Asoka was a versatile genius and one of the most remarkable personalities in the history of the world. He was at the same time a great conqueror and builder, statesman and administrator, religious and social reformer and philosopher and saint. King Asoka, an adherent of the common Indian religion for about nine years after his coronation, devoted himself in the pursuit and spread of the Buddhist duties after his conversion into Buddhism in the tenth Regnal year. Besides, Buddhist traditions also represent Asoka as converted to Buddhism as an Upasaka, i.e. Follower of Lord Buddha and as a patron of Buddhism. According to Asoka, Dharma included avoidance of sins, ample goodness, kindness, charity, truthfulness and cleanness; sin included fierceness, harshness, anger, arrogance, envy and slanderous habit. King Asoka understood a number of virtues to constitute his Dharma. These included the least amount of sin and the greatest amount of good done to others as well as compassion, liberality, truthfulness, purity, gentleness and goodness. Good conduct, self-control, purity of thought, gratitude and firm devotion are extolled as also the absence of violence, cruelty, anger, vanity and jealousy. In addition to these, king Asoka recommended compassion, reverence, sympathy and truthfulness and condemned cruelty, irreverence, intolerance and falsefood. The virtue on which he laid the greatest emphasis is the regard Appendices. In addition to these, select Bibliography and General Index are also appended for the benefit of Researchers as well as general readers. However, the present work will definitely help the students of Ancient Indian History, Archaeology, Epigraphy and Sanskrit.
The present work has grown out of my lectures at the University. This mainly explains the addition of another work to the many already existing on the subject. But they are not too many for the subject. In spite of a large literature, old and new, in different languages, Pali, Sanskrit, English, French, and German, seeking from a variety of standpoints to interpret the unique personality and achievements of Asoka, the interpretation is not yet adequate or final. The very basis of the interpretation is something that is shifting, growing, and improving. The words of Asoka, telling best his own tale, and inscribed by him in imperishable characters on some of the perm anent fixtures of Nature, have not themselves come to light all at once, but were discovered piecemeal, and at different places and times. The search for them in out-of-the-way places, the centres of population in Asoka's days, but now remote from the haunts of men, and hidden away in jungles, is a story of considerable physical daring and adventure in its early stages. But the discovery of the inscriptions did not mean the end of the chase There was the difficulty of their decipherment, of finding the key to a knowledge that was lost and forgotten. The knowledge of the script in which Asoka had his words written on many a rock or pillar had remained lost to India for ages. The Chinese travelers, Fa-hien and Yuan Chwang, for instance, who had visited India in two different periods, the fourth and the seventh century A.D. respectively, and who were themselves no mean linguists, could not find local experts to help them to a right reading of the Asokan inscriptions they had come across on their itineraries. They have recorded wrong readings of those inscriptions, the results of mere guess-work or hearsay information of local people not confessing to their own ignorance of the scripts. Indeed, the recovery of this long-lost knowledge of Asokan script is a romance of modem scholarship. Even when the script was deciphered, and the words of Asoka were read, there was the further problem of their correct interpretation.
Thus Asokan scholarship has now to record more than a century of progress in its three directions of the discovery, decipherment, and interpretation of the inscriptions. The progress is marked by the following principal events :
It was in about 1750 that an Asokan inscription was first discovered when Padre Tieffenthaler saw at Delhi fragments of the Delhi-Mirath Pillar.
In 1785, J.H. Harington first visited the Barabar and Nagarjuni Hill Caves. A few years earlier, Hodges on his way to the caves was assassinated "by the followers of one of the allies of Chyt Singh."
About the same time, the Delhi- Topra Pillar Inscription was found by Captain Polier who presented some drawings of same to Sir William Jones.
In 1801 were published in the Asiatic Researches copies of the Delhi- Topra Pillar Inscription, and of portions of the Allahabad-Kosam Pillar Inscription from copies made by Captain James Hoare.
In 1822 the Girnar Rock Inscription was found by Major James Tod.
In 1834 was published in the third volume of the Bengal Asiatic Society's Journal the copy of the Allahabad Pillar Inscription made by Lieutenant T.S. Burt, together with a classified table of the Asokan letters prepared by James Prinsep. At that time Prinsep was not able to read the entire Asokan alphabet, but could only guess the value of post-consonantal iiLe, and Anusvara. After six months' study, he improved his knowledge by recognising the consonants y, v, and s.
In 1836, the Shahbazgarhi Rock Edict was discovered by M.A. Court, a French officer of Maharaja Ranjit Singh.
The year 1837 is memorable in the history of Asokan scholarship. It witnessed the first successful reading of an Asokan inscription, the Delhi-Topra Pillar Edict, by Prinsep who published his reading and translation of the inscription in JASB, Vol. vi. He had then already had before him copies of the inscriptions on the two pillars at Lauriya Araraj and Lauriya Nandangarh. The same year he also published a litograph of the Delhi-Mirath Pillar Inscription from impressions taken by Major P.L. Pew, as also of the Queen's Edict. The last event of the year was the discovery in another remote part of India of the Dhauli Rock Edict by Lieutenant Kittoe.
In 1838, further progress in Asokan studies was achieved by Prinsep who made the first comparative study of the two Asokan inscriptions at Girnar and Dhauli, discovered their identity in script, language, and contents, and deciphered and published them with translations in JASB, Vol. vii. Tracings on cloth of the Girnar Inscription were made by Captain Lang in 1835 for the Rev. Dr. J. Wilson of Bombay, who then sent them on to Prinsep for decipherment. Kittoe's copies of the Dhauli Inscription were also before Prinsep in 1838. These were his revised copies which he obtained at risk to- his life. As stated by him, he arrived at Dhauli "before day-break and had to wait till it was light; for the two bear cubs which escaped me there last year, when I killed the old bear, were now full grown and disputed the ground."
In 1839, a copy of the Sahasram Rock Edict was secured by E.L. Ravenshaw from Shah Kabiruddin.
In 1840, copies of the Shahbazgarhi Rock Edict were made by C. Masson by going to the spot through a perilous region at considerable personal risk. The copies were examined in Europe by Norris who first read in them the word Devanariipiyasa written in Kharosthi script.
In 1840 was also discovered on the rock at Bairat the so-called Bhabru Edict by Captain Burt whose copy of it was transcribed and translated by Captain Kittoe "with the aid of the learned Pandit Kamala Kanta."
In 1850, the Jaugada Rock Inscription was copied by Sir Walter Elliot who could recognise it to be another version of Asoka's Edicts which had been already found at Shahbazgarhi, Girnar, and Dhauli.
In 1860, the Kalsi Rock Inscription was discovered by Forest who found its whole surface "encrusted with the dark moss of ages."
In 1872, Carlleyle discovered the Bairat Minor Rock Edict. To him we also owe the discovery of the Rampurwa Pillar Edict about the same time.
During these seventies was also discovered the Rupnath Minor Rock Edict which was originally found and very imperfectly copied some time ago by a servant of Colonel Ellis for the Bengal Asiatic Society.
Then followed in 1879 the epoch-making publication of Cunningham on the inscriptions of Asoka, being Vol. i. of the Corpus Inscription lndicarum. This work may be taken to mark the second stage in the history of Asokan scholarship, the first stage being represented in the work of Prinsep, Burnouf, and Wilson (1850). It will appear that of the Rock Edicts, Prinsep and Burnouf knew only of three, viz., those at Shahbazgarhi, Girnar, and Dhauli, and Burnouf and Wilson, of the Bhabru Edict as well; of the Cave-inscriptions, Prinsep knew only of Nagarjuni, and Burnouf, of both Nagarjuni and Barabar; and of at Kausambl and Safichi. By the time of Cunningham's Corpus, several additional Asokan Edicts were known, viz., the Minor Rock Edicts at Sahasram, Rupnath, and Bairat, and the Minor Pillar Edicts at Safichl and Kausambl.
There was still a crop of Asoka discoveries to follow. In 1882, a fragment of R.E. VIII was discovered on a broken block at Sopara by Dr. Bhagwan Lal Indraji.
The Mansenra Rock Edicts were discovered in parts by Captain Leigh, and by an Indian subordinate of toe Panjab Archaeological Survey in 1889.
The three Mysore Minor Rock Edicts were discovered by Lewis Rice in 1891.
The Nigali Sagar Pillar Edict was discovered in 1895 and the Rummindei in 1896 by Fuhrer.
In 1905 was discovered the Sarnath Pillar Edict by Oertel.
Lastly followed the discovery in 1915 of the Maski Rock Inscription by C. Beadon, a gold-mining engineer of the Nizam's Government.
In the meanwhile, considerable advance in Asokan studies was achieved in several publications, among which may be mentioned Senart's Les Inscriptiones de Piyadasi (1881), and Buhler's editions of the Asoka Edicts in ZDMG, and Epigraphia Indica, Vols. i. and ii. Along with these may be also mentioned the important contributions to Asokan scholarship made from time to time by scholars like O. Franke, V.A. Smith, Fleet, Michelson, Luders, F.W. Thomas, Hultzsch, D.R. Bhandarkar, K.P. Jayaswal, B.M. Barua, and A.c. Woolner.
The last stage in Asokan scholarship for some time to come has been reached in the new edition of the Corpus published in 1925 by Hultzsch whose recent death i-s 11 deplorable loss to the study of Indian history in general and to Asokan study in particular.
Now that the Asokan Text and Interpretation have practically reached a final form and stage, a convenient text book on the subject seems to be called for in the interest mainly of the growing number of students who have to offer Asoka as a subject of study at the University examinations. The present compilation has no pretensions to originality, except in the matter of some points in Asokan chronology and of certain passages in the Edicts, notorious for the controversy regarding their meanings, on which new interpretations have been suggested. The general interpretation of Asoka's carrier does not also follow always the usual or accepted lines. The annotation of the inscriptions has been made fuller and comprehensive so as to include the different views and interpretations suggested, as well as parallel passages from Sanskrit and Pali works throwing light on the points at issue. The correspondence between the Asokan Edicts and Kautilya 's Arthasastra has been specially worked out. The best preserved text of each Edict has been adopted as the standard for its study, and important variations shown in other texts have been pointed out in the footnotes. A further element of interest has been introduced in bringing together in the work illustrations of important Asokan monuments available. Most of these illustrations are based on photoprints supplied by the Archaeological Department, but a few on photographs taken by me on the spot, viz., those of Dhauli, the Kalsi elephant, and the Pillars at Bakhra, Lauriya Araraj, and Rummindei. The Dhauli photograph I owe to Mr. Nirmal Bose, M.Sc., of Puri, and the Rummindei to the arrangements kindly made by my pupil, Mr. P.P. Panday, M.A., of Narharia, Basti. A plate showing the Asokan Alphabet (based on drawings kindly prepared by Principal A.K. Haldar of the Government School of Art and Crafts, Lucknow) has been added as an aid to the study of the inscriptions in the original. I owe special acknowledgements to Mr. Charan Das Chattcrji, M.A., Lecturer in Indian History, Lucknow University, for many valuable references and suggestions.
The system of transliteration adopted here may be understood from the following examples : Lichchhavi, Krsna, Mahavamsa. Both Sanskrit and Prakrit forms have been used for certain words according to convenience.
My grateful acknowledgements are due to His Highness Sir Sayaji Rao Gaekwad of Baroda, and his Government, for their award to me of the Sayaji Rao Gaekwad Prize with which this work is associated, and to the Benares Hindu University for Sir Manindra Chandra Nandy Lectures (1927), based on portions of this work.
Asoka popularly known as Asoka the great was a versatile genius and one of the most remarkable personalities in the history of the world. He was at the same time a great conqueror and builder, statesman and administrator, religious and social reformer and philosopher and saint. One of India's greatest emperors, Asoka reigned over most of present-day Pakistan and Afghanistan in the West, to the present-day Bangaladesh and the Indian state of Assam in the east and as far South as Northern Kerala and Andhra Pradesh. His organization of missions meant for the transformation of a small sectarian creed into a world religion. He eschewed military conquests not after a defeat but after a great victory over the powerful people of Kalinga and pursued a policy of toleration in respect of the neighbouring states in spite of the vest resources of exceptional energy, ability and power of organization and his generosity and forbearance were matched only by his sincerity of purpose. King Asoka's piety and his liberal and impartial dealings with all his subjects irrespective of their caste and creed exercised an ennobling influence on the pious kings of India for many succeeding generations.
King Chandragupta was succeeded by his son Bindusara (300-272 B.C.), known to the Greeks as Amitraghata. He succeeded in preserving the solidarity of the vast empire inherited from his father and maintaining friendly relations with the Greek king of Western Asia and the latter's neighbours. King Bindhsara died about 272 B.C. and his throne passed to his illustrious son Asoka whose coronation, however, took place four years later owing probably to a protected struggle for succession. According to some tradition Asoka rolled for thirty-seven years possibly counted from the date of his coronation about 269 B.C. A volume of information about Asoka's career and exploits is available from literary traditions and his own records engraved on rocks and stone pillars.
The Gujarra and Maski versions of Minor Rock Edict-I are the only two inscriptions of Asoka, which refer to him by name. Elsewhere in his records, the emperor is generally mentioned as Devanampriya Priyadarsi Raja, i.e., the king who is the beloved of the gods and who glances graciously upon all. Sometimes he is called simply Devanampriya or king Priyadarst, Literary tradition also often refers to Asoka either as Priyadarsl or as Priyadarsana, i.e. one having an amiable appearance. In his Inscriptions, Asoka is once represented as the king of Magadha which was the home province of the Maurya emperors, and the city of Pataliputra is indirectly mentioned as his capital in a few cases. But, on several occasions, the inscriptions use the word meaning 'here' to indicate the royal household or the capital city or the entire dominions of Asoka. In some cases, the empire in mentioned in accordance with an ancient Indian convention, as either the earth or Jambudvipa meaning the earth or its part contains Bharata varsa. Other cities of the empire mentioned in the inscriptions are: Ujjayini, Taksasila, Tosali, Kausambi and Samapa, of which the first four were provincial headquarters where viceroys of the royal blood were stationed. It seems that Pataliputra was the headquarters of the Pracya and Madhyadesa divisions of ancient Bharatavarsa comprising the East Punjab, U.P., Bihar and Bengal. According to tradition, Asoka himself acted as his father's viceroy at both Ujjayini and Takshasila. The inscription also mentions certain Buddhist holy places visited by the emperor on pilgrimage. They include Lumbinflgrama in the Nepalese Tarai and Sambodhi or Mahabodhi in the Bihar.
King Asoka, an adherent of the common Indian religion for about nine years after his coronation, devoted himself in the pursuit and spread of the Buddhistic duties after his conversion into Buddhism in the tenth Regnal year. In Minor Rock Edict III, word dharma is used in the sense of the Buddha's doctrine. But elsewhere it indicates a code of morals preached by Asoka probably following what he believed to be teachings Buddha. There is indeed some similarity between Asoka's teachings and the Buddha's instructions to a house holder's son named Srgala as found in the canonical work entitled Digha Nikaya, Besides, Buddhist traditions also represent Asoka as converted to Buddhism as an Upasaka, i.e. follower of Lord Buddha and as a patron of Buddhism.
As a devotee of Buddha he prohibited cruel shows like bull-fights, athletic combats, bullock cart races, etc. and in place encouraged religious spectacles everywhere. His edicts emphatically state that he prescribed various kinds of slaughter in the twenty-seventh Regnal year. Several animals were not to be killed on a number of days, e.g. on tishya, the 13th, 14th and 15th days of a fortnight. Every year he ordered the release of prisoners. He built hospitals for animals as also for men throughout his kingdom. Wells and tanks were dug, roads and rest-houses were constructed and on both the sides of the roads, trees (specially the banyan trees being an emblem of Buddhism) were planted so that they might offer shade to the travellers. A separate department of Law (dharma) was opened with dharma- mahamatya as its head. The minister for Law looked after the people in respect of law and through his numerous subordinate officers he controlled the morality of the entire state. Not only the Law Officers but the Civil Servants such as the Governors, the block-holders and others were also given powers for the inculcation of the Law of piety.
According to Asoka, Dharma included avoidance of sins, ample goodness, kindness, charity, truthfulness and cleanness; while sin included fierceness, harshness, anger, arrogance, envy and slanderous habit. Being a Buddhist, he never mentions the name of God in his inscriptions in the usual sense of the term but he has great faith in next life and heaven, an anti Buddhistic attitude. But he is not clear as to what he meant by next life and heaven. His veteran ministers of the Law were no doubt plunged heart and soul into the preaching of Dhqrma. He was very proud of the permanent existence of Dharma and that is why he inscribed his sermons on the rocks and pillars. In several cases, Asoka refers to the Buddha as 'The Lord' and in one case the Buddhist doctrine is mentioned as 'The true faith'. In minor Rock Edict-I, he declares that when the edict was issued, he had been an U pasaka for more than two years and a half and in intimate association with the Saflgha, i.e. the Buddhist clergy, for more than one year. Minor Rock Edict III not only refers to his reverence for and faith in the Buddhist Trinity, i.e. the Buddha, Dharma arid Sangha, but also prescribes certain religious texts selected by himself, for the study of the Buddhist monks and nuns as well as of the lay followers of the Buddha. Minor Pillar Edict-I contains the text of his order to his officers to the effect that heretical monks and nuns should have to be expelled from the Sangha. The Rock Edict VIII and Pillar Inscriptions I-II speak of King Asoka's pilgrimage to such Buddhist holy places, such as Sambodhi, i.e. modem Bodhagaya, where Lord Buddha obtained Bodhi and Lumbinigrama where the Lord was born, as well as to the Stupa built over the relics of the former Buddha Kanakamuni. The Kalsi and Dhauli rocks bear the figure of an elephant near the inscriptions of Asoka, which is described respectively as 'the best elephant' and 'the white'.
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