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Deciphering history through coins

COIN HUNTER: Numismatist I.K. Rajarajan with his rare collection. Photo: R. Ashok

COIN HUNTER: Numismatist I.K. Rajarajan with his rare collection. Photo: R. Ashok

The Ananthappa Nadar Street in Sivakasi resembles a maze with narrow lanes. But locating I.K. Rajarajan’s house is not at all difficult because it is the only ‘periya veedu’ (big house) in the vicinity standing for more than 120 years. “It was built by my great grandfather Papanasam Nadar,” Rajarajan welcomes me in.

We both take seats amidst a pile of coins and artefacts as he pulls one coin after the other from his huge collection of 20,000-plus.

“The credit goes to my great grandfather who nurtured the passion in my grandfather Ayya Nadar and father Kalirajan. The practice of collecting coins has passed through generations,” he says.

Rajarajan has a piece of copper that dates back to 3000 years. “Earlier, there was no currency and barter system was in practice. Then, people sold pieces of metals they had to buy groceries and other food produces. This copper metal is one such rare piece,” he claims.

Rajarajan, who is a fireworks agent, got into the hobby from childhood. The information about the coins was passed on to him by his father who was a groundnut cake merchant. His family’s interest in numismatics dates back to centuries, when Thiruthangal was an important transit point for traders visiting Chera Kingdom. People used to rest in Thangal (the place should have derived its name from this activity) which was then a pastoral land. “Greeks and Chinese traders have also passed through Thangal. You could find coins scattered all over the place,” he says and shows a coin belonging to the period of Genghis Khan.

He is the proud owner of the first currency minted during the Maurya period that is 2300 years old. “Mauryas used silver coins with their government emblem. They used tortoise shell as mould to mint coins. They also used shells found on seashore as moulds. You could feel the curve. I have a coin minted by King Ashoka which belongs to 237 B.C.,” he says.

Another prized possession is the one with an imprint of Alexander on the face of the coin. “It belongs to 327 B.C. and there is also a story that Alexander married an Indian tribal woman. I have the coin minted by the third descendant of the family. On one side an olive tree is found and on the other a Greek God on a chariot is printed,” says Rajarajan. He also has a coin with the portrait of Seleucus Nicator, the trusted general of Alexander the great.

The gold coins of Rajaraja Chola came out in three different weight categories – 3.3, 4.4 and 5.5 gms. “I have sought the help of historians and archaeologists to find out the reason behind issuing coins in different weight categories,” he says.

The coin minted by King Uttama Chola is distinct with a tiger and fish printed reminding the King’s victories over two Pandia Kings. “Tiger is the official emblem of Chola and fish is the emblem of Pandia. Grantha Tamil is printed on the other side,” he says.

On his own Rajarajan added British period coins of George V and VI and Queen Victoria to his kitty. “I regularly participate in auctions and buy coins. Finding a 1,000 years old coin is a rarity nowadays,” he rues.

Rajarajan has obtained Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS) certificate for all the important coins he has. “It lends authenticity to my collection. They grade the coin and also certify the quality and depreciation value. Certification fee is Rs.1500 per coin,” he says.

He regularly visits educational institutions and creates awareness on coin collection. He has never ventured out of his district though requests for a visit to Chennai, Tiruchi and Madurai keep pouring in. “Unlike museums where visitors are not allowed to touch the coins, I allow people who come to see my collection to touch and feel the items. It thrills them,” he says, adding he avoids going out given the issue of safety and logistics as well.

Other than the coins, Rajarajan also has artefacts and utensils that are more than 500 years old. Of which a jewel box made of rose wood stands out with its intricate and exquisite carving. “We have spent a fortune to preserve and protect our collection. My main objective is to reach out to more people and preserve my collection for posterity,” he asserts.

A rare collection:

Rajarajan has a coin with the name ‘Nur Jeha’ imprinted on it. The coin has an interesting story behind. “When King Jehangir fell ill and was away from duty for a short period, his chief consort Nur Jehan took over the reigns and issued coins in her name. When Jehangir came back to power, he called back all the coins and ordered his lieutenants to behead those in possession of the coin even after the cut off date. I am one of the proud owners,” he laughs.

Tidbits

Grading is done to determine the physical condition of a coin. There are different grades ranging from Poor (almost completely worn out) to Perfect Uncirculated (a coin with absolutely no wear and no flaws of any kind). Coins that have been properly preserved since the day they were minted are called ‘uncirculated’ or ‘mint state.’ Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS) represents the industry standard and has an acceptance among numismatists


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Printable version | May 25, 2022 4:01:17 am | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/Deciphering-history-through-coins/article14511357.ece