Edicts of Ashoka

Edicts of Ashoka

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The Edicts of Ashoka are a collection of 33 inscriptions on the Pillars of Ashoka
Pillars of Ashoka
The pillars of Ashoka are a series of columns dispersed throughout the northern Indian subcontinent, erected or at least inscribed by the Mauryan king Ashoka during his reign in the 3rd century BCE. Originally, there must have been many pillars but only nineteen survive with inscriptions. Many are...

, as well as boulders and cave walls, made by the Emperor Ashoka of the Mauryan dynasty during his reign from 269 BCE to 231 BCE. These inscriptions are dispersed throughout the areas of modern-day Bangladesh
Bangladesh
Bangladesh , officially the People's Republic of Bangladesh is a sovereign state located in South Asia. It is bordered by India on all sides except for a small border with Burma to the far southeast and by the Bay of Bengal to the south...

, India
India
India , officially the Republic of India , is a country in South Asia. It is the seventh-largest country by geographical area, the second-most populous country with over 1.2 billion people, and the most populous democracy in the world...

, Nepal
Nepal
Nepal , officially the Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal, is a landlocked sovereign state located in South Asia. It is located in the Himalayas and bordered to the north by the People's Republic of China, and to the south, east, and west by the Republic of India...

 and Pakistan
Pakistan
Pakistan , officially the Islamic Republic of Pakistan is a sovereign state in South Asia. It has a coastline along the Arabian Sea and the Gulf of Oman in the south and is bordered by Afghanistan and Iran in the west, India in the east and China in the far northeast. In the north, Tajikistan...

 and represent the first tangible evidence of Buddhism
Buddhism
Buddhism is a religion and philosophy encompassing a variety of traditions, beliefs and practices, largely based on teachings attributed to Siddhartha Gautama, commonly known as the Buddha . The Buddha lived and taught in the northeastern Indian subcontinent some time between the 6th and 4th...

. The edicts describe in detail the first wide expansion of Buddhism through the sponsorship of one of the most powerful kings of Indian history. According to the edicts, the extent of Buddhist proselytism during this period reached as far as the Mediterranean
Mediterranean Sea
The Mediterranean Sea is a sea connected to the Atlantic Ocean surrounded by the Mediterranean region and almost completely enclosed by land: on the north by Anatolia and Europe, on the south by North Africa, and on the east by the Levant...

, and many Buddhist monuments were created.

These inscriptions proclaim Ashoka's beliefs in the Buddhist concept of dharma
Dharma
Dharma means Law or Natural Law and is a concept of central importance in Indian philosophy and religion. In the context of Hinduism, it refers to one's personal obligations, calling and duties, and a Hindu's dharma is affected by the person's age, caste, class, occupation, and gender...

and his efforts to develop the dharma throughout his kingdom. Although Buddhism and the Buddha
Gautama Buddha
Siddhārtha Gautama was a spiritual teacher from the Indian subcontinent, on whose teachings Buddhism was founded. In most Buddhist traditions, he is regarded as the Supreme Buddha Siddhārtha Gautama (Sanskrit: सिद्धार्थ गौतम; Pali: Siddhattha Gotama) was a spiritual teacher from the Indian...

 are mentioned, the edicts focus on social and moral precepts, rather than specific religious practices or the philosophical dimension of Buddhism.

In these inscriptions, Ashoka refers to himself as "Beloved of the Gods" and "King Priya-darshi." The identification of King Priya-darshi with Ashoka was confirmed by an inscription discovered in 1915 by C. Beadon at Maski, the village in Raichur District of Karnataka State. The inscriptions found in the eastern part of India were written in the Magadhi language
Magadhi language
The Magahi language is a language spoken in India. Magadhi Prakrit was the ancestor of Magadhi, from which the latter's name derives. The ancestral language, Magadhi Prakrit, is believed to be the language spoken by the Buddha, and the language of the ancient kingdom of Magadha...

, using the Brahmi script
Brahmic family
The Brahmic or Indic scripts are a family of abugida writing systems. They are used throughout South Asia , Southeast Asia, and parts of Central and East Asia, and are descended from the Brāhmī script of the ancient Indian subcontinent...

. In the western part of India, the language used is closer to Sanskrit
Sanskrit
Sanskrit , is a historical Indo-Aryan language and the primary liturgical language of Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism.Buddhism: besides Pali, see Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit Today, it is listed as one of the 22 scheduled languages of India and is an official language of the state of Uttarakhand...

, using the Kharoshthi script, one extract of Edict 13 in the Greek language
Greek language
Greek is an independent branch of the Indo-European family of languages. Native to the southern Balkans, it has the longest documented history of any Indo-European language, spanning 34 centuries of written records. Its writing system has been the Greek alphabet for the majority of its history;...

, and one bilingual edict written in Greek and Aramaic.These edicts were decodified by British archeologist and historian James Prinsep
James Prinsep
James Prinsep was an Anglo-Indian scholar and antiquary. He was the seventh son of John Prinsep, a wealthy East India merchant and Member of Parliament....

.

The inscriptions revolve around a few recurring themes: Ashoka's conversion to Buddhism, the description of his efforts to spread Buddhism, his moral and religious precepts, and his social and animal welfare
Animal welfare
Animal welfare is the physical and psychological well-being of animals.The term animal welfare can also mean human concern for animal welfare or a position in a debate on animal ethics and animal rights...

 program.

Ashoka's conversion




Ashoka explains that he converted to Buddhism out of remorse for his conquest of the Kalingas around 264 BCE in eastern India (near the present-day state of Orissa
Orissa
Orissa , officially Odisha since Nov 2011, is a state of India, located on the east coast of India, by the Bay of Bengal. It is the modern name of the ancient nation of Kalinga, which was invaded by the Maurya Emperor Ashoka in 261 BC. The modern state of Orissa was established on 1 April...

):
Following his conversion, Ashoka traveled throughout India and visited sacred Buddhist locations, where he would typically erect a pillar bearing his inscriptions:

Ashoka's proselytism


In order to propagate the Buddhist faith, Ashoka explains he sent emissaries to the Hellenistic kings as far as the Mediterranean, and to the peoples throughout India
India
India , officially the Republic of India , is a country in South Asia. It is the seventh-largest country by geographical area, the second-most populous country with over 1.2 billion people, and the most populous democracy in the world...

, claiming they were all converted to the Dharma as a result. He names the Greek rulers of the time, inheritors of the conquest of Alexander the Great, from Bactria
Bactria
Bactria and also appears in the Zend Avesta as Bukhdi. It is the ancient name of a historical region located between south of the Amu Darya and west of the Indus River...

 to as far as Greece
Greece
Greece , officially the Hellenic Republic , and historically Hellas or the Republic of Greece in English, is a country in southeastern Europe....

 and North Africa
North Africa
North Africa or Northern Africa is the northernmost region of the African continent, linked by the Sahara to Sub-Saharan Africa. Geopolitically, the United Nations definition of Northern Africa includes eight countries or territories; Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, South Sudan, Sudan, Tunisia, and...

, displaying an amazingly clear grasp of the political situation at the time.

Proselytism beyond India



The distance of 600 yojanas corresponds to the distance between the center of India and Greece, roughly 4,000 miles.
  • Amtiyoko refers to Antiochus II Theos
    Antiochus II Theos
    Antiochus II Theos was a king of the Hellenistic Seleucid Kingdom who reigned 261 BC – 246 BC). He succeeded his father Antiochus I Soter in the winter of 262–61 BC...

     of Syria (261–246 BC), who controlled the Seleucid Empire
    Seleucid Empire
    The Seleucid Empire was a Greek-Macedonian state that was created out of the eastern conquests of Alexander the Great. At the height of its power, it included central Anatolia, the Levant, Mesopotamia, Persia, today's Turkmenistan, Pamir and parts of Pakistan.The Seleucid Empire was a major centre...

     from Syria
    Syria
    Syria , officially the Syrian Arab Republic , is a country in Western Asia, bordering Lebanon and the Mediterranean Sea to the West, Turkey to the north, Iraq to the east, Jordan to the south, and Israel to the southwest....

     to Bactria
    Bactria
    Bactria and also appears in the Zend Avesta as Bukhdi. It is the ancient name of a historical region located between south of the Amu Darya and west of the Indus River...

     in the east from 305 to 250 BC, and was therefore a direct neighbor of Ashoka.
  • Turamaye refers to Ptolemy II Philadelphos of Egypt (285–247 BCE), king of the dynasty founded by Ptolemy I, a former general of Alexander the Great, in Egypt
    Egypt
    Egypt , officially the Arab Republic of Egypt, Arabic: , is a country mainly in North Africa, with the Sinai Peninsula forming a land bridge in Southwest Asia. Egypt is thus a transcontinental country, and a major power in Africa, the Mediterranean Basin, the Middle East and the Muslim world...

    .
  • Amtikini refers to Antigonus II Gonatas
    Antigonus II Gonatas
    Antigonus II Gonatas was a powerful ruler who firmly established the Antigonid dynasty in Macedonia and acquired fame for his victory over the Gauls who had invaded the Balkans.-Birth and family:...

     of Macedon
    Macedon
    Macedonia or Macedon was an ancient kingdom, centered in the northeastern part of the Greek peninsula, bordered by Epirus to the west, Paeonia to the north, the region of Thrace to the east and Thessaly to the south....

     (278–239 BC).
  • Maka refers to Magas of Cyrene
    Magas of Cyrene
    Magas of Cyrene was a Greek Macedonian nobleman. Through his mother’s second marriage he was a member of the Ptolemaic dynasty. He became King of Cyrenaica and he managed to wrestle independence for Cyrenaica from the Greek Ptolemaic dynasty of Ancient Egypt.-Family Background & Early Life:Magas...

     (300–258 BC).
  • Alikasudaro refers to Alexander II of Epirus
    Alexander II of Epirus
    Alexander II was a king of Epirus, and the son of Pyrrhus and Lanassa, the daughter of the Sicilian tyrant Agathocles.-Reign:He succeeded his father as king in 272 BC, and continued the war which his father had begun with Antigonus II Gonatas, whom he succeeded in driving from the kingdom of Macedon...

     (272–258 BC).


In the Gandhari
Gandhari language
Gāndhārī was a north-western prakrit spoken in Gāndhāra. Like all prakrits, it is thus descended from either Vedic Sanskrit or a closely related language. Gāndhārī was written in the script...

 original Antiochos is referred to as "Amtiyoko nama Yona
Yona
"Yona" is a Pali word used in ancient India to designate Greek speakers. Its equivalent in Sanskrit, Malayalam, Kannada, Telugu and Tamil is the word "Yavana" and "Jobonan/Jubonan" in Bengali...

-raja"
(lit. "The Greek king by the name of Antiokos"), beyond whom live the four other kings: "param ca tena Atiyokena cature 4 rajani Turamaye nama Amtikini nama Maka nama Alikasudaro nama" (lit. "And beyond Antiochus, four kings by the name of Ptolemy, the name of Antigonos, the name of Magas, the name Alexander"

It is not clear in Hellenic records whether these emissaries were actually received, or had any influence on the Hellenic world. Some scholars, however, point to the presence of Buddhist communities in the Hellenistic world from that time, in particular in Alexandria
Alexandria
Alexandria is the second-largest city of Egypt, with a population of 4.1 million, extending about along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea in the north central part of the country; it is also the largest city lying directly on the Mediterranean coast. It is Egypt's largest seaport, serving...

 (mentioned by Clement of Alexandria
Clement of Alexandria
Titus Flavius Clemens , known as Clement of Alexandria , was a Christian theologian and the head of the noted Catechetical School of Alexandria. Clement is best remembered as the teacher of Origen...

). The pre-Christian monastic order of the Therapeutae
Therapeutae
The Therapeutae were a Jewish sect in which flourished in Alexandria and other parts of the Diaspora of Hellenistic Judaism in the final years of the Second Temple period. The primary source is the account De vita contemplativa by the Jewish philosopher Philo of Alexandria who appears to have...

 may have drawn inspiration for its ascetic lifestyle from contact with Buddhist monasticism. Buddhist gravestones from the Ptolemaic period have also been found in Alexandria, decorated with depictions of the Wheel of the Law
Dharmacakra
The Dharmachakra , lit. "Wheel of Dharma" or "Wheel of Life" is a symbol that has represented dharma, the Buddha's teaching of the path to enlightenment, since the early period of Indian Buddhism. A similar symbol is also in use in Jainism...

. Commenting on the presence of Buddhists in Alexandria, some scholars have even pointed out that "It was later in this very place that some of the most active centers of Christianity were established" (Robert Linssen
Robert Linssen
Robert Linssen was a Belgian Zen Buddhist and author. Linssen wrote in French, but many of his texts have been translated into other languages including English...

).

Ashoka’s proselytism also expanded to the south of the Indian subcontinent
Indian subcontinent
The Indian subcontinent, also Indian Subcontinent, Indo-Pak Subcontinent or South Asian Subcontinent is a region of the Asian continent on the Indian tectonic plate from the Hindu Kush or Hindu Koh, Himalayas and including the Kuen Lun and Karakoram ranges, forming a land mass which extends...

:
  • The Cholas and Pandyas
    Pandyan Kingdom
    The Pandyan dynasty was an ancient Tamil dynasty. The Pandyas were one of the four Tamil dynasties , which ruled South India until the 15th century CE. They initially ruled their country Pandya Nadu from Korkai, a seaport on the Southernmost tip of the Indian Peninsula, and in later times moved...

    were south Indian peoples living outside Asoka's empire.
  • Tamraparni
    Tamraparni
    Tamraparni or Tambapanni is an old name of Sri Lanka. Tamraparniya is a name given to the Theravada school lineage in Sri Lanka...

    is the old name of Sri Lanka
    Sri Lanka
    Sri Lanka, officially the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka is a country off the southern coast of the Indian subcontinent. Known until 1972 as Ceylon , Sri Lanka is an island surrounded by the Indian Ocean, the Gulf of Mannar and the Palk Strait, and lies in the vicinity of India and the...

    . Tamraparniya is also the name of Theravada School from Sri Lanka.

Proselytism within Ashoka's territories


Inside India proper, in the realm of Ashoka, many different populations were the object of the King’s proselytism:

Greek communities


Greek communities lived in the northwest of the Mauryan empire, in the region of Pakistan, notably ancient Gandhara
Gandhara
Gandhāra , is the name of an ancient kingdom , located in northern Pakistan and eastern Afghanistan. Gandhara was located mainly in the vale of Peshawar, the Potohar plateau and on the Kabul River...

 near the Pakistani capital of Islamabad
Islamabad
Islamabad is the capital of Pakistan and the tenth largest city in the country. Located within the Islamabad Capital Territory , the population of the city has grown from 100,000 in 1951 to 1.7 million in 2011...

, and in southern Afghanistan in the region of Gedrosia
Gedrosia
Gedrosia from Pashto Gwadar-khua is the hellenized name of an area that corresponds to today's Balochistan. Eastern Balochistan is southwestern province of Pakistan and parts of southwestern and south-central Afghanistan and western Balochistan is divided between Iranian provinces of Hormozgan and...

, following the conquest and the colonization efforts of Alexander the Great around 323 BC. These communities therefore seem to have been still significant during the reign of Ashoka. A notable mention references aspects of Greek society.

Two edicts in Afghanistan have been found with Greek inscriptions, one of these being a bilingual edict in Greek language and Aramaic. This edict, found in Kandahar
Kandahar
Kandahar is the second largest city in Afghanistan, with a population of about 512,200 as of 2011. It is the capital of Kandahar Province, located in the south of the country at about 1,005 m above sea level...

, advocates the adoption of "Piety" (using the Greek term Eusebeia
Eusebeia
Eusebeia is a Greek word abundantly used in Greek philosophy as well as in the New Testament, meaning inner piety, spiritual maturity, or godliness...

 for Dharma
Dharma
Dharma means Law or Natural Law and is a concept of central importance in Indian philosophy and religion. In the context of Hinduism, it refers to one's personal obligations, calling and duties, and a Hindu's dharma is affected by the person's age, caste, class, occupation, and gender...

) to the Greek community:

Other communities

  • Kambojas
    Kambojas
    The Kambojas were a kshatriya tribe of Iron Age India, frequently mentioned in Sanskrit and Pali literature.They were an Indo-Iranian tribe situated at the boundary of the Indo-Aryans and the Iranians, and appear to have moved from the Iranian into the Indo-Aryan sphere over time.The Kambojas...

     are a people of Central Asia
    Central Asia
    Central Asia is a core region of the Asian continent from the Caspian Sea in the west, China in the east, Afghanistan in the south, and Russia in the north...

    n origin who had settled first in Arachosia
    Arachosia
    Arachosia is the Latinized form of the Greek name of an Achaemenid and Seleucid governorate in the eastern part of their respective empires, around modern-day southern Afghanistan. The Greek term "Arachosia" corresponds to the Iranian land of Harauti which was between Kandahar in Afghanistan and...

     and Drangiana
    Drangiana
    Drangiana or Zarangiana was a historical region of the Achaemenid Empire. This region comprises territory around lake Hâmûn, wetlands in endorheic Sīstān basin on the Irano-Afghan-Pakistan border, and its primary watershed Helmand river in nowadays southwestern Afghanistan and the "Nok Kondi" of...

     (today’s southern Afghanistan
    Afghanistan
    Afghanistan , officially the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, is a landlocked country located in the centre of Asia, forming South Asia, Central Asia and the Middle East. With a population of about 29 million, it has an area of , making it the 42nd most populous and 41st largest nation in the world...

    ), and then in the northwestern Indian subcontinent in Sindhu, Gujarat and Sauvira.
  • The Nabhakas, the Nabhapamkits, the Bhojas, the Pitinikas, the Andhras and the Palidas are other people under Ashoka’s rule.

Moral precepts



The Dharma preached by Ashoka is explained mainly in term of moral precepts, based on the doing of good deeds, respect for others, generosity and purity.

Right behaviour


Benevolence


Ashokas Dharma meant that:
he used his power to try to make life better for his people
and he also tried to change the way people thought and lived

Kindness to prisoners


Ashoka showed great concern for fairness in the exercise of justice
Justice
Justice is a concept of moral rightness based on ethics, rationality, law, natural law, religion, or equity, along with the punishment of the breach of said ethics; justice is the act of being just and/or fair.-Concept of justice:...

, caution and tolerance in the application of sentences, and regularly pardoned prisoners.

Respect for animal life


The Mauryan empire was the first Indian empire to unify the country and it had a clear-cut policy of exploiting as well as protecting natural resources with specific officials tasked with protection duty. When Ashoka
Ashoka
Ashok Maurya or Ashoka , popularly 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 a number of military conquests...

 embraced Buddhism
Buddhism
Buddhism is a religion and philosophy encompassing a variety of traditions, beliefs and practices, largely based on teachings attributed to Siddhartha Gautama, commonly known as the Buddha . The Buddha lived and taught in the northeastern Indian subcontinent some time between the 6th and 4th...

 in the latter part of his reign, he brought about significant changes in his style of governance, which included providing protection to fauna, and even relinquished the royal hunt. He was perhaps the first ruler in history to advocate conservation measures for wildlife. Reference to these can be seen inscribed on the stone edicts.
The edicts also proclaim that many followed the king's example in giving up the slaughter of animals; one of them proudly states:
, he advocated restraint in the number that had to be killed for consumption, protected some of them, and in general condemned violent acts against animals, such as castration
Castration
Castration is any action, surgical, chemical, or otherwise, by which a male loses the functions of the testicles or a female loses the functions of the ovaries.-Humans:...

.

However, the edicts of Ashoka reflect more the desire of rulers than actual events; the mention of a 100 'panas' (coins) fine for poaching deer in royal hunting preserves shows that rule-breakers did exist. The legal restrictions conflicted with the practices then freely exercised by the common people in hunting, felling, fishing and setting fires in forests.

Buddhism


Beyond spreading the moral virtues of Buddhism
Buddhism
Buddhism is a religion and philosophy encompassing a variety of traditions, beliefs and practices, largely based on teachings attributed to Siddhartha Gautama, commonly known as the Buddha . The Buddha lived and taught in the northeastern Indian subcontinent some time between the 6th and 4th...

, Ashoka
Ashoka
Ashok Maurya or Ashoka , popularly 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 a number of military conquests...

 also insisted that the word of the Buddha be read and followed, in particular in monastic circles (the Sangha
Sangha
Sangha is a word in Pali or Sanskrit that can be translated roughly as "association" or "assembly," "company" or "community" with common goal, vision or purpose...

s):

Belief in a next world


Religious exchange


Far from being sectarian, Ashoka
Ashoka
Ashok Maurya or Ashoka , popularly 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 a number of military conquests...

, based on a belief that all religions shared a common, positive essence, encouraged tolerance and understanding of other religions.

Social and animal welfare


According to the edicts, Ashoka
Ashoka
Ashok Maurya or Ashoka , popularly 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 a number of military conquests...

 took great care of the welfare
Quality of life
The term quality of life is used to evaluate the general well-being of individuals and societies. The term is used in a wide range of contexts, including the fields of international development, healthcare, and politics. Quality of life should not be confused with the concept of standard of...

 of his subjects (human and animal), and those beyond his borders, spreading the use of medicinal treatments, improving roadside facilities for more comfortable travel, and establishing "officers of the faith" throughout his territories to survey the welfare of the population and the propagation of the Dharma
Dharma
Dharma means Law or Natural Law and is a concept of central importance in Indian philosophy and religion. In the context of Hinduism, it refers to one's personal obligations, calling and duties, and a Hindu's dharma is affected by the person's age, caste, class, occupation, and gender...

.

Medicinal treatments



Roadside facilities



Officers of the faith



Estampages of Girnar Edicts


An estampage is an impression of the inscription on a rock face. This can be obtained by pressing wet paper to the rock face.

Estampages of Asokan edicts were prepared by ASI for their publication in a revised Corpus.

The following five images are estampages of the Girnar Rock Edicts. A comparison with Cunningham’s reproductions (see above) shows that his copies of the Girnar edicts are not faithful to the incised Brahmi characters. A note describing some of the differences can be seen here. Two digital photographs of the right half of the rock can be seen in that note as well as their author's page on the web.

External links