THE SRIMAHA-BODHI TREE IN ENCLOSURE COINS ON MIHIDHU JAYATHI 2530 COIN
The Bo-tree was considered one of the most important symbols in the lives for the ancient Sinhalese.. Not did it represent the tree under which Buddha attained enlightenment, it was a water given symbol. and various ritual was and still been practised to bring in the rains.
The present Coins and Currency notes are two types of Money that is readily accepted by the people at a glance. The notes are easily recognisable by its size and colour and its guarantee as a medium of exchange is certified by the signatures of the Governor of the Central Bank and the Finance Minister. However on a coin this is not possible due to its small size. Usually symbols implying such authority are placed on them. On the currency notes in addition to the authority that is expressed in writing certain popular symbols such as the Elephant, the Emblem of the state, Portraits of heads of state, pictures of famous religious buildings and motifs etc are placed. All these symbols are easily recoganisable and are familiar to the people. This ancient Greeks and most ancient Sri Lankan & Indian Janapadas placed similar symbols that were part of the mental set of people of the respective areas. The acceptance of the coin or notes as money should be unquestioned and instant . The set of notes issued in 1979 having the indigenous flora and Fauna was some thing novel and one of the most famous and most sort after series of notes. For what ever reason these never caught on as these animals, fish and plants were not known to the majority of the people and the Central Bank resorted to old tradition from the next issue . There many coins minted that never in circulation for an intended period. These icons or symbols that are accepted have to be a part of their culture or in the mental make up of the citizen of that region or country. This has been so world wide and this tradition is as a very ancient one. The most famous accepted Aeginetan coin/ bullion of the Greeks has the Crest of cities ofAegina the Turtle struck on them. The symbols placed on the face of ancient Sri Lankan/ Indian coins were motifs of religious nature, Geometrical Symbols and animal etc they considered as sacred or auspicious . The ancients belived they brought good luck and protection from the unknown. Perhaps the ancient rulers also projected their religious , political and economic will through these symbols.
Fig 1- Central Bank issue- 1992 Fig 2- Kalasoka kahapana [400-370 BC] Fig 3- Nanda’s Kahapana [370-320 BC]
The face of the issue of the Five-hundred Rupee Mihindu Jayanthi Coin[ Fig 1]depicts the arrival of Arahat Mahinda and the rear face depicts a stylised Bo- tree representing the Bo-tree at Buddha Gaya inIndiawithin an ornamental Golden railing. This symbol is one of the most popular symbols placed on the ancient coins of theIslandand those ancient Janapadas of India. The many Variations of this symbol are found on the ancient Kahapanas now known as the Imperial Punched Marked Coins of the Magadan and Mayuran Empires of North India [ 500-100 BC ]. The book IMPERIAL PUNCHED MARKED COINS Magadan and Mayuran Empires – PL GUPTA & HARDEKAR is the authority for these coins. The over 600 different marks published in this book is assigned numbers. These G&H[PL GUPTA & HARDEKAR] Mark[symbol] numbers is used in this paper as a reference.
The Tree symbol is found in the early Punched Marked Coins assigned to the rule of the Bimbisara and Adjasatura Dynasty[ 500- 400 BC]. But the symbol[ G&H No333] of a tree protected by a railing appeared initially on a Punched Marked Coin No 369 [ Fig 2 ] now assigned to Sisunaga or his son Kalasoka [400-370 BC]..IMPERIAL PUNCHED MARKED COINS – PL GUPTA & HARDEKAR- CATALOUGE OF COINS. It was during Kalasokas tenth year of reign that the famous first Buddhist council was held.[ Mahawansa]. One of the main reasons for the assembly of this council as quoted by Mahawansa was the Monks of Mahavanna Vihare Uposatha – hall had placed a vessel made of metal and filled with water and had said to the lay-folk: ‘ Bestow on the brotherhood Kahapanas and half Kahapanas, the masaka, the masaka rupa…’.
It is clearly mentioned in the Mahawansa that Prince Pandukabaya [ BC] was growing up inSri Lankahiding from his uncles. The giving of a thousand by his mother Ummaga-tissa to look after the baby Pandukabaya] , another thousand when he grew up and a hundred thousand given him by the Brahmana to build up his army. These Kahapanas are now believed to be the very same Punched Marked Coins that are found in larges quantities throughout the continent ofIndiaand inSri Lanka. The Kahapanas have symbols on them. The common distinguishing marks of the common coins found in theIsland are the Crocodile , the Dog , the fish etc while the railed Bo-tree is found only on a very rare piece, a coin was found at Tissamaharama.
This icon would seem to represent a Bo or Pipal tree at Buddha-Gaya, duly fenced off to prevent pilgrims seeking cuttings had it not been protected. The next variation of tree symbol in an enclosure on a kahapana has a double fence G&H Mark No 93 [ Fig 3]. This coin is assigned to the Nanda’s [370-320 BC] too has been found in theIsland. The Nanda’s assumed power after the 10 sons of Kalasoka had ruled for22years.[ Mahawansa] A double fence may have been required then, as is the case with our own venerated Sri- Maha- Bodhi at Anuradapura, where so many fences and walls to control the large gatherings of pilgrims, as well as a thick stone wall as a protection from Elephants. Latest digging show a trench , which was filled up by the Cultural Triangle Authorities. Armed soldiers are now placed to prevent a re-occurrence of terrorist attack.
A coin known as Tree & Swastika dated to 2 Cent BC was issued by our ancient kings.The obverse of this coin is a tree symbol composed of Three, Five , seven or nine Branches protruding from a enclosure of varying compartments from four to fifteen formed by vertical and horizontal lines, with symbols to the left and right. The Five branch[G&H Symbol No 17 ] and the Seven[G&H Symbol No 16] branched tree In enclosure appears on the kahapanas of the Nandas dynasty [ 370-320 BC ]. These symbols were used as Bankers marks found on the reverse of the Kahapanas. The examiners of coins in ancient Sri lankamay well have been aware of these marks. This mark represented the Sacred Bo tree under which Buddha attained Nirvana, which was worshipped by the Buddhists during this period. The sapling brought and planted at Srimaha – bodhiya in 270BC may have influenced the Mint masters of SriLlanka who designed this coin. The tree refers to that ficus religiosa the Bodhi tree under which the Buddha attained attainment . The Bodhi tree is the most sacred symbol- a symbol so dear to the Buddhist as the cross is to the Christians. The four compartments in design symbolizes the four predictive signs which led the Buddha to the final renunciation of the world.
Fig 4- Bo-Tree in Railing Copper Massa Fig 5- Indus Seal God on a Pipal tree
The Bo-Tree and Railed Swastika coin[ Fig 5] coins of the Island have many variations as was the case inIndiawhere many variation of this symbol appeared on local tribal coins issued by the Janapadas as they regained independence from the Muryan Empires in ancientNorth India. The tribal coins along the northern great trade rout from Taxila , Odumbara Kulindrine, Kuninda,Mathura,Kosambi, Eran , , then on South trade route Indian Ayoday, Avanti, Ujjeni [ The Catalogue of Coins of Ancient India- J Allen]. In the Deccan the Satvahanas too used these symbols and in South Indiathe Pandyan, Cholas and the Cheras of the Sangam Period also had this symbol of their coins. But they had their own different distinguishing mark on the reverse face of the coin. The Pandyans the Stylised Fish , the Tiger of the Cholas, the Bow of the Cheras,.while the Sinhalese had a railed Swastika. Most of these coins having this symbol was used about the same time and mostly along the trade routes and they were used as local currency.
Fig 6- Coin of Devanm-piyatissa Fig 7- Coin of Siri Sanka- Bodhi
However the Tree in enclosure was placed on the Multi-strike Elephant and Swastica coin[ Fig 6] , the earliest scientifically dated coin of the Island[ 3 CentBC]. This coin is speculated by the well known Numismatist Dr Hettiarchchi to have been minted to commemorate the propagation of Buddhism by King Devanam –Piyatissa him self. These coins now dated to 2-1 CentBC. This coin are in small numbers in most ancient sites throughout the Island. The Buddha for centuries after his death was represented by his foot-prints or wheel of the law- Dhamma charka, or the throne . The birth of the Buddha was depicted by an Elephant [ The dream of Maya devi] or by the first ritual bath of his mother Maya devi. His renouncement by a rider-less horse – depicting his horse Kantaka, his enlightenment by an empty seat under the Bo-tree, his passing away by a Dome or Chaitiya The stone gateway at Sanchi [ 1 Cent BC] is reserved only for the main events of his life along with all the auspicious symbols. These Stone gateways of the 1 CentBCwere copies or imitation made from more ancient wooden curved gateway that may have existed from the time of Emperor Asoka. All these Icons are found on ancient Sri lankan Coins are the most popular symbols on most ancient Indian coins. This coin the multistrike Elephant and swastika coins depicted the four important events of Buddhas life by placing an Elephant for birth, the Tree in enclosure for Enlightenment, the Railed swastika for his Dhramme, the Chaitya his passing away. Amoung the many symbols to represent Buddha the most popular was the Tree in railing and the Chaitiya. According to Dr Paranavitana”in the early period, homage to the Buddha was paid by the worship of the Bodhi [ Ficus Riligiosa], the tree under which the Buddha sat at the great awakening, or the Stupa, a mound in which the bodily relics of the Master was enshrined. The Bodhi at Anurhadapura was a branch of the great tree at Bodha Gaya, the scene of the great awakening. In adopting this form of worship , the early Buddhist probably continued the cult of the Lord of the wood[vasupathi], which prevailed amoung the ancient people, but with a new significance attached to it. There were shrines called Bodhigharas enclosing Bodhi Trees, of which representations are found on the sculptures at Sanchi and Amaravati. No actual examples , or remains of a Bodhighara, dating from this period, are known to exist anywhere in theIsland. The earliest representation of the railed Bodhi tree is found in the Island only on the ancient coins dated to 2CentBC.
The tree was worshipped by most ancient people. The stone age Druids worshipped the Oak and the Rowan. Trees were the Templesand Churches of ancient people before buildings. There is iconographical evidence that the ancient people of Indusvalley venerated the Bo[Pipal] tree is found on a seal [ Fig 5 ]. This Indus seal showing a sacrifice. The lower rows original Brahamin clan founders: The head dresses may suggest vegetation deities. The tree horned god in pipal tree on top right is adored by an eighth priest. The animal is a Chimera with Goat horns, Fish- head, Rams body and perhaps clawed feet is to the top left., above which may be a foreshortened Human head on a low alter[ The Culture and Civilisation of Ancient India- DD Kosambi]. The Bo tree was believed to be the seat of gods and a place to be avoided by demons. The Buddha attained enlightenment under a Bo-tree and lived there after in a state of Nirvana until his passing away. Later the Bo- tree in enclosure became a Buddhist Icon. It was a ancient custom not to depict the Buddha in person. The Sapling of the Bo- tree from Gaya,India was brought by Asoka daughter toSri Lanka during the reign of King DevanamPiyatissa. According to the Mahawansa his brothers G/G/G/G/Grand son, the most famous King of ancient Lanka Dutugemunu placed a golden Bo- Tree surrounded by the quadrupeds in the relic chamber of Mahaseya at Anuradapura. Many sapling of the Sri Maha Bodhi were planted at all important places of worship in theIsland. With in the next 100-150 years most village temples would have had one, very probably with a railing around it. This Bodhi tree at Anuradapura tree was reverend as it had the power of producing rain, which was one most important resource for an irrigation based agriculture. The Bo-tree continues to be sacred a place where protection from the unknown was sought by all the people of the country. The ritual of performing Bodhi Poojas are one of the most practised forms of worship by the Buddhist of today.
“The period when the Buddha was worshipped by means of a symbol held sacred for long period of time. Most important of them are the Bodhi tree, the Dhammacakka, the Paduka or the foot-prints, the Asana or the seat, the Agnisstamba or the pillar of fire, the Lotus, Nandapada and the Vardhamana. A serious study into the beliefs and religious practises of the people of the ancient world would prove that these objects of worship and, therefore, were chosen to represent the blessed one when his physical form was not to be committed to an anthropomorphic form”.-Gunapala Senadeera.
The next instance this symbol was used on a coin is perhaps on the Buddhist Chakram coin of Pandayan Origin found inSri Lanka. This coin is described by Raja Wickremasinghe in lecture on the 29 Anniversary Of the Numismatic Society, which appeared in the Sunday Observer. This coin with the Elephant, Chaitiya with Umbrella, Tree in enclosure amoung other symbols is counter marked with a unique Tree in Enclosure in a circle. More coins are described in the Catalogue of Sangam Age Pandaya and Chola Coins in the National Museum Colombo. These Pandayan coins are dated to 1CentBC. Raja Wickresinghe has furnished evidence speculate that these coins where the coins of the five Pandayan, who ousted King Vattagamini Abeya, who is Dutugemunus brothers Grand-son. The Five Demedas are the only Indians to have reigned inSri Lankaduring this Century. Perhaps this coin was introduced into the area under the Pandayan control as show of political and economic will. The counter mark could only be of that of King Vattagamini Abaya who disposed these Pandayans in 89 BC. This counter mark perhaps authorised the continuance of the use of these coins as legal tender in theIsland. As symbols imply the authority of its issuer. When the authority passed to a new king, they could very well be re-stamped with the emblem of new king and continue to be in circulation. A similar situation as prevailing in 2006 AD inSri Lanka, a few billion rupees worth Two Thousand Rupee notes issued under the signature of a former Finance Minister are in the Central Bank vaults when the incumbent President assumed office. Perhaps the release of these notes with a counter mark with the new Presidents Emblem would save the tax payer a whole lot of money and prevent the President wrath.
The next appearance of the Bodi – tree[ A variation of G&H Mark No 9] is where it appears on the reverse of a small coin having the Nagari Letter Sri and the auspicious symbol of a Chank – Sanka on the obverse of the coin. An interesting interpretation of these symbols are given by Mr KNV Seyone a past President of the Numismatic Society. According to him this mixture of represents Siri Sanka bodhi.[ Fig ] To quote Mr Seyone “ One is inclined to logically surmise by adding together such facts that the King whose name was Sri Sanga Bodhi could have issued the above coin. He further argues that the King in question cannot be the Fifth Successor of Manavamma, that is Aggabodhi VII [ 781-787] , as his reign was turbulent period as he had to leave Anurhadhapura for Polonnaruwa….. And also he was known as Kuda Agbo and never known as Sri Sanga bodhi. He also looks at the list of Kings who were known as Sri Sanga Bodhi and also ruled for a long and steady period. One is Aggabodhi III[633-683 AD]and Aggabodhi IV[667-683], both were known as Sari Sanga Bodhi. He leaves it at that to solve the problem with any fresh evidence to fix the ruler and date precisely. The King who used this name first was Sirisangabodhi [307 AD] the successor of Sanghatissa. The first king who used this it as a virudu or throne name was Aggabodhi III.[ Culavansa].
If the above is to be accepted perhaps it may be a clue to the elusive symbolism of the Kalandas of Gold of the medieval period. The Kalandas of Gold series has been published by Mr Sirisena a former Vice President of the Numismatic Society in his book The Medieval Gold Coins of Sri Lanka. The obverse face a figure representing a King or Deity standing on the what may be a boat represented by a curved line partly consisting of dots and terminating in symbols at either end has on many type of coins a Sanka[ Chank] on the right with a Five leaf branch [ G& H Mark No 9] on the left. The Sirivatsa symbol amoung three other symbols also appears on the Obverse face of all coins. A five branch Bo-sapling – boankula appears the left hand of the seated Figure on the reverse face of a very rare Type I gold coin.
This article has associated three ancient coins with the Kings Devanampiyatissa, Vattagaminiabaya and Sri Sangabodhi who have placed the Tree in enclosure or the sacred Icon for the Sri-maha- Bodhi. There is an other coins the Lion and three or four dots which is believed to be issued during the Building of Jetavanarama and is said to be of King Mahasena. Quite a number of these coins have surfaced at Anurhadapura and at Tissamaharama during the last 10 years. Like any other archaeological records these finding is subject to change when ever new information is made available. If coins could be chronologically arranged it will become a reliable source of dating as the finds are more frequent and they are found in a better state of preservation than any other object. The Icon placed on the face of Sri Lankan coins for the last 2550 years is based on religious beliefs and a set of auspicious and astronomical symbols that they brings good luck and protection from the unknown.