Three coins, depicting various scenes from the
Buddha’s life, are being issued to celebrate the 2550 Buddha
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
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
Twenty million of the 2550 Buddha Jayanthi Rs.
5 coins will be issued by the Central Bank. However, only a few
have been sent so far from the Royal Mint, and it will probably
be a few months before you see them in circulation.
The author maintains an educational website
on 2300 years of Lankan coins at http://lakdiva.org/coins,
and is Vice President of the Sri Lanka Numismatic Society.