Nana on Lion (A Study in Kushana Numismatic Art)

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Item Code: IDI008
Author: B. N. Mukherjee
Publisher: The Asiatic Society
Edition: 1969
Pages: 190 (Figures: 56)
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 9.5" X 7.2"
Weight 570 gm

Book Description
About the Book:

One of the most active periods in the history of plastic art, the Kushana age saw the origin and/or development of several interesting iconic types. Many of these devices appear on the coins of the Imperial Kushanas, which constituted one of the media through which the creative genius of the Orient expressed itself in the Kushana age. One of these coin-devices portrays the Babyionian (Sumerian) goddess Nana sitting on a lion. The position of this deity in the land of Indian art and iconography forms the main subject of enquiry made in this volume.

While Chapter I introduces the subject, Chapter II studies the origin and development of the iconic type in question. The style of execution and the technique of production followed by the class of Kushana coinage displaying Nana on lion are discussed in Chapter III. Chapter IV draws the socio-economic background-which favoured the introduction of a non-Indian iconic device in the land of Indian art and iconography. The results of enquiries made in these chapters are summed up in Chapter V.

The appendices discuss different relevant topics like (I) "The Prototype of an Obverse Device of Kushana Coinage", (II) "The Deity of Pushkalavati", (III) "The Interest of the Kushana Empire in Indo-Roman Trade-an Illustration", (IV) "The Deity on a Silver Bowl in the Oxus Treasure", (V) "An Intaglio Seal from Peshawar" and (VI) "The Hermaphrodite Figure on a Silver Plate,"

A complete catalogue of the objects illustrated in the fifteen plates forms a novel feature of this volume. A select bibliography and a detailed index have enhanced its value.

The present work sets a new pattern of research in the history of Indian iconography and numismatic art. The author is already well known from his large number of articles printed in different learned journals. His published books include The Kushana Genealogy (Studies in Kushana Genealogy and Chronology, vol. I) (1967), Itihasa-Ekli Prachina Bharatiya Chetana (in Bengali) (1968), Kanishka I and the Deccan (The Kushanas and the Deccan, pt. I) (1968) and An Agrippan Source-A Study in Indo-Parthian History (1969).


The scope of the present monograph is fully discussed in Chapter I. We shall confine ourselves here to some general remarks.

in spelling of proper names, we have tried to follow, with a few necessary exceptions, conventional forms. For example, the name of the son of the Kushana king Kujula is written as V'ima Kadphises and not as V'ima Kathphisa. San, appearing on Kushana coins, has been transcribed as sha. The sound signified by san is known to have been expressed by the letter sha in Indian sources. Diacritical marks have not been generally used in modern proper names, including geographical. The term India denotes, unless otherwise indicated, the Indian subcontinent comprising the territories of Indian Republic and Pakistan.

In course of my research I have received valuable advices and suggestions from Dr. R. G. Basak, Prof. S. K. Saraswati, Prof. A. L. Basham, Prof. H. W. Bailey, B. K. Ray Chaudhuri and Dr. K. K. Das Gupta. I owe a debt of gratitude to each of them.

The Late Narendra Sing Singhi was kind enough to allow me to examine his excellent coin-collection, wherein I re-discovered the unique coin of Kanishka III displaying Nana on lion. This particular piece has been fully discussed in the present monograph. I am grateful to the Asiatic Society for publishing this monograph and to Dr. R. C. Majumdar, the great historian, for recommending it to the Society for publication.

The manuscript has been carefully typed out and made ready for press by Mr. S. K. Mukherjee. I have been assisted in various other ways by Messrs. D. N. Das, S. Chowdhury, D. P. Gupta, R. Chatterjee, D. Dutta, S. N. Dey and N. Dey. The jacket has been drawn and the plates have been prepared by Mr. D. Roy. Mr. A. Bose of the Sree Saraswaty Press Ltd. Has seen the book through the press. The index has been very ably prepared by Dr. D. R. Das. I am grateful to each of them for taking personal care in course of the preparation and printing.

I am indebted to the authorities of different collections, objects from which are illustrated in Plates I-XV. They have been mentioned in the Catalogue of the Objects Illustrated.

In spite of our best efforts some printing mistakes have crept in. For these I crave indulgence or readers.

November, 1969.

B. N. Mukherjee


Kushana is an illustrious name to students of Eastern art and antiquities as well as to those of political history. The creative genius of the Orient expressed itself in the Kushana period through different media of art. One of them was coinage.

Several coin-types of the Kushanas have been studied by successive generations of scholars not only as sources of political and economic history, but also as objects of art and iconography. However, there are still many devices, artistic merits and iconographic traits as well as underlying concepts of which have not yet been properly studied. Such assessments are necessary for determining the place of Kushana coinage in the evolution of Indian mining the place of Kushana coinage in the evolution of Indian plastic art. An attempt is made in this monograph to examine one particular Kushana coin-type from these points of view.

The class of Kushana species in question bears on the reverse the figure of a female seated on a lion. The accompanying inscription identifies her, as we shall see later, as Nona, i.e., Nana (Chapter II). The appearance of the famous ancient Babylonian (Sumerian) goddess Nana on several coins of the Kushana empire, is a well-known fact. So is also her identification with the ancient Akkadian-Assyrian deity Ishtar and the Persian goddess Anahita (Chapter II). Anahata (Anahita), whose cult was perhaps not so ancient as that of Ishtar or of Nana, was described in an epigraph from Susa as being invoked by Artaxerxes (Ii Mnemon) (405-361 B.C.). The same Achaemenid emperor was described by Berossos as having erected statues of Aphrodite-Anaitis in the temples of the great cities of the empire including Bactra. Several classical sources speak of an attack on the temple of Artemis-Nanaina in Elymais by (the Seleucid king) Antiochus (IV). Epigraphic evidence found in a temple complex at Dura-Europos, dated roughly to the 3rd and 2nd centuries B.C., refers to Nanaina (i.e., Nana). A cult image of Nnai has been discovered at Hatra. She also appears on clay votive tablets at Palmyra, while a few seals found there carry the figure of Ishtar. The lion of Nana and the inscription Nanaia can be noticed on cons of Sapadbizes found in the territories on the Oxus and datable to a period before the rise of the Kushana empire.

The above data testify to the popularity of Nana and also the other deities identifiable with her in parts of Asia in the centuries immediately before the beginning of the Christian Era. These testimonies suggest the persistence of the worship of ancient Babylonian Nana and early Assyrian Ishtar in those centuries. The above evidence also indicates the existence of cults of the goddesses and also of Anahita in territories later included in the Kushana empire and/or in certain localities (including Palmyra), which were important commercial centres in Rome's trade with the Orient, in which the Kushanas participated (Appendix III).

Thus Nana (i.e., Anahita and Ishtar) seems to have been known in certain regions incorporated in the Kushana Empire. Her appearance on coins may indeed allude to her popularity among a section of the subjects of the vast area of the Indian subcontinent, it was not impossible, prima facie, for this very important West Asiatic goddess to influence Indian religion and, its handmaid, the Indian art. No comprehensive attempt has yet been made to determine the influence of her concept on Indian iconic representations. The greater part of this monograph will be devoted to fulfil this need.

This iconological discussion is proposed to be followed by an analysis of the stylistic features of the representation of Nana on lion and their relations to the known trends of Oriental art. Such an assessment has its own importance, since coins still form a much neglected branch of Indian art.

The technique of mining Kushana coins will also be scrutinised. The excellence of art depends to a great extent on the technique adopted by the artist. Hence it is regrettable that very little or almost nothing has been written on the relevant topic.

Similarly, not much attention has yet been paid to the political, social and economic background of early Indian art. The knowledge of such a background is desirable, since artists, who formed an integral part of the society, could not possibly have been immune from influences of contemporary political or economic conditions. We shall look at this background so far as it is related to the growth of the Kushana art, which created the coin-device "Nana on lion".

We propose to study Indian art through the medium of a Kushana coin-type.


Style and Technique33
Rulers, Artists and Environment47
I. The Prototype of an Obverse Device of Kushana
II. The Deity of Pushkalavati 72
III. The Interest of the Kushana Empire in Indo-Roman Trade-an Illustration79
IV. The Deity on a Silver Bowl in the Oxus
V. An Intaglio Seal from Peshawar 95
VI. The Hermaphrodite Figure on a Silver Plate101
PLATESat the end
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