by Ramasubbu Krishnamurthy & Senarath Wickramasinghe
The Sangam Age has been associated with the period from 150 to 750 B.E. (i.e. 300 B.C. to 300 A.D.) in South India and northern Lanka. Of the 73 Sangam age Tamil Coins in the Colombo Museum Collection, 70 belong to the Hettiarachchi collection and 41 Pandya coins and 3 Chola coins in fairly good condition have been illustrated in this new catalog. Senarath Wickramasinghe writes about Trade Connections during the Sangam Age, including two maps, and Krishnamurthy about the Sangam Age coins in the National Museum, Colombo, both with references and Notes. Ramasubbu Krishnamurthy's 1997 book Sangam Age Tamil Coins is a classic south Asian numismatic book of the era.
Codrington call these coins "Buddhist Cakram", and I found it interesting that the Sangam age derives its name from the earliest strata of Tamil literature to the last (Kandai) Sangam "probably modeled on the Buddhist Sanga for the promotion of Tamil literature" at Madurai in Tamilnadu. The region known as "Tamilaham" was ruled by three major dynasties known as Chera, Chola and Pandya.
These almost square copper coins vary in size from 13 MM to 28 MM and weigh from under 1 gram to over 11 grams, a large range of weights and sizes as in modern coinage. Krishnamurthy states that these coins kept in paper pouches were never taken out and examined. The Pandaya coins have a stylised fish symbol on the obverse, while the Chola coins have a tiger which looks almost like the lion in the modern Sri Lankan Flag. Chera coins which would have had a bow and he comments that it is unexplained why there were none in this collection.
The reverse of most of the coins have multiple symbols. An elephant standing to left or right. A few have a horse or a bull instead. Other symbols such as the Bo-tree in railing, the three arched hill which are also seen on Lankan coins of the same era. None of the coins have the railed-swastika which was the symbol of the Lankan monarchy. Of particular interest is coins numbered 4 and 5 which have been over struck with a circular counter-stamp with the tree-in-railing symbol. Raja Wickremasingha, president of the Sri Lanka Numismatic society recently presented a paper on a coin like this, he thought was unique. Coin numbered 17 is also interesting since it shows the king with a crown seated on an elephant. A triangular symbol very similar to the Ankh the Egyptian symbol of life is drawn above.
The format of the new catalog is nice. The color image, line drawing and detailed descriptions of every coin is on the same page for easy reference. Many numismatic books put the images in plates at the end or separate the color images from the line drawing, or the descriptions sometimes break in to two pages. I am glad the publishes have carefully ensured that reference is not cumbersome. However they have omitted the scale. In an attempt to display in a fixed size frame, some coins are displayed at actual size, while some are significantly enlarged and some reduced in size. The scale can be roughly computed from the dimensions given, but that is not convenient.
In the forward to this book Dr Nanda Wickramasinghe, Director of the Department of National Museums in Sri Lanka, states and I quote Dissemination of material information on museum collections and its publication is one of the major responsibilities of a museum. She also states that since their last numismatic publication in English, the classic Ceylon Coins and Currency in H. W. Codrington, the collection has increased three fold to 85,000 coins.
I hope that this book is just the first of a new series of books on coins in the Colombo Museum. I understand one is now been prepared on Lakshmi Plaques. I recommend that these books are also put on-line since one can overcome the printing limitation and display the coins in high resolution needed for detailed study the fascinating iconography.
It was very refreshing to find a new book on coins published by Museum in their bookshop when I visited it a few days ago. I am amazed that no publicity has been given to this new publication, which is a good buy at an affordable cost, for anyone interested in coins or iconography.