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ANCIENT. INDIA, Kushans. Kanishka I. Circa 127/8-152 AD. AV Dinar (7.93 gm, 12h). FAONANAOFAO KA-NHFKI KOFANO, Kanishka standing facing, head turned left, flames on shoulder, holding standard in his left hand, sacrificing over altar to left / BODDO, Buddha, nimbate, standing facing, wearing samghati (a long pleated garment), his head with eyes wide open and large moustache, ashnisha on head, urna between eyebrows, his right hand is raised in the gesture of reassurance, abhayamudra, and he holds a pleat of his robe in his left hand; tamgha to right. For a detailed study and complete listing of Kanishka’s Buddha coins in both gold and copper, see Cribb, “Kanishka’s Buddha image coins revisited,” Silk Road Art and Archaeology 6. The three previously recorded Buddha gold dinars are as follows: MK 66 = BMC 16 (same obverse die); Tanabe, Silk Road Coins ­ The Hirayama Collection, 51 and cover coin (same reverse die); and Museum of Fine Arts Bulletin, Boston 1965, pg. 147, fig. 10 (same reverse die; stolen and destroyed, 1978). A fourth dinar, in a private collection, was recently published by O. Bopearachichi in From Oxus to India (Lattes, 2002). Good VF, a few light marks. The fourth extant Buddha dinar, the Boston specimen having been lost. ($200,000)

The name Kushan derives from the Chinese term Kouei-chouang, used to describe one branch of the Yueh Chi, a loose confederation of Indo-European people who had been living in northwestern China until they were driven west by the Turko-Mongol Hsiug-nu, in about 170 BC. The Yueh Chi reached Baktria in the second century BC and by the first century AD were united under king Kujula. Gradually wresting control of the area from the Scytho-Parthians, the Yueh Chi moved south into the northwest Indian region of Gandhara, today parts of Pakistan and Afghanistan. With its capital established near Kabul, the Kushan Empire was soon acknowledged as great a power as China, Rome, and Parthia.

Under Kanishka, the third king, the Kushan Empire reached its greatest extent, a territory ranging from central Asia into northern India as far east as Benares and as far south as Sanchi. The empire was administered from two capitals: Peshawar near the Khyber Pass, and Mathura in northern India. It was a period of great wealth marked by extensive mercantile activities, seagoing trade and commerce along the Silk Route to China. This multi-ethnic empire, tolerant of religious differences, produced an eclectic culture vividly expressive in the visual arts. Coin reverses as well as artifacts from the Gandhara and Mothura schools of art exhibit deities of Greek, Roman, Iranian, and Hindu mythologies and some of the earliest representations of the Buddha.

Buddhism is based on the teaching of Siddhartha Gautama, commonly known as The Buddha, who lived approximately 563 to 483 BC. The word Buddha, meaning awakened or enlightened one, is a title, not a proper name. Siddhartha Gautama was born a prince in the kingdom Sakyas situated on what is now the border area between India and Nepal. At the age of 29, desiring to know the path that leads to the ending of all impermanence and anguish, and to ensure his permanent well-being, he renounced everything of the world, becoming a homeless ascetic, vowing to find the path to ultimate enlightenment and resolving to teach others what he had discovered about the Four Noble Truths and the chain of causation to achieve Nirvana.

Kanishka, a fervent Buddhist, is best remembered today for sponsoring the first great Buddhist conference at Kanish Vihar, that led to the adoption and promotion of Mahayana Buddhism, a school of thought that revered the life of Buddha as much as his spiritual teaching. The great bronze plaques that recorded the conference proceedings have never been found, but we are fortunate to have a report of the conference from the Chinese scholar Hien Tsang. The Buddha coinage was probably struck as a special issue in conjunction with the conference, and the image of Buddha would have made a stunning impact at the time. Buddha had previously only been represented in symbolic form, but under Kanishka the fusion of Greek and Indian culture led to the portrayal of Buddha in human form. Kanishka’s coins were among these first representations and provide the earliest firmly datable images of the Buddha in any artistic medium.

Significantly, our coin provides proof that the known Buddha dinars are from just one closely linked issue. Two varieties of the Buddha dinar are known, with either a single halo (British Museum specimen) or a double halo (Hirayama and Boston specimens). Our example, struck from the same obverse die as the British Museum piece and the same reverse die as the Hirayama and Boston examples, now links all known specimens, proving they were struck in a single issue at just one mint.


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