By Kavan Ratnatunga
On May 16, the Central Bank of Sri Lanka, issued a sterling silver crown-sized commemorative coin for the 2600 Sambuddhathva Jayanti. The Buddhist Era started in 544 BCE which is canonically adopted as Buddha's Parinibbana at age 80. So 2011 is 2555 BE which is 2600 years after the Buddha's enlightenment at age 35. There are many estimates which are 60 to 120 years shorter.
A 2011 nickel plated steel Rs. 10 commemorative coin will also be issued and is expected from the Royal Mint in a few weeks. It is minted to the specification of the standard Rs. 10 coin issued in April 2010.
Silver coin, obverse:
At centre, a symbolic representation of the Sri Maha Bo-Sapling in bowl with 2600 on a large pedestal. The words Sambuddhatva Jayanti appear within the upper part of the annulus in Sinhala at the apex and in Tamil and English to left and right. 2011 appears within annulus at bottom. Silver coin reverse:
At centre a 24 prong Dharma Chakra (wheel of doctrine). Along the upper part of the annulus the name Sri Lanka in Sinhala at the apex, with Tamil and English to left and right. The face value 1000 in numerals and Rupees are seen below at centre in Sinhala with Tamil and English to left and right, within the lower part of the annulus.
At centre of the obverse is the same 24 prong Dharma Chakra with the anniversary 2600 in the central circle. The words Sambuddhatva Jayanti appear, within the upper part annulus in Sinhala at the apex and Tamil and English to left and right. The words Yunjatha Buddha Saasane (a society that acts righteously on Buddhist Philosophy) are seen within the lower part annulus in Sinhala in the centre and in English and Tamil to left and right.
Only 2000 of the silver 2600 Sambuddhatva Jayanti coins were minted and with a face value of Rs. 1000 are being sold at Rs. 7500 each by the Central Bank while stocks last. 250 coins were retained by CBSL, with the rest being sold to the Buddha Sasana Ministry who proposed the coin issue, did its design and funded its minting. This coin will become a difficult collector’s item unless the Buddha Sasana Ministry puts most of its coins up for public sale.
The frosted proof coin is in a coin capsule inside a bright yellow leatherette covered Royal Mint presentation box. A printed numbered Certificate of Authenticity contains the specifications and the text in Sinhala, Tamil and English.
The certificate says the Dharma Chakra represents the Four Noble Truths. The usual Dharma Chakra adopted in Sri Lanka, like on the national emblem has eight spokes and represents the Noble Eightfold Path. Wikipedia states the 24 spokes represent the Twelve Laws of Dependent Origination and the Twelve Laws of Dependent Termination (Paticcasamuppada). The CBSL press release says the 24 lattice symbolize Suvisi Vivarana the 24 proclamations given to the Bodhisattva (future Gautama Buddha) by 24 former Buddhas approving him as the Buddha designate. I could not find a reference to this association with Dharma Chakra.
The Buddhist Dharmachakra with 24 spokes, is found on the stone pillar built by the Emperor Asoka at Saranath in Varanasi, where Buddha preached his first sermon. The Asoka Chakra was adopted in India as their national emblem and placed in the centre of the Indian flag. The chakra used on this coin is slightly different, by the additional circle of dots, one on each of the spokes, and convex nature rather than a central bump on each rim section of the Ashoka Chakra.
The spelling on the certificate of Sambuddhathva Jayanthi is different to the correct English transliteration found on the coin. This spelling JAYANTHI is used in the 2550 Buddha Jayanthi coins issued in 2006. The press release uses this spelling and few other variations. The addition of ‘h’ and switching V to a W are common English transliteration methods adopted by those who converse mainly in Sinhala. This is the 10th silver crown to be minted by CBSL since the first commemorative was issued for the 2500 Buddha Jayanti celebrated in 1957. Of these 10 coins, five have been for Buddhist anniversaries, three for CBSL anniversaries and one each for the 50th Anniversary of Independence, and the 1996 World Cup Victory.
The author maintains an educational website on Lankan coins at http://coins.lakdiva.org/, and is President of the Sri Lanka Numismatic Society