Most important find for the Gupta Numismatics: The single coin of LION-SLAYER type was confirmed issued by SKANDAGUPTA

Shri Bal Manohar Jalan of Patna (Bihar) invited Late Shri Ramendra Pandey to visit Quila House his Personal Collect­ion of Antiquities. I also accompanied Ramendra Jee. Quila House collection possesses several Sculptures, Bronzes, Paintings, Inscriptions, Scripts etc. from India and abroad also; while visiting we came to know about the valuable coin collection preserved there.

Quila House, Patna, Bihar
Quila House, Patna, Bihar

While experiencing the gold coins of the celebrated Gupta Kings we come across a coin of Lion-slayer Type noted to be that of Skandagupta on the envelope. It created more and more interest since such a clear type of Skandagupta was never noticed by me before. It was a suggestion from Ramendra Jee to study the specimen in detail and be published in the forthcoming issue of the STHAPATYAM (Journal of the Indian Science of Architecture and Allied Sciences). Shri Bal Manohar Jalan, his wife Shrimati Manju and Shri Ramendra Pandey took a keen interest in beholding the coin in its details and deciphering the legends and motifs depicted on the specimen. Shri Jalan had provided the photographs and other pieces of information required for its deep study. The present article is an outcome of the endeavors pursued later on.

Shri Bal Manohar Jalan and his son Aditya Jalan
 'Quila House and the Jalan Collection' introduction booklet
(Left) Shri Bal Manohar Jalan and his son Aditya Jalan.
(Right) ‘Quila House and the Jalan Collection’ introduction booklet

A brief introduction booklet of Quila House is published by Shri Aditya Jalan in 2010 Printed at Batra Press, New Delhi, and prepared by Paula Gonzaga de Sa. It is noteworthy that Quila House had contributed coins from its collection to the treasure of the nucleus collection of the National Museum, New Delhi in the early times of nativity which is yet remembered while dealing with the history of the National Museum.1 At present the Jalan Collection of coins comprises Indian, Indo-Greek, Indo-Roman, and Indo-Scythian coins from 600 B.C.E. onwards with its main collection of Gupta gold coins, Punch-marked coins along with Bent-bar Punch-marked coins, Narhan coins and coins of the Kushanas.


With this brief note, the coin of Skandagupta concerned is illustrated and discussed.

Original Size Coin of Skandagupta
Original Size Coin of Skandagupta
ENLARGED Coin PHOTOGRAPH  of Skandagupta

Coins embossed with hunting scenes issued by the Gupta emperors known as yet been issued by Samudragupta who started with Tiger-slayer Type and then after him his son Chandragupta II shifted the Type for Lion-Slayer and this same type has been followed by Kumaragupta-I together with some other Types as Elephant-rider Lion-Slyer, Tiger-Slayer and Rhinoceros-Slayer.

Coin of Samudragupta depicting Hunting Scene - Tiger-Slayer Type Coin
Coins of Chandragupta-II depicting Hunting Scenes - Lion-Slayer Type Coins
Coins of Kumaragupta-I depicting Hunting Scenes

Skandagupta is very well known for his velour as described in inscriptions with special reference to his arms — Bhitari Inscription mentions expressions such as Jagati-bhujbaladhyo2 (who is amply endowed with strength of arms in the world), Bahubhyamavani-vijitya3 (who … with his two arms subjugated the earth) and Dorbhyama-dhara-kampita4 (by whose two arms the earth was shaken), whereas, Junagarh Inscription gives the expression as Svabhuja-janita-viryo5 (who has developed heroism by the strength of his arms). Skandagupta is mentioned on his Archer Type coins variety- A as well-versed in archery — Sudhanvi6.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2

Here on the present coin, Skandagupta is prominently depicted with a strength-full body showing his vigour. The king is depicted in an attitude facing to left stretching the string of the bow with an arrow aiming the Lion in front-facing to right on the coin on its obverse along with a legend from 12 to 2, to be read as (S)kandagupta (FIG. 1), there are no traces for visarga ‘h’ (:) at the end. Personal names without visarga have been in practice by Gupta Kings on the obverse of coins.

Fig. 3

The reverse bears the charming body of a deity with hallow (nimbate) sitting akimbo on Lion holding a noose in her right hand. Above her right arm there is a seen circle of 8 dots, the 2 above ones’ impressions are also visible, thus total being the 10 dots in orbit and one more at the centre (FIG. 2). Above this is depicted a foliated Full Vase (Purna-Kumbha) (FIG. 3). A beaded border is also seen from 9 to 11, the rest is out of the flan of the coin (FIG. 4A).

There seem to be some traces of legend on the left of the deity on the rear border (FIG. 4B), where the lower parts of the two Brahmi letters are very clearly seen. The first letter from the left is clear as two dots representing the Brahmi ‘ga’ (FIG. 4C) and the second letter lower part of ‘va’ is represented by the lower line (FIG. 4D) only, the rest being out of flan. Thus the letters ‘ga’ and ‘va’ lead us to suggest the reading to be as (bha) gava’.

It is interesting to note that Skandagupta bore the title (viruda) as ‘Paramabhagavata’ on his Archer Type silver coins of Western India of Class I, II and III.7 There are three types of legends with ‘Paramabhagavata’ as follows:

  1. Paramabhagavata-Maharajadhiraja-Sri-Skandagupta-Kramadityh
  2. Paramabhagavata-Sri-Vikkramadity-Skandaguptah
  3. Paramabhagavata-Sri-Skandaguptah-kramadityi

The coins described on pp. 256 by A.S. Altekar and illustrated on pl. 18.3 contains the legend as Paramabhagavata-Sri-Skandagupta and this very legend is noticed in variety-C coins of the same Type mentioned on p. 257 illustrated on plate 18.17, 18.

However, here on the gold specimen, it is not ascertainable which out of the four legends mentioned above would have been used or it may have been altogether a new experiment involving ‘Simha’ word in the title like ‘Simhavikkramah’ or ‘Simhanihanta’ (like that of Vyaghranihanta) or ‘Simhamahendrah’ or ‘Mahendrasimhah’ used by his ancestors. But seeing the paucity of space on the flan of the coin under consideration the legend Parama-bhagavata-Sri-Skandagupta should be proposed to have been adopted by the engraver of the die.

The gold coin of Skandagupta is presently the most valuable specimen from the point of view of the Gupta Numismatic study being the ONLY gold issue of Lion-slayer Type noticed for the first time with the clear name of the King (S)kandagupta embossed and hence it has enhanced the treasure of collection richer than ever before.

The paper was presented at the Numismatic Society of India conference held at Chennai in the Platinum Jubilee Memorial Hall of the University of Madras on 10th-11th October 2015 organized by Dr R. Krishnamurthy under the auspices of the Tamil Nadu Numismatic Society. It was in mind that the coin of Skandaguta discussed above was the only single coin known in the Lion-Slayer Type of this king. But in communication with Shri Sanjeev Kumar of the Shivlee Trust on 20th October 2015 it was noticed that he had already published a coin of Skandaguta in 2011 on 26th August in the Oriental Numismatic Society (‘New Type and Variety in Coins of Skandagupta’ by Sanjeev Kumar and Ellen M. Raven, 26.8.2011, dealt with under the sub-heading ‘Skandagupta – A New Lion-Slayer Type’).

Shri Sanjeev Kumar has been kind enough to provide me with a copy of his article. In his write-up, he informs that ‘There are four specimens known of this type so far.’ However, in his article he refers to a coin mentioned by A.S. Altekar8 from the Bayana Hoard (coin no. 1171) attributed to Chandragupta II with a probability that the same is presented in the National Museum, New Delhi noted as coin 345 by B.Ch. Chhabra.9 The basis of attribution of these coins under reference is mainly metrology as the weight of these two are 8.84 and 8.415 respectively which matches the average weight of the coins of Skandagupta. The matching of mint-idiomatic details with Archer Type and King and Queen Type coins of Skandagupta illustrated by him together with his physique and body style has led him to attribute the Shivlee Trust coin to Skandagupta.

The depiction of Nidhi (Treasure) on the reverse of the coin is taken as the key point to tie up the coin with Skandagupta.
As per Shri Sanjeev Kumar and Ellen M. Raven’s probability, if both the coins (referred to by A.S. Altekar and B.Ch. Chhabra) are the same there will be only two Skandagupta’s coins including his coin of Shivlee Collection.

In our view, though the coin weight is agreeable evidence the other traits bear lesser import, however, the evidence of the issuer’s name or any other direct indication is always wanting. We would like here to add that since the motifs on the obverse and reverse of Shivlee Trust coin and coin of B.M. Jalan’s Private Collection at Quila House (Patna) are the most similar, especially the pose of the king shooting an arrow and the position of the lion and still specific are the three dots out of which the two nearer the bow forms the paws of the lion and the third being additional are similar (FIG. 5, Shivlee Trust coin; FIG. 6, Jalan’s Collection coin) on both coins, however, certainly by two different dies. Since the Patna coin has a clear legend giving the name (S)kandagupata (FIG. 7) the Shivlee Trust coin does belong to the same king though the name or his epithet (viruda) is not readable. In that way, the Shivlee Trust specimen though belongs to Skandagupta but the specimen of Lion-Slayer Type coin of B.M. Jalan’s Private Collection at Quila House (Patna) is a confirmed issue of Skandagupta as the name is embossed on the coin.

However, the legends concerned with the Shivlee Collection coin present problems. On the obverse of the Shivlee Collection coin, the legend in between the right upper border and the upper half of the bow shows four or five illegible characters running up to the forehead of the lion. Not a single letter is decipherable (FIG. 8). Shri Sanjeev Kumar and Ellen M. Raven suppose the legend as ‘[*para][mabha…]’ on the obverse. At this very place on B.M. Jalan Private Collection’s specimen legend very clearly reads (S )kandagupta.

The reverse legend (FIG. 9) is suggested by Shri Sanjeev Kumar and Ellen M. Raven presumably based on the decipherment of clear letter tya (FIG. 9A) to be as ‘..mad(i)tya’ being the end of the legend, however, neither ‘ma’ nor ‘d(i)’ is discernable. The whole legend is taken to be ‘Kramadityah’ without taking into consideration the space for ‘ka’ at the beginning (FIG. 9) in between the round-line making the hallow of the deity and the first letter taken as ‘ma’ along with the last two letters (FIG. 9B) which are unconsidered after ‘tya’. There is no visarga (:) also. So the reading ‘Kramadityai’ suggested needs be re-examined.

We suggest that some legend which ends with the two letters having the letter ‘tya’ before they are sought out by many of the available Gupta coin-legends to solve the problem. We meet with the five such examples from coin-legends of Kumaragupta-I. e.g. Prithivitalambarasasi Kumaragupto jayatyajitah (Horseman Type, Class I, variety A10), Kshitipatirajito vijayi Kumaragupto jayatyajitah (Horseman Type, Class II, variety C11), Prithivitalesvarendrah Kumaragupto jayatyajitah (Horseman Type, Class II, variety D12), Bharta khadgatrata Kumaragupto jayatyanisam (Rhinoceros-Slayer Type13) and Sakshadiva narasimhah simhamahendro jayatyanisam (Lion-Slayer Type, Class II, variety C14).

Fig. 10

Out of the above five legends, the best suited to Skandagupta’s Lion-Slayer Type coin in present reference is the Sakshadiva narasimah simhamahendro jayatyanisam.15 One should not hesitate in adopting Kumaraguta’s legend because it has been many times that the coin-legend patterns of earlier rulers have been re-used similarly or with some modifications. Skandagupta himself has chosen the legend pattern from his father Kumaraguta ‘Jayati mahitalekah Sri Kumaraguptah Sudhanvi ‘ (Archer Type, variety C)16 for his Archer Type coins with the legend ‘Jayati mahitalam Skandaguptah Sudhanvi’ (Archer Type, variety A)17 with a little change in the word ‘mahitalekah’ to ‘mahitalam’. There may be a chance that Skandagupta would have adopted his father’s coin-legend of Lion-Slayer Type ‘Sakshadiva narasimhah simhamahendro jayatyanisam’ with certain changes. The end of this legend provides us tya with two letters at the end nisam making the four letters (FIG. 10) of the word ‘jayatyanisam’. The legend should have started at 9 with its fore part up to the head of the king and ended at 3 with the latter part. However, it is all our simple probable suggestion only.

Shri Sanjeev Kumar and Ellen M. Raven have rightly referred to a Nidhi symbol depicted with 12 dot-like coins and referring to various shapes of Nidhis in sculptural art he makes mention of the Padma (the Lotus) and the Sankha (the Conch). Our tradition enumerates two types of Nidhis along with others being the attendants of Kubera as mentioned in the Amarakosha —

These 2 nidhis may have been conceived in early-stage which gradually developed to 8 as mentioned in the Markandey Purana –

Later on, the word Adayo of Amarkosha is explained by enumerating the number as 9 by quoting a verse from Sabdarnava-

And still later on in general the number became 9 with a little variation in names and order of enumeration –

The symbols of Sankha or Padma were though noticed by numismatists18 but rightly a Nidhi issuing coins is described by Shri Sanjeev Kumar and Ellen M. Raven from the Ashmolean Museum Horseman Type coin of Skandagupta (acc. no. HCR6581) displayed in ‘Ancient India: The Kreitman Gallery’. The Nidhis oozing coins have been illustrated since the 3rd-4th centuries in Krishna valley Buddhist Stupa of Ikshvaku period to be seen in the Rao Bahadur S.T. Srinivasagopalachari Collection and Madras Museum.19 However the round dots are not coins in every depiction but the symbolical presentation of a flower (FIG. 11A) probably the lotus as more explicitly seen on Archer Type coin of
Kumaragupta-I is illustrated by A.S. Altekar on plate X, no. 4 (FIG. 11). Similarly, Sankha is also represented (FIG. 12A) separately on that very plate X, no. 5.

The single depiction of flower petals or say lotus may or may not represent the Padma Nidhi, certainly not when it is depicted alone connected with a lotus stalk in the hand of Deity as Lila Kamala (sportive lotus). But if there is a depiction of Sankha then the separate flower or the flower in the hand of the deity becomes complimentary for the dual (FIG. 12) Nidhis of Sankha-Padma. Thus the Ashmolean Museum coin of Skandagupta (FIG. 13) mentioned above-showing Sankha emitting coins (FIG. 13A) and Padma (FIG. 13B) and the Archer Type coin of Shri Sanjeev Kumar and Ellen M. Raven’s article fig. no. 5 (FIG. 14) [Sankha (FIG. 14A) above in up-side-down position nearby hallow on the right of deity and Padma (FIG. 14B) below the conch] along with the Horseman Type of coin of Skandagupta (FIG. 15) of the Boldein Collection illustrated by A.S. Altekar20 present the two Nidhis of Sankha and Padma. Sankha and Padma were grouped in our tradition as mentioned by Kalidasa in his Meghaduta as-

the symbols with which the door-jambs of the house of the Yaksha’s beloved were decorated. The graphic delineation of such depictions is seen on the door-jambs of the niches (rathikabimbas) of the three panels of Gajendramoksha, Naranarayana and Anantasayi on the walls of the Dasavatara Temple at Devagarh in Lalitpur (Uttar Pradesh) as per pradakshina from right to left (FIG. 18).

(Left) Padma and Sankha door-jambs. (Right) Gajendramoksha nich on the wall of Dasavatara Temple Devagarh, Uttar Pradesh
(Left) Padma and Sankha door-jambs. (Right) Gajendramoksha nich on the wall of Dasavatara Temple Devagarh, Uttar Pradesh

The Gupta coins also attest to it, especially the coins of Skandagupta. The question remains regarding our coin of B.M. Jalan’s Collection which shows a flower (FIG. 16) of 11 dots (10 in round and 1 in centre) presumably a flower to be taken as the Padma on the right of deity but the motif above it is not a Sankha, but rather looks like a Kalasa (FIG. 17) with leaves (3 or 4 in number) coming out of it. Depiction of Kalasa is found on the copper coins of Chandragupta II.21 But here on our coin, its relation with the flower or the Padma is un-explanatory at present, however, it may be understood that the Full Vase represents the plenty of wealth from which the Goddess of Wealth is represented originating in art traditions since the Sunga art of Bharhut (FIG. 19) to art of the Guptas at Devagarh (FIG. 20), which gives a clue to explain the expression of the Junagarh inscription of Skandagupta that

who was chosen by the goddess of wealth herself,22 and she always remained embraced with him.

Goddess of Wealth originating out of the Full Vase (Purna Kalasa) standing on Lotus Bharhut, Madhya Pradesh
(Fig. 19) Goddess of Wealth originating out of the Full Vase (Purna Kalasa) standing on Lotus Bharhut, Madhya Pradesh

The days of Skandagupta were so prosperous that there was no daridra (poor) –

Lakshmi sitting on lotus Dasavatara Gupta Temple Devagarh, Uttar Pradesh
Fig. 20 : Lakshmi sitting on lotus Dasavatara Gupta Temple Devagarh, Uttar Pradesh

The reign of Skandagupta was economically so stable and prosperous that it was the only in his dynasty who issued coins in gold being higher in weight than the standard of Suvarna denomination, which caused the earlier naming of Dinara for a gold coin to be appalled as Suvarna in his period. This has been taken as such an important point that the second part of the 4th inscription found from Garhwa (Allahabad) which was earlier taken to belong to Kumaragupta-I is now dated in the times of Skandagupta on the evidence of mention of Suvarna coins were donated in the inscription.25 It was the outcome of the sumptuous condition that the Nidhi symbols and the Full Vase symbol of prosperity were placed on Skandagupta’s coins.


  1. dated 6.10.2015
  2. J.F. Fleet, Corpus Inscriptionum Indicarum, Vol. III, Calcutta, 1888, p. 53, line 7, verse 2
  3. ibid., p. 54, line 14, verse 7
  4. ibid., line 15, verse 8
  5. ibid., p. 59, line 2, verse 2
  6. A.S. Altekar, Coinage of the Gupta Empire, Varanasi, 1957, p. 242
  7. A.S. Altekar, op.cit., pp. 251, 252, 254
  8. A.S. Altekar, op. cit., Lion-Slayer Type, p. 150
  9. Catalogue of the Gupta Gold Coins of the Bayana Hoard in the National Museum, New Delhi, 1986
  10. A.S. Altekar, op. cit., p. 178
  11. ibid., p. 182
  12. loc. cit.
  13. ibid., pp. 197-98
  14. ibid., p. 189
  15. loc. cit.
  16. ibid., p. 172
  17. ibid., pp. 242-43
  18. ibid., pp. 170-75
  19. C. Sivaramamurti, Sanskrit Literature and Art-Mirrors of Indian Culture, MASI, No.73, New Delhi, reprint 1970, p. 11; also pl. 5.13
  20. A.S. Altekar, op. cit., plate XIV no. 15; also Numismatic Chronicle, 1891, plate II no. 6
  21. ibid., p. 161
  22. J.F.Fleet, op.cit., p. 59, Junagarha Inscription, Verse 5
  23. ibid., verse 2
  24. ibid., verse 6
  25. P.L. Gupta, Prachina Bharata ke Pramukha Abhilekha,
    Pl. II, Gupta Period, 319-543 A.D., Varanasi, 2002,

Prof. Deena Bandhu Pandey
Former Head of Department
History of Art and Tourism Management

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