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Saturday, August 2, 2008

Appearance of "OM" on Coins

In July 1996, while going through the morning new papers, I stumbled upon a news item appearing in the Times of India. The caption said “Historians stumped by “Om” Coin”. The report said that six coins were found near the Siddheshwar lake in the Khopat area of Thane (Maharashtra) and one coin had “OM” engraved on it. The report further stated that occurance of “OM” symbol (as is known today in North India) was evolved during the 2nd Century BC as confirmed by the officials of the Institute of Oriental Studies, Thane. Famous historian V.V. Mirashi is quoted to have assumed its occurance somewhere in the 9th or 10th Century AD.
I looked at the coin photographs appearing alongside the news. There was a coin with a lion standing to the right, with the tail rolled up. At the end of the tail the so called “OM” was clearly visible but the area was darker indicating that the symbol was placed deeper than the coin surface. Clearly a device was overstruck. Faintly I remembered to have had some affinity with the coin. Later in the evening I went through the Journals of the Numismatic Society of India and traced the same to the Sada Dynasty (JNSI Vol XLVIII pp14-23 : Sada Coins from Vaddamanu). Similar overstruck Sada coins with a “Triratna device were already reported. In this case the Triratna was punched over the tail of the lion. The end of the tail became a part of the symbol to resemble “OM”. Out of the six coins discovered, only three of them were shown in the photograph. One small coin had the legend “Rajasa Kurasa” (Kuru dynasty of Kolhapur area) and the other one was of “Pulamavi” of the Satavahana lineage. All the coins are datable to 2nd Century AD. How come that a site is yielding coins of different dynasties of the same period. It is, however, not clear as to how were the coins discovered. Thane was definitely a crucial centre with maritime trade. We can not rule out the possibility of a modern day collector’s coins being lost and found. The coins appear to be clean without traces of any deposits. While examining my old floppies, I came across scanned photograph of the disputed coin and thought of penning down for wider appreciation of such numismatic problems.
Incidentally, the “OM”, according to the Hindu mythology, is a cosmic sound and is there from the beginning of the Cosmos. Not only in Hinduism, “OM” is the ultimate, even in Jainism, Buddhism and among the Sikhs. The question is, how was it represented symbolically. Today we find it represented by characters of a script, expressed by a combination of letters producing an “OM” like sound. But it is not necessary that the SOUND be bound with the same characters for ever. “OM” in the various Indian scripts as known today was not the same in the past. This I could understand from the symbols appearing at the beginning of Copper plate grants/inscriptions. Usually they begin with “OM Siddham/Swasti……….” Here we find “OM” appearing differently.

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