The Bodhi Tree Symbol on Coins of Sri Lanka

Bodhi Tree symbol found on coins used in Ancient Sri Lanka.

In the Indian subcontinent the tree symbol is found on large varieties of coins of the ancient past. This symbol is traced back to the Indus valley civilization. To all religion in India the Pipal Tree was sacred,and each religion coined various beliefs to this symbol. To the Buddhists it signifies the Buddha, his Dhamma or the Sacred Bo-Tree under which Buddha attained Enlightenment or Nirvana. The Hindus in India, the Jians etc give various interpretation to this symbol. This is an attempt to re-collect all such beliefs from point of view of a Buddhists of Sri Lanka.There was a comment on this read’as a lot of whinning and I should rewrite it. ?’
The  Tree  symbol found on the Punch Marked Coins  or the Kahapanas of the Magadhan Empire. Perhaps the earliest coin found in the Island with the Pipal tree mark is on the Silver kahapanas[ Gupta & Hardekar ] Types 269. The five branches depicted the ancient belief of Asvattha. The Four Branches signifies the 4 directions –North, East, South and West, the Centre branch the axis of rotation of the earth.Those coins with this symbol found in the Island is shown below .

The earliest mention of the Bo-tree representing Buddha during his absence from Jetwanarama Temple is in Jataka Stories and on two engraving at Bharut and depicting this story.The story states that many people came to see and pay homage to the Buddha at the Jetvanarama temple which was purchased by Anatapindika by covering the complete Compound with coins. His assistant Ananda had posed the problem of how to accommodate these people during his absence from the temple. The Buddha had suggested that the a sapling from Bo tree at Buddha-Gaya where he attained Enlightenment may be the best substitute. Perhaps this explains was why Buddha after his passing away was represented aniconically by a Bo- tree in an enclosure.Example The Buddha is represented by the Bo-tree at 47 instances on the Sanchi Vihare Gateways.

According to the Gupta & Hardekar the first coin that depicted this Buddhist theme or the Bo tree in enclosure was the Silver Kahapana Type 369 of Kalasoka[ 400-370 BC]. This coin type was found at Akurugoda Tissamaharama in Sri Lanka.

The Enclosure.Why?

The enclosure was to prevent over-zealous worshiper from damaging the tree, by collecting souvenirs .A double fence shown in coin below was found at Tissa in Ruhuna. The Bodhi tree is associated with the Vajrasana and two Triratna in almost all the sculpture as seen above.

 Minor Symbols in Attendence to the tree symbol.

The Bo tree is flanked by two Triratna on coins and on buddhist Sculptures. The tree has two triratna of either side.

Of special interest is the other symbol GH No 224 that is found on the Kalasoka coin. This is two Triratna on either side of a drum like symbol. On the Buddhas foot-print or Sripatula this symbol is found amoung the eight auspicious symbols. This has been recognized as the Vajrasana or the seat where the Buddha sat when he attained enlightenment.Some of this art is illustrated below.

Many Attempts to Destroy this Bo- tree.

Many attempts to destroy this tree is recorded in history. The famous was the attempt of King Asoka who sent his General to cut it down. But the Tree recovered and King Asoka embraced Buddhism. His queen attempted to poison the tree. All these failed and the tree re-sprouted . Was there any symbol to depict this?

 There is a much used symbol on the Coins of Asoka and those of his successors which show a stump of a tree in an enclosure with three small branches. Many interpretations are given to this symbol. For Buddhists perhaps this represents the re-growing of the famous Bodhi Tree at Buddhgaya.

The main attractions at Buddhagaya are the Bodhi and the Vajrasana where Buddha sat during his enlightenment. The Vajrasana and the Triatna are very prestigious minor symbols used by mintmasters in India and Sri Lanka. So much so, these two amoung the four symbol on the Official crest of the Indian Numismatist society. These two symbols along with other were placed on either side of the railed swastika – the symbol which most numismatist in Sri Lanka recognizes as the crest of the ancient Sinhala Kings of the Devanampiyatissa Kula.

These two symbols are closely associated with the Buddha or Buddhism. The Buddha and the Chakravarti Monarch is said to have similar characteristics such as the 3 . The ancient kings of the Island were always considered to be future Bodhisatvas , who had the potential to be future Buddhas having these characteristics. Perhaps the mintmaster had attempted to express such interpretation on coins. Were these symbols so placed on the reverse of the coins to implicitly express the symbol of a Chakravarti or the ruling king., which also add a religious flavour.?.
The above coins was found in layers of earth  C 14 dated to the 1 Cent BC both at Anurhadapura and in the south at Tissamaharama .This trend of having auspicious symbols intermingling with Animal, Trees and Human figure continued to be used by our mint-master. However the as time progressed the symbols them changed and new symbols took more prominence. The Railed Swastika along with the Triratna, Asana, The standard, The Pot , the Bull etc was gradually and systematically replaced by the Animal series with the two lamps, the Crescent moon, the pot etc . The Srivatsa like the railed Swastika became a prestigious  symbol on the Gold kalandas the later Anuradhapura period .


These two symbol appear on coins, why so , perhaps the only clue that the ancient Kings has placed on a inscriptions as published by Mr HM Sirisena , is that of lajaka Tissa, the son of King Sadatissa the brother or King Dutugemunu who came to throne in 119 BC. This was the epriod of these coins. In line 4 is a referance to an Asana and Bodhi Tree. This inDr paranavitane words, 

” we have perhaps a reference to the thrones,  Asana representing the Vajrasana on which the Buddha was seated at the moment of the great awaking. These were worshipeed as symbols of the Tathagata before the introduction of cult images. Boya accoring to Dr Patranavitne  is Pali word for Bodhi or Bodha.

A new set of auspicious symbols like the Chank, the Bo-ankula, the Sun and Moon, the Lotus and Jassamine Flowers etc were on coins. The Bo-ankula perhaps represent the one branch brought from the famous Tree at Buddhagaya brought to the Island by Sangamitta.

The Bo-tree continues to be used on our present day Currency notes and on the Weask Coin used by Central bank a few years back.


11 thoughts on “The Bodhi Tree Symbol on Coins of Sri Lanka

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