A BUDDHIST PERSPECTIVE OF MINOR SYMBOLS ON COINS OF SRI LANKA
The minor symbols on ancient coins of Sri Lanka , described by HW Codrington in Chapter 3 para 8 is as below.
Symbols are pieces of art that portray some expression, an idea or perhaps a whole story. Most of the symbols are of Humans, Animals,Plants or parts of Nature and some geometric drawings. On Coins they would have conveyed a symbolic message to the user of coins so that they were readily accepted a currency. There are few modern example when the symbols on coins and notes did not covey this message and had to be withdrawn from circulation.
Symbols may have been used for it decorative value and to fill in empty spaces or fill in gaps etc. If so then they too would have be appropriate and not mislead the viewer.
These symbols are common mark on coins of the different states of ancient India. The use of symbols on ancient coins is mentioned on the ancient texts during the periods of Buddhas (the period before Vijaya) is mentioned in the Buddhist Book “Mahashadana Sutta Atuvava” etc -Panditha Meda-Uyangoda Vimalakirthi Sthira. He mentions three types of symbol the first is the symbol of the king or the state, then the symbol of the Minter and an Auspicious symbols . Kumbagoshaka Situthuma identified his coins with King Bimbisara, by his or his family symbol.We could deduct that symbol a form of visual art was used to express the King or the State, An Family and they also were considered to bring good luck or protections from the unknown.
Auspicious symbols were used on all types of religious , economics, cultural , ornamental and most other items of utility value in the past and this practice continues. A set of these symbols are available to us on ancient coins, seals, sacred or religious objects or worships etc, etc.Various differing interpretation were given to these items at various times and places.What is necessary here is what interpretations, or values were given to those symbols on coins in ancient Sri lanka by a Buddhist population of the time.
Classic example is the tree in railing, this may have been a Tree of cultural or religious importance, that needed protected by a railing. Speaking of the main symbols , To he Buddhist in Sri Lanka it could only be the Bo-tree under which Buddha attained enlightenment, but to other religions it may very well be any other tree of importance to them[ Vruksha Caitiya or Sthalavraksha– Kosambe}.
The standing lady bathed by two elephants was a symbol depicting the Buddhas birth as on the Buddhist Vihare in Sanchi to any Buddhist, but it is the Sri , Lakshmi or any other goddess to the Hindhus.
If symbols are studied in the correct perspective they depict stories related to the religious and cultural beliefs of the people they were minted for. The people were aware of them and recognised them at a glance. These were most suitable for coins which had to be accepted as a means of exchange.
The earliest examples of these symbol are on the silver kahapanas ,now known as the Punch Marked Coins found in fair quantities in Sri Lanka.All these symbols as a collection is found on the necklace at Sanchi Vihare, they are religious auspicious or good luck symbols which were used on all form of art in the South East Asian.These are also found on the all form of religious sacred items , temple walls etc.these are mentioned in early text such as Mahvamsa.
The symbol No 1 and 2 may be variations of the same symbol, it is believed to be the Dhajaya or the Standard.There are many interpretation of this symbol, one by Mr P Weerasinghe in the RAS Journal is below.Two forms of this symbol identified as the Standard or the Dhajaya.