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Ashoka's visit to the Ramagrama stupa Sanchi Stupa 1 Southern gateway.jpg
A c. 1st century BCE/CE relief from Sanchi, showing Ashoka on his chariot, visiting the Nagas at Ramagrama.[1][2]
3rd Mauryan Emperor
Reignc. 268 - c. 232 BCE[3]
Coronation268 BCE[3]
Bornc. 304 BCE[4]
Pataliputra, Mauryan Empire, (present-day Patna, Bihar, India)
Died232 BCE
Pataliputra, modern-day Patna, Bihar, India
MotherSubhadrangi (also called Dharma)

Ashoka (Br?hmi: ?, Asoka,[5]IAST: A?oka, ) sometimes Ashoka the Great, was an Indian emperor of the Maurya Dynasty, who ruled almost all of the Indian subcontinent from c. 268 to 232 BCE.[6][7] The grandson of the founder of the Maurya Dynasty, Chandragupta Maurya, Ashoka promoted the spread of Buddhism across ancient Asia. Considered by many to be one of India's greatest emperors, Ashoka expanded Chandragupta's empire to reign over a realm stretching from present-day Afghanistan in the west to Bangladesh in the east. It covered the entire Indian subcontinent except for parts of present-day Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Kerala. The empire's capital was Pataliputra (in Magadha, present-day Patna), with provincial capitals at Taxila and Ujjain.

Ashoka waged a destructive war against the state of Kalinga (modern Odisha),[8] which he conquered in about 260 BCE.[9] In about 263 BCE, he converted to Buddhism[8] after witnessing the mass deaths of the Kalinga War, which he had waged out of a desire for conquest and which reportedly directly resulted in more than 100,000 deaths and 150,000 deportations.[10] He is remembered for the Ashoka pillars and edicts, for sending Buddhist monks to Sri Lanka and Central Asia, and for establishing monuments marking several significant sites in the life of Gautama Buddha.[11]

Beyond the Edicts of Ashoka, biographical information about him relies on legends written centuries later, such as the 2nd-century CE Ashokavadana ("Narrative of Ashoka", a part of the Divyavadana), and in the Sri Lankan text Mahavamsa ("Great Chronicle"). The emblem of the modern Republic of India is an adaptation of the Lion Capital of Ashoka. His Sanskrit name "A?oka" means "painless, without sorrow" (the a privativum and ?oka, "pain, distress"). In his edicts, he is referred to as Dev?n?mpriya (Pali Dev?na?piya or "the Beloved of the Gods"), and Priyadar?in (Pali Piyadas? or "He who regards everyone with affection"). His fondness for his name's connection to the Saraca asoca tree, or "Ashoka tree", is also referenced in the Ashokavadana.

In The Outline of History (1920), H.G. Wells wrote, "Amidst the tens of thousands of names of monarchs that crowd the columns of history, their majesties and graciousnesses and serenities and royal highnesses and the like, the name of Ashoka shines, and shines, almost alone, a star."[12]

Names and titles

Names and titles of Ashoka
The name A-so-ka (?, Asoka) in the Maski Minor Rock Edict.
Ashoka's title "Devana?piyena Piyadasi" ( ) in the Lumbini Minor Pillar Edict.

The name "A-shoka" literally means "without sorrow". According to an Ashokavadana legend, his mother gave him this name because his birth removed her sorrows.[13]

The name Priyadasi is frequently associated with Ashoka, for example, in the Kandahar inscription and the Dipavamsa. The term literally means "he who regards amiably", or "of gracious mien" (Sanskrit: Priya-darshi). It may have been a regnal name adopted by Ashoka.[14]

Ashoka's inscriptions mention his title Devanampriya ("Beloved of the Gods"), which also appears as Devanampiya in the Pali legends. The identification of Devanampriya and Ashoka as the same person is established by the Maski and Gujarra inscriptions, which use both these terms for the king.[15][16] The title was adopted by other kings, including the contemporary king Devanampiya Tissa of Anuradhapura and Ashoka's descendant Dasharatha Maurya.[17]


Early life

Ashoka's own inscriptions do not describe his early life, and much of the information on this topic comes from apocryphal legends written hundreds of years after him.[18] For example, the Ashokavadana mentions that in a previous birth, Ashoka was named Jaya and was prophesized by the Gautama Buddha to be born as a chakravarti king ruling from Pataliputra.[19] While these legends are obviously fictitious, they include some plausible historical details about Ashoka's period.[18]


The exact date of Ashoka's birth is not certain, as the extant contemporary Indian texts did not record such details. It is known that he lived in 3rd century BCE, as his inscriptions mention several contemporary rulers whose dates are known with more certainty, such as Antiochus II Theos, Ptolemy II Philadelphus, Antigonus II Gonatas, Magas of Cyrene, and Alexander (of Epirus or Corinth).[20] Thus, Ashoka must have been born sometime in the late 4th century BCE or early 3rd century BCE (c. 304 BCE),[21]

Pataliputra at the time of Ashoka
Ruins of pillared hall at Kumrahar site at Pataliputra.
The Pataliputra capital, 4th-3rd c. BCE.
Ashoka was probably born in the city of Pataliputra. Remains of the city from around that time have been found through excavations in central areas of the modern city of Patna.

According to the Sri Lankan texts Mahavamsa and the Dipavamsa, Ashoka ascended the throne 218 years after the death of Gautama Buddha, and ruled for 37 years.[22] The year of death of the Buddha itself is uncertain, but assuming that he died in 483 BCE - a date accepted by several scholars - Ashoka ascended the throne in 265 BCE.[23] The Puranas state that Ashoka's father Bindusara reigned for 25 years, not 28 years as specified in the Sri Lankan tradition.[24] If this is true, Ashoka's ascension can be dated three years earlier, to 268 BCE. Alternatively, if the Sri Lankan tradition is correct, but if we assume that the Buddha died in 486 BCE (a date supported by the Cantonese Dotted Record), Ashoka's ascension can be dated to 268 BCE.[23]

The Ashokavadana contains a story about Ashoka's minister Yashas hiding the sun with his hand. Professor P. H. L. Eggermont theorized that this story was a reference to a partial solar eclipse that was seen in northern India on 4 May 249 BCE.[25] According to the Ashokavadana, Ashoka went on a pilgrimage to various Buddhist sites sometime after this eclipse. Ashoka's Rummindei pillar inscription states that he visited Lumbini - the birthplace of Gautama Buddha - during his 21st regnal year. Assuming this visit was a part of the pilgrimage described in the text, and assuming that Ashoka visited Lumbini around 1-2 years after the solar eclipse, the ascension date of 268-269 BCE seems more likely.[23][20]

However, this theory is not universally accepted. For example, according to John S. Strong, the event described in the Ashokavadana has nothing to do with chronology, and Eggermont's interpretation grossly ignores literalry and religious context of the legend.[26]


Ashoka's own inscriptions are fairly detailed, but make no mention of his ancestors.[27] Other sources, such as the Puranas and the Mahavamsa state that his father was the Mauryan emperor Bindusara, and his grandfather was Chandragupta - the founder of the Empire.[24] The Ashokavadana traces his ancestry to Buddha's contemporary king Bimbisara, through Ajatashatru, Udayin, Munda, Kakavarnin, Sahalin, Tulakuchi, Mahamandala, Prasenajit, Nanda, and Bindusara.[28] Taranatha describes Ashoka as the illegitimate son of king Nemita of Champarana from the daughter of a merchant.[29]

Ashokavadana states that Ashoka's mother was the daughter of a Brahmin from Champa, and was prophesized to marry a queen. Accordingly, her father took her to Pataliputra, where she was inducted into Bindusara's harem, and ultimately, became his chief queen.[30] The Ashokavadana does not mention her by name,[31] although other legends provide different names for her.[32] For example, the Asokavadanamala calls her Subhadrangi.[33][34] The Vamsatthapakasini or Mahavamsa-tika, a commentary on Mahavamsa, calls her "Dharma" ("Dhamma" in Pali), and states that she belonged to the Moriya Kshatriya clan.[34] A Divyavadana legend calls her Janapada-kalyani;[19] according to scholar Ananda W. P. Guruge, this is not a name, but an epithet.[33]

According to the 2nd century historian Appian, Chandragupta entered into a marital alliance with the Greek ruler Seleucus I Nicator, which has led to speculation that either Chandragupta or his son Bindusara married a Greek princess. However, there is no evidence that Ashoka's mother or grandmother was Greek, and the idea has been dismissed by most historians.[35]

As a prince

According to the Ashokavadana, Bindusara disliked Ashoka because of his rough skin. One day, Bindusara asked the ascetic Pingala-vatsajiva to determine which of his sons was being worthy of his successor. On the ascetic's advice, he asked all the princes to assmeble at the Garden of the Golden Pavilion. Ashoka was reluctant to go because his father disliked him, but his mother convinced him to do so. When minister Radhagupta saw Ashoka leaving the capital for the Garden, he offered the provided the prince a royal elephant for the travel.[36] At the Garden, Pingala-vatsajiva examined the princes and realized that Ashoka would be the next king. To avoid annoying Bindusara, the ascetic refused to name the successor. Instead, he said that one who had the best mount, seat, drink, vessel and food would be the next king; each time, Ashoka declared that he met the criterion. Later, he told Ashoka's mother that her son would be the next king, and on her advice, left the kingdom to avoid Bindusara's wrath.[37]

While legends suggest that Bindusara disliked Ashoka's ugly appearance, they also state that Bindusara gave him important responsibilities, such as suppressing a revolt in Takshashila (according to north Indian tradition), and governing Ujjain (according to Sri Lankan tradition). This suggests that Bindusara was impressed by the other qualities of the prince.[38] Another possibility is that he sent Ashoka to distant regions to keep him away from the imperial capital.[39]

Rebellion at Takshashila

The Aramaic Inscription of Taxila probably mentions Ashoka.

According to the Ashokavadana, Bindusara dispatched prince Ashoka to suppress a rebellion in the city of Takshashila[40] (present-day Bhir Mound[41]). This episode is not mentioned in the Sri Lankan tradition, which instead states that Bindusara sent Ashoka to govern Ujjain. However, other Buddhist texts - Ashoka-sutra and Kunala-sutra - state that Bindusara appointed Ashoka as a viceroy in Gandhara (where Takshashila was located), not Ujjain.[38]

The Ashokavadana states that Bindusara provided Ashoka with a fourfold-army (comprising cavalry, elephants, chariots and infantry), but refused to provide any weapons for this army. Ashoka declared that weapons would appear before him if he was worthy of being a king, and then, the deities emerged from the earth, and provided weapons to the army. When Ashoka reached Takshashila, the citizens welcomed him, and told him that their rebellion was only against the evil ministers, not the king. Sometime later, Ashoka was similarly welcomed in the Khasa territory, and the gods declared that he would go to conquer the whole earth.[40]

Takshashila was a prosperous and geopolitically important city, and historical evidence proves that by Ashoka's time, it was well-connected to the Mauryan capital Pataliputra by the Uttarapatha trade route.[42] However, no extant contemporary source mentions the Takshashila rebellion, and none of Ashoka's own records state that he ever visited the city.[43] That said, the historicity of the legend about Ashoka's involvement in the Takshashila rebellion maybe corroborated by an Aramaic-language inscription discovered at Sirkap near Taxila. The inscription mentions that a high official named Romedote was favoured by a governor, whose name is partially lost. The name begins with the letters "prydr", and most scholars restore it as "Priyadarshi", which was a title of Ashoka.[38] Another evidence of Ashoka's connection to the city may be the name of the Dharmarajika Stupa near Taxila; the name suggests that it was built by Ashoka ("Dharma-raja").[44]

The story about the deities miraculously bringing weapons to Ashoka may be the text's way of deifying Ashoka; or of indicating that Bindusara - who disliked Ashoka - wanted him to fail in Takshashila.[45]

Governor of Ujjain

According to the Mahavamsa, Bindusara appointed Ashoka as the viceroy of present-day Ujjain (Ujjeni),[38] which was an important administrative and commercial centre in the Avanti province of central India.[46] This tradition is corroborated by the Saru Maru inscription discovered in central India; this inscription states that he visited the place as a prince.[47] Ashoka's own rock edict mentions the presence of a prince viceroy at Ujjain during his reign,[48] which further supports the tradition that he himself served as a viceroy at Ujjain.[49]

The Saru Maru commemorative inscription seems to mention the presence of Ashoka in the area of Ujjain as he was still a Prince.

Pataliputra was connected to Ujjain by multiple routes in Ashoka's time, and on the way, Ashoka entourage may have encamped at Rupnath, where his inscription has been found.[50]

According to the Sri Lankan tradition, on his way to Ujjain, Ashoka visited Vidisha, where he fell in love with a beautiful woman. According to the Dipamvamsa and Mahamvamsa, the woman was Devi - the daughter of a merchant. According to the Mahabodhi-vamsa, she was Vidisha-Mahadevi, and belonged to the Shakya clan of Gautama Buddha. The Shakya connection may have been fabricated by the Buddhist chroniclers in an attempt to connect Ashoka's family to Buddha.[51] The Buddhist texts allude to her being a Buddhist in her later years, but do not describe her conversion to Buddhism. Therefore, it is likely that she was already a Buddhist when she met Ashoka.[52]

The Mahavamsa states that Devi gave birth to Ashoka's son Mahinda in Ujjain, and two years later, to a daughter named Sanghamitta.[53] According to the Mahavamsa, Ashoka's son Mahinda was ordained at the age of 20 years, during the sixth year of Ashoka's reign. That means, Mahinda must have been 14 years old when Ashoka ascended the throne. Even if Mahinda was born when Ashoka was as young as 20 years old, Ashoka must have ascended the throne at the age of 34 years, which means he must have served as a viceroy for several years.[54]


Bindusara's death in 272 BCE led to a war over succession. According to the Divyavadana, Bindusara wanted his elder son Susima to succeed him but Ashoka was supported by his father's ministers, who found Susima to be arrogant and disrespectful towards them.[55] A minister named Radhagupta seems to have played an important role in Ashoka's rise to the throne. The Ashokavadana recounts Radhagupta's offering of an old royal elephant to Ashoka for him to ride to the Garden of the Gold Pavilion where King Bindusara would determine his successor. Ashoka later got rid of the legitimate heir to the throne by tricking him into entering a pit filled with live coals. Radhagupta, according to the Ashokavadana, would later be appointed prime minister by Ashoka once he had gained the throne. The Dipavansa and Mahavansa refer to Ashoka's killing 99 of his brothers, sparing only one, named Vitashoka or Tissa,[3] although there is no clear proof about this incident (many such accounts are saturated with mythological elements). The coronation happened in 269 BCE, four years after his succession to the throne.[56]

Emperor Ashoka and his Queen at the Deer Park. Sanchi relief.[2]

Buddhist legends state that Ashoka was bad-tempered and of a wicked nature. He built Ashoka's Hell, an elaborate torture chamber described as a "Paradisal Hell" due to the contrast between its beautiful exterior and the acts carried out within by his appointed executioner, Girikaa.[57] This earned him the name of Chanda Ashoka (Caa A?oka) meaning "Ashoka the Fierce" in Sanskrit. Professor Charles Drekmeier cautions that the Buddhist legends tend to dramatise the change that Buddhism brought in him, and therefore, exaggerate Ashoka's past wickedness and his piousness after the conversion.[58]

Ascending the throne, Ashoka expanded his empire over the next eight years, from the present-day Assam in the East to Balochistan in the West; from the Pamir Knot in Afghanistan in the north to the peninsula of southern India except for present day Tamil Nadu and Kerala which were ruled by the three ancient Tamil kingdoms.[59]


From the various sources that speak of his life, Ashoka is believed to have had five wives. They were named Devi (or Vedisa-Mahadevi-Shakyakumari), the second queen, Karuvaki, Asandhimitra (designated agramahis? or "chief queen"), Padmavati, and Tishyarakshita.[60] He is similarly believed to have had four sons and two daughters: a son by Devi named Mahendra (Pali: Mahinda), Tivara (son of Karuvaki), Kunala (son of Padmavati, and Jalauka (mentioned in the Kashmir Chronicle), a daughter of Devi named Sanghamitra (Pali: Sanghamitta), and another daughter named Charumati.[60]

Conquest of Kalinga & Buddhist conversion

Ashoka's empire stretched from Afghanistan to Bengal to southern India. Several modern maps depict it as covering nearly all of the Indian subcontinent, except the southern tip.[61]
Hermann Kulke and Dietmar Rothermund believe that Ashoka's empire did not include large parts of India, which were controlled by autonomous tribes.[61]

While the early part of Ashoka's reign was apparently quite bloodthirsty, he became a follower of the Buddha's teachings after his conquest of the Kalinga on the east coast of India in the present-day states of Odisha 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 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 up in defence; over 150,000 were deported.[62]

Edict 13 of the Edicts of Ashoka Rock Inscriptions expresses the great remorse the king felt after observing the destruction of Kalinga:

Directly after the Kalingas had been annexed began His Sacred Majesty's zealous protection of the Law of Piety, his love of that Law, and his inculcation of that Law. Thence arises the remorse of His Sacred Majesty for having conquered the Kalingas, because the conquest of a country previously unconquered involves the slaughter, death, and carrying away captive of the people. That is a matter of profound sorrow and regret to His Sacred Majesty.[63]

Legend says that 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 lethal war with Kalinga transformed the vengeful Emperor Ashoka to a stable and peaceful emperor and he became a patron of Buddhism. According to the prominent Indologist, A. L. Basham, Ashoka's personal religion became Buddhism, if not before, then certainly after the Kalinga war. However, according to Basham, the Dharma officially propagated by Ashoka was not Buddhism at all.[64] Nevertheless, his patronage led to the expansion of Buddhism in the Mauryan empire and other kingdoms during his rule, and worldwide from about 250 BCE.[65] Prominent in this cause were his son Mahinda (Mahendra) and daughter Sanghamitra (whose name means "friend of the Sangha"), who established Buddhism in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka).[66]

The Diamond throne built by Ashoka at the Mahabodhi Temple in Bodh Gaya, at the location where the Buddha reached enlightenment.

Death and legacy

Ashoka's Major Rock Edict at Junagadh contains inscriptions by Ashoka (fourteen of the Edicts of Ashoka), Rudradaman I and Skandagupta.

Ashoka ruled for an estimated 36 years and died in 232 BCE.[67] Legend states that during his cremation, his body burned for seven days and nights.[68] After his death, the Mauryan dynasty lasted just fifty more years until his empire stretched over almost all of the Indian subcontinent. Ashoka had many wives and children, but many of their names are lost to time. His chief consort (agramahisi) for the majority of his reign was his wife, Asandhimitra, who apparently bore him no children.[69]

In his old age, he seems to have come under the spell of his youngest wife Tishyaraksha. It is said that she had got Ashoka's son Kunala, the regent in Takshashila and the heir presumptive to the throne, blinded by a wily stratagem. The official executioners spared Kunala and he became a wandering singer accompanied by his favourite wife Kanchanmala. In Pataliputra, Ashoka heard Kunala's song, and realised that Kunala's misfortune may have been a punishment for some past sin of the emperor himself. He condemned Tishyaraksha to death, restoring Kunala to the court. In the Ashokavadana, Kunala is portrayed as forgiving Tishyaraksha, having obtained enlightenment through Buddhist practice. While he urges Ashoka to forgive her as well, Ashoka does not respond with the same forgiveness.[57]

The reign of Ashoka Maurya might have disappeared into history as the ages passed by, had he not left behind records of his reign. These records are in the form of sculpted pillars and rocks inscribed with a variety of actions and teachings he wished to be published under his name. The language used for inscription was in one of the Prakrit "common" languages etched in a Brahmi script.[70]

In the year 185 BCE, about fifty years after Ashoka's death, the last Maurya ruler, Brihadratha, was assassinated by the commander-in-chief of the Mauryan armed forces, Pushyamitra Shunga, while he was taking the Guard of Honor of his forces. Pushyamitra Shunga founded the Shunga dynasty (185-75 BCE) 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.[]

King Ashoka, the third monarch of the Indian Mauryan dynasty, is also considered as one of the most exemplary rulers who ever lived.[71]

Buddhist kingship

The Major Rock Edict No.13 of Ashoka, mentions the Greek kings Antiochus, Ptolemy, Antigonus, Magas and Alexander by name, as recipients of his teachings.

One of the more enduring legacies of Ashoka was the model that he provided for the relationship between Buddhism and the state. Emperor Ashoka was seen as a role model to leaders within the Buddhist community. He not only provided guidance and strength, but he also created personal relationships with his supporters.[72] Throughout Theravada Southeastern Asia, the model of rulership embodied by Ashoka replaced the notion of divine kingship that had previously dominated (in the Angkor kingdom, for instance). Under this model of 'Buddhist kingship', the king sought to legitimise his rule not through descent from a divine source, but by supporting and earning the approval of the Buddhist sangha. Following Ashoka's example, kings established monasteries, funded the construction of stupas, and supported the ordination of monks in their kingdom. Many rulers also took an active role in resolving disputes over the status and regulation of the sangha, as Ashoka had in calling a conclave to settle a number of contentious issues during his reign. This development ultimately led to a close association in many Southeast Asian countries between the monarchy and the religious hierarchy, an association that can still be seen today in the state-supported Buddhism of Thailand and the traditional role of the Thai king as both a religious and secular leader. Ashoka also said that all his courtiers always governed the people in a moral manner.[]

According to the legends mentioned in the 2nd-century CE text Ashokavadana, Ashoka was not non-violent after adopting Buddhism. In one instance, a non-Buddhist in Pundravardhana drew a picture showing the Buddha bowing at the feet of Nirgrantha Jnatiputra (identified with Mahavira, 24th Tirthankara of Jainism). On complaint from a Buddhist devotee, Ashoka issued an order to arrest him, and subsequently, another order to kill all the Ajivikas in Pundravardhana. Around 18,000 followers of the Ajivika sect were executed as a result of this order.[73][74] Sometime later, another Nirgrantha follower in Pataliputra drew a similar picture. Ashoka burnt him and his entire family alive in their house.[74] He also announced an award of one dinara (silver coin) to anyone who brought him the head of a Nirgrantha heretic. According to Ashokavadana, as a result of this order, his own brother was mistaken for a heretic and killed by a cowherd.[73] However, for several reasons, scholars say, these stories of persecutions of rival sects by Ashoka appear to be clear fabrications arising out of sectarian propaganda.[74][75][76]

Historical sources

Ashoka had almost been forgotten, but in the 19th century James Prinsep contributed in the revelation of historical sources. After deciphering the Brahmi script, Prinsep had originally identified the "Priyadasi" of the inscriptions he found with the King of Ceylon Devanampiya Tissa. However, in 1837, George Turnour discovered an important Sri Lankan manuscript (Dipavamsa, or "Island Chronicle" ) associating Piyadasi with Ashoka: {{quote|"Two hundred and eighteen years after the beatitude of the Buddha, was the inauguration of Piyadassi, .... who, the grandson of Chandragupta, and the son of Bindusara, was at the time Governor of Ujjayani."|Dipavamsa.[77]

The Minor Rock Edict of Maski mentions the author as "Devanampriya Asoka", definitively linking both names, and confirming Ashoka as the author of the famous Edicts.

Since then, the association of "Devanampriya Priyadarsin" with Ashoka was confirmed through various inscriptions, and especially confirmed in the Minor Rock Edict inscription discovered in Maski, directly associating Ashoka with his regnal title Devanampriya ("Beloved-of-the-Gods"):[78][79]

[A proclamation] of Devanampriya Asoka.

Two and a half years [and somewhat more] (have passed) since I am a Buddha-Sakya.
[A year and] somewhat more (has passed) [since] I have visited the Samgha and have shown zeal.
Those gods who formerly had been unmingled (with men) in Jambudvipa, have how become mingled (with them).
This object can be reached even by a lowly (person) who is devoted to morality.
One must not think thus, -- (viz.) that only an exalted (person) may reach this.

Both the lowly and the exalted must be told : "If you act thus, this matter (will be) prosperous and of long duration, and will thus progress to one and a half.

-- Maski Minor Rock Edict of Ashoka.[80]

Another important historian was British archaeologist John Hubert Marshall, who was director-General of the Archaeological Survey of India. His main interests were Sanchi and Sarnath, in addition to Harappa and Mohenjodaro. Sir Alexander Cunningham, a British archaeologist and army engineer, and often known as the father of the Archaeological Survey of India, unveiled heritage sites like the Bharhut Stupa, Sarnath, Sanchi, and the Mahabodhi Temple. Mortimer Wheeler, a British archaeologist, also exposed Ashokan historical sources, especially the Taxila.[]

The Kandahar Edict of Ashoka, a bilingual inscription (in Greek and Aramaic) by King Ashoka, discovered at Kandahar (National Museum of Afghanistan).

Information about the life and reign of Ashoka primarily comes from a relatively small number of Buddhist sources. In particular, the Sanskrit Ashokavadana ('Story of Ashoka'), written in the 2nd century, and the two P?li chronicles of Sri Lanka (the Dipavamsa and Mahavamsa) provide most of the currently known information about Ashoka. Additional information is contributed by the Edicts of Ashoka, whose authorship was finally attributed to the Ashoka of Buddhist legend after the discovery of dynastic lists that gave the name used in the edicts (Priyadarshi--'He who regards everyone with affection') as a title or additional name of Ashoka Maurya. Architectural remains of his period have been found at Kumhrar, Patna, which include an 80-pillar hypostyle hall.[]

Edicts of Ashoka -The Edicts of Ashoka are a collection of 33 inscriptions on the Pillars of Ashoka, as well as boulders and cave walls, made by Ashoka during his reign. These inscriptions are dispersed throughout modern-day Pakistan and India, and represent the first tangible evidence of Buddhism. The edicts describe in detail the first wide expansion of Buddhism through the sponsorship of one of the most powerful kings of Indian history, offering more information about Ashoka's proselytism, moral precepts, religious precepts, and his notions of social and animal welfare.[81]

Ashokavadana - The A?ok?vad?na is a 2nd-century CE text related to the legend of Ashoka. The legend was translated into Chinese by Fa Hien in 300 CE. It is essentially a Hinayana text, and its world is that of Mathura and North-west India. The emphasis of this little known text is on exploring the relationship between the king and the community of monks (the Sangha) and setting up an ideal of religious life for the laity (the common man) by telling appealing stories about religious exploits. The most startling feature is that Ashoka's conversion has nothing to do with the Kalinga war, which is not even mentioned, nor is there a word about his belonging to the Maurya dynasty. Equally surprising is the record of his use of state power to spread Buddhism in an uncompromising fashion. The legend of Veetashoka provides insights into Ashoka's character that are not available in the widely known Pali records.[57]

A silver coin of 1 karshapana of the empire Maurya, period of Ashoka Maurya towards 272-232 BC, workshop of Mathura. Obverse: Symbols including a sun and an animal Reverse: Symbol Dimensions: 13.92 x 11.75 mm Weight: 3.4 g.

Mahavamsa -The Mahavamsa ("Great Chronicle") is a historical poem written in the Pali language of the kings of Sri Lanka. It covers the period from the coming of King Vijaya of Kalinga (ancient Odisha) in 543 BCE to the reign of King Mahasena (334-361). As it often refers to the royal dynasties of India, the Mahavamsa is also valuable for historians who wish to date and relate contemporary royal dynasties in the Indian subcontinent. It is very important in dating the consecration of Ashoka.[]

Dwipavamsa -The Dwipavamsa, or "Dweepavamsa", (i.e., Chronicle of the Island, in Pali) is the oldest historical record of Sri Lanka. The chronicle is believed to be compiled from Atthakatha and other sources around the 3rd or 4th century CE. King Dhatusena (4th century) had ordered that the Dipavamsa be recited at the Mahinda festival held annually in Anuradhapura.[]


Caduceus symbol on a punch-marked coin of the Maurya Empire in India, in the 3rd-2nd century BCE.

The caduceus appears as a symbol of the punch-marked coins of the Maurya Empire in India, in the 3rd-2nd century BCE. Numismatic research suggests that this symbol was the symbol of king Ashoka, his personal "Mudra".[83] This symbol was not used on the pre-Mauryan punch-marked coins, but only on coins of the Maurya period, together with the three arched-hill symbol, the "peacock on the hill", the triskelis and the Taxila mark.[84]

Perceptions and historiography

The use of Buddhist sources in reconstructing the life of Ashoka has had a strong influence on perceptions of Ashoka, as well as the interpretations of his Edicts. Building on traditional accounts, early scholars regarded Ashoka as a primarily Buddhist monarch who underwent a conversion to Buddhism and was actively engaged in sponsoring and supporting the Buddhist monastic institution. Some scholars have tended to question this assessment. Romila Thappar writes about Ashoka that "We need to see him both as a statesman in the context of inheriting and sustaining an empire in a particular historical period, and as a person with a strong commitment to changing society through what might be called the propagation of social ethics."[85] The only source of information not attributable to Buddhist sources are the Ashokan Edicts, and these do not explicitly state that Ashoka was a Buddhist. In his edicts, Ashoka expresses support for all the major religions of his time: Buddhism, Brahmanism, Jainism, and Ajivikaism, and his edicts addressed to the population at large (there are some addressed specifically to Buddhists; this is not the case for the other religions) generally focus on moral themes members of all the religions would accept. For example, Amartya Sen writes, "The Indian Emperor Ashoka in the third century BCE presented many political inscriptions in favor of tolerance and individual freedom, both as a part of state policy and in the relation of different people to each other".[86]

However, the edicts alone strongly indicate that he was a Buddhist. In one edict he belittles rituals, and he banned Vedic animal sacrifices; these strongly suggest that he at least did not look to the Vedic tradition for guidance. Furthermore, many edicts are expressed to Buddhists alone; in one, Ashoka declares himself to be an "upasaka", and in another he demonstrates a close familiarity with Buddhist texts. He erected rock pillars at Buddhist holy sites, but did not do so for the sites of other religions. He also used the word "dhamma" to refer to qualities of the heart that underlie moral action; this was an exclusively Buddhist use of the word. However, he used the word more in the spirit than as a strict code of conduct. Romila Thappar writes, "His dhamma did not derive from divine inspiration, even if its observance promised heaven. It was more in keeping with the ethic conditioned by the logic of given situations. His logic of Dhamma was intended to influence the conduct of categories of people, in relation to each other. Especially where they involved unequal relationships."[85] Finally, he promotes ideals that correspond to the first three steps of the Buddha's graduated discourse.[87]

The Ashokavadana presents an alternate view of the familiar Ashoka; one in which his conversion has nothing to do with the Kalinga war or about his descent from the Maurya dynasty. Instead, Ashoka's reason for adopting non-violence appears much more personal. The Ashokavadana shows that the main source of Ashoka's conversion and the acts of welfare that followed are rooted instead in intense personal anguish at its core, from a wellspring inside himself rather than spurred by a specific event. It thereby illuminates Ashoka as more humanly ambitious and passionate, with both greatness and flaws. This Ashoka is very different from the "shadowy do-gooder" of later Pali chronicles.[57]

Much of the knowledge about Ashoka comes from the several inscriptions that he had carved on pillars and rocks throughout the empire. All his inscriptions present him as compassionate and loving. In the Kalinga rock edits, he addresses his people as his "children" and mentions that as a father he desires their good.[88] These inscriptions promoted Buddhist morality and encouraged nonviolence and adherence to dharma (duty or proper behaviour), and they talk of his fame and conquered lands as well as the neighbouring kingdoms holding up his might. One also gets some primary information about the Kalinga War and Ashoka's allies plus some useful knowledge on the civil administration. The Ashoka Pillar at Sarnath is the most notable of the relics left by Ashoka. Made of sandstone, this pillar records the visit of the emperor to Sarnath, in the 3rd century BCE. It has a four-lion capital (four lions standing back to back), which was adopted as the emblem of the modern Indian republic. The lion symbolises both Ashoka's imperial rule and the kingship of the Buddha. In translating these monuments, historians learn the bulk of what is assumed to have been true fact of the Mauryan Empire. It is difficult to determine whether or not some events ever actually happened, but the stone etchings clearly depict how Ashoka wanted to be thought of and remembered.[]

Focus of debate

Front frieze of the Diamond throne, built by Ashoka at Bodh Gaya.

Recently scholarly analysis determined that the three major foci of debate regarding Ashoka involve the nature of the Maurya empire; the extent and impact of Ashoka's pacifism; and what is referred to in the Inscriptions as dhamma or dharma, which connotes goodness, virtue, and charity.[89] Some historians[who?] have argued that Ashoka's pacifism undermined the "military backbone" of the Maurya empire, while others have suggested that the extent and impact of his pacifism have been "grossly exaggerated". The dhamma of the Edicts has been understood as concurrently a Buddhist lay ethic, a set of politico-moral ideas, a "sort of universal religion", or as an Ashokan innovation. On the other hand, it has also been interpreted as an essentially political ideology that sought to knit together a vast and diverse empire. Scholars are still attempting to analyse both the expressed and implied political ideas of the Edicts (particularly in regard to imperial vision), and make inferences pertaining to how that vision was grappling with problems and political realities of a "virtually subcontinental, and culturally and economically highly variegated, 3rd century BCE Indian empire. Nonetheless, it remains clear that Ashoka's Inscriptions represent the earliest corpus of royal inscriptions in the Indian subcontinent, and therefore prove to be a very important innovation in royal practices."[81]

Legends of Ashoka

Ashoka and his two queens, in a relief at Sanchi. The identification with Ashoka is confirmed by the similar relief from Kanaganahalli inscribed "Raya Asoka".[2][90]
Ashoka with his Queens, at Sannati (Kanaganahalli Stupa), 1st-3rd century CE. The inscription "R?ya Asoko" ( , "King Ashoka") in Brahmi script is carved on the relief.[90][91]

Until the Ashokan inscriptions were discovered and deciphered, stories about Ashoka were based on the legendary accounts of his life and not strictly on historical facts. These legends were found in Buddhist textual sources such as the text of Ashokavadana. The Ashokavadana is a subset of a larger set of legends in the Divyavadana, though it could have existed independently as well. Following are some of the legends narrated in the Ashokavadana about Ashoka:

1) One of the stories talks about an event that occurred in a past life of Ashoka, when he was a small child named Jaya. Once when Jaya was playing on the roadside, the Buddha came by. The young child put a handful of earth in the Buddha's begging bowl as his gift to the saint and declared his wish to one day become a great emperor and follower of the Buddha. The Buddha is said to have smiled a smile that "illuminated the universe with its rays of light".[19] These rays of light are then said to have re-entered the Buddha's left palm, signifying that this child Jaya would, in his next life, become a great emperor. The Buddha is said to have even turned to his disciple Ananda and is said to have predicted that this child would be "a great, righteous chakravarti king, who would rule his empire from his capital at Pataliputra".

2) Another story aims to portray Ashoka as an evil person in order to convey the importance of his transformation into a good person upon adopting Buddhism.[19] It begins by stating that due to Ashoka's physical ugliness he was disliked by his father Bindusara. Ashoka wanted to become king and so he got rid of the heir by tricking him into entering a pit filled with live coals. He became famous as "Ashoka the Fierce" because of his wicked nature and bad temper. He is said to have subjected his ministers to a test of loyalty and then have 500 of them killed for failing it. He is said to have burnt his entire harem to death when certain women insulted him. He is supposed to have derived sadistic pleasure from watching other people suffer. And for this he built himself an elaborate and horrific torture chamber where he amused himself by torturing other people. The story then goes on to narrate how it was only after an encounter with a pious Buddhist monk that Ashoka himself transformed into "Ashoka the pious". A Chinese traveller who visited India in the 7th century CE, Xuan Zang recorded in his memoirs that he visited the place where the supposed torture chamber stood.

3) Another story is about events that occurred towards the end of Ashoka's time on earth. Ashoka is said to have started gifting away the contents of his treasury to the Buddhist sangha. His ministers however were scared that his eccentricity would be the downfall of the empire and so denied him access to the treasury. As a result, Ashoka started giving away his personal possessions and was eventually left with nothing and so died peacefully.[19]

At this point it is important to note that the Ashokavadana being a Buddhist text in itself sought to gain new converts for Buddhism and so used all these legends. Devotion to the Buddha and loyalty to the sangha are stressed. Such texts added to the perception that Ashoka was essentially the ideal Buddhist monarch who deserved both admiration and emulation.[19]

Ashoka and the relics of the Buddha

According to Buddhist legend, particularly the Mahaparinirvana, the relics of the Buddha had been shared among eight countries following his death.[92] Ashoka endeavoured to take back the relics and share them among 84,000 stupas. This story is amply depicted in the reliefs of Sanchi and Bharhut.[93] According to the legend, Ashoka obtained the ashes from seven of the countries, but failed to take the ashes from the Nagas at Ramagrama. This scene is depicted on the transverse portion of the southern gateway at Sanchi.

King Ashoka visits Ramagrama, to take relics of the Buddha from the Nagas, but in vain. Southern gateway, Stupa 1, Sanchi.[2]


Approach towards religions

According to Indian historian Romila Thapar, Ashoka emphasised respect for all religious teachers, and harmonious relationship between parents and children, teachers and pupils, and employers and employees.[94] Ashoka's religion contained gleanings from all religions.[95] He emphasised the virtues of Ahimsa, respect to all religious teachers, equal respect for and study of each other's scriptures, and rational faith.[95]

Global spread of Buddhism

Stupa of Sanchi. The central stupa was built during the Mauryas, and enlarged during the Sungas, but the decorative gateway is dated to the later dynasty of the Satavahanas.

As a Buddhist emperor, Ashoka believed that Buddhism is beneficial for all human beings as well as animals and plants, so he built a number of stupas, Sangharama, viharas, chaitya, and residences for Buddhist monks all over South Asia and Central Asia. According to the Ashokavadana, he ordered the construction of 84,000 stupas to house the Buddha's relics.[96] In the Aryamanjusrimulakalpa, Ashoka takes offerings to each of these stupas travelling in a chariot adorned with precious metals.[97] He gave donations to viharas and mathas. He sent his only daughter Sanghamitra and son Mahindra to spread Buddhism in Sri Lanka (then known as Tamraparni).

According to the Mahavamsa (XII, 1st paragraph),[98] in the 17th year of his reign, at the end of the Third Buddhist Council, Ashoka sent Buddhist missionaries to nine parts of the world (eight parts of Southern Asia, and the "country of the Yonas (Greeks)") to propagate Buddhism.[99]

The word Up?saka (, "Buddhist lay follower", in the Brahmi script), used by Ashoka in his Minor Rock Edict No.1 to describe his affiliation to Buddhism (circa 258 BCE).
Ashoka and Monk Moggaliputta-Tissa at the Third Buddhist Council. Nava Jetavana, Shravasti.

Ashoka also invited Buddhists and non-Buddhists for religious conferences. He inspired the Buddhist monks to compose the sacred religious texts, and also gave all types of help to that end. Ashoka also helped to develop viharas (intellectual hubs) such as Nalanda and Taxila. Ashoka helped to construct Sanchi and Mahabodhi Temple. Ashoka also gave donations to non-Buddhists. As his reign continued his even-handedness was replaced with special inclination towards Buddhism.[100] Ashoka helped and respected both Shramanas (Buddhists monks) and Brahmins (Vedic monks). Ashoka also helped to organise the Third Buddhist council (c. 250 BCE) at Pataliputra (today's Patna), conducted by the monk Moggaliputta-Tissa.[101][102]

Emperor Ashoka's son, Mahinda, also helped with the spread of Buddhism by translating the Buddhist Canon into a language that could be understood by the people of Sri Lanka.[103]

It is well known that Ashoka sent dütas or emissaries to convey messages or letters, written or oral (rather both), to various people. The VIth Rock Edict about "oral orders" reveals this. It was later confirmed that it was not unusual to add oral messages to written ones, and the content of Ashoka's messages can be inferred likewise from the XIIIth Rock Edict: They were meant to spread his dhammavijaya, which he considered the highest victory and which he wished to propagate everywhere (including far beyond India). There is obvious and undeniable trace of cultural contact through the adoption of the Kharosthi script, and the idea of installing inscriptions might have travelled with this script, as Achaemenid influence is seen in some of the formulations used by Ashoka in his inscriptions. This indicates to us that Ashoka was indeed in contact with other cultures, and was an active part in mingling and spreading new cultural ideas beyond his own immediate walls.[104]

Hellenistic world

Distribution of the Edicts of Ashoka, and location of the contemporary Greek city of Ai-Khanoum.[105]
Territories "conquered by the Dharma" according to Major Rock Edict No.13 of Ashoka (260-218 BCE).[106][107]

In his rock edicts, Ashoka states that he had encouraged the transmission of Buddhism to the Hellenistic kingdoms to the west and that the Greeks in his dominion were converts to Buddhism and recipients of his envoys:

Now it is conquest by Dhamma that Beloved-of-the-Gods considers to be the best conquest. And it (conquest by Dhamma) has been won here, on the borders, even six hundred yojanas away, where the Greek king Antiochos rules, beyond there where the four kings named Ptolemy, Antigonos, Magas and Alexander rule, likewise in the south among the Cholas, the Pandyas, and as far as Tamraparni. Here in the king's domain among the Greeks, the Kambojas, the Nabhakas, the Nabhapamktis, the Bhojas, the Pitinikas, the Andhras and the Palidas, everywhere people are following Beloved-of-the-Gods' instructions in Dhamma. Even where Beloved-of-the-Gods' envoys have not been, these people too, having heard of the practice of Dhamma and the ordinances and instructions in Dhamma given by Beloved-of-the-Gods, are following it and will continue to do so.

-- Edicts of Ashoka, Rock Edict (S. Dhammika)[108]

It is possible, but not certain, that Ashoka received letters from Greek rulers and was acquainted with the Hellenistic royal orders in the same way as he perhaps knew of the inscriptions of the Achaemenid kings, given the presence of ambassadors of Hellenistic kings in India (as well as the dütas sent by Ashoka himself).[104]Dionysius is reported to have been such a Greek ambassador at the court of Ashoka, sent by Ptolemy II Philadelphus,[109] who himself is mentioned in the Edicts of Ashoka as a recipient of the Buddhist proselytism of Ashoka. Some Hellenistic philosophers, such as Hegesias of Cyrene, who probably lived under the rule of King Magas, one of the supposed recipients of Buddhist emissaries from Asoka, are sometimes thought to have been influenced by Buddhist teachings.[110]

The Greeks in India even seem to have played an active role in the propagation of Buddhism, as some of the emissaries of Ashoka, such as Dharmaraksita, are described in Pali sources as leading Greek (Yona) Buddhist monks, active in spreading Buddhism (the Mahavamsa, XII).[111]

Some Greeks (Yavana) may have played an administrative role in the territories ruled by Ashoka. The Girnar inscription of Rudradaman records that during the rule of Ashoka, a Yavana Governor was in charge in the area of Girnar, Gujarat, mentioning his role in the construction of a water reservoir.[112]

It is thought that Ashoka's palace at Patna was modelled after the Achaemenid palace of Persepolis.[113]

As administrator

Mauryan ringstone, with standing goddess. Northwest Pakistan. 3rd century BCE. British Museum.

Ashoka's military power was strong, but after his conversion to Buddhism, he maintained friendly relations with three major Tamil kingdoms in the South--namely, Cheras, Cholas and Pandyas--the post-Alexandrian empire, Tamraparni, and Suvarnabhumi. His edicts state that he made provisions for medical treatment of humans and animals in his own kingdom as well as in these neighbouring states. He also had wells dug and trees planted along the roads for the benefit of the common people.[88]

Animal welfare

Ashoka's rock edicts declare that injuring living things is not good, and no animal should be sacrificed for slaughter.[114] However, he did not prohibit common cattle slaughter or beef eating.[115]

He imposed a ban on killing of "all four-footed creatures that are neither useful nor edible", and of specific animal species including several birds, certain types of fish and bulls among others. He also banned killing of female goats, sheep and pigs that were nursing their young; as well as their young up to the age of six months. He also banned killing of all fish and castration of animals during certain periods such as Chaturmasa and Uposatha.[116][117]

Ashoka also abolished the royal hunting of animals and restricted the slaying of animals for food in the royal residence.[118] Because he banned hunting, created many veterinary clinics and eliminated meat eating on many holidays, the Mauryan Empire under Ashoka has been described as "one of the very few instances in world history of a government treating its animals as citizens who are as deserving of its protection as the human residents".[119]

Ashoka Chakra

The Ashoka Chakra, "the wheel of Righteousness" (Dharma in Sanskrit or Dhamma in Pali)"

The Ashoka Chakra (the wheel of Ashoka) is a depiction of the Dharmachakra (the Wheel of Dharma). The wheel has 24 spokes which represent the 12 Laws of Dependent Origination and the 12 Laws of Dependent Termination. The Ashoka Chakra has been widely inscribed on many relics of the Mauryan Emperor, most prominent among which is the Lion Capital of Sarnath and The Ashoka Pillar. The most visible use of the Ashoka Chakra today is at the centre of the National flag of the Republic of India (adopted on 22 July 1947), where it is rendered in a Navy-blue color on a White background, by replacing the symbol of Charkha (spinning wheel) of the pre-independence versions of the flag. The Ashoka Chakra can also been seen on the base of the Lion Capital of Ashoka which has been adopted as the National Emblem of India.[]

The Ashoka Chakra was created by Ashoka during his reign. Chakra is a Sanskrit word which also means "cycle" or "self-repeating process". The process it signifies is the cycle of time--as in how the world changes with time.[]

A few days before India became independent in August 1947, the specially-formed Constituent Assembly decided that the flag of India must be acceptable to all parties and communities. A flag with three colours, Saffron, White and Green with the Ashoka Chakra was selected.[120]

Stone architecture

Rampurva bull capital, detail of the abacus, with two "flame palmettes" framing a lotus surrounded by small rosette flowers.

Ashoka is often credited with the beginning of stone architecture in India, possibly following the introduction of stone-building techniques by the Greeks after Alexander the Great.[121] Before Ashoka's time, buildings were probably built in non-permanent material, such as wood, bamboo or thatch.[121][122] Ashoka may have rebuilt his palace in Pataliputra by replacing wooden material by stone,[123] and may also have used the help of foreign craftmen.[124] Ashoka also innovated by using the permanent qualities of stone for his written edicts, as well as his pillars with Buddhist symbolism.

Pillars of Ashoka (Ashokstambha)

The Ashokan pillar at Lumbini, Nepal, Buddha's birthplace

The pillars of Ashoka are a series of columns dispersed throughout the northern Indian subcontinent, and erected by Ashoka during his reign in the 3rd century BCE. Originally, there must have been many pillars of Ashoka although only ten with inscriptions still survive. Averaging between forty and fifty feet in height, and weighing up to fifty tons each, all the pillars were quarried at Chunar, just south of Varanasi and dragged, sometimes hundreds of miles, to where they were erected. The first Pillar of Ashoka was found in the 16th century by Thomas Coryat in the ruins of ancient Delhi. The wheel represents the sun time and Buddhist law, while the swastika stands for the cosmic dance around a fixed center and guards against evil.[]

Lion Capital of Ashoka (Ashokmudra)

Ashoka's pillar capital of Sarnath. Ashokan capitals were highly realistic and used a characteristic polished finish, Mauryan polish, giving a shiny appearance to the stone surface. This sculpture has been adopted as the National Emblem of India. 3rd century BCE.

The Lion capital of Ashoka is a sculpture of four lions standing back to back. It was originally placed atop the Ashoka pillar at Sarnath, now in the state of Uttar Pradesh, India. The pillar, sometimes called the Ashoka Column, is still in its original location, but the Lion Capital is now in the Sarnath Museum. This Lion Capital of Ashoka from Sarnath has been adopted as the National Emblem of India and the wheel ("Ashoka Chakra") from its base was placed onto the center of the National Flag of India.[]

The capital contains four lions (Indian / Asiatic Lions), standing back to back, mounted on a short cylindrical abacus, with a frieze carrying sculptures in high relief of an elephant, a galloping horse, a bull, and a lion, separated by intervening spoked chariot-wheels over a bell-shaped lotus. Carved out of a single block of polished sandstone, the capital was believed to be crowned by a 'Wheel of Dharma' (Dharmachakra popularly known in India as the "Ashoka Chakra"). The Sarnath pillar bears one of the Edicts of Ashoka, an inscription against division within the Buddhist community, which reads, "No one shall cause division in the order of monks."[]

The four animals in the Sarnath capital are believed to symbolise different steps of Lord Buddha's life.[125][]

  • The Elephant represents the Buddha's idea in reference to the dream of Queen Maya of a white elephant entering her womb.
  • The Bull represents desire during the life of the Buddha as a prince.
  • The Horse represents Buddha's departure from palatial life.
  • The Lion represents the accomplishment of Buddha.

Besides the religious interpretations, there are some non-religious interpretations also about the symbolism of the Ashoka capital pillar at Sarnath. According to them, the four lions symbolise Ashoka's rule over the four directions, the wheels as symbols of his enlightened rule (Chakravartin) and the four animals as symbols of four adjoining territories of India[125]

Constructions credited to Ashoka

Illustration of the original temple built by Asoka at Bodh-Gaya on the location of the Mahabodhi Temple, sculpture of the Satavahana period at Sanchi, 1st century CE.

The British restoration was done under guidance from Weligama Sri Sumangala.[126]

In art, film and literature

A c. 1910 painting by Abanindranath Tagore (1871-1951) depicting Ashoka's queen standing in front of the railings of the Buddhist monument at Sanchi (Raisen district, Madhya Pradesh).

See also



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External links

 Died: 232 BCE
Preceded by
Mauryan Emperor
272-232 BCE
Succeeded by
Edicts of Ashoka
(Ruled 269–232 BCE)
Regnal years
of Ashoka
Type of Edict
(and location of the inscriptions)
Geographical location
Year 8 End of the Kalinga war and conversion to the "Dharma"
Year 10[1] Minor Rock Edicts Related events:
Visit to the Bodhi tree in Bodh Gaya
Construction of the Mahabodhi Temple and Diamond throne in Bodh Gaya
Predication throughout India.
Dissenssions in the Sangha
Third Buddhist Council
In Indian language: Sohgaura inscription
Erection of the Pillars of Ashoka
Kandahar Bilingual Rock Inscription
(in Greek and Aramaic, Kandahar)
Minor Rock Edicts in Aramaic:
Laghman Inscription, Taxila inscription
Year 11 and later Minor Rock Edicts (n°1, n°2 and n°3)
(Panguraria, Maski, Palkigundu and Gavimath, Bahapur/Srinivaspuri, Bairat, Ahraura, Gujarra, Sasaram, Rajula Mandagiri, Yerragudi, Udegolam, Nittur, Brahmagiri, Siddapur, Jatinga-Rameshwara)
Year 12 and later[1] Barabar Caves inscriptions Major Rock Edicts
Minor Pillar Edicts Major Rock Edicts in Greek: Edicts n°12-13 (Kandahar)

Major Rock Edicts in Indian language:
Edicts No.1 ~ No.14
(in Kharoshthi script: Shahbazgarhi, Mansehra Edicts
(in Brahmi script: Kalsi, Girnar, Sopara, Sannati, Yerragudi, Delhi Edicts)
Major Rock Edicts 1-10, 14, Separate Edicts 1&2:
(Dhauli, Jaugada)
Schism Edict, Queen's Edict
(Sarnath Sanchi Allahabad)
Rummindei Edict, Nigali Sagar Edict
Year 26, 27
and later[1]
Major Pillar Edicts
In Indian language:
Major Pillar Edicts No.1 ~ No.7
(Allahabad pillar Delhi pillar Topra Kalan Rampurva Lauria Nandangarh Lauriya-Araraj Amaravati)

Derived inscriptions in Aramaic, on rock:
Kandahar, Edict No.7[2][3] and Pul-i-Darunteh, Edict No.5 or No.7[4]

  1. ^ a b c Yailenko,Les maximes delphiques d'Aï Khanoum et la formation de la doctrine du dhamma d'Asoka, 1990, p. 243.
  2. ^ Inscriptions of Asoka de D.C. Sircar p. 30
  3. ^ Handbuch der Orientalistik de Kurt A. Behrendt p. 39
  4. ^ Handbuch der Orientalistik de Kurt A. Behrendt p. 39

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