History and lineage of coins on display

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By Staff Reporter
  • Published 26.02.04

Feb. 26: It’s not everyday that one meets numismatists who have collected coins from the Ahom period and even prior to that era.

Students of Gauhati University recently got a chance to brush up their knowledge of the history and lineage of coins. Numismatist Nicholas Rhodes from London and S.K. Bose from Assam spoke at a seminar on “The Coinage of Assam”, organised by the department of history on the Academic Staff College premises.

Both Rhodes and Bose had recently co-authored a seminal work on the coins of Assam. The book, The Coinage of Assam, Volume 1, which hit the stands December last year, is already a hit with all historians and students alike.

Rhodes, who is in reality an actuary by profession, in Singapore, pepped up the lecture with his humour and his wide knowledge in this field. Bose too got into this field accidentally when he has been associated with the State Bank of India for a number of years.

Both speakers accentuated their lectures with numerous slides and demonstrations of the many coins that they had accumulated over the years. Rhodes himself has more than 1,000 coins of the Ahom era itself and over 400 coins from Tripura.

Rhodes dwelt on the subject of Ahom coins. He specified on the royal insignia that were depicted in the coins and the inscriptions were in the local Ahom language and in the Brahmi script.

He also demonstrated before the packed hall the coins inscribed in Assamese, Bengali and even in Urdu.

Some very interesting aspects of the Assamese coins were brought to the fore by these two masters of numismatics. “One such compelling element of the Ahom period coins is its octagonal shape. This particular appearance is a rare and a totally unique aspect as nowhere in the world there has ever been any octagonal coins. Another unique feature is the presence of the winged lion in most of the coins,” said Rhodes.

“The winged lion, that is inscribed in some of the coins, is a very interesting depiction”, points out Rhodes. “This draws out certain parallels between the Ahom era and the Nepalese kingdom, which too had winged lions inscribed on their coins,” he elaborates.

Bose dwelt on the coinage of the pre Ahom period. He spoke on the links between the coins of that period of the region with coins of other kingdoms, especially that of the neighbouring Cooch Behar kingdom.

“Coins of any particular region shed a lot of light on the history of the place, be it political, social or economic”, says Rhodes.

Though the seminar was meant exclusively for the students and faculty of the history department of the university, professors from various other colleges to attended it.

“This is a very interesting field as very nominal work has been done about coins,” points out Dipankar Banerjee, a professor of history from GU. “Thanks to the efforts of both Rhodes and Bose, we now have the first ever extensive book on the history of coins of Assam,” he continues. Banerjee also spoke on the occasion.

The seminar ended with a lively interactive session between both the guest speakers and the audience.

Rhodes was accompanied by his wife, who is a Sikkimese by birth. Both the speakers and passionate coin collectors are already working on the next volume of their book, which they hope to publish soon.