1. The ancient Barter had a distinct disadvantage in the now called Double Coincidence of want , both by the Buyer and seller. An important advantage of Metal money over Barter system was  that  metal piece of  a standard weight can be assigned  a certain value[ in the case it was a 144 grains[ Rice] of  a copper or its alloy called a Pana or a Masaka] and divided in to small fractions of that  weight and  corresponding value to cater for small  and large value transaction, services  and valued [ and those in between] . They are also made of sizes that are easily recognizable and accepted by the public with out having to weigh such piece, by placing well known marks as that of  the ruler or his minter  .

These requirements were perhaps laid down as they are inserted into old tales and stories which are still available for our reading pleasure in many of the ancient palm leaf  manuscripts found in old temples libraries in Sri Lanka. One such paragraph is attached below. The second story is interesting when the King having to dispose of corpse of the Nagara Sobini [Click     Courtesan], whose charges were a 1000 silvers and the bidding goes down the division to a Kakanika , which is 1/4 of a Masaka.

Closest Definition of money

Names of coins

The coin finds in Sri Lanka illustrate this fact  that different Coin Types  have different denominations or fractions. The value of each fraction should be readily identified by both the seller and the buyer of goods , according to weights and sizes . The names of coins appearing in ancient Sinhala books and on inscription as Kaha-Panas were of Silver and used for larger transaction . The smallest denominations was of Copper series were known as Kakanikas. In between we have the Copper Pana and its multiples and its fractions.

The use of the pieces of Copper found in layers of earth C 14 and TL dated to 3 Cent BC onwards in all ancient sites, has distinct advantage over barter system, which is handicapped by the lack of what modern economist term as – there must be a dual coincidence of wants by the seller and buyer of items, or services etc.

untitledOf course coins may be worn and differ according to the  usage., then the size need be taken into consideration. The values of each coin find , after lying buried for thousands of years ,when shown  at the Numismatist Society, could be still  identified.

List of Coin Finds

Great varieties of Silver Punched marked coins are also found, the are found in three varieties in India and Sri Lanka. The heavy coins was of about 56 grain and was perhaps the silver standard. 16 or 20 Copper panas of  weight was equivalent to a Silver kahapana.

The Pana was the usual daily wage of the lowest class of servants, in addition to their food.

The question is what  the smallest coin could buy?. According to the Ancient Law books of India, 1/2, 1/4 and the 1/8 Pana are assigned as Ferry Tolls.

What was the minimum wage or the amount of  money required to eke out a living in Sri Lanka. If the condition are were similar, then we can assume that  an close approximation may be assumed.

What was the standard coin or what could a specified weight of silver worth?. What was the equivalent of silver to the copper. The weights was according to ancient text was measured in the Grains of Rice.

The ancient standard or the trade coin was perhaps in silver and found in thousands in the Island as well as in the subcontinent of India. A very few gold coins of this period has been found of this period, but most of these are of foreign origin.The weight of this silver piece was about 58 grains of Rice. The Copper pana was 144 grains of Rice.

Can an economist reconstruct the living standards or Cost of Living in the Ancient day?

There is evidence that  Grains, such as Rice, Beans etc  was deposited in Financial Institutions and interest on it given to the Sanga or to monasteries. There is evidence that persons employed in monasteries  were also paid in measures of rice and in Money.There were abbreviations used for Kahapanas and kirihas[ Measure of Capacity of large number of inscriptions  of  Anuradhapura period. These must have been symbol that were often used for  accounting purposes.

Rice was the staple diet of ancient Sri lankans. The first meal of the Sinhalese was Rice and Condiments cooked by Vijaya followers according to the Mahawansa. In Pujavaliya, v 773, If Gruel was made of a Neli of Rice, it would be sufficient for two meals for a family of five. Neli was the measure of of four hand fulls of Husked Rice .But we dont know what the minimum wage was. But  a clue may be obtained from an ancient book that was perhaps available to our ancient Kings and Administrators- the Arthasastra of Kautilliya. According to this book the minimum wage of labourers was 60 silver pieces per year.

  • a.lowest cash wage was about Five Kahapanas per month and stories about our ancient people spending habits – Arthasastra [Bk 5 Sect 3]and from Rasvahini II page 17[ Social History of Early Ceylon]. A servant at Nagadipa employed for 60 Kahapanas during the day and she requested a further 60 for the night shift. Rasavahina II is available at Sarasavi Book Shop. Manual Wages were called Vatup matra.Pg 211. The ancient stories Saddharamalamraraya talks of many servant employed by the rich in ancient days. The 60 kahapanas wages for a servant cannot be per day or month, it is far to high, it may be for a year as it agrees with that reccomended in the Indian Text of kautilliya.
  • b. goods in addition to the system of Barter and Food , Land and Service in lieu of Money. There was according to Sdhlk and Pujavaliya[Dr Ariyapala- Social History of Medieval Period].
    The wages paid in Rice was called Vatup sal. 4 Neli of paddy was the cost of service for a guy who chopped wood in ancient period.

The 16 Panas of copper was equal to a Silver pana. If the standard of living anywhere close to the Indian Standards from where Vijeya came . Then at least Four hand fulls of rice could be bought per day by a family who earned around 5 Silver kahapanas or 80 copper panas per month. The price of a Neli or 4 hand fulls was below 80/30 copper panas. or Two & two thirds of Copper Panas. If the daily wage was was between two and three Copper panas per day, either paid in grain or in copper Panas then the presence of smaller denominations such as the 1/16 panas was quite in order. Incidentally  two or three Pana pieces of coin types are found.


A Set of maya Devi and railed Swastika - Cast Coins

A Set of maya Devi and railed Swastika – Cast Coins




Lets investigate the Coins like pieces of different periods found. The most attractive are the Gold pieces of the Late Anuradhpura period.Later the  silver and copper massa are found during the Pollnnaruva period. There seems to have been small change for the smallest transaction.

Exchange rate

a b c d e f g h i j k l m
Grams 0.87 1.74 3.49 6.99 14 28 0.43 0.87  1.74  3.5
Grains 18 36 72 144 288 576 14 28 56 9 18 36 72
Copper Ardha-Kakini Copper Kakani Copper Ardha Pana Copper Pana Coppe Dwi-pana Copper Pala Silver[Gan]¼ Pana Silver Ardha Pana Silver KarshaPana Gold Aka Gold Mada Gold Ada Kalanda Kalanda Of Gold
1  2 = 1
2  4 = 2 =1
3  8 = 4 = 2 =1
4 16 = 8 = 4 = 2 =1
5  32 = 16 = 8  = 4 = 2 =1 = 1
6  64 = 32 = 16 =  8 =4 = 2 = 2 =1
7  128 = 64 = 32 = 16 = 8 = 4 = 4 = 2 =1
8 320 = 160 = 80 =40 = 20 = 10 = 5 X  2.5 = 1
9 640 =320 =160 =80 =20 = 10 X 5 = 2 =1
10 1280 =640 =320 =160 =40 =20 X10 =4 =2 =1
11 2560 =1280 =640 =320 =80 =40 X20 =8 =4 =2 =1


a.COPPER PALA;  A very few Maya Devi of larger value coppers may be the Pala, which is four Copper Panas. They may coin of  Three panas in  weight, or these may be worn coins.

19 Gram Maya-devi and Railed Swastika. Slightly broken. Pala or 3 Pana copper alloy.?

19 Gram Maya-devi and Railed Swastika. Slightly broken. Pala or 3 Pana copper alloy.?

b.COPPER DWI-PANA ;. The Copper Dwi-pana  value coins that are found in the Island are the Large Elephant and Swastika. But many other dwi-panas,  are Maya-devi , lion and swastika and a few Tree and swastika coins have been recorded.Copper Dwipana


Multi Type Elephant & Caitiya- Unique

Multi Type Elephant & Caitiya- Unique

c. COPPER PANAS ; These are the most common coins and found on all types of Railed Swastika Series.

A Copper Pana- Multi Type Elephant and Railed Swastika- Raja Wickremasinghe Collection

A Copper Pana- Multi Type Elephant and Railed Swastika- Raja Wickremasinghe Collection

Elephant and Railed Swastika Copper Pana

Elephant and Railed Swastika Copper Pana


Copper Ardha Pana Tree and Railed Swastika

Copper Ardha Pana
Tree and Railed Swastika

e.QUARTER pana




Silver and Copper Coins

An indication of the value of these coins is of interest to collectors and the readers. How much was a copper pana worth or its purchasing power ?. Of course  It was worth the value of the weight of silver[commodity value], but what did it buy in ancient Sri Lanka ?. There is no price list or guide found in the texts available. But can we read between the lines and speculate?. Can we do some background reading or comparison with  of books available to the  countries from the roots of the Sinhalese and those countries that our Kings maintained close relationships or specially the country that minted the silver Kahapanas[ Maghada]]which was or is now accepted as the common trade coin of the Indian ocean.

When Devanampiyatissa sent the first recorded mission of the Court of Asoka of Maghada, was there any particular importance of including a his Treasurer named Tissa in the delegation. He spent five months at the court of Asoka and was given the title of Guild Lord[ Setthi]. King Asoka grand-father Emperor  Asoka chief adviser was Chanaka ,now known as Kutilliya whose books had updated the procedures of Governance including all aspects of minting money and the running of  countries economy. Some considers some of these practices as unethical, how ever Asoka on his conversion to Buddhism soon rewritten the aspects all there is to money and its collections through trades, fines taxes etc. This book may have been made available for study by the visiting Chief Treasurer of Sinhala King. Weather he Tissa or his team , brought back these books can only be speculated, But from what can be read between the line in our ancient text, Kautilliya books were one of the books available for training of our kings. This is the only choice we have as other books mentioned in our texts , is now lost.

Lets compare some facts from Kautilliya book as interpreted by LN Rangarajan with some expenditure in our text books and inscriptions. Perhaps the Sinhalese did not blindly follow these advise , but adopted similar methods with modification to suit our situation.

What was the Kahapana’s worth??

Salaries paid varied from highest 48,000 to lowest 60 kahapanas[ A ratio of 800 to 1]. An idea of the lowest will give some indication to the value for money. Given the fact a cash wage of 5 Silver kaha- Panas[ or 80 Copper Panas] a month for the lowest paid meant that a silver piece was valuable coin. Rangarajan states that a Kakani, Ardha-kaka or copper Massa were  what most people ever used . Look at this with the Mampita Inscription in Kegalle District where a digger of Canal  Uttara donating two Kahapanas and a Lapidary Phussa a Karshapana. If they belonged to middle grade they would have got 1000 Kahapanas, if lower grade, 500, 250 or 120 Kahapanas. or 83 to 8 Kahapanas per month.

But salaries may have been paid with money, or paid with grain,forest products collected as taxes by the King or Governor, supplemented by little money. Land may be allotted to individual as part of salaries for services rendered. In case of payment with grain as an Adaka grain per day was equivalent to 60 Kahapanas per year. An Adaka was enough for 4 meals for an average worker. This was apparently enough for a lowest paid average family.That is 2 copper panas and 2 Kakani per day may give an equivalent on what was in  North India. There is a story that Nadamitta the chief Senpathi[ Commander] of Dutugemunu spent 3 Kahapanas to purchase venison. A commander in India received about 8,000 Kahapanas per year, little under 900 per month . Prince Padukabaya  was given 100,000 pieces [ The value in silver approximates to Rs 50 Million] to raise an army unit of 500.  A fully trained soldier was paid 500 per year. A family during the period of King Sadatissa is said to have purchased a cow for 8 kahapanas.[ Kasiye Asiriya-G Dammika Gunaratne].

We  know that Nandamitta could afford to pay  3 Kahapanas[ 10.5 grams of silver] for slaughtered deer[ ave weighs   Kgs] as his salary was high, and a cow alive was worth 8 kahapanas, I suppose can sell the milk and produce calfs.[ A silver kahapana was 3.5 grams of metal]. A commodity value of at least  Rs       according today’s values. An army  General today get Rs 50,000/ per month ?.

Looking at the donation of caves by all persons of most profession in our inscription , most had money to spare. A grade I courtesan [ click to read more]or lady of pleasure earned 3000 per year , while Grade 3 one earned 1000 per year. No wonder the famous lady of pleasure Tosa  along with a trader of Tamarind donated a cave at Sigirya.

Take the case of 2 kahapanas from court fines of 3 courts in the South paid as cost of medicine at Situlpavu [ click]monks. The fines may have varied  according to India ranged from 8 to 5000 panas, the majority of the offense, the fines was 12 to 24.


weights of Copper found in sri lanka


1.The Inscribed Coins is yet to be published in the Blog, the largest number is a collection of Wing Comd Raja Wickremasinghe, published in book  Ruhuna- An Ancient Civilization  Revisited.1999 by Raja Wickremasinghe & Osmund Bopearchchi.

Punched Marked Coins found in Sri Lanka is published in this blog under Contents.

2. Where coins are un-inscribed, and we assume that the Art in arrangement of Marks, did express some thing symbolic , then what it did express through the a mind set of the artist who designed the coins to cater to the mind set of the user of the coins , needs to be analysed ,if possible. Dr. Paranavitane was of opinion that the Railed Swastika was possibly the Title used by the Kings –  Gamani Tissa. The Main symbols had Symbolic values which were different for different religions and regions in India, but most ancient art available in India and in Sri Lanka are Buddhistic.These symbols may indicate different mints.

3.The Marks found on the railed Swastika Coins Series in analysed in Obverse  and Reverse . No estimate was done on the possible number of coins used in Sri Lanka during the period of 500 BC- 100 AD. A rough figure of over 150 Variations and denominations and 150 Punched Marked Coins ,that may have been in circulation in the Island is given below. This need to be updated.

Types Varieties Denominations Possible Coins
Coin of Dataya– Inscribed 01 01 01 01
Struck Plaques Human Figure and Railed Swastika
  • 06
Many 01 or 02 10
Multi-symbol Large Elephant and Railed Swasrika 03 02 03 06
Bo-Tree & RS- Round 01 a.No of Branchesb.No of Squares in Railing.c.2 Symbol on either side of RS.d.Lines under RS 03 20
Bo-Tree & RS- Hexagonal 01 Same as above 01 02
Elephant & RS 01 03 02
Lion & RS Inscribed 02 02 02
Maya-devi & RS- Cast 01 a.2 Symbol on either side of RS.b.Lines under RSc.Symbols over RS 08 15
Maya- Devi & RS 01 a.2 Symbol on either side of RS.b.Lines under RSc.Symbols over RS 03 04
Square Mayadevi & RS 02 a.Symbols over RS- 02 01 01
Vihara Maha-Devi & RS 01 01 01 01
PMC’s 150- 250 01 150
Inscribed Coins 100 ? 100

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