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
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.
First depiction of Buddha , King Kanishka ca 100 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.
Shiva and Nandi, Kanishka 100 AD from Anton Sebastian Private Collection
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.
Rama and Sita on the Darbar, Temple Token, 19th Century
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.
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.
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.
Durga is a representative of female power in Hinduism and is also identified by the Hindus as Adi Parashakti, Devi, Shakti, Bhavani, Parvati and numerous other female forms. She is a warrior goddess and the source of Hindu mythology for combating evil and demonic forces that threaten peace, prosperity and dharma of the good. Many of Hindu Art and sculpture represents her fierce role as the protective mother goddess ready to unleash her anger against evil. Given her multirole it is not surprising to see the Hindu religious artisans throughout the ages focussing their skills in depicting Durga’s power and emotions.
Hindu Art & Sculpture
Hindu Art and Religion
Female Power through Hindu Art
Some of her artistic and sculptural representations of Durga are as a goddess riding a lion or tiger, with many arms carrying weapons. Her most ferocious form of defeating Mahishasura ( buffalo demon) with its head in her hands is the ultimate display of fate of the evil demons in her hands,
Her antiquity is takes its roots in the Vedic literature, such as in the Rigveda literature and the Atharvaveda. While the Vedic literature uses the word Durga, the description therein lacks the legendary details about her that follows in later Hindu literature.
Not only venerated as a destroyer of evil but also she is equated with the concept of ultimate reality called Brahman for creation of the universe. Durga has a significant following all over India, Bangladesh and Nepal, particularly in its eastern states such as West Bengal, Odisha, Jharkhand, Assam and Bihar. Durga is revered during the festival of Navratri celebrated by Hindus all over the world.
Shiva is a philosophical concept in Hinduism encompassing the universe and its contents. His abode in Mount Kailash in the Himalayas, one of the highest natural positions on earth, close to the source of some of the longest Asian rivers: the Indus, Sutlej, Brahmaputra, and Karnali also known as Ghaghara (a tributary of the Ganges) signifies the essence of nature. His depiction as Linga portrays the male procreational power of the mankind which took its origin during Vedic times around 1400 BC. In the bible during creation god produced Eve out of Adam’s bone so that he is not alone. According to Hindu faith, Shakti (Parvati) was created as consort of Shiva symbolic representation of Linga and Yoni.
Of the Trimurti or triumvirate, Brahma is the creator, Vishnu the preserver of the universe while Shiva is endowed with the power of destruction. Shiva’s role in Hindu philosophy takes multiple forms. The androgynous image of Shiva as Ardhanarishvara (Ardhanaranari) is a philosophical model conceived in 100 to 300 AD during the Kushan period, or possibly even earlier. In this iconic representation of Shiva, one half of the image portrays his male attributes with a short dhoti and without developed breast, while Parvati wears a long dhoti and female breast. The 3rd eye is common to both as they share the wisdom and power together as supreme god and goddess.
Oesho, Gold Coin. King Kanishka ca 100 AD
The choice of Nandi (cow) as Shiva’s vehicle reflects the pastoral origin of human civilisation and possibly the mother nature of Dravidian goddesses. Nandi and Shiva together, perhaps the first depiction, appears in the oesho gold coins of Kushan of the early Christian era. The presence of the statue of Nandi at the gates of most temples dedicated to Shiva underpins the spiritual role of the sacred animal in Hinduism. The most iconic image of Shiva as Nataraja (natyam; dance, raja; king) comes from the Chola and Pallava period (400-1200 AD) when metallurgic Hindu art reached its zenith.
According to Shaivism sect whose main deity is Shiva, he is formless, limitless, transcendent and unchanging absolute Brahman. There are many interpretations to Tandav (Tamil, tandavam; dance) image of Shiva. As the cosmic dancer he performs his divine dance to destroy a weary and ignorant universe in order to make preparation for the god Brahma to commence the process of creation. Nataraja is the most revered as well as most feared god in Hinduism embracing the extraordinarily rich and complex cultural heritage of India. As he performs his cosmic dance with holy river Ganga flowing from his matted hair, he holds in his upper right hand the damaru, the hand drum from which issues the primordial vibrating sound of creation. His right hand he makes the gesture of abhaya, imparting assurance and divine protection. His upper left hand holds the agni, the consuming fire of dynamic destruction. His right foot tramples a dwarf-like figure (apasmara purusha), the ignoble personification of illusion who leads humankind astray. In his dance of ecstasy Shiva raises his left leg in a gesture known as the gaja hasta, providing refuge for the troubled soul. Encircling Shiva is a flaming halo (prabhamandala) which symbolizes the boundaries of the cosmos. Most exquisite feature of all is the divine and calm facial features of Shiva as he dances to destroy ignorance and save the universe.
Khandoba (Martanda Bhairava or Malhari), 18th Century
Shiva is also tribal god depicted as a warrior riding a horse. As Khandoba (Martanda Bhairava or Malhari) he is worshiped mainly in the Deccan plateau of India, especially in the states of Maharashtra and Karnataka. He is the most popular Kuladaivat (family deity) in Maharashtra, the foremost centre of his worship being Jejuri. Khandoba is also the patron deity of warrior, farming, herding and Brahmin (priestly) castes, as well as several of the hunter/gatherer tribes that are native to the hills and forests of this region. The cult of Khandoba has linkages with Hindu and Jain traditions, and also assimilates all communities irrespective of caste, a concept alien to Brahmins. The worship of Khandoba developed during the 9th and 10th centuries from a folk deity into a composite god possessing the attributes of Shiva, Bhairava and Surya.
The Image of Shiva as he is portrayed in various forms, meditating ion Mount Kailash, performing his Tardive dance, riding a horse wielding a sword, or seated on Nandi are a product of Hindu mythology, faith and philosophy expressed through religious art.
Vishnu is the “preserver” of the Cosmos or Universe in the Hindu Trinity (Trimurti) which includes Brahma (the Creator) and Shiva (the Destroyer). In Vaishnavism, Vishnu is identical to a formless metaphysical essence called Brahman behind reality of unchanging Universal Principle in Hindu philosophy. Vishnu is a Vedic or Aryan deity associated with nature or the universe when compared to personified gods of Dravidian origin. However in the Vedas, the sacred books of the Aryans he takes a less prominent when compared to Indra, Agni and other nature gods. Vishnu is mentioned in only 5 out of 1028 hymns of the Rigveda and he is also mentioned less in the other hymns. As a preserver of the universe he is described in the Vedic literature as the one who supports heaven and earth.
In Rigveda, Indra-Vishnu are equivalent and produce the sun, with the verses asserting that this sun is the source of all energy and light for all. In other hymns of the Rigveda, Vishnu is described as a close friend of Indra. In the Athara Veda, the mythology of a boar who raises goddess earth from the depths of cosmic ocean appears, the word Vishnu or his alternate avatar names are not mentioned. In post-Vedic mythology, this legend becomes the basis of many cosmogonic myths called with Varaha as an avatar of Vishnu.
Anton Sebastian Hindu Art Collection
The “three strides of Vishnu” is the most iconic Hindu art seen commonly in temples, where his leg is shown symbolizing a huge step. Several hymns of the Rigveda repeat the mighty deed of Vishnu called the Trivikrama, which has been one of the mythologies in Hinduism since the Vedic times. It is an inspiration for Hindu art and sculpture in numerous Hindu temples such as at the Ellora Caves, which depict the Trivikrama legend through the Vamana, the avatar of Vishnu. Trivikrama refers to the celebrated three steps or “three strides” of Vishnu. Initially taking the form of a small insignificant being, he goes on to undertake the task of establishing his reach to cover the earth, and then the third stride to cover the heaven.
Anton Sebastian Hindu Art Collection
Lakshmi, the Hindu goddess of wealth, fortune and prosperity (both material and spiritual), is the wife and active energy of Vishnu. Harihara is a philosophical and artistic composite of half Vishnu and half Shiva is found from 1st millennium CE in the cave 1 and cave 3 of the 6th-century Badami cave temples. Vishnu’s
Anton Sebastian Hindu Art Collection
mount (Vahana) is the sacred eagle Garuda which carries his lord on his shoulders. Garuda is as sacred in Vaishnavism just as much as Nandi is to Shiva.