Note : The part 2 of the post on The Dominance of the US Dollar shall be posted after this post.
In this post, we shall examine the new symbol accorded to the Indian rupee. We shall observe its significance, its important purpose, its artistic design and finally, we shall also detail a small critique on it.
A background : In November 2009, the Government of India declared open a contest to design a new symbol (or logo) to denote the Indian Rupee on the lines of symbols for other international currencies such as the US Dollar, the Euro, the Yen and the Pound Sterling.
On July 16, India's Information & Broadcasting ministry revealed the design submitted by Udaya Kumar as the winning entry, and which is shown in the above figure. Its designer, Dr. Kumar is a professor of design at India's premier Indian Institute of Technology, Mumbai.
Now, the reason most reported by newspapers, for the decision to design a logo for the Indian rupee is that it "heralds a new era in India's growing economic status in the global financial system." It must be noted that this is probably the least important purpose of having symbols for major currencies. More than this reason, a logo of a currency actually meets a few practical purposes :-
1) A symbol increased available space in the account ledgers and business sheets to "squeeze in" a few more digits before, or after the decimal in any amount figure. So, greater amounts could be represented and stored in the same space. This was especially true in the times before the industrial era. It actually holds true even in computer generated amounts today.
2) Arguably the most important reason is that major currencies needed to be recognized instantly by traders and brokers --- especially currency traders and hedgers who work in a very hectic environment on the trading floor at stock markets. On the floors of currency bourses and stock markets, symbols are recognized instantly, rather than decoding Roman alphabet (like USD for $, or (I)Rs. for the Indian rupee and (N)Rs for the Nepali rupee). This helps a trader save a few crucial seconds in the cut-throat atmosphere of placing trade calls or bets.
3) Related to point 2), a symbol distinguishes between the currencies of other nations that also use the same denomination. For example, the pure $ stands for the United States Dollar only. This distinguishes it from the Canadian and Singaporean dollars to name just two. The same held for the British Pound Sterling from the Irish Pound (before Ireland adopted the Euro). A symbol thus removes ambiguity and facilitates quick account reads and trading judgement.
4) The final reason is that it makes for an easy abbreviation to physically draw and represent in tax books, financial records and statement (especially those of international traders and fund managers). For example, writing "USD" is more tedious than just $. Or, 'Ero' than just the symbol for Euro.
With the Indian economy on a high growth trajectory, the Indian rupee is increasingly being traded for, and hedged against, in many major currency markets worldwide. Recently, the Central Bank of Japan (RBI's counterpart) decided to hold a reserve of the Indian rupee too, which would also undoubtedly be traded, given the strong confidence in India's economy.
Thus, it became imperative for the Indian Rupee to have its own distinguishing symbol at par with other major currencies of powerful economies like the US dollar, pound sterling, the euro and the Japanese Yen. It would not only meet points 1) and 2) highlighted above, but also distinguish it from the Pakistani rupee, the Nepali rupee and the Sri-Lankan rupee (all of which are incidentally quite moribund economies in sharp contrast to the Indian economy). Hence, we see that the reason most highlighted by Indian newspapers viz. "it reflects India's growing clout on the world-stage", is not the motivation for choosing to design the rupee symbol at all.
Design : The design is also very creative, in that it combines the 'र' of India's ancient Devanagari script, with the letter 'R' from the Latin transcription. The vertical line of the 'R' stands removed and a horizontal bar is added to reflect the Indian flag. It definitely symbolizes India's rootedness with its ancient and powerful tradition, while heralding the modern. It is not a surprise that Dr. Udaya Kumar is a Ph.D in phoenetics and symbology (a very good combination).
On a side note, it may be noted that Sanskrit is a branch of an ancient European family of languages, which is why some symbols and even many words share commonality in figure or pronounciation. I note that just like र and the Latin 'R', the Devanagari 'ज' and the Latin 'J' too are not only phoenetically similar, but symbolically similar too.
Now having discussed the new rupee symbol in context of points 1 to 3, we may also observe how it adheres to point 4) i.e. ease of drawing by hand.
Here, we may first note that a stroke of a pen is such that it can be drawn without lifting the pen AND without retracing any portion of the figure.
The reader may observe (or even practice) that the US dollar, the Yen and the Pound can be drawn in only 2 strokes. Let's take the $. The first stroke is the 'S', and the next one is the vertical line. Similarly, for the pound its an 'L' in the first stroke and the horizontal line in the next. The same can be said of the Yen, the euro, as well as the symbol for the cent (a 'c' cut with a vertical line).
However, the rupee symbol takes 3 strokes to draw by hand. The first stroke is the devanagari 'Ra' without the horizontal bar that tops it. The next two strokes are the 2 horizontal bars. Now this would be a first amongst currencies that have a symbol. Though it wouldn't make a difference on the keyboard, it would definitely do so on the handwritten word.
But it is reasonable, that a slight tedium on the hand is far overshadowed by its excellent design, which showcases India's tradition on a global economic platform. I don't think any other design could have done it better.
This ends the observation of the design of the new symbol of the Indian rupee. Any views and suggestions are welcome.