Laxmi & Saraswati

Ellen M. Raven ellraven at WXS.NL
Tue Apr 13 10:32:56 UTC 1999

[As this issue was on the Indology list some time ago, I run the risk
of repeating earlier responses; if so, my apologies].

As to the  device, of Kumaragupta I's gold coins, showing a
goddess standing on a makara (which is not the same as a crocodile,
but rather its mythic nephew with at least one elephant among its
ancestors): quite a few sculptures in stone and terracotta from the
same period show (by their context) that this deity represents not
Lakshmi but the river goddess Ganga.

The motif of feeding peacock is in fact familiar from several
coin types of  Kumaragupta I, not only the Tiger-slayer coins. It
is also found on particular varieties of the Horseman Type, and on
the rare Elephantrider-Lionslayer Type.  It seems like an additional
device, a variation of the usual device of goddess on reverse
holding attributes.

Instead of holding something (a diadem fillet) or distributing
coins, she feeds a peacock. It is unlikely that the peacock was ever
intended as an identifying attribute for the goddess.

That the bird is indeed a peacock is quite clear from those designs
for these coins (they come in many dies), where you can still clearly
see the tuft feathers on the crown of the bird's head, and/or its
raised tail, sometimes also with distinctly drawn peacock feathers
(so-called fan-tailed peacock sub-variety, see catalogue of the
Bharat Kala Bhavan collection no. 163). In most coins the tail
feathers are off the flan.

The particular interest, especially in Kumaragupta's reign, in coin
devices with a peacock (sometimes with the king, sometimes with the
goddess, sometimes as vehicle of Karttikeya) is indeed a striking
phenomenon which deserves its own comments.

With regards,

Ellen Raven
IIAS/Kern Institute, Leiden University

> Date:          Mon, 12 Apr 1999 23:32:38 -0400
> Reply-to:      Indology <INDOLOGY at LISTSERV.LIV.AC.UK>
> From:          "Dr. Nupam Mahajan" <nupam at MED.UNC.EDU>
> Subject:       Re: Laxmi & Saraswati

> > The generally prescribed vehicle of Sarasvati is the swan, not the
> > peacock. The Goddess seated on a peacock should be identified as
> > kaumArI, one of the mAtRkas. It may be significant that the coin was
> > minted by kumAragupta. But then, how tight is the identification of
> > the bird in the coin as a peacock? In the image, it seems to be a
> > long-necked bird, but are there other identifying marks to call it a
> > peacock?
> > ps. Sometimes, kaumArI is also depicted as holding a Veena in her
> > hands, thereby coming to be identified, perhaps mistakenly, with
> > Sarasvati. Another Goddess who holds a Veena, but is not usually
> > identified with Sarasvati, is mAtangI. There is one famous verse
> > describing mAtanga-kanyA as 'mANikya-vINAm upalAlayantI'.
> Dear Vidyasankar,
> Thanks for the reply. The complete description of the coin is as follows:
> On obverse, king is shown wearing short sleeved coat, Dhoti, turban,
> earrings, necklace, armlets, wristles and trampling tiger by his right
> foot. He is shooting at it with his bow held in right arm, left hand
> drawing the string of the bow. The tiger is shown falling backwards with
> gaping mouth. The legends on obverse reads `Srimama Vyagrahabala Parakramaha',
> his majesty having the strength and valour of a tiger.
> The reverse show goddess, nimbate, standing, slightly bent on `makara',
> the crocodile, holding behind her a lotus with long stalk, in her left hand.
> She is shown feeding a peacock with fruit. She is wearing a sari, bodice,
> earrings, necklace, armlets etc. The Legends written in Brahmi reads
> `Kumarguptodhiraja'.
> Well, there is no mention of name of deity, but since goddess is standing
> on crocodile, many believe that she is laxmi. Of course, we have no mention
> of bird either on this coin which made me to consider the alternate
> possibility.
> Best wishes,
> Nupam
> Dr. Nupam Mahajan, Ph.D.,FRNS
> Room 230, CB#7295
> Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center
> UNC, Chapel Hill, NC 27599, USA
> Fax: 919-933-5455

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