WAS THE BULL ON COINS THE GONA SINHALAYA

THE GONA SINHALAYA

 

The question of the Bull on coins was discussed at the Numismatist Society. The question of the Sinhala Bull and its Characteristics were in doubt. Did the ancient Sinhala artists blindly copy , the symbol of Bull off foreign coins used in Sri Lanka. The first coin with the Bull on it was found by Henry Parker at Tissamaharama at perhaps the deepest layers[ Ancient Ceylon]. Looking at the excavations finds at Gedige,the large coins with a  Railed Swastika seems to have a Bull to the right. These are dated to 1 CentBC. The next coins is perhaps that of King Vahaba’s period[2 Cent AD] and many varieties of coins with the figure of the Bull followed in later centuries.

 PEP Deraniyagala had written about the Sri Lankan Type of Bull called  Gona Sinhalaya [not the other way around], for Cattle Breeders Association in 1938. But MH Sirisena has written abouit the two pieces of  horns found, during the Shiran Deraniyagala’s excavations at Gedige , Anuradhapura in 1969. Perhaps this will throw some knowledge on to the Bull figure, impressed by the ancient artists on coins of ancient Sri Lanka. The Bull was a very popular symbol of the ancient school of  art in the Island, and was depicted on sculptures such as Moonstones and on miniature art of Seals and Coins.

Mr M. H Sirisena  writes in Ancient Ceylon No 2 1972- page 156

”  Two specimens of remains of Bos were encountered in 3A and 4B respectively. The former is a talus measuring 62mm(length) x 43mm (width) x 31mm (thickness), and the latter is a sub-conical left horn  core,  fractured at its base, measuring 65mm (length) x 3l mm (basal diameter) (P1.3 a-c).

 

The fossilized holo-type of Gona sinhaleya (Deraniyagala 1958b p.146, 1960b p12)is only slightly different from the above described horn core, its measurements being 95 mm length) x 50 mm (antero-posterior diameter). Should the discovery of further specimens of this ? pleistocene form prove that it is a subspecies of  Bos indicus, its name will need to be altered to Bos indicus sinhaleyus. Behaviorally it is significant that the hybrid feral specimens of Bos indicus in the southern game sanctuary at Yala in Ceylon are well able to survive, despite the pressure of predators (panthers) and buffaloes. This is largely due to their speed of foot semi-gregarious organisation and aggression when necessary.

The indigenous neat cattle of Ceylon, generally termed Sinhala cattle, were a remnant of an archaic breed that once populated southern Asia until displaced by larger forms from more northern latitudes (Deraniyagala 1951 p. 196). Isolation in Ceylon had preserved it in a greater state of purity than upon the Indian sub-continent.

They were first noted by the present writer in 1937. J- de la H. Marett, the Assistant in Ethnology at the ColomboMuseum, who was also an expert on cattle, urged their display at the NationalMuseum before the breed became extinct. His foreboding proved correct.During World War II, these cattle which could be purchased for- a few rupees each, were more or less exterminated by butchers, and subsequent hybridization with the larger imported breeds has resulted in the hybrid Sinhala cattle of today. Extracts from the present writer’s original account are reproduced below (Deraniyagala 1938 pp. F4, 5) :

“Towards the end of December, I visited the rain forest of Sinha Raja Adaviya in Sabragamuva  by the Kudave route. Tall, columnar tree trunks, devoid of branches for a height of 50 to 70 ft. and possessing leaves with drip points, were typical. wherever the forest had been cleared, the bracken-like Kakille  covers the ground , this area is comparatively isolated owing to the numerous streams being un-bridged, except for an occasional log thrown across and the degree of isolation is realised when it is noted that neither the giant west African agate snail Achatina fulica nor settlers of races other than Sinhalese have hitherto penetrated into this region………..The domestic cattle are also of the greatest interest as they are probably less mixed than the Sinhalese cattle in most parts of Ceylon. They breed more true to type, are small, black [to red] and rather slenderly build with an occasional dark grey animal ; the tongue is dark [never pink], horns short [3/4  ear length], hump and dewlap small, the tail tuft which is ball shaped does not reach lower than the hock, and above each hoof is a fringe of bristly pair probably as an adaptation against leeches. The height is about three feet at the withers”

Horns short [3/4 ear length], Hump and Dewlap small, the tail tuft which is ball shaped does not reach lower than the hock ???

 A more detailed description appeared subsequently (Deraniyagala 1939  pp 88-92 ) other significant features are that the dew claws large, and the penis is close to the body and not slung in a loose fold of skin as in Indian cattle.

 Bos appears to have been eaten by the people of Gedige[ In stratum 3A and 4B]. The consumption of beef has, since the lst century A.D., according to literary sources, been considered extremely base (Ellawala 1969 p. 67), and in late historic times the gladiator’s usual taunt to his adversary was  “thou beef-eating dog” (Deraniyagala 1959 p7 1?). siot* the artefact assemblage at Gedige comprising de luxe objects such as Rouletted ware, indicates that the occupants of Gedige possessed a relatively high social status  it appears as if the prohibitions on beef eating were not quite effective. Remains of Bos Indicus, at times possessing knife marks, were found at Arikamedu in horizon from ranging from Arretine phase to 100 AD[Wheeler 1946 p 115]It thus appears as if beef was eaten by those who were with the social framework ca BCE 800-100AD in India and Ceylon. It is possible that the Tabu on beef was imposed during the middle or late historic period when there was a marked increase of Hindu influence on the Sinhalese Culture.

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