The Buddha advice to all reigning Kings during the period.

The King who merely  collected taxes from a land troubled by brigands and anti-social elements was not doing his duty. Banditory and strife  could never be  suppressed by force or draconian punishments. The root of social evil was poverty and unemployment. This was not to be bribed away by charity and donation , which which would reward and further stimulate  evil actions. The correct way was to supply seed and food to those who lived by agriculture and cattle breeding. Those who lived by trade should be furnished with necessary capital. Servants of the state should be paid properly and regularly so that would not not find ways to squeeze the state. New wealth should be generated, the states liberated  from robbers and cheats. A citizen could bring up his children in comfort and happiness, free from fear, in such a productive and contended environment. The best way of spending surplus accumulation, whether in the treasury or from voluntary donations, would be in public works such as digging well and water ponds and planting groves along the trade routes“.

Most Historians believe that ancient Sri Lanka was not a coin based  economy. Most transactions and trade was by barter and services or labour undertaken for the state was rajakariya system. King Dutugemunu had ruled that people should be paid for the labour for the construction of Mahaseya etc. However Dr S Paranavitane in Inscription of Ceylon Volume I has provided  evidence of private corporations and ownership of tanks etc, a list of professions that is required  for a coin based economy. The  large  numbers of coins been unearthed throughout the Island in layers of earth that were C 14 dated to cover the period from almost 4 Cent BC.


KAHAPANAS, Kahapana or Kahavana is the ancient Sinhalese name for Karshapana the  eastern or Indian  standard weight for Silver coins. The karshapana was of 32 unit weight or 3.4- 3.5 grams This weight goes back to the Indus Valley culture, where accurately cut stones of this magnitude is found..- Culture & Civilization of Ancient India DD Kosambi. Among the beads, coins and other metal objects that remains while sweeping for gem in the ancient fortress of Mahagama or Tissamaharama  are three metal pieces perhaps of Lead of the same weight.

It would be interesting to check if similar ingots of same weight has been found in archeological digs at Tissamaharama and Anuradhapura.

In the Has Ebu Kasi- Sirisoma & Amarasinghe states that Panas was trade and Karsha[ Kaha] was  a weights- hence objects or weight used for trade. These may the pieces of money originally issued by Traders and the Merchant  Mariners who traversed the two  great Trade routes the Uttara-path and Dhakini-patha and the Maritime routes of the Indian Ocean . The  Kahapanas or Punched Marked Coin hoards are found from Afghanistan to South India and all around Sri Lanka along these routes. Earlier issues may have been the unmarked silver pieces which were checked regularly for correct weight and purity and approved by the examiners of coins with their marks. These may be the Nila- kahapanas or those approved by money changers as pure, by placing marks. Later the Magadhan/  Myruyan  empire issued coins of same weight with 5 marks.

The man silver pieces found in the Island of the same weight are now considered to be the coins with no name mentioned in the early Sinhalese texts -the Mahavansa. The number mentioned are large and some reason to believe the numbers were exaggerated by the ancient authors.Here some of these numbers mentioned  will be examined,by comparing with the  data available in other countries during the same period.


The Mahawansa chapter VII Para 60-62 states that Vijeya gave a pooja[ bali] or perhaps a gift of One Thousand [ eka sata ] to Kuveni and asked her[ calls her Dear One] the flee leaving the children behind. Then Vijeya sent his father in law a annual tribute of pearls worth twice a Hundred thousand[ Mahawansa chapter Para 74 ]- from these two statement we could guess that there was some form of valuation during that period. Our first King Vijaya and his followers and those parties that came with his to be Queen etc would have access to the silver pieces called karshapanas in circulations in North Indian Janapadas. In India those silver pieces of series  II and III [ Gupta & Hardekar] are found  along the trade routes that Vijaya grand father  plundered. The value of 200,000 pieces if taken as silver Kahapanas of the Maghdan empire [ Weighs 3.46 grams each] would be 680 kilo. If so the tribute is at commodity value of Rs….


ECONOMIC CONDITIONS IN INDIA 3/2 CENT BC. The Kings of the Magadhan / Maurayan  empire had a standing army whose soldiers were paid  in silver kahapanas. DD Kosambi quotes from Arthasastra [ Chadragupta period] the normal annual pay from the very highest to the lowest were:-

  1. Chief Priest. High Councilors, Chief Queen, Kings Mother,Crown Prince and Commander in Chief         48,000
  2. Expert Miner/ Engineer/Spy etc                                                                                                                                           1,000
  3. Normal trained soldier/Scribes/accountants                                                                                                                   500
  4. Carpenters and Craftsmen                                                                                                                                                            120
  5. Common labourer                                                                                                                                                                            60

The senior officers in the Army  and Superintendents of trades etc got more

The chief architect of Mahaseya was paid 12,000[Mahavansa-Chap XXX p  ]  perhaps an yearly payment

The Kahapanas of India was 3.4-3.5 grams in weight, Ten of them was approximately I Ounce in weight[ 31 garms].

Cunningham –States that Pana was the daily pay of a servant with food etc provided- 16 panas = 1 kahapana = 1 Rupiya.

DD Kosambi states that 60 silver pieces were the minimum requirements to keep body and soul together with perhaps something left over for dependents. This was 17.5 grams of silver per month. Which he states was exactly what the British East India Company  paid to lowest labourer in early 18th Century.  A 1000 per annum may be taken as a decent minimum for a middle class Magadhan house holder to lead a comfortable life. During  the visit of the  four Emissaries of Devanampiyatissa to the Magadhan Empire , why did  Asoka bestow on Arittha the rank of a Commander of the army, the Brahman the dignity of Chaplain, the Minister the rank of staff bearer and the treasurer that of Guild Lord.[ Chap XI para 25] Perhaps the levels of hospitality was according to the  order of protocol of the court of Asoka.  An effort is made  below to verify  the views of certain  historians that the figures of the Mahavansa are  arbitrary , fictitious or most of the  time fabulous and exaggerated .

1.They first case study is of the very first  Military Budget of a hundred thousand kahapanas[ each weighing 3.4-3.5 grams] to recruit and arm and train 500 soldiers is in para 24 Chap X, during the period of King Pudukabaya[ 400 BC]. This was  340 Kgs of silver having a commodity value of over  Rs 50million according the present value of silver[ US $ 40 per oz or 30 Grams approx- Aug 2011]. If Pandukanaya  adhered to  Indian standards of pay ,the monthly allowances of 500 trained soldiers would have been 500/12 x 500 > 20,000 pieces at the Arthashatra rates. So the Initial would have sufficed for 5 months, leaving aside the cost of arming and training. What is mentioned in the Mahavansa is reasonable and Prince Pandukabaya would have had  enough for to at least to pay Trainee soldiers , the chronicle further states hence  forth  he derived the revenue from the conquered districts[ Mhv X para].

Roman Army Pay

Compare above expenditure with Pay of the  the Roman Army  in 2 Cent AD, it had a strength of over 150,000 first grade troops. 5 Million Silver Denarii was required each month for payment, which was about 180,000 Kgs of Silver. Lot of this silver was sent to  East[ Sri Lanka} for the purchase of Cinnamon  etc. More Roman Copper Coins are found in the Island than in Rome.

2. Mahavansa transalation by Gieger states “As wages for the workmen employed on at each of the four gates of the Ruvanveli Dagoba 1,600,000 kahapanas at each doorway” (cap. XXX 18). This dagoba took 14 years to complete. Using the Arthshastra allowances an approximate average numbers of workman that would have worked could be deduced.

  •  Average monthly allowances at 4 gates is four times  1.6 Million  divided [12 x 14] the number of months in 14 years which is about  39,095 Kahapanas.This is the amount Kings treasurer had to provide each month. Mahavansa relates the finding of silver  in a cave at Ridiyagama.A  monthly yield of about 4,000 ounces of silver were required if new kahapanas were minted  for the pay, but a greater % of the previous month pay would have been recovered into the coffers of the king by way of taxes etc. Many moulds for the minting of Kahapanas of this period were discovered at Ruhuna[ Bopearachchi & Wickremasinghe and at Anuradhapura, Gedige Excavations[ S Dereniyagala]. The later was dated  as found in layer of earth C 14 dated to the 2 Cent BC-200 AD.The size is small and of Coins  1.5  x 1.2 Cm, The Sun and Elephant Symbols are visible. Probably Coins of Chadargupta/ Asoka period. Large numbers of these symbols are found here.
  •  Assuming that for each skilled Mason, Carpenter etc there were five unskilled labour for other chores -Such as brick-making and transport, lime mixtures, carpenters for scaffolding , manual labour etc .
  •  The Arthashastra standards ,the pay was about  Ten   kahapanas per month for skilled and 5 for unskilled [Addition perks mentioned  kind is also given as per the chronicle].

Then a fair guess at Maximum average of number of workmen other than the chief and other manager  could have be worked out. If  skilled persons working is Y . Then   the cost of payment for skilled labour was  10Y and at 5 helper per skilled person the l pay for unskilled is  5 multiplied by 5Y is 25Y . The total cost is 35 Y which is the cost per month for labour ,which is 39095 Kahapanas.Y works out to is less than  1200  skilled craftsman   and 6000 unskilled labour on an average during the 14 year period of construction. This  figure is far more reasonable than the fabulous figures of Herodotus- the father of History ,  where he mentions that 100,000 were employed at any one time to build the Pyramid of Gizeh[History of Mathematics- David M Burton]. The modern mathematicians claim that no more than 36,000 could have worked on the Pyramid with getting in each others way.

3.Kahapanas first appear by name in cap. XX 26 in which it is recorded as an act of munificence that the Tamil king Elara spent 15, 000 kahapanas to replace fifteen stones of the Stupa on Cetiyapabbata or Mihintale, accidentally broken by his chariot.Approximately Ten Kahapans is equal in weight and commodity value to 1 ounce of silver or $ 40.This value is 1500 ozs by 40 is $ 60,000 or Rs 6,000,000.

Speculate 100,000 Kahapanas= 10,000 0zs the commodity value is a $ 400,000.[Aug 2011 rates].

An engraving on stone at Dakkinastupa Anuradhapura, showing an object been covered with coins in the shape of Silver Kahapanas of King Dutugemunu's period.

An engraving on stone at Dakkinastupa Anuradhapura, showing an object been covered with coins in the shape of Silver Kahapanas of King Dutugemunu’s period.The Dakkina Stupa was constructed entombing King Dutugemunu’s ashes.

4. King Elara’s Sinhalese conqueror Dutugemunu,. BC.161-137(G 101-77), rewarded the archer Phussadeva with a heap of kahapanas large enough to bury his arrow set upright up right in the ground (cap. XXV, 99, 100), and the designer of the Ruvanveli Dagoba with a pair of garments worth a thousand and ornamented shoes and twelve thousand kahapanas (cap XX 14).

One thousand= 100 ozs =$4,000

5.As wages for the workmen employed on the Brazen Palace, King Dutujemunu  deposited 800,000 of gold Hi-rannas at each of the four gates,  (cap. XXVII, 21  The Tika commenting on the first of’ these two passages explains that the amount was 100,000 hi-rannas[ Rannas or Gold Pieces], each reckoned eight kahapanas, and this may be a genuinely ancient tradition.

6.The amounts spent by  king Dutugemunu seem fabulous ; thus, 19 kotis were expended on the Mirisvatiya 30 kotis on the Brazen Palace, and 1,000 kotis on the Ruvanveli Dagoba. Such large sums in money are incredible, and if there be no exaggeration must represent the estimated value of the work done.  If this was the money expended during the period these edifices were been built , as the author of the Mahavansa divides the period king Dutugemunus  rule.

 One Kotti is 10 Lakhs.


1.The  ancient text Sahasvathuprakaranaya states that during the reign of Dutgemunu  father King Kavantissa, the Army commander  Nandimitta purchased Venison worth 3 Kahapanas. It also states that during King Sadatissa period [He  reigned after Dutugemunu],  the purchases price of a cow was 8 kahapanas.

2.The earliest transaction on inscription ,mentioning the name of coins in use is that at Mampita Vihare near Kegalle, where Uttara,  an officer in charge of Canal along with Phussa ,a Lapidary by trade had donated 2 and 1 Kahapanas .The may be early as 2 Cent BC.

3.Ancient text mentions of Senapath[ Army General] of Dutugemunu purchased Venison[ Gona Mas] spending 3 Silver Kahapanas. During the period of his brother King Sadatissa, the family purchased a cow for 8 silver Kahapanas.


SAHASA MALLA[1200-1202]

The main symbols are the Standing Figure on the obverse and  a Seated Figure on the reverse.Many other symbols are placed around these two figures.On the obverse held in the left hand is Srivatsa, underneath it is a chank joined to a Lotus stalk which is under the figure. A flower [ Picha Mala] is at the on the lotus stalk under the left hand side of figure. Above this is four Golas and a Disc.[ These look similar but of different size]. The left hand holds a Picha mala.

The seated figure, the throne or Asana is not seen as on coins of Vijayabahu I etc, but hold a Chank in left hand.

A Total of 8 symbols, perhaps forms an Astamangala.

The Seated Figure. Many interpretations are given, A King, Vishnu, Kubera etc.

A Seated Figure on an Intaglio from Ruhuna- Ruvan Fonseka

Large numbers of these coins are found through out the country.  Although the reign was two years, the coin inscribed Sri Matsahasamalle out number most of the other coins of Queen lilavati,Kings  Parakramabahu[ mainly the eight Massa] and Dhrammasoka deva found during the excavations of done by the Cultural triangle in Pollonnaruva.

King no 149. SAHASSA MALLA 1187-1189 AD – King Nissanka Malla’s younger brother – Ruled for two years. He was deposed by Ayasmantha, the chief of the army, who placed Kalyanavati, the queen of the late King Nissanka Malla, on the throne.Though the short reign a comparatively large numbers of coins are found almost in every part of the Island. Many were excavated during the Central Cultural fund excavations.

CHAPTER VI-HW CODRINGTON- COINS & CURRENCY OF CEYLON-1924. Continued from Chapter VI para 10. Chodagaganga

AR.: “ Massa. ” (Lowsley).

Base metal :-

(a) White, of the same metal as that of Nissanka Malla. Diameter : 0.82 inch. Weight : 55.8 grains.

(b) AE. : Average of 100 : Diameter,0.79 inch ; weight, 68 grain. Of 112 cleaned 64 grain PL 81 Legend ; Sri mat-Sa hasa Malla

Sri., vowel attached or separate.

ma., occasionally ba, probably due to worn die.

t-sa, . with or without the small projecting t.

ha., occasionally more completely formed by a downward turn of the lower horizontal line ; sometime there is a small vertical stroke from the right hand top corner of the letter.

Ma.,as .ma. above

lla, . or occasionally. la.

We thus have four variations of the legend :

(1)Sri mat Sa ha sa Ma lla ;

(2) Sri mat Sa ha sa Ma la ;

(3) Sri ma Sa ha sa Ma lla ;

(4) Sri ma Sa ha sa Ma la.

The head is usually normal ; (c) (i)( 1) and (2) occur.

A unique coin with legend (2) is in Mr. Bells cabinet It is apparently mad of lokada and copper; is cast, as once gilt. It weighs 82 grains, and has a diameter of 0.78 inch, and a thickness of 0.07 inch.

QUEEN LILAVATI[ AD 1197-1200, 1209, 1211]

Shown above is silver coin of Queen Lilavati, this is pierced and was used as a pendent.

A silver coin of Queen Lilavati in the collection of lowsley was considered suspicious by HW Codrington in 1924. Few more coins has surfaced since then. It is interesting to know if silver Dambedeniya kasi has been excavated during the Central Cultural Fund digs.Many gold plated  Lilavati are found amoung the Copper pieces.

QUEEN LILAVATI – Widow of King Parakrama Bahu I was regent No 148.

First Rule [ 1197-1200 AD] – 

Second Rule[ 1209 AD].

Third Rule [ 1211 AD].

The Numismatist has speculated the existence of three type of coins of Lilavati and assigns them to the three periods of reign.

The country had many internal squabbles though  prosperous and the Queen was able to devote her time to the development of literature, music, drama and art. There are 3 inscription of hers.

CHAPTER VI-HW CODRINGTON- COINS & CURRENCY OF CEYLON-1924. Continued from Chapter VI- Para 10- Coins of  Chodaganga.

11. Lilavati, queen, A.D. 1197-1200 ;1209;1211.

AV.: “Massa,” “ The appearances of it is suspicious ” (Lowsley)

AR, : Double and single ” massa” “The two double massas are thick coins well struck but in rather bad preservation, through the characters are quite legible” (Lowsley).

AE. : Average of 68 : Diameter. 0.80 inch ; eighty, 65.7 grains. Average of 49 clean ; weight 63.1 grain .PL 80

A Copper ” half massa” is given by Lowsley.

There are many light coins of Lilavati, most weigh 2.6 grams.

A gilt coin of Lilavati.A full massa

Legend, : Sri Raja Lila vati.

The Sinhala Nagari letter drawn by Frank A Lapa in Kings Of Kandy 1968 is given below for those identifying coins.

                                                                                                        Sri,   -vowel attached or separate.5 Variation are given above.

            Ra,  -Letters on coins

(1)projection from left vertical starts in an upward directional from the bottom or further up or

(2) is a horizontal stroke, or

(3) forms a small triangle attached to left side of the vertical.

              ja,   – as in (1) and (2) of Nissanka Malla ; in one instance the left arm is carried round to the right.

             Li,   – with vowel attached or separate. It sometimes read La.

             la,   – in one cask Li , reading with the preceding letter. La li.


                                                        Va2 Variations are above

             Ti ,   – with vowel attached or separate ; in one instance ni

The heads are usually normal, but (c) (i) (1) and(3) occur.


The Science of Accounting in the world/ Ancient Sri Lanka

” The “Money Economies” had provided the means to express business trans-actions in terms of known values through the common medium of exchange. No doubt a single-entry type of Day Book or Journal had been in use for some time before Columbus discovered America. A Franciscan monk named Luca di Borgo Pacioli was destined to be given the title, “The Father of Modern Accounting.” Pacioli was born in 1445 A.D. in the province of Tuscany. After receiving a liberal education, he became a foremost mathematician, and taught in several Italian universities, including those in Florence, Venice, Padua, Naples and Rome. His abilities were recognized by a contemporary mathematician, the famous Leonardo da Vinci, destined to become one of the world’s great artists. Their common interests in mathematics produced a mutual and beneficial friendship”.- The National Cash Register

In Sri Lanka too where a well establish alphabet[ 5/6 Cent BC] and set of un-ambiguous Numerals[ 3 Cent BC] were available . The evidence of single entry Accounting is may be deduced from a set of Rules inscribed on Rock Inscriptions regarding the transaction of these religious institute. The Mahawansa Chapter XLVIII para 71 states that Abbabodhi issued a decree enforcing disciplines in the administration of Temples. The earliest of such decrees in found on the Heart-Hammillava Inscription of King Mahasena.

3 Cent AD

HEART – HAMMILLAVA ROCK INSCRIPTION- No 144 Inscriptions of Ceylon Vol II- S Paranavitane-  period of King Mahasen[277-304 AD] . This early record ends with the sentence ‘ This is a  legal enactment has been promulgated and recorded, having had it written on stone’. The line   of this inscription  mentions a Maha[ Ka]laka nakara [A revenue agency]. The lines regulate briefly the an accounting system in vogue in the  3 cent AD.


Line 12. – ka navaka makatta no-labanahi me savahi avasahi nava-kama karanakanata me ekankariha-sataha ca kariha[ about 50 letters illegible]



Line 13.  havajaraka     Navaka   -cadahi [  Luner month Jan-Feb] sava-rne [va ada] va   [ Income] batika kotu havajara     hi y(o)ji sakala viya      ko!ahi  [ Leaf] liya     [ write] tabaya     [Preserve]  vadaya aya                  [ Excess of revenue]-about 40 letters illegible)



In the month of Navaka in each year, all dues shall be collected and all the expenses that had been incurred during the year shall be written down on a leaf and preserved.  If there be any excess of revenue (over expenditure)[ 40 letter are ineligible]

[ Last line in Inscription]-


20. ” jadi ………….. Atanati magala tini anumavani Sata banavaraka pakana kotu vase vadiya hota nisa-muca labana vi damakama tabana lata vi salahi liva~ya patitipita…”


Line 20 To this effect this legal enactment has been promulgated and recorded, having had it written on stone.

Fair amount of Sealing’s  of clay has been discovered in the South of Sri lanka at Mahagama or present Tissamahrama.  Muller had examined these and the sealing were fixed or pressed on to leafs. Perhaps such method was used used to seal these documents.

Sealings- Functions & Typology- Walter Muller Ancient Ruhuna Vol I

Sealings- Functions & Typology- Walter Muller Ancient Ruhuna Vol I




The Sanskrit Inscription of the first half of the 9th Cent AD found  close to the Kottam Pokuna at Anuradapura is of two parts, the first part is yet to be found. This mentions the employment of Accountants which were people trained in that profession.

The part has 40 lines and in  line 3-5  states that

Every year whole Income and expenditure as well as the balance in hand shall be examined  with the help of the Accountant[ Ganaka]’

The Dambegoda Inscription[ 1 Km away from Gigantic Standing Buddha In The South of the country ] of Mahinda IV[956-972 AD] States  the In order that the Sasana (may flourish) for five thousand years, the following regulations, according to usage, were enacted with the regional officers of the Maha sabha and the Samgha in respect of the Mahavihara, and other Temples. It regulates what account has to be maintained daily in writing and balancing of accounts and these has to read out to all officials of the King, the Vihare and the monks.

Annually the monks of the savasa shall be convened and in the presence of the assembly an the royal officers and vihara officials, the records shall be read. The records should tabulate the items of income and expenditure (lit. how income was collected and how expenses were incurred) and of the allocation of nimi ( lands ) to serfs,  of the tax, dasakara, the balance should be retained as gurubhanda and should not be misappropriated.  If any dispute were to arise , the provincial royal officers should be informed


The famous inscription occupy a prominent place  on the Mihintale hill consists of two tablets. Both deals with rules and regulations for the Monastery. The slab A is relevant to the accounting procedure to be adopted. This documents elaborates on the Heart Hammilava Inscription and it lists out the officials that are involved in the temples, the security of documents such as placing of Sealings, the strong boxes to store these docments and the official responsibility, that documents has to be maintained monthly and compiling of the balance sheets from the twelve monthly documnets at the end of accounting year. A very transparent audit report at an end of year meeting.

  Lines 20-25 – “The officials who were in charge of the administration  the Lay warden who looks after the temple, the Stewards[ Akaniya], Almoners Pankaniya– who is in charge of items needed by the temple,

Lines 25-30 -The Registrar of the caskets[ Karanda leya] and the keeper of caskets.[ It also states that all these persons shall fix a place of business and shall attend to the duties connected to receipts and disbursements etc both internal and external]

Lines 54-58 ”Except that which is given as means of subsistence for the collectors’ of revenue of the villages and lands belonging to this Vihara, all [other] affairs transacted  bona fide with the concurrence of [officials at] all the respective places of business  shall be entered in the register. Whatever is spent daily on the maintenance of the Maha-Pa, on revenue-collectors and on the renovation of works shall be entered in the register.   [From the particulars contained therein] a statement of accounts shall be made with  the concurrence of [those at the respective] places of business, and such entries as are found false  shall be expunged from the account.  The sheet of accounts shall [then] be placed in a casket under lock [and key].  Every month the sheets of accounts [so deposited] shall be made public, and a [fresh] statement of accounts be prepared from them.   From the twelve statements of accounts [so made] during the year, there shall be compiled a balance sheet at the end of [each] year, which shall be read  out in the midst of the community of monks and be [thus finally] disposed of.  The employees who infringe these rules shall be made to pay ge-dand fines and be dismissed from the service……”



This accounting system for Monasteries  may have been summarized

1The official appointed for the administration and accounting, bursars etc of all expenditure and Income in all types of transactions are spelled out. The include accountants, bursars, Pankaniya-[ who is in charge of items needed by the temple], the Registrar of the caskets[ Karanda leya] and the keeper of caskets, Security Guards. .

2. They shall assemble at a designated location.

3, The type of documents to be maintained are spelled out, the sealing and security by placing them is included.

4, A simple Single entry Book-keeping system is spelled out

i. All transactions[ a-kala]income[ Aya] and expenses[ Vaya] will be recorded[ Lekam kara] daily perhaps under different heading in the Register[Pas- pota-hi].

iiThey shall be balanced end of each month , and the statement of Accounts [ At- vatu] sealed and locked up in caskets .

iii.They balance sheets[ At-vatu- gota] will be prepared at the end of each year.

5 System of Audit Annually and a General Meeting at the end of the year.

I. The 12 months Statement[ Dolos-At- Vatu]  shall be read out at an assembly all of Priest of the monastery, royal officials, the all the officials of the Monastery.

6. Disciplinary Action –Banking ethics

. .All employees who infringe these rules will be fined and dismissed.

.These are a collection of facts written by famous and new historians and epigraphists, thanks to the large number of text and inscriptions that the ancient left behind for posterity. Done by a retired military Officer lacking the expertise in Banking and Accounting. Perhaps a study by the experts could yield many more unseen deductions.

Address all comments and observations to

Brig Siri Munasinghe. E-mail

Nature of Ancient Sri Lankan Coinage

There is very little reliable knowledge or research  about the Art [skill , a way or method ] of the ancient engraver of Coins or Mint-master  who produced the different varieties of coins found in the Island. His work inevitably includes some reference to his own existence, training? or experiences, but even more to beliefs of the time he lived. The ideas expressed would have been a tradition known to, and  accepted by the people of that era , which  most probably  had the blessing of  a Issuer  or the Ruler him self. The idea or a message   expressed on the coins were of religious, political and social values of that era. Can a present day numismatist appreciate or perceive  those values which was expressed  in a totally different moment in history, interpreting  the Symbols placed in a very limited spatial area ?. Some of interpretation is summed up at the end.

The Characteristics of Coins.

How did the ancient Sri Lankan  people identify these pieces of metal what ever the shape  as objects of exchange, and accept their value?. In modern coins the  most important and essential characteristic  is the inclusion of the name of the issuer, or the official crest of the State or the face of the issuer or a symbol which imply the authority of the issuer and its value.This is what is followed by all countries in the 21 Cent AD. The closest that earliest Sri lankan adhered to this must was during the 8-10 Cent AD. When they had the name of State and Value or weight in Nagari script, with most letters were similar to the Sinhala script of the period. This was was on the Gold series known as the Kalandas of Gold, the Full, half , quarter and eighth Kalandas.   Shown below is the quarter Kalanda.

After almost 1200 years, these coins came to our rescue when we were to issue an 500 Ruppee Gold Coin for the 1991 South Asian Games. The name of state was the same except they were in English, Tamil and Sinhala, the value was Rupees Five Hundred from the nagari script AKA. By sticking to the same eigth carat Gold content of the Aka Kalanda[ the eighth] , we were able to keep the cost of minting below Rs 500/=. 



The earliest mention of coins is perhaps on a rock inscription in Kegalle Area off the Colombo -Kandy Road at manpitiya, it states a donation of two Kahapanas . This word is made up of two parts kaha- Pana. The Pana part is believed to Merchandise or Trade as taken from another inscription of a  Pana- adaka, an Superintendent of Trade or Merchandise. The Kaha is the sinhala for karsha a weight denoting a value as a means of exchange. This definition of money was conducive not only for trade but could be used to pay for services or labour, to store wealth etc.


Definition of Kahapana

An early definition that can be deduced  of ancient Kaha-panas [ Token for trade and exchange] as stated in Buddhagosha’s – Samantapadika- Atthakatha[ 5 Cent AD]. Buddhagosha visited the Island and translated  the Sinhalese texts  at Anuradhapura.

‘Kahapanas[Rupiya] are either of Gold or Silver of the common metal[ Copper]. The metal Masaka is the masaka made of copper and the like; the wooden masaka is of Masaka made of Sara wood,or the outside of bamboo or even Tala leaf on which an Image is cut or not cut’.


Closest Definition of money

It is clear that the ancient accepted as a means of exchange many types of objects, this is verified by coins finds during excavations.

  • Coins or Token may be of  Gold, Silver or Copper or any other material.
  • Image may or not be placed on coins[Coined and  Blank Pieces ]. These should be symbols that are well known too and accepted by the people.
  • There was a certain standard perhaps the weight of silver Kahapana on which the weights of copper coins were based upon.
  • There is no mention of shape

This  statement is true in almost all the old civilisations, except a few in South America and Africa?.


The names of coins may be obtained from an ancient text available to the Sinhalese in the ancient period. Here the text we gather that there were coins named kahapanas, the half or ardha – Kahapana, it quarter  and they were perhaps of Silver and there was Coins of Copper or its alloy named Masaka and it division  called Kakanika.


Names of coins




MetalValues and Weights- Ancient




The Standard Silver kahapana.The ancient standard at Rajagaha was that One twentieth of a kahapana [ now identified as the Silver punched marked coin of the weight of about 56 rice grains  found a fair quantities in the Island] was equivalent to a Masaka[ A Copper Coin of about 140 rice grains in weight]. The ancient standard measure of weight was in grains of rice.

That is the value of  56 grains of Silver was the same as the weight of 20 Copper kahapanas of 140 grains, this was 2800 grains of copper.

The value of Silver to Copper in exchange was about 2800/56 = 50.

Silver could buy 50 times its weight in Copper.

The need for different denomination.

The lowest average income according to ancient standards of living was similar to that in North India, this was about 5 silver Kahapanas per month or about around 80 copper panas per month or its equivalent in Grain or Rice. Saddhrama-Ratnavaliya written in the 13 Cent AD, states the Ina-dasi a paid servant who worked for a family in Nagadipa who worked for 60 kahapanas[ perhaps per year]. This is also the lowest yearly salary in the ancient book Arthasastra. This is worked on the basis that 4 hand fulls of rice was sufficient for a family  feed it selves for a day.The daily expenditure of about Two and a half Copper Panas per day for a family of about four.

A. Cunningham in Coins of Ancient India states that the daily wages of  labourer was around one copper pana in addition to his food. Perhaps the similar  conditions existed in Sri lanka


A few large coins above the copper pana weight of 144 grains of rice has been found. The Standing Lady and Railed Swastika is found from above 20 grams right down to to coins around half a gram. The  Large Elephant Swastika coin is about 14 grams , but smaller denominations of around half gram has been rare. Similar coin  of the Tree and Swastika, Lion and Swastika ,Seated lady etc have been found as stray finds or in scientific excavation. Th smaller Elephant and swastika and the Lion and dot are confined bo below 4 grams

The one eight and sixteenth of a pana is found in almost all types of coins. This was perhaps the  cost of the cheapest commodity that one can exchange for.

A set of same type  or design on coin with an Image of a Standing lady Bathed by Two Elephants and Railed Swastika on reverse of various sizes dug up by Gem miners from within the ancient fortress of Mahagama[ Now Tissa Rest house area is shown below.

Av set of Standing lady coins of various sizes


The introduction of metals into coinage was an important step.  Metals such as Gold , Silver and Copper had its parity rates between them. This led to various denominations with particular weights. But most of the coin like objects found seems to fit into values which may be identified with out weighing due to the size. Some of these coin like objects which are displayed at the Sri Lankan Numismatist Society Meeting are instantly identified as the full, half, or eight of a Pana by some members who are familiar in handling them.weights of Copper found in sri lanka

19/20 CENTURY PROCLAMATION. Compare with the Silver and copper pieces



The indication of the shape of the coin may be deduced from  ancient sculptures  of coin like objects. The shape of  Silver Kahapanas or Punch Marked Coins is found on  the scenes engraved at Bharut and shows the spreading of these coins to cover the entire ground in its  purchase by  Anipidu of the Jetavana complex in India to build a monastery for  the Buddha.

But the earliest indication of the shape of a coin in Sri lanka is perhaps found on the South Vahalkade at Kanteka Caitiya at Mihintale. This may be assumed to an artistic expression of a  seated figure of perhaps Varuna dispersing coin like objects of various shapes. These objects  are square, round and rectangular.Sqyare, Rectangular and Round Coin like objects- Mihitale- South Vahalkada- Katheka Caitiya.


Compare the shape of the Silver Kahapanas found in Sri Lanka with those on sculpture.


An example of different shapes and metals is on the serrated coins issued between 1940-90’s, where the face of King George, Queen Elisabeth in copper, the Crest of Ceylon and the crest of Sri Lanka in Aluminum . The  ancient serrated coin of the island of 2-4 Cent AD is special issue of Maya-devi coins that are dug up in Ruhuna , the South of the country made of an alloy of copper and lead. Serrated coins were used by the Romans in Spain- Denarii of A.Postumius Albinus.
The Face of King George and Queen Elisebeth, the Crest of Sri Lanka 1950 and the Crest of Sri Lanka in 1970

Serrated shape of the 2-4 Cent AD of Standing Maya devi , having the Railed Swastika in the reverse

Serrated Maya-devi[2-4 Cent AD

Coins of the ancients appeared in many shapes , a fish like pieces discovered in Ruhuna is shown below. This is similar to the Olbian [ Greek Island] coins and is inscribed with the name of the issuer. These were first published by Bopearachchi & Wickremasinghe.Many of these pieces have been found.


The Fish symbol is found on many inscription mainly in the south of the island , known as Ruhuna. S Paranavitane volume – Inscription of Ceylon 1971 shows ten  of these symbols found on inscription of pre-christain era. They appear along side the Railed Swastika  , now accepted to be the royal emblem [ Dr Paranavitana opinion is that the railed Swastika symbolically represents Gamini Tisa[ a name used by Royalty,   and the fish symbol is the dynastic symbol of the Ksatriya’s of the Kataragama, who were scions of the Matsya clan who migrated from Latadesa from where this Sinhalese are said to have migrated].


The earliest Scientifically dated indigenous coin.
The earliest coin[ Pre 300 BC] like object of Sri Lanka found in layers scientifically dated by Dr S Deraniyagala during excavations at Salgaswatte and Gedige is inscribed with the name of the issuer – Dataya on one face and a Swastika on a shaft on the other [Chandrika Jayasinghe].This is perhaps the earliest example in the evolution of unique Railed Swastika as a Royal Emblem of first Dynasty of kings in the Island.The Coin of Dataha[ Pre 3 Cent BC]

Name of the Issuer.
A very early coin like object that express the name of the issuer in both letters and symbols [phonetically] was published by KNV Seyone. The letter Sri , the Sanka [ or chank] on one face with the Bo-ankula on the other, may very well be Sri Sanka- Bo . Perhaps an issue of Aggabodhi III or IV[ 7 Cent AD].

Issuer name

King Chinata[ 2 Cent BC and King Siri-sanga Bo{7 Cent AD

Another coin like object of lead with the name King Chinata was also found in Ruhuna. and most probably that of a Sub-king.
The Name of Issuer and Value
A find that may clear any doubt as what these objects are coins was found in the South of the Island at Ruhuna Tissamaharama. This is inscribed with the name of issuer Kuda-Tisa and the value of the coin[ Pa na ya [an ancient name for a coin- Kaha-panaya] , which was the name of value or denomination of ancient currency. The legend reads Kudaka-tisa panaya. The Coin of Kuda- Tisa.This is from the cabinet of the much decorated war hero Major General Gamini Hettiarcahchi. These coins was published by Raj Somadeva in Saddhamangala Karunaratne Felicitation Volume-2002.The above pieces were issues of sub- Kings and its acceptance was restricted to small parts of the Island.The Panaya of Kuda Tisa.UN-INSCRIBED COINS ON WHICH “IMAGES ARE CUT OR RAISED“.

The majority of the ancient coin types of the ancient Sri Lanka which are found all corners of the Island have an arrangement of 6 to 8 symbols, on both faces but are not inscribed by the name of the Issuer . But there is one symbol that is common to all or most that were excavated at Salgaswatte and Gedige at Anuradhapura. This is the  Railed Swastika  symbol which  is now accepted as the  emblem/crest of the  ancient kings, thus authorising it use as money?.

In addition, a common set of Buddhist auspicious symbols that are found on other artifacts of that period are were well known to the people. Most coins have about 8 symbols on them, perhaps a astamangala[ Religious and good luck] object ,which not only had purchasing power, but also brought the people good luck. This was the common practice of the ancients, a tradition seen on ancient Indian coins too, which had similar symbol except the Railed Swastika. In its place was a emblems of kings of the different Janapadas and states.The Roman in later times followed this same practice and placed lucky symbols and images of their deities on their coins.


Until the first coins with a Railed swastika was discovered by Henry Parker at Tissamaharama, the belief was that Parakramabahu I was the first King to issue Coins[On the Coins and Measures of Ceylon-T.W. Rhys Davids]. and the inscription on Kalanda of Gold series was wrongly read as ‘Sri Lankeswara‘. The Railed Swastika was compared with a Swastika which John Still ridiculed to be as as’ Royal as a Four leafed Shamrock‘.

Fortunately over 50 Inscribed Lion coins have been found at Anurhadapura, Tissamaharama and at Jaffna with the unmistakable Railed Swastika. Dr Walberg makes great attempt to compare these with coins of Maharathis of India which has very similar Lion on the  obverse face. The coin he found is from Tissamaharama, but he fails to compare the symbols and the arrangement of the same with other coin like objects found during the same dig at the same time and place all having a Railed Swastika on the reverse. Even Dr Walberg accepts the lion [and railed Swastika]Coin as a money, though he is silent about the Railed Swastika found on the reverse.

I leave it to the reader to make their own opinion what these objects are AFTER EYE-BALLING the line diagram of the arrangement of coin like pieces of metal found in large numbers in the Island and with out taking into our argument the other basic factors such as weights and sizes which is different study. Does these objects have what is required in the symbols and there arrangement for the ancients have accepted them as money?.

Lion and Swastika

Lion and Swastika

The Lion and Railed swastika Coin, which has the name of issuer inscribed , the Crest of Royalty and the Buddhist auspicious symbol on them. These symbols are aesthetically placed around the main symbol at the centre. This practice appears to conform to some laid down specification.
Multi-symbol Elephant and Railed Swastika
The other coins such as the large Multi-type Elephant and Railed Swastika is a coin found at Salgaswatte and Gedige amoung the layers of undisturbed soils ,Carbon dated to around 200-300 BC. Here again the commonality in the design and similar systematic placement of auspicious symbols is seen. This is believed to be issued by King Devanam-Piyatissa as a commemorative for the propagation of Buddhism in the Island. The four symbol perhaps depicting the four important events in Buddha life is placed around the Standard or Dajhaya.[ Sign Emblem of King Devanampiyatissa- P WEERASINGHE- RAS VOL XXXIV 1989/90]. The Elephant signifies the Conceptions or Queen Maha-maya’s dream, the Bo-Tree in enclosure – his enlightenment, the Short Railed Swastika his – teachings and the Caitiya- his demise.[ Dr DPE Hettiarchchi]

The reverse is a Railed Swastika depicting the Dharmma-Raja or the Crest of Royalty flanked by the Tri-ratne and the Vajrasana, with a Caitiya under it. The three Dots are placed between these symbols and are characteristics of all early coins of the sinhalese. A design similar to the Lion and railed swastika Coin.

Large Elephant and Railed Swastika

Large Elephant and Railed Swastika

The symbol for the Buddha Birth .
A coin first published in RAS Journal by Dr PE Peries in 1909 with a figure of Standing lady bathed by two Elephants with a Railed Swastika and Buddhist symbols as on other ancient Sri Lankan coins. Dr Peries mentioned the similarity of this figure with that of the Four armed Lakshmi bathed by Elephants and later numismatist named this as the Lakshmi Plague. But DPE Hettarchchi who studied the symbols on ancient coins in detail, suggested that this was the identical copy of the Maya-devi’s bath scene before the birth of the Buddha as depicted in 7 very prominent Facades on the Sanchi Vihare. On Sanchi gateways the dream of Mayadevi [ Conception] appears once, the Caitiya symbol[ His demise] appears 32 times, the Bo-tree in enclosure[ His enlightenment] 67 time, the Rider-less horse[ Renunciation] 5 times,. But there was no symbol depicting of the event of his birth, He suggested that this scene depicts the birth event of Prince Siddharta [ RAS Journal PARANAVITANA FELICITATION VOLUME ].

The Standing Lady bathed by Two Elephants- Ritual bath prior to birth of Prince Siddjharta

Maya devi Coins

A ancient Sinhalese Coins with the symbol similar to the ancient Sinhala numeral 10 is found on the Bo-Tree and Railed Swastika. The arrangement and the commonality of symbols is apparent as with other coins shown above. .TREE AND SWASTIKA
The reverse of the Tree and Railed Swastika is shown below along with the minor good luck symbol.The Reverse of Tree and Railed Swastika
There is a pattern or the minor symbols are not not placed around major symbols in an ad hoc or arbitrarily manner. The placement of these symbols are.
Large Multi-symbol Elephant & Swastika
Large Multi-symbol Elephant & Raled Swastika
Inscribed Lion & Railed Swastika.
Bo- Tree & Railed Swastika.Hexagonal[click]

Large Bo-Tree and Railed Swastika

Tree and Railed Swastika.Round

Normal Bo-Tree and Railed Swastika

Maya- Devi and Railed Swastika.Rectangular[ click]

Maya devi and Railed Swastika

Naga- Raja or Bhumi and Railed Swastika.

King Mahasen’s Lion Coin[click]

King Mahasen’s Lion Coin

This new reverse on Sinhalese coins is found on the Recangular Bull coin.[ for more click]


Like the Railed swastika flanked by the auspicious symbols such as the Bull and the Pot , or the Asana[ Throne] and the Tri-ratna etc, the Four Dots in a circle is replaced by the Pun-kalas [ The Pot of plenty] flanked by two Lamps[ Dipas]. These symbol is found on the inscription of Parakramabuhu I- inscription[ Every drop of water shall be used for the prosperity of the country], which is shown below.

The pot is on a throne or Asana depicted by short line in a centre with two longer lines above and below – a similarity to that on coins. This symbol is found under the Railed Swastika.The drawing shown under depicts the Island Coins between 4 Cent to 7 cent AD, when the Gold Kalandas replaced them. There again the two Lamps flanked the standing figure which stood on a Lotus stalk[ A Characteristic of the Standing Lady on Maya-devi coins]. The only change was a different set of symbols having the Srivatsa  replacing the Railed Swastika etc.The Sun , Moon,and the Pot of plenty continued to be used. However a gradual change is obvious seen  in what ever theme was depicted  on the coins. The railed swastika series was used for 5 centuries, followed up perhaps by the Four  dot in circle etc for 2 Centuries, Followed up by Animal between two lamps etc for perhaps three Centuries and ending with the Standing/ Srivatsa and Seated figure series from the 8 Cent AD of late Anuradhapura  to 15 Cent AD of Kotte[ Parakramabhu VI Lion Coin].

The Pot of plenty flanked by two Dipas on a throne [Two lines below and above a shorter middle line.

Bull with Crescent Moon and Lamp on Obverse and Pot between two lamps on three wavy lines on reverse.

Lion and on reverse Pot on 3 wavy lines flanked by two Lamps.

Obv: Seated Bull on 3 Wavy lines with Crescent Moon Rev: Two Fish on 3 Wavy Line flanked by two Lamps

The Kalandas of Gold having most of characteristic of Ancient Coins , the two lotus stalks, the Four Golas, The cresent Moon, the Chank,,The Pot, et.

Coin of King Vijayabahu I1058-1114 AD

Parakramabahu I [1153-1168 AD

Chodagagadeva[1196-1197 AD

Nissankamalla [1187-1196 AD

Kalyanavathi [ 1202-1208 AD

The Mint-masters followed a tradition or some basic minimum requirement in the choice of minor auspicious symbols and how these symbols were placed around a few chosen main symbols.

The ancient Mint- masters used auspicious Buddhist Symbols which were very well known to the people, along with the Crest of Royalty on most of the coin types between the period 300 BC -200 AD. The practice of placing symbols sacred and known to the people was a very convenient and a successful method of expressing the authority of the Rulers on coins. These coins were immediately recognized and accepted at a glance.

So far the interpretation of such symbol.

1. The railed swastika is the Royal Emblem and also as Gamini Tisa a title used by many of our Rulers.

2. The three sounds of Sinhala words Sri  Sanka and  Bo sound is speculated to be Sri Sangabo – a title used by Sinhala kings- found on the Coin of Aggabodhi and the Kalandas of Gold.

3. The four symbols the large Elephant & Swastika are Buddhist symbols . The Elephant represent Maya devi dream -Conception of the Prince Sidhartha. The Bo tree in enclosure the enlightenment of the Buddha, the Railed Swastika short , the Dhramma according to which the king ruled and hence taken as the Royal Emblem. The Caitiya the relics the passing away of the Buddha.

4. The standing figure of lady bathed by two elephants is the same interpretation as that given to the similar standing and seated figures on the Sanchi Vihare at Bhopal India, the scene represent the bath of Maya devi a Sakyan lady in a lotus pond,prior to birth of Budddha and represent that main event in his life.

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