No takers for dummy coins - Security issue keeps artefacts out of sight at museum

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  • Published 25.11.13
A gold coin in the museum’s collection

Bhubaneswar, Nov. 24: Odisha State Museum is a treasure trove of rare and priceless coins, but security issues and lack of trained guides seem to have taken the sheen off it.

Despite a 12,882-strong collection — that was in circulation between 6th century BC and 6th century AD — the museum displays plaster-of-Paris replicas that, needless to say, fail to attract visitors. The original ones, which include a thousand gold coins, have been stashed away for security reasons, said an official.

Sources, however, said the original coins were gathering dust in iron chests inside a storeroom that was waiting to be converted into a strong room. “The museum authorities had requested the state government to construct a strong room to ensure fool-proof security, but nothing has been done so far,” a museum official told The Telegraph.

Though there are five security guards, only two of them are permanent. This is grossly inadequate for the 1.22 lakh-plus sqft building, which also lacks closed circuit television cameras. Further, due to absence of trained guides, who could have explained the importance and antiquity of the coins to visitors, the treasure has failed to attract due attention. Display boards meant to explain their significance are also too technical for lay visitors.

The repository boasts of 6th century BC silver punch-marked coins, the oldest in the collection, of different shapes and sizes and bearing various symbols such as moon, sun, tree, river, mountain and animal figures. However, they do not have any inscriptions. There are also some coins marking rulers of different dynasties of Odisha apart from the ones issued during the Mughal and British eras.

“Trained persons should be available at the numismatics gallery to explain the significance of the collection. But they have engaged Class-IV employees who know nothing about the coins,” said Sujata Rath, a teacher, who recently visited the museum.

The museum had collected gold coins from different historical sites in the past. They were found from Baripada and Balasore in north Odisha, and areas such as Jagamara, Khandagiri and Sisupalgarh in the state capital. A number of Kushan era coins were found in Puri district in 1895.

While the Sarabhapuriya coins made of gold belonging to rulers such as Mahendraditya, Kramaditya and Prasanna Matra of 6th to 7th century AD were discovered from undivided Kalahandi and Cuttack districts, Kalachuri coins (gold, silver and copper) of Kalachuri rulers (1st to 12th century AD) were found in Balangir, Sonepur and Ganjam districts. Similarly, Chakrakotta gold coins (10th-12th century AD) belonging to the Naga dynasty were found from different parts of the undivided Koraput district.

The famous Gandibedha coins of 6th-7th century AD, recovered from Gandibedha village near Bhadrak, were issued by a local king, Sri Nanda, whose name is inscribed on the coins. The beautiful coins of the Guptas with their fine execution of motifs, bearing a seated goddess Lakshmi are an attraction at the museum.

Indo-Scythian coins of the Saka rulers belonging to 200 BC are made of copper and silver. Besides Greek deities, these coins also introduced Abhisheka Lakshmi on their reverse side. Indo-Greek coins in the same period had given a new dimension to Indian coinage by putting the helmeted bust of their rulers on their faces. Most Indo-Greek coins used both Greek inscriptions and Prakrit language.

All these rare pieces are, however, out of bounds for visitors. Curators of the museum agreed that for such a rich collection, security has been a neglected area.

“I don’t know how they are keeping the coins, but they should have a proper strong room,” said K.K. Basa, anthropology professor at Utkal University and former director of Indian Museum in Calcutta.

Culture director and superintendent-in-charge of the museum Sushil Kumar Das said: “We are going to have a strong room soon as we have many rare artefacts. We will also take steps to ensure that the rare collection of coins attract more visitors”.