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Ramatanka Indian temple tokens (reverse sides) | by RETRO STU
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Ramatanka Indian temple tokens (reverse sides)


Thought I’d post a picture of these unusual Hindu tokens with a brief explanation of what they are. Indian temple tokens of this type called ramatankas, were used as Hindu festive gifts and votive offerings at temples. After the mid 19th century temple tokens were commercially produced and sold to devotees at pilgrim sites, they could also be purchased from bazaar dealers. These tokens were also a source of income to the temples who would recycle their use by collecting up and selling them back to the local dealers. The dealers then resell the tokens so everyone was a winner!


There were many jewellers and metal workshops mainly in Calcutta minting large numbers of them and later examples of this design dating from the 20th century are still quite common, costing around 5 Euro (£4 approx.) each. Ramatankas were solely religious tokens and did not circulate as currency.


Ramatankas of the above design were not the only type of temple token and other series were produced. Their history goes back to the 12th century and medieval temple tokens were known to be minted in gold, these are very rare and their use was restricted to Southern India. Northern India, controlled through Islamic sultanates and the Moghuls forbid the use of human-like images on coins and other iconography so not to offend their muslim subjects. By the 18th century the Moghul Empire across Northern India was weakening and was further hastened by the arrival of European expeditionary and mercenary forces, especially the English. The relaxation of Islamic rule there allowed a resurgence of Hindu expression and this brought with it widespread use of their temple tokens. By the later 19th century the use of temple tokens was endemic to Northern India whereas in the South their use declined.


During the early 18th century silver ramatankas started to appear and usage peaked around the early 20th century. Events during World War II and leading to Independence in 1947 brought many social changes by which time the celebration of Diwali became prominent and the role of ramatankas was quickly superceded by those of the Diwali tokens. Today Diwali tokens (mostly featuring Ganesh and Lakshmi) are widely bought as votive gifts for devotees and friends.


While silver remained relatively inexpensive and routinely used for coinage, ramatankas and other temple tokens continued to be made in silver, with varying degrees of fineness. After World War I the use of silver for coinages was restricted and temple tokens more and more came to be minted in brass with a silver coating. By the second quarter of the 20th century they were made solely in brass and other copper-based alloys of lower grades. Some were crudely cast rather than struck from dies.


Both ramatankas photographed above are of solid silver and date to the 19th century. Later ramatankas of similar design would be in silver (tin) coated or uncoated plain brass.


The one with the two upright standing figures (on the right) is about 27mm diameter with an oblique milled edge. This dates it to the earlier part of the 19th century. The other about 28mm diameter dates to around the 3rd quarter of the 19th century. Precise dating of temple tokens is impossible and any years stated on them are symbolic rather than the actual year of mintage.



Designs on all ramatankas were inspired by scenes from the great Hindu epic, the Ramayana (meaning Rama's journey). This tells the story of Rama’s banishment, exile and eventual triumphant return to his claim his kingdom at Ayodhya. Dubar scenes on ramatankas always include the main characters of the Ramayana – Rama, his wife Sita, his half-brothers Lakshman, Baratha and Satrughra. The monkey god Hanuman, a loyal devotee of Rama is always there as well, giving devotion to Rama. Hanuman played a central role and provided invaluable assistance to Rama.


During his coronation celebrations, Rama sits on a platform (dubar) while to his right sits Sita. Lakshman, his half-brother, stands to the far left holding the royal parasol. Opposite right are Rama’s other half-brothers, Baratha and Satrughna. Hanuman the monkey god sits or kneels beneath the platform offering prayers and devotion to Rama.


The smaller coin shows minor variations such as the addition of an attendant standing behind Lakshman and Satrughna holding a cooling fan or fly-whisk.


The Dubar scenes on the coins photographed are a simplified version showing only the six main characters. Earlier versions on temple tokens were more crowded showing several attendants and sometimes inscriptions. From the early 18th century inscriptions rarely accompanied the Dubar scene.



The two figures on this side are Rama with his half-brother and inseparable companion, Lakshman. They are always shown holding their bow and arrows, sometimes a trident as well (as in these coins). Both were legendary in their archery skills.


Around the edge is a Devanagari inscription invoking names from the Ramayana. A rough translation reads ‘rama ladamana janaka jabala hanamanaka’ but there are also many corrupted variations of the same. ‘ladamana’ refers to Lakshman, ‘janaka’ was king Janaka, father of Sita, ‘jabala’ was Jambavat, king of the bears who helped Rama on his way to Lanka and ‘hanamanaka’ refers to Hanuman, the monkey god.


The lower section contains a symbolic year date in Devanagari (not the year of mintage). Where a year is stated it usually reads 1700 or 1740 but there are also other variations such as 51740 and the smaller coin photographed has extra numbers ‘2230’ I do not know the significance of these numbers but if anyone does, I’d appreciate any information. ‘Baxa_1’ kindly suggested the numbers may represent the number of prayers to be said. However, I was unable to verify this from other sources.


During the first half of the 20th century other varieties of ramatankas became available. The two figures of Rama and Lakshman being replaced with that of Hanuman, Jagannath or the yantra (a mystical set of 9 numbers that add up to 15 in each direction). These variants are scarcer than the standard design ramatankas.


I am always glad to share information on my interests. But if anyone else has more to add, additional information will be greatly appreciated.


I have provided a brief synopsis of the Ramayana epic with the other photograph of these coins.


Thank you for reading.


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Taken on March 31, 2009