Showcasing another Facet of our heritage, an interesting Coin Chat – part 1

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

RAMAN: sure

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.

Me: haha

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

Dhanalaksmi Publishing,
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.

Contrapposto and the S curve – Parallels between Greek sculpture and a Chola Bronze

There is something ethereal about a Chola bronze that appeals to your senses and its very difficult to capture it on a photograph. Take this superb late Chola bronze 13th Century Skanda from Chennai Museum.

Prasad is one of the few artists who can bring out the beauty of a bronze in a sketch.

I have read many articles which talk of the Tribanga pose and its aesthetics, but is there more to it than just the triple flexion of the body around a central axis. Today we are to try and understand the inner working of this flexion, its evolution in Greek sculpture and if there are any parallels to it in the Indian bronze sculpting and if so – is it in the styling of these bronzes that make them so endearing to our senses. Watching this wonderful video on evolution of Greek sculpture, helped me realise how artists try and constantly innovate the form and proportion to showcase their creations better.

Greek Sculpture – Evolution

We have had this discussion many times within our friends, especially with Arvind, when we were studying the evolution of the Ardhanari form – the flexion of the leg, we summarised then was maybe partly to offset the male /female portions.

Tracing the refinement of the Ardhanari image

But today after seeing the video made me rethink the theory. For the bronze Skanda is not a composite form like ardhanari, but the flexion and exaggerated twist do add to its aesthetic appeal. Art and art forms evolve, the artist learn from themselves and the works of great masters who worked before them. Greek art, especially their marble sculptures are the pinnacle of sculpting. Thanks to Google and wiki, will try and present how their art evolved and its relevance to the Chola bronze’s styling.


A kouros is the modern term given to those representations of male youths which first appear in the Archaic period in Greece. (The archaic period in Greece -800 BCE – 480 BCE, is a period of Ancient Greek history. The term originated in the 18th century and has been standard since. This term arose from the study of Greek art, where it refers to styles mainly of surface decoration and sculpture, falling in time between Geometric Art and the art of Classical Greece

The characteristics of the sculptures of this period are :

* Frontal pose with no torsion of the body. Head erect, eyes front, face flat, head square, waist narrow, muscles squarish and poorly delineated.
* Left foot advanced with no corresponding hip displacement. This characteristically rigid frontal striding pose is reminiscent of statues of Egyptian pharaohs.
* Arms hanging straight at sides fingers curved, thumb foremost, although a few show one arm extended forward from the elbow, holding an offering.

Kritious Boy

The marble Kritios boy or Kritian Boy belongs to the Early Classical period of ancient Greek sculpture. It is a precursor to the later classical sculptures of athletes. The Kritian boy is thus named because it is attributed on slender evidence to Kritios who worked together with Nesiotes (sculptures of Harmodius and Aristogeiton) or their school, from around 480 BC. The statue is considerably smaller than life-size at 1.17 m (3 ft 10 ins).

With the Kritios Boy (ephebos) the Greek artist has mastered a complete understanding of how the different parts of the body act as a system. The statue supports the body’s weight on the left leg, while the right one is bent at the knee in a relaxing state. This stance, known as contrapposto, forces a chain of anatomical events: as the pelvis is pushed diagonally upwards on the left side, the right buttock relaxes, the spine acquires an “S” curve, and the shoulder line dips on the left to counteract the action of the pelvis


Contrapposto is an Italian term used in the visual arts to describe a human figure standing with most of its weight on one foot so that its shoulders and arms twist off-axis from the hips and legs. This gives the figure a more dynamic, or alternatively relaxed appearance. It can also encompass the tension as a figure changes from resting on a given leg to walking or running upon it (so-called ponderation)


The Doryphoros “Spear-Bearer”,is one of the best known Greek sculptures of the classical era in Western Art and an early example of Greek classical contrapposto. The lost bronze original would have been made at approximately 450-40 BC.

The Greek sculptor Polykleitos designed a work, perhaps this one, as an example of the “canon” or “rule”, showing the perfectly harmonious and balanced proportions of the human body in the sculpted form. A solid-built athlete with muscular features carries a spear balanced on his left shoulder. In the surviving Roman marble copies, a marble tree stump is added to support the weight of the marble. A characteristic of Polykleitos’ Doryphoros is the classical contrapposto in the pelvis; the figure’s stance is such that one leg seems to be in movement while he is standing on the other.

The S curve

The S Curve is a traditional art concept in Ancient Greek sculpture and Roman sculpture where the figure’s body and posture is depicted like a sinuous or serpentine “S”. It is related to and is an extension of the art term of contrapposto which is when a figure is depicted slouching or placing one’s weight and thus center of gravity to one side. However, the S Curve involves more of the body than the contrapposto, and is therefore considered to be a more advanced technical development.

Aphrodite of Milos, better known as the Venus de Milo, is an ancient Greek statue and one of the most famous works of ancient Greek sculpture. Created at some time between 130 and 100 BC, it is believed to depict Aphrodite (Venus to the Romans) the Greek goddess of love and beauty. It is a marble sculpture, slightly larger than life size at 203 cm (6 ft 8 in) high. Its arms and original plinth have been lost. From an inscription that was on its plinth, it is thought to be the work of Alexandros of Antioch.

Now, we return the Chola Bronze, to see if any of the above techniques are evidenced in the art and if so which one and most importantly did it assist in adding to its beauty.

I found some interesting articles on the same with some fantastic photos to illustrate the axis, the rhythm and how the flow of the body is deliberately altered to create the effects described above. I tried to reflect the same study in our bronze with some surprising results.

The diagrams of the movement and flow in the Greek sculpture so closely resemble the Chola bronze.

The rear view of bronze shows the exaggerated `S’ so talked off above to move in conjunction with the Contrapposto.

Would be interesting to hear your views and to dwell more into this. Really fascinating confluence of art.

Images Courtesy: Wiki, internet. sketches and Bronze are of Prasad.