First Lord Shiva on an Indic Coin
Lord Shiva is probably the most revered and well known Gods of the Hindu trinity and in my view the maximum numbers of Temples in India are dedicated to Lord Shiva and his various Avatars and incarnations.
In the Himalayan context, its Shiva again considered the Lord of the Mountains. The Abode of Snow as the term Himalaya means in Sanskrit were also considered to be the Abode of Lord Shiva himself. The much revered Mount Kailash, the mythical abode of the Lord himself was located in the Trans Himalaya.
Besides Mount Kailash there are a number of different Mountains / Peaks in the whole Range that were connected with Lord Shiva. These include the Adi Kailash in the Kumaon Himalayas, the Kinnaur Kailash in the Kinnaur region of Himachal, the Shrikhand Mahadev in Himachal and the Chamba Kailash in Bharmour. Besides these there is the Mt.Haramukh in Kashmir considered the abode of Shiva as per the local beliefs.
But where is actually the oldest Hindu Temple and where is the oldest Shiva Temple ? I tried to find the answers but it was rather inconclusive with no firm answers. But one of the possible locations pointed out was a place called Surkh Kotal, a historical site related to the Kushans and the Great Emperor Kanishka himself, located near Pul E Khomri in the Baghlan Province in Northern Afghanistan in the foothills of the Hindu Kush Mountains. This region in the older times was called as Bactria, which was a great center of amalgamation of Greek, Iranian and Indian cultures and religious practices.
Of course for those of you in the know, the Kushanas were from Central Asia and had a large Empire and Kanishka was the Greatest King of the Kushanas who ruled a large Empire stretched from Central Asia to the Tarim Basin to Northern India and even Eastern India uptil Patliputra. Kanishka and the Kushana Empire was one of the most syncretic Empire ever seen and the most outstanding feature was their coinage which featured a large Pantheon of Gods from the Greeks, the Mesopotamian, the Avestan and Indic figures like Shiva and Buddha.
And the best part is that unlike most of the structures built by the Kushanas and Kanishka in particular are now in ruins but their spectacular achievements and history still survives in their Coinage. And a lot of them exist to even this date found all over the vast Region that the Kushanas had spread their Empire over. The thing about Coins is that they are virtually indestructible until someone decides to melt them.
And it was Kanishka himself who issued the first coins which featured Shiva or Osheo as he was also referred to. As per the auction site I got this image from this is probably the first time that Shiva was featured on Indic coins :
Kushan Empire. Kanishka I. Circa AD 127/8-152. Æ Tetradrachm (25mm, 16.72 g, 12h). Main mint in Kapisha (Begram?). Middle phase. Kanishka standing left, holding goad and standard, sacrificing over altar; flame at shoulder / Siva standing left, holding thunderbolt, diadem, trident, and flask; tamgha to left. MK 781; ANS Kushan 553-60; Donum Burns 164; W. Pieper, “The earliest Saivite images on ancient Indian coins,”.
The Kushanas issued several other different versions of the Coins featuring Lord Shiva as well including him holding a damru and a Trident. And with Nandi Bull in the background. The one I found most intriguing is the one in which Lord Shiva is shown with an erection, probably pointing out to the Phallic symbol that is worshipped in many Temples as the Shiv Linga. More on that later once I know enough.
The whole irony of the whole situation is the fact that the first coin featuring the most revered Hindu God was coined in Bagram in Afghanistan (more Central Asian than Indic) on the foothills of the Hindu Kush and by an Emperor whose origin was Central Asian and not Indic. And the biggest irony that this all happened under the shadows of the Great Mountains of the Hindu Kush instead of the Himalayas.