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.
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.
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.
Gods on Coins and Stamps
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.
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.
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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
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.
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
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
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.