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Friday, August 1, 2008

Punch Marked and Gold Coins from Malhar

The first coin appearing above is in Gold but the quantity of gold seems minimal. This was worn around the neck as a pendant. Scholars opine that this is an imitation of Roman Coin.
The second one is a Silver
Punch Marked coin which has been overstruck with the Malhar device "". It bears four symbols. Sun at top left corner, a Bull facing right at the top right, an Elephant facing right at the bottom and the an unidentifiable truncated symbol. It weighs .75 gm. This is 1/4th of a Karshapana which are scarce. The third one a silver Punch Marked Coin on which the Sun is clearly seen at top right corner. Apart from that there is an incision like marking. The fourth one, also a Silver PMC seems to bear around five symbols out of which the Sun could be seen at top right corner.

Coins of Smaller Denominations

The Coins displayed above are in Copper and very small in size. They all bear some markings. However I did not attempt to clean them properly as I was sure that it is unlikely to find any legend on them

They could be placed in around 3rd Century AD. I wonder as to how people used to manage them.

Anonymous Coins from Malhar

Coins of Bhaliga

Coins of Bhaliga have been found in lead as well as copper. Most of the coins bear a tree in railing as the reverse symbol. On all my coins there is an elephant to the right on the obverse above which the legend appears as Siri Bhaligasa. One copper coin bears the full legend "Rano Siri Bhaligasa"

Coins of Sivamagha

I am not averse to placing Sivamagha in around the 1st half of 2nd Century AD as for as I could visualize from the palaeography on his coin issues. Among the Magha rulers, we find Sivamagha bringing out coins in all conceivable shapes. We come across square, oblong, round as well as octagonal coins in lead and copper. Interestingly, the penultimate (with a crack) coin appearing above, has traces of Gold. The second coin on this page is superb in the sence it has a very clear legend Rano Siva Magha Sirisa starting from 9' O Clockto 3'O Clock. His coin issues are quite different from what we have seen with earlier rulers. A peacock has invariably been depicted on the reverse of all his coins with or without a pedestral.

(The first coin is not a part of my collection)

Coins of Maghasiri - the founder of Magha Dynasty

Maghasiri was the founder of Magha Dynasty sometimes during the 1st Century AD as discussed in my earlier page on Maghas. All his coin issues are in lead. In few of them we find tree in railing as the reverse symbol. The topmost coin is not rectangular. It is broader and thinner at the top. This gives an impression that perhaps the name ‘Maghasirisa’ was impressed with some device. In that case the original coin could have belonged to some other ruler.
Maghashri is considered to have been succeeded by a ruler named Siriya Magha whose coin appears alongside. The legend has been read as “Siri Yamagha” by some scholars. This seems absurd, devoid of any meaning. I am inclined to go for “Siriya Magha” as explained by P.L. Gupa (Numismatic Digest Vol 14, pp. 10-11). In that case the issuer would be “Maghasiri” with the honorific prefix of “Siriya”. If we consider “Siriya” as part of the name, the issuer of the coin would be a different ruler. We leave it at that for further numismatic evidence to come up.

Coins of Dharmabhadra

After Achadasiri, we find a ruler named Dharmabhadra or Dhamabhada (as per the coin legend). The typography of Brahmi characters are almost similar to that of Achadasiri and he too could have belonged to 1st Century BC. There are only two coins found so far. Both of them are in copper with a tree in railing on the reverse. There is however a tiny symbol at the corner resembling a square within which a + mark is placed.

Coins of Achadasiri

After Silalusiri, the reigns appear to have been taken over by Achadasiri. The advent of Malhar symbol "" could be seen on his issues. The coins are in lead and copper (1, 2, 4 and 6). All copper issues have a Tree in railing on the reverse while on most of the lead coins the reverse is blank.

Coins of Silalu Siri (Earliest Inscribed Coins)

(Double click over the photograph for an enlargement)

The earliest inscribed coins found at Malhar belong to a ruler named Silalu Siri. Palaeographically, his coins are placed in the 1st Century BC. Initially the reading on the coin was confusing and appeared as if it is Salapusa but later, addition of more coins made the legend clear. Few of his coins are overstruck with the typical Malhar Symbol "" (Device) and it appears within an incuse. All coins are in lead and do not bear any symbol on the reverse.

Mysterious Malhar Symbol

After having traced the Magha’s origin at Malhar, it would be pertinent to dwell on the mysterious “Angular Nandipada” or the Malhar Symbol. This is purely native to South Kosala as indicated by coin finds. Occurrence of this device had been rare elsewhere excepting perhaps on coins from Kausabi reported by Altekar (JNSI IV p.1 & JNSI VII p.7). The coins reported have been counter struck with Nandipada symbol. This is indicative of the period during which Maghas gained control over Kausambi. The ruler named ‘Pothamitra’ could have preceded Maghas thereat. Coming down to Malhar, we find coins of a king named Silalusiri (who could have been a Saka chief) immediately before the advent of Raja Maghashri (Ranjo Maghasirisa).We come across lead coins of the former king counter struck with the Malhar Device. We have one copper and four lead coins of Silalusiri with and without the so called mint mark. Instead of considering this device as a mint mark for Malhar, we could assume that, to begin with the Magha ruler used his initial letter ‘Ma’ for stamping the coins of the erstwhile rulers to indicate his suzerinity and used the same device for his own issues for smaller denominations.

This symbol is seen in all the coins from Malhar being used by (different or may be by the same dynasty) issues upto the 4th century AD.

A friend of mine, after examining my coins, was in favour of calling it a religious symbol – a Fire Altar. This can not, however, be ruled out. The rulers could have been fire worshippers

Maghas from Malhar

Our Puranas (Vayu Purana) contain references to the rule of 9 rulers of Magha or Megha dynasty in South Kosala (present day Chhattisgarh) during the ancient times. However, in the absence of epigraphical or any significant numismatic evidence to support the Puranic reference, Ajay Mitra Shastri (Kausambi Hoard of Magha Coins) had to remain contended with the assumption that the Kosala Country could have extended upto Bandhogarh (Shahdol District in Madhya Pradesh) as its northern most boundary. On the other hand K.D. Bajpai (Indian Numismatic Studies, Delhi 1976 Page 16/17) has reported issuance of Copper Coins by Magha rulers in the South Kosala region. His discovery is assigned to the second half of the 3rd Century A.D. The coins are supposedly discovered by him at Bandhogarh. It seems that he has assumed Bandhogarh as being in South Kosala so as to validate the Puranic references. Secondly no coins of Maghas excepting of Sivamagha and Yamagha are known from South Kosala. However tonnes of coins assignable to a second or third generation Sivamagha in Bell Metal are known from Shahdol (Bandhogarh) and Rewa regions.

It may be remembered that the earliest epigraphic evidence (N.P. Chakravarty – Brahmi Inscriptions from Bandhogarh – Epigraphica Indica, Vol.XXXI-1955-56 p.167) relating to one of the Magha rulers, Bhimasena reckoned to be of 129 and 130 A.D. were found at Bandhogarh (Shahdol) and Ginja Hills (Rewa) respectively followed by one of Bhattadeva of 168 A.D. at Bandhogarh itself. The latest one is of Bhimavarman of 217 A.D. from Kosam (the ancient Kausambi) near Allahabad, which indicates a South to North movement of the dynasty.

Two copper coins reported by Shri R.R. Bhargava (Numismatic Digest, Vol VIII, June & December 1984) from Tewar (ancient Tripuri near Jabalpur) have been found to be almost identical to the two coins of Sivamagha from Malhar reported later by Shastri and Rishbud (Numismatic Digest, Vol. IX). Together with the above two coins, in the reportings, a third copper coin of Yamagha from the same place i.e. Malhar was also published. Provenance of the aforesaid coins were also not considered sufficient to establish Malhar as the original seat of the Maghas. The hesitation was due to non occurance of the coins of the founder “Maharaja Magha” in the region But now in view of fresh evidence of coins attributed to a ruler named Maghasiri or Magha from Malhar, the puzzle remains resolved. Therefore the Maghas originated at Malhar and then moved to Bandhogarh and finally to Kausambi as indicated in previous paragraph.

My First Coin from Malhar

As I had earlier stated, I started reading literature available with the Bilaspur Museum. It was believed that at the beginning of the Christian Era, Dakshina Kosala, was under the suzerainty of the Satavahanas. All inscriptions of that period are referred to as that of Satavahanas. The 2nd Century rock inscription at Gunji (Barpali) near Sakti (now Janjgir district) is also attributed to Satavahana period. The inscription tells about distribution of 1000 cows to local Brahmins twice by Raja (King) Kumaravaradatta and a third time by his minister. Because of this hangover I largely read about the Satavahanas and their coinage. To cap it, a coin found at Balapur in the sands of the river Mahanadi is attributed to a king named Apilaka, who happens to be the 5th in the Satavahana lineage.[ Now it has been established that the attribution was faulty. The name has been read as Rano Siva Siri Silalukasa by Dr. (Mrs.) Susmita Bose Majumdar in her monograph titled “a new series Coins of Malhar” wherein most of the coins covered are from my collection](IIRNS Publication available here).

If I am lucky, I could dig out Raja Kumaravaradatta, I thought. May be I could also bring out other Satavahana rulers who are not known by their coin issues. Cleaning of the coins was proving difficult. All the pieces had hardened mud coating. Finally I put them in Acetic Acid overnight and I could succeed in getting rid of the deposits using a tooth brush. Out of half a dozen pieces, one was a lead coin with inscription. Others were copper and highly corroded. However I was very happy and started trying to figure out the name of the King on the lead coin.

With my limited knowledge of Brahmi characters, I read the name as Maagha Sirisa. Immediately I referred to the list of Satavahana rulers and thrilled to find something matching. There was one Meghaswati listed there. I showed it to my friends in the Archaeological department. They encouraged me and suggested further readings. However, I could not resist myself from sending out a letter to Dr. Ajay Mitra Shastri at Nagpur reporting my findings. In turn he expressed his doubts and asked me to go through his book on “Kausambi Hoard of Magha Coins”.

Steadily my collection started growing with many more additions establishing the real cradle of Maghas at Malhar

Malhar Visit

One day Mr. G.L. Raickwar and Rahul Singh, both from the local Archaeological Department, who became close friends of mine, suggested a visit to Malhar, a large village, some 33 kms South East of Bilaspur. Malhar is supposed to be a place where occurance of ancient coins was reported. I readily agreed and accompanied them. I visited the ruins of beautiful temples, Pataleshwar, Deor, Didindai etc and the site museum where the earliest sandstone idol of Lord Vishnu is kept. The sculpture is said to be an important find. Although crude looking, it has something inscribed on it in Brahmi characters of the 2nd Century A.D. Then I was taken round to a nearby mound said to contain a ruined mud fort. It was surrounded by a moat with little water. Originally it provided protection to the then existing fort.

Mr. Raickwar started giving me lessons in locating coins. We started searching and within half an hour collected few pebble looking pieces. He declared that they are all pieces of metal enveloped in mud. I could not believe it but they were really a little hevier. In the past, while digging the moat, the deeper soil was thrown up which contained all the antiquities of the early ages. When it rains, water flows down creating cavities in the ridges and one could look there to collect such heavier, mud enveloped pieces.

After returning from Malhar, we washed all the mud pieces and lo! They turned out to be tiny square copper pieces containing some symbols. There were, however, no traces of any inscription. Nevertheless they were the ancient coins.

Then I became a frequent visitor to Malhar, particularly on Sundays and holidays during and after the rainy season. In the process I met one Mr. Gulab Singh Thakur of Malhar who also collected coins but was reluctant to part with them. Thereafter, I could locate a resource person there, who was my subordinate. Although he had interests, I guided him and he started working for me thereafter.

Initiation into Numismatics

My obsession or perhaps fascination for ancient coins started somewhere in 1984. At that time I was posted as a General Manager of the Regional Rural Bank at Bilaspur. I was required to tour extensively in the rural areas. Once, while I was visiting a branch, I happened to pass by Talagaon, some 29 kms south of Bilaspur. At my request, the driver turned the vehicle towards the temple site. The famous Devrani and Jethani temple complex were in ruins but still looked imposing. Fragments of sculptures were lying scattered all around. One small piece of a fragment attracted me. It was a slender hand of a lady, above the wrist, wearing bangles and holding something. I could not resist the temptation of picking it up. At home I grinded the lower part so that the hand could rest on a table top. Thereafter I started to have a deeper look into the slightly folded hand. To my surprise all the important lines were engraved in the palm. However the marriage line was absent and this puzzled me. Incidentally I had some elementary knowledge of Palmistry.

On the next day, while at office, I conversed with one of my associate officers, Mr. Ramu Shukla as he too loved to live in the past. He told me about two dedicated officials of the Archaeological Department, Mr. G.L. Raickwar and Mr. Rahul Singh and that they would be too happy to interact with me.

The next Sunday, I picked up my scooter, kept the broken hand of the sculpture and headed to the museum located near the town hall. Huge broken bodies of sculptures were on display in the museum compound. In front of them were two persons apparently engaged in some deep study. I figured out that these are the people I am looking for. I approached them and they confirmed my assumption. I was warmly received after I introduced myself. I asked them if they have found the upper part of the sculpture of whose hand I was holding. They replied negatively. I triumphantly declared that the original sculpture should have been that of a
Devadasi. I then drew their attention towards the absence of marriage line in the palm. There was an element of surprise in their looks. They desired me to meet them in their office anytime, even late in the evening and that they would love to exchange views.

Since their office was very close to my house, next day itself I called on them in the evening. I carried and surrendered the piece of hand (sculpture) I had with me. Both the officials were very very cordial and expressed their willingness to help me understand Archaeology. That day itself, they opened up everything they had. I was amused to peruse Copper Plates containing inscriptions in box headed
Brahmi script Mr. Singh cajoled me and wanted me to try to figure out the contents. I could read some characters. All the coins were shown one by one and I was really thrilled to keepthem on my palm realizing that they belonged to the 2nd Century A.D.

Soon thereafter excavations were conducted at Talagaon in Devrani Jethani complex(6th Century A.D.) I was requested to join the team and I gladly agreed. Every day we used to go to Talagaon carrying our lunch boxes and return late in the evening. I was with them for nearly a week and remember to have positioned myself at the Sanctom Sanctorum (Garbhagriha), where I thought coins would pour out. To my dismay only one silver coin of
Prasannamatra of the Amararya Kula (Sharabhapuria)(6th Century A.D.dynasty) surfaced (Silver coins of Prasannamatra are very rare). Incidentally I may mention that the temple complex was dated as of 6th Century A.D. on the basis of the coin find. In the absence of any other evidences, coin evidence is reckoned as conclusive. When I wanted to know about the various dynasties which had ruled over Chhattisgarh (Dakshina Kosala) prior to 5/6th century A.D. I was told that it is the darkest period in History. We know about the Mouryan empire followed by Satavahanas and thereafter, it is a big question mark. Here I learnt that since no inscriptions, copper plates etc. belonging to this dark age is available, the only alternative is to search for coins which may contain the names of the rulers of Dakshina Kosala. I spent few months studying books on Coinage and Brahmi script (from the Museum library) to help me in my quest.

The excavations at Talagaon were continuing. In between I had the opportunity of meeting Dr. K.K. Chakravarty, Commissioner of Archaeology Department. He was perhaps made aware by my friends in the department as regards the help I was extending. It was merely vehicle support at the cost of my Bank. He seemed to be a thorough gentleman and we became friends soon. He too invited me to join the team at Talagaon. On a particular day, when I was at the site, digging operations were going on close to the Devrani Temple. It was like a digging a grave to get to the skeletons without breaking them. The diggers came across a large sculpture buried in a rectangular pit. Very carefully the soil was removed. The face was downwards. There was another gentleman, a scholar from Harvard ,
Dr. Pramod Chandra , present there. Every one was curious to find out as to what the sculpture was. Turn by turn each one of the officials present, climbed down the pit and had a feel of the bottom (some soil was removed using brushes). I was, however, amused as I could not understand the purpose behind it. I too followed suit but instead of feeling the bottom of the stone slab, I looked down and found that the pit was lined with stone. When the sculpture was finally taken up, people present were amazed. There lied a unique statue

Rudra Shiva
with various parts of its anatomy represented by various animals, creatures and faces.
Discussions amongst the scholars present began. Dr. Chakravarty opined that the statute could have fallen down and in course of time soil would have got deposited over it. Dennis the Menace in me prompted to say loudly, no sir, it was a deliberate burial. Look at the hard surface in which it was lying. It is lined with stone slabs. The statue would have been broken, in case, it really fell down. The scholars were in favour of naming it as Rudra Shiva. Nothing of its kind is known in the Indian Iconography.