PUNCH MARKED COINS FOUND IN SRI LANKA
Punch Marked Coins are the silver Kahapanas[Karshapanas] coins with five marks on the obverse, that are dug up in most ancient sites of the island of Sri Lanka as well as in the sub continent of India. These silver pieces are now called the Imperial Punch Marked coins and are attributed to the Rulers of Magadhan Empire. The coin name Kahapana is mentioned in most of the Jataka stories of the Buddhists and in Sri Lanka in old chronicles such as the Mahawansa and in many of our ancient Inscriptions. Hoards and stray finds of these PMC’s in most historical site of Sri Lanka.
This series was originated by the founders of the empire kings Bimbisara and Adjasatura who reigned during the life time and were associates of Gautama Buddha. Mr Sirsoma and Ms Geeta Amarasinghe has conducted an intensive study of all coins in the Archeological Dept and Museums and Private collections and identified the symbols on these coins in their book the ‘Has Ebu Kasi’ . John Allen in his book Catalogue of Ancient coins of India was the book used as reference by Sirisoma & Amerasinghe.
PL Gupta and Hardaker[ G & H] – “Book Imperial Punch Marked Coins India” was not available to them at the time of their study. The present numismatist are more fortunate to have the book which has identified all symbols punched on these coins[ a total of over 485 different marks and allotted number to each of them]. G & H has chronologically alloted the coins[ over 500 different Types] to the dynasties of kings of the Magahadan Empire from King Bimbisara[ 500 BC] to the descendants of King Asoka[190 BC]. Both the Mahavansa and Dipavansa has described the Kings that ruled Sri Lanka during the different period of the reigns of Kings of Maghada .[ Gieger has analyzed this in the introduction to Mahavansa]. The probablity of our kings having access to these coins which was used on the trades routes cannot be counted out, but it may well be that these coins may have come to the island at a later date than the date of issue.
All Imperial PMCs has two symbols common to them – they are the SUN and SIX ARMED Symbols.Two types of Suns and over 90 Six arm Marks. Similar marks are found on the coins of ancient Sri Lankan Kings . See Figure below.The artistic Taurine called Nandapadi etc, The Drum shaped Vajrasana , the The Lotus were extensively used as minor symbols falnking the main marks on most Sinhala Coins.
These coins were studied by John Allen and others, they reconised the similarities in the combination of marks and cl;assified them into classes.Gupta & Hardekar analysed these combinations in great details and concluded that different dynasties of Kings may have used their own special set or a combination of Marks on their coins.They identified these marks and collated them in to Classes with in each series. G & H has allotted coins to different Kings or into Seven Series in a chronological order of their reign, which they place within 500- 100 BC. PL Gupta & Hardakar in their categorization have analyzed
a. the fabric or the shape and size of different coins
b. the deviations of weight of the different series found together in hoards or wear of coin as a factors of the age or usage .
c. The marks on restruck coins.
d. many other factors of numismatists interest.
The deductions arrived by Gupta & Hardekar may be subject to examination by applying to them to the finds in the Island of SriLanka.
The Series I coins finds is confined only to bounderies of the original Maghadhan Janapada of Adjatasattu[ See Map below] and has not been found in the areas that were captured later[ PL Gupta & Hardakar]. This too is the case inIsland as no finds of are recorded here.
The coins attributed the this dynasty which ruled for a period of around ninety years [500-410 BC] . Series II and III coins are found in Sri Lanka. A coin of series III finds is double struck, that is later kings had punched their Marks coins of the reverse of older coins of their ancestors.In the above hoard no Series II coins could be identified. The types 295,305 and 323 of Series III was amoung the coins of the hoard.
The Series IV a, b and c mainly consisting of marks formed by arches is alloted to the Dynasty of the Sisunagas. Coin type of series IV. a[ 410-400BC] no 344, TYpe 356,369 and 380 of series IV b[400-370 BC] amoung the hoard.
SERIES IVd.The Nine Nanadas[ 370-320 BC].
The largest collection in the hoard was from this group a total of 30. The Types were 402,405,416[07 coins],418, 424[04 coins], 425,426,427, 442, 443, 450,468 and 471.The prestigious marks are the Dog, the tee and the Bull on five arched mountains.
SERIES VA. and VI A [Chandragupta & Bindusara -Mauryas-320-270 BC].
Of the V a types 479,481,484,488,and 492 and of Series VI a 534,537,538(?) were found.
SERIES Vb and VI b[ Asoka& Successors -270-190 BC]. The distinguishing marks are the Caitiya, The Caduceus, the Bo Tree stub in Enclosure etc. The Bo-tree stub with three shoots of leafs may depict the Bo-tree under which Buddha attained enlightenment, which regrew dispite the efforts to cut it down once by the Generals on orders of Asoka and then poisoned by Asoka jealous Queen.
The loss in weight for for silver Punchmarked Coins estimated as 0.025 Grams for every ten years circulation. Using this approximations and the dates of issue suggested by Gupta & Hardekar. They co related calculated usage figures in years to the probable eras of the different Dynasties obtained from ancient texts available .Gupta & Hardekar assingned different Series and Classes with in them to various dynasties. An acid test according to the wear /uasge in years on the hoard from Tissamaharam is below. The Nandas Dynasty coins had been is use for 460 years while Asoka Dynasty coins had been in use for 260 years approximately. We could speculate that this hoard was last used and then lost or buried in the 1st Cent AD in Tissamaharama.
Since the Publication of Imperial Punch marked Coins of India by Gupta & Hardekar, Indian Numismatists have further analysed and assigned the different Classes of coins to separate kings. These books are not available to me.