# Indian units of measurement

Before the introduction of the Metric system, one may divide the history of Indian systems of measurement into three main periods: the pre-Akbar's period, the period of the Akbar system, and the British colonial period.

During pre-Akbar period, weights and measure system varied from region to region, commodity to commodity, and rural to urban areas. The weights were based on the weight of various seeds (specially the wheat berry and Ratti) and lengths were based on the length of arms and width of fingers. Akbar realized a need for a uniform system. He elected the barley corn. Unfortunately, this did not replace the existing system. Instead, it just added another system.

British entered India as traders. They accepted barley corn as a unit 'grain' for weighing gold. They minted coins using wheat berry as the standard. Eventually, British introduced their own system for weighing gold (Troy ounce), commodities (Pound/Cwt/Ton). Now, the roads had Furlong and Mile markers. In 1939, Government of India passed the Standards of Weights Act, that came into effect in 1942. This allowed Tola/Seer/Maund system to coexist with Pound/Cwt/Ton system.

In 1941, the Punjab Weights and Measures act provided a sense of uniformity. In 1956, Government of India passed a Standards of Weights and Measures system to introduce metric system based on Punjab Act. The metric would begin in October 1958, making metric weight mandatory by October 1960, and the metric measures mandatory by April 1962.

## Current conversion standard

In 1956, for metric conversion, the Government of India defined the Standards of Weights and Measures Act (No. 89 of 1956, amended 1960, 1964) as follows:

Indian SystemBritish / troy SystemMetric System
1 Tolä≈ 0.375 t oz11.664 g
1 Sèr (80 Tolä)2.5 t lb ≈ 2.057 lb ≈ 2 lb 1 oz0.93310 kg
1 Maund (40 Sèr)100 troy lb37.324 kg

The current definitions as per the UN are:

Indian SystemMetric System
1 Tolä11.664 g
1 Sèr (80 Tolä)933.10 g
1 Maund (40 Sèr)37.324 kg

## Pre-Akbar system

These are the weights and measures popular in North India before the adoption of the metric system. There were different systems in Bengal, the Presidency of Madras, and Bombay. The following nomenclature was prevalent in North India till the metric system came in:-

4 Chawal (grain of rice) = 1 Dhan (weight of one wheat berry)

4 Dhan = 1 Ratti (Ratti is the seed of the 'Abrus precatorius'. It is a red seed with a black spot at one end. Abul Fazl refers to it as 'Surkh' in Ain-i-Akbari.).

8 Ratti = 1 Masha

12 Masha (96 Ratti) = 1 bhari

24 Ratti (96 Dhan) = 1 Tak

Conversion

1 Bhari = 11.66375 gram

3.75 Troy ounce = 10 bhari

Weight of 64 Dhan (Wheat berries) = Weight of 45 Jau (Barley corns)

Weight of 1 Barley corn = 64.79891 milligrams

Commodity Weight System

1 bhari = 4 Siki 1 Kancha = 5 Siki 1 Chhatank = 4 Kancha 1 Chattank = 5 bhari 1 Adh-pav = 2 Chhatank = 1/8 Seer 1 Pav = 2 Adh-pav = ¼ Seer (Pav means ¼) 1 Adher = 2 Pav = ½ Seer

In Hindi ½ Seer = Adha (½) Seer, or Adher 1 Ser = 2 Adher = 4 Pav = 16 Chattank = 80 Tola = 933.1 grams 1 Savaser = 1 Ser + 1 Pav (1¼ Seer) 1 Savasher weighed 100 Imperial rupees

In Hindi 1¼ Seer = Sava (1¼) Seer, or Savaser 1 Dhaser = 2 Savaser = 2½ Seer

In Hindi 2½ Seer = Dhai (2½) Seer, or Dhaser 1 Paseri = 2 Adisari = 5 Seer

In Hindi 5 Seer = Panch (5) Seer, or Paseri for short 1 Daseri = 2 Pasri = 10 Seer

In Hindi 10 Seer = Das (10) Seer, or Daseri for short 1 Maund = 4 Daseri = 8 Pasri = 40 Seer

Rice and Grains Volume Measures

Grains were not weighed. Special hour-glass shaped measure were used to determine the volume.

Smallest unit = 1 Nilve

2 Nilve = 1 Kolve

2 Kolve = 1 Chipte (about quarter litre)

2 Chipte = 1 Mapte (about half litre)

2 Mapte = 1 Ser (about one litre)

Liquid Volume Measures

These were hour glass shaped measure used for Milk, Ghee, Oils. The bottom was round like an inverted dome, the top was like flared rim. This shape helped in pouring the liquids.

4 Chhatank = 1 Pav

4 Pav = 1 Seer

40 Seer = 1 Maund

Length Measure

Measure of length is Gaz. To interpret Gaz, depends on what you are measuring and where you are. Bengal: 36", Bombay: 27", Madras: 33", Government Average: 33". The hand measurements were used.

Anguli (width of 3 fingers) = 1 Girah

8 Girah = 1 Hath (elbow to the end of the middle finger, approximately 18" )

5 5/6 Hath = One Kathi

20 Kathi = One Pand

20 Pand = One Begah

2 Hath = 1 Gaz

3 Gaz = Two Karam

3 Karams = 1 Kan

3 Square Kans = 1 Marla

20 Marlas = 1 Kanal

8 Kanals = 1 Ghamaon

9 Kanals 12 Marlas = 1 Acre

4 Kanals = 1 Begah

## Akbar weights and measures

Akbar standardised weights and measurements using a barley corn (Jau). For weights, he used the weight of a Jau, while the width of a Jau set the standard for length.

1. Length: Ilahi Gaz (33" to 34"); 1 Gaz = 16 Grehs; 1 Greh = 2 pais

At the time of Shah Jahan there existed three different Gaz:[1]

a) Shahi gaz = 101.6 cm; b) Shahijahani or Lashkari = 95.85 cm; c) Aleppo gaz = 67.73 cm

2. Commodity weight: Ser = 637.74 grams

3. Commodity Spices: The Dam was a copper coin used as a weight as well as currency. 1 Dam = 20 grams

4. Gold and Expensive Spices: Misqal = 6.22 grams

## Weights before 1833

8 rattīs = 1 māshā (= 0.9071856 gram)

12 māshās = 1 tolā (= 10.886227 gram)

80 tolas = 1 ser (= 870.89816 gram)

40 sers = 1 maund (= 34.835926 kilogram)

1 rattī = 1.75 grains (= 0.11339825 gram) (1 grain = 0.064799 gram)

From 1833 the rupee and tolā weight was fixed at 180 grains, i.e. 11.66382 grams. Hence the weight of 1 maund increased to 37.324224 kilogram. .[2] Traditionally one maund represented the weight unit for goods which could be carried over some distance by porters or pack animals.

## British system

Weight Gold

British used weight of wheat berries as a standard to make currency coins. British chose Barley corn to weigh gold same as Akbar.
One Troy ounce = 480 Barley corn
1 Troy Ounce = 120 carat
1 Troy pound = 12 Troy ounce

In 1878, the Troy Pound was abolished.

Conversions

Weight of 1 Barley corn = 64.79891 milligram
Weight of 1 Wheat berry = 45.561732 milligram
One Troy Ounce = 31.1034768 gram
64 Wheat berries = 45 Barley corns
3.75 Troy ounce = 10 Tola

Commodity weight

20 CWT = 1 Ton avoirdupois = 40 Bushel = 160 Stones
4 Stones = 1 Bushel = 56 Pound
1 hundredweight (cwt) = 112 Pound = 2 Bushel + 8 Stones
14 Pounds avoirdupois = 1 Stone avoirdupois
16 Ounces avoirdupois = 1 Pound avoirdupois

Conversion

1 Ounce avoirdupois = 28.349523 gram approx.
1 Pound avoirdupois = 453.59237 gram
1 Ton avoirdupois = 2240 pounds avoirdupois
Weight of 1 Barley corn = 64.79891 milligram
One Troy Ounce = 31.1034768 gram
3.75 Troy ounce = 10 Tola

Length

In 1950s, Miles and Furlongs were common markers on the roads in India.

Minimum length = 1 Inch
No-one can say how it evolved. Yinch was the thickness of the thumb, not quite one inch.
12 Inches = 1 Foot
3 Feet = 1 Yard
660 Feet = 1 Furlong
5,280 Feet = 1 Mile
1,760 Yards = 1 Mile
1 Mile = 8 Furlongs
22 Yards = 1 Chain
1 Acre = (1 Chain) × (1 Furlong)

1 Canal mile = 5000 imperial feet on canals shown by stone marker each 5000 feet and also on British maps at 1:63360 scale

and later Pakistan maps at 1:50000 scale. Personally seen on the Punjab but assumed to be used in the whole of India.

Conversion

1 Inch = Span of 6 Barley corns side by side by thickness, although barleycorns are not a reliable standard of measurement.
1 Inch = 2.54 centimetres
1 Foot = 30.48 cm
1 Yard = 0.914 metre
1 Mile = 1.61 Kilometre

## References

1 coss= 2000 yards[3][4]

Notes
1. Levon Khachikian: "The Ledger of the Merchant Hovhannes Joughayetsi". Journal of the Asiatic Society, Vol 8, No. 3, 1966, p. 182
2. Hobson-Jobson: A Glossary of Colloquial Anglo-Indian Words and Phrases, and Kindred Terms, Etymological, Historical, Geographical and Discursive by Col. Henry Yule and A.C. Burnell, Originally published 1903, Reprint, 1968
3. Wood, James (1849-01-01). Wood's Royal Southern Kalendar, Tasmanian Register and General Australasian & East Indian Official Directory ... H. Dowling, Jun.
4. East-India Register and Directory. W.H. Allen. 1819-01-01.
Sources
• Prinsep, James (editor Edward Thomas): Essays on Indian Antqities, Historic, Numismatic, and Palaeographic, of the late James Prinsep, F.R.S., to which are added his Useful Tables illustrative of Indian History, Chronology, Modern Coinages, Weights, Measures etc. Two Volumes, Reprint, Indological Book House, Delhi and Varanasi, 1971. Originally published in London, 1858.