यदा यदा हि धर्मस्य ग्लानिर्भवति भारत

धर्मसंस्थापनार्थाय सम्भवामि युगे युगे॥

“It is I who descends to earth from time to time to reinstitute the order when the anarchy prevails” – the concept of Divine descend is a phenomenon that speaks about the manifestation of divinity into a form. In Bhagawad Gitā [1] Shri Kiṣṇa declares that God himself incarnates to eradicate the evil, to put an end to the impious practices and to eliminate the chaos that prevailed in an otherwise peaceful society. These incarnations or the Avatāras is a core concept of Hinduism and being the preserver and sustainer Aspect of God within the Hindu Trinity; they are often associated with Viṣṇu. When pertaining to Avatāras in the Hindu tradition, the most widely associated deity is clearly Viṣṇu. According to the Bhāgavata Purāṇa, Viṣṇu has innumerable Avatāras in unlimited universes, though there are ten major incarnations, known collectively as Daśāvatāra. The concept of Daśāvatāra – ten incarnations of Lord Viṣṇu – is not treated as mere mythological or religious stories in India, but is incorporated in the roots of Indian society in the form of philosophy as well as performing arts and creative arts. The most unusual combination of Daśāvatāra mythology, Indian art forms and the practicality of Indian society is “the Depiction of Daśāvatāra on Indian Coins”.

Coins form a very important link to their times and evidence of the religious beliefs of the society and the ruling authorities. The depiction of Daśāvatāra on Indian coins, likewise, is a clear enough evidence of the acceptance of Viṣṇu by the society as a major god. Moreover, it also affirms the belief of the existence of that “larger than life character” that saves the mankind from turmoil. The depiction of Daśāvatāra on Indian coins is not just found on the coins of any particular dynasty but on the many coins issued throughout ancient India.



केशव धृतमीनशरीर जय जगदीश हरे|





On one fine day of the early phase of Satya Yuga, a fish appeared in front of king Manu and warned him about a Pralay (flood) that could destroy the Universe. The fish further instructed Manu to build a huge boat that would contain the Seven Sages (SaptRiṣīs), seeds of all plants, one animal type of each species. The prediction comes true! After seven days huge flood came and the boat sailed. The Fish appeared again and propelled the boat and saved those who were on it. This was the first Avatar of Lord Viṣṇu and is associated with the beginning of the world. [2]


The first Avatar of Viṣṇu is depicted on at least two coins of the Madurai Nāyakas. First one belongs to Queen Mangammal (Mangamma). On the coin, Matsya is depicted as a human torso connected to the tail of a fish holding either chakra or shell in his hands. The reverse has a Telugu legend “Ṣri Mangamma” within a square dotted frame. [3]


The other coin belongs to a different epoch of the same dynasty. Though, the ruler is anonymous the coin is known as ‘Ṣri Vira’ type kasu which depicts a Fish swimming in waves in the right direction. The reverse has legend ‘Ṣri Vira’ inscribed in Kannada.


The Matsyavatar of Viṣṇu is narrated as “Flood being the end of the world” Myth which is common across most cultures. It can be compared to the Genesis narrative of Abrahamic tradition most commonly known as the story of Noah’s Ark.[4]




केशव धृतकच्छपरूप जय जगदीश हरे|




The second Avatāra Kurma is the tortoise incarnation that relates to the myth of churning the ocean (Sāgar Manthan) to obtain treasures dissolved in the ocean. While the Devas and Asuras were churning the ocean for the nectar of immortality, the mountain Mandārachala that they were using began to sink in the soft ocean floor, so Lord Viṣṇu became a turtle and rested the mountain on his back to keep the mountain afloat.


The Kurmāvatar is featured on a variety of coins. The “Ṣri Vira” type coin is the most remarkable one. The coin depicts Kurma as a human torso connected to the tail of a tortoise in a dotted border facing upwards. The reverse of this coin is inscribed with Kannada legend “Ṣri Vira”

A ‘copper cash’ of Tamil Nadu, in the name of Venkatapati Rāya II/III also adorns the Kurma Avatāra of Lord Viṣṇu. A tortoise representing the second incarnation of Viṣṇu is shown within a dotted border on the reverse whereas the obverse shows the Kannada legend “Venkatapati Rāya”. [5]


The Kurma Avatar holds a very deep and significant philosophy behind it. The ocean is representative of the deep consciousness or the human mind and the gods and the demons symbolize the good and bad sides of a human. The tug of war represents their struggle and the choices that we make determine the treasure that comes out of the ocean. More importantly, the Tortoise signifies that determination and efforts taken by an individual when combined with self-confidence do not let us sink in the ocean of despair. [6]



केशव धृतसूकररूप जय जगदीश हरे|


The third incarnation was Varāha or the boar. The demon Hiranyāksha abducted the Mother Earth (Bhmī devī) and took her to the Pātal Lok, deep under the ocean. He also stole the Divine Vedas from Lord Brahma while the Lord was in deep meditation. The Lord Viṣṇu took the incarnation of Varāha and rescued the Mother Earth which had submerged in the ocean, and brought the Earth out by lifting it on His Two Tusks from the ocean after killing the demon Hiranyāksha. Lord Viṣṇu in Varāha Avatar also retrieved the Divine Vedas from the demon and gave it back to Lord Brahma.[7]


The most peculiar representation of the Varāha Avatar of Viṣṇu is found on the coins of Gurjara Pratihāra. The type itself is known as the Ṣrimad Adi Varāha Drammas and the coins were issued in two different periods. One was issued by the ruler Vināyakapāla and the other by an unknown ruler.


The Adi Varāha Drammas of Vināyakapāla depicts Varāha facing right from its waist – upwards. Vanamāla can be seen in the neck of the Varāha. The Varāha is shown with or without an upturned lotus above the head of Varāha which determines the typology of the coin. The reverse is inscribed with Nagari Legend “Ṣri Vina / yakapā / ladeva” in three lines.[8]


The unattributed Adi Varāha Drammas is extensively carved and is found with differences in the portrayal of the Varāha determining the varieties of the type. The coins depict Varāha in a dotted border wearing ‘Vanamāla ‘ standing astride facing right. His left leg is shown raised and slightly bent at the knee. He is shown standing on a lion and a solid pellet near his snout represents as an earth. A mace is seen in the right field with a solar wheel below it. A trident is seen behind the Varāha. The Reverse is read with the full legend of Legend “Ṣrimadādi / Varāha” in two lines and fire altar is seen below flanked by attendants on both the sides.


Varāha Avatar represents the transformation of materialistic desires into spiritual desires. Varāha means a positive turning point that comes in the life of every individual which helps him to outgrow materialism and yearn for spiritual awakening.



केशव धृतनरहरिरूप जय जगदीश हरे|



Viṣṇu appeared as Narasimha in his fourth incarnation. The Asura king Hiraṇyakashipū obtained a boon of invincibility from Lord Brahma. The boon gave Hiraṇyakashipū superpowers according to which he would die neither at the hands of a human nor an animal, neither during day nor night, neither on earth nor in heaven, neither indoors nor outdoors, neither by fire nor by water or any weapon. He soon turned into a tyrant and he assumed he was the supreme power of the universe. His son, Pralhād, was a devotee of Viṣṇu. When the tyranny of Hiraṇyakashipū became nuisance Viṣṇu appeared on earth as Narasimha. He took a form neither of a complete animal nor of a complete man. He transformed into half lion and half human. He arrived at dusk, a time which is neither day nor night; he appeared in the courtyard, thus it was neither indoors nor outdoors, and tore the Asura apart with his bare nails which were not termed as a weapon.


In South Indian art – sculptures, bronzes and paintings – Viṣṇu’s incarnation as Narasiṃha is one of the most chosen themes and amongst Avatāras perhaps next only to Rāma and Kṛṣṇa in popularity. This ferocious form of Viṣṇu is adored by his devotees and like other Avatāras, it has depicted in various art forms including coins.


The most beautiful coin of all is a Gold Fanam of Krishna Rājā of Wodeyar. The coin depicts Narasimha seated in Yoga bandham holding in his upper hands the stylized attributes of a flaming chakra. The reverse is inscribed with Nāgari Legend “Kantirava Narasa Rājā” [9]


Along with the depiction of Matsyāvatāra, Rāṇī Mangammal also issued the fourth reincarnation of Viṣṇu. This copper coin depicts Narasimha with the face of the Incarnation and the body of a lion. The depiction is more close to the ferocity of the incarnation itself. The reverse of the coin has a legend “Ṣri Mangammal” in Telugu.


Cera Kings of Venad also issued a copper coin depicting the fourth incarnation of the Narasimha. The coin depicts Narasimha seated in Yoga bandham holding a weapon that looks like a plough in both the hands on one side. The other side of this coin is even more peculiar as it depicts a combination of Sword, dagger & symbol with pellets.


Narasimha avatar has attained a rare significance and importance. All His Avatāras are generally of a single form But Narasimha avatar is of a dual form of Man + Animal. Narasimha is a significant iconic symbol of creative resistance, hope against odds, victory over harassment, and destruction of evil. He is the destructor of not only external evil but also one’s own inner evil of extreme pride.



केशव धृतवामनरूप जय जगदीश हरे|



Ṣri Vāmana Avatār was fifth in the line of Daśāvatāra of Lord Ṣri Maha Viṣṇu. Viṣṇu took the form of a Dwarf Brahmin to subdue King Baḷi. The story goes like this. King Mahā Baḷi was a very mighty demon king who had assumed control over heaven, earth and the netherworlds that threatened the position of Indra as the King of Gods. Hence, Viṣṇu was hailed to rescue the universe from the grasp of the demon king. Viṣṇu took birth at a Brahmin house and appeared in front of Baḷi when he was performing a sacrifice of consolidation of his power. Vāmana went to Baḷi asked him three steps of land, to which Baḷi without any delay agreed. Vāmana showed His true identity assumed huge proportions, with his first step claiming the heavens and his second step claiming the netherworlds. Since there was nowhere else to step on, King Baḷi offered his head for Vāmana to step on. Pleased with Baḷi for fulfilling his word, Vāmana spared Baḷi’s life and granted him the netherworlds to rule upon. Lord Viṣṇu in Vāmana avatar regained the heaven for Indra.


The one and only coin that depicts the Vāmana Avatāra of Viṣṇu hails from the Nayakas of Madurai. This copper unit of an anonymous king depicts Vāmana on one side. Vāmana is shown holding an umbrella in right hand and his left hand is raised. Similarly, he is depicted with his left foot raised which seems to be resting on the head of another human figure i.e. King Baḷi. The other side depicts inscription: “Ṣri Vira” in Telugu.[10]


Hidden behind every Avatāra is a message/moral that is conveyed. Vāmana Avatāra conveys the message of humility. Vāmana Avatāra is the first Avatāra where Viṣṇu took complete human form. The uniqueness of this Avatāra is that, unlike other Avatāras, Viṣṇu overcame this problem with his intelligence not by violence or weapons.



Daśāvatāra is not a topic of mere mythology but has serious inferences woven with it. The stories of Daśāvatāra opens up a vast world of Indian belief system, culture and philosophy as well as it answers the metaphysical question of “How it all began?” and “How it is going to end” Depiction of Daśāvatāra on Indian Coins is one of the ways to keep the philosophy and culture of India alive that began thousands of years ago.

Stay tuned for Depiction of Daśāvatāra on Indian Coins – II!



[1] DnyānaKarmaSanyās Yoga Bhagavad Gita, Verse 7-8

[2] J.P. VASWANI (2017). Dasavatara. Jaico Publishing House. pp. 12 – 14.

[3] Tamil Coins Institute of Epigraphy, Tamilnadu State Department of Archaeology

[4] The Book of Genesis Seth 113


[6] The Book of Vishnu by Nanditha Krishna pp 37-43




[10] Image Courtesy: Mr Amit Udeshi

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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