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Punch-Marked Coins

Punch-marked coins, minted in India, were silver of a standard weight but with an irregular shape, made by cutting up silver bars and then adjusting to the correct weight by cutting the edges of the coin. They bear neither a date nor any name of a state or king, only symbols punched on the faces of the coins. The basic denomination was the karshapana, 32 rattis in weight and containing on average 3.2 - 3.5 grams of silver. Sanskrit writers such as Manu and Panini, and the Buddhist Jataka stories made mention of these coins. The Arthasastra names other denominations of silver coins, the ardhapana (half karshapana), pada (quarter karshapana) and ashta-bhaga, or arshapadika (one-eighth karshapana), but most fractions are apparently cut karshapana.

The first Punch-marked coins were probably issued in the 6th century B.C. by the Mahajanapadas of the Indo-Gangetic Plain. During the Mauryan period, punch-marked coins were issued in large quantities; these were a continuation of the Magadha Kingdom coinage as the ruling house of this empire established the Mauryan Empire. Punch-marked coins circulated in North India until the beginning of the Christian era, in South India, punch-marked coins circulated until about 300 A.D.

Some types had a single symbol, For example, Saurashtra had only a humped bull, and Dakshin Panchala had only a Swastika. Other types, like Magadha, had several or many punched symbols. About 450 different punches have been identified. The symbols are religious, mythological, or astronomical in character. Among the marks most  commonly found are the sun, and six-armed symbols, various forms of geometrical patterns, circles, wheels, human figures, various animals (elephant, cow, chariot, horse, bull, jackal, tree, tiger or lion), bows and arrows, hills and trees, and the dharmachakra (an eight-spoked wheel that represents the Buddhist eightfold path). Some of the more artistic designs include Buddhist shrines and chaitya, and the animal types. On the reverse side of the coins is depicted the so-called Ujjain symbol, which is a cross with four circles at the end of the two crossing lines. The identity and meaning of the many of the symbols is obscure.


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