THE ELEPHANT SYMBOL ON COINS.
The Elephant is important part of our civilisations. Not only was the the majestic animal used in war[ the fact that King always went to war on elephant back like all Kastriyas], it was a beast of labour and burden , the Mahavansa states that Elephants were used as bull-dozers etc, to strengthen the foundation of the Ruvanveliseya. The elephant symbol was a very popular motif on all Sinhalese art. The Elephant with the other three four footed animals the Horse, Bull and Lion represent the four directions. The elephant was curved in contact with water at the Isurumuniya, and Ran-masu uyana complex Ponds which was then called Maha-Meghavanna park [ Great cloud Gardens], perhaps because they were compared to rain giving clouds..
This practice is still celebrated as the main event in Sri Lanka, in the Kandy Esala Festival Perehera. The Perehara depicts scenes of Rain producing clouds. The whip crackers at the front produce the Thunder accompanied by the drums , the torch bearers and the fire dancers the Lightning which precedes the Clouds represented by the Many Elephants, followed by the Diyavadana- Nilame the water bearer appointed by the King and the Sacred Tooth Relic having the magical power to produce Rain.
The Elephant figure was placed on many coin of ancient Sri Lanka. Next to the figure on prehistoric cave painting, the remains of earliest representation of elephant is perhaps on the coins. Of the hundreds of coins examined by me with an elephant figure, the earliest dated is published in the book Hus Ebu Kasi -Sirisoma & Amarasinghe, as coin number 148, pg 85. The coin according to Gupta and Hardekar belongs to Series II and Gupta & Hardekar No 285. The coins is marked a National Museum No Aa -10-1-326-327. This has in addition to the Elephant ,a Bow and Arrow, a six arm symbol, Four Fish in a square. and a Sun symbol with slanted Rays. Did these five symbol convey a message ?. The present assumptions are that the Sun represents the the Maghadan Empire as it is found on all silver Kahapanas of this type, the six armed symbol the mint signature , the other three symbols give a clue to the issuer/ district etc.One clue is given in Visuddhimaga, a text copied at Anurhadapura by Budhaghosa in the 5 Cent AD, telling how a lot of coins would strike an observer- ” A money changer would know at once at what village, town, city, mountain or river bank and by what mint-master a coin was struck”. Was this a tradition which applied only to Janapadas of India, or was it tradition applied to Sri Lanakan coins?. The Elephant is found of most of the coins series of this empire minted during the 400 years. What it symbolised has yet to be speculated.
The coins are allotted to the successors of the Magadha Rulers, Bimbisara and Adjasatura[ These two ruled Maghda Janapadaya ,during the life time of the Buddha -Dipavamasa],. The period of minting of the series II coins is approximated to 435-425 BC by Gupta & Hardekar[ Pg 10] of the book ‘ Imperial Punched Marked Coins ‘ .The successors of Adjasatura , according to the Mahawansa was Udayabhaddaka who reigned for 16 years until he was killed by his son Anurudha,he was succeeded by his son Munda and then his son Nagadasaka. According to the Dipavansa chapter 11, verse 10- states that King Panduvasdeva the King of Sri Lanka had died in the 21st year of Nagadasaka of Magadha. This coin was first minted during the period of King Vijeya or Abaya, the first or second Kings of Sri Lanka. This coin need be to examined to see if it was copy made later in Sri Lanka of a cast of an original coin. How and when this coin found its way to Sri Lanka is another question.
The Elephant on truely Sri Lankan Type Coins
The true Sri Lankan coin with an Elephant was found by by Henry Parker at Tissamaharama in the 19 Cent which excavating a ancient canal at Tissamaharama. He found this coins at a very low level and guessed that this was of great antiquity. this was a period when the notion was that the earliest Sri lankan Coins was that issued by King Parakramabahu I and the Sri lankan Kings previous to this did not have their own coins , but only used the silver kahapanas and later copper Roman coin and their imitation as coins.Many numismatist still belive in this theory, on which they obtained their PhD.
The layers in which this coin was excavated at an archeological excavtions at Anuradhapura the ancient capital established by King Panduakabaya the grandson of Panduvasdeva. The team found two Large Elephant and Swastika Coins in context 52 and 59 at Salgaswatte. These two layer could be dated to 2nd Cent BC.
In the Royal Asiatic Society Journal- Paranavitane Felicitation Volume , Dr Hettiarchchi speculates that the four symbols on the obverse represents the four main events of Buddhas life his birth the elephants, the Bo-tree in Railing -his enlightenment, the Railed swastika his Dhrama and the caitiya or three arched hill his passing away.He goes further to assign this coin to King Devanampiyatissa[ ] and was minted to commemorate the Rev Mahinda propagation of Buddhism in ancient Sri Lanka.
Here the Elephant symbol represent the conception of the Buddha or his nativity. The dream of Mayadeivi of an Elephant , the Conception the miracle associated with the birth of Buddha.This coins is associated with the propagation of Buddhism in the Island.The standard or the sign manual of the King which is between the Elephant and the Railed Swastika is left out in the description.
Both coins described above has five symbols, of course only if you consider the the Three dot symbols found placed in between other symbols of the later coin as for decorative purposes only. If true was the above coin based on concepts of the silver PMC of the Maghadan Empire?.
The Elephant or the use of Two Elephants hold a pot over the standing or seated figure , a lady came into vogue in and around 1 Cent BC. This concept was used in coins perhaps of the same period by many Janapadas in North India.This set of coins having this concept appeared 2-1 Cent BC and continued to be used up to 4 Cent AD, according to coin finds at various layer C 14 dated during excavations at Tissa ,in Ruhuna, South of the Island.The coins of the standing figure and of the Seated Figure found in the Island are shown below. All these coin types have the Royal Symbol the Railed Swastika on the reverse of the coins.
There are many interpretation to the Lady, which in its earliest belief was perhaps Sri or represented the mother image of Gods, Deities or Religious leaders. Various people adopted this to represent important deities ,gods etc according to their beliefs. According to Buddhist beliefs which was in vogue in Sri Lanka and other Janapadas they adopted this symbol perhaps to depict the miracle of Birth of the Buddha as depicted 6 times on the Sanchi Vihare and is of the same period. Manyare part of the art on few important religious building in Sri Lanka. The Seated figure bathed by two elephants are found on the meddalion held by the Makara Thorane over the Buddha Statue at Isurumuniya temple and on a Lintel at Yapahuva, Dalada Maligawa. DPE Hetiarchchi describes one on a Vahalkada at Jetvana vihare. There is a seated figure of this same configurations on the Galpotha at Pollonaruva, but none of them may be same period or dates of the coins.
The Elephant figure of the coin seems to be broken into components. According to Rev Dhabara Amila in his book Auspicious Symbols Pg 55 states that various parts of the elephants is compared with concepts of the doctrine.