Tuesday, April 2, 2024

Record of Earliest Metal Currency in Bhutan

For me the burning question that takes precedence over when coins were first struck in Bhutan is the question: when did coins first appear in Bhutan? The answer, according to what is generally accepted is: 1619. It is written that during that year, Zhabdroong Ngawang Namgyel visited Chapcha in Chhukha Dzongkhag at which time there is an elaborate written account of the Koch Kingdom’s “Gyalpo Pema Narayan” having offered him the following Buelwa (offering):

List of Buelwa made to Zhabdroong Ngawang Namgyal by Gyalpo Pema Narayan of Cooch Behar

The Gyalpo under reference would have to be Maharaja Prana Narayan – and not Pema Narayan as quoted.

However, there are serious problems with the above record, as follows:

Firstly, it is not possible that the Zhabdroong would have had the luxury of time to go preaching in Chapcha, having arrived Bhutan less than three years earlier – in 1616. It is generally accepted that he was busy subjugating the recalcitrant Lam Kha Nga, including warding off the repeated invasions from the North by the Tibetans, in an effort to regain possession of the holy Rangjoong Kharsapani which Zhabdroong had carried off, upon his fleeing Tibet.

Secondly, according to dependable written records, Prana Narayan ruled the Koch Kingdom between 1626 and 1665. This means it is not possible that Prana Narayan would have made the above Buelwa offering in 1619!

If it was indeed Prana Narayan - and it appears that it was him who made the Buelwa - our historical records yet again goes for a toss! It means that Zhabdroong Ngawang Namgyal’s visit to Chapcha would have to have been made in, or after, 1626. If this is true, then we will need to rewrite our history yet again – we will have to record that the earliest coins entered Bhutan in the year 1626 or thereafter.

It is quite possible that a Tibetan contemporary may have made a noting of the Zhabdroong's visit to Chapcha - I am currently pursuing that angle. If anyone can speak with authority on the subject - it would be that person - namely: Tsang Khenchen Pelden Gyatsho.

Whichever year is the correct year, one thing is beyond doubt - one of the coins that would have been offered to Zhabdroong, as part of the Buelwa, would have to have been the following Silver Tangka issued by the Koch Kingdom's Gyalpo Naranarayan, in the year 1555, upon his coronation as the second Koch King.

The above Silver Tangka of Naranarayan of Koch Kingdom (a copy of which is in my collection and will be featured in my book under the category "Foreign Coins Used in Bhutan) was acquired from a family in one of the villages under Chhukha Dzongkhag adjacent to the erstwhile Buxa Duar. According to the past President of the Indian Numismatic Society, the coin is the absolute first copy of the silver Tangka issued by Maharaja Naranarayan.

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