Dr. R. Krishnamurthy (1933-2021): A Life In Quest Of Ancient Scripts And Coins
Dr R. Krishnamurthy democratised the knowledge of numismatics among the collectors as well as dealers in Tamil Nadu.
In 1886, Walter Elliot published a book Coins of Southern India. Ninety-nine years after, in 1985, a southern Indian author wrote in the preface to his book that the perfection of the book and the photographic excellence in presenting the ancient coins of southern India had not yet been surpassed by the present publications which had come out of Tamil Nadu on the subject.
The author set forth to change the situation.
He was by education a geologist and by profession a journalist. But by choice and passion he was a numismatist.
Born in Nagercoil as the son of the founder of Dinamalar, the popular Tamil daily, Krishnamurthi studied geology and then went on to become editor of the newspaper his father founded.
He embraced the simplification of Tamil script advocated by EVR. This also led him into the quest for the origin of Tamil scripts, which later became a lifelong passion with positive consequences for Tamil Nadu.
An avid collector of ancient coins and an epigraphist in his own right, he discovered a significant number of ancient coins and wrote about the historical importance of the discoveries.
Despite the fact that the Sangam age had been a memory of pride for the Tamils, particularly in the last two centuries, coins related to the Sangam age had not been discovered for a long time.
Even in textbooks, this absence had been noted.
In 1984, it was Dr. Krishnamurthi, who deciphered the name ‘Peruvazhuthi’ a typical Sangam age Pandya name, in an ancient coin which he had obtained at Madurai. It was written in Tamil-Brahmi.
On the front side of the coin there was a horse. Krishnamurthi at once realised the importance of this discovery and published it in a daily paper ‘News Today’ dated 16 November 1984. He wrote:
Till now no Sangam age Pandya coin with horse on the obverse and legend over it is known. The coin I came across is a rectangular copper coin with four corners chiseled. In the bottom, there is a horse figure facing left which is eroded and above the horse and in front of there is a beautiful legend in Tamil-Brahmi script. I have read the legend as ‘Peruvazhuthi’.
The discovery was presented in the 72nd annual All India Numismatic Conference held at Varanasi and published in its 1985 journal.
It was not a chance discovery. Krishnamurthi was a man on quest.
He went on to gather coins belonging to the Sangam Chola kings' age, from the old coins market, in a painstaking manner.
In 1985, he published a book on Sangam age Chola coins. It was in the preface to this book that he lamented the absence of good books on the subject after Walter Elliot.
Pointing out that Elliot published his book after he lost his eye sight and with the help of financial assistance from his friends, he had underlined the dedication of the author in his preface.
This was lacking in us despite the fact that it was our own heritage and we had access to better technology, he emphasised with regret.
Meanwhile, he was also searching for coins of Chera kings. It was in 1987 that he discovered some coins with the trademark bow-arrow marks of Cheras.
He wanted to ascertain the site of their excavation from the coins dealer, who was not ready to reveal it. But Krishnamurthi guessed it to be from Karur, the Amaravati river bed. There indeed coins had been discovered.
His educated guess, based on historical knowledge, was quite right.
However, people who got those coins had sent most of them for melting in furnaces along with other old, metallic things.
It was this knowledge-based quest and discoveries of Chera coins by Dr. Krishnamurthi that conclusively proved Karur to be the ancient Vanji, as pointed out by eminent archeologist and scholar S. Ramachandran.
In 1987, the Sangam Chera coins were shown in a projector presentation at the 74th conference of Numismatic Society of India.
Dr. Krishnamurthi had intensive academic interactions with stalwarts in the field like Dr. Iravatham Mahadevan and Dr. Nagaswamy. His books on Sangam coins of Pandyas and Cholas, and his discovery of Chera coins which also indicate Roman connections have helped scholars and collectors of ancient coins immensely.
He importantly democratised the knowledge of numismatics among the collectors as well as dealers.
He published his books on Sangam coins in simple Tamil with elaborate sketches and excellent photographs. He definitely undid the collective shame of Tamil society borne out of the absence of proper and popularly available books on ancient coins of southern India after Walter Elliot.
Dr. Krishnamurthi died on 04 March 2021. He was 88.
The best way to offer our respects to the departed scholar is to further carry forward his work which involves furthering the knowledge of ancient history, preserving the heritage in the field of numismatics and democratising the knowledge through various mediums available.
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