Row over world's `smallest' coin

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM, AUG. 1. Which is the smallest coin in the world? According to the Department of Archaeology, the unique honour goes to the Half `vellichakram' of erstwhile Travancore, which weighs 0.18 gm and has a diameter of 5 mm, but numismatists hotly dispute the claim saying that it is not supported by any evidence.

They maintain that contrary to the department's claim, the Half `vellichakram' is not even the smallest coin in South India, let alone the world. The honour rightly belongs to the Quarter silver `tara' of Vijayanagar, which weighs just 0.06 gm and has a diameter of 4 mm. The Kannada letter, `bu' on the obverse indicates that it was issued during the reign of Bukka. The department has drawn support for its claim on behalf of the Half `vellichakram' from a book titled `Kerala Samskritiyude Samaya Rekhakal Naanayangalilude', brought out by the State Institute of Languages under a scheme for the publication of textbooks and literature in regional languages at the university level.

The Half `vellichakram', with a label saying that it is the world's smallest coin, was exhibited by the department at an exhibition held in connection with the annual conference of the South Indian Numismatic Society in the VJT Hall in January last.

Anomaly detected

An executive member of the South Indian Numismatic Society, Beena Sarasan, had brought the anomaly to the notice of the Director of Archaeology and the Secretary, Culture, through two letters. She pointed out that coins weighing 0.06 gm or less had been issued by Vijayanagar as late as the 15th and 16th centuries and were often found with coin collectors.

In its reply dated July 7, the department asserted that the Half `vellichakram' is the smallest coin in the world. Only the One-fourth `Java' of Nepal, which the Guinness Book of World Records says is the smallest coin in the world, can rival the Half `vellichakram' in smallness. However, the One-fourth `Java' was not a legal tender coin as it was cut out from the middle portion of the silver `Java'.

Claim contradictory

Ms. Sarasan points out that the present claim of the department contradicts an earlier finding of its own research wing, the Numismatics Study Centre, Nedumangad. In a paper by G. Sarojini Amma titled `Coin hoards from Naduwayal and Nelluwai, Kerala', in the book, `Studies in South Indian Coins', it was stated that "silver `Taras' of Kozhikode, weighing only 0.064 gm or 0.128 gm may be the smallest known currency in the Malabar coast".

The vice-president of the Kerala Philatelic & Numismatic Association, N. Sreedhar, has also written to the Archaeology Director contesting the claim regarding the `vellichakram'. Says Ms. Sarasan: "Even the Quarter `Tara' of Vijayanagar may not be the smallest coin in the world, but there is no doubt that it is much smaller than the Half `vellichakram'. The department's claim has no basis in fact and is misleading."

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