01. Initiation into Numismatics
My obsession or perhaps fascination for ancient coins started somewhere in 1984. At that time I was posted as a General Manager of the Regional Rural Bank at Bilaspur. I was required to tour extensively in the rural areas. Once, while I was visiting a branch, I happened to pass by Talagaon, some 29 kms south of Bilaspur. At my request, the driver turned the vehicle towards the temple site. The famous Devrani and Jethani temple complex were in ruins but still looked imposing. Fragments of sculptures were lying scattered all around. One small piece of a fragment attracted me. It was a slender hand of a lady, above the wrist, wearing bangles and holding something. I could not resist the temptation of picking it up. At home I grinded the lower part so that the hand could rest on a table top. Thereafter I started to have a deeper look into the slightly folded hand. To my surprise all the important lines were engraved in the palm. However the marriage line was absent and this puzzled me. Incidentally I had some elementary knowledge of Palmistry.
On the next day, while at office, I conversed with one of my associate officers, Mr. Ramu Shukla as he too loved to live in the past. He told me about two dedicated officials of the Archaeological Department, Mr. G.L. Raickwar and Mr. Rahul Singh and that they would be too happy to interact with me.
The next Sunday, I picked up my scooter, kept the broken hand of the sculpture and headed to the museum located near the town hall. Huge broken bodies of sculptures were on display in the museum compound. In front of them were two persons apparently engaged in some deep study. I figured out that these are the people I am looking for. I approached them and they confirmed my assumption. I was warmly received after I introduced myself. I asked them if they have found the upper part of the sculpture of whose hand I was holding. They replied negatively. I triumphantly declared that the original sculpture should have been that of a Devadasi. I then drew their attention towards the absence of marriage line in the palm. There was an element of surprise in their looks. They desired me to meet them in their office anytime, even late in the evening and that they would love to exchange views.
Since their office was very close to my house, next day itself I called on them in the evening. I carried and surrendered the piece of hand (sculpture) I had with me. Both the officials were very very cordial and expressed their willingness to help me understand Archaeology. That day itself, they opened up everything they had. I was amused to peruse Copper Plates containing inscriptions in box headed Brahmi script Mr. Singh cajoled me and wanted me to try to figure out the contents. I could read some characters. All the coins were shown one by one and I was really thrilled to keepthem on my palm realizing that they belonged to the 2nd Century A.D.
Soon thereafter excavations were conducted at Talagaon in Devrani Jethani complex(6th Century A.D.) I was requested to join the team and I gladly agreed. Every day we used to go to Talagaon carrying our lunch boxes and return late in the evening. I was with them for nearly a week and remember to have positioned myself at the Sanctom Sanctorum (Garbhagriha), where I thought coins would pour out. To my dismay only one silver coin of Prasannamatra of the Amararya Kula (Sharabhapuria)(6th Century A.D.dynasty) surfaced (Silver coins of Prasannamatra are very rare). Incidentally I may mention that the temple complex was dated as of 6th Century A.D. on the basis of the coin find. In the absence of any other evidences, coin evidence is reckoned as conclusive. When I wanted to know about the various dynasties which had ruled over Chhattisgarh (Dakshina Kosala) prior to 5/6th century A.D. I was told that it is the darkest period in History. We know about the Mouryan empire followed by Satavahanas and thereafter, it is a big question mark. Here I learnt that since no inscriptions, copper plates etc. belonging to this dark age is available, the only alternative is to search for coins which may contain the names of the rulers of Dakshina Kosala. I spent few months studying books on Coinage and Brahmi script (from the Museum library) to help me in my quest.
The excavations at Talagaon were continuing. In between I had the opportunity of meeting Dr. K.K. Chakravarty, Commissioner of Archaeology Department. He was perhaps made aware, by my friends in the department, regarding the help I was extending. It was merely vehicle support on some occassions. He seemed to be a thorough gentleman and we became friends soon. He too invited me to join the team at Talagaon. On a particular day, when I was at the site, digging operations were going on close to the Devrani Temple. It was like digging a grave to get to the skeletons without harming them. The diggers came across a large sculpture buried in a rectangular pit. Very carefully the soil was removed. The face was downwards. There was another gentleman, a scholar from Harvard , Dr. Pramod Chandra
with different parts of its anatomy represented by various animals, creatures and faces.
Discussions amongst the scholars present began. Dr. Chakravarty opined that the statute could have fallen down and in course of time soil would have got deposited over it. Dennis the Menace in me prompted to say loudly, no sir, it was a deliberate burial. Look at the hard surface in which it was lying. It is lined with stone slabs. The statue would have been broken, in case, it really fell down. The scholars were in favour of naming it as Rudra Shiva. Nothing of its kind is known in the Indian Iconography.