Priceless collection

Priceless collection

Glimpse of the past: Students viewing coins and other artefacts displayed at an exhibition at Karnataka Numismatic Society in Bengaluru. DH Photos/ Anup R Thippeswamy

Old coins are synonymous with academics and history. They not only illustrate the economic and political scenarios of the bygone era but also shed light upon the spirituality of the kings. 

Numismatist PK Keshava Murthy, who has held about 150 exhibitions all over the country, began collecting coins in 1988. Over the years, he has made an inexhaustible assortment of rare coins issued by various kings; currency notes and coins of India and other countries, postal stamps and many other tokens of interest. His recent exhibition held in Bengaluru was organised by the Karnataka Numismatic Society of which he is a committee member.

“It is exciting to have coins as old as 2500 years,” he said as he took us through the array of his commemorative coins which were displayed with narratives. Coins dating back to the first century AD, among the earliest ones of our state, were on display. These were issued by kings Mulananda, Chutukulananda and Sadakana Kalalaya Maharathi. Images of arched hill, tree, bull and some religious symbols can be seen on the coins along with inscribed Brahmi legend.

Coins made of gold, silver, copper, lead and brass issued by the Hoysala, Chalukya, Ganga, Kadamba dynasties; Bijapur, Bahmani sultanates; Vijayanagar empire and those of Hyder Ali, Tipu Sultan and Mysore Wadiyars were presented in chronological order. Details of each coin such as the name of the king who issued it and its weight, diameter and the material used are mentioned which makes the collection interesting and coherent to the visitors.

A brief account of the patterns and scriptures etched on the obverse and reverse sides of the coin and other noteworthy attributes are also pointed out. “These standards are characteristic to a particular king or kingdom, and by apprehending them, we can set apart the authentic ones from the counterfeits,” Murthy explains.

Impressive engravings

Copper coins of the Vijayanagar empire have images of the bull, garuda and other deities with Devanagari and Kannada legends inscribed on them. A gold Varaha coin weighing 3.40 g with the image of a flying gandaberunda and another Varaha coin weighing 1.7 g with a walking gandaberunda figure, both issued by the Vijayanagar king Achyutaraya, are intricate and eye-catching. Another gold coin named Padmatanka with a beautiful lotus motif weighing 4 g issued by the Yadava king Ramachandra is impressive.

Copper coins of the Bahmani Sultans are called Gani. A silver coin named Larin issued by Ali Adil Shah II of the Adil Shahi Dynasty is quite unique as it is shaped like a hairpin and on its reverse, there is Persian legend. There is a gold pagoda issued by Hyder Ali weighing 3.40 g, which initially had an image of Shiva-Parvathi, but was eventually altered by Tipu Sultan to depict Persian scriptures on both sides.

When Mysore was a small kingdom, the Vijayanagar coins were in circulation and Mysore kings also minted coins of Vijayanagar standard. The first Mysore king to mint coins with different motifs was Kanteerava Narasa Raja Wadiyar. Later, coins minted during the rule of Dewan Purnaiah and Krishna Raja Wadiyar III feature different designs with Kannada, Persian and English legends inscribed on them. A gold fanam, Gidda Kantihana, has a diameter of 5 mm and weighs between 0.33 and 0.38 g. The gold fanams issued by Kanteerava Narasa Raja Wadiyar have Narasimha and Shiva-Parvathi figures on the obverse and Nagari legend on the reverse.

Copper coins in denominations of 5, 10 and 20 are available in his collection. Sardula — elephant and lion figures — are found on the obverse side. The reverse side has Krishna figure in the centre within a circle surrounded by the inscriptions — mayilukasu in Kannada, cash in English, Zarb Mysore in Persian. Copper coins with Kannada numerals 1 to 33, denoting different denominations, were issued by Krishna Raja Wadiyar III. On the reverse, these coins have a checkered pattern with different symbols. 

In the early-to-mid 19th century, a majority of Indian states had become subsidiary of the British and many had officially come under their protection. Thus with the rise of the British rule, the coinage scheme too underwent modifications. Murthy’s collections have many coins belonging to the princely states. Some of these coins reflect the inclinations of the rulers of these states. Like, in 1882, Alwar State issued silver one rupee coin with Queen Victoria figure. Mewar also issued a coin with ‘Dosthi Londhon’ meaning ‘friendship with London’ inscribed on the reverse.

Besides these coins, Keshava Murthy has coins from 5th century BC, Greek and Roman coins, coins of Mughal Era, pre-independence British and Portuguese coins, and post-independence Indian coins and currency notes that were in circulation earlier.

Through exhibitions, and visits to educational institutions and cultural/literary congregations, he has been propagating his knowledge. His collection is a treasure trove of insightful and timeless pieces and fosters historical temper.