Contemporary Dynasties

The Kotas of the Yamuna-Ganges

It is a frequently repeated that the Kushan Empire remains only partially known because few narrative sources survive, instead its history must be reconstructed from scattered references in Chinese and Western sources, inferences from silence in the Puranas, occasional mentions in inscriptions and their enigmatic coinage. If that is true of the Kushan dynasty, the pre-eminent political unit of India and Central Asia, how much more true is it for their neighbors and contemporaries? The Kotas are one of the political units that interacted with the Kushans and they present exactly this problem.

Examples of Kota Coinage, showing the Brahmi characters for 'ko' and 'ta' clearly in the centre of the coin. The letters are flanked by two symbols, in this case a flower and a barred line. (Images courtesy of the collection of Nicholas Rhodes)

The Coinage

Kota coinage is so-called for the large Brahmi monogram which appears in the centre of the obverse of many of the coins. Not all of the coins have 'Kota' in the centre. Some say 'Kola' or 'Bala', and one series of coins loses the 'ta' as it progresses and says only 'ko'. These are combined with a variety of different symbols, such as flowers, thunder-bolts, tridents, wheels, etc.

On the reverse of the coins is a standing figure in front of a bull. On the coins executed in good style and heaviest in weight, this figure is clearly holding a trident in his hand (usually his right). This then vanishes but the hand remains upright. In most types of coins there is then a group in which the opposite hand is held upright but without the trident, and finally a group in which neither hand is held upright. Each of these stages is accompanied with a gradually more and more crudely executed image.

Kota coins generally weight between 3 and 6 grams, with the exception of one group, which say Bala, and occasionally carry legends, which weigh less and often depict only a bull. This group is connected to the other group of Bala coins by a group which have both the legends Bala and Kota.

Prototypes and Date

The reverse of the Kota coins has a very clear prototype, the Kushan coinage from the time of Vasudeva onwards. On the quite rare, but best, examples of Kota coins in which the standing figure still holds a trident it is clear that the design has been copied from the Kushan image of Wesho. In fact one example of the Kota coins has been published in which the image retains the original bactrian legend OHPO next to the figure (Riches, 2000). Wesho is often referred to as Siva, because in later centuries the Indian god Siva is depicted in exactly that fashion. It is unclear how much the Kushans equated the god Wesho with Siva, and how much Sivaite images borrowed iconography from depictions of Wesho. Undoubtedly both occurred in the Kushan period. However, there is no evidence to think that the Kota's though of this figure as anything other than Siva so I will refer to him in that way.

Aside from the use of Siva there is also the weight of the Kota coins. They are frequently made in a crude fashion so it is hard to establish a precise weight standard. However the broad range from 3 to 6 grams is in line with the weight standard maintained for Kushan copper coinage in the period from Kanishka II to Kanishka III (aprox. AD 227-241). One last similarity with Kushan coinage is also worth mentioning. The use of Brahmi letters joined (but not ligatured) vertically first appears shortly before the reign of Vasudeva II (second half of the third century). I would not place too much stress on this as it is possible the idea was natural enough that both mints established it independently or that the Kushans copied the practice from the Kotas.

The apparently later group of Kota coins which feature the legend Bala weigh substantially less and seem to be closer to the weight standard of the time of the last Kushan kings, Shaka and Kipunadha. On this basis it seems reasonable to assign the issue of the Kushan coinage to the period from Kanishka II to Shaka. A period of about a century from the middle of the second to the middle of the third century AD1

The Allahabad Inscription of Samudragupta

There are very few references to the Kota's beyond their coins. The famous Allahabad inscription of Samudragupta makes reference to the Kota family, though it is unclear if this dynasty is referred to directly. The possibility that Samudragupta ended Kota political independence fits neatly with the time frame of the coins which seem to run from the time of Vasishka to that of Shaka, the latter of whom is a contemporary of Samudragupta. However, we should be cautious about taking brief notes in the self-aggrandizing propaganda of Samudragupta as historical fact.

More examples of the Kota coinage from different series, this showing the trident and thunderbolt type.

Some of the series, such as this, show other character beside 'Kota' as in this case.  And this example (also courtesy of Nick Rhodes) appears to be overstruck on another type.


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Robert Bracey.
Paleography. Les Riches (2001) has attempted to date some of the Kota coinage based upon the letter forms employed. His dates depend largely on unfounded assumptions about a war between the Kushans and tribal groups in the Punjab. Our understanding of the paleography in the third/fourth century is fairly limited, and the letter forms appear quite stable between the Kushan and Gupta periods, so it is doubtful that paleography will help.