What is a Rupee?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 17 October 2019
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A rupee is a unit of currency. The most famous example is probably the Indian rupee, the official currency of India, although the rupee is also in use in Indonesia, Mauritius, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Pakistan, the Maldives, and the Seychelles. In the case of the Indian rupee, the currency has its own currency symbol, introduced in 2010 after a design competition created to spark interest in the Indian economy and financial activities. Exchange rates for all the denominations of the rupee are readily available online and through banks that offer currency exchange.

The term “rupee” has its origins in a Sanskrit word meaning “wrought silver,” a reference to the fact that rupees were originally made from silver. Historically, a number of nations used it, including some African countries with a history of Indian trade. This currency was once widely accepted and used even in nations with other currencies, a reflection of lively trading activity across Asia and the Middle East.

The modern rupee is divided into 100 units known as cents, paisa, or paise, depending on the country where the currency is in use. Other subunits such as annas were once used and are sometimes referenced in novels and texts written in previous eras. They also linger in slang, even if they are no longer officially sanctioned for use. Traders may sometimes give values in deprecated subunits out of habit or regional tradition, although banks and financial institutions tend to frown on such practices.


In India, English speakers use special terms to denominate large numbers of rupees. A lakh is 100,000 rupees, and a crore is 10,000,000 rupees. Thus, people may see prices quoted in terms like “four lakhs,” rather than “400,000.” Terms like “thousand” are not widely used. This information may be relevant to readers of Indian novels, as well as people doing business in the region who might otherwise be confused by the unfamiliar words.

Like other currencies, the rupee celebrates a variety of politicians and historical figures in its designs. Depending on the country, the coin and paper currency can be imprinted with a variety of ornamental motifs, reflecting the rich history and culture of the region. Rupees are designed and printed by the central banks of their respective regions and these central banks also control the currency supply as part of their monetary policy operations, with the goal of keeping the economy stable and healthy.


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