Tag Archives: hindu culture

The Ramayana Connection: Sri Lanka

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

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      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.

HINDU ART & MYTHOLOGY

 

Gods on Coins & Stamps

BOODOO
First depiction of Buddha ca 200 AD

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. 

GOLD SHIVA 1
Shiva with Nandi, King Kanishka 100 AD, gold coin from Anton Sebastian Private Collectiom

 

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.

NATARAJA STAMP
Shiva as Natarah

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.

 

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 

JANAPADAS
Author’s  Private Collection Collection

 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

JAINISM
Author’s Collection

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.

Persian King Cyrus I “The Great” Ca 559-530 BC

 Cyrus, Gold Coin ca 550 BC.

CYRIUS THE GREAT

Cyrus, son of Cambyses I, founds the Persian Achaemenid Empire, and conquers the borderline North Western regions of the Indian subcontinent to establish one of the greatest empires of the ancient world.

CYRIUS EMPIRE

Empire of Cyrus the Great

Darius I, 522-486 BC

 DARIUS 1

In 516 BC,  the Persian king Darius  of the Achaemenid tribe embarked on a campaign to Central Asia, Aria and Bactria by marching from Afghanistan to Taxila (present Pakistan) before capturing Gandhara and other regions surrounding the Indus River.

Birth of Buddha 463 BC, Reign of kings Bhattiya, Bimbisara  Ca 590-491 BC

First mortal image of Buddha, Gold coin of Kanishka 127 AD

BOODOO

Siddhārtha Gautama, the Buddha-to-be, born in Lumbini into a royal family in the republic of the Shakyas, which is now part of Nepal.

Darius III 450-330 BC

Gold coin of Darius III

DARIUS 1

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

Alexander III of Macedon (356 BC – 323 BC), commonly known as Alexander the Great

Posthumous Silver coin of Alexander III  (Author’s Private Collection)ALEXANDER

Alexander defeated Darius III and invaded India in 326 BC, but was eventually forced to turn back at the demand of his troops facing the prospects continued war with King Porus who ruled parts of present Punjab.

Seleucus I Nicator c. 358 BC – 281 BC

Tetradrachm of Seleucus I, the horned horse

SELUCIUS

Following the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC, his Greek general Seleucus I Nicator (c. 358 BC – 281 BC) carried an expedition to India, where, after two years of war (305-303 BC) with the Indian Emperor Chandragupta Maurya, made peace with him.

Nanda Dynasty 345-321 BC

Karshapana Mahapadma Nanda

MAHAPADMA NANDA

Nanda dynasty originated in the region of Magadha and lasted during 345–321 BC. Their empire extended from Bengal in the east to Punjab region in the west, as far south as the Vindhya Range. Chandragupta Maurya conquered the Nanda Empire and founded the Maurya Empire.

Mayuran Empire 320-232 BC, Chandragupta I 340 – 297 BC

Silver Karshapana ca 320 BC

MAYURA
Author’s Private Collection

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

MAYURA EMPIRE

                                          Mauryan Empire

Samudragupta, (c. 335 – c. 380 CE)

 Samudragupta, Gold Coin, King and Garuda on a pillai

Samudragupta Coin

Samudragupta,  the son of Chandragupta I succeeded after his father’s death and conquered almost the whole of India except the south. His vast military campaign added the neighbouring kingdoms of Ahichchhatra (Rohilkhand) and Padmavati (in Central India), whole of present  Bengal, Afghanistan and Kashmir to his empire.

Bindusara 320–273 BC

 Silver punch marked coin 320-270 BC (Author’s Private Collection)BINDUSARA

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.

Asoka 268-232 BC

Punch marked coin of Asoka

ASOKA

Asoka, son of Bindusara 268- 232 BC reigned over the entire Indian subcontinent except  the present-day Tamil Nadu and Kerala. The misery following his war against the Kalinga state led him to embrace Buddhism. After his death, the Mauryan dynasty lasted just fifty more years.

The Shunga Empire (187 BC – 78 BC)

Shunga Copper Elephant and Swastik Coin

SHUNGA KINGDOM

The Shunga Empire,  an ancient Indian dynasty from Magadha that controlled vast areas of the Indian subcontinent was established by Pushyamitra Shunga following the fall of the Maurya Empire.

Indo-Greek Kingdom ca 180 BC –  100 AD

Silver Coin of Demetrius the Invincible ca 200 BC

DEMETRIUS

The Indo-Greek kingdom was founded by Demetrius I who invaded the Indian subcontinent in the 2nd century BC.  The kingdom had more than 30 Indo-Greek kings. Of them the most famous was Menander (Milinda) who ruled from his capital at Sakala in the Punjab (present-day Sialkot, Punjab, Pakistan). The Indo-Greeks ultimately disappeared as a political entity around 100 AD following the invasions of the Indo-Scythians.

  Indo-Scythian 100 BC – 395 CE

 Indo-Scythian silver coin, Azilises (c.60-45/35 BC)

AZELES 1
Author’s Private Collection

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.

Mayuran Empire 380-415 CE, Chandragupta II  (Vikramaditya)

 Silver coin Rudrasimha III 380-387 CErudrasena iii

Gold Coin of Chandragupta II, 380-415 CE

GUPTA GOLD HORSEMAN 1
 

Author’s Private Collection

 

 Indo-Scythian rule in North Western India ended following the defeat of the last Saka Satrap Rudrasimha III  by Chandragupta II, the son of  Samudragupta, in 395 CE.  During the latter’s rule the Gupta Empire reached its peak in art, architecture, and sculpture and came to be known as the “Golden Age” of India.

From the years 388 to 409 CE Chandragupta subjugated Gujarat, the region north of present Mumbai, Saurashtra, in western India, and Malwa, with its capital at Ujjain. Chandragupta was succeeded by his second son Kumaragupta I

Kumaragupta  (415 – 455CE)

Gold Coin of Kumaragupta

KUMARAGUPTA 1

Kumaragupta I succeeded Chandragupta II as emperor and kept the empire intact by defeating the invaders Pushyamitras from the banks of Naramada River and the White Huns, a Nomadic tribe from Central Asia. Kumaragupta was succeeded by his son Skandagupta after whom seven Gupta emperors ruled until the middle of 6th century when the greatest empire of ancient India disintegrated into petty chiefdoms.

 The Indo-Parthian Kingdom (30-10 BC)

 Coin of Gondophares I

GONAPHORES 1

Ancient Indo-Parthian Kingdom that occupied the present regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan was founded by Gondophares I or Phraotes of Central Asian Iranian Tribe in ca 30 BC . The city of Taxila is thought to have been the capital of the Indo-Parthians as per excavations by Sir John Marshall in 1913.

Kushan (Guishuang ) Empire (30-240 CE)

Bronze Coin of Kujula Kadphise

KujulaKadphisesCoinAugustusImitation

Gold Coin of  Kanishka I

KANISHKA 1

Gold Coin of Vasudeva I

vasudeva1

The Kushan Empire  was founded in the early 1st century by Kujula Kadphises (ca 30 – 80 CE) of a Yuezhi  Chinese Tribe in the Bactrian region, encompassing  much of present  Afghanistan, and the northern parts of the Indian subcontinent  as far as Sarnath near Varanasi

Vima Kadphises  (c. 95 – c. 127) the grandson of  Kadphises  was Kushan emperor from ca  90–100 CE and his successor and son Kanishka I (c. 127 – c. 140) the Great ruled virtually all of northern India from his two capitals Purushapura (Peshawar) and Mathura.

Vasudeva I (c. 190 – c. 230) was Kushan emperor from about 20 years after the death of Kanishka. He was the last of the “Great Kushans whose rule coincided with the invasion of the Sasanians  in the present Afghanistan, Pakistan and northwestern India from around 240 AD.

The Satavahanas  (273 BC-220 CE)

Copper Coin of Satakarni 100 BC

SATKARNI
 

Author’s Private Collection

 

Coin of Gautamiputra  Satakarni  2nd century CE GAUMIPUTRA SATKERNI

At the decay of the Mayuran Empire a new power arose from the Deccan region which dominated from 1st century BC to 3rd century CE. This new  Satavahana kingdom comprised of the present-day Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Maharashtra and led by the early kings like Satakarni and reaching its zenith under the rule of Gautamiputra Satakarni and his successor Vasisthiputra Pulamavi. The kingdom fragmented into smaller states in the early 3rd century CE

South India, Chera. Chola Pandyas 300 BC – 900 AD

SOUTH INDIA

Pandya Sangam Period Coin 300-100 BC

PANDYA SANGAM COIN

While the North of India was subjected to almost continuous invasions and political upheaval  the Dravidian peninsular in the south remained unscathed protected  by the Vindhya mountain range in the north and the sea. on its either side. Never the less the Chera, Chola and Pandiya Kingdoms were known to King Asoka. The Tamil language and culture flourished  through the support of the kings for the Tamil Sangam

The Hephthalites or White Huns ca 450-600 CE

 HEPALITE EMPIRE

        Hephthalite Empire

Hephthalite coin of King Khingila, 5th century CEwhite HUN

The Hephthalites or White Huns, were a confederation of nomadic and settled people from Central Asia who expanded their domain westward in the 5th century. They invaded North-West India  in ca 450 CE, posing a threat to late Gupta Empire. Although they were repelled, they served to destabilise the Guptas. At the height of its power in the first half of the 6th century, the Hephthalite Empire controlled territory in present-day Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, present Pakistan and other regions of north-west India.

 Empire of Harsha 590-647 CE

Silver Coin of Harshavardhana HARSHA

HARSHA EMPIRE

Prabhakarvardhana the 4th emperor of Vardhana dynasty defeats the Huna invaders, and his son and successor Harsha (c. 590–647), also known as Harshavardhana rules North India from 606 to 647 from his capital Kanauj.  The Empire of Harsha at the height of his power spanned the Punjab, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Bengal, Odisha and the entire Indo-Gangetic plain north of the Narmada River. Harsha was defeated by the south Indian Emperor Pulakeshin II of the Chalukya dynasty when he invaded the southern peninsula of India.

First Islamic Expansion into India 695-715 CE

 Umayyad dynasty. al-Walid I, 705-715, Silver dirham,

UMMAYED CALIPHATE

‘Imād ad-Dīn Muḥammad ibn Qāsim ath-Thaqafī  ( 695 – 715 CE) was an Umayyad general who conquered the Sindh and Multan regions along the Indus River (now a part of Pakistan) for the Umayyad Caliphate. He was born and raised in the city of Taif (in the present Saudi Arabia). Qasim’s conquest of Sindh and southern-most parts of Multan enabled Islamic expansion into India.

Gold Coin, Dharmapala, Pala Dynasty

PALA DHARMAPALA COIN

Gold Fanam of Chalukyas chalukya-coin

Rashtrakuta (753-982 CE) was a royal dynasty ruling large parts of the Indian Subcontinent between the sixth and 10th centuries. Having defeated King Kirtivarman of Chalukiya Dynasty (543-753) they rose to power with Karnataka as their power base in South India ca 753. Their contemporary rulers were the Pala dynasty of Bengal (ca 800-1200) and the Prathihara dynasty of Malwa  (700 – 1036) in eastern and north-western India respectively.

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

BRAMAH HEAD

Bramah

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,

INDUS SEAL
Indus Seal

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.

GOLD SHIVA 1
Kushan Kanishka 1 gold coin 100 AD

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.

BOODOO
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.

GOLD SHIVA 1
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 RAMTAKA DURBAR
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.    


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

NATARAJA STAMP
Shiva as Nataraja

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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The Splendour that was India before Colonialism

At the time of the British withdrawal, 565 princely states were officially recognised in the Indian subcontinent,  apart from thousands of regional and local chiefs including taluqarszamindaris and jagirs. In 1947, princely states numbering 555 covered 48% of area of pre-Independent India and constituted 28% of its population.

Mysore State, Krishnaraja Wadiyar, Anton Sebastian Private Collection

The most important states had their own British Political Residencies:

Indore State, Anton Sebastian Private Collection

HyderabadMysore and Travancore in the South followed by Jammu & Kashmir and Sikkim in the Himalayas, and Indore in Central India. Gun-salutes were often given for personal distinctions of the ruler rather than the importance of the state and varied from time to time. The most prominent among those – roughly a quarter of the total – had the status of a salute state, one whose ruler was honoured by receiving a set number of gun salutes on ceremonial occasions, ranging from nine to 21. Rulers of salute states entitled to a gun salute of eleven guns and above received from the British the style of His/Her Highness; while the Nizam of Hyderabad had the unique style of His Exalted Highness.

JAIPUR STATE
Jaipur, Chariot of Surya (Sun God),  1931

The princely states varied greatly in status, size, and wealth; the premier 21-gun salute states of Hyderabad and Jammu and Kashmir were each over 200,000 km2 in size, or slightly larger than the whole of Great Britain. In 1941, Hyderabad had a population of over 16 million,, while Jammu and Kashmir had a population of slightly over 4 million,

Maharaja Morvi Stat

comparable to that of Switzerland. At the other end of the scale, the non-salute principality of Lawa covered an area of 49 km with a population of just below 3,000. Some two hundred of the lesser states had an area of less than 25 km2 (10 mi2).  At the time of Indian independence in 1947, Hyderabad had annual revenues of over Rs. 9 crore (roughly £6.75 million/$27.2 million in 1947 values, approximately £240 million/$290 million in 2014 values), and its own army, airline, telecommunication system, railway, postal system, currency, radio service and a major public university; the tiny state of Lawa had annual revenues of just Rs. 28,000 (£2100/$8463 in 1947 values, £73,360/$89,040 in 2014 values).[

Baroda State

The era of the princely states effectively ended with Indian independence in 1947. By 1950, almost all of the principalities had acceded to either India or Pakistan. The accession process was largely peaceful, except in the cases of Jammu and Kashmir (whose ruler opted for independence but decided to accede to India following an invasion by Pakistan-based forces), Hyderabad (whose ruler opted for total independence in 1947, followed a year later by the police action and annexation of the state by India), Junagadh (whose ruler acceded to Pakistan, but was annexed by India).[10] and Kalat (whose ruler opted for independence in 1947, followed in 1948 by the state’s annexation

STAMPS OF PRINCELY INDIAN STATES