Krishna & Balram : The Earliest Representation

These coins seem to be the first known representations of Vedic deities on coins, and they display early Avatars of Vishnu: Balarama-Sankarshana with attributes consisting of the Gada mace and the plow, and Vasudeva-Krishna with the Vishnu attributes of the Shankha and the Sudarshana Chakra wheel.

Agathocles Dikaios (meaning: "The Just") was a Greco-Bactrian/ Indo-Greek king, who reigned between around 190 and 180 BC. He might have been a son of Demetrius and one of his sub-kings in charge of the Paropamisade between Bactria and Indus-Ganges plains. He seems to be a Buddhist. Very little is known about him, apart from his extensive coinage.

Agathocles issued an intriguing range of bilingual coinage, displaying what seem to be Buddhist as well as Hindu symbolism. Manufactured according to the Indian standard, using either Brahmi (ancient Indian script), Greek or Kharoshthi (ancient script used in Gandhar kingdom : present day Afghanistan & Pakistan), and displaying symbols of the various faiths in India,

The Hindu coins of Agathocles are few but spectacular. Six Indian-standard silver drachmas were discovered at Ai-Khanoum in 1970, which depict Hindu deities. These coins, discovered on 3 October 1970 hidden in a pilgrim’s water-vessel in a room of the administrative quarter of the Greco-Bactrian city of Ai-Khanoum, are key to the understanding of the evolution of Vaisnava imagery in India.

These coins from Ai-Khanoum are a precious indication of the forms taken by the Bhagavata cult and Vaishnavism in early India, and shows that this cult was already popular in the area of Gandhara around the 2nd century BCE.

The dancing girls on some of the coins of Agathocles and Pantaleon are also sometimes considered as representations of Lakshmi, the consort of Vishnu, but also a Goddess of abundance and fortune for Buddhists, or Subhadra, the sister of Krishna and Balarama. She is also seen in the Post-Mauryan coinage of Gandhara, on a Taxilan coin which is thought to have been minted by Demetrius I following his invasion.

Description of Deities on the Coins. 

The coinage of Agathocles (circa 180 BCE) incorporated the Brahmi script and several deities from India, which have been variously interpreted as Vishnu, Shiva, Vasudeva, Balarama or the Buddha.

1. Zeus holding Hecate and a scepter.

2. Divinity with a long coat (himation) with some volume on top of hair, partly folded arms. The attitude is similar to the Buddha of the Bimaran casket

3. Hindu god Balarama-Samkarshana with attributes

4. Hindu god Vasudeva-Krishna with attributes

5. Indian goddess Lakshmi.


Early representation of Balarama at the lower right of a Mauryan empire punch-marked coin, holding a mace and conch; 3rd BC.

(Presently at British Museum)


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