Tibet historically represented a forbidden land of strangers and an exotic region of mystery–said to be the location of the fabled Shangri-La. Land-locked and completely encircled by the Himalayan and Kunlum mountains north of Nepal and India, Tibet is isolated from the world. For centuries outsiders were few and far between. A succession of Buddhist Dalai Lamas, the absolute spiritual and temporal leaders of this small theocracy, purposely isolated the country for over a thousand years.
Tibetan coinage is quite scarce; what little coinage there was came from other nations until the first Tibetan government mint opened in 1791. It closed two years later, re-opened in 1836, and produced coins for only a little over 100 years more before the country was mostly destroyed by invaders. The Tanka’s obverse shows a stylized Lotus flower within a circle surrounded by the 8 Buddhist Lucky Symbols: •Chattra- Parasol; protection against all evil; high rank. •Dhvaja- Banner; the victory of Buddha's teachings. •Sankha- Conch; absence of all evil, the glory of holy people •Shrivasta- An infinite knot; long life and never-ending love. •Dharmachakra- Wheel of the Law; the eight spokes represent the eightfold path. Completion and salvation through Buddha's teachings. •Kalasha- vase of abundance; contains water of immortality. Spiritual wealth. •Matsyayugma - Golden fish, salvation from suffering, fertility. •Padma - The perfect lotus; purity.
Their order and specific designs varied over time. The reverse shows an 8-petaled wheel/flower within a star surrounded by a Tibetan legend fit into eight oval frames: “Ga-den Palace, victorious in all directions.” The mystical images and inscription on the coin are consistent with multiple, deeper, hidden meanings within Buddhist symbols. Ga-den is a reference to the government of Tibet Ga-den Palace, the former historical residence of the Dalai Lamas. The 8 divisions of the coin symbolize the 8 compass directions and the 8 pathways to enlightenment and good fortune. The Lotus flower symbol also has two meanings - first, the beautiful oriental flower represents creativity and purity amid adverse surroundings. Rising out of the muddy water, people have seen this flower as worthy of emulation, teaching them to be detached from material preoccupations. Second, the design incorporates a pathway down the center of the flower to another world...that of sensory heaven.
These undated Tibetan silver coins are known as Ga-den silver tankas; they are considered by many to be perhaps the most beautiful of all Tibetan coins. They were struck in many minor design variations from about 1850-1948, during the time of the 12th-14th Dalai Lamas. The tanka’s basic design was influenced by earlier Nepalese coins that originated as local versions of the famous India silver rupee. This coin shows the 8 lucky symbols which are believed to bring good fortunes, ward off evil, and represent Buddha’s teachings.
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