History Optional Paper-1 Solution – 2010: Q.2 (b)

History Optional Paper-1 Solution – 2010: Q.2 (b)

Q.2 (b) Examine the significance of the deities depicted on coins of the Kushanas.


Important deities depicted on the Kushana coins are:

1. Greek– Herakles (Hercules), Zero (Zeus), Helios (Sun god);   

2. Iranian– Mithra (Sun), Mao(Moon), Oado (wind), Nana (Nature goddess) etc;

3. Hindu– Oheso (Shiva), Ommo (consort of shiva- Uma), Vasudeva (Vishnu) etc;

4. Buddhist– Boddo (Buddha).

Examining the significance of the deities depicted on the coins:

1. Significance for trade

It shows that the coins were minted for the foreign trade, especially the Roman trade, and thus the coins reflected the beliefs of these trade zones.

However this proposition can be challenged on the grounds like the Kushana empire enjoyed a favourable balance of trade and the copper coins which were not minted for the foreign trade also exhibit this feature. 

2. Kushana’s broad cultural horizon and religious syncretism

(a) The variety of religious motifs is usually taken as reflecting the king’s personal religious eclecticism or his attitude of religious tolerance.

(b) It can be seen as an acknowledgement of the religious diversity within the empire and the attempts of these kings to connect themselves with the deities worshipped in and around their realm. The coins reflected the beliefs of various ethnic or ideological communities within the polyglot Kushana empire.

However  it is difficult to explain the rarity of Buddhist emblems as all sources provide patent evidence of the affluence of Buddhism in the Kushana  Empire. And more surprisingly Jaina deities and symbols are conspicuous by their absolute absence on the Kushana coins.

3. Nature of society

The dieties also give idea about the nature of society. For example: the depiction of Buddha indicates the prevalance of the non-Brahmanical society which was characterised by new social environment i.e. trade, urbanisation, economic growth etc. The Buddhist soci­ety was mainly dominated by traders, artisans and it did not consider varna hierarchy and povided easy access to society to the for­eign ruling groups.

4. Effort to gain ligitimacy

The depiction of Indian gods on Kushana coins is significant as it indicates the efforts of Kushanas who were basically central Asian to adopt Brahmanism and gain legitimacy. This led to the emer­gence of Vrat-Kshatriyas.

5. John M. Rosenfield, the author of ”Dynastic arts of Kushans” 

He presents the explanation that these deities were the divine  companions and supporters of the Kushana monarchy. He observes that the Kushana coinage, functioned as a vehicle of propaganda, directly expressing the ideology of the ruling house, and cumulatively, these coins express the “concern with material abundance and prosperity, with military triumph, with legitimacy of rule, and with the divine sanction and support of the ruling house”.

Whatsoever would have been the motivation for introduction of such an innovation, the deities on coins reveal one of the most extraordinary facets of the Kushana dynasty.

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