11th century AD - Sri Lanka

Polonaruwa Period - Kahavanu

This anonymous gold coinage appears to have been initiated shortly before Rajaraja Chola invaded Lanka in 990 AD, and struck through the period when the Cholas dominated the island (1017-1070), and continued by closely similar coins struck for Vijaya-bahu (1055-1110) after he re-established Sinhala Independence in 1070. Like other Lankan coins from around 11th Century no date is indicated on it. It is not certain whether Kahavanu was introduced at Ruhuna, the region in the south of the island to which the Sinhala court had been obliged to move as a result of Rajaraja's conquests.

The three main Types and subtypes as defined in Codrington are adopted in general. Types I and II are more rare and characterized by elaborate formations of the Sri, the fineness of the lettering and the more sinuous lines of the body. In Type III with coarser figures the Sri resembles that of the Chola King Rajaraja; the letters of the legend are thicker and letters on the right slightly higher than those on the left.

Type Kahavanu 1 Ada 1/2 Pala 1/4 Aka 1/8
Plate Plate Plate Plate
Sun and Moon I A 45 46 @ _ _ _
Vase I B 47 I 55 I - I 63
Lotus and Adahanda II (1) _ _ II (1) 56 II (1) -
Adahanda and Lotus II (2) 48 @ _ II (2) 57 @ II (2) 64 @
Double Adahanda II (3) 49 _ II (4) 59 II (3) 65
Jasmine Bud and Lotus II (4) 50 _ II (3) 58 _
Ball and Annulet III A 51 52 _ III A 60 61 III (1) 66
Jasmine Flower and Chank III B 53 54 @ _ III B 62 F III (2) 67 68 @ @

The coin number on Plates in Codrington for 18 of the 21 types is given in table. The Plates in the original 1924 edition of Codrington are of excellent quality unlike the more recent lithographic reprints. The descriptions of each type of each fraction in Codrington has been abbreviated with reference to previously described types. To keep the descriptions in each web page complete and self contained I have as far as possible expanded by editing in the text referred.

The General description of the Lanka type gold Kahavanu, is as follows :-

The obverse is a Standing figure, head to right, crowned in a dhoti (garment), indicated by the curved line on either side of, and sometimes by one or more between the legs, and standing on a lotus plant stalk with varying finials. The left arm is bent, and holds a flower or other object before the face; The right arm is extended with hand over a symbol (1a) consisting of a straight shaft with short cross pieces, ending in four prongs, which are narrow and curve upward and downward. The elbow is over a similar symbol (2) but with a plain shank and upside down. To the right a varying number of annulets or balls. A beaded circle along the periphery of the coin.

The reverse is a figure, head right, crowned, squatting upon a asana (bed-like throne), represented by a oblong frame divided lengthwise by a line and crosswise by a varying number of lines; dhoti represented by one or more lines between the legs, the two ends at the waist appearing at either side of the body. The right arm is pendant over the right knee, which is drawn up; the left arm is bent, and holds an object as in the obverse. In field to right, Devanagari legend in three lines :
1 2 3 4 5
SriLankaVibuVibhu is a title of Vishnu.
A beaded circle along the periphery of coin.

The symbols are apparently intended for standing and hanging lamps indicative of the religious liberality of the monarch. The fire-alter or sacrificial lamp appears on the Kushan and Gupta coins, and fractional pieces of the kahavanu, and on the Setu copper coins, where it is elongated into a trident.

From the Devanagari legend Lakshmi on the quarter fraction Pala, and the presence of the lotus, the chank, and the cakra or discus, described as annulet, it is surmised that the standing figure on the Kahavanu is Vishnu, the guardian of Lanka in his incarnation as Rama (only two arms portrayed).

I have made individual pages and linked (click on @ in table) to the Five types I have in my collection. This table will be expanded as I get more types or I am able to obtain scans from a major collection or museum which is reliable as authentic. I believe the coins shown from sources stated are genuine but I always welcome comments if you have evidence to disagree.

Text from
* Ceylon Coins and Currency By H. W. Codrington. Colombo 1924
  Page 54 Chapter V Medieval Ceylon - Kahavanu