Hindu Temple Coins
Temple coins or tokens which depicted specific Hindu deities on the coins often included native script including date, name of the saint or the name of the temple and location, goes back centuries. Early on they were stamped and used as holy offerings, but by the 1800s they are produced for sale at holy sites and temples as a source of income for the temple and kept by devotees as holy tokens or even murthes. Some were made by fine jewellers and many in metal from Calcutta based metal shops. Some of the stamps were used through the 19th Century into modern era. Earlier in the 12th Century they were often minted in gold, mostly in South India as the Muslim rulers who controlled areas of Northern India forbade any such holy tokens which depicted a figure or Deva, or any human-like stamps such as depictions of saints and mystics. After World War II, Diwali tokens became popular, often in silver. These would depict Ganesha and Lakshmi. However, in the olden days, most of the temple coins depicted the great epics, especially from the Ramayana. Thus the term Ramatankas, they would be stamped with Sita-Ram and the beloved Hanuman. Coins of Lakshman, Bharata and Shatrughnawere were also made.In July of 2011, a treasure worth over 10 billion dollars (500 billion rupees) including such coins were found in the vaults under the Sri Padmanabhaswamy Temple in Thiruvananthapuram India, and there are more secret chambers which have been closed for over 150 years. This is a temple dedicated to Lord Vishnu and built hundreds of years ago by the King of Travancore, but has origins back to the 6th Century, and has many treasures which are donations by devotees. It is considered one of the108 Divya Desams or Holy Abodes of Maha Vishnu. Thousands of gold coins and tokens were found here. Since Independence, a trust managed by the descendants of the Travancore Royal Family has managed the temple. However, India’s Supreme Court ordered that the temple valuables will be managed by the State. The actual value in materialistic terms of this temple exceed that of Tirupathi Temple in Andhra Pradesh which was thought to be the richest temple. This value of the treasures at the Vishnu temple is believed to actually exceed that of Tirupathi, and it is believed that in fact there are many other temples which have coins, jewellery and wealth of equal value that may tempt plunder by materialists and government both domestic and international – for example the 108 Vishnu Temples noted above.
The Sanskrit epic Rāmāyana is perhaps the most depicted epic in the world today. Some of the most exotic historic sites in India and the rest of the east, such as the Ellora caves, Mahāvalipuram, Cambodian temples, and several other places in Thailand portray Rāmāyana scenes and characters in their sculptures and paintings. Its literary contents have continued to inspire artists and artesans to depict the Rāmāyana scenes in paintings, on stone and other media for sculptures. Consisting
of 24,000 verses, it is supposed to have been written around 250 to 300 BC, although the events described in it appear to be much earlier, around 1000 BC. Although generally looked upon as a religious epic of the Hindus the contents in relation to Lanka reveal some contents that may be historic.
Many other religious beliefs to stake a claim to Lanka, the present Sri Lanka. To the Mohammedans it was the paradise of Adam and Eve. One Islamic legend says that when Adam and Eve were cast out of the paradise, Adam fell on the island of Ceylon, and Eve near Jeddah, the port of Mecca. They later met each other and lived in Ceylon. Adam’s Peak is a legacy of this legend.
For the Buddhists, it was the island chosen for salvation of Rakshas and Nagas by the Buddha. With such a variety of claims it is not entirely surprising to see Lanka having a multitude of ancient names. The Island’s ancient name, Lanka (Laka or Laksha, thousands) is supposed to be derived from the Sanskrit language, to refer to a multitude of islands around its western coast. In the Pandiyan Saṅgam literature, the southern region in the peninsula is referred to as MaveIlaṅkai (great Lanka), while Lanka, known for its supply of rice to the Tamil kingdom, is referred to as Ilaṅkai. The Sinhalese called the island Sīhala, after the Siṃha (lion) of the Vijaya legend. This name was corrupted to Sinhaladipa, and became the Serendib of the Arabs around the 2nd century AD. During the colonial period Sieladipa became Ceilão, and later ‘Zeilan’, and ‘Ceylon’ under the Dutch and British.
To the Hindus, it was the scene of the epic Rāmāyana battle where Rāma and Rāvaṇa fought over Sītā. The Hindu epic poem, Rāmāyana refers to the island as Ilaṅkai, the most antiquated name for the island. Many holy places in the island are implied in the Rāmāyana. Rāma is said to have prayed for his victory over Rāvaṇa, at the shrine for Siva at Muniswaram (Tamil: mun, ancient or before, Īśvara, Hindu god) in the Chilaw district. The narrow causeway between Ramēśvaram (Hindu gods: Rāma, Īśvara,) in India and Talaimannar served as the crossing point for Rāma before his battle with the Lankan king Rāvaṇa, and we know that this is geographically true. Dandaka forest, the northernmost wildernes of South India (Penninsular India) is where the first conflict between Rama (Aryan) and Surpaanakai, the sister of king Rāvaṇa (Dravidian), began. The legend in many ways is a rerun of the Aryan invasion that occurred thousand years previously in the Indus which probably captured the imagination of Valmiki.
Following the Rig Veda of the Aryans (c 1400 BC), the next earliest quasi historic document that we can find is the Rāmāyana. The classical historian and Nobel Prize winner in Literature, Theodor Mommsen (1817-1910) quotes: “Imagination, mother of all poetry, is likewise mother of all history.” In the epic a divine monkey from the tribe of Vānarar comes to the island of Ilaṅkai in search of Rāma’s wife, who was abducted by Rāvaṇa, the king of Lanka. Shortly before entering Lanka he stands on Pavalamalai (Pearl Mountain) near Lanka, and observes the island which is regarded as a paradise. In the Kamba Rāmāyanam, a Tamil version of the Rāmāyana written later in the 12th century AD, the divine city of Lanka was built by the architect of God. Its palaces reached for the skies, with shining precious stones embedded in gold. Divine women of the giant race (Rākṣasas) and divine lords were serving giants like King Rāvaṇa. According to Kambar’s description Wind and God could enter the city only with Rāvaṇa’s consent; such was the the defence and glory of Lanka. Men and women happily lived here without the slightest care. Only happy people were seen about, and Hahnuman could not see any signs of discontent as he sifted through Lanka looking for Sītā.
The episode on war, the Uttara- kāṇḍa in the classic, between the Lankan Dravidian king and the Aryan king of India, constitutes 68 chapters out of a total of 537 chapters, in six books. Although in these verses the Rāmāyana narrates unlikely supernatural feats such as the flight of Hahnuman, a monkey god over Lanka, some geographical framework such as the Rama’s Bridge is noted. Rāma and Sītā’s legend still lives on in Sri Lanka through several place-names: Sītāvaka in the
Avissawella district where Sītā is believed to have been held in captivity: Sītākoṭuva, near Gurulupota in Minipe, on the Kandy-Mahiyangana road where Sītā is supposed to have been initially held by the Lankan king: Rāvaṇa, Älla, in Ella (near Badulla), a scenic cave behind waterfalls where Rāvaṇa hid Sītā: Ariṣṭa mountain Riṭigala) where Hahnuman is said to have dumped the earth containing medical herbs from Himalayas: MunĪśvaram where Rāma prayed for his victory: Sītā Amman Kovil, near Hakgala Gardens, where Hahnuman found Sītā, and the Rāma’s Bridge (Adam’s bridge) built by Hahnuman for Rāma to cross over to Lanka.
There are more animals and mortals depicted on coins than Gods. Yet religion is the oldest culture in the world. Kushan kings of India were the first represent gods incuding Shiva and Buddha in their coins as early as 100 to 300 AD.
Religion and deities depicted on coins are construed by some pious people as effacing the value of their gods. Coins are a part of everyday life for everybody, and religious coins can also be a reminder to the presence of god in daily life. In a puritan’s sense the use of religious coins in monetary transactions could mean that god looks over honesty and integrity when his image is used.
The coins have their own caste system or status too, the poorest being cooper or aluminium or copper, silver for the gentry, and gold for the kings and the wealthy.
Since late 19th century there came a new forum to represent gods in daily life: the postage stamps. The expression of gods on stamps and coins also contributed to philatelic and numismatic art in daily life.
Gods on Coins and Stamps
Since the earliest times of civilization gold has been the pursuit of kings, emperors and the rich alike as a symbol of their power, glory and splendour. Gold enshrined the Thrones, Crowns, Sceptres and other royal attire of rajas, rulers and tsars alike. Pharaohs even carried the glitter to their graves. As early as 1000 BC King Solomon sent his navy across the world in search of the precious metal to adorn his temple and his 500 concubines. It is not surprising to see these ambitious great men and women to have their symbol of trade, power and gods on the face of glittering gold. Hence the birth of gold coins as early as 500 BC in Greece, followed by the Romans and Persians.
Rome accumulated great wealth in gold through its imperial conquests, including the vast deposits of gold from the Iberian Peninsula, formerly held by Carthage. But like the Greeks, the Romans held most of their gold in reserve and struck gold coins only in emergencies. The first Roman gold coin was struck in 215 B.C. to help finance the Second Punic War against Carthage. Julius Caesar’s Aureus was the first Roman gold coin not struck out of necessity, and made circulating gold coinage more common. In the first century A.D., Emperor Nero further expanded gold coinage by continuing to strike an aureus and adding a gold Quinarius, which was half the value of an aureus. Both coins used almost pure gold and were issued in large quantities.
Gold coins continued to go through various debasements and reforms over the next 200 to 300 years in Rome, but they continued to enjoy widespread circulation in the Roman Empire and found their way to other lands through trade. After the empire was split, its eastern faction, the Byzantine Empire, continued to supply Europe with gold coins as the metal became scarce in Western Europe.
The Kushan kings of India around 100 to 300 AD were the first to adopt Greek style coinage in India and on their coins were depicted the first mortal image of Buddha (Bodoo) and probably the first image of Shiva and Nandi, that too on gold.
In the modern era the rush for gold changed the demography of the world. The discovery of gold nuggets in the Sacramento Valley in early 1848 sparked the Gold Rush, arguably one of the most significant events to shape American history during the first half of the 19th century. By a cruel hand of fate the Mexicans without knowing had signed off their land rich in gold to the Americans in the treaty of Guadelupe Hidalgo on February 2, 1848. Nine days later these Mexicans were being treated as foreign prospectors in a land that was their own. As news spread of the discovery, thousands of prospective gold miners travelled by land and sea to San Francisco and the surrounding area; by the end of 1849, the non-native population of the California territory had risen to 100,000 (compared with the pre-1848 figure of less than 1,000). A total of $2 billion worth of precious metal was extracted from the area during the Gold Rush, which peaked in 1852.
Thousands of miles apart Australia found its gold in the mid-19thcentury. The Australian gold rushes brought about significant immigration of workers, both more locally and from overseas, to areas which had discoveries of gold deposits. A number of gold finds occurred in Australia prior to 1851, but only the gold found from 1851 onwards created gold rushes when gold found its way into the poor prospectors who became rich.
Gold coins became a yard stick of wealth of European colonial powers particularly in the 18th to 19th centuries as seen during the British Empire and remain sought after by collectors. Today these gold coins are prestigious objects in private collections, Museums and wealthy Private Collection
Hinduism, one of the oldest religions in the world is spanned by multitude of gods and goddesses. Shrouded by thousands of mythologies these gods evolved in to thousands of regional gods all over the Indian contiment with specific attributes. Shiva is known by many forms and names, the most iconic of them being the Natarja. His other symbolic representation is Ardhanushvara where he emanates his power through gender: both as a male and his female consort. Of the
Trimurti or Trinity in Hindu religion, Brahma enjoys the least popular worship inthe present times. The next of the Trimurti Vishnu who is a Vedic god is diversified through his many avatars, at least eight, all of whom are gods in their own right contributing to the vast Hindu pantheon worshipped in millions of temples all over India.
The early elements of Hinduism are witnessed in the pre-Aryan culture of the Indus Valley 5000 years ago. Sir Mortimer Wheeler referring to Indus findings states “…… thus by far is the largest unitary civilization of pre-classical times.” The proto-Hindu images of Lingam,
Yōni and Pasupathi found in Indus supports a Dravidian origin for Hinduism. Around 1700 BC the Aryans arrived at the Indus region bringing with them their gods of nature: Varuna, the controller the cosmos, Indra, the ruler warrior of the sky and wind, and the terrestrial Agni or the god of fire. The Vedas were composed by the Aryans over the next 500 years but not put down in writing until a thousand years later. The Dravidian personified gods such as Shiva, Muruga, Ganesha, Valli, Krishna, goddess Shakti (Parvati, Durga, Kali) merged with the nature gods of the Aryans in to the present form of Hinduism.
Kushan kings of North East India in 100 to 300 AD were the first to depict Shiva and Nandi on a coin which we able to hold in our hands with marvel today. The oldest iconic Hindu Art and Sculpture emanates from South India as seen in the dancing deity of creation and destruction, Nataraja from the Chola and Pallava period. Lord Shiva’s physical and symbolic mergence with his consort Parvati, as Ardhanarishvara encompasses the entire principle of Hinduism: creation as a union of female and male forces driving the cosmic power.
There are more animals and immortals depicted on coins than Gods. Yet religion is the oldest culture in the world. Religion and deities depicted on coins are construed by some pious people as effacing the value of their gods. Coins are a part of everyday life for everybody, and religious coins can also be a reminder to the presence god in daily life. In a puritan’s sense the use of religious coins in monetary transactions could mean that god looks over honesty and integrity when his image is used.
It is notable that the first ever mortal figure of Buddha (Boddo) too was on a coin by Kanishka I (the Great) who was the emperor of the Indo-Greek Kushan Kingdom in 127–151 AD.
The Hindu religious coins have been issued since at least 2000 years ago, first by the Kushan kings of India in Greco-Roman style. Often made of gold, they are an expression of the power and pomp of the kings when it comes to religion. The high value of these coins is one of the reasons for then being preserved in such pristine condition, but unfortunately they are far and few and rare.
The Shiva and Nandi coin of the Kushan kings of Indo-Greek Empire, originating in Bactria (the present Afghanistan, Peshawar and Pakistan) is not only an example of exquisite expression in Hindu Art, but also the earliest known depiction of Shiva and his sacred vehicle, Nandi.
In India Temple Tokens were produced since 19th century but more recent productions to generate funds for temples are common. Most of these coins carried the effigies of Rama, Sita, Lakshamanan and Hanuman. The Jain tokens were relativly rare. It would be difficult to precisely date them but the wear and tear and pattern would be of guidance in valuing them. However almost all the gold tokens usually genuine. It is an experience and pleasure to hold these old
Hindu coins in our hands.