Tuesday, September 16, 2014

A mystical legend based on the “Magic Coins” tokens of the Malay Archipelago

A mystical legend based on the “Magic Coins” tokens of the Malay Archipelago , by Saran Singh AMN, AMP, PNM

Magic coin tokens believed by many people to possess mystical powers, were issued during the rule of the powerful Hindu Sri Vijaya Empire based in East Sumatra (7th Century to the early 14th Century). The early issues of these tokens were made by Hindu priests who possessed the knowledge of mystical powers by which they chanted special prayer verses over these magic coin tokens. During the Majapahit Empire (14th Century onwards), the production of these magic coin tokens was taken over by Bomohs ( persons who are believed to heal through white magic by reciting the appropriate verses) and Pawangs (traditional medicine men).

These magic coin tokens were issued to serve any one of the following purposes:

a. Protect one from harm from ones enemies
b. Protect one from accidents
c. To provide healing powers during sickness
d. To protect one against evil spirits
e. To ward off the evil eye of someone
f. Provide success in business
g. To provide a safe journey
h. To provide control over another person, especially in matters of love, a bad
   mother-in-law or any other undesirable person

Some of these magic coin tokens depict an old man with a humped back walking with the help of a tongkat (walking stick). Other tokens of these series depict a scary looking figure of a demon. As the story goes, a rather interesting legend eventually evolved around these figures of the old man and the demon, which is recorded below.

There was a large dense forest in which lived an evil demon. The demon would appear in front of any unwary traveller who decided to take a short cut through this forest. More often than not, the unfortunate traveller would end up being devoured by this demon. Most of the nearby villagers would keep away from this forest and prefer to take the longer and more tedious route around the jungle.

One fine day, an old vice man decided to take the short cut through this forest. When he finally reached a fork in the middle of this forest, the demon suddenly appeared in front of him.

Demon: “How dare you travel through this jungle! However, I will let you proceed with your journey and reward you as well with a bag of gold coins, provided you can answer correctly three questions. If you fail to answer them correctly, I will slowly devour you alive”.

Old Man: “What are your three questions?”
Demon:  1. “In the morning, what species has 4 legs?,   
               2. In the afternoon, it has 2 legs and
               3. In the evening. 3 legs”

The old man thought for a while and replied to the demon in the following manner,

Old Man: 1. “When a baby is growing up (morning), it crawls on 4 legs
                2.  When he becomes a young boy (afternoon), it walks on 2 legs
                3.  When he becomes an old man (evening), he walks with 3 legs with the help
                     of a walking stick (his 3rd leg) to support himself”.

In the language of the demon, the phases of a human life = childhood, adult and old age are known as morning, afternoon and evening. The old man walked away happily with his pot of gold coins.  

Magic coins have been in existence for centuries. Even as early as the 20th Century, such coins were available and being sold. Today, in the 21st Century, modern version of these coins are still sold by the pedlers on the roadside. Most are duplicates or copy's of the older versions. 

The portraits on these coins are very different then the typical numismatics coins issued. 

[Pictures of these coins to be posted later this month]

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