Category Archives: Vishnu

Temple Tokens and the State


Hindu Temple Coins

NANDI-DURGA COIN 2Temple 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 NANDI-DURGA COIN 1human-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 RAMA AND SITA RAMTAKA DURBARare 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.

Temple Tokens of India

 

Birth of New Buddhist-Hindu Fusion Art

Angkor, the lost capital of Kambuja (Cambodia) was rediscovered by the French naturalist Henri Mouhot in 1860. only about 150 years ago. Yet it has revealed culture, art and architecture that is unparalleled in South East Asia. Following the fall of Kambuja to the Siamese in 1431 AD, the splendor of the capital was lost to the jungle for the next four centuries. As the vegetation took grip on these magnificent buildings, their roots failed to shake the robust structures built through the masonry of ancient architects and artisans. Lost to man, snakes took shelter and the wild animals roamed claiming the territory that the humans took from them. Gods and nature mingled once again hidden from the greed and breed of the human race.

KHMER TRIAD 1
Khmer Triad, Anton Sebastian Private Collection,

Upon its discovery, the world was stunned by the cultural treasures that it  revealed. Here was a fusion of two most ancient religions, Hinduism and Buddhism, with no signs of conflict between the two. Vishnu and Buddha mingled sometimes as one, Shiva’s serpent (Naga) guarded the Buddha. Uma shared the platform with Buddha and Vishnu, while Linga adored the temple with Buddha. The mythology of Hindus adapted to Buddha’s philosophy of life was in harmony.

VISHNU KHMER ALTER BASIN 3
Vishnu, Anton Sebastian Private Collection

Having remained undisturbed for generations,  now a prolific number of magnificent work of art and sculpture from Angkor started emerging.  As these arefacts from the Khmer state started to reach the western world. If all these artifacts were to be real how did such a large number of objects survive? Or all these fake! the invention man’s greed.

According to legend an Indian named Kaundinya on arrival to the larger Malay Peninsula, called Funan, formed an alliance with a Nagini princess, hence probably the early Naga influence on the state. For the next 1000 years Kambuja remained a Hindu state with a balance of Brahma, Shiva (Linga) and Vishnu as deities. Almost all art, bronzes and culture are centered on these deities from 600 to 1200 AD until Buddhism arrived in the 13th century. A remarkable peaceful union of the two religions followed with their sculpture encompassing the Hindu deities and Buddha.

Upon its discovery, the world was stunned by the treasures that it  revealed. Here was a fusion of two most ancient religions, Hinduism and Buddhism, with no signs of conflict between the two. Vishnu and Buddha mingled sometimes as one, Shiva’s serpent (Naga) guarded the Buddha. Uma shared the platform with Buddha and Vishnu, while Linga adored the temple with Buddha. The mythology of Hindus adapted to Buddha’s philosophy of life was in harmony.During the reign of Jayavarman VII in the 12th century in Kambuja religious fervor set in fueling  an output of a large number of smaller bronzes. This new demand exerted pressure on the craftsmen, contributing to some poor quality bronzes. Good quality pieces became relatively less. By the time Khmer State starting to fade in the 15th century its treasures had got redistributed to rest of South Asia where they have survived into modern times. In addition, continuous wars and invasion by the neighboring states contributed to redistribution of Khmer treasures and artifacts in Siam, Laos, Thailand, Burma, and as far as Tibet, Malaysia and China.

 

Khmer Antiques from Antiques International

During the reign of Jayavarman VII in the 12th century in Kambuja religious fervor set in fueling  an output of a large number of smaller bronzes. This new demand exerted pressure on the craftsmen, contributing to some poor quality bronzes. Good quality pieces became relatively less. By the time Khmer State starting to fade in the 15th century its treasures had got redistributed to rest of South Asia where they have survived into modern times. In addition, continuous wars and invasion by the neighboring states contributed to redistribution of Khmer treasures and artifacts in Siam, Laos, Thailand, Burma, and as far as Tibet, Malaysia and China.

Some of my early collections are from these countries. Even as late as early 18th century the hostility between Siam and Cambodia continued causing further outflow of Khmer art and sculpture into other parts of the region. It is not surprising to encounter such relatively large number of ancient Khmer artifacts in the west over the past century, given the high output of Khmer bronzes for over a millennium. Some may be fakes or reproduction of the past century but certainly some jewels in sculpture cannot be painted with the brush.

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