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 and Parvati are primordial powers of the world demonstrating gender as the basic of human life. The Lingam representing male force, and Yoni, the female power are both the concept of love and procreation taking their roots in Indus culture of the proto-Dravidians or Pre-Aryans. The power of both the female and male
Ardharnishwara, Anton Sebastian Private Collection
force is represented in the image of Ardharnishwara, an androgynous form of Shiva and Parvati. This concept of unified power of the male (Shiva) and the female (Parvati) takes its origin in the 9th and 10th centuries of the Chola period. One of the earliest images of Ardharnishwara from the 9th century AD was found in Sri Lanka and is displayed at the Colombo Museum demonstrating the Hindu influence on the adjacent island during the reign of the Raja Raja Cholan when Hindu culture reigned supreme. Incidentally the Hindu images unearthed at Polonnaruwa in Sri Lanka constitute strong evidence for the Hindu influence in the island off the tip of south India.
Meenakshi, Anton Sebastian Private Collection
The current Hinduism is a fusion of nature gods of the Aryans and the personified tribal gods of the Dravidians, looking at the religion in a broader sense. The Hinduism of southern India is more representative or mother or female guardian culture with innumerable female deities such as Shakti, Parvati, Meenakshi, Kali, Durga, Valli and scores of others. In the same tone the family aspect Hinduism is reflected in Shiva and Parvati, their son Ganesha, and the couple Vishnu and Lakshmi. While the latter predominate in Vaishnavism, Shiva and Parvati iconography is the hall mark of Shaivism, second only to Tandava of Shiva as Nataraja. The mythologies of these deities have provided the playing field for the artisans in their display of their art and skill in gifting us with Hindu Art and sculpture from the glorious past.
The Hindu iconographies such as Durga slaying Maheshasuramardini, Krishna stealing cheese, Kaliya serpent submitting to Krishna, Shiva courting Parvati, Vishnu holding Lakshmi and the Tandava dance of Shiva are not only awe inspiring for the Hindu devotees, but also an immeasurable pleasure for the eyes and souls for the connoisseurs of Hindu Art: to them the magic of Hindu art itself has become a religion.
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
Rama, a silver sculpture from Anton Sebastian Private Collection
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
Sitavaka Temple in Nuwara Eliya
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 Temple where Rāma prayed for his victory: Sītā Amman Kovil, near Hakgala Gardens, where the monkey god Hahnuman found Sītā, and the Rāma’s Bridge (Adam’s bridge) built by Hahnuman and his tribe for Rāma to cross over to Lanka.
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.
Devotion is the origin and motivation for most religious art. In Hinduism this concept is propagated beyond leaps and bounds with hundreds of gods generating thousands of myths, thus captivating not only the devotees but also artisans and artists mainly in the East. The beauty of Hindu Art not only does feast the eye, but also generates a thousand philosophical thoughts beyond what the eye can contend, but only the mind. The metaphysics of what these gods and goddesses mean to Hindu faith and religion is the generative power of Hindu Art. The Hindu Art remains as the philosophical expression of Hindu religion.
Anton Sebastian Private Hindu Art Collection
Albert Einstein (1879-1955)
In the concept of Trimurti consisting of Brahma the Creator, Vishnu the Preserver, and Shiva the Destroyer, lies history of the universe (creation, preservation and destruction). When modern physics states that ‘matter cannot be created or destroyed’ how does one compromise with Hinduism, theology and science? In a similar manner one wonders how is theory of evolution is compatible Christian version of the creation of man? Truth is that we do not have to compare or compromise as the logical explanation for this may be beyond our intellect. Albert Einstein believed the problem of God was the “most difficult in the world”—a question that could not be answered “simply with yes or no.” He conceded that, “the problem involved is too vast for our limited minds.
Fear is often behind the generation of faith where as in science we are prompted to question this faith. Perhaps, philosophy may help to bridge between God and Science. Whereas science (Scientia; Latin) is knowledge or knowing, philosophy on the other hand is love (philos; Greek) for knowing (Sophia; Greek). John Ruskin says (“The Eagle’s Nest,” 1872) that in science you must not talk before you know and in art you must not talk before you do. Likewise, in philosophy you must not talk before you think: knowing is not enough to find a solution for everything. Spinoza claimed that the third kind of knowledge, intuition, is the highest attainable faculty of human mind . More specifically, he defined this as the ability for the human intellect to intuit knowledge based upon its accumulated understanding of the world around them.
Indus Seal: prototype Shiva
Science is the explanation or interpretation of what we observe whereas theology is the study of power behind what we observe: in this instance, the God. Creation by Brahma is a mythology to suit human faith and devotion, just as much as the scientific theory of the Big Bang 14 billion years ago. We know all about Wind, Fire and Sun through science but do not know how they were originally created. Hence the Aryans created the nature gods Indra, Agni and Surya to appease these forces that could destroy man. The pre-Aryans or proto-Dravidians were probably ahead in the making of gods. Not only did they visualise the gods to be more of objects of nature than the nature itself as opposed to the later Aryans. The Dravidians also produced the images of the god in forms such as lord of the beast or Pasupathi, prototype of Shiva or his representation of creative power, the Linga. They recognised motherhood as protection and caring, hence their images of her. This was the beginnings of Hindu religious art.
In Hinduism procreation is an important theme exemplified by the Linga and Yoni, the procreative engines of human race. They implicitly represent the major gods Shiva and Shakti. Most primary gods in Hinduism have their consorts underpinning this principle. Again, Shiva is represented in Hindu imagery as Ardhanarishvara, a God who is half woman, reminding the us the equal power of genders in Hindu philosophy. The Hindu Art as we see today is an emanation all the philosophy that this religion has generated through millennia. For science may be only be trasient for what is proved today may be disproved tomorrow.