The New British Pound Note and It’s Haridwar (India) Connection

(In February 2020, the GBP 20 currency note note with a news design has been introduced. The article examines and celebrates its connection to Haridwar.)

Self-Portrait c.1799 by Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851The British economy, as well as most other Western ones, received strong boost from the wealth generated over the centuries of colonial rule, chiefly over India. The times are changing. The new British Pound 20 note introduced in circulation in February 2020 also has an India connection, although a remote and tenuous one.

The most commonly circulating banknote in Britain is the £20 note, with two billion of them in the system. Up till now, the note featured Adam Smith considered to be the ‘Father of Economics’ and author of the treatise ‘Wealth of Nations’.

For the new design, Bank of England received tens of thousands of nominations of names of persons who could be featured.  The bank considered about 600 artists and  shortlisted five – Turner, filmmaker Charlie Chaplin, sculptor Barbara Hepworth, painter William Hogarth, and designer Josiah Wedgwood.

Bank of England governor Mark Carney finally selected artist Joseph Mallord William Turner, or JMW Turner (1775 – 1851). Money can be a work of devotional art that everyone can carry in her wallet.

‘The Sun is God’

Turner is known as “the painter of light”. The banknote features text ‘Light is therefore colour’ which is a quote from a lecture Turner gave in 1818 and a reference to his innovative use of light, shade, colour and tone. Turner died of cholera. His last words were “The Sun is God”.

The Fighting Temeraire

The note depicts a self-portrait by Turner and ‘The Fighting Temeraire’. The full title is ‘The Fighting Temeraire, tugged to her last berth to be broken up, 1838.’ Painted in 1838, ‘The Fighting Temeraire’ is one of Turner’s most famous oil paintings. He painted this as a tribute to the ship HMS Temeraire, which played a distinguished role in Nelson’s victory at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805.


(Image above: Courtesy Ian Dinwoodie)

The painting depicts the HMS Temeraire being towed up the Thames by a paddle-wheel steam tug in 1838, towards its final berth to be broken up for scrap.

The painting hangs in the National Gallery, London. In a poll organised by BBC Radio 4’s Today programme in 2005, it was voted for as the winner by the public of Britain,  from a shortlist of 10 paintings.


(Image above: The Fighting Temeraire, by Joseph Mallord William Turner. Measures 3′ x 4′, oil on canvas, genre marine art)

Temeraire is French for ‘rash’. Turner himself was known to be ‘wild maverick’. The ship was named after a French ship captured by Britain.

Turner_1845 engraving by James Tibbits Willmore correcting the painting by putting the mast of the tug before its smokestack

(Image above: 1845, Engraving by James Tibbits Willmore correcting the painting by putting the mast of the tug before its smokestack. Turner objected to it)

The painting also features in the James Bond movie Skyfall.

Once there was a mutiny aboard HMS Temeraire. More than a dozen of the crew were hanged to death aboard the ship.

‘Evil’ Novel Coronavirus

Soon after the launch of the new banknote in February 2020, there were over hundred incidents in the UK relating to burning of 5G telecom towers.  There is a hologram and when the note is twisted, it appears as if radiations are emanating from the tower. A conspiracy-theory has taken roots that the new Turner banknote depicts a 5G tower radiating coronavirus leading to rampant cases of Covid-19 infections and deaths chiefly in / around London. There have been other conspiracy theories regarding the symbology of the US Dollar one bill which largely remains unchanged. Possession of this bill is an offence in Turkey.

The key positive Ganga aspect of Turner’s art-works is strong and auspicious enough to over-ride any alleged novel Coronavirus related symbology or other negatives, even if there were any, associated with the new British pound 20 note.

Connection to Haridwar, India

Lieut. George Francis White visited Haridwar (in India) during 1829-32. He made several sketches during his visit. Turner developed his watercolour designs from those sketches. Turner’s watercolours were engraved by Thomas Higham (1796–1844).

Part of the Ghaut at Hurdwar

Tate Gallery in the UK has this artwork titled ‘Part of the Ghaut at Hurdwar’. Line-engraving 124 × 189 (4 7/8 × 7 7/16) on India paper laid on wove paper 298 × 440 (11 3/4 × 17 15/16); plate-mark 219 × 292 (8 5/8 × 11 1/2)

Engraved inscriptions: ‘J.M.W. Turner. R.A.’ below image b.l., ‘T. Higham.’ below image b.r., ‘DRAWN FROM NATURE BY G.F. WHITE. ESQ.| Part of the Ghaut, at Hurdwar. | FISHER, SON & Co. LONDON, & PARIS, 1836.’ below image at centre, ‘PLATE 4.’ below image lower left, ‘SUBSCRIBERS PROOF.’ below image lower right; Turner studio blind stamp below image at centre. Prov: Artist’s sale, Christie’s 24 April 1873 (in lots 298–338)

Part of the Ghaut at Hurdwar 1836 by Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851

The original watercolour is at City Art Galleries, Leeds.

Excerpts from White writings –

“A fair takes place annually at Hurdwar in the month of April, lasting nearly a fortnight, that being the period chosen by the pilgrims, who flock from all parts of India, to perform their ablutions in the Ganges. The auspicious moment is calculated by the brahmins, who aver that a great increase in the efficacy of the rite is derivable from its performance when Jupiter is in Aquarius or the sun enters Aries, which happens every twelfth year.

The immense concourse of persons drawn to Hurdwar by religious motives, has attracted others, who take advantage of this promiscuous meeting, to dispose of merchandise brought from the uttermost parts of the world, and which thus finds its way to every accessible place throughout India. There are, of course, purchasers as well as sellers, who resort to the fair for the purpose of buying cattle, shawls, and jewels, either for their own use, or to dispose of again. Many, also, visit the fair purely from motives of curiosity, this portion of the spectators being chiefly composed of Europeans and rich Mohammedans, who travel, particularly the latter, in great splendour. …

The climate of Hurdwar during the early part of April is exceedingly variable : from four in the afternoon, until nine or ten o’clock on the following day, the wind generally blows from the north or east over the snowy mountains, rendering the air delightfully cool ; during the intermediate hours, however, the thermometer frequently rises to 94°; and the clouds of dust arising from the concourse of people, together with their beasts of burden, collected at this place, add considerably to the annoyance sustained from the heat.

The new road, which runs direct to Hurdwar, and for which the old one on the back of the river is entirely deserted, forms a very amusing drive.
…These canvass dwellings are diversified by the more substantial country abodes of rich natives, occurring amid large mango groves, and having showy gardens pranked with flowers. So great is the necessity for temporary habitations during the fair, that artificers resort to the neighbourhood of Hurdwar from a considerable distance, in order to construct them of thatch and grass-mats upon a bamboo frame. These houses, or huts, are rendered both sun and water proof, and add considerably to the picturesque effect of the scene. The town of Hurdwar bears a striking resemblance to that of its neighbour Khunkul, but is apparently of more ancient date ; it completely skirts the Ganges, many of the best houses having their foundations in the bed of the sacred river. These are generally constructed of brick, the lower stories of a great number being of very fine white free-stone, a material which is found in the neighbourhood, while lime-stone of good quality is met with close at hand, in the bed of the stream. The Ganges, during the rainy season, is a mile in width at Hurdwar, pursuing its course between low woody islands, some of which afford very commodious encamping ground. On the west bank the eye rests upon a ridge of hills rising to the height of six hundred feet, covered with thick brushwood, mingled with trees. These hills are cleft in many places into rugged ravines, which afford ample cover to numerous wild beasts. The back-ground of the landscape is formed of part of the range of blue mountains, from six to eight thousand feet in height, which conceal the base of the Himalaya, or snowy region, and fill up the distance in the most magnificent manner possible.

It is difficult to afford any idea of the grandeur and beauty of the inanimate objects which render Hurdwar one of the places best worthy of a traveller’s attention in India, but still more so to convey even a faint notion of the swarms of living creatures, men and beasts of every description, which occupy every foot of ground during the time of the fair, multitudes of cows, horses, bullocks, camels, elephants, ponies, and mules from Osbeck Tartary to Benares, are crowded together, rendering the scene in the highest degree animated and interesting : every thing is to be found at the fair, though horses form its principal attraction. The horse merchants from Bokhara and Cabool occupy the stony central parts of the river, while those from Torkistan take up their quarters in small enclosures behind the houses of the town. These men are famed for their ponies and galloways, animals of great power, called Toorkies, some of which bear very high prices. The elephant dealers incline to Khunkul, for the sake of fodder, but traverse the roads of the fair with their studs during the mornings and evenings, each elephant having a large bell attached to the neck, for the purpose of giving warning to passengers of their approach. The buneeas, or grain-sellers, hulwaees, or confectioners, cloth, shawl, and toy merchants, occupy the road-side close to the town, their dwelling-places being interspersed with small enclosures containing piles of barley and straw, heaped up, and ready for sale.

On the sides of the hill to the west, thousands of Seik families are to be seen, with their huts, tents, camels, bullocks, mules, and horses, thrown together, as it were, without order or method. Then come the tents of the better order of visitors, formed into groups of two or three, and constructed of white or striped canvass, gaily fringed, and ornamented with scalloped borderings of scarlet cloth. Then, again, are the tents of the superior horse-dealers, Arab or Persian merchants, who have brought splendid animals of the purest breed, for which they demand enormous prices ; men, also, with bears, leopards, tigers, deer of all kinds, monkeys, Persian greyhounds, beautiful cats, and rare birds, for sale. Then there are heaps of assafoetida in bags from the mountains beyond Cabool, sacks of raisins of various kinds, pistachio nuts, almonds, and boxes of preserved apricots, and stalls filled with merchandise of every description, brazen vessels of all kinds, bead necklaces of many colours, rosaries, mouth-pieces for pipes, of agate, cornelian, lapis-lazuli, and different kinds of marble, pearls, black and white chowries, or implements for keeping off flies, formed of the long bushy tail of the yak, the cow of Thibet; stones for seals if all descriptions; bangles, bracelets, armlets, and ornaments for the ankles, of silver or pewter; sable, tiger, leopard, ounce, and other skins; stuffed birds, the argus-eyed, golden, and other varieties of pheasant ; idols of all kinds, together with their brazen stands, real and mock coral, garlands and necklaces of tinsel, lookingglasses framed in ivory, with mosaic work in imitation of fruits and flowers from Delhi ; richly embroidered scarves, scull-caps, and slippers, toys executed in mother-of-pearl, bales of shawls, and jewels of high prices; broad-tloth, stationery, and cutlery, from England ; perfumes from Paris, eau de Cologne, and many other articles too tedious to mention.

The crowd and co;i fusion of buyers and sellers, the native groups in every imaginable costume, some shining in cloth of gold, and surrounded by followers splendidly arrayed, others less expensively but picturesquely dressed, and many half naked, or wildly clad, all mixed up with priests, soldiers, and religious mendicants, half beggar, half bandit, with here and there a cluster of Europeans mounted upon elephants, exhibit all together a concourse which no other place in the word can shew.

The noise baffles all description ; the shouts and cries of men come mingled with the neighing of horses, the trumpeting of elephants, the grunts of camels, the lowing of cattle, the bellowing of bulls the screams of birds, and the loud sharp roars of the wild beasts; and, as if the?e were not enough, there are gongs and drums beating, trumpets blaring, conch-shells blowing, and bells ringing, which never cease for a single instant. In the midst of all this discord, regular musicians perform to groups assembled in different parts of the city or fair, the whole population coming out in the evening to enjoy themselves, and, amid the more melodious snatches which are caught here and there, the bugles of the British battalion may be heard, playing some well-remembered air, recalling, perhaps in ” Ye banks and braes of bonny Doune,” in the neighbourhood of the valley of that name, recollections of that northern land, which is the regretted birthplace of so many of the civil and military servants of the Company.

Frequently a large congregation of the magnates of the land are assembled at Hurdwar; the Begum Sumroo, during her lifetime, would make her appearance with a thousand horse, and fifteen hundred infantry ; here also might be seen the Nuwab of Nujibabad, the Rajas of Ghuosgarh, Uchet, and Sadwa, the Putteeala Rajah and his Vakeel, whose attendants might be distinguished by their light yellow turbans and kumurbunds, or sashes, and another distinguished Hindoo, the Rajah of Balespore in the mountains ; all of whom, the latter especially, making it a point to traverse the fair mornings and evenings. The Balespore Rajah made his appearance seated on a remarkably tall elephant, in a large howdah, overlaid with plates of solid silver, glistening in the sun, and covered with a pointed dome-like canopy of scarlet, supported on four silver pillars richly embossed. He wore a large white conical turban, and amid the jewels which adorned his person were two enormous pearls, set as ear-rings, the hoops being of gold three inches in diameter. A servant sate behind him, waving slowly backwards and forwards, over his head, one of the splendid chowries before mentioned, as an emblem of rank. Many of his relatives followed upon elephants, caparisoned in various degrees of splendour, surrounded by horsemen, not particularly well mounted, but showily dressed, capering and curvetting about, and decorated with gaudy housings. Besides these, were the usual rabble-rout on foot, the constant attendants upon Eastern sovereignty, crowding in the rear, heedless of the vicious animals rearing and leaping on all sides, as their riders fired off muskets, matchlocks, and pistols, making the adjacent hills reverberate with the sound. These wild pageants, with their mixture of pomp and meanness, are truly Oriental in their character, and in strict keeping with the barbaresque style of the buildings, and the untamed nature of the surrounding scenery.

Rhuts, four-wheeled carriages, abounded at the fair, the roofs covered with white linen, or scarlet cloth, and either terminating in a point with a gilt ornament, or perfectly flat: they were chiefly filled with women, of whom six or eight were crowded into one conveyance, small openings in the sides enabling them to reconnoitre the multitude, without becoming themselves visible. There were other vehicles also, two-wheeled cars, with sometimes as many as three roofs, united, of conical shape, and hung with tassels and costly fringe ; these carriages were open, and drawn by bullocks, which had their horns painted of gaudy colours, the harness and housings studded with bells, and the small cowrie shell, and otherwise richly embroidered.

Troops of dancing girls had established themselves at Hurdwar during the fair, and were to be seen performing, either in front of the houses of rich persons, or in the interiors, all thrown open, and lighted up every evening. The whole of the river, town, and inhabited parts of the forest, presented a series of illuminations as soon as darkness commenced ; this brilliant display being enlivened by occasional bursts of fireworks. Nothing could be more pleasing than the effect of the lamps sparkling and gleaming between the trees, while the islands and woody shores of the river were distinctly seen by the light of innumerable small vessels of oil, kindled and sent floating down the stream. Such are a few of the features of this extraordinary place ; a few it may well be said, since it would be utterly impossible to note down a tenth part of the strange sights and scenes which greet the eye of the European traveller at this Oriental congress.

The whole of the battlements, terraces, and platforms, erected in the water, lining the side of the river, are covered with dense throngs of pilgrims, spectators, and priests, the European portion of the audience pushing their elephants into the water, in order to view, without inconvenience from the crowd, the bathing of the numerous devotees. The ceremony is simple enough, consisting merely of an offering of money, according to the abilities of the bather, to the officiating priest.

All the brahmins say, whether truly or not, that Lord William Bentinck, the late governor-general, honoured the holy land of Hurdwar by making a present of a thousand rupees to its priests…”

‘The Ganges Entering the Plains Near Hurdwar’

Another painting, shown below, made by Turner is titled ‘The Ganges Entering the Plains Near Hurdwar’.

Turner__The Ganges Entering the Plains Near Hurdwar

Excerpts from White’s writings –

“We were journeying to the gate of Huna, or Vishnu, the most popular of the Hindu triad : the town of Hurdwar, or Hurrudwar, a scene chosen from time immemorial for the concourse of pilgrims from every part of the Eastern world. To behold the Ganges at the moment in which, having forced a passage through the mountains, it glides in one broad stream along the plain, seems to the exhausted devotee, who has suffered every fatigue and privation consequent upon a long and painful journey, aided by very scanty means, as more than a recompense for all his toils. He gazes, enraptured, on the holy river, and, gathering up his failing strength to the task, presses onward, but too happy to yield up life with the first plunge of his body in the hallowed wave. A blessed immortality is, according to universal belief amongst the followers of Brahma, secured to the person who thus has ended his career on earth…

It is at this place that persons journeying from a great distance are anxious to fill their jars with water, in order that they may carry a portion of the sacred element to their homes. Sometimes these water-pots are conveyed in a very picturesque manner, being slung upon bamboos resting upon the shoulders of long files of men, and gaily decorated with flowers and peacocks’ feathers. Rich and pious Hindoos, who inhabit the Deccan and other remote provinces, spend large sums of money in procuring the holy-water of the Ganges, which is brought to them by a class of persons who obtain their livelihood by their long journeys.”

Turner was immersed in his art and the paintings he made of holy Ganga brought him blessings for the continued marine art he was creating afterwards too. Couple of years after painting Ganga at Haridwar, Turner painted is magnum opus The Fighting Temeraire which is also of the genre of marine ‘land’scape.

Art critics opine that Turner elevated the status of the genre of marine / landscapes painting to that of history painting. Turner’s paintings of Ganga at Haridwar are not as much known as his other works. It would not be an exaggeration to say that his paintings of Ganga and other marine paintings depicting seas and interplay of sun light elevated the genre to the highest genre of all — Divine arts.

Temaraire and Haridwar Ganga Paintings

X-ray images of The Fighting Temeraire reveal that Turner used a canvas on which he had started another marine picture, with a large sail. Was he initially planning to make another Haridwar Ganga painting is not determinable clearly. All three paintings — Temeraire and 2 Haridwar Ganga paintings featured in this article are marine paintings involving sail-boat.

Blessings of Ganga

Location: Experiencing a place has an important impact upon a person’s life – present & future. The Mahabharata talks of the hundred Kauravas, the evil ones, achieving heaven after the war. Why would the evils land up in heaven? And the five righteous Pandavas had to experience hell en route heaven?  The answer is available in the very first shloka (verse) of Bhagvat-Gita –

धर्मक्षेत्रे कुरुक्षेत्रे समवेता युयुत्सवः ।
मामकाः पाण्डवाश्चैव किमकुर्वतञ्ज सय ॥ १-१॥

(Blind King Dhrita-Rashtra asks) – O Sanjaya! What did the sons of Pandu and my people do when they opposed together on the holy land of Kurukshetra, eager to fight? 

Kauravas achieved heaven because they died in a holy land.

Living near Ganga: It is not that one has to die in a holy land to achieve heaven. One who lives, or even (after sins) for a near Ganga also achieves distinction. Mahabharata says that staying for a month on the banks of Ganga may equal to praying for a thousand epochs standing on one leg, elsewhere.  Mahabharata also says in verse – 13:27:87 (Book 13: Anushasan Parva, Chapter 27: Ganga Prashansanam, Verse 87)


“One who shows Ganga to others is assured of fame. Ganga nurtures Kartikeya and Gold in her womb, ensures flow of holy water, and removes sins. She has descended from heavens and her water is for the world. Bather in her in morning achieves moral values, economic prosperity, and pleasure.”

There is no record that show that turner approached his study and paintings of Ganga as a devotee rather than an artist. He himself never visited Haridwar or any other part of India. Working remotely isn’t a handicap. Max Mueller is considered as the father of Indology in the West although he never came to India.

Chapter 21 of Book 9: Koti Rudra Samhita of the ancient scripture Shiva Purana recounts a fascinating story of a tribal named Gurudruh. He used to poach, hunt, kill, and eat deers. Once, driven by his hungry family, at night-time he went to a watering-hole in the forest and climbed on a Bilva tree. A thirsty female-deer soon came and he acquired the target and was about to shoot an arrow when the deer saw him. She asked him what was he doing and he replied that he will kill her to feed his hungry family. The deer was fine that she will become food of a family. She asked him to wait so that she may come back after bidding good-bye to her children. The poacher wasn’t sure. To assure him the deer said that I vow that if I do not come back then I will incur the same sin as a learned man earns if he gives education purely for money. Through out the night two more deers came. The poacher committed a series of acts, all unknowingly, in prayer of Shiva and thus Shiva appears and blesses him with a name ‘Guh’ and with a boon that he and his family will reside in the city of Shringverpur and enjoy good life eating satvic food. In due course, Lord Rama will visit and befriend him. All of the deers ascended to heavens. (2 images below – (c) Gitapress)

Turner: After painting The Fighting Temeraire post his experiences with Ganga, Turner went on to create a large body of art-work. He left behind more than 550 oil paintings, 2,000 watercolours, and 30,000 works on paper. Fame and success came to him within his life-time. Although, during those times, odds were not very good for someone whose father was a barber.

Haridwar and Money

Besides this remote connection of the new design of the British pound note, Haridwar has some other interesting connections to money.

Coins have been in use in India since 600 B.C. River was a common theme used on coins, especially the ones excavated from places on the banks of Ganga. Animals of river viz. fish, tortoise, frog, and crocodile.

Samudra Gupta (335 A.D.) of the Indian Gupta dynasty had issued gold coins of 8.0 grams depicting Ganga goddess standing upon a crocodile. Kumar Gupta (413 A.D.), also of the Gupta Dynasty issued two gold coins with Ganga theme.

  • During the reign of Emperor Akbar (1600), a coin mint was established in Haridwar.
  • For several centuries, pilgrims have been coming to Haridwar and they offer coins to Ganga. This has led to a small industry. At many places, one can see people sitting on ground and selling old coins. There is a community of divers who can be seen collecting coins from Ganga even in winter when it is freezing cold.
  • The art & architecture museum at Haridwar has a rich gallery for coins and notes.
  • In the present times, there is a unit in Haridwar that has furnaces to burn pure gold and silver. The ashes are used as ingredients for many ayurvedic herbal medical preparations.


  • Vincent van Gogh’s Sunflowers (one of the ten paintings that alongwith The Fighting Temeraire made it to the short list of ten) has a strong connection to Indian cows.
  • Colonial painter Sanke’s Haridwar Ganga painting and Bangalore
  • Assignment for readers: In Histories (Book 3, passages 102 to 105) Herodotus reports that a species of fox-sized, furry “ants” lives in one of the Himalayan Indian provinces. These giant ants would often unearth the gold dust when digging their mounds and tunnels, and the people living in this province would then collect the precious dust. Which place could that be?

Reader Comments

“Was very useful for my students as I have been teaching about the Amritsar Massacre and General Dyer etc. Yours was a fascinating post about colonialism.”

Feroza Jussawalla
Teaches Postcolonial Literature at the University of New Mexico, USA

“Extremely well researched and comprehensive connection to Haridwar explained. Such stories go a long way in appreciating art and spirituality. This brings out the best in the artist and persons like you do a yeoman service in bringing them to the forth for larger humanity. Wonderful, loved it.”

Aditya Khanna
Vice President Ace Insurance Brokers Pvt Ltd, India