Ashoka

Ashoka


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Ashoka - History

Ashoka is also known as Ashoka the Great, was an Indian emperor of the Maurya Dynasty who ruled almost all of the Indian subcontinent from ca. 269 BC to 232 BC. One of India’s greatest emperors, Ashoka reigned over most of present-day India after some military conquests. His empire stretched from the Hindu Kush mountains in Afghanistan to present-day Bangladesh and the Indian state of Assam in the east, and as far south as northern Kerala and Andhra Pradesh. He conquered the kingdom named Kalinga, which none of his ancestors had conquered starting from Chandragupta Maurya. His reign was headquartered in Magadha (present-day Bihar). He embraced Buddhism after witnessing the mass deaths of the Kalinga War, which he had waged out of a desire for conquest. He was later dedicated to the propagation of Buddhism across Asia and established monuments marking several significant sites in the life of Gautama Buddha. Ashoka was a devotee of ahimsa (nonviolence), love, truth, tolerance, and vegetarianism. Ashoka is remembered in history as a philanthropic administrator.

Ashoka was born to the Mauryan emperor Bindusara and his queen, Dharmā [or Dhammā]. He was the grandson of Chandragupta Maurya, founder of the Mauryan dynasty. He had been given the royal military training knowledge. He was a fearsome hunter, and according to a legend, killed a lion with just a wooden rod. He was very adventurous and a trained fighter, who was known for his skills with the sword. Because of his reputation as a frightening warrior and a heartless general, he was sent to curb the riots in the Avanti province of the Mauryan empire. Bindusara’s death in 273 BC led to a war over succession. According to Divyavandana, Bindusara wanted his son Sushim to succeed him but Ashoka was supported by his father’s ministers. A minister named Radhagupta seems to have played an important role. Ashoka managed to become the king by getting rid of the legitimate heir to the throne, by tricking him into entering a pit filled with live coals. The Dipavansa and Mahavansa refer to Ashoka killing 99 of his brothers, sparing only one, named Tissa, although there is no clear proof about this incident.

The coronation happened in 269 BC. The early part of Ashoka’s reign was quite bloodthirsty, he became a follower of the Buddha‘s teaching after his conquest of Kalinga on the east coast of India in the present-day states of Orissa and North Coastal Andhra Pradesh. Kalinga was a state that prided itself on its sovereignty and democracy. With its monarchical parliamentary democracy, it was quite an exception in ancient Bharata where there existed the concept of Rajdharma. Rajdharma means the duty of the rulers, which was intrinsically entwined with the concept of bravery and Kshatriya dharma. The Kalinga War happened eight years after his coronation. From his 13th inscription, we come to know that the battle was a massive one and caused the deaths of more than 100,000 soldiers and many civilians who rose in defense over 150,000 were deported. When he was walking through the grounds of Kalinga after his conquest, rejoicing in his victory, he was moved by the number of bodies strewn there and the wails of the kith and kin of the dead. ars after his succession to the throne. As the legend goes, one day after the war was over, Ashoka ventured out to roam the city and all he could see were burnt houses and scattered corpses. The brutality of the conquest led him to adopt Buddhism, and he used his position to propagate the relatively new religion to new heights, as far as ancient Rome and Egypt. He made Buddhism his state religion around 260 BC, and propagated it and preached it within his domain and worldwide from about 250 BC. Emperor Ashoka undoubtedly has to be credited with the first serious attempt to develop a Buddhist policy.

He is acclaimed for constructing hospitals for animals and renovating major roads throughout India. After this transformation, Ashoka came to be known as Dhammashoka (Sanskrit), meaning Ashoka, the follower of Dharma. Ashoka defined the main principles of dharma (dhamma) as nonviolence, tolerance of all sects and opinions, obedience to parents, respect for the Brahmans and other religious teachers and priests, liberality towards friends, humane treatment of servants, and generosity towards all. These principles suggest a general ethic of behavior to which no religious or social group could object.

Ashoka ruled for an estimated forty years. After his death, the Mauryan dynasty lasted just fifty more years. Ashoka had many wives and children, but many of their names are lost to time. Mahindra and Sanghamitra were twins born by his first wife, Devi, in the city of Ujjain. He had entrusted to them the job of making his state religion, Buddhism, more popular across the known and the unknown world. Mahindra and Sanghamitra went into Sri Lanka and converted the King, the Queen, and their people to Buddhism. They were naturally not handling state affairs after him.

The reign of Ashoka Maurya could easily have disappeared into history as the ages passed by and would have had he not left behind a record of his trials. The testimony of this wise king was discovered in the form of magnificently sculpted pillars and boulders with a variety of actions and teachings he wished to be published etched into the stone. What Ashoka left behind was the first written language in India since the ancient city of Harappa. The language used for inscription was the then-current spoken form called Prakrit. In the year 185 BC, about fifty years after Ashoka’s death, the last Maurya ruler, Brhadrata, was assassinated by the commander-in-chief of the Mauryan armed forces, Pusyamitra Sunga, while he was taking the Guard of Honor of his forces. Pusyamitra Sunga founded the Sunga dynasty (185 BC-78 BC) and ruled just a fragmented part of the Mauryan Empire. Many of the northwestern territories of the Mauryan Empire (modern-day Afghanistan and Northern Pakistan) became the Indo-Greek Kingdom.


Ashoka – Only Ruler In The World History To Renounced War After Victory

Ashoka, one of the powerful kings of ancient Indian history, is well known for his achievements in administration, religious policies, social order, and disseminating his ideas through pillar edicts. He mentioned in one of his pillar edicts that he planted trees alongside roads and wells for the well-being of animals and humans. He ruled the kingdom founded by his grandfather Chandragupta Maurya and succeeded his father Bindusara of the Maurya dynasty.

Almost all of present-day India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan are under him before ascending the throne. According to Buddhist texts, Ashoka killed his 99 brothers to ascend the throne. Historians called Ashoka The Great because he was the only king in world history to give up wars after a victory and for his Dhamma (Dharma).

The Kalinga war (261 BC) was the 1st war fought by Ashoka after his ascension and eventually became the last after seeing the casualties. He fought this war to bring peace and power to his kingdom. He inscribed in one of his inscriptions that over 1,00,000 people were killed, 1,50,000 were taken prisoners and many flew away. The bloodshed changed the heart of the victor from vicious cruelty to exemplary piety. He then embraced Buddhism and sent missionaries to many foreign countries like Sri Lanka, Burma, and Central Asia.

Instead of physical conquest, he practiced cultural conquest (Dhammaghosha (beat of dhamma) instead of Bherighosha (war drums)). Some sources say that Ashoka was helped by Upagupta as a spiritual teacher. Ashoka asked all his subjects to follow his dharma and taught the people to live and let live. He even appointed Dhamma Mahamatras for propagating dharma among various social groups, including women.

Ashoka followed peace to an extent that he even prohibited animal sacrifices as they lead to violence, indiscipline, and superstition. This doesn’t mean that he is anti to Hindus, he followed notable religious tolerance by giving his subjects freedom of choosing their religion and he even granted allowances to anti-Buddhists. The main aim of Ashoka is to bring social order to his kingdom and for that he prohibited gay social functions in which people indulged in revelries.

However, unlike any of his predecessors or successors, he is the only king in India who followed a policy of peace, non-violence, and cultural conquest. In the 14th century BC, a pacific policy was pursued by an Egyptian ruler but Ashoka was not aware of him. We know all this information from the edicts laid by him in many parts of India.

The Sarnath pillar inscription from which the National Emblem of India was adopted was erected by Ashoka in about 250 BCE. Even though he possessed sufficient resources and maintained a large army, he did not wage any war after the conquest of Kalinga. From this point of view, Ashoka is far ahead of his age and generation.


Kaurawaki – Ashoka’s second wife

Kaurawaki is second wife of emperor Ashok and the only wife whose name is on Ashokas edicts. Kaurawaki is credited with inspiring Ashoka to become a bhuddist. Kaurawaki was daughter of a fisherman in Orissa/Kalinga. Some say Ashoka fell in love and married her. Others say Kauwaraki was a tribal princess of Kalinga and defended Kalinga after majority soldiers died in war. She was captured by Ashoka’s army and Ashoka fell in love with her braveness and than married her and made her his wife. This is as per Orissa legends where Kalinga empire was situated.

Second story of his marriage to her is that Ashoka was once exiled out of Mauryan empire by father Bindusara on insistence of Prince Sushim. Another story says he was so cruel to some revolters of Magadh that Bindusara was forced to exile him. They say Sushima was so jealous of Ashoka curbing Ujjain revolt without much blood shed that instigated Bindusara against Ashoka. The people of Magadh used to call him Chand Ashoka.

Kaurawaki was the mother of Tivala. Tivala was third child of Ashoka and second son after Mahendra. Since Mahendra became bhuddist monk Tivala was considered as successor of Ashoka. But he died before Ashoka. Prince Tivala served as the viceroy of Takshashila or Taxila for long.

Ashoka edicts clearly state that Kaurawaki ha major role in changing cruel Ashoka. Ashoka started a series of welfare measures for people of Mauryan empire on Kaurawaki’s advice. Kaurawaki later converted to Bhuddism anad became sanyasin later on in life. Kaurawaki is credited for many religious and other donations in edicts. Even her son Tivala (or Tivara) is mentioned in the edicts.

Now everyone knows after Kalinga war Ashoka converted to Bhuddism. After Kaliga war Kaurawaki was captured and became his wife. Ashoka also took to Bhuddism and changed his life style. Now how Kaurawaki died is not known or recorded. Some say she died in Kalinga war because of which Ashoka changed. 3 lakh soldiers and many more citizens died in Kalinga war. The color of the river in Kalinga turned red for long. Now thats also possible as after marrying Kaurawaki Ashoka went back to pataliputra, Magadh. He did not take her to Magadh and left her behind and she bore him a child Tivala. Other’s say she became sanyasini after Kalinga war and died later on.

The Kalinga war was so brutal that Devi who was a Bhuddist left Ashoka and refused to see him when he went to meet her. That shocked Ashoka a lot and he changed himself to a better man. Other story says Ashoka went on tour to to Kalinga after war and saw so many dead body and river in red color and all buildings burnt that it shook his conscience. Whatever real reason may be Ashoka changed after Kalinga war. Kaurawaki became a bhuddist and later sanyasini and left palace and went to forest. Ashoka converted to Bhuddism under guidance of priests Radhaswami and Manjushri. Thus going from Chand Ashoka to Ashoka the great. The kalinga war was also a personal tragedy for Ashoka as Devi and Kauwaraki both left him after this war. It is not given in any book if Devi and Kauwarawki forgave and accepted him back. Whatever the real reason but his both wives leaving him and the brutality of war changed Ashoka.


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Ashoka, the Buddhist Indian Emperor

India has a rich history of royalty. Over the centuries, it has seen several dynasties headed by powerful kings and queens. Arguably one of the most prolific of these kings was King Ashoka, Emperor of the Mauryan Dynasty from 268 to 232 BCE.

Beautifully capturing Ashoka’s place in history, in ‘The Outline of History’, historian HG Wells writes “In the history of the world there have been thousands of kings and emperors who called themselves “their highnesses,” “their majesties”, “their exalted majesties”, and so on. They shone for a brief moment, and as quickly disappeared. But Ashoka shines and shines brightly like a bright star, even unto this day.

King Ashoka earned his glowing place in history because of the enormous change in his outlook after the Kalinga War, when he became a devout Buddhist. His beliefs made for a peaceful, prosperous kingdom with a ruler truly committed to the well-being of every individual in the kingdom.

Bilingual edict (Greek and Aramaic) 3rd century BC by Indian Buddhist King Ashoka

Ashoka’s Early Years

Ashoka’s early years in no way predicted the illustrious ruler he would go on to become. He was born in 304BCE to Mauryan King, Bindusara, and Queen Devi Dharma, the daughter of a Brahmin priest. As a child, Ashoka quickly drew attention to himself thanks to his skills as a soldier and a scholar.

In early adulthood, King Bindusara appointed him as the governor of Avanti and sent him on a military campaign to fight an uprising in the Takshashila province, which he quickly suppressed. Jealous and insecure of his continuous successes, his siblings and half-brother convinced the King to send Ashoka into exile.

Following a violent uprising in the Ujjain province, Ashoka was called out of exile and sent to quell the rebellion his military prowess ensured that he was quickly victorious. The Ujjain uprising was also significant to Ashoka’s religious journey, as after having sustained injuries in the battle, he was treated by Buddhist monks and nuns and introduced to the Buddhist way of life and thinking.

Seizing The Throne

After King Bindusura’s death, Ashoka’s half-brother Sushima succeeded him. However, his ineffectiveness led to Ashoka seizing power in 272 BC, after murdering all his brothers but Vithashoka, his youngest brother. According to some texts, he killed Sushima by pushing him into a burning coal pit, a violent act that was perhaps a harbinger to Ashoka’s early years of rule.

Ashoka The Fierce

Ashoka has been described in the literature as cruel, bad-tempered and violent. He was named ‘Chandaashoka’, which translates to ‘Ashoka the Fierce’ or ‘Ashoka the Terrible’.

According to some legends he commissioned the design of ‘Ashoka’s Hell’, a torture chamber, hidden inside a beautiful palace, filled with sadistic torture instruments, including vats of boiling copper to pour on prisoners.

Ashoka also expanded the Mauryan Kingdom’s borders from modern-day Afghanistan to Assam to Baluchistan, seemingly unaffected by the trail of destruction he left behind.

Mauryan ruins of pillared hall at Kumrahar site of Pataliputra ASIEC 1912-13

The Kalinga War

Kalinga was located in present-day Orissa and had several large ports, a large navy and a population of skilled craftsmen, making it extremely attractive to the Mauryans. However, the first Mauryan effort to invade it, led by Chandragupta Maurya, Ashoka’s grandfather had failed. Ashoka was determined to turn this failure into victory and annex it to his kingdom.

He attacked Kalinga in 261 B.C. His military strength and weaponry skills once again prevailed and he won Kalinga. According to Buddhist literature as well as Ashoka’s own edicts, as he surveyed the battlefield, he was horrified by the bloodshed. The rock edict- Number 13, which is a primary source from Ashoka’s rule states:

“One hundred and fifty thousand were deported, one hundred thousand were killed and many more died (from other causes. After the Kalingas had been conquered, Beloved-of-the-Gods came to feel a strong inclination towards the Dharma, a love for the Dharma and for instruction in Dharma. Now Beloved-of-the-Gods or Priyadasi, feels deep remorse for having conquered the Kalingas.”

Even after he returned to Pataliputra, he was haunted by images of death on Kalinga’s battlefield. He suffered from a crisis of faith and it was at this point that Ashoka pledged never to wage war again. He instead became determined to live his life and rule his kingdom mindful of the principles of Buddhism, focusing on dharma-vijaya (a victory through religion) and ahimsa (non-violence). From Chandrashoka, Ashoka was transformed into Dhammashoka – Ashoka the Pious.

Mauryan Empire Map

Ashoka The Pious

For the rest of his rule, Ashoka, in the words of HG Wells, “shone brightly like a bright star.” In 260BCE, he made Buddhism the state religion and framed his policies around the ten tenets of Buddhism which propagated kindness, non-violence, patience, honesty, simple life, and above all, a commitment to peace and harmony. It also required his subjects to love everyone, be tolerant, avoid selfishness and to be free of hatred of any kind.

Based on these tenets, King Ashoka created 14 edicts as rules for his subjects to follow. These edicts were inscribed on rock pillars or slabs of stone which were placed around his kingdom. They encouraged tolerance for all religions, a commitment to help the needy, medical care for all subjects, and respect for all living.

Above all, Dhamma – the collective term given to Ashoka’s rules of life – had to be revered and nothing could be better than gifting the Dhamma to others. He encouraged vegetarianism as a part of ahimsa. Slaughter and sacrifice of animals were forbidden. Ashoka made him accessible to his subjects at all times and they were encouraged to petition him in administrative matters which required redress. Monks had to tour the kingdom once in five years in order to spread Ashoka’s Dhamma. He dispatched missionaries, including his own daughter, Sanghmitra, and son, Mahendra, across his empire and abroad to teach the concept of Dhamma.

Ashoka’s welfare projects endeared him to his people and earned him a place as one of history’s most benevolent rulers. He built several hospitals, wells and gardens for growing medicinal herbs across his kingdom and made provisions for education for women and for the welfare of tribals.

Also, as a part of his active efforts to improve his kingdom, he established a successful political and civil system that divided his kingdom into provinces and appointed administrative and judicial officers who were overlooked by the King. He introduced legal reforms and created departments of finance, taxation, agriculture, trade, and commerce. To retain and strengthen his political control, he employed spies and reporters to keep him informed on tactical matters.

Sanchi Ashoka pillar with schism edict in 1913

Legacy

Ashoka passed away in 232 BCE, after ruling his empire for about forty years. After his death, the Mauryan dynasty continued to thrive only for fifty more years, after which it disintegrated due to external invasions and internal revolts, caste conflicts, and the domination of the Brahmins.

Nevertheless, Ashoka has carried forward an immense legacy. He is lauded by Buddhists for highlighting a way to bring Buddhist principles into state power and paving the way to a better life for all subjects. Even today, the legacy of Ashoka’s proselytizing missionaries is seen in countries as far-flung as Cambodia and Thailand.

During his rule, he erected several stupas across the kingdom which, along with his edicts are important historical sources. One of his stupas, the Great Sanchi Stupa, has been declared a World Heritage Site by UNECSO.

Perhaps the most important symbol of Ashoka’s success which has been carried forward today is the Ashoka Pillar at Sarnath. It depicts four lions standing back to back in a circle. Today, it has been adopted as an emblem of modern India, in a way ensuring that Ashoka’s achievements and legacy will always remain in the world’s collective subconscious.

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Ashoka Maurya History Study Materials

Ashoka was the son of Bindusara. He is considered among the greatest rulers of all times. He was the first ruler who tried to maintain direct contact with his subjects. He ruled for nearly 40 years. Most of the information about the life of Ashoka can be had from the 50 edicts he placed throughout India. The most important of these edicts is the Rock Edict XIII (257-256 BC). It offers account of the eight years of the Kalinga War. The destruction and the sorrow that he witnessed in the war transformed Ashoka from a warrior to a peace loving ruler. He started propagating Buddhism. The impact of Ashoka’s moral conquest can be seen not only within India but also in the far off Empires like Syria, Egypt and Macedonia and Epirus. Significantly, Ashoka has been referred to with names of Devanumpriya or Priyadarshini throughout the edicts.

Ashoka’s Pillar Edict I

Emperor Priyadarshini says, ‘I commanded this edict on Dharma to be engraved 26 years after my coronation. It is difficult to achieve happiness, either in this world or in the next, expect by intense love of Dharma, intense self-examination, intense obedience, intense fear of evil and intense enthusiasm. Yet, as a result of my instruction, regard for Dharma and the love of Dharma have increased day by day and will continue to increase. My official of all ranks high, low and intermediate act in accordance with the precepts of my instruction, and by their example and influence theyare able to recall fickle minded people to their duty. The officials of the border districts enforce my injunctions in the same way. For these are their rules: to govern according to Dharma, to administer justice according to Dharma, to advance the people’s happiness according to Dharma and ta protect them according to Dharma.

Ashoka as a Ruler

Ashoka was one of India’s most illustrious rulers. Ashoka’s inscriptions carved on rocks and stone pillars consulate the second set of dated historical records. Some of the inscriptions state that in the aftermath of the destruction resulting from the war against the powerful kingdom of Kalinga (Orissa), Ashoka renounced bloodshedand started following a policy of nonviolence or Ahimsa. His sense of toleration for different religious beliefs reflected the realities of India’s regional pluralism, although he personally followed Buddhism. Early Buddhist texts state that he convened a Buddhist council at his capital, regularly undertook tours within his realm and sent Buddhist, missionary ambassadors to Sri Lanka. India’s north-west retained many Persian cultural elements, which might explain Ashoka’s rock inscriptions—such inscriptions were commonly associated with the Persian rulers. Ashoka’s Greek and Aramaic inscriptions discovered in Kandhar in Afghanistan may also reveal his inclination to maintain contacts with people outside India.

Extent of the Empire

Ashoka’s Empire covered the entire territory from Hindukush to Bengal and extended over Afghanistan, Baluchistan and the whole of India with the exception of a small area in the farthest south. Kashmir and the valleys of Nepal were also included. It was the biggest Indian empire and Ashoka was the first Indian king who ruled over almost the whole of India.

The Kalinga War

This was an important war during Ashoka’s rule, which changed his attitude towards life. In 265 BC, Ashoka invaded Kalinga (Orissa) and occupied it after widespread destruction and bloodshed. Kalinga was an important empire as it controlled the land and the sea routes to South India. This led to Ashoka becoming a follower of Buddhism. His increased pre-occupation in the religion and emphasis on non-violence led to the weakening of his administration, which slowly led to the decline of the Mauryan Empire.

Ashoka’s Policy of Dhamma

The diverse nature of the vast empire under Ashoka was exposed to social tensions and sectarian conflicts. Ashoka devised the policy of dhamma, which later became famous, as it promoted a harmonious relationship between the diverse elements of the empire. The supposed essence of dhamma seems to be the genesis of Ashoka’s big idea. The word dhamma is a Prakrit spelling of the more familiar dharma, a concept difficult to translate but imbued with positives and idealised connotations in both orthodox Vedic literature and in the heterodox doctrines of Buddhists. Jain and Ajivikas. Invoking a natural order within which all manners of creation had its place and its role, it was something to which no one, whether Brahamin or Buddhist, emperor or slave, could reasonably take exception.

Dhamma had tolerance, as its basis as aiming to bring out a peace loving life within the family and society. Religious and cultural meetings and festivals were banned led functions were allowed. Dhamma also emphasised non-violence. Ashoka banned observance of useless rituals and ceremonies to cut down the influence of priests and religious leaders. He defined the code of duty based on practical ideas like daya (mercy), Dana (charity), sathya (truthfulness), namrata (gentleness) and souche (purity). These codes entered into internal politics as well as international relations too. Ashoka attempted no philosophical justification of dhamma, nor was he given to rationalising it. It was neither a belief system nor a developed ideology, just a set of behavioural exhortations. But, because behaviour and conduct was of such defining importance, any attempt to alter it was indeed revolutionary. Ashoka, therefore, needed good reason for introducing dhamma and it should perhaps be sought in the need to promote a more united and uniform society. Ashoka’s Empire was divided into provinces, with a viceroy in each province. He established dharamsalas, hospitals andsarais throughout his kingdom. Dharma Mahapatras were appointed to preach the people. Buddhism was spread during his reign as a state religion and inscriptions of Buddhist principles were engraved on rocks. He organised a network of missionaries to preach the doctrine, both in his kingdom and beyond. Ashoka sent missionaries to Ceylon, Burma and other south-east Asian regions, notably Thailand to spread the doctrine of Buddhism.

Successors of Ashoka

After Ashoka’s death in 232 BC, the empire gradually disintegrated, though the exact causes art not clear. A period of struggle for succession ensued between Ashoka’s heirs southern princes seceded, from the empire and foreign powers invaded. The empire contracted to the Ganges valley in northern India. The last king of the Mauryan Empire was Brihadratha, who was assasinated by his Senapati, Pushyamitra Sunga, in 184 BC. There were six kings who ruled between Ashoka and Brihadratha. Only Dasratha, Ashoka’s immediate successor was of some significance.

The Mauryan Dynasty

Chandragupta Maurya (320-300 BC)

Dasaratha Kunala (232-226 BC)

Languages and Scripts of Ashoka’s Inscriptions

The earliest deciphered inscriptions in the subcontinent are the edicts issued by the Mauryan Ashoka, inscribed on rock surfaces and pillars, from the third century BC. The earlier script of third millennium BC—The Harappa script, associated with the Indus Valley Civilization—is generally believed to be pictographic and is found on seals, amulets and occasionally, as graffiti on pots. However, as these pictographs to be deciphered Ashoka’s edicts are historically scripts available for study.

Delhi-Topra Pillar Edict

Thus said, His Sacted and Gracious Majesty the king: On the high roads, I caused banyan trees to be planted by me to shade cattle and men. I caused mango gardens to be planted and wells to be dug at two-mile intervals, rest-houses were constructed, many watering stations were established here and there, for the comfort of cattle and men. Slight comfort, indeed, is this, People have been made happy through various kinds of facilities for comfort by previous kings as well as me. But this was done by me so that people might strictly follow the path laid down by Dharma.

Eight Groups of Ashoka’s Edicts/ Inscriptions

Ashoka’s edicts/inscriptions may be arranged in eight groups chronological order:

  1. Two minor rock edicts (258-257 BC)
  2. Babru edicts (257 BC)
  3. Fourteen rock edicts (257-256 BC)
  4. Kalinga inscriptions (256 BC)
  5. Barabar rock edicts in caves near Gaya (250 BC)
  6. Tarai’s two minor pillar edicts (249 BC)
  7. Seven pillar edicts (243 BC)
  8. Four minor pillar edicts (232 BC)

Ashoka as an Administrator

A devout Buddhist, Ashok did not neglect public works or administration. Although he retained capital punishment for extreme offences, he devised a system of appeals to give every chance for a revised judgement that might replace execution with a fine. He reformed the tax system so that each region and village could appeal for relief when harvests and commerce had declined, reorganised bureaucracy and devised a new class of officials, the mahamatras, literally meaning great in measure’. They were established to monitor the operations of the government. Some were assigned to look after the welfare of the Sangha, and they even travelled outside the realm to do so. Others saw to the well-being of other religious sects. They reported directly to Ashoka, who took interest in the details of his empire. Ashoka established rest-houses, dug wells, planted trees and founded hospitals along major roads. He promulgated rules for the protection of cows, forbade animal sacrifices and abolished hunting for sport. He replaced the royal hunt with the royal pilgrimage and visited Bodh Gaya and many other sacred sites.

The inscriptions mark the transition from the oral tradition to literacy, though the date of this transition remains uncertain. The scripts used for engraving the edicts are all phonetic and. therefore, mark u departure from the earlier pictographic script. Some scholars maintain that the Mauryas invented a script to facilitate administration and enable faster communication with distant places and frontier zones. But the invention of scripts is more often associated with the trading communities. The invention must have proceeded the reign of Ashoka because he used it extensively and presumably there were people who could read the edicts, though he did insist that his officers read them out to his subjects. The inscriptions were generally located in places likely to attract people.

Ashoka’s inscriptions use three different languages and four scripts. The most important and the largest in number are composed in Prakrit, but Ashoka also had a few inscribed in Greek and Aramaic. The scripts used for the Prakrit inscriptions were Brahmi and Kharoshthi, and for the others, Greek and Aramaic. The Greek and Aramaic inscriptions are all close together near Kabul and Kandhar in Afghanistan. The script and language were in use before the reign of Ashoka as Greek and Aramaic speaking people had settled in this region. The province of Gandhara (present day Peshawar and its vicinity) was part of the Iranian Achaemenid Empire in the sixth century BC and, therefore, would have used Aramaic. It was included in the Mauryan Empire in the fourth century along with the adjoining territories in Afghanistan which were ceded by thief Hellenistic King Seleucus Nicator—Alexanders successor in Iran—to the Mauryan king Chandragupta at the conclusion of a campaign hence, the presence of the Greek speaking people. One Ashokan inscription is bilingual (Greek and Aramaic) and suggests that bilingualism in these languages was common in these parts.

The importance of the Greek and Aramaic inscriptions, apart from their locations, also lies in their providing translations of some of the significant terms used in the Prakrit inscriptions, the readings of which have been controversial. For example, the Prakrit term dhumma is the same as the Sanskrit dharma and has no exact equivalent in English. It has been variously rendered as piety, virtue, sacred duty or even as the dharnma taught by Buddha. It is translated as eusebeia the Greek inscriptions, suggesting a more general use because there is no reference to Buddha in the Greek and Aramaic versions.

The more important inscriptions, much larger in number and inscribed in various parts of the subcontinent, were composed in Prakrit and engraved in two different scripts− Brahmi and Kharoshthi, Inscriptions in Kharoshthi are all clustered in the north west, again suggestive of being read locally. Kharoshthi derives from Aramaic and is written from right to left. The letters, although conforming to the Prakrit alphabet, recall many Aramaic forms. Initially limited to the vicinity of Peshawar, in the post-Mauryan period, Kharoshthi travelled further a field and especially into central Asia.

The script with the maximum usage and historical potential was Brahmi, which was to become the standard script of the subcontinent in post-Maurynn times, although undergoing the usual evolution of a widely used script.It was written from left to right, consisted of carefully formed letters and was relatively easy to read. There has been a continuing debate as to its origin. Some support a source that permitted admixtures of letters from the Greek, or the Phoenician or Semitic .scripts, and others argue in favour of an independent process of inventing letters in India. The resemblances of some letters to neighbouring scripts cannot be denied and it was probably an efficient working out as well as borrowing of forms, appropriate and accessible to those needing a script.

The extensive use of Prakrit in the subcontinent did not rigidly follow the original composition. The edicts were issued by the king from the capital or the royal camp, but were adapted to some forms of local usage when actually engraved. The language and the script had a pliancy that could reflect, to a small degree, variations, influenced by local linguistic inflections. Certain sounds, such as ‘l’ or ‘r’ were interchanged, occasional spelling mistakes occurred as also slippages in cither fitting a word into a space or inadvertently leaving out a letter, and there were minor variations in words or the use of a term that was more familiar locally. Inscriptions were composed by rulers and officials at the court, but the actual engraving was done by professional engravers, who were of low rank and whose literacy level may have been barely adequate. A group of Ashokan inscriptions from Karnataka in southern India carry the briefest of statements at the end of the royal edict, naming the engraver us Capada. Interestingly, this little statement is in Kharoshthi whereas the rest of the edict is in Brahmi. It is unclear whether the engraver was brought from the north-west or whether he was demonstrating his knowledge of more than one script. The edicts inscribed on rock surfaces in Karnataka were many, for it was a gold-bearing area that appears to have been worked by the Mauryan state. Curiously, this was a Dravidian-speaking area with no prior script, yet the edicts arc all composed in Prakrit—(at this time a North Indian Indo-Aryan language)—and engraved in Brahmi. Officers were expected to read out the edicts and translate them to the local population. No attempt was made to render the, edicts in the local language as was done in the north-west with Greek and Aramaic, perhaps because there was no local script. In the political assessment of the region, it was probably less important than the north-west, being an area of clans and chtefdoms rather than states and kingdoms. The intention may have been to make literacy a statement of power in an oral society and this is perhaps how the inscriptions were also viewed. This is also suggested by the earliest use of a script for engraving inscriptions in Tamil—the most widely used Dravidian language in South India. The script used was art adaptation from the Mauryan Brahmi script and current in the second century BC.

The edicts inscribed on rock surfaces are addressed to various categories of people—a few to Buddhist monks in various monasteries, some addressed specifically to the officers of the state and the majority addressed to the people at large. Those of the first category are concerned with matters relating to Buddhist practice and monastic procedures. The remaining two categories relate to the welfare of his subjects, through what Ashoka perceived as better administration and even more so through a deliberate cultivation of social responsibility. The latter was deeply influenced by Buddhist ethics, but was not merely a call his subjects to follow the teachings of Buddha. Although personally a Buddhist, Ashoka was well aware of his role as a statesman ruling a multicultural empire.

The various categories of rock engraved edieTs were issued in the earlier part of his reign. Towards the latter part, a special collection of edicts was scribed on pillars. Addressed to his subjects, he recapitulated his contribution to their welfare and further advised them oWhical behaviour. These pillar edicts, as they have been called, were engraved with finesse and care on specially cut, polished sandstone pillars and are located ip various paits’of the Ganges Valley. These make a dramatist contrasty to the more rough-hewn rock surfaces of the earlier inscriptions and show a distinct improvement in the handling of the script.

The tone of the Ashokan edicts is conversational and could have been ah attempting to link the oral tradition to literacy, and to ‘speak tothe subjects. This was again an unusual perception of me use of a script by a king who was attempting to establish an unusual relationship with his subjects.

Ashoka as Dharmaraja

Whether Ashoka was transformed all at once, or whether the impact of his conquest affected him over time, it had two radical consequences. Spiritually, he became a follower of the Buddha dharma, the teachings of Buddha. Politically, he renounced war and conquest as acceptable methods for preserving the empire and sought to replace them with the inculcation of Dharma. He synthesised these: two commitments in a three-fold devotion to dharmapalana, dharmakarma and dharmanushishi (protection) of Dharma, action according to Dharma and instruction, in Dharma). Rather than follow in the footsteps of his grandfather and renounce the world, his undbtsanoing of Dharma held him responsible for tho welfare of all his subject, and he translated thiis general duty into an attempt to to exemplify dharmarajya, tho rule of Dharma. Long after his his specific policies and works were forgotten, Buddhist tradition revered him as the first and ideal Dharmaraja- the Buddhist counterpart of the Hindu

idea of the Chakravartin and bestowed upon him the name of Dharmashaka.

Remembering Ashoka

Ashoka’s Empire soon passed out of memory. However, the ideal he upheld as Arya-putr (prince) and Dharma-putra (son of Dharma) increased in lustre with each passing epoch. Cenerations which chould not recollect the Mauryans, not poit out the boundries of their realm, nor even read the edicts, nonthless remembered the great king, ‘beloved of gods’, who taught Dharma and lived what he espoused who had set the standard ogainsl which subsequent rulers were measuredand often found wanting, and who had promulgated a simple yet fundamental doctrine of tolerance and civility based upon respect for the splitual aspirations at all people to adhere to the Dharma, they recalled that there had been a minor golden age and know that it was possible for human beings to experience a golden age again.

Dharamarajya andAshoka

Dharmaraja, as Ashoka understood it, permitted him to be devoted to Buddha’s teaching, but to revere and support the Sangha, it required him as a monarch to nature and support all religious traditions in his realm. To this end, he inscribed edicts throughout the empire, exhorting the people to practise Dharma, but kept the explict content of that concept sufficiency universal to include Hindu, Jain, Ajivaka and ether interpretations of it. Although he gave land, food and money to the Buddhist Sangha, he similarly supported other spiritual traditions. Thus, the Pillar Edicts mention gifts to the Sangha and the Cave ascriptions deed sites to the Ajivakas. Legend maintains that a third Buddhist council was convened in his reign and that he laboured intensely to preserve the unity of the Sangha—an effort that ultimatety failed—but the edicts speak only of purifying the order. Scholars tend to believe that no third council took place, or rat Ashoka had little to do with if, but the absence of detailed testimony in the edicts may only show that he saw no value in recounting publicly his role in the inner affairs of the Sangha.

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Ashoka life and biography

Ashoka (304 BC – 232 BC), popularly known as Ashoka the Great, was an Indian emperor of the Maurya Dynasty who ruled almost all of the Indian subcontinent from 269 BC to 232 BC. One of India's greatest emperors, Ashoka reigned over most of present-day India after a number of military conquests. His empire stretched from present-day Pakistan, Afghanistan in the west, to the present-day Bangladesh and the Indian state of Assam in the east, and as far south as northern Kerala and Andhra. He conquered the kingdom named Kalinga, which no one in his dynasty had conquered starting from Chandragupta Maurya. His reign was headquartered in Magadha (present-day Bihar, India). He embraced Buddhism from the prevalent Vedic tradition after witnessing the mass deaths of the war of Kalinga, which he himself had waged out of a desire for conquest. He was later dedicated to the propagation of Buddhism across Asia and established monuments marking several significant sites in the life of Gautama Buddha. Ashoka was a devotee of ahimsa (nonviolence), love, truth, tolerance and vegetarianism. Ashoka is remembered in history as a philanthropic administrator. In the history of India Ashoka is referred to as Samraat Chakravartin Ashoka- the Emperor of Emperors Ashoka.


His greatest achievements were spreading Buddhism throughout his empire and beyond. He set up an ideal government for his people and conquered many lands, expanding his kingdom. The knowledge of Ashoka’s early reign is limited because little information was found. His edicts and inscriptions allowed us to understand his reign and empire, and have an insight into the events that took place during this remarkableperiod of history. Eight years after he took his throne, Ashoka’s powerful armies attacked and conquered Kalinga (present day Orissa). Although he had conquered many other places, this violent war was thelast war he ever fought and a turning point of his career. He was disgusted by the extreme deaths of numerous civilians, especially the Brahmans.

All these misfortunes brought Ashoka to turn into a religious ruler compared to a military ruler. As he turned to Buddhism, he emphasized dharma (law of piety) and ahimsa (nonviolence). He realized he could not spread Buddhism all by himself and therefore appointed officers to help promote the teachings. These officers were called Dhamma Mahamattas or “Officers of Righteousness”" They were in charge of providing welfare and happiness among the servants and masters. Preventing wrongful doings and ensuring special consideration was also their duty.

Emphasizing his role as king, he paid close attention to welfare, the building of roads and rest houses, planting medicinal trees, and setting up healing centers. In order to pursue ahimsa, Ashoka gave up his favorite hobby of hunting and forbade the killing of animals, spreading vegetarianism throughout India. Furthermore, his soldiers were taught the golden rule- to behave to others the way you want them to behave to you, which is the basic law of life. In the nineteenth century, a large number of edicts written in Brahmi script carved on rocks and stone pillars were discovered in India, proving the existence of Ashoka.


Archaeological Sources

Ashokan Edicts

Ashokan Edicts in the form of Rock Edicts, Pillar Edicts and Cave Inscriptions are found at different places in Indian Sub-continent. These edicts were deciphered by James Princep in 1837 AD. The majority of the edicts are mainly Ashoka’s proclamations to the public while few of them describes Ashoka’s acceptance of Buddhism.

Material Remains

Material remains such as NBPW (Northern Black Polished Ware), silver and copper punch-marked coins throws light on Maurya period.

A short description of Ashokan Edicts and its location

Ashokan Edicts and Inscriptions What it depicts? Its Location
14 Major Rock Edicts Principles of Dhamma Kalsi(Dehradun, Uttarakhand, Manshera(Hazara, Pakistan), Junagadh(Girnar, Gujarat), Jaugada( Ganjam, Orissa), Dhauli (Puri, Orissa), Yerragudi(Kurnul, Andhra Pradesh), Shahbajgarhi(Peshawar, Pakistan)
2 Kalinga Rock Edicts New System of administration post Kalinga war Dauli or Tosali(Puri, Odissa), Jaugada(Ganjam, Odissa)
Minor Rock Edicts Personal History of Ashoka and his Dhamma’s summary Brahmagiri(Karnataka), Rupanath(Madhya Pradesh, Siddhpur(Karnataka), Maski(Andhra Pradesh)
Bhabru-Bairat Rock Edicts Ashoka‘s getting converted to Buddhism Bhabru-Biarat (Rajasthan)
Pillar Edicts
7 Pillar Edicts Appendix to rock edicts Allahabad, Rampurva(Bihar)
4 Minor Pillar Edicts Signs of Ashoka’s fanaticism to Dhamma Sanchi(MP), Sarnath, Allahabad
2 Tarai Pillar Edicts Ashoks’s respects for Buddhism Lumbini( Nepal)
Cave Edicts
3 Barabar Cave Edicts Ashoka’s toleration Barabar Hills

14 Rock Edicts of Ashoka and their content

Edict 1: Prohibits animal sacrifices
Edict 2: Depicts measures of social welfare
Edict 3: Respect for Brahmanas.
Edict 4: Respect to elders.
Edict 5: Appointment of Dhamma Mahamatras and their duties
Edict 6: Orders to Dhamma Mahamatras
Edict 7: Need for Tolerance among all religious sects
Edict 8: Dhamma- yatras
Edict 9: Discarding of meaningless ceremonies and rituals
Edict 10: Use of Dhamma instead of war for conquest
Edict 11: Explaining Dhamma-policy
Edict 12: Appeal to all religious sects for tolerance.
Edict 13: Kalinga war
Edict 14: Inspiring people to spend religious life


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