Tuesday, July 5, 2022

The Power Behind Bhutan’s Earliest Coin

By 1765, Bhutan’s stranglehold over the Koch Kingdom was complete. Nothing moved unless the Ja Chila, posted by Bhutan at the capital of the Kingdom, authorized it. It was during this time that Bhutan’s coining journey began for the first time – in the independent kingdom of Koch Bihar.

One of Bhutan's rarest coins. Unlike what most western writers record, Bhutan's coining journey began in the Koch Kingdom in the year 1765 (and not in Bhutan around 1790 as recorded), upon installation of a Jagar Poenlop - called the Ja Chila - at the Koch Kingdom's capital. The Ja Chila issued this coin - Bhutan's first - for circulation in Koch Bihar.

To the western world, Bhutan’s earliest coin, in silver metal, came to be known as the “Ma” coin because it had the alphabet “Ma” on the top right hand corner of the coin’s Reverse. To the Bhutanese however, the coin is identified as “Ngingtang Ghatikap” - meaning old coin of Ghatika - because the coin was hammered at a mint located at a place called Ghatika in the Koch Kingdom.

But today’s post is not about Ngingtang Ghatikap – but the power behind the coin’s issue – Gya Chila, or more accurately Ja Chila. Ja is short for Jaggar and Chila is the title given to a Poenlop with religious background – as in Choetse Chila Chogyel Minjur Tenpa.

The fact that he was designated “Chila” means that the person must have been a Lam. Unfortunately his name is rather confusing. There are three different versions of the name. Different records name him as follows:

Punsuthma    … Official website of the government of Cooch Behar
Punso Toma  …  Historian Ram Rahul in his book “Modern Bhutan”
Punsutama    …  Researcher Dorji Penjore of CBS in his book titled “Zhidar Matters”

I believe that none of the above is correct. In all likelihood the name may have been “Phuntsho …….... something”. I am still trying to find out – so far without success.

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