Coins of tribute – Sunday Times

Coins of tribute

Coins of tribute

Three coins, depicting various scenes from the Buddha’s life, are being issued to celebrate the 2550 Buddha Jayanthi

By Kavan Ratnatunga

The Central Bank of Sri Lanka has issued three commemorative coins in the denominations of Rs. 2000, Rs. 1500 and Rs. 5 to mark the 2550th Buddha Jayanthi year.


The coins were presented to President Mahinda Rajapaksa and a few other dignitaries, at the inauguration of the 2550 Buddha Jayanthi celebrations held at the Presidential Secretariat on May 11.

The two crown size sterling silver Rs. 2000 and Rs. 1500 commemorative frosted proof coins depict the same scene from the Birth of the Buddha. A brass plated steel Rs. 5 coin will also be issued with the image of Sri Pada below a Dharma Chakra. In the Rs. 2000 coin the seven lotuses and the Bodhisatva Siddhartha are plated in gold. On the reverse, above a lake with lotus is shown a 24-pronged Dharma Chakra, as found on the Ashoka pillar at Saranath in Varanasi, where Buddha taught His Dharma to His first disciples.

According to traditional belief, after His birth in Lumbini, Siddhartha took seven steps under which seven lotus blossoms appeared, while announcing His forthcoming Enlightenment.

In the Buddha Dharma, worldly nature is likened to a lake of lotus blossoms. Just as there exists in a lake, young buds, mature buds and buds about to bloom, in the world of humans too there are men of diverse levels of attainment of consciousness. Disciples like lotus flowers in the lake, bloom by the radiance of the Dharma, represented by the Chakra. Buddhism, as a religion with some mythological beliefs and worship adopted by a majority in Sri Lanka, is represented on the obverse.

Buddhism, as a philosophy, a pure Dharma practised through meditation and being adopted by a growing international community, is represented in abstraction on the reverse, like the Ying and the Yang on two sides of the same coin.

The coins were designed by Kelum Gunasekara of Kelaniya, who also designed five of the 50 stamps issued by the Philatelic Bureau for the 2550 Buddha Jayanthi. The Royal Mint in Wales has minted 10,000 of the gold embossed silver proof coins with a face value of Rs. 2000 for the Central Bank. These are sold at Rs. 7000 each. The 20,000 silver proof coins, which have the same design, except for the face value of Rs. 1500, are sold at Rs. 5000.

It is unfortunate that the doubling of silver prices in the last eight months and the cost of production has required the Central Bank in collaboration with the Buddha Sasana Ministry to decide to sell the coins at a very high premium above the face value. That will make the coin unaffordable to most coin collectors in Lanka. It remains to be seen as to how many would buy the Rs. 2000 coin at Rs. 7000 or the Rs. 1500 coin at Rs. 5000 – more than three times the price of very similar silver proof commemorative coins sold currently at the Bank.

It also seemed a pity that the coins produced as a special rush order were only released for sale to the public after Vesak, on May 15. Limited quantities are available at the Central Bank, the Currency Museum located at the Centre for Banking Studies in Rajagiriya, the Ministry of Religious Affairs, and selected branches of Bank of Ceylon and People’s Bank. The proof coins are issued in a presentation box enclosed within a plastic coin capsule. These coins, which are individually minted without being touched by the human hand, should not be taken out of the plastic case, for a fingerprint on a proof coin will destroy the numismatic value of the coin, which in this case has been made to be a lot more than the face value.

The coin will clearly sell now to a few dedicated collectors. However, most people will wait till the long term devaluation of the Rupee and the increase in price of silver makes today's high price more attractive in a few years. Such was the case for the 1998 Rs. 5000 gold sovereign which was sold by CBSL for Rs. 8000. Usually CBSL has sold the silver commemorative coins at the cost of minting them, which is just above the face value. For example, in 1998, 1999 and 2000 CBSL issued three silver crown sized coins for the 50th Anniversary of Independence, the Cricket World Cup, and the 50th Anniversary of CBSL.

This is the third Buddhist commemorative silver coin issued by Sri Lanka in the modern era and clearly as beautiful as the first two. The first, a Rs. 5 coin was issued in April 1957 for the 2500 Buddha Jayanthi, and is still considered one of the most beautiful crown size coins in the world.

The next was the Rs. 500 coin issued in June 1993, for the 2300 Anubudu Mihindu Jayanthiya, which has been selected for the front cover of the 2007 Standard Catalog of World Coins to be published this month by Krause in USA.

The 1957 Buddha Jayanthi Rs. 5 coin has been popular among even non-collectors and was issued into circulation at its face value. Although 500,000 of the 1957 Rs. 5 coins were minted, 258,000 were returned to the Royal Mint in 1962 November, to be melted as silver bullion when the price of silver exceeded the face value. Many more have probably been melted to make jewellery. 50 years later uncirculated coins sell in the World Numismatic Market for about US $25. The far more rare proof of this same issue with only 1800 minted sells for about $60.

The 2550 Buddha Jayanthi Rs. 5 coin