Depiction of Daśāvatāra on Indian Coins

As seen in the previous blog, the concept of Daśāvatāra or ten incarnation of Viṣṇū is an all accepted phenomenon in India. The polytheistic Hindū Dharma believes in the presence of one and more deities that will protect them from the occurrences and recurrences of the Evil. The Concept of Daśāvatāra is a byproduct of this belief.  The Depiction of the Daśāvatāra on Indian Coins issued by different dynasties of India is proof of that not only the concept of Daśāvatāra was accepted by the Indian Society but also the idea of Viṣṇū being a major deity was acknowledged. The Depiction of Daśāvatāra on Indian Coins I established the core concept of Daśāvatāra as well as the first five reincarnations of Viṣṇū. In this part, we unveil the rest!


केशव धृतभृगुपतिरूप जय जगदीश हरे|


Depiction of Daśāvatāra on Indian Coins


Parśurāma the Brahmin Warrior is the sixth incarnation of Lord Viṣṇū. Viṣṇū appears as a priest (brāhman) who comes to the world to protect the earthlings from the autocracy of the Kṣatriyas.  Born to Jamadagni and Renuka, the birth name of Parśurāma was Bhārgava Rāma. He had received an ax (Parśū) from Lord Ṣiva after undertaking terrible reparation. Hence, he came to be known as Parśurāma.

As mentioned earlier, Lord Viṣṇū took birth in the Brahmin Family in order to restore peace in the society disturbed due to the injustice and tyranny of the kings. According to the legend, Arjuna Kartavīrya- a king of Haihaya Kingdom steals the celestial cow (kāmdhenu) called Surabhi while Parśurāma is away from the hut beheading Jamadagni in the attempt. When he learns about this crime, Parśurāma takes an oath to rid the earth from the Kṣatriya clan 21 times. Likewise, he challenges the king to battle which ends in the death of the king and his entire clan. After that, he fought 20 wars and defeated several clans of Kṣatriyas. Thus, he crushed the arrogance of the Kṣatriyas and restored Dharma.

The legends say that Parśurāma, after the slaughter, traveled to the south to seek penance for his deeds and reached the Western Ghats.[1] At that time, the land ended there, and the realm of god Varuṇa – the lord of the oceans – began. Parśurāma called upon the god and requested him to recede. As the sea god did not agree, annoyed Parśurāma threatened to render the sea completely dry. As a truce, Varuṇa agreed to recede as far west as Parśurāma’s arrow would hit the waters from the place he was standing. Parśurāma shot an arrow from the top of the current day’s Sahyadris (probably from Chiplun) which landed at Bannali – the modern-day Benaulim in Goa reclaiming a belt of land of about 30 miles broad ready for the inhabitation of mankind. This land comprised the regions of Konkan, coastal Karnataka and Kerala and is considered as Parśurāma Kṣetra.[2] The inhabitants of the land owe their lineage to Parśurāma and hence, the symbolic form of the sixth incarnation of Lord Viṣṇū i.e. the ax which is the weapon of his identity is depicted on the coins of at least two major dynasties of India.


The Paraśū or the ax appears first on the coins of the Cera Kings of Venad. The legendary hero Parśurāma is the tutelary deity of Venad Ceras.[3] A large number of copper coins were circulated in Venad during the medieval period. One of them generally termed as ‘Battle Ax (Paraśū) kasu’ is the important one. The obverse of the coin depicts a figure sitting on a stool with a battle ax i.e. Paraśū on its right which is topped by Tamil Letter ‘Ca‘ which stands for the Dynasty Name “Cera”. The reverse of the coin depicts a standing figure flanked by a fire altar on right and “deepstambha” on left.

The depiction of a battle-ax on the coins of Peśwā Bājirāo is a point of debate. When Parśurāma Kṣetra was created, there was a problem of the settlers. At that time the bodies of fourteen persons happened to be cast ashore by the sea. These corpses were purified, by burning them on a funeral pyre and were given a second life. Parśurāma taught them the Brāhmin rituals.  The Brāhmins, thus, got a second life and were called Citpavan (‘those who have become pure – pāvan – by going through the pyre’ i.e. “Cita”). The Peśwās hail from the Citpavan Brāhmin community and the fact that their origin can be traced back to Parśurāma may or may not be the reason for the depiction of an ax or Paraśū on their coins.

The coin is a Silver rupee issued by the Peśwā king Bājirāo in the name of Shah Ali Gauhar (Shah Alam II). The coin is inscribed with Persian legend “Sikka Mubarak Badshah Ghazi Shah Ali Gauhar” on the obverse along with the Hijri Year. The Reverse of the coin features Sana Reignal Year of Shah Alam II and inscription “Julus Maimanat Manus” and the most importantly the battle ax symbol in the loop of Persian letter “Seen” of Julus.


The legend of Parśurāma has roots in the ancient conflict between the Brahmin caste with religious duties and the Kṣatriyas caste with warrior and enforcement role.[4] Parasurama legends are notable for their discussion of violence, the cycles of retaliation, the impulse of krodha (anger), the inappropriateness of ‘krodha’, and repentance. “Parashurama carries to a mythic extreme an enduring Brahmin conflict: on the one hand, restraint, purity, nonviolence, detachment; on the other, inherent power and the recurring temptation to use it in the violent pursuit of an uncompromising vision”.[5]



केशव धृतरघुपतिवेष जय जगदीश हरे|


Depiction of Daśāvatāra on Indian Coins


Once upon a time, Divine Sage Nārada met Sage Vālmīki. In a dialogue between the two, Vālmīki Ṛṣī questions Nāradamunī “who, in this world, is vigorous and valorous one, who speaks nothing but the truth, who is interested in welfare of all beings, who is brilliant yet humble and mighty yet self-composed and has handsome features?”  Having listened to these words of Vālmīki, Nārada, the knower of all the three worlds, said “I know a man who possesses all and many more qualities that you mentioned. A King, I have heard of, who was born in the Ikṣvākū Dynasty and belongs to the clan of Raghū. He is with a controlled self, highly valorous, resplendent, and steadfast and a controller of his own senses. He is known to be Maryādā Purūṣottam. He is known to people by the name Rāma – the eldest and a dear son to Daśaratha”.[6]

Rāma, the seventh incarnation of Lord Viṣṇū was a personification of righteousness and human values that appeared in Treta Yuga. He is the central figure of the ancient Hindu epic Ramayana, a text historically popular in the South Asian and Southeast Asian cultures. Rama is especially important to Vaishnavism. The life and story of Rāma is glorified in several art forms in India as well. Rāma, as one of the major deities of India and an ideal king, has also been honored on numerous coins.


This Gold Half Dinar is one of the rarest coins depicting the 7th Avatāra of Lord Viṣṇū. Issued by Vigraharaja IV of Chahmanas of Sakambhari, the obverse of the coin depicts Nimbate figure of Rama standing facing holding a bow and an arrow in each hand. Devanagari legend Ṣrī Rāma is split on either side. Floral border with decorative motifs of lotus flowers and a Hamsa bird are seen around. The reverse is inscribed with Devanagari legend in three lines “Ṣrī Madvigra/harajade/va.”[7]

The other coin from the Great Aravindu Dynasty of Vijayanagar Empire, depicts not only Ṣrī Rāma but also his Consort Sitā and his brother Lakṣmaṇā. This Gold Pagoda depicts Rāma and Sitā seated with Lakṣmaṇā standing as an attendant behind on the obverse. The reverse is inscribed with the Devanagari legend “Sri Tirumala Raya”. [8]


The whole journey of Rāma’s life is a lesson for mankind about the importance of sticking to principles of righteousness, justice, truth and strength of character. In battle or in peace, Rama never let go of these ideals. That is why he is known as Maryādā Purūṣottam.



दशाकृतिकृते कृष्णाय तुभ्यं नमः|


Depiction of Daśāvatāra on Indian Coins


The eighth Avatāra of Lord Viṣṇū appeared in Dvāpāra Yuga as Kṛṣṇa. This most powerful incarnation of Lord Viṣṇū was termed as Pūrṇa Purūṣottama. Of all the Avatāras of Lord Viṣṇū, Kṛṣṇa is the most popular and perhaps the closest to the heart of the masses. Born in a prison to a King and nurtured in by the Gopālas, Kṛṣṇa’s whole life was spent in the destruction of evil. From eradicating evil to protect those who surrender to him, Kṛṣṇa’s life has been in the service of others. The preacher of the world’s biggest doctrine Bhagwat Gita and the Sharathi (charioteer) of the greatest archer of his age, Kṛṣṇa was the most popular and attractive god of the sub-continent. He is Megh-Varṇa (with the complexion similar to that of a cloud) Gopāl (the protector of the cows), Murlī Manohar (who can enchant by the melody of his flute) and Madan-Mohan (who can mesmerize Kāmadev) with his beauty. He was adored in songs, he is worshipped in prayers, and he is venerated in dances. Beyond this, he is also adorned on coins.


The most adorable form of Kṛṣṇa i.e. Bāḷa Gopāḷa is frequently depicted on the coins. Among the many dynasties, those who have featured the adolescent manifestation, coins of Vijayanagara King Kṛṣṇa Dev Rāya  are the most beautiful ones. The Obverse of the coin depicts bejeweled Bāḷa Kṛṣṇa sitting with one knee bended and the other is raised up to the chest. A lump of butter is seen in the right hand while the left hand is rests on the left knee. He is wearing a crown of peacock feathers and is flanked by conch and discus. The reverse is inscribed with Devanāgari legend “Ṣri/ Kṛṣṇa rā / ya” in three lines.

The silver coin of Ananta Māṇikya of Tripurā depicts Krishna playing Flute, Standing on a dais with Female attendants either side holding Flowers and Bangla legend “Ṣrī Ṣrī Yu/ta Ana/nta Māṇi/Kya Deva in a square area with arabesques around, within a circle and outer flower border in the reverse.

The other coin is a copper issue of Venkatappa Nāyak one of the rulers of Nayaks of Gingee in Tamil Nadu region. The obverse of this copper coin depicts four armed Lord Krishna playing the flute with one bird (peacock) and cow on each side’s, within dotted border. The reverse of this coin depicts a Telugu legend which reads “Ven Ka Ta Pa” within a circular ring and decorative dotted border.


Kṛṣṇa is the symbol of eternal love; his journey to become a man who was worshipped like a god is most enchanting. To understand him you have to understand Gītā, he was attached to the world yet he was so detached from it. He was a warrior but yet he kept war as a last resort. Dharma was his doctrine and Karma was his salvation.



केशव धृतबुद्धशरीर जय जगदीश हरे|


Depiction of Daśāvatāra on Indian Coins


The 9th Avatāra of Lord Viṣṇū appeared in Kalīyuga – the most notorious phase of the existence of the universe. When the world had lost real understanding of the scriptures and was stooped in ignorance (practices without the right philosophy), Buddha an enlightened man restated the importance of self-realization and self-effort in realizing oneself. He was responsible for changing the rigidity in the practice of contemporary Hindū Dharma and incorporated  a philosophy free from the rigidity of scriptures. The adoption of Buddha as one of the Avatāras of Lord Viṣṇū under Bhagavatism[9] was a catalyzing factor in assimilation during the Gupta period between 330 and 550 CE. By the 8th century CE, the Buddha was declared an avatar of Vishnu in several Purāṇas.[10]


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 with all the aesthetic features of Buddha like the head bun, the sanghati (the over cloth), and long ear lobes. Coins of Kanishka depict Buddha in both Gold and Copper Coins.

A Gold Dinar of Kanishka I depicts standing Buddha on the reverse with his right hand hold in abhayamudrā. Bactrian legend “Boddo” appears on the left. The Obverse of the coin portrays the crowned portrait of the king who is shown offering alms in a fire Altar.

Similary the Copper tetradrachm or unit of the king depicts Maitreya Buddha seated facing on a meditation platform along with Bactrian legend “Mitrago Boudo” around. The Obverse of the coin portrays the crowned portrait of the king who is shown offering alms in a fire Altar. Metrago Boddo or Maitreya Buddha is the future incarnation of Buddha according to the Mahayāna and Vajrayāna Buddhist traditions.



केशव धृतकल्किशरीर जय जगदीश हरे|


Depiction of Daśāvatāra on Indian Coins


“Now, the redemption which we as yet await, will be that of Kalki, who will come as a Silver Stallion: all evils and every sort of folly will perish at the coming of this Kalki: true righteousness will be restored, and the minds of men will be made as clear as crystal.”[11]

The last among “The Depiction of Daśāvatāra on Indian Coins” is Kalki – the tenth Avtāra of Viṣṇū which is yet to appear. It is believed that the last incarnation will be known by the name Kalki or Kalkin by the end the Kali Yuga, one of the four periods in the endless cycle of existence. Etymologically speaking, the name Kalki is based on the word “karki” (white or from the horse) which morphed into Kalki. [12] He is described as the avatar that appears at the end of the Kali Yuga. He ends the darkest, degenerating and chaotic stage of the Kali Yuga to remove adharma and ushers in the Satya Yuga.[13] It is described to appear on a white horse and will yield a flaming sword which will be his weapon with which he will strike down all evil. His appearance will also mark the end of Kali Yuga, after which the Krita Yuga will again begin where purity of mind will reign over all else.[14]


Unfortunately, Kalki is not yet portrayed on the coins of any dynasty, but India Post, in the year 2008 issued special stamps dedicating to “the Gīta Govinda” of Jaidev. The stamps feature Jaideva writing the beautiful Sanskrit Poem and the Incarnations of Lord Viṣṇū. The 10th incarnation is depicted as a blue skinned man sitting on a white horse and slaying the evil around him.

The description and details of Kalki are inconsistent among the Puranic texts. He is, for example, only an invisible force destroying evil and chaos in some texts, while an actual person who kills those who persecute others and portrayed as someone leading an army of Brahmin warriors in some. His mythology has been compared to the concepts of the Messiah, Apocalypse, Frashokereti, and Maitreya in other religions. Kalki is also found in Buddhist texts[15] which describes 25 rulers, each named Kalki who rule from the heavenly Shambhala. The last Kalki of Shambhala destroys a barbarian army, after which Buddhism flourishes.


वेदानुद्धरते जगन्निवहते भूगोलमुद्बिभ्रते। दैत्यं दारयते बलिं छलयते क्षत्रक्षयं कुर्वते।।

पौलस्त्यं जयते हलं कुलयते। कारुण्यमातन्वते म्लेच्छान् मूर्च्छयते।।


The Daśāvatāra Stotra, carved by Jaideva ends with a concluding verse where he sums up with an endorsement mentioning all the incarnations of Lord Viṣṇū and offering him an obeisance.

The concept of Daśāvatāra of Bhagwāna Viṣṇū denotes the duties of Lord Viṣṇū of as the preserver of the universe. His job is to ensure the sustenance of the universe as well as to perform the cosmic function of cohesion created by Brahma – the creator. The concept of Daśāvatāra is not only a mythological subject but up to an extent has scientific and historical support. The Depiction of Daśāvatāra on Indian coins mirrors the absorption of a belief system in to a society and its continuity through the centuries. Such phenomena are responsible to form a core of an ancient and ongoing thought process such as the Hindū Dharma.



[1] The Sahyādrikhaṇḍa of the Skanda Purāṇa

[2] Karṇa Parva of the Mahābhārata

[3] SSIC, Vol. II, op. cit, p.118

[4] Constance Jones Encyclopedia of Hinduism

[5] David Dean Shulman The King and the Clown in South Indian Myth and Poetry

[6] Valmiki Ramayana – Bala Kanda verses 1 – 20



[9] The Buddhist Viṣṇu: Religious Transformation, Politics, and Culture by John Clifford Holt

[10] Gitagovinda of Vaishnava poet Jayadeva

[11] James Branch Cabell

[12]  the G3.6 manuscript of Mahabharata

[13] The Garuda Purana

[14] Kalki Purāṇa

[15] the Kalachakra-Tantra


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