Illustration by Joby for 1 Finance Magazine

When you think of an Indian currency note, what image comes to mind? Possibly a portrait of Gandhi, but if you look closer, you’ll notice that each denomination of currency notes currently in circulation bears scenes that depict Indian symbols of heritage, science or culture. While some of these rupee notes came into being decades ago — like the 1, 2, and 5 notes that were issued in the 1980s — others were introduced in 2016, after the country’s monetary reforms came into being. We dug out the stories behind the visuals on the back of these bank notes.

1 Note: The Sagar Samrat Oil Rig

This old 1 note has an image of the Sagar Samrat oil rig. A symbol of India’s prowess in oil production, the Sagar Samrat oil rig is a former jack-up drilling rig that drilled Oil and Natural Gas Corporation’s first offshore oil well, off the coast of Mumbai, in 1974, and then went on to drill around 125 wells in the country. It now continues to contribute to India’s quest for energy self-sufficiency as a Mobile Offshore Production Unit.

2 Note: India’s First Satellite

The 2 note features India’s first satellite, Aryabhata, which was built by the Indian Space Research Organisation and launched in 1975 by a Soviet rocket. The satellite suffered a power failure only days after its launch, but remains an iconic reminder of India’s first foray into space exploration.

5 Note: Green Revolution

The 5 note pays tribute to India’s agrarian economy. It shows a farmer on a tractor, ploughing a field — a reference to the farm mechanisation that took place during the Green Revolution of the 1960s. While the 5 note (as well as the 2 note) is no longer printed, they are still considered legal tender — as are the ₹1 notes, which are issued from time to time

10 Note: Konark, Odisha

The 10 note from the Mahatma Gandhi (New) Series, i.e. the most recent series of banknotes issued by the RBI after the monetary reforms in November 2016, carries an image of a stone wheel from the Sun Temple at Konark, Odisha. The 13th-century stone temple is meant to represent the chariot of Surya — the Sun God. It is drawn by seven horses and moves on 24 carved wheels.

20 Note: Ellora Caves, Maharashtra

These notes from the same series as the 10 note depict the Ellora Caves in Maharashtra. The cave complex contains colossal stone-carved Hindu, Buddhist and Jain monasteries and temples — the earliest of which date back to the 5th century CE. 

50 Note: Hampi, Karnataka

The newest 50 notes have an image of one of Hampi’s most sought-after attractions: The stone chariot at the Vittala Temple. The ancient town of Hampi in Karnataka, with its stone temples and structures, was once an immensely wealthy city and the capital of the Vijayanagara empire that existed from the 14th to 16th century CE. 

100 Note: Rani ki Vav, Gujarat

This note features Rani ki Vav, an ancient stepwell — located in Patan, Gujarat — which was built in the 11th century CE to resemble an inverted temple. The stepwell, with its ornate carvings and intricate details, is a reminder of India’s deep-rooted architectural and craft heritage. 

200 Note: Sanchi Stupa, Madhya Pradesh

The note features the Sanchi Stupa, a massive, hemispherical Buddhist monument located in Madhya Pradesh. The stupa was built by Mauryan emperor Ashoka in the 3rd century BCE, following his conquest of Kalinga and his adoption of Buddhism. 

500 Note: Red Fort, Delhi

The 500 note depicts the Red Fort in Old Delhi. The fort was commissioned by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan when he decided to shift the empire’s capital from Agra to Delhi, and completed in 1648. The Red Fort continues to be a symbol of the national capital and the seat of power. 

2,000 Note: India’s Mars Orbiter Mission

This rupee note is similar in theme to the 2 note in that it has an image of India’s first foray into interplanetary space exploration and its only Mars Orbiter Mission, known as Mangalyaan. Mangalyaan was launched in 2013 and was put into Mars’ orbit the next year — following a 300-day journey — where it remained for around eight years, even though it was initially designed for a six-month life span.

Discover your MoneySign®

Identify the personality traits and behavioural patterns that shape your financial choices.