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The Coin Galleries: Ujjain (page 2)
This page authored by Wilfried Pieper

Human depictions on ancient Indian coins are of special interest, as they are among India's earliest representations of deities in anthropomorphic form and thus most important for the study of their iconographic development. The earliest such depictions on coins appear on some of the punchmarked silver karshapanas of the Mauryan kings during the 4th/3rd century BCE. The deities on these early silver coins have been identified as crested Shiva holding danda (stick) and kamandalu (water-pot), as ithyphallic Shiva on one rare type from the Jan Lingen collection, as chakra (discus-weapon) holding Vaishnavite deity Vasudeva-Krishna or as plough holding Balarama. A number of female figures on some of these silver karshapana types have been regarded as Matrikas. And a unique silver karshapana from the Pieper collection depicts a chakra holding Vaishnavite deity / Vishnu together with what appears to be the earliest depiction of a Garuda.

On the local Ujjain coins with human depictions on them, these are in most cases single human figures, standing, squatting, dancing or sitting, representing various Hindu gods and goddesses. Different researchers have tried to identify them and have frequently come to divergent conclusions. The matter is not simple as in this early stage of iconography the depiction of many deities together with their characteristic symbols and attributes was not yet fully developed and sometimes different deities were even associated with the same symbols. The latest approach to the subject is Devendra Handa's brilliant paper on 'Divinities on Ujjain Coins', ICS-NL 51, 2013' who clarified controversies on some deities and originally proposed the identification of others. The most prominent figure on these coins is ceratainly Shiva Mahakala whose cult was very important at Ujjain,  and Lakshmi who experienced a general adoration by believers of different cults who wouldn't have hesitated to beg assistance from the goddess of wealth, prosperity and fortune.

But apart from Shiva and Lakshmi there are several other deities who are depicted on the coins of ancient Ujjain, such as Karttikeya, Shashthi, Vasudhara, Krishna, Brahma and others, according to the well-founded identifications of Devendra Handa. Further details will be given with the respective coin descriptions below.  Handa refers to some coins published by Sethi depicting a male human figure which either holds a bull or cow by its horn, or which drives a bull/ cow holding a stick in his hand, and proposes to identify this figure as Gopala Krishna (ICS-NL, no.51, pp.25-26). In the same context he proposes to regard another figure as a Krishna depiction as well: this figure appears on a coin published by Kothari which shows a dancing male figure with fan-shaped hairdress holding a flute-like object.  Kothari's coin type 252 is seen by Handa as a depiction of Karttikeya (ICS-NL, 51, p.31); the deity is holding shakti (lance) and kamandalu (water-pot) and shows five protrusions of the head-gear as a "representation of six-headed Karttikeya." In a similar way goddess Shashthi is identified by Handa on another Ujjain coin type depicted as a multi-headed female figure as indicated by the dotted marks around her head. The 'fish-holding deity' was already described by V.S. Agrawala as a representation of Vasudhara who is the consort of Jambhala- the Buddhist god of wealth.

A few early copper coins of the Ujjain region with three standing/ walking human figures on them are of special interest. Combining the evidence of the specimens at his disposal Devendra Handa identified this group of three figures, a female figure in the center with a bow-holding male figure on each side,  as the earliest numismatic depictions of Rama, Sita and Lakshmana datable to the 2nd/ 1st century BC (ICS-NL, no.51, pp.29-30).  "The dress of the female figure compares very well with the dress of numerous human figures which figure on Ujjain coins and leaves little doubt to its being an indigenous piece of the area. The three figures with two males holding the bows seem to represent Rama, Sita and Lakshmana going in the forest and recall to our mind the description given in the Valmiki Ramayana".

UJJAIN diverse deities


Ujjain, anonymous AE 3/8 karshapana, 'seated Lakshmi type'
Weight: 3.18 gm., Diameter: 16 mm.
Seated Lakshmi with feet parallel to each other, right hand on leg and
     left hand raised holding lotus flower.
Ujjain symbol.
Reference: Pieper 304 (plate coin) / BMC pl.XXXVIII, no.25
Lakshmi, the wife of Vishnu, is the goddess of fortune, wealth and prosperity and one of the most popular divinities from the Hindu pantheon. Incarnations of Vishnu are Rama and Krishna, as incarnations of Lakshmi are Sita (Rama's wife) and Radha (Krishna's lover). Lakshmi has a special association to the lotus flower which stands for growth and fertility- so much that even the world is said to be continually reborn from a lotus which comes out of the navel of Vishnu.


Ujjain, anonymous AE 3/8 karshapana, 'abisheka-Lakshmi txpe'
Weight: 3.10 gm., Diameter: 15x11 mm.
Lakshmi seated with feet parallel to each other, her right rests on her
      belly and her left on her leg; Lakshmi is flanked by two elephants
      which are sprinkling water on her head (abisheka Lakshmi).
Reference: Pieper 305 (plate coin) / BMC pl.XXXVI, nos.4-5
Abisheka is a late Vedic rite originally performed by anointing government officials at special occasions. In Hindu worship the abisheka ritual is particularly connected with Lakshmi, though it is also performed by other believers. 'Rudraabisheka' for example is peformed on Shiva lingams. As can be seen on this coin Lakshmi is frequently depicted with two elephants adoring her by pouring water over her head.


Ujjain, anonymous AE 1/8 karshapana, 'fish-holding Vasudhara'
Weight: 1.00 gm., Diameter: 8x8 mm.
Standing goddess Vasudhara holding a pair of fish with her outstretched
     right, left hand akimbo.; standard on right.
Ujjain symbol with extra circle in field.
Reference: Pieper 295 (plate coin)
The fish-holding goddess is known on coins and sculptural objects from Malwa, Vidarbha, Mathura, Kausambi and elsewhere and has been identified as Vasudhara, a goddess of wealth and auspiciousness.  Like Lakshmi she was popular among traders and others who searched protection and promotion for their diverse activities. Handa emphasizes the symbolic importance of the pair of fish "as one of the eight mangalika-chihnas 'auspicious signs' in literature".


Central India, AE 1/8 karshapana,'fish-holding Vasudhara'
Weight: 1.01 gm., Diameter: 8x8 mm.
Standing goddess Vasudhara holding a pair of fish with her outstretched
     right, left hand akimbo; she wears large earrings and pinned up hair (as
     if wearing a vessel on her head); svastika on the top left.
Lion standing to right
Reference: Pieper 452 (plate coin)
The provenance of this and the next coin is uncertain but may be assumed to be in western Malwa or closely linked regions south of the Narmada.


Central India, AE 1/8 karshapana, 'fish-holding Vasudhara'
Weight: 1.17 gm., Diameter: 11x8 mm.
Standing goddess Vasudhara holding a pair of fish with her outstretched
     right, left hand akimbo; her hair is pinned up (as if wearing a vessel on
     her head; two crescent-like devices on the left.
Reference: Pieper 453 (plate coin)


Ujjain, AE 1/4 karshapanaa, 'snake holding deity'
Weight: 2.83 gm., Diameter: 11x11 mm.
Frontally facing female figure, her left arm akimbo, her right raised hand holding
     an uncertain object; on the left is a curved object like a snake
    coming from a large basket that is standing at the bottom.
Ujjain symbol.
Reference: Pieper 296 (plate coin)
It is possible that this is also a depiction of 'fish-holding' Vasudhara but there are some differences. The uplifted right is unusual and the fact that the deity would be holding one of the two fish directly in her hand seems to be unusual as well. Usually Vasudhara is holding the pair of fish with a string so that they are hanging below her outstretched hand. To me it looks more as if she was holding a snake in her hand and the curved object on left as well bears more resemblance to a snake. And the basket which is standing at the bottom reminds one of the baskets in which snake charmers keep their snakes. If this interpretation was true, the depicted figure might be a serpent goddess such as Manasa who is particularly worshipped in Bengal but also in other parts of northern and north-eastern India.


Ujjain, anonymous AE 3/8 karshapana, 'Annapurna type'
Weight: 3.17 gm., Diameter: 17x15 mm.
Frontally standing female figure holding a vase or pot in her upraised right
     hand, left akimbo; 6-armed symbol on top left; horizontally placed
     Indradhvaja and taurine on bottom left; railed tree on right.
Double-orbed Ujjain symbol.
Reference: Pieper 294 (plate coin) /BMC pl.XXXVII, no.21
Handa suggested that the female on this coin may represent Annapurna (ICS-NL, 51, p.35). Annapurna is the Hindu goddess of nourishment, food, harvest and agriculture and hence very popular in the villages and rural regions of India. She is regarded as another form of Parvati, the consort of Shiva. Annapurna is depicted holding a bowl or pot filled with grain or other food. Her main temple stands in Varanasi but others are known at many other places among them a very famous one at Indore in Madhya Pradesh.


Ujjain, anonymous AE 3/4 karshapana, 'taurine-holding deity'
Weight: 3.00gm., Diameter: 15x14 mm.
Frontally standing female figure holding taurine in raised left, right akimbo;
     chakra above Ujjain symbol on left; svastika above railed tree on right.
Ujjain symbol with a svastika in each orb.
Reference: Pieper 298 (plate coin)/ BMC pl.XXXVII, no.8
The identity of this taurine holding female remains uncertain at the moment.


Ujjain, anonymous AE 1/4 karshapana, 'six-headed Shashthi type'
Weight: 1.95 gm., Diameter: 14x12 mm.
Simplified female figure frontally standing, both arms hanging down; railed
     tree on right; river line at the bottom.
Ujjain symbol with svastika in each angle.
Reference: Pieper 300 (plate coin)
Referring to depictions of six-headed Shashthi on some Yaudheya coins Devendra Handa takes the five dots around the main head of the female on this coin type as additional heads and identifies her  as Shashthi on this Ujjain type as well (ICS-NL, 51, p.34).


Ujjain, anonymous AE 3/8 karshapana, 'shoulder decorated deity'
Weight: 3.30 gm., Diameter: 15x15 mm.
In square incuse standing human on left with rings (bracelets) around the
     shoulders; Ujjain symbol in center; hand or footprint symbol on right;
     horizontally placed railed tree at top; river at the bottom.
Reference: Pieper 297 (plate coin)
The identity of this peculiar human figure with the circles / rings/ ornaments at the shoulders is still open.


Ujjain, anonymous AE 3/8 karshapana,'Balarama & ass-demon'
Weight: 3.86 gm., Diameter: 15x14 mm.
Human figure on left holding stick and kamandalu standing towards a 
     horse-like animal which faces him from right; palm tree on right; Ujjain
     symbol on top; a taurine above the animal and taurine and svastika at
     the bottom.
Ujjain symbol with a svastika in each orb and taurines in the angles.
Reference: Pieper 346
In a note to the SACG website Shailendra Bhandare suggested the scene on this coin representing the mythical story of 'Balarama killing the ass demon' and the depiction seems to reflect that story indeed quite well- even if the deity on this coin has no specific Vaishnavite attributes. We are told that there had been a large grove where there were palmyras bearing delicious fruits. But nobody dared to go there because the site was guarded by Dhenuka, a demon in the form of an ass. Finally Balarama, inseparable companion of Krishna, killed the demon by crashing him against one of the palm trees. In his contribution to 'Between the Empires' Bhandare discusses the story of 'Balarama killing the ass-demon' in the context of the coinage of Erikachha where the palm-tree and ass had been characteristic coin devices. Typologically this coin type may thus rather belong to Erikachha than to Ujjain.


Ujjain, anonymous AE, 'Brahma type'
Weight: 2.84 gm., Diameter: 14x14 mm.
Standing male figure holding long curved staff and kamandalu (water-pot)
     Ujjain symbol on top left and Brahmi legend 'bramha' on top right.
Six-arched chaitya (hill/ multiarched structure) with indistict object on top;
    indistinct Brahmi legend below the chaitya .
Reference: Pieper 410 (plate coin)
In ICS-NL, no.50, p.31-32, Devendra Handa identified the deity on this coin type as Brahma as it is clearly indicated by the Brahmi legend on the right top corner of the obverse. Handa discusses the possibility that the object on top of the chaitya on reverse might be a swan (vahana or vehicle of Brahma) on post. Taking the chaitya symbol representing a temple in this case, it thus might be a temple dedicated to god Brahma. Brahma, creator of the universe, is part of the Hindu trinity together with Vishnu and Shiva. Although usually Brahma is represented as a four-armed deity with certain specific attributes, one cannot expect these features here, as the iconography was not yet developed that far and nowhere on these early coins do we see multi-armed deities. Staff and kamandalu (water-pot) are unspecific attributes which Brahma shares with other deities.


Ujjain, anonymous AE 3/8 karshapana, 'Brahma type'
Weight: 3.28 gm., Diameter: 15x13 mm.
Like the previous specimen but reverse design blank or corroded.
Reference: Pieper 411 (plate coin)


Ujjain, anonymous AE 1/4 karshapana, 'standing couple type'
Weight: 2.81 gm., Diameter: 17x15 mm.
Standing male and female human figure side by side holding hands, female's
     right hand raised to her head, male's left akimbo, hair decorations
     on both sides of the male's head; river at the bottom.
Ujjain symbol with a taurine in each orb.
Reference: Pieper 302 (plate coin)/ BMC pl.XXXVI, nos.1-3
Several attempts have been made in the past to identify the two figures on this coin type. Amongst other explanations some researchers have tried to interpret the scene as representing the marriage of Shiva and Parvati but there is no clear evidence for any such definite attribution. In the abscence of any specific attributes one can only describe the scene as a depiction of a closely attached human couple.


Ujjain region, c/m anonymous AE 1/2 karshapana
Weight: 3.96 gm., Diameter: 17x17 mm.
Standing male figure holding kamandalu (water-pot) and danda (stick);
    wheel above six-armed symbol on left; three-arched hill with crescent
    on top right; countermark on top right depicting a bull with svastika and
Blank reverse.
Reference: Pieper 417 (plate coin) / see Kothari 267 for undertype


Ujjain region, c/m anonymous AE karshapana
Weight: 7.64 gm., Diameter: 21x21 mm.
Countermark (=standing human figure holding stick and kamandalu) on the
     blank reverse of an Ujjain region coin.
Worn traces of undertype: three-arched hill, Ujjain symbol, six-armed-
     symbol and river.
Reference: Pieper 418 (plate coin) / compare Kothari 325


Ujjain region, c/m anonymous AE 1/2 karshapana
Weight: 5.13 gm., Diameter: 16x15 mm.
Countermark (=standing human figure, his left akimbo, his right raised;
     Indradhvaja on left).
Faint traces of worn undertype of which Ujjain symbol and parts of a tree
     are visible.
Reference: Pieper 421 (plate coin) / see Kothari 286
Such human figure countermarks (the 'Shiva-like' depiction of the previous coin as also the 'man + Indradhvaja' of this coin) occur on a number of different coin types from western and from eastern Malwa.
More Ujjain Coins: page 1, page 3 and page 4
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