Deities on Kushan Coins - Part II

As seen in the previous blog, the early coinage of Kushan had a great Greek iconographic influence and were struck depicting the Greek deities. However as the Kushans created a vast Empire under Kanishka I the iconographic imagery, as well as the deities on Kushan coins, became more and more Indian. The religious pantheon under Kanishka I and Huvishka drew heavily from the pre-Zoroastrian Iran and the Hindu and Buddhist pantheon. The coins of Later Kushan rulers mostly depicted Oesho (Indian) and Ardochsho (Iranian). Scholars are of the opinion that the iconography introduced by the Kushan in their coins was continued by many dynasties that followed the Kushans.

Iranian adaptations:

 

3-Deities-on-Kushan-coins

 

Ardochsho:

‘Ardochsho’ is the Kushan goddess and guardian of wealth and prosperity. She appears on the coins of Vima Takto (Soter Megas), Huvishva and on all the coins of all the remaining Later Kushan rulers except Vasudeva I.

  • Ardochsho is often considered to be the Zoroastrian ‘Ashi Vanghuhi’ or ‘Ashi’, the divinity of fortune, the one who confers victory in time of battle.
  • Interestingly, this goddess is also linked with an Indian deity and Buddhist guardian goddess of children and women at childbirth, ‘Hariti’. Ardochsho is also linked with a Chinese goddess ‘Niya’. [1][2]
  • Ardochsho is also linked by some scholars to Indian ‘Shri Lakshmi’.[3]
  • Ardochsho is also connected to the Greek goddess ‘Tyche’ of good fortune.

 

Ashaeixho:

Ashaeixcho a god which only occurs on the Kushan coins of Hvishka.

  • He is linked with the Zoroastrian god Asha Vashista, the God of truth, righteousness, right working and order. He is also connected to fire and sometimes called as the agent of truth.
  • Asha Vashista has a Vedic equivalent “ṛta”, which is the principle of the natural order.

 

Athsho:

‘Athsho’ is the fire god and is shown on the coins of Kanishka I and Huvishka with fire tongs held in his hand.

  • Athsho can be linked with the Zoroastrian ‘Atar’ and Persian ‘Atash’ which is the concept of holy fire.
  • Athsho is also linked with the Greek god ‘HEPHAISTOS’[4] the great Olympian god of fire, metalworking, stonemasonry and his sculpture  usually depict a bearded man holding hammer and tongs–the tools of a smith–and riding a donkey.

The cult of Athsho may have been prevalent in North-eastern Iran and Mid Persia.

 

Pharro:

‘Pharro’ is fire god-like Athsho and is found on Huvishka’s coins only.

  • Pharro is linked with the Zoroastrian concept of glory and splendour as ‘Khwarenah’. The word Khwarenah is found in many inscriptions from the Sassanid era (3rd-7th AD) and seems to have been adapted in many of the Iranian cults.
  • During the middle period, it got adapted into Bactria as ‘Farro’, Persian ‘Farr’ and the Parthian ‘Farh’.
  • Pharro is regarded as the male counterpart of ‘Ardochsho’.[5]
  • Pharro is also correlated with ‘Kubera-Pancika’, as on many coins Pharro is shown with a money back in his hand.

 

Drvaspa:

‘Drvaspa’ is originally a female deity in the Zoroastrian pantheon which means “with solid horses”. The word in Avestan language means enigmatic.

  • Drvaspa appears on the coins struck by Kanishka I and Huvishka and such coins are rarely found.
  • Drvaspa appears on Kushan coins as ‘Drooaspo’ (ΛΡΟΟΑΣΠΟ), a masculine form of the name, and is also depicted as a male figure.
  • Drvaspa is also in connotations connected with the Mid Persian ‘Lohrasp’, the father of ‘Vistaspa’.

 

Mao:

Mao is the moon god that is often depicted in the Kanishka I and Huvishka’s coinage.

  • Mao is linked to ‘Mah’ or ‘Maonhobago’of Zoroastrian which means the deity that presides over the moon.
  • Linked with the Greek goddess of Moon, ‘Selene’.

 

4-Deities-on-Kushan-coins

 

Manaobago:

  • Bactrian Manaobago is linked with ‘Vohu Manah’, the Zoroastrian concept of good mind and finds equivalents in Sanskrit ‘vasu manas’ meaning good purpose or good mind.
  • Some say that he is the source of the moon god ‘Maonhobago’ as he appears with a crescent on his shoulders on the coins of Kanishka I and Huvishka.

 

Miiro:

‘Miiro’ with its many variants Miro, Meiro, Miuro, Mioro etc appears on the coins of Kanishka I and Huvishka. Mirro is said to be a proto-Indo-Iranian deity.

  • Miiro is the Kushan Sun god and is linked with Persian ‘Mithra’ or ‘Mihr’. Hence, may have a cult prevalent in Middle Iranian, Persian and Parthian regions.
  • Miiro is also connected with Vedic Indian sun gods ‘Mihira’ (Sunlight) and ‘Mitra’ (Sun).
  • There are evidence of a similar deity worshipped in Armenia.

 

Ooromozdo:

‘Ooromozdo’ is frequently linked with ‘Ahura Mazda’ the creator and the sole god of Zoroastrian.

Ahura Mazda actually means the Mighty Wisdom.

  • Ahura Mazda first appeared in the Achaemenid period (c. 550 – 330 BCE) under Darius I.
  • The cult of Ahura Mazda continued in the Parthian and the Sassanid empires also.
  • Further, the pre-Christian Armenians had a god ‘Aramazd’, similar to Iranian ‘Ahura Mazda’, as an important deity in their pantheon.
  • The links of a similar pre-Zoroastrian cult of ‘Asura Mazas’ is mentioned in the Assyrian sources which reflect the Proto-Iranian form ‘Asura mazdas’ of the Zoroastrian name ‘Ahura-mazdah’. [6]

 

Mozdooanao:

A deity appearing only in Kanishka I’s coins. It is a bearded male figure riding a two-headed horse.

  • The name is probably derived from ‘Mazdah Vana’, the supreme deity of Zoroastrian Iranian pantheon. The traces of this deity can be seen the Sassanid art (Naqsh-i-Rustam or Bishapur).
  • Some scholars link ‘Mozdooanao’ to ‘Ahura Mazda’ and Ooromozdo.

 

Oado:

‘Oado’ appears on the coins of Kanishka I and Huvishka. Oado (Vad) is very artistically depicted running with a fluttering scarf.

  • Oado is ‘Vata’ and ‘Vayu’ of the Zoroastrian pantheon. Vata is said to be the god of atmosphere and Vayu is the wind god.
  • Interesting, both Vata and Vayu have Vedic Indian connotations with the same names.
  • Oado seems to be connected with Anemos (Anemoi) the Greek gods of the wind, who were each assigned a cardinal direction and were responsible and associated with various seasons and weather conditions.

 

Oaxsho:

Oaxsho (Vachsh/Vaxshu) appears only on coins of Huvishka. He could possibly be an aquatic deity as he is seen with a fish in his hand. He could be the god of the Oxus River.[7]

A sanctuary of Oaxsho was discovered at Takht-i Sangin, on the northern bank of the Amu Darya.

 

Orlagno:

Orlagno or Oshlagno appears only on Kanishka I’s coins.

  • Orlagno is regarded to be the Zoroastrian god ‘Verethagna’ or the Pahlavi god ‘Varahran’. He was the god of arms and was worshipped by martial classes.
  • He was also worshipped as the god of victories during the Sassanid period.
  • In some inscriptions he, (Verethragna) is equated with Heracles and Ares.

 

Oanindo:

Goddess Vaninda (Oanindo) appears on the coins of Huvishka. She is a winged deity and hence similar to goddess Nike.   The name is similar to the Avestan ‘Vanainti’ meaning a star and a goddess related to the Lord of victory ‘Verethagna’.

Kanishka I finished building the dynastic sanctuary at Surkh Kotal which bore the name ‘Kanishka Oanindo-sanctuary’. [8]

 

Shaoreo:

Shaoreo (Shahrevar) is a deity which appears on the coins of Huvishka. The god is represented generally represented with a helmet and holding a shield. Not much is known about this deity.

 

Indian pantheon:

Indian deities from the Hindu and Buddhist pantheon, especially Oesho, appear on the coins of the Vima Kadphises and all his successors. All of the Indian deities appearing are still worshipped and have major cult followings.

5-Deities-on-Kushan-coins

Oesho:

‘Oesho’ or Shiva a part of the Indian Holy Trinity, finds a cult following dating as far back as the Indus valley civilization where seals are found of a horned deity sitting in a yogic pose surrounded by animals (Pashupati).

  • The attributes of Oesho are same to those with which we identify Shiva today the trident, the bull and damru (small two-headed drum).
  • All of the images of Oesho show him with an erect phallus which connects with the Yogic nature of Shiva.
  • The prominence of Oesho type coins in the Kushan dynasty shows that the Shaivism was already deeply rooted in the northwestern parts of India.
  • Some rare coins of Huvishka depict Oesho with a consort. One type has the inscription ‘OESHO-NAN’ on them connecting Oesho to Sumerian goddess Nana. The other type has the inscription ‘OESHO-OMMO’ which links Oesho (Shiva) to Ommo (Uma or Parvati). [9]

 

Skando-Kumaro:

Another Shaivite deity ‘Skando-Kumaro’ appears on the coins of Huvishka.

  • Skanda and Kumar are the names of the warrior god Kartikeya who in the Indian mythology is said to be the son of Shiva and Parvati.

 

Bizago:

‘Bizago’ has been identified with the Shaivite deity Vishakha and is generally depicted along with Skando-Kumaro in the coinage of Huvishka.

  • Vishakha is a nakshatra (constellation) in Indian astronomy and is the daughter of the King Daksh according to the Hindu mythology.
  • Vishakha also happens to be the birth star of the warrior god Skanda (Kartikeya) and hence maybe is depicted along with him on the coins.

 

Maseno:

Mahasena is yet another Shaivite deity who appears on the coins of Huvishka.  Mahaseno is considered to be an attribute of Skanda Kumara the Warrior god. The cult of Skanda (Kartikeya) can be said to have existed from the Mauryan period[10] and is still a major cult in the south of India.

 

Boddo:

 

6-Deities-on-Kushan-coins

 

Boddo or Buddha founder of a new philosophic thought in India on whose teachings Buddhism was founded is depicted on coins of Kanishka I.  He is believed to have lived and taught mostly in the eastern part of the Indian subcontinent sometime between the 6th-4th century BC.

  • The iconographic imagery of Gautama Buddha was introduced during the Kushan rule and developed with the Gandhara style of art under this dynasty.
  • The image of Buddha on Kanishka I’s coins is the first ever image of Buddha on coins[11] with all the aesthetic features of Buddha like the head bun, the sanghati (the over cloth), and long ear lobes.
  • Today Buddhism is spread across the world and is a prominent religion in South East Asia, Japan, Nepal, Bhutan and China. Buddhism is still alive in India too.

 

Shakamano Boddo:

The coins of Kanishka I have other avatars (incarnations) of Buddha depicted on them.

  • According to Mahayana traditions ( a branch of Buddhism)[12], Siddhartha Gautama (Gautama Buddha or just Buddha) was not the only Buddha (the enlightened one). Mahayana Buddhism considers Shakyamuni Buddha to be the first Buddha.

 

Metrago Boddo:

Maitreya Buddha is the future incarnation of Buddha according to the Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhist traditions. Kanishka I’s coins also portray him on them.

 

Conclusion:

The Da Yuezhi and Earlier Kushan coin imagery drew heavily from the Greek mythology. This may have been because of the influence of the Greco-Bactrian and the Greco-Indian Kingdoms that ruled various parts of the northwest and northern Indian subcontinent during a period from the 2nd century BCE to the beginning of the 1st century CE. The Mesopotamian, Egyptian and Iranian connections are seen only on the coins of Kanishka I and Huvishka. Under the rule of these two kings, the Kushan Empire was at its paramount and had a vast territory. The influence of other local religious beliefs carried by the merchants of the much thriving Silk Route must have had an influence on the Kushan pantheon. The deities became more Indian in their character in the coins of the later Kushans.

It is clear from the Kushan coins that the religious life throughout the territory of the Kushans was highly developed and differentiated. The religious movements of India met with the Greek and the Iranian divinities and created a unique religious pantheon for the Kushans who had their Empire at the confluence of all these different traditions. Many religions influenced one another and began slowly to absorb the local cults. The Gandhara style of art that evolved and developed during the Kushans helped improve the imagery absorbing some features of the local cults along with the Greek, Iranian and the Indian iconography.

 

 

[1] The Hindu-Buddhist Sculpture of Ancient Kashmir and its Influence, JOHN SIUDMAK, pg.101

[2] China: Dawn of the Golden Age, 200-750 AD, pg.197

[3] Dynastic arts of the Kushan, JOHN M. ROSENFIELD, pg.74

[4] Gandharan Art in Context: East-west Exchanges at the crossroads of Asia, FRANK RAYMOND ALLCHIN, pg.247

[5] Gandharan Art in Context: East-west Exchanges at the crossroads of Asia, FRANK RAYMOND ALLCHIN, pg.247

[6] Silk Road: Religion in the Kushan Empire: Vol II; J. HARMATTA, B. N. PURI, L. LELEKOV, S. HUMAYUN AND D. C. SIRCAR

[7] Dynastic arts of the Kushan, JOHN M. ROSENFIELD, pg. 92

[8] Silk Road: Religion in the Kushan Empire: Vol II; J. HARMATTA, B. N. PURI, L. LELEKOV, S. HUMAYUN AND D. C. SIRCAR

[9] Dynastic arts of the Kushan, JOHN M. ROSENFIELD, pg. 94

[10] Dynastic arts of the Kushan, JOHN M. ROSENFIELD, pg. 79

[11] Dynastic arts of the Kushan, JOHN M. ROSENFIELD, pg. 76

[12] Over the centuries branches of Buddhism evolved: Theravada Buddhism (“The School of the Elders”), Mahayana Buddhism (“The Great Vehicle”), and Vajrayana Buddhism, a body of teachings attributed to Indian Siddhas, may be viewed as a third branch or merely a part of Mahayana.

The Mintage World Team comprises of experts, researchers and writers from the field of Philately, Notaphily and Numismatics who try to shed light on some of the most interesting aspects of coins, banknotes and stamps from not just India but across the globe as well.

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3 thoughts on “Deities on Kushan Coins – Part II
  1. It’s difficult to locate well-informed people on this subject, but you seem like you understand what you’re talking about! Thanks

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