A hoard of Silver Kahapanas found at Tissa South of Sri Lanka, containing many coins attributed to Chandragupta period.



The main sources of information for the period beginning with the settlement of the Sinhalese in Ceylon and ending with the rise of Polonaruwa are the Mahavamsa chronicle with its continuation, and the Tika or commentary thereon, supplemented by a few inscriptions and the commentaries of Buddhaghosa. The Mahavamsa proper was written by monk Mahanama in the reign of Dhatusena, AD. 463-479 (G. 509-527) based on, earlier material, the only survivor of which is the Dipavamsa composed at the close of the fourth century. The Tika dates from a much later , but its author had before him ancient documents now lost.

A Coin of Sisunaga, the period of theVesali heretics (cap. IV, 13) when the second Buddhist council was assembled, found in Sri Lanka

The first part of Mahavamsa deals with the history of Buddhism in India. For this period kahapanas are mentioned in the account of the Vesali heretics (cap. IV, 13) and in the Tika on The first part of the Mahavamsa deals with the history of Buddhism in India, For this period chap V, 17, where Canakya afterwards minister of Candragupta is said to have re-coined each kahapanas into eight, and thereby to have amassed 😯 kotis of kahapanas.
In Ceylon from the reign of the first king Vijaya onwards money is mentioned usually by , e.g. ”a thousand “, ” a hundred thousand,and the like”, kahapanas being understood.

A coin attributed to the reign of King Devanampiyatissa, and the stratum in which specimens these coins were found at Anuradhapura, were C14dated  to his period .

Authentic history may be said to begin with the reign of Deveni-pe Tissa, BC. 307-267 (G.247-297); money is conspicuous by its absence in the lengthy account of his various works.kahapanas first appear by name in cap. XXI,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 his chariot. His 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).
As wages for the workmen employed on the Brazen Palace, he deposited 800,000 of gold [Hiranna] at each of the four gates, and for those on the Ruvanveli Dagoba 1,600,000 kahapanas at each doorway (cap. XXVII, 21 ; XXX 18).The Tika commenting on the first of’ these two passages explains that the amount was 100,000 hirannas, each reckoned eight kahapanas, and this may be a genuinely ancient tradition. The amounts spent by this king 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. Such is certainly the explanation of the one kotis of treasure,the value of the restored Brazen Palace completed by Jethatissa, A, D. 267-277 (G, 315-325), and of the nine lakhs spent
on the festival in honour of the Tooth Relic held by Meghavanna II A.D. 3.04-332 (G.352-379) (chap. XXXVI, 125 ; XXXVII).

Extra Reading-  Economy during Dutugemunu Period

The gift of a ” thousand ” by King Dhatusena for a dipika on the Dipavamsa, in all probability our Mahavamsa(cap, XXXVIII, 59), is the last mention of money until the reign of Jetthatissa , AD 623-4.2.

The inscriptions often record private gifts to the Community, and the sums specified are rarely great except in the case of royal donations ; the largest is of a hundred thousand kahavanas (Pali kahapanas ) spent by King Vasabha, AD. 66-110 (G. 124-168),

The word may, perhaps, be supposed that it also had the secondary meaning of ” money “. It is found in inscriptions of every century from the first after Christ until those assigned to the fifth-seventh centuries, and re-appears in the Mahavamsa (cap. LIII, 29) in the tenth century ; it may, therefore, be assumed that the use of the name was continuous, though it was doubtless applied to more than one coin in its long history. Only two varieties of kahapanas are mentioned in the inscriptions, namely, the mala kahavanai in the fourth, and the dama kahavana in the fifth century ; these are discussed below.

A symbol, consisting of a square divided by two cross lines, occasion

Some speculate this to be coin of King Vasaba.[ Vasaba mean Bull]. These were of Copper perhaps 32 of these made a silver Kahapana.

ally with a dot in each of the four compartments so formed, occurs in the inscriptions from the second to the fourth or fifth century. Though in some instances standing alone, it usually accompanies the word kahavanas, either closely or separated from it by a sentence or more. In some cases it is followed by symbols, which seem to be numerals, as in the Vilevewa inscription, where the number of kahavanas is also given in words, and in that at Ottapahuwa, where though there is no mention of kahavanas it probably represents the cost of construction of the refectory and courtyard, the subject matter of the record (Ancient Ceylon, p. 657, and figure 153), This symbol is supposed by Mr. Parker to be of magical significance ; Mr. H. C. P. Bell, late Archeological Commissioner of Ceylon, however, has suggested that it may denote the standard by which the value or weight of the kahapanas was reckoned, i.e., by padasor quarters (A. S., Seventh Progress Report, p. 44). This is a possible explanation, the symbol perhaps, being an attempt to represent the eldling.

3.We next come to the Commentaries associated with the name of Buddhaghosa, who compiled his works in Ceylon in the reign of Mahanama, A.D, 412-434 (G.458-480). The passages which deal with money are based on two groups of texts in the Vinaya, (1) the one defining the amount, theft of which involves expulsion from the community ( parajika), and (2) the other forbidding the receipt of or trafficking with gold and silver.

(1)Parajika,-Dealing with a case of theft of timber by a disciple, Buddha asked an old monk, formerly minister under the King of Magadha, for what amount stolen a thief would be sentenced to corporal punishment imprisonment, or banishment. The monk replied ” For a pada (quarter), or property worth a pada.” “Now at that time at Rajagaha five masakas were a pada“. Buddha thereupon laid down that theft of this value and above involved expulsion from the Community. Twenty masakas, therefore, were then equal to one kahapana.

Buddhaghosa explains that the pada or quarter is to be calculated on the ” ancient faultless kahapana”‘ and not on the Rudradamaka and such like kahapanas.

(2) Precept against receiving and trafficking with gold and silver (jatarupa rajatam). The ancient scholium embodied in the Vinaya text explains jatarupa by satthuvanna ” colour of the Teacher, and rajata as meaning the kahapana and the base metal, wooden, or lacquer masaka ” which are current, ” and includes both jatarupa and rujata under the common term rupiya. Buddhaghosha- explains jatarupa as a name of gold (suvanna) in the same way, and includes under rupiya chank shells, coral, silver, and gold, following the Patimokkha, while by rajata are meant kahapanas and other current money. He adds that the kahapana is of gold’ or silver, or the ” common -one, sc. of copper, and gives at length details of the base metal, wooden, and lacquer masaka. This commentary is repeated almost word for word in Sariputta’s Palimuttaka Vinaya Viniccahay Sangaho, the Tika on which gives the further interesting information that by the masaka made of the fruits or seeds of trees is meant the Tamarind seed. A similar use of bitter almonds as money in Gujarat in the seventeenth century is recorded
Tavenier, Travels, Part II, p,2, Buddhaghosa in summing up also explains jatarupa rajatam in a shorter way by silver, gold, the gold masaka, the silver masaka of all the kinds mentioned, ” meaning that under the term silver masaka, the base metal, wooden, and lacquer masaka and whatever is current as money are included.

A coin like object of Lac or gum of trees, published by Rhys David.

In the Kankhavitaranl, however, he states that the four forbidden things are gold, silver, the kahapana, and themasaka ; this is repeated in the Khuddasikkha, a poetical work, as the kahapana, silver, gold nuggets, the current masaka”.

4. The conclusions to be drawn seem to be that in the fifth century the kahapana was of all three metals. The current coin of the time was chiefly Roman, and in all probability the kahapana had then long ceased to connote a piece of a particular weight and had come to mean the standard coin of the day. Further, if Buddhaghosa’s exposition embodies an older Sinhalese commentary, that the Rudrudamaka kahapana had, perhaps, once been current in the Island. And thirdly, that masaka had cecased to be the name of any one particular coin, though perhaps not so as a weight for the gold masaka must be the gold kahapana, as, indeed, it is definitely stated to be in Sariputra’s Tika. That this was so may be inferred from the prose of the Udaya Jataka, where the gold and silver bowls are full of gold masakas and the bronze bowl of kahapana. Masaka, therefore, by the fifth century’ must have come to signify “ coin ” , money, ” just. as salli, kasi; at the present day.

5. The prose Atthakatha on the Jatakas enshrining the original gathas is said by tradition to have been composed ty Budhaghosa from old Sinhalese sources. Whether this was the case or not, the work probably is of the fifth century, and the use of such words karisam (vide infra section 10) and ammanam Sin amuna, shows that the phraseology has been coloured to some exent by Ceylon or South Indian usage. The work contains reference to gold Nikkhas, and to the following denominations of coins : kahapanas, kala-kahapana sisa-kahapana,half kahapana, pada, masaka, gold masaka, half masaka, and kakanika. These, with few exceptions, can be traced from independent sources as in use in the Island.

6. Nikkha, Skt . nishka, Sin, nika, is definitely mentioned as being of gold in the gathas of the Duta, Jataka; anciently it was a neck or breast ornament, probably often of a recognized weight, and thus suitable for purposes of personal adornment or of currency. Manu’s nishka was a gold pala of four suvarnas. Moggallana in the twelfth century makes it of five and distinct from the pala, but his insertion of our weight into the table is his main divergence from South Indian usage, and it is very doubtful whether the nikkha as distinct from the pala ever existed in the Island. In the Middle Ages the name is usually employed as the Sanskrit equivalent of kalanda and never denotes coin, though such was the case on the Continent.

7. The kahapana, skt, karshapanas, sin, kahavana, later kahavanuva, kahavanuva, according to Manu, was a coin of copper, 80 gungas in weight. The Nanaghat inscription of the second century BC (Rapson’s C.C.A clxxxiii, Note) shows that a silver karshapana was in use in the West, and the name was applied to the circular silver coins of the Westem Kshatrapas : ” The fact that these silver coins, though called karshapanas, only weigh from 34 to 36 grains, instead of about 58 grains as would be theoretically required, is instructive, It shows that this term, when applied to a silver coin, does not necessarily denote a piece of the actual weight of 32 ratis, and suggests the conclusion that, in Ancient India as elsewhere, coin-denominations derived from weights may have acquired in the course of time very various meanings : cf the history of our pound, ‘the pound sterling, ” the Scottish pound,&c.” (ibid., p. clxxxiv). So in medieval Ceylon the kahapana was a coin of gold, in weight one half of Manu’s piece of 80 raktikas.
The kahapana of Magadha, as represented in one of the older parts of the canon, consisted of 20 masakas, and is known in the Commentaries as the Nila or ” faultless ” kahdpana. The Ceylon tradition, which seems to be as old as the time of Buddhaghosa, represents it as a coin of gold divided into 20 masakas, that is manjadis, of the same metal, and thus equal the kalanda ; according to the fourteenth century version of the Ummagga Jataka it was composed half a madha gold and half of alloy. The pada or quarter of the Ceylon School was of five masakas. The Burmese tradition, however, in addition to a copper coin of the name, distinguishes between two kinds of kahapanas both of 20 masas, one of pure gold, the other consisting of 5masas of gold, 5 of silver, 10 of
copper, and one paddy seed weight of bronze; this last ” mixed ” coin is the nila kahapana (Appendix A, 24, 25) of which the conception may be due to a misunderstanding of Buddhaghosa’s statement that the kahapana was of all three metals. The equivalent of the Burmese ‘ quarter ” is said to be five gunjas of go1d, that is the fourth part of the gold contents-of the whole coin, which accordingly should be a Karsha of 20 mashas, of 7.2 grains each .If the Ummagga Jataka version is to be trusted, five masakas, the quarter of the Ceylon nila kahapana would also contain five gunjas of pure gold.

A clue to the identity of the old Magada kahapana is given by the tradition common to Ceylon and Burma (Appendix A, 9, 24) to the effect that it was one and a quarter times the value of the Rudradamaka kahapana. This coin from its name, would seem to be the silver hemidrachm of the Western Kshatrapas, among whom two Rudradamans are known, the first a prince of some importance, about A.D. 150, and the second about 327-358. It was issued by this dynasty from AD. 119 to about 388, and subsequently copied by the Guptas from c. 409 till at least as late as c.480: Its full weight was 43.2 grains. The nila kahapana therefore, should be 57.6 grains of silver and not of gold, or, in other words, was the eldling. But masaka, as the name of a weight, may have been superseded by the Tamil manjadi as early as the second century AD, if karisha be a loan word from that language (see 10 appendix D, No, l2). The use ofkalanju would naturally come in with that of manjadi,This identification is consistent with the very ancient scholium incorporated in the Vinaya text of the precepts as to silver and on trafficking with that metal (Appendix A, 2)_ Commenting in the-first-named precept,it apparently confines gold to the least un-coined metal, while silver includes the Kahapana the (base) metal masaka, lacquer masaka which is current. A similar explanation appears in the commentary on the second precept. Again, the description of the masaka above given clearly applies not to a gold coin, but to one of base metal (Loha) or a substitute therefore. The old Maghada currency thus consisted of silver kahapanas or eldlings each of 20 copper masakas; that this, is rendered almost certain by the later money system of Magadha described in the Arthasastra (Appendix C 1) and by the analogy of the cowry currency of Bengal and Orissa described in Chapter 1.
The Ceylon tradition of the gold kahapanas is probably due to the common tendency to read familiar conditions into ancient texts’ Thus, in the eighteenth and early nineteenth century the pagoda was taken as representing the nila kahapana; the translation of “denarius” by “penny” in the English version of the gospels is due to same cause. The traditional view is not only at variance with the scholium incorporated in the Vinya but also with other ancient texts. Thus, in the Jatakas there is no mention of gold coin or currency medium except the Nikkha, perhaps then in the form of a neck Ornament (A.I.W., pp. 34, 35; and the Kusa Jataka) ; in the prose commentary on the other hand, reference to gold coin is not infrequent. As an example, the , “bowl full of silver”
( rupiyam kamsa-puran ti) in the Udaya Jataka itself should be compared with the “silver bowl full pf gold masakas(suvanna- masaka puranm rajata-patim) of the prose commentary. It may be objected that hiranna is used in the story of Anathapindika in the Culla vagga (Appendix A ,26 a) ; but the word in Sanskrit ,according Monier William Dictionary (new Edition, 1899), originally meant ” uncoined gold or other precious metal”, nd only later coined gold, ” the present authoritative interpretation in Ceylon ; in the text, perhaps,rendered “wealth” ” bullion. ”

The commentary on the Kunala Jataka mentions a kala or black – kahapana, probably Buddhaghosha common ” one of copper, and the Introduction or Nidana sisa-kahapana of lead;(Fussboll’s Edition I ,p.7) which may refer to Andhra or kindred coinage.

8. In Ceylon the most widely spread of the early coins was the silver eldling, which for many centuries have formed the bulk of the coinage. But, apart from the application of the name to the Puranas in parts of India and the probability that the frequently mentioned, kahapana was this, the only silver coin in use , the direct evidence is confined to two passages :
(er) The Mahavamsa Tika on chap XXVII, 21, already mentioned , where one hiranna is said to have been reckoned at eight Kahapanas. The Tika on chap. xxx; 20, identifies kahapana with gold,(suvanna), and eight times the gold kahapana of 20 masakas would be Manu’s pala or Nishka of about 576 grains ; but there is no trace of this weight in Ceylon until much later, when it appears in the Abhidanappadipika as equal to 10 dharanas or 200 masakas, that is, about 720 grains if the kahapana was the eldling and the hiranna Elliot’s spherule of gold (C,S.I., p, 53), the relative proportion of silver to gold would be about 10 to 1, both the eldling and the spherule being of much same weight. But no such gold pieces have been found in Ceylon, and it seems open to question whether these spherules are primitive. They are remarkably like Tavernier’s plate of ‘the old Pagoda” struck at the time the Rajas were Masters of the Kingdom of Golconda . these old Pagods are no-where current but in the Kingdom of Golconda ” (Travels, Pt. II, pp. 4, 5) If however the ratio between silver and gold was 10 to 1, as was the ease in Western India in early part of the second century A.D (C.C,.A”, p.clxxxv), our Hiranna calculated on the eldling full weight will be about 46 grains, perhaps of gold dust tied up in a bag (cf A.I.W p 25.note 1 and p 33).This is precisely the apparent unit of the early copper coinage (chp III , section 20; see also Chap ,I section 19). It should, however, be noted that in the sixteenth century, the local ratio between gold and silver as calculated on the Larin of 78.7 grains appears to have been as low as I to 7 ¼ ( Chap VIII section 20,Note)

(6) Mahavamsa, XXXVI, 53, according a gift by King Abhaya Naga, A.D.237-245(G 285-293) of twice a hundred thousand, kahapanas being usual understood. .The pali
reads “ dvihi sata sahassehi neka vatthaini gahiya,” but the corresponding passage in the Dipavamsa is ” dve sata sahassa rupiya, ” “ two hundred thousand pieces of silver,” Even if this refer to coinage succeeding the eldlings, it rnay be assummed that the kahapana for 1ong period was silver.After the disuse of the eldlings, the term kahapana seems to have been employed of the standard current coin, such as the Rudradamaka kahapana mentioned by Buddhaghosa, In the Veragala inscription of the fourth century (Appendix D, No. 2l) a gift of twenty mala kahavana, and in the fifth century inscription of the Aralagamvila.(No. 24) dated in the twentieth year from the coronation of Mahanama, acc. AD. 412 (G. 458), another of twenty (da)ma kahapana are recorded. In the latter inscription part of the letter indicated by brackets is visible, and the original must have been v, c, t, d, d, or.l :.the cerebral d being used in this record for the dental as in the name Budadasa, the restoration should in all probability be dama, as the word cannot possibly be a numeral. The proposed reading is derivable from the Pali dhamma ” doctrine, “ daman ” rope,” ” string, ” ” wreath’ ” or from the Sanskrit dramma ” drachma”. As mala must mean ” wreath, ” flower,” it seems likely that dama the same signification, and that both names were applied to some coin with a wreath as part of the design, such as the Roman issues of the fourth century, though the possibility of the word representing ” drachma ” cannot be excluded, especially as the successors of the Western Kshatrapa kahapanas, if not those coils themselves, were known by the name of dramma. As will be seen later, the currency of the Island in the fifth century was mainly composed of Roman ” third brass, “and we have the evidence of Cosmas Indicopleustes that the solidus was the trade coin in use at the beginning of the next century. As Buddhaghosa states that the kahapana was of gold, or silver, or the ” common ” one, it seems possible that the same was attached to the solidus, the latest of which found in Ceylon as well as in South India dates from the seventh century. The gold kahapana issued by the Polonaruwa kings agrees with the solidus in weight, and may therefore have been influenced by that coin.

9. The half or addha-kahapana does not appear in the inscriptions, but may be identified with the silver coins described in the next chapter, section 6. The quarter or pada, in old Sinhalese payaka, is only found as a land measure, and is dealt with in the following section. In medieval translations from the Pali it appears as pala(Appendix A, 15).

A set of silver Massa 6 Kings during Pollonnaruva period.

10. The masaka (Sin masaka,latter. massa, plur. masu), according to the Vinaya, was the one-twentieth of the kahapana, and a coin of small value or a substitute therefore. Though the precious metals doubtless were weighed in Ceylon, as in South India , by the masaka, which was identified with the manjadi seed, no ancient inscription, definitely referring to the masaka as a weight, seems to have been discovered. In those few, in which the word
occurs (Appendix D, Nos. l, 12, l4), it can be referred to land ; this is certainly the case it the Puvarasamkulam inscription (No. l4), which gives the extent of fields in kariha, masaka, and kana, or in kariku and payaka. and the matter is clinched by the tenth century records at Alutvewa, Kele Diwulvewa, and Polonnaruwa (Nos. 41, 42, 37), where the subdivisions of the kiriya are given as the paya, the massa, and the kena, The kiriya, in old Sinhalese kariha or kiriha, in Pali guise karism, allied to and possibly derived from the Tamil karisu, karisai, karasai {Can. garashi, garashe ; TeL. garise, anglice “garce” ), clearly was treated as being a karsha or kahapana of land, and this probably explains Mogallana’s enigmatic definition of kahapana as karisapana (Appendix C, 8). Old Persian karsh, ” to drag.” ” to plough,” karsha,” furrow,” and also a weight of ten shekels ; Sanskrit, krsh , ” to plough,” karsha ,’ dragging,” ” ploughing,” and the weight karsha or kasrsha; modern Persian kashidan, ” to drag, ” ” to carry,” ” to weigh.” Moggallana’s definition may be a varient of Manu’s khrshika pana. The payaka or paya is undoubtedly the quarter (Pali- pada) ; the masaka or massa presumably is the twentieth ; the kana or kena is discussed below.The Alutvewa inscription the sowing extent of high lands is calculated as an Amuna

11The kakanika, according to Narada the fourth part of the Southern masha and of the Eastern pana that is the eightieth and sixty-fourth part respectively of the karshapana (Appendix C, 4), appears in ancient Sinhalese as kana and in the medieval language as kena or kanava. In Ceylon as a coin it appears only in translations from the Pali. The local authorities, apparently writing after it had fallen into disuse or copying Indian works, differ as to its value, some making it the half of the masaka, others equal to one and a half seeds of paddy. The former is the eightieth of the karsha of ll4 grains ; the latter is the sixty-fourth of the dramma, that is the quarter of the Deccan and Western pana. Its true weight can be deduced with some degree of certainty from the analogous land measure of the same name, From the Puvarasamkulam and Polonaruwa inscriptions (Nos. 14 and 37) it is clear that the kakanika was less than a third of the masaka. The half masaka value, therefore, is excluded, while that of one and a half seeds of paddy does not fit in with the other Ceylon weights ; and it seems most probable that, as with Narada, the correct equation is one-fourth of the masaka. The Bhaisajyakalpa, however, makes it in one place the sixteenth, and in another the quarter of the seed of paddy, and so the eightieth of the aka orpala, wilh which may be compared the Canarese kani, the sixty-fourth of hana. The masaka and kakanika seem to be the original of the Tamil fractions ma (1/2) and kini (1/80), also used as divisions of the land measure veli cf Bhu mashaka, the fourth of the bhumiin the Champa plates of Somavarmadeva and Asatadeva (Ind. Ant., XVII, p. 7).

A set of various values or denominations of King Parakramabahu.

12. The kamsa, stated by Buddhagbosa in the Kankhavitaranl and by Moggallana to have been equal to four kahapanas, is found in the Sigala Jataka quoted below, in the Commentary on which, however, it is equated to the kahapana. It does not seem to appear in Sinhalese. The name pana, as opposed to /i>aksha, Sin, /i>aka, is also absent, save in the Sanskrit Saraitha Sangraha (Appendix C), and only makes its appearance as panama in the later middle ages.
The silence of the Ceylon documents as to the existence of a cowry currency is worthy of notice. The Sigala Jataka has : Sippikanam satam natthi kuto karhasa sata duve ti,” There are not [here] one hundred cowry shells,”;much less two hundred kamsas ” ; but the gatas is doubtless of Indian, possibly Southern, origin A tamarind seed
Currency has been noted above.
In Tamil the empty oyster shell is sippi ; the live oyster is Kavaddi and in Sinhalese kavatti, This word may have derived from Sanskrit kapardaka which appears in Sinhalese as kavadiya,” cowry.” For .Kamsa cf Nunes quoted Yule’s ” Hobson Jobson” s v Ganza : ” In this Kingdom of Pegu there is no coined money, and what they use commonly consists of dishes,pans and other vessels of service, made of a metal like frosyleyra ( ? spelter) broken in pieces ; and is called ” Gamsa ” Bronze”, “Bell metal” is the Malay derivative of Sanscrit.
” bell-metal, ” i! the Malay delivative from the Sanskrit


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