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Seminar Papers on the Tribal Coins of Ancient India (C. 200 B.C. To 400 A.D.)

Item Code: NAK579
Author: Jai Prakash Singh
Publisher: Department of Ancient Indian History Culture and Archaeology
Banaras Hindu University
Language: English
Edition: 1977
Pages: 218
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 9.5 inch x 6.0 inch
Weight 380 gm
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Book Description



Tribes have a continued life in India. Some tribes have maintained their distinctive life even upto the present age of rapid expansion of urbanization. The tribal set-up dominated the social, religious and political organization in the early Vedic period. As the tribes gave up their nomadic habits, settled territorial organizations came into being. The Janapadas, in the sense of territorial units, are noticed in the later Vedic period. By the time of the Buddha the Janapadas covered the map of northern India. The Pali literature gives us the names of the Janapadas in eastern India. Panini and the Greek writers inform us about the Janapadas in western India. But all these Janapadas were essentially tribal in origin and were named after the tribes which had established them.


The expanding Magadhan empire, particularly under the Mauryas, overshadowed the tribal principalities. Their continued existence during the hey day of Magadhan imperialism is confirmed by the Arthasastra of Kautilya and the inscriptions of Asoka, In the declining days of the Mauryan empire they asserted their erstwhile personality. It seems that in the period of foreign invasions and domination they had a chequered career. They were apparently overpowered by the invading foreigners; but took advantage of the first opportunity to proclaim their independence. The Allahabad Pillar Inscription stands' testimony to the fact that in the middle of the fourth century A.D. the tribal principalities had bent before the valiant Gupta King, but had not broken. We may not be in a position to trace their unbroken history in the subsequent period, but we do find tribal powers emerging from time to time. There is some evidence to show that some of the dynasties established in the early medieval period came out of the tribal stock.


For the purposes of the seminar its organisers adopted a narrow definition of the term tribal coins. The pre- Mauryan tribes fall out of the scope of the seminar, because they are not known to have minted their own coins. The term in essence has been applied to the coins of the tribes of northern India which belonged to the period roughly from the second century B. C. to the fourth century A. D. The case of other tribes falling outside this limit has been variously put forward. It is thus pleaded that tribes of the Deccan and South should also be included under the name. In north India, again, tribes that appear after the fourth century A. D. are also required to be studied. It is further said that coins of foreign tribes may also be included in the study. Another suggestion is that dynasties, such as the Satavahanas, which can be traced back to any tribal name, should also fall within the scope of this seminar. The list of tribes belonging to the period of study can be taken to be exhaustive only in the present state of our knowledge. We cannot afford to rule out the possibility that further discoveries and researches may add new names. Recently the claims of two new entrants-Paradas and Kumaras-have been advanced for inclusion in the list of tribes of this period. Their credentials require dose scrutiny.


For any series of coins to be included under the label tribal coins the geographical or racial criterion should not have the deciding voice. Likewise it does not matter if the founder of a dynasty came from a tribal stock. The distinguishing mark is the fact that the tribe wields the political power and its name is associated with the coins. We do not rule out the possibility that there may be internal changes in the political structure, but what is material is that the power continues to be exercised in the name of the tribe as such and not in the name of any family forming part of the tribe. It is in this sense that the suggestion to include in our study the early coins of a few dynasties (e. g., Satava- hanas, Kushanas, Abhiras and Pandyas) which in the beginning formed part of a tribe cannot be accepted. The power even in the early years of these dynasties was not the concern of the tribe as a whole; it was the preserve of a family that originally had a tribal connexion.


There is a reasonable difference of option among scholars about the precise use of the term tribal coins, especially in relation to the other contemporary coins. In the period concerned we find coins of merchant guilds, small localities or cities and petty monarchies. The question is about fixing a term to cover all these series and also to have separate terms for different series. One suggestion is to describe all these coins as regional or local coins, whereas another prefers the use of the term tribal coins. Among the different possibilities about subdividing these series three have received greater attention: (a) local and tribal, and monarchical, (b) local and tribal, and (c) Janapada and naigama. In the second suggestion 'local' includes coins of petty monarchies, cities and guilds; in the third classification Janapada covers the three series of coins of monarchies, tribes and cities.


All these series of coins were connected with a limited locality and hence all are, in a sense, local coins. The term janapada has a similar usage. It refers to 'a community or people of a particular geographical and cultural unity.' The term implies both territory and population. Thus janapada may be a happy term to cover the city and tribal states. As the term Janapada signifies 'an inhabited country' the suitability of its use for tribal coins has been questioned. But it has been overlooked that the tribes .had long given up their wandering habits and, had settled down in particular localities. The tribal states under study had mostly a non- monarchical set-up of polity. The use of the 'term tribal republics is objected to by puritans who would not use the word republic unless all its ingredients according to a modern student of constitution are not proved. But, in any case the appearance of the term janapada or gana on some of the early issues of the tribal coins coupled with the name of the tribes, clearly indicates a distinctive political structure in which power was shared by more than one member of the tribe.


The local and tribal coins have much in common, but their differences are equally apparent. We do not plead for an absolute division, but it is well known that for the advancement of learning and research smaller subdivisions are desirable in many cases. The only caution that we need take is to make the divisions as clear and defined as possible.


The time bracket generally accepted for the coins in question is fairly reasonable. There has been some attempt to arrange in a chronological sequence the coins in a particular series. All these views about the dates of the coins are based mostly on the palaeographical peculiarities of the legends on these coins. But, surprisingly enough, there has been no full-length study of the question. No doubt palaeographical considerations help us in fixing the dates in rough approximation only. - There has) however, been considerable progress in palaeographical studies. We can determine the dates a little more closely and can fix chronological sequence with the help of a comparative analysis. A careful study of the position of the coins in stratified sequence at different sites is also expected to help in solving the question of dates. The point can be given more attention in future excavations at historical sites.


Coins are our most important source for the history of the tribal principalities. The epigraphic and literary evidence is limited in number and scanty in information. We have naturally to rely most of the time on numismatic data. The testimony of the coin has its own limitations. It cannot be used for all aspects of state and society. More- over, coins merely indicate) they never describe. The coins supply us with some mute evidence; it is for us to make them speak. But this requires a lot of caution on the pare of the historian using the numismatic data. Imagination has to be injected in a controlled manner. We should be careful in avoiding the subjective notions in interpreting the legends or the symbols.


A basic fact which has not been properly taken into account is that these coins were issued in the name of a particular tribe. We have to carefully determine the level of development attained by that tribe. It will be a definite historical fallacy to interpret any evidence in the light of our modern notions or our views about contemporary developments elsewhere. Anthropologists can offer useful aid in providing the details of the different shades of institutions that can obtain in any particular phase of tribal history. In interpreting any symbol appearing on the coins we may profitably look for its possible tribal association and significance. The figures or symbols can no doubt be related to the religious ideas and institutions of the period, but we cannot ignore the possibility of their having a totemic meaning. Likewise we find that inferences have been derived about the administrative set-up in these tribal principalities. But in many cases we have not cared to think whether such details could have existed in a tribal principality.


It is not the proper place to discuss the different problems connected with the tribal coins. There are controversies about the reading of the legends, the significance of the symbols, the attribution of the coins and their classification into types and varieties. Considerable headway has been made, but much ground still remains to be covered.


Recent years have seen some detailed research studies on tribal coins. The publications of M. K. Sharan, K. K. Dasgupta and Mrs. Bela Lahiri deserve special mention. All these have discussed the numismatic problems. But, whereas Mrs. Bela Lahiri interprets the coins for reconstructing the political history, K. K. Dasgupta emphasises the total personality of the tribes, discussing their name, antiquity and habitat, their political, religious and economic conditions, and their ethnology and social status. But certain problems still require to be enquired into in depths. In this respect the papers presented at the Seminar on Tribal Coins organised by the Department of Ancient Indian History, Culture and Archaeology, Banaras Hindu University in 1972 have their value. Several competent authorities of the subject contributed to the Seminar. Effort has been made to make the information up-to-date by adding suitable notes. For certain reasons beyond our control the publication of the seminar papers has been delayed for which we crave the indulgence of the scholars. We are sure the present work will suggest new lines of research and help in the proper evaluation of the role of these tribes.




The Department of Ancient Indian History, Culture and Archaeology decided to host the 61st Annual Conference of the Numismatic Society of India in early 1972, at Varanasi. It was also decided to organise a seminar, on the occasion, on a series of coins of Ancient India. As a sequel to the Seminar on Local Coins of Northern India, held earlier by the Department, in 1966, the topic 'Tribal Coins of Ancient India' was taken up for the Seminar coinciding with the conference.


The Seminar on the Tribal Coins of Ancient India was consequently held at Varanasi on 1.5.1972 in the Library of the Department, in two sittings. It was inaugurated by Prof S.K. Saraswati, then Professor and Head of the Department of History of Arts, B. H. D., and conducted by Dr. K. K. Sinha, then the Acting Head of the Department of Ancient Indian History, Culture and Archaeology. Subsequently Dr. Sinha assigned to us the responsibility of editing the papers, submitted for the Seminar and to see it through the press. We are very thankful to him on that account. The publication, of the Seminar papers however, could not be undertaken immediately and was unusually delayed for reasons beyond our control.


Prof Lallanji Gopal, after joining the Department, as Prof and Head of the Department, reorganised the pro- gramme of the Departmental publications with vigour and determination. It is, indeed, very gratifying to acknowledge that his inspiring academic leadership, guidance and coopetion has already helped considerably to bring out a number of publications of the Department within a very short period. The publication of the present Memoir of the Department is an attempt in the same direction. We take this opportunity to record our deep indebtedness and gratitude to him for not only providing necessary funds for its publication, but also for the active guidance that he has always readily provided, as well as for writing a Foreword to it. I t would not have been possible, indeed, to bring out this Memoir but for his valuable suggestions and encouragement.


The papers are printed here mostly in the form in which they were submitted for the Seminar, save a few exceptions. It is quite likely therefore that many mistakes may have crept in. We apologise both to our contributors and readers on that account. It is further regretted that as adequate notes of the discussions were not taken, the same are not included herein.


We also take this opportunity to thank all those scholars who contributed their valuable papers to the Seminar as well as to those who participated in the discussions to make it successful.











Coinage of the Tribal Republics



Tribal Coins of Ancient India



Typology of the Tribal Coins



Geographical Distribution of the Tribal Coins



The Minting Techniques of the Tribal Coins



Symbols on tribal Coins: An Interpretative Study



Gods and Goddess on Tribal Coins



The Swastika Symbol on the Tribal Coins



Some Syncretic Gleanings from the Coins of the Kunindas and the Yaudheyas



The Religious Learning of the Tribal Republics



Foreign Influence on Tribal Coins



The Kumaras-A Forgotten Ancient Indian Tribe



Political History of the Agras, Arjunayanas and Kulutas



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