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.

Why would you pardon an assassin?

Hello readers, Today we return to Darasuram once more to study another Periapuranam sculpture. We have already seen the panel on the left – Marar of Ilayankudi. Today we are going to see a simply stunning sculpture fittingly sculpted to suit a fantastic storyline, which showcases the matchless chivalry and valor of a King, who even at the face of death through the hands of a conniving assassin, a dreaded foe who slays him by treachery, displays his noble birth and devotion to the Shiva, by forgiving him. But why did he do that ? Read on ( am going to use the thevaram hymns translations since they are almost like a running commentary /first person account of the events as they unfold)

Lets view the location of this amazing panel.

We are talking of Meiporul Nayanar, a pious king.who ruled over the hill tribes of Sethi and born into the noble clan of Malayamans. The brave king was unconquered in battles and a just ruler.

His capital was Tiru-k-Kovalur in goodly Sethi realm;
He hailed from Malayaman dynasty which served
Ammai-Appar from generation to generation;
He, the Prince was poised in the noble way true, of the Vedas
And served the Lord’s servitors divining their true wish.

The rich land was the target of a wicked enemy from his neighbouring country. King Muthanathan, many times he tried matching his large Army, with strutting elephants and hordes of soldiers, yet he could not find a way past the forces of Meiporular. He was repeatedly defeated.

Whilst thus he flourished, a hostile king
Fired by a desire to vanquish him,
Waged wars against him many a time, only to lose
His elephantry and cavalry and infantry,
Thus repeatedly defeated he was sunk in shame.

The worsted king who could not think of victory
In the field of battle, coming to know
Of the religious piety of Mei-p-Porul, desired
To ape his great habit of wearing the holy ash
And thus win by deception; his mind
Nurtured such unspeakable evil, and he
Prepared for his infiltration into Tiru-k-Kovalur.

He smeared all over his person the holy ash;
He had his hair matted and tied it into a crown;
He held a mega biblion which concealed a dagger;
Like a lamp thick with black at the wick, his mind
Harboured deception; thus in his false habit of tapas
Mutthanathan barged in.

The guards of the palace adored him with folded hands,
And said: “The Lord Himself is come! Be pleased to step in!”
He crossed many a threshold and arrived at the last one;
Thither stood Thatthan who beseeched him thus:
“Be pleased to regard the hour; the King slumbers.”

He commanded in love his consort, Lakshmi-like,
To hasten to the gynaeceum, and then had him,
— The one robed in the weeds of a tapaswi –,
Installed on a seat, while he himself sat on the ground.
Then he said: “Be pleased to grace me.”

Watch the words above. we will see its importance shortly!

He placed on his lap the treacherous scroll
And pretended to unwind the rope binding it.
When the king bowed low reverentially, he drew out
The dagger and did what he intended to do;
The king exclaimed, still adoring:
“The true habit of askesis is indeed the truth supreme.”
(Surely it is) the king
(who) triumphed!

Now, we come back to the sculpture, closeup of the whole panel first first

Now, lets study the panel from left to right. Act 1.

Do you notice the false sage seated on a seat and the king seated on the floor. Do you notice the left hand of the assassin holding a bag like contraption. In his right hand he is holding a dagger and about to decapitate the King. Such indepth knowledge of the storyline of the sculptor to go into such detailing is amazing.

Thatthan who kept surveillance over him,
Even when he who concealing himself in the garb
Of a tapaswi broke into the king’s chamber,
Now darted into the room, and was about to smite him

With his sword; the king who was to fall down
As blood profusely gushed forth from him,
Stretched out his long arm, prevented his deed
And exclaimed: “Thattha, he is our own.” Then he fell down.

Again we return to the sculpture. Act 2.

We see the body guard flying into action, his garments flayed, sword raised to protect his Lord. But at the moment the King stops him with his stretched out Long arm. All brilliantly captured in stone in such a miniature form.

Thatthan the servitor who was thus restrained
By the prince who suffered pain and fell down,
Bowed low, and said: “What should I do?”
The prince replied him thus: “Let none obstruct
The devotee of our Lord on his way back.
You go with him and see to his safe passage.”

With effort great, the prince still bore his ebbing life
Only to hear the news that the one of deceptious habit
Had been conveyed safe, unmolested by opposing hordes;
Before him came he who carried out the royal mandate.

Oh, what emotion and melodrama.

To the devotee-prince, the Lord of Himavan’s daughter
Granted darshan in the form in which
He contemplated Him for many a day.
The Lord graced him to attain the shade
Of His ankleted feet inaccessible to the celestials,
And also blessed him with the beatitude
To adore Him for ever.

Thus the sculpture ends his story as well with the final Act.

Truly masterclass.

credits: the verses are from the amazing site
Eng Translation also from same ref: T.N. Ramachandran