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Medieval Gold

 

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Type I ] Type II ] Type III ]

Medieval gold coinage of Ceylon: Anuradhapura period:

The gold coinage originated by the Sinhala kings was intended mainly to serve the needs of an exciting and enriching foreign commerce in medieval times. A great part of its elusive symbolism as well as its curious legends will be satisfactorily explained here.

The extensive and elaborate gold coinage of medieval Ceylon seems to have been current in the eighth, ninth, and tenth centuries, during the reigns of the kings of Anuradhapura such as Manavamma (34 years), Aggobodhi VI (39 years), Mahinda II (20 years), Sena I (20 years), Sena II (34 years), Kassapa V (9 years), and Dappula IV (11 years) embracing a period of 167 years. 

The standard of the coins was the kalanda of about 66 to 69 grains, which is of nearly the same weight as the preceding Roman solidus. It seems probable, therefore, that the gold kalanda coin may have replaced the solidus, which ceased to function as a trade coin in Ceylon towards the end of the seventh century.

Basically the gold kalanda coin has on the obverse a standing human figure, crowned and clothed in a dhoti, holding a symbol or emblem in the upraised left hand. The figure is to be identified with a Kuvera or Vaisravana, the king of demons. Apparently the figure of Kuvera is standing on a sailing craft represented by a curved line consisting of dots and bearing a symbol at either end. In the field to the right of the coin is a group of three or four small circles, each with a dot in the center. The right arm of the figure is extended with the hand and elbow over two symbols; the inner srivatsa symbol, and the outer symbol appears to be similar to the first but with short cross pieces on its stem and inverted.

On the reverse side we have the same figure holding a symbol in the left hand as on the obverse, but squatting upon an oblong enclosure, divided lengthwise by a line and subdivided by vertical cross lines, the nidhi-kostha ‘the treasure-deposit’.

On the left side of the figure, to the right of the coin, appears the legend in Nagari characters, commonly read Sri Lamka Vibhu ‘ the fortunate lord of Ceylon’.

The following symbols can be recognized on these coins: lotus (padma), jessamine flower (pichcha), half moon (adahanda) – a crescent consisting of two small semi circles one within the other, chank (sankha), trident (trishula), full pot (punkalasa), ball (gola), annulet (chakra), sun and moon emblem (ira-sanda), flower (pushpa) and srivatsa.

H.W. Codrington first devised the classification of the medieval gold coins into three types, type I, type II and type III and we adhere to this method of classification here.

Type 1 coins

Type 2 coins

Type 3 coins

The fractional coins are also discussed under the various types, as well as recent discoveries of hitherto unknown varieties.