Sunday, February 19, 2017

Ancient Indian Coins tell the cultural history!

In the last the article we had discussed the symbolism on ancient Indian coins from 7th  century BC till 350 BC. During this period we do not find any legends marked on the coins. The reason must be that the coin making system was still in infancy. Mints still were not in practice.

The Advent of Greeks had made an artistically great impact on later coins. Since third century BC onwards busts or images of the kings, their names and legends along with their revered Gods can be seen on both the sides of the coins of north and central India. Before we enter into the discussion on the symbols and the language along with scripts used on the coins of Greek, Scythian, Bactrian and Indian Kings/republics I would like to state that in Taxila region coins were called “PanNa”.

We are aware that Taxila region (eastern part of Gandhara) is part of the Indus Valley Civilization where sea-farer trading community called Pani’s was settled. Since they were traders the coins issued by them used to be called as PaNa. Till second century BCE coins in that region were called PaNa. It does mean that Pani’s right from Indus culture era (3100 BC) still were in the business. Pani’s were Non-Vedic community from ancient times. We find in Rig Vedic verses how Vedics nourished hatred towards them. However, we also can find that in the era of decline of Vedic religion, the Vedics accepted donations from them as well and composed verses in their praise! 

On Taxila bent bar coins we find six petal flowers. On later the coins we can note the influence of the Greek style in punching the coins.

On the Mauryan coins, before advent of the Greeks, we find Sun sign been present on all the coins. No legend is marked on them. Also, three arrow sign with Y shape marked between the arrows too remains constant with slight change in the design. Apart from that we can find different Banker Marks embedded on the coins. This does mean that Chandragupta Maurya and his people of Magadha region still remains Sun Worshippers.

We come across one unique coin that has three male (?) figures embedded along with five crescent moons on the obverse side of the coin. The interesting thing is headdress significantly resembles with the Indus headdresses, indicating the Indus cultural continuity. What symbolism appears on the coins are related to Tantra (Agamic) and not Vedic!
We do not find any influence of Buddhism on the social mindset till the period of Ashoka. From Ashoka times we find images of Chaitya sign gradually replacing Sun sign suggesting the shift of the religious faith of the kings and the bankers.

During the period of Mauryan Empire, we find various forms of the Prakrit (Gandhari Prakrit on Gandhara coins or Sindhi Prakrit on Taxila coins.) For example, Gandhari “Nekama” in Sindhi Prakrit becomes Negama. The distinct linguistic difference has been well recorded by Cunningham. Though Ashoka coins have used Brahmi script mostly, for north western regions he has used Kharoshthi script.

 After fall of the Maurya Empire in Northern India arose many republic states such as Audumbara, Malava, Youdheya, Kuninda etc. The republic coins came into the circulation about 150 BC. In Republic states we find Shaivait faith being in practice in these regions through the images imbibed on the coins.

Audumbara Republic is now connected with present Kangra region by the scholars. Shaivait symbols seem to be replaced now by the image of Lord Shiva. Tiger skin wrapped Shiva is shown standing with his one arm upright image is common on Audmbara coins. The legend in Pali language “Mahadevasa Rajna Dhaaraaghosasna odumbarisa” is inscribed on the reverse side of the Dharaghosa coins. On the coins of King Mahadeva are shown trident and elephant and on the reverse the legend “Bhagavata Mahadevasa Rajarajna”.

Interestingly, in first BC Audumbara coin, we find Shiva temple image. This could be the first image of the ancient temple that indicates simple temple architecture has ancient origins than thought before. It was disputed before by the scholars whether this image belongs to the Shiva Temple or Buddhist shrine/stupa. But the Trident, battle axe and serpent symbols have confirmed that indeed this is the image of the Shiva temple. You may like to read this article...

Also from the legend, we can deduce that the term “Bhagavata” originally was not connected with Vaishnavait cult. vaishnavait cult borowd many concepts from ancient Pancharatra cult that was completely non-Vedic. 
On Kuninda (sometimes called as Kulinda) coins we find the influence of Buddhism along with Shavism altogether. Kuninda republic is connected with the present region of Satlaj River and the hilly region around it.

On the Kuninda coins, Dhammachakra and Chaitya symbols are embedded. The legends too are in Prakrit language. For example, on Amoghbhuti’s coins, the legend at reverse side of the coin is “Rajna Kunindasa Amoghabhutisaa Mahaaraajasa”

On some coins Shiva is shown standing, holding a trident in one hand and tiger skin in other. On the backside horn, snake and also is Chaitya sign. The legend is in Prakrit. 

Also, there are many coins found having Bodhi Tree and Bull symbols together showing both the religions were practiced simultaneously in Kuninda republic.

 Yaudheya Republic (or federation) has been in limelight since pre-Alexander era. Yaudheya’s were famous for their bravery and battle skills. They also are mentioned in epic Mahabharata and Astadhyayi of Panini. This indicates that the time of Panini is certainly post-Mauryan. They had participated Mahabharata war. The Yaudheya people were Shaivait throughout which reflects on their coinage. 

Yaudheyas were settled between Indus and Gangetic region. Until the times of Rudradaman, Yaudheyas were dominant warrior tribe in North India. On most of the Yaudheya coins we find image of Kumar Kartikeya. We find the first trace of Hybrid Sanskrit on Yaudheya coins in form of “Yaudhey ganasya  jaya” (1st Century AD.) Since, Yaudheya coins use hybrid Sanskrit, time of Panini can be fixed even later than 1st century AD.

What we significantly can note is that we find nowhere Vedic symbolism. Had there been ever Vedic age, we somewhere should have noticed its presence on the coins. Had Sanskrit been in existence, there should have been its presence on coins as well. We find only developing state of the Sanskrit from Prakrit on Yaudheya coins. Elsewhere, a variety of Prakrits is well present in the legends.

It does mean that highly glorified Vedic era is well-nourished myth having no iota of truth in it. The Vedic presence had been insignificant in political circles throughout the country. The Vedic era seems to have become prominent only after the rise of the Gupta power. In next chapter, we shall see how the symbolism gradually changed to show Vedic presence in Indian coinage. 

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