Medieval Gold Coins of Sri Lanka ( 700 - 1100 A. D.) by O. M. R. Sirisena
22cm x 22cm 46 pages of which 11 are high quality (150dpi) color plates of both sides of 91 gold coins
First printed on Art Paper 2002 in Colombo Sri Lanka
Numbered Limited edition of 500 copies - ISBN 955 - 8133 - 04-3

FOREWORD

The author has been involved in the study of Sri Lanka numismatics, the medieval gold coinage in particular, for over three decades, in which time he assiduously put together a remarkable collection of medieval gold coins of Sri Lanka. These coins styled kahavanu and their fractional pieces of halves (adakahavanu), quarters (deaka) and eighths (aka) were struck by a line of illustrious kings of exceptional individual calibre of the dynasty of Mânavamma who ruled over Anurâdhapura. The coinage may be dated to the late Anurâdhapura period commencing from about the end of the seventh century until the Chôla invasion at the dawn of the second millennium, which is considered by historians as a "golden age" when the country attained the height of its commercial prosperity. Practically all of the medieval gold coins described and figured in Codrington's Ceylon Coins and Currency are represented in the collection. It also includes some unique specimens hitherto unknown as well as two adakahavanu of extreme rarity. None of the coin collectors in Sri Lanka at present seem to possess specimens of these.

The book provides much fresh information, adding new meaning to some enigmatic features of the evasive symbolism of the gold kahavanuva. The analysis of the gold-alloy composition of three examples of kahavanu representative of the three types would seem to confirm that the medieval gold kahavanuva was a coin of sixteen mâsaka and not of twenty as Mr. Codrington and Dr. Paranavitana seemed to believe.

The collection is of national importance and should be preserved in this country. Mr. O.M.R. Sirisena, Senior Vice President of the Sri Lanka Numismatic Society, is to be congratulated on his endeavour in the present publication to bring this collection to the notice of both layman and specialist alike.


Dr S. U. Deraniyagala
Director General of Archaeology
13th November, 2001

PREFACE

This is a research monograph on a collection of medieval gold coins of Sri Lanka, the majority of which are gold kahavanu and their fractional pieces, struck on the medieval kalanda standard, perseveringly put together by me in the course of my research studies on the medieval gold coinage of Sri Lanka for over thirty years. It was suggested to me that I should put into shape the materials I had collected. This work is the result.

The fascinating and varied kahavanu coinage was issued by the outstanding kings of the dynasty of Mânavamma (700 1000), such as Mânavamma himself, Aggabôdhi VI, Mahinda II, Sêna I, Sêna II and Mahinda IV at a period of peace and prosperity almost a kind of golden age at Anurâdhapura, when the kings, according to the Mahâvamsa, were one with the religion and the people. Evidently these coins, for the most part, served the needs of an active and opulent foreign trade, for which Sri Lanka was remarkable in the eighth, ninth and tenth centuries.

The coinage seems to have been current approximately from the end of the seventh century until the Chôla conquest at the beginning of the eleventh century, after which it apparently ceased. The coins are in good preservation and quite a few of them as fresh and beautiful as if they had come from the mint but yesterday. They obviously appear to be so cleverly devised that one can tell at a glance the fineness of the gold of each. Perhaps the coinage may throw fresh light on the socio-economic needs and wants, aims and aspirations of those for whom it was made, as well as of those who made it, being none other but the kings themselves. It is indeed a coinage, that seems to have preserved to us preciously the thought and spirit of a dim bygone era, where the Sinhala people attained the highest degree of their commercial prosperity. Suffice it to say that there is no country in the world with a medieval gold coinage, which seemed as extensive and elaborate as it was in Sri Lanka, with its style of design remaining unique for over four centuries. It is also evident that the kahavanuva is clearly the prototype of the subsequent prolific base metal massa coinages of the Polonnaruwa, Dambadeniya and Kotte dynasties that survived for more than 3 centuries.

The monograph on the whole is comprehensive enough featuring the full range of medieval gold coins of the Island, both published and unpublished, some of these may be described as being unique. It also includes the gold coins of the Chôla kings as well as those of Vijayabâhu I. These doubtless superseded the gold kahavanu and hence may have formed part of the country's medieval gold coinage of the eleventh century. Some gold Roman and Kushan Imperial coins found in Sri Lanka are also listed, which certainly must have found their way here in the course of trade in ancient times. Many of these coins have been discovered in the ancient Sinhala capitals of Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa and Ruhuna. Regrettably enough, the majority of those who bring them would seem rather wary of revealing details of their true origin or provenance and when asked they might reveal only that which they think one would like to hear!

These are the only money in gold we know of both in ancient and medieval times. However, there still remain a few gold coins (perhaps less than half a dozen) in private hands isolated by their being unknown to any but their owners, some of which the present collection may seem lacking.

O.M.R. Sirisena
Colombo 5.
December 2001.

CONTENTS

Foreword by Dr S. U. Deraniyagala
Preface by O.M.R. Sirisena
List of Illustrations
Acknowledgments

Sri Lanka (Ceylon) of the Anurâdhapura Period by Sir Emerson Tennent
Medieval Gold Kahavanu Coinage
Gold Coins of Chôla Rulers and Vijayabâhu 1(993 - 1111 A.D.)
Some Gold Roman and Kushan Imperial Coins found in Sri Lanka.

Catalogue
Type I Kahavanu (1 - 22)
Type I Fractional Pieces (23 - 33)
Type II Kahavanu (34 - 58)
Type II Fractional Pieces (59 - 68)
Type III Kahavanu (69 - 72)
Type III Fractional Pieces (73 - 78)
Gold Coins of Chôla Rulers
Gold Coins of Vijayabâhu 1(79 - 87)
Some Gold Roman and Kushan Imperial Coins found in Sri Lanka (88 - 91)
Medieval Gold Adakahavanu

Select Bibliography

LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS

  1. Kaludiyapokuna Cave Inscription, Matâle District. 9th century.
  2. Purnaghata "fullvase", Anurâdhapura. 7th century.
  3. Gold Ingot found at Abhayagiri excavation site, Anurâdhapura. 8th century.
  4. Kuvera (god of wealth) on stele at Dakkina-thüpa, Anurâdhapura. 2nd century
  5. Padma Bahirava and Sankha Bahirava on guardstones at Abhayagiri Chaitya, Anurâdhapura. 8th century.
  6. Chôla Saiva Shrine, Polonnaruwa. 11th century.
  7. Ancient Port of Godavãya, Ruhuna. 2nd century B.C.E.
  8. Reception of trade embassy of Anurâdhapura king by Roman emperor Augustus Ceasar. 1st century B.C.E. Fragment of Thilak Abeysinghe's painting - Courtesy: Daily News.
  9. (a) Medieval Gold Adakahavanu, Anurâdhapura, 9th century.
    (b) Lakshmi and Svastika Coins, Anurâdhapura, 1st Century B.C.

The Author

The author of the book Medieval Gold Coins of Sri Lanka, O.M.R. Sirisena was educated at the Royal College, Colombo and studied polymer science and technology at the National College of Rubber Technology, London, under a sponsorship programme arranged by the Rubber Research,Institute of Ceylon in 1963. He was a rubber researcher, an ICI trained technical sales executive, a visiting lecturer at the University of Moratuwa, and an industrial consultant. In 1985 he was the recipient of the Silver Jubilee Year Merit Award of the Plastics and Rubber Institute of Sri Lanka, "for a very significant contribution made towards the growth of the polymer industry of Sri Lanka".

He is a Fellow as well as a life member of the Institute, of Materials, London (FIM).

He is Senior Vice President holding life membership of the Sri Lanka Numismatic Society and is also a life member of the Royal Asiatic Society.

He has been engaged in research studies on Sri Lanka numismatics for over three decades. His remarkable collection of ancient and medieval gold coins, patiently gathered from their lurking places found in the ancient capitals of Sri Lanka, is indeed considered the finest in the country.


On request of O. M. R. Sirisena, this webpage is hosted by Lakdiva : a website for Coins of Lanka, including those of Gold.