"Samarakolakalan" Copper jital, Garuda type
The Banas were a dynasty of powerful chieftains, who appear on the Tamil scene from the beginning of the Christian era, and played a subordinate role to all the major powers of the Tamil country. During the early Pallava period they were active in the northern part of Tamilnad serving the Pallavas. Towards the end of the Pallava rule they shifted their field of activity towards the Kavari region near Trichy. At the height of the Chola reign they were absolutely subordinate to the Imperial power. But when the Chola power showed signs of weakness, they showed their might and were sought after by both the Cholas and Pandyas. When Kulottunga III, conquered Madurai in the 13th century A.D., he installed the Bana as the ruler and gave him the title Pandya. Bu within a short period Maravarman Sundara Pandya, captured the Chola country with the help of the Bana and honoured him with some territories. This was the signal for the Banas to achieve independence. So long as the mighty Jatavarman Sundara Pandya and Maravarman Kulasekhara maintained their power till 1310, Banas bid their time and with the family feud of the Pandyas showing their ugly head in the 14th century, the Banas asserted their independence. They are seen ruling Madurai, a part of Ramnad, and even a part of Kongu country. From 14th to middle 16th century their epigraphs are found in regions Madurai, Ramnad and Pudukottai.
They were called in all these recors, Mahabali Vanadarayar. They were great Vaishnavites and were deeply devoted to Lord Vishnu of Alagar Koil and the Andal temple at Srivilliputtur. The main Vimana of the Andal shrine of Srivilliputtur was built by the Bana Chieftain. Before the advent of the Ramnad Sethupati Chieftains, Ramesvaram and its pilgrim route were under the control of the Banas. They assumed the title Bhuvanekavira and Setumula Raksha durandharan.
An inscription from Sevalur, in Thirumeyyam Taluk Pudukkottai district, mentions a Bana whose same is given as Sundaratoludaiyan and Thirumalirunjolai ninran (after the name of the deity of Alagar Koil). His number of titles are also recorded in the epigraph. Among them Samara Kolakala and Bhuvanekavirare the important titles worthy of note. From another village-Nekkonam, dated in Saka era 1045 (1483 A.D.) comes anoter inscription of the same Bana ruler, whose following titles are significant.
Samarakolakalan Bhuvanekaviran Sethumula Raksha durandaran Madhurapuri mahanayakan Pandyakulantakan Rajakula sarpa garudan Garudaketanan etc.
It is evident from the above that he had the Garuda as his royal crest. That he conquered Pandyas and was master of Madhurapuri is also significant.
Against this background may be viewed the number of coins assigned to the Pandyas by all scholars on S. I. Numismatics. These coins bear two distinguishing titles Bhuvanekavira and Samarakola kalan. Type 1: Obverse: a seated Garuda on a fish; flanking the Garuda are conch and discus. Reverse: The legend reading Samarakolakala. The legend is in three lines separated by line markings. Type 2: Obverse: Garuda with conch and discus Reverse: Legend Samarakolakala in beteen lines. Type 3: Obverse: Gauda with conch and discus Reverse: Legend Samarakolakala in between lines. Palaeographically earlier. Type 4: Obverse: Garuda. Sankha and Cakra, a beautiful umbrella above. Reverse: legend ‘Bhuvanekavira’. Type 5: Obverse: Garuda holding a snake in the arms. Sanka Cakra present in the obverse. Reverse: the legend Bhuvanekavira separated by lines. Type 6: Obverse: Garuda with conch and discus. Reverse: Two fishes shown horizontally with a crozier in between.
All the above types ascribed to the Pandyas by earlier writers were the issues of the Banas of Madurrai-Ramnad area. The fact that the Garuda is shown seated over the fish indicate that they have put down the Pandyas. The title “Valudisekharan” shows their conquest over Pandyas. The title Garudaketanan would show why they depicted Garuda on the coins. Another interesting title is ‘Rajakulasarpa Garuda” the Garuda to the snake of Rajakula (literally the very death to other Rajas). As if to portray this, the Garuda in their coin is shown holding a snake in its arm.
Over the head of Garuda is a well executed umbrella.
As mentioned earlier that there is some palaeographical difference in the letters of the coins which indicate that all do not belong to the same period. Some of them are 15th century and others 16th century coins. In the initial stage the Banas seem to have tried to maintain the continuity of Pandya tradition. So the coin bearing two fish and a sceptre on one side and the Garuda on the other but with no legends may be taken to be the earliest series of the Banas.