India’s Golden Age

Every culture or civilisation has a period termed its “golden age” and for India that was between the fourth and sixth century, the Gupta dynasty which covered most of modern India. The Guptas were prolific minters of gold coins and some of great beauty. The coins were named the dinara after the Roman denarius aureus– a reflection of Indian trading contacts with the West and the export of Roman coinage as bullion to India. However they were not a copy of Roman coins but completely Idianised and closely followed the concept of a universal monarch or ideal ruler. The original coins adopted the standard Roman weight of 8 grams but this was not very acceptable so the Guptas minted coins in a standard Indian weight called Suvarna around 9.2 grams. It must me remembered at this time the three world powers were the Roman Empire , the Byzantine Empire from  modern day Iran and the third the Indian Empire under the Guptas

We are at a period of time where religion in India was at a crossroads and the Guptas  were said to be responsible for patronizing a new temple based religion recognized as Hinduism. However, Kamuragupta  ( AD415-455) still practiced ancient Vedic rituals

Kgupta horse obv

Commemorating King Kumaragupta's horse sacrifice

Normally gold coins would feature the king or ruler on the obverse of the coin but this coin of King Kumaragupta I features a magnificent tethered stallion ordained with banners and ribbons. It symbolises the ashvamedha ( horse sacrifice) the Vedic ritual of legitimizing the conquests of a honourable and pious king. The reverse features the queen with ritual instruments for the ceremony. The Sanskrit around the rim says “King Kamuragupta the supreme lord who has conquered his enemies”

The Ashvamedha could only be conducted by a king. Its object was the acquisition of power and glory, the sovereignty over neighbouring provinces, and general prosperity of the kingdom. This was immensely expensive and is usually only performed once in  a Kings life time.

The horse to be sacrificed must be a stallion, and it is ritually purified and the sacrificer whisper mantras into its ear. The horse is then set loose towards the North-East, to roam around wherever it chooses, for the period of one year. Anyone who should stop the horse is ritually cursed, and a dog is killed symbolic of the punishment for the sinners. If the horse wanders into neighbouring provinces hostile to the sacrificer, they must be subjugated. The wandering horse is attended by a hundred young men, sons of princes or high court officials, charged with guarding the horse from all dangers and inconvenience but manly to stop it mating thus keeping it pure.

Kgupta rev

Reverse with the queen and ceremonial instruments

After the return of the horse, more ceremonies are performed. It is and bathed and anointed with ghee by the chief queen and two other royal consorts. The chief queen anoints the fore-quarters, and the others the barrel and the hind-quarters. They also embellish the horse’s head, neck, and tail with golden ornaments.  The king performs the sacrifice with a golden Knife. It concludes with the eulogy “May this Steed bring us all-sustaining riches, wealth in good kine, good horses, manly offspring”

First Indian Coins

Based on the available evidence today, it appears that the concept coins as means of trading (money), was developed by three different civilizations independently and almost simultaneously. Coins were seen in Asia minor, India and China in 6th century BC. Most historians agree that the first coins of world were issued by Greeks living in Lydia and Ionia around 650 BC using Electrum a natural alloy of gold and silver . However some historians have suggested that coins were minted in India as long ago as the 8th Century BC.

What is beyond doubt that the first coins of India were minted just before 5th century BC in central India. Archaeological evidence confirms that the Indians were minting coins between 5th to 6th century BC. Coins are also mentioned  in ancient literature from 500 BC.

The Indians love of gold continues to this day as the world number one consumer of the precious metal.

Maurice Hall

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