THE COINS OF
WESTERN AND CENTRAL INDIAN DYNASTIES
Satavahanas is one of the most celebrated dynasty of ancient India.
Satavahanas ruled over large area of modern
western and southern India (Maharashtra, Gujarath, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka
and Goa states). The kings of this dynasty were great patrons of art and
architecture. They built many beautiful stupas in Krishna River Valley. The
impressive stupa of Amrawati was built by them. The railing were carved out
of white marble and dome was also covered with marble slabs creating a
breathtaking example of ancient stupa building art. The railing were
exquisitely carved with various scenes from the life of Buddha. The figures
themselves are slim with elegant features and display striking difference
in style from the northern India. The Amarawati stupa represent a new school
of art which is named after it. Unfortunately this stupa is in ruins today
and the railings have been taken away for dispay in British Museum, London
and Goverment Museum, Madras. Shown above is a casing slab from Amarawati
stupa on which the miniature of the stupa is carved. This marvellous
sculpture might allow us to imagine the grandeur of this great stupa.
This dynasty also have unique distinction of issuing the coin with the
portrait of ruler. No other native ruler or indegenous dynasty issued
portrait type coins till one of the Satvahana ruler, Vashishtiputra Shri
Pulumavi issued the portrait type coins (shown below).
Most the coins minted by Satavahanas were made of lead or copper. For some
coins they have used potin (an alloy of lead and copper) and Billon (an
alloy of silver and copper). Numismtic studies played crucial role in
deciphering history of Satavahana dynasty. Some of the rulers who
otherwise find no mention in Puranas (the contemporary texts which
provide Satavahana chronology) are known only from their coinage.
Satavahan coins do not possess
high degree of artistic beauty but their silver portrait coins, essentially
Kshatrapa fabric are unique in style. Some of the physical traits depicted
on these coins
(eg. curly hairs, long ears, their lips etc) suggests their Dravidian origin,
and thus might be their real portraits rather the stylized version.
Most of the Satavahana coins have
elephant, lion, horse, or chaitya on obverse while reverse side shows
`Ujjain symbol', a cross with four circles at the end. Shown
below are examples of some of the
Vashistiputra Shree Pulumavi This dynasty came into existance soon after disintegration
of Mauryan empire (i.e. after death of Great
Ashoka). Satavahana dynasty was founded by Simuka (or Chimuka) in 232 BC
but it was his son (or nephew?) Satakarni I who made Satavahanas as most
formidable power of western and southern India. With the help of powerful Maharathi
chieftains (ancestors of Marathas), he brought
a large part of southern and western India under his control and later
celebrated this victory with Ashwamedha yagna (horse sacrifice ceremony).
Shown below is early Satavahana coin which is issued in the family name of
Satakarni. The obverse legends read Rano Siri Satakarnisa which was
struck in Northern Deccan (mostl likely modern Vidarbha region of
Silver Drachm or Dramma, Weight: 2 gms
Obverse: Kings bust looking right, depicting nice and elaborate hair style, large ear rings and legend Rano Vasithiputasa Siri Pulumavisa
Reverse: Satavahan royal emblem, hill or six hilled Cahitya, sun, moon, water and complete legends Arahanaku Vahitti makanaku Tiru Pulumaviku
Reference: Mitchiner South India, 1998: 146
Satavahanas is one of the most celebrated dynasty of ancient India. Satavahanas ruled over large area of modern western and southern India (Maharashtra, Gujarath, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Goa states). The kings of this dynasty were great patrons of art and architecture. They built many beautiful stupas in Krishna River Valley. The impressive stupa of Amrawati was built by them. The railing were carved out of white marble and dome was also covered with marble slabs creating a breathtaking example of ancient stupa building art. The railing were exquisitely carved with various scenes from the life of Buddha. The figures themselves are slim with elegant features and display striking difference in style from the northern India. The Amarawati stupa represent a new school of art which is named after it. Unfortunately this stupa is in ruins today and the railings have been taken away for dispay in British Museum, London and Goverment Museum, Madras. Shown above is a casing slab from Amarawati stupa on which the miniature of the stupa is carved. This marvellous sculpture might allow us to imagine the grandeur of this great stupa.
This dynasty also have unique distinction of issuing the coin with the portrait of ruler. No other native ruler or indegenous dynasty issued portrait type coins till one of the Satvahana ruler, Vashishtiputra Shri Pulumavi issued the portrait type coins (shown below). Most the coins minted by Satavahanas were made of lead or copper. For some coins they have used potin (an alloy of lead and copper) and Billon (an alloy of silver and copper). Numismtic studies played crucial role in deciphering history of Satavahana dynasty. Some of the rulers who otherwise find no mention in Puranas (the contemporary texts which provide Satavahana chronology) are known only from their coinage. Satavahan coins do not possess high degree of artistic beauty but their silver portrait coins, essentially minted in Kshatrapa fabric are unique in style. Some of the physical traits depicted on these coins (eg. curly hairs, long ears, their lips etc) suggests their Dravidian origin, and thus might be their real portraits rather the stylized version. Most of the Satavahana coins have elephant, lion, horse, or chaitya on obverse while reverse side shows `Ujjain symbol', a cross with four circles at the end. Shown below are examples of some of the Satavahana coins.
Vashistiputra Shree Pulumavi
This dynasty came into existance soon after disintegration of Mauryan empire (i.e. after death of Great Ashoka). Satavahana dynasty was founded by Simuka (or Chimuka) in 232 BC but it was his son (or nephew?) Satakarni I who made Satavahanas as most formidable power of western and southern India. With the help of powerful Maharathi chieftains (ancestors of Marathas), he brought a large part of southern and western India under his control and later celebrated this victory with Ashwamedha yagna (horse sacrifice ceremony). Shown below is early Satavahana coin which is issued in the family name of Satakarni. The obverse legends read Rano Siri Satakarnisa which was struck in Northern Deccan (mostl likely modern Vidarbha region of Maharashtra).
Obverse: Elephant, trunk raised
Reverse: Ujjain symbol
Weight: 3.7 gm
Gautamiputra Shri Yagna Satakarni was another formadible ruler of this dynasty, who took pride calling himself `Destroyer of Shaka, Yavana and Pahalava'. Centers of art and commerce like Amrawati (in Andhra Pradesh) and Vaijayanti (Karnataka) flourished during his reign. He was followed by his son, Vashishtiputra Pulumavi who had his capital at Pratishthan (modern Paithan in Maharashtra state) on the banks of Godavari river. It was Pulumavi who issued the portrait type coins. Thus he has distinction of being THE FIRST NATIVE RULER who issued PORTRAIT TYPE COINS in India. His silver coins show his bust on obverse, looking right, having nice and elaborate hair style, large ear rings. The obverse Legend are in Brahmi script (Sanskrit Prakrit language), begining at XII position, which reads Rano Vasithiputasa Siri Pulumavisa. The reverse depicts, Satavahan royal emblem, hill or six hilled Cahitya, sun, moon, water and legends in Southern Brahmi script (Telugu Prakrit language), begins at XII position Arahanaku Vahitti makanaku Tiru Pulumaviku. Pulumayi was followed by his brother Vashishtiputra Satakarni, who married daughter of Rudradaman I of Kshatrapa dynasty (described below). Although, this alliance did not stop Rudradaman to score a fantastic victory over Vashishtiputra which gave tremendous blow to Satavahana power and prestige. Shri Yajna Satakarni followed and tried to revive power of Satavahans, but he turned out to be the last great king of this illustrious dynasty. Soon after his death, Satavahana empire collapsed and 456 years of Satavahana rule (totally 30 kings ruled) came to an end.
Potin unit (Half Karshapana ?)
Reverse: Ujjain symbol
Weight: 1.8 gm
Many dynasties emerged on the ruins of Satavahana empire. Vakatakas rose to power in Vidarbha region (eastern Maharashtra), Abhiras (king Ishwarsena) occupied Nashik and nearby region of western Maharashtra. Chutukulananda (another line of Satkarnis) occupied most of the western Karnataka with a capital at Vaijayantipura (Banwasi). The main imperial line of Satavahanas ruled in small fertile valley of Krishna river, which eventually succeeded by Vishnukundins.
The western and central part of India consisting of Saurashtra and Malwa (modern Gujrat and neighbouring Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh states) was ruled by rulers known as Ksatrapa or Kshatrapas. This prosperous region was goverend by 27 independent Kshatrapa rulers for about 350 years. The term Kshatrapa is considered to be Sanskritized version of old Persian word `Ksatrapavan', protector of land or viceroy. The Shaka-Pahalava kings of present day Iran and Afghanistan ruled over a large area and governers of the provinces of these empire were known as `Satraps or Ksatrapas'. It is believed that the early Kshatrapa rulers which belonged to Kshaharata family, occupied north-western and central India adjoining Mathura and possibly ruled as viceroys of Kushans (this is a controversial issue). But very soon they acquired enough power to become independent rulers. Although, they retained name Kshatrapa, they were indeed independent rulers as some of the later rulers even proclaimed themselves Mahakshtrapas, the great Kshatrapas. Since the later Kshatrapas ruled mainly in Saurashtra and Malwa region (western India), they are called Western Kshatrapas to distinguish them from early rulers (Kshatrpas) who ruled near Mathura.
The early Ksatrapas became independent rulers by carving out a principality on the ruins of Satavahana empire. These kings have minted some of the most fascinating silver coins of Indian numismatic history. The life-like portraits of the rulers of early rulers suggests that different dies were made as king grew older, clearly indicating the high degree of care taken while minting their coinage. These remarkable series of silver coins became extremely popular not only in the western provinces directly goverend by Kshatrapa rulers but also in the adjoining regions, possibly whole of northern and western India. The rulers of neighbouring empires/kingdoms like Satavahanas, Guptas and many successive dynasties those followed Kshatrapas, minted their coinage in Kshatrapa style, providing proof of the immense popularity of Kshatrapa coinage. Apart from aesthtic nature, this series has turn out to be very crucial in deciphering the early history of India. These coins with complete name of ruler, his father's name and date of issue, provided historians necessary evidence for determination of geneology of not only the Kshatrapa rulers but also immensely helped in deciphering the duration of reigns of their contemporary rulers in adjoining empires.
This dynasty attained great power under king Nahapana who conquored a large part of western and central India which was part of satavahana empire. This brought him in direct conflict with the greatest Satavahana emperor, Gautamiputra Satakarni. Gautamiputra squarely defeated Nahapana and reoccupied the lost territories in 124 AD. In spite of his defeat, Nahapana strengthened his hold over remaining territories and his succesors in time became paramount rulers of western India. Nahapana was founder of the Kshatrapa monetary system and was the first Kshatrapa who minted portrait type silver coins. His coins show his diademed bust with Greek legends on obverse, which is the reminiscent of Indo-Greek coinage. The reverse show arrow and thunderbolt with legends in Prakrit (in heavily Sanskritized form) written in Kharoshti and Bramhi scripts. The legends in Kharoshti reads, Rano Chaharatasa Nahapanasa while legends in Brahmi reads Rajana Kshaharatasa Nahapanasa. Shown above is a nice example of his coinage.
Chastana followed Nahapana and established himself at Ujjain and ruled large part of western India. His grandson Rudradaman (130-150 AD) was perhaps the greatest Shaka ruler of ancient India. Rudradaman entered into matrimonial alliance with the great Satavahanas of Deccan and later even defeated them, extending his kingdom from Marwad to Konkan (from Rajasthan to Maharashtra). His achievements are carved at Junagadh rock inscriptions.
Rudrasen II (256-278 AD) was 19th ruler of Kshatrapa family and minted prodigious number of coins, exclusively as Mahakshatrapa. This indicate the prosperous period of Kshatrapa dynasty. Unlike the early Ksatrapa rulers, the later rulers had no Greek legends on obverse and reverse had legends written only in Brahmi. Kharoshti script was primarily used in norht-western parts of India and since later Kshatrapas dominion was confined to western India where Brahmi script was used, Kharoshti was withdrawn from the coins. Similarly, all the coins of later Kshatrapas bear the chaitya or three arched hill and river symbol on reverse of their coins, instead of thunderbot and arrow. This coin of Rudrasen bears Bramhi inscription which reads, Rajanah Ksatrapasa Viradamaputrasa Rajno Mahakstrapasa Rudrasensa, on reverse, which can be translated as King Kshatrapa Viradaman's son King Mahakshatrapa Rudrasena.
Rudrasen II as Mahakshatrapa
Obverse: Bust of King
Reverse: Hill and river
Weight: 2.2 gm
Bhratadaman was Rudrasen's son who ruled from 278 to 295 AD and minted very similar coins as that of other Kshatrapa rulers. His brother Vishwasen was the last ruler of the Kshatrapa descent, who was replaced by Rudrasimha. Rudrasimha was not related to the royal family. This new family could not keep the control of this kingdom and soon the Gupta emperor Vikramaditya conqured and incorporated the Kshatrapa Kingdom in his mighty Gupta empire. Shown below is a fine example of his coin.
Obverse: Bust of King
Reverse: Hill and river
Weight: 2.3 gm
In Saurashtra (modern Gujrat), Bhattaraka established a new independent kingdom during decline of Gupta empire. This new kingdom of Valabhi was ruled by Maitraka family for next 350 years. All the coins issue by Valabhi rulers were in the name of Bhattaraka, who took a title of Senapati, army general. The coins of this dynasty are minted in kshatrapa style depicting bust of ruler(highly stylize in the later issues) on obverse, while reverse depict the trident (shastra or weapon of Lord Shiva) with or without side arm. The legends are present on reverse written in Brahmi script, which reads Rajno Mahakshatrapa Paramaditya Bhakta Mahasamanta Sri Sarva Bhattarakasa.
Post-Gupta era clearly show decline in artistry in coinage. Except few, most rulers hardly paid any attention towards their coinage. Unlike Gupta and Kushan emperors who used their coinage for propaganda and minted fine specimen of numismatic arts, post-Gupta successors rarely experiemnted with their coinage. Most of the time post-Gupta rulers copied motifs from earlier Gupta coinage (a fine example of such type is shown above, where the stylization of the image of Laxmi is clear) and introduced very few novel iconographic features and motifs. Often, the great ruler of dynasty issued a specific type of coin which was minted by his successors without making any change, sometimes even the name. Thus often coinage of whole dynasty was struck in name of one (or two rulers) with identical motifs except the later coinage is debased compared to the earliest. Interestingly, many of these post-Gupta rulers had great tastes and they undertook construction of some of the most beautiful temples of India with fantastic architecture and breathtaking sculptures. But, why their coinage received almost no attention is still a mystery. Some major dynasties of Post-Gupta era which introduced interesting coinage are discussed below.
Harsha, a grandson of Gupta princess, had an ambition to emulate his great-great Grandfather, Samudragupta. And that he did it in style. He was a capable general and fantastic administrator. He was also a man of very sophisticated tastes. Some of the finest intellectuals of early period like Bana (who wrote Harsha Charita), Mayura, Divakara and Hiuen Tsang adorned his court. Harsha died in 646 AD and with his death the empire collapsed and fragmented into various smaller kingdoms. I shall soon introduce image of his coin.
By ninth century, the supremacy of northern India was taken over by another illustrious dynasty called Pratiharas which claimed descent from Lakhamana, brother of Lord Rama. The greatest king of pratihara dynasty was Bhoja I who took control of Kanyakubj (modern Kannauj) in 836 AD and created an empire which was similar in size of his predecessor, Harsha-Vardhana. He built a city Bhojpal (modern Bhopal, capital of Madhya Pradesh state) which was named after him. He was successful general and managed to defeat many of his powerful neighbours including the Gaudas of Bengal. Like Harsha-Vardhana, Bhoja too was a great patron of art and literature and famous poet Rajashekhar was in his court. He received foreign travellers like Sulaiman and Al Masudi who left account of their travels to India. Both talk highly of his superior cavalry and his fine administration.
Pratihara dynasty ruled for another 200 years although their dominion was never to the extent of during Bhoja's rule. In 1018, Kannauj then ruled by Rajyapala Pratihara was sacked by Mahmud of Gazni and that was beginning of the end of this illustrious dynasty of north India. Shown above is a coin minted by the great Pratihara king Bhoja I. The obverse show Aadivaraha, boar like incarnation of Lord Vishnu while reverse of the coin show stylized fire altar and two attendant. The deity Aadivaraha is supposedly holding earth by his snout. The vigour and strength of Aadivaraha's image on these coin amply show die engraver's knowledge of scultptures of that era. Altar and attendant motif was borrowed from Sassanaian coins which possibly came in India due to trade from Sassanian ruled Persia. The coins of Bhoja were immencely popular in medieval period and were extensively copied by his successors. All the kings of Pratihara dynasty minted exact same coin which were introduced by Bhoja I. Although the coins of later rulers of Pratihara dynasty were more stylized and heavily debased.
During 717 to 920 AD the Kabul valley, Zabul and Gandhara, till river Sindhu or Indus, (modern Afghanistan and Pakistan) was occupied by Turko-Hephthalic kings. Because of spread of Hinduism in these kingdoms, these dynasties were popularly known as `Hindu Shahis of Kabul and Gandhara'. At this time Arabs united under banner of Islam and made many advances on Shah of Kabul and Ratbil of Zabul. Ratbils succumbed to muslims after brave struggle in 870 AD. Shah of Kabul, a proud desecendent of Great Kushan emperor, Kanishka, maintained his kingdom till the end of ninth century and later replaced by Kallar or Lalliyas who founded Hindu Shahiya dynasty of Udabhandapura (Ohind or WaiHind or Und).
This Brahmanical Shahi of Afganistan and Punjab (modern Pakistan) minted interesting coins, called `bull and horseman' type coins which were later adopted by many post-Gupta dynasties including all Rajput kings (an example of Chauhan dynasty is shown below). Interestingly, these coins were also widely used as prototype by all muslim conquerors and rulers of North-west part of India which include Mahmud of Ghor. These coins were first minted by Spalapati Deva in mid-ninth century. Later on the Samanta Deva coinage was used as prototype for increasingly debased coinage struck by many dynasties. Shown above is a fine example of coin of this dynasty. The reverse of these well-executed silver coins display a recumbent bull partly draped with an ornamental cloth and stamped with the mark of trident on his rear flank. Above is the legend, "Shri Samanta Deva". On the obverse is a horseman who holds a long spear with legend "Bhi" on left margin.
Disintegration of Pratihara empire signaled emergence of new dynasties. The feudatories of old empires took up a difficult task of defending India against new foreign invaders, Turks. In tradition of great Vikramaditya (Chandragupta II) who killed Shaka ruler,a foreighner in his own city, these new kings too took titles `Vikramaditya or new Shahasankas. One notable king was Gangeyadeva of Kalachuris who did considerable justice to his title of Vikramaditya. He brought large part of Gangetic plain under his command and cemented friendships with strong neighbours by matrimonial alliance thus bringing the glorious traditions of Harsha and Bhoja days. He had his capital at Tewar or Dahala which is located near modern city of Jabalpur in Madhya Pradesh. On his death his son Lakshmi Karna did fine job but after him the power was passed on to next major dynasty of northern India, Gahadvala.
After decline of Gupta dynasty, gold coins simply disappeared from India. Indeed very few dynasties minted silver coins of high purity. Almost the entire monetary system of northern India (a similar trend is noticable in south too) was based on billon (a alloy of silver and copper) coins either derived from Hindu Shahi of Kabul and Indo-Sassanian type silver coins. It was Gangeyadeva who brought the gold coinage in vogue in Northern India which became so popular again (the reson was obvious, they were copies of Gupta!) that many other dynasties followed the suit. Shown above is coin of Gangeyadeva which depict goddess of wealth, Laxmi seated on lotus. Although it is highly stylized version of Laxmi shown on Gupta gold coins, the well proportional limbs, narrow waist, deep naval, well developed breasts and graceful appearance still remind that Gupta enfluence was not lost even almost 500 years after their decline.
By tenth century the Kshatriyas or warriors of northern India, who were descendents of post-Gupta rulers, took up a name for themselves, Rajputs, sons of Kings (derived from Sankrit word Rajputra). These warriors depending upon lineage, divided into various clans. Each clan had a distinct lineage and kingdom. These Rajput rulers often fought among themselves to assert the supramacy, but none could built an empire. Instead, the northern, central and western parts of India was divided among many of these rulers into kingdoms of various sizes. This was the major factor which prompted the Islamic invaders to pour in India, mainly from Afghanistan and central asia, as there was no central authority left to cahllenge them. Most of these Rajput rulers minted coins of similar fabric. Their gold coins were almost always had stylized Laxmi on obverse, the design of which was essentially derived from Gangeyadeva coinage (originally from Gupta coins), while reverse had name of the ruler in Devnagri script. The weight of these gold coins was maintained to be four and half Masha, which is equivalent to 3.6 gms. The silver coinage was almost entirely copied from Bull-Horseman type coin of Hindu Shahi of Kabul (an example of which is shown above) except the name of ruler was changed. Unfortunatley, no ruler (Vigraharaja may be an exception) made any serious attempt to introduce new motifs or design on their coinage, nor any monetary reforms were introduced. The debasement of coinage was widesprad and artistry was perhaps lowest in entire history of India.
Gahadavala dynasty was established by Chandradeva who belonged to Rathor clan of Rajput warriors. It was during rule of Govind Chandra Rathor, grandson of Chandradeva, this dynasty reached it's pinnacle of power. Govind Chandra occupied most of the Gangetic valley consisting of modern Bihar and Uttar pradesh states. He had his capital at Banaras and it was a prosperous kingdom. At this juncture a rival empire was established at the western boundry of Gahadavalas. This kingdom was by another clan of warrior Rajputs, Chauhans (Chahmanas). The grandson of Govind Chandra, Jai Chandra (Jai Chand) was the last Gahadavala ruler. According to legends, Jai Chandras daughter was abducted by King of Chauhan dynasty, Prithviraja which added bitterness to long standing rivalary. When Mahmud of Ghor (or Ghur) invaded India, Rathors and Chauhan, the two most prominent dynasties of northern India, could not put up a joint struggle against foreign invader. Ghori defeated both Prithviraja Chauhan and Jai Chandra Rathor separately and later killed them. Shown below is a coin of greatest ruler of this dynasty, Govindchandra Rathor. Like Kalachuris, even Gahadavalas minted gold coins showing highly stylized version of Laxmi depicted on Gupta gold coins. The reverse of the coin has name of the ruler Govind Chandra. All the rulers of this dynsty minted coin in the name of Govind Chandra.
In middle of 11th century AD Tomara chieftains founded the famous city of Delhi (named after goddess Dhillika) which was later taken over by Chauhana, a Rajput warrior clan. Vigraharaja IV was the greatest ruler of Chauhan dynasty who enlarged his dominion over large part of northern India. It was Vigraharaja who took control of Delhi from Tomara. His kingdom consisted of modern states of Delhi, Rajasthan and Madya Pradesh. His capital was located at Sakhambari or Sambhor (the ancient name of this town is Stambhapura) which is located near Ajmer city in Rajasthan. Vigraharaja minted very interesting coins. Shown above is gold coin of this great king of Chauhan dynasty. This coin is very special as the obverse of coin show Lord Rama, hero of epic Ramayana wandering in forest. According to legend, Lord Rama was sent to forest for 14 years, this very scene is depicted in this coin. Rama holding bow in his left hand is surrounded by trees and other animals. A bird like creature (possibly a peacock) is shown in left hand corner. This is very interesting coin and represent ONLY numismatic representation of this favourite deity of Hindus. This unique coin is also extremely rare and was unknown till recent discovery of perhaps 5-6 specimen (nobody knows the exact number) in 90s. The obverse also show the legend Shri Ra Ma writen in Devnagri script. The reverse shows name of King Vigraharaja in Devnagri script.
Vigraharja's illustrious nephew, Prithviraja III came into conflict with grandson of Govind Chandra, Jaya Chandra (Jai Chand). The rivalary between these two most powerful dynasties of northern india weakened both the kingdoms. And this opportunity was cleaverly exploited by Mahmud of Ghor. He defeated first Prithviraja Chauhan in second battle of Tarain (near Delhi). Prithviraja was captured alive, but soon Mahmud blinded him and had him executed. Soon Mahmud invaded Banaras, capital of Gahadavalas, captured Jai Chandra and tortured him to death. Prithviraja was the last Hindu king of Delhi and his death marked new era in indian history. Never again the throne of Delhi was accupied by another Hindu ruler. Shown below is silver coin of this gallant Rajput warrior who inspired scores of legends some of which are very popular even today.
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