Dear Friends, Today we are branching out a bit from stone sculpture into metal, again not metal sculpting but something smaller in size, but equally interesting. A field of study which offers fascinating insights into our history and culture on par with Inscriptions and Plates. Infact, they go much beyond the time frames of what i thought as the basics of Archeology. I was fortunate to have the chance acquaintance of a passionate antique collector Sri Raman Sankaran, who was willing to share his rich knowledge on this field with us. The thought occurred to me to make it like a Q& A session, with me the “novice” asking the expert some basic questions and we would feature them as a series of posts, end of which we could all claim to have gained valuable insights into this splendid field of Numismatics.
Me : Sir, Good morning and thanks again for taking time to educate us. I start with the standard line of questioning. When and how did you get interested in collecting coins, seals and rings.
RAMAN: I started my collection in my school days with coins of British India. I Still remember that I acquired a coin for Rs1 dated 1835. It was East India company’s half Anna coin. This was in the 1980’s
Me : Oh, ok. How did you find that coin.
Me: Sir, are you there?
RAMAN: Sorry ,power off
Me : Ok, Sir no problem.
RAMAN: I am in Chennai 🙁
Me: Hahaha. J . You were saying you started with the 1835 half anna coin. how did you get the coin?
RAMAN: I got it from a shop that dealt with old items. I showed it to all my friends, was feeling proud that I have 145 year old coin 🙂
Me : great, that leads us to next question. What are the sources of coins for a collector? Do you collect only South Indian coins or are you generic
RAMAN: sources for new collectors are basically buying from dealers. Every Dist Head there is a coins collector’s club.
Me : Wow, I guess there must be many fakes in circulation as well. So it is better to be acquainted with the Hobbyists and Professionals to understand the nuances. You mentioned about the Club, is there one in Chennai?
RAMAN: Tirunelveli, Nagerkovil, Thanjayur. Trichi, Salem Chennai…. u can find the coins clubs,in Chennai there are more than 25 dealers plus about 5 or more shops that sell only coins and currency (no stamps). In addition in Chennai there are more than 4 clubs functioning as well.
Me : Sir, do you focus only on south indian coins or you collect all antiques
RAMAN: For the past 25years i am collecting coins and I have Sangam age coins , Chola, Chera, Pandya, Pallava, Vijayanagar, Nayaks coins, and from 2004 i start collecting seals and rings.
Me: What are the earliest known Indian coins and which period are they dated to.
RAMAN: First known coin is silver punch marked coin. In that coin we can see 5 punch marks on one side and other side one or two punch marks. This coin is dated to 2 BC to 1 AD. In Tamil Nadu First coin known is Pandya punch marked coin. The terms used for coins front side is obverse and back side is reverse.. For Punch marked coins dating is not clear and i am not sure
Me: Ok sir. What are the various metals in which coins found in Tamil Nadu
RAMAN: Gold Silver copper Lead Potion* some times in Brass as well. *Potion metal is mixed metal of copper silver tin and few others metals….
Me: Oh, ok. Which is most commonly found and obviously gold must be rarest?
RAMAN:In Sagam age no gold coins have been found so far. The most acceptable reason is the Roman GOLD coins are used in that period. First gold coin known in Tamilnadu is Later Chola (Rajaraja) coin only
Me: Oh, great – would love to start the images with the Emperor’s Gold issue.
RAMAN: Have highlighted his legend ` Sri Rajarajah’ in devanagari script.
Me: We are indeed blessed to see such. What are the most common shapes of the coins and we see more square or rectangular coins – before we see round coins. when did the change happen
RAMAN: Most of the punch marked coins are Square shaped and most Sangam age coins are square shaped, but after roman influence we see round coins being issued. This is a 2nd C BCE Chera coin
The Obv, you see a Majestic Elephant facing a tree, behind it four fishes, and below the Elephant a horizontal Palm tree. The rev you have Chera ensign – The Bow and arrow , and also an ankusam ( weapon used to control elephants)
Me: Fantastic sir. Can we see a Sangam Period Pandya Coin
RAMAN: Sure. This is again a 1st C BCE Pandya coin
The Obv you see a magnificent male elephant and on the rev, a fish depicted as swimming towards the bank.
Me. Fish i can see, but not the detail of swimming to bank
RAMAN: Imagine like a wave, let me illustrate for you.
Me: Very clear now. You mentioned use of roman coins, was there a more direct influence of the crafting and coinage. what i am asking is, We are always enamored by the antiquity of our artifacts. How do Tamil coins of the sang am age compare to the roman coins. Do you feel that there was a definitive knowledge flow from Rome into South India and it influences our coinage.
RAMAN: Lets see round coins issued by Sangam Cholas and Cheras, first
Me: wow, sir do you have a photo of the coin so that i can share with readers – a Sangam age Chola coin
Me: Excellent sir, What is the approx date for this coin and can you describe the features in more detail
RAMAN: This is dated to 1st C BCE. The Obv – you see an Elephant facing left, and a fenced tree. On top of the Elephant there is royal Parasol ( Umbrella). The Rev, you see the majestic Prancing Tiger of the Cholas with its splendidly crafted tail.
Me: and the round Sangam period Chera coin
RAMAN: Here it is.
RAMAN: Obv, you have a seated Lion, and next to it a Chakra on a Mast. Rev, you have the bow and arrow together.
Me: Lion, looks more like a Lemuir !!
RAMAN: Haha, one more reason ( non availability of the gold coins in sagam age) gold mine or furnace are not found in South Indian, lot of Roman gold coins all reported over South India. The Madras museum has a collection of over 5000 roman gold and copper coins. Roman coins dated form 1 BC are found in South India
Me: Wow, can you share one such early Roman Gold coin found in Tamil Nadu.
Me: Further, do you see a change in the style of tamil coins, due to the roman influence. like for eg, when do we get to see Tamil ruler’s bust like that of the Emperor, in Roman coinage.
RAMAN: yes. In Sangam age King name v got few coins with Makkothai, Pervaluthi., Kuttuvan kotai, Kollipurai and Kolirumpurai all in Brahmi script
Me: Wow, we will need to see them in more detail later. To start with – the 3 premier clans of Tamil land – Chera, Chola, Pandya – what are the earliest dates for their coins and what are their distinguishing factors. Apart from the Chera Bow and arrow, the Chola Tiger and the Pandya Fish – are there any other characteristic marks of these clans.
RAMAN: For trade purpose few North Indian coins and foreign (like Greaks)coins are found in Tamil Nadu. Another clans coins we find is those of the Malayamans . Malayman coins are found in Tirukkoilur area only
Me: Tirukoilur is near my native :-). Can you share some old Chera, Pandya and malayaman coins for our readers
RAMAN: most of the Sangam age coins found in the river bed of Madurai, Karur, Tirukkoilur and Tirunelveili areas Here you see a Malaiyaman coin
RAMAN: This is a 1st C BCE coin of Malayamans, found in Tirukkoilur. Obv, you see a horse facing a tree ( without fence), on top of the horse you see a weapon and a Taurine (sign depicting the head of a bull). The rev has their ensign of a river flowing, a vertical and an horizontal spear or lance.
Me: Fantastic sir. There are so many things to observe and know ( like the Taurine sign etc). As a beginner to numismatics, are there any basic guide books that you can suggest our readers or authors
RAMAN: First they have decide what type of coins they are like to collect
Me: Most of us are die hard Chola fans and we would love to touch any piece of history associated with that clan, are coins of Raja Raja Chola available for early collectors like us?
RAMAN: Yes, You all can start with Chola coins. They are (chola copper coins) available in large numbers. I can give you a Chola copper coin as a compliment to start the collection.
RAMAN: yes not a joke
Me: I will take that offer for sure Sir. Moving on most of us are guided by knowledgeable scholars who teach and inspire us once we have reached a certain level. Who are your guru’s in this field?
RAMAN: my first guru is Mr Seetharaman from Thanjavur and for Brahmi legend coins, seals and rings Sri. I.Mahadeven IAS(ret) Avargal.
Me: Wow, they are all legends.
RAMAN: and my fist advice first know about the coin which u planning to collect. I can suggest a book on Chola coins is written by Mr Seetharaman.
Me: who is the author and publisher sir, and where can we get copies
RAMAN: Mr Seetharaman, is the author of the book. I will pass you his address. He is not on email, but I can procure the copies for you. They cost about Rs 150 per book, will work out to Rs 175 per title including postage if inside India. The author’s contact number is +919894578440 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting +919894578440 end_of_the_skype_highlighting begin_of_the_skype_highlighting +919894578440 end_of_the_skype_highlighting
12, Rajarajan Nagar,
manojipatti ( south)
Tanjavur – 613004
Me: Thank you sir, its been a real eye opening conversation for me and am sure to my readers as well. We are definitely keen to do another detailed session – maybe we will do one for each of the Moovendars and then Pallavas, the Chieftains, there is so much to learn, we are all very excited and fortunate to have a willing teacher like you.