight into the heart of fairyland. And I found myself thinking, as the light slowly faded from the Western sky, that the beauty ahead of us was no illusion, no mere trick of sun and cloud, but it was real, and we were returning to it with our cargo of hard-won treasure.”
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