Account of Some Ancient Coins

To the Secretary of the Ceylon Asiatic Society.

SIR, – The accompanying 25 copper coins; which I have the honor to present to the Society, form part of a hoard discovered at Calpentyn, on the 6th of January 1839, by some Moormen, while employed in digging a grave in the burial ground attached to their principal Mosque in the town. They were found in a chatty buried in the earth, at the depth of three feet from the surface; and their number was upwards of 5,000. I have no reason to suspect them to have been the offerings of devotees to the Mosque, which was founded only since the Dutch conquest. It is very probable that they were buried on the spot by the original owner for safety’s sake, as no practice was at one time more common amongst the natives than that of hiding their treasures in the earth.

As the Society would, no doubt, wish to be furnished with some account of the origin and history of the coins in question, I beg to submit a few remarks, which, brief and imperfect as they are, may possibly tend to assist any further researches which may be made.

The coins in question, are manifestly of very great antiquity and appear to have been in extensive circulation, for they are not only frequently met with in Ceylon, but also almost in every part of the south of India. They are found either of gold, or copper. The gold coins, however, are very scarce, and the metal rather inferior, while the copper ones occur in abundance, and the metal is considered so superior, that they are much sought for by goldsmiths for mixing them with gold, in the manufacture of Tambac rings.

As it is usual with the ignorant portion of the natives to attribute the formation of all things, of which the origin is lost in the obscurity of antiquity, to demons, they call these coins by the names of Pai kash, or the demon’s money, and Paiperuman kash, or the demon king’s money. I have also heard some call them Ravanen hash or Ravana’s money.

The characters stamped on them are Nagari or Hindi; but my very slight acquaintance with those characters will not permit of my making any attempt at decyphering and translating them. The following note by the late Mr. Prinsep, Secretary of the Calcutta Asiatic Society, on two coins of this description, one gold, and the other copper, which I transmitted to that institution, through the late lamented Governor SIR Wilmot Horton, however, throw some light on them, and I have therefore taken the liberty to transcribe it here.

“The two coins transmitted by His Excellency the Governor of Ceylon, belong to the class described by Mr. Wilson in the seventeenth volume of the Rescarches, and depicted on plate V., figures 109 to 113, which are stated, like the present coins, to have been found by Colonel Mackenzie, at Depaldinna, No. 3, according almost exactly with the present copper coin, is a drawing of one found at Kandya in Ceylon.”

“Mr. Wilson does not attempt to explain them further, than that they evidently belong to a Hindoo dynasty, either on the Island of Ceylon, or in the south of the peninsula. The letters are distinctly Hindi in all, though it is difficult to make out their purpose. The word “sri” is also evident in all of them.


“No. 1. A gold coin, weighing 60 grains.

Obverse. A male figure, seated in the Indian manner with dhoti. (The sitting figure is no doubt Hanuman. S. C. C.) Left hand raised, and face looking to the left on the side.

The Nagari characters Sri Lankeswar? (The prosperous Lord of Lanka or Ceylon. S. C. C.)

Reverse. A rude standing figure, (The standing figure is Vishnu.) with a flowing robe,

right hand extended over two emblems. Left hand supporting a crown or globe? Beneath a scroll, with circles or flowers on the right.

No. 2. A copper coin very similar, but more rude. The inscription on the observe is Srignyadymth? On the reverse, the standing figure as before.

“In Davy’s Ceylon, p. 245, will be found a drawing, of an antique gold coin, called a Dambadinia Rhatra (rathra gold,) which was found in the neighbourhood of Dambadinia, in the Seven Korles, a place of royal residence, (no doubt identical with Dipaldinna of Colonel Mackenzie). The drawing of this coin is precisely similar to those of Plate V. and to the one now before the Society, and so is the copper coin alluded to by Davy, as the Dambadinia chally (chally, means copper.)

“Davy does not seem to have comprehended either the devices, or the characters on his coin, for he has reversed the engraving of the side bearing the inscription, and he supposes both to be mere hieroglyphics. To an eye accustomed to such objects, however, the standing and sitting figures are very evident, as are the Nagari characters, although their purport is not so clear; indeed, of the half dozen, to which we can now refer, no two seem to bear the same name; nor are we acquainted sufficiently with the ancient history of Ceylon, to be able to fill up the doubtful names of the coins from any well-certified list of princes of Hindu dynasties in Ceylon, of the Sooreawanse (or Surybanse) race.”

The Singhalese, as stated by Dr. Davy, do call these coins by the names of “Dambadeniya Ratran” and “Dambadeniya challe” and persuade themselves that they were struck at Dambadeniya, when it was the capital of their kings in the 13th century; but several circumstances lead me to doubt the truth of this statement: first, the use of the Nagari instead of the Pali or Singhalese characters in the inscriptions; secondly, the figures of Hindoo deities being stamped on them, and not the device of either the sun, or lion, which were the peculiar arms of the Wijayan Sovereigns; and lastly, the omission of all mention in the history of the Kings who reigned at Dambadeniya, regarding the establishment of a mint there, under their Government. While, however, I reject the claims of the Singhalese to a Singhalese origin of these coins, I am sorry I have nothing certain to offer in its room. If a conjecture may be hazarded, I should be inclined to trace their origin to some of the Tamil Kings who had possession of the Island at one time. On my showing one of the coins to a Hindoo goldsmith from Kailpatnam, a few years ago, he informed me, that it was supposed in his part of the country to have been the coinage of a certain Chola prince, named Allala. May it not be possible that this Allala was the Ellala or Ellaro of the Singhalese, who “invading this island from the Chola country, for the purpose of usurping the sovereignty, and putting to death the reigning King Aselo, ruled over the kingdom for forty years (Turnour’s Mahawanso, p. 128.),” and who might have struck the coins in question, in commemoration of his splendid conquests in Ceylon. If this hypothesis could be admitted, it would fix the date of these coins between the years B. C. 205 and 161.

Wishing your Society every success in the prosecution of its laudable objects.

I remain, Sir,

Your obedient humble servant,


Calpentyn, September 8, 1845.