Time-line of Ancient India on Coins
India, by far the most ancient culture since the pre-Harrapan period (3500 BC), happens to be the most diverse nation in the world with over 1000 spoken languages and equal or more number of Hindu Gods from which sprout the mythologies, rituals and beliefs which form the backbone of Indian culture. The early Aryans (1700 BC) , Persians (600-500 BC), Greeks (356-100 CE), Parthians (100 BC -395 CE), Sassanians (30-10 BC) and Scythians (100 BC – 400 CE) brought their own culture to the doorstep of India in the north west. The interlude that followed between the invaders and the native dynasties resulted in an epitome of culture brought about by the fusion of the foremost civilized societies of the ancient world. As a result India holds today a bewildering range of ethnicity, culture, color and traditions. The ancient coins of India are a reflection of India’s glorious past and there is no better way than through these coins to realize and relive the splendor that was India.
This article is not meant to be an exercise in numismatics but rather an appreciation of India’s colorful history through its tangible objects in bronze, silver and gold: the coins
Mahājanapada 600-400 BC
Punch-Marked Coin, Maghada Janapada, Silver Karshapana
Sixteen kingdoms or oligarchic republics existed in ancient India from the sixth century BC to the fourth century BC. These Pre-Buddhist states in the Mahabharata epic, include Kosala, Kuru, Magadha, Malla, Machcha (Matsya), Panchala, Surasena, Vriji and Vatsa. Each of these Janapadas (Jana; people, pada; foot) reflected the culture of its own people of the region and unique. Janapadas are also mentioned in both Buddhist and Jain texts which confirm their historical reality and continuity.
599 BC Traditional birth year of Mahavira of Jainism,
A 19th Century Temple Token of Jainism
Mahavira, 24th Tirthankar is born (traditional date) into a royal family in the present Bihar region of India. At the age of thirty, he left home in pursuit of spiritual awakening and to spread his philosophy which is now followed by over four million people in India.
Empire of Cyrus the Great
Darius III 450-330 BC
Gold coin of Darius III
Under the last Persian king Darius III the north western part of Indian Achaemenid Empire became fragmented and was ruled by many satraps. Alexander the Great defeated Darius and conquered the region
Mayuran Empire 320-232 BC, Chandragupta I 340 – 297 BC
Silver Karshapana ca 320 BC
Mauryan Empire was founded in 320 BC by Chandragupta Maurya in Magadha after he defeated the Nanda dynasty and the Macedonian Seleucid Empire. Chandragupta unified the Indian subcontinent, fragmented into Mahajanapadas in the North West, and the Nanda Empire in the Indo-Gangetic Plain
Bindusara 320–273 BC
Silver punch marked coin 320-270 BC (Author’s Private Collection)
Bindusara, the son of Chandragupta inherited the vast regions of northern, central and eastern parts of India along with parts of present Afghanistan and Balochistan at the age of 22 years. Greeks knew him as Amitrochates, the destroyer of foes). Bindusara later conquered almost all the Indian peninsula, except the Dravidian South.
Indo-Scythian 100 BC – 395 CE
Indo-Scythian silver coin, Azilises (c.60-45/35 BC)
Scythians (Sakas), a large group of Iranian Eurasian nomads migrated to central and northern South Asia including Gandhara, Sindh, Kashmir, Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar in 100BC. The first Saka king in south Asia was Maues established Saka power in Gandhara (modern day Pakistan and Afghanistan region) extended supremacy over north-western India.
The Power of Gold on Coins
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
Gold Coins from Antiques International
Evolution of Hinduism
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.
A Diverse Collection of Hindu Art & Sculpture
Visit Hinduism on Coins
Visit Iconic Sculptures of the Hindus
Gods on Coins and Stamps,
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.
Hinduism on Coins,
With the advent of postage stamps in the mid 19th century the gods found another forum in daily life. However it is is not until the mid 20th century that they found their way into postage stamps.
Hinduism on Stamps
Paradise Lost, the Utmost Isle
Milton’s choice, the utmost isle,
A paradise lost to a sinner’s vile
Eve’s tears of shame and guilt
Ample drops for lakes to brim,
Adam’s foot on the mountain top,
A reconcile to his mortal crave
Sumanakuta where pilgrims lay
At first man’s foot, do they pray
Heavenly clouds blur their eyes,
Sorrowful tears brim their brows
What heaven is this that reaches the sky?
Lost to man forever for his sin and vile
Glittering pearls off Mannar Coast
Pandya king could never afford
The Madura princess for a trade
Yakkha queen to be cast aside
For Vijaya to be the king of the Isle
Kuveni’s wail for her master’s love,
No avail to the prodigal prince
Cast away from her den of love
Meant to die for her treacherous deed
To her brethren of noble creed,
For millennia did the Yakkhas rule
Almost since dawn of time
Sans vice or greed
Joyful in their wild abode
Oh! What a shame now
To be deceived by their queen
Serendib, an Arabian dream
Of Aladdin’s Cave and Sinbad’s tales
A pledge of wealth most abound,
Twinkling pearls and sparkling gems
Nature’s den of assorted hoard
The ocean’s pride, a fantasy isle,
From far ashore, the navy came,
In quest of wealth for their Hebrew king,
Ophir, from the Book of Kings
A land of gems for Solomon’s queens,
Priceless stones for his shrine divine
A draught of arrack with a honey taint
A gentle snooze on the gold coast isle
Beneath the shadow of the palm tree trail,
Ocean waves for a lullaby tale,
And scented breeze of cinnamon wild,
Marco’s haven on the gem stud soil,
While his fame at Kublai’s aisle
With the spoils from Mahavamsa isle
A Persian queen for a romantic stroll
On the shores of the coveted isle,
Oh what a romance in royal style
From far away by sea they came
Spelling dome to the peaceful isle
Eating stone and drinking blood
Aiming guns and cannons, they did
Instil fear into native soil
Alas, an end to Mahavamsa Isle
A poem by Anton Sebastian,
Author of A Complete Illustrated History of Sri Lanka
Rare and Ancient Coins of Ceylon (Sri Lanka) from Anton Sebastian Private Collection for Sale by Antiques International
Rare Books of Ceylon from Anton Sebastian Private Collection for Sale by Antiques International
Rare Coins & Stamps of Ceylon (Sri Lanka)
The trade and cultural ties to other countries of the world could be traced through the coins as old as 2000 years found in Sri Lanka. Among hoards of foreign coins found in the most unlikely places in the island such as Sigiriya, the site of the citadel of Kassayapa, the sleepy village of Kantharodai in Jaffna. Nearly 3000 Roman coins excavated nearthe Sīgiriya site suggest a Roman connection during early Christian era. Most of the coins found here belong to the period from Constantine the great (r. 306-337) to (Flavius) Honorius (reigned 393-423), which predate Kassapa (reigned ca 477-495) by nearly a century. The earliest Roman coin found in the region dates to about 317, nearly 150 years before Kassapa founded Sīgiriya. From the above evidence it is likely that Kassapa did not choose Sīgiriya by chance and it was already a hub of culture and trade. Some gold coins issued during the reign of King
Vijayabāhu currently exhibited at the British Museum, as well as in the Colombo Museum follow the types of Raja Raja Cholan when he was in possession of Pollonnaruva.
The relationship between the Tamils and the Sinhalese is also seen through the ancient coins in Sri Lanka. The The Mullaitivu coins (kahāpaṇas) as old as 200 BC arguably attributed to Eḷāra (Ellalan, bear a tree with branches (probably Sacred Bo Tree) on one face, and the bull (probably the Sacred Bull of the Hindus) suggesting that Eḷāra respected both religions. Mahāvaṃsa itself (XXI, 26) reveals the earliest date of kahāpaṇa (coins) in Lanka when Eḷāra spent 15,000 kahāpaṇas to repair a Buddhist stupa.
Known as Ceylon until it became a republic in 1972, the island had the most eye-catching colors of the Victorian Era in stamps.
Sri Lanka Post has a long history of 209 years, dating back to 1798, when the colonial Dutch rulers started five post offices in the Maritime Districts under their control. In 1799, they published the first postal regulations and postage rates. The Dutch East India Company operated the Postal service, which was not meant for the public but for official use.
The first postmaster by the British was appointed in 1802 and hand stamps were first supplied in 1813. The British took control of the whole island by conquering the Kandyan Kingdom in 1815 at the time of reign of King George III. Although horse drawn mail delivery commenced in Ceylon around 1832, the postage stamps were issued only on 1 April 1857.
The first Stamp features a portrait of Queen Victoria and is brown in color and of 6 pence value used to send a half ounce letter from Ceylon to England. Eight more stamps were issued in year 1857, all featuring the portrait of Queen Victoria. One of the 5 stamps that were issued on 23 April 1859 is considered to be the most valuable stamp in Sri Lanka: it is a 4 pence with a dark pink color known as the ‘Dull Rose.
A week after the First World War ended in 1918, Ceylon under King George V adopted war stamps when all postal rates were increased to defray war expenditure. The 2c, 3c, and 5 c were all overprinted “WAR STAMP” in two lines, and the 5 cent was also overprinted with an additional “ONE CENT” with a line struck through the original value. There are a number of varieties in the overprints, such as double and inverted overprints. Sri Lanka later is the only country to include details in a stamp in three languages viz. Sinhala, Tamil and English. The first stamps marked Sri Lanka were issued on 22 May 1972.
The first ever souvenir sheet of Sri Lanka was issued on 5 February 1966 on the topic ‘Typical Birds of Ceylon’. This sheet was reissued on 15 September 1967 to commemorate the 1st National Stamp Exhibition of Sri Lanka, overprinted ‘FIRST NATIONAL STAMP EXHIBITION 1967’.
History of Ceylon
British Colonial Ceylon
COLONIAL AND RARE POSTAGE STAMPS OF CEYLON
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.
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.
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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