Dilip Rajgor. Punchmarked Coins of Early Historic India
Reesha Books International, California, 2001
221pp plus 16 black & white plates US$70.00 hard covers
This book covers the silver punchmarked coinages of India from their origin c.600 BC to the time of the rise of Magadha c.400 BC. It fills the gap in the modern cataloguing of ancient Indian coins which was left after the volume of punchmarked coins of the Magadha-Mauryan period published in 1985 by Gupta and Hardaker.
The author claims this volume was the outcome of three years of tours collecting data in the field in 1992-1995, but it is in fact a much more complete and thorough work than this implies, as it also adds in all relevant coins that other authors have published over the years. It is thus set to become a standard work of reference for the series. Scholars, collectors and archaeologists will all welcome the filling of this gap. Our knowledge of the early punchmarked coinages of ancient India has grown from almost nothing in the 1930s, when pioneers like Durga Prasad published non-imperial types of coins for the first time. Since then the quest for objects from the past, whether from controlled excavation, metal detectors, or just chance finds, has vastly increased the number of types known. It is opportune now to harness all these finds and attempt to bring some order to them.
Dr. Rajgor has mastered his subject admirably, even though a lifelong study would not be sufficient to resolve all the problems that arise with the punchmarked series. The book comprises 22 pages of introductory text followed by a catalogue of all known types which are listed firstly under modern state headings, then within each modern state are listed the coins of what are assumed to be the ancient states. Symbols are drawn for all types in tabular form which greatly eases identification. The symbols have been specially drawn by Shailendra Bhandare whose work the reviewer can personally vouch for as of the highest possible standard of accuracy. Each type is given an estimated rarity, although in many cases this is actually a generalised expression of the rarity of the series as a whole. Each series is given an estimated date; in many cases this is a wide bracket as very little precise information on dating is available. Sixteen pages at the end show good quality photographs of selected coins. Some series are left without any photographic illustrations, presumably because no coins were available for photography.
The author's archaeological background enables him to put early coinage in its economic setting, tracing the nature of trading prior to the introduction of coinage, as well as discussing the various terms found in Vedic literature that might pertain to weights and metals. The metrological table shows the theoretical weights of the three main weight systems that are recorded in the ancient literature, although as other workers have noted, the correspondence between these weights and the actual observed coin weights is poor. There is a very useful review of minting techniques, where distinction is made between flans produced by casting droplets and hammering out metal sheets. Coming to symbology, the author tabulates the symbols which seem to remain constant within the issues of individual janapadas and can therefore be claimed as the hallmarks of those states. However his table glosses over the complexity of the subject. For example the supposed symbol for Vanga actually fails to occur on seven of the eleven listed types, while six of these types actually bear the sun and six-armed symbol which are the hallmarks of Magadha.
Such observations bring out a mild criticism - that all loose ends are rather too neatly tied up. Rajgor attributes all the coin types to janapadas - nothing is left in doubt. The reality may be more muddled, but at least the author provides the names of hoards for each Janapada that enable the attributions to be made. (The details of these hoards are not always available so a certain amount has to be taken on trust). The real problem that the boundaries of the ancient states are not known to us with any precision and they would in any case have varied in time as political power waxed and waned amongst rival factions. The act of making an attribution in print does not, unfortunately, confirm it as fact, but on past experience we can be sure all these attributions will be quoted as fact in dealers' lists, and, perhaps more seriously, used by scholars and archaeologists in support of their studies.
As an example of one of the unsolved problems we can cite the confusion in separating coins of Kashi and Kosala states. Rajgor defines three state symbols for Kashi and three others for Kosala (fig.1). He mentions the similarity of symbols on the later issues of Kashi with those of Kosala Janapada. However he does not point out that the so-called state symbols of Kashi can be seen on coins that also bear the state symbols of Kosala, e.g. on coins 771-789, 886-888, 891-892, and that such coins do not seem to come at the tail end of the series, but somewhere in the middle. To present the two series as clearly separated is surely dodging the issue.
However in a catalogue of this kind there does have to be a limit to the amount of discussion that can be devoted to the polemics of the subject. The primary aim is to get the coins published and perhaps hope that this in itself will stimulate discussion. Thus on the date of the introduction of coinage to India, Rajgor discusses briefly the different dates that have been proposed and then opts for the middle path as argued by Gupta and Hardaker (1985). Likewise the date of Buddha's nirvana is accepted at 486 BC without comment.
This Catalogue is supposed to terminate at c.400 BC on the rise of the Magadha empire. One rather serious criticism of the work is that the author has included a number of non-Imperial coin series which clearly belong to a later period. After the decline of Mauryan power in India independent states rose again which, for a short period, coined in a style somewhat reminiscent of the pre-Mauryan coinages. Such coins can usually be set apart if they are diestruck and their symbology borrows from the Mauryan repertoire. As opposed to coins struck with a single punchmark (discernible from its size being smaller than the flan), coins struck from dies did not begin in India until the Indo-Greek period, which comes at the end of the Mauryan age, and well after the pre-Mauryan coinages. Thus coins which show large dies whose edges fall beyond the flan, and which show double-sided die striking, will certainly not be pre-Mauryan. Such are the coins attributed by Rajgor to Haryana from the Babyal hoard, which he dates, without any explanation, to c.450-300 BC. Some of these coins also show a variant of the Mauryan six-armed symbol on the reverse thus confirming their late date.
Other series whose early dating the reviewer would question are (a) the Surashtra series (Series 18 in the Catalogue), which are single die coins including complex, delicate symbols such as two elephants sprinkling Lakshmi, and tree-in-railing with bull symbols borrowed from the Mauryan period, (b) the Kuru coins (Series 68) which are single die with Mauryan-inspired symbols such as elephant with rider, (c) Panchala coins (Series 73) likewise single die using Mauryan symbols, (d) Shurasena coins (Series 76) which are the "fish-lion" coins employing single dies with tiny Mauryan adjunct symbols such as taurines and trisceles not seen in the early period.
Collectors should be wary of the proliferation of small variants classed as separate types in the catalogue. It is often difficult to know when a variation on a symbol is intentional or simply the result of lack of precision in the minds of the engravers. Presence or absence of pellets on symbols is often difficult to interpret, as for example the central pellet on the bent bar coins of Gandhara, or on the Kosala state symbol. Likewise some of the variations in the Narhan coins or the fish-lion series, may just be poorly controlled workmanship.
The book has a few other curiosities. The coins of Series 80 from Ayodhya seem to be identical in weight, fabric and symbology to those of Series 33 (the so-called Narhan coins). The "Identification Guide" in the Introduction, illustrating one coin from each series, is a useful concept except that only 30 of the 82 series are covered and they are in random order.
A separate price guide comes with the book. This is perhaps a good idea, as the prices may become out-of-date and the loose guide might be replaced with a revised one without having to purchase a new book. Prices are estimated in US dollars in fine and very fine, except for very rare coins which are not valued. However, as has been shown from other attempts to place values on coins in standard catalogues, (e.g. in works by Mitchiner) the marketplace sets its own prices almost regardless of the hypothetical values in this kind of catalogue.
Any work as ambitious as this is bound to have its faults. That cannot detract from the thorough research and careful attention to detail which will ensure the usefulness of Dr. Rajgor's efforts for many years to come. The book will certainly be a must for all numismatists interested in early India but it also deserves to reach a wider market for archaeologists and historians.
Terry Hardaker, Oxford