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Rajatarangini
by Wikipedia
Accessed: 5/25/21

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Approximate extent of the Kashmir region.

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The Kashmir region (Kashmir valley is left of the centre of the map - see enlargement)

Rajatarangini (Rājataraṃgiṇī, "The River of Kings") is a metrical legendary and historical chronicle of the north-western Indian subcontinent, particularly the kings of Kashmir. It was written in Sanskrit by Kashmiri historian Kalhana in the 12th century CE.[1] The work consists of 7826 verses, which are divided into eight books called Tarangas ("waves").

Kalhana (sometimes spelled Kalhan or Kalhan'a) (c. 12th century), a Kashmiri, was the author of Rajatarangini (River of Kings), an account of the history of Kashmir. He wrote the work in Sanskrit between 1148 and 1149.[1] All information regarding his life has to be deduced from his own writing, a major scholar of which is Mark Aurel Stein. Robin Donkin has argued that with the exception of Kalhana, "there are no [native Indian] literary works with a developed sense of chronology, or indeed much sense of place, before the thirteenth century".[2]

Kalhana was born to a Kashmiri minister, Chanpaka, who probably served king Harsa of the Lohara dynasty. It is possible that his birthplace was Parihaspore and his birth would have been very early in the 12th century. It is extremely likely that he was of the Hindu Brahmin caste, suggested in particular by his knowledge of Sanskrit. The introductory verses to each of the eight Books in his Rajatarangini are prefaced with prayers to Shiva, a Hindu deity. In common with many Hindus in Kashmir at that time, he was also sympathetic to Buddhism, and Buddhists tended to reciprocate this feeling towards Hindus.[3] Even in relatively modern times, Buddha's birthday has been a notable event for Kashmiri Brahmins and well before Kalhana's time Buddha had been accepted by Hindus as an avatar of Vishnu.[4]

Kalhana was familiar with earlier epics such as the Vikramankadevacharita of Bilhana, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, to all of which he alludes in his own writings.[5] However, his own writings did not employ what Stein has described as "the very redundant praise and flattery which by custom and literary tradition Indian authors feel obliged to bestow on their patrons". From this comes Stein's deduction that Kalhana was not a part of the circle surrounding Jayasimha, the ruling monarch at the time when he was writing the Rajatarangini.[6]

-- Kalhana, by Wikipedia


The Rajataringini provides the earliest source on Kashmir that can be labeled as a "historical" text on this region. Although inaccurate in its chronology, the book still provides an invaluable source of information about early Kashmir and its neighbors in the north western parts of the Indian subcontinent, and has been widely referenced by later historians and ethnographers.

Context

Little is known about the author Kalhana (c. 12th century CE), apart from what is written in the book. His father Champaka was the minister (Lord of the Gate) in the court of Harsha of Kashmir.

Kalhana was born to a Kashmiri minister, Chanpaka, who probably served king Harsa of the Lohara dynasty.

-- Kalhana, by Wikipedia


In the first Taranga (book) of Rajatarangini, Kalhana expresses his dissatisfaction with the earlier historical books, and presents his own views on how history ought to be written:[2]

• Verse 7. Fairness: That noble-minded author is alone worthy of praise whose word, like that of a judge, keeps free from love or hatred in relating the facts of the past.
• Verse 11. Cite earlier authors: The oldest extensive works containing the royal chronicles [of Kashmir] have become fragmentary in consequence of [the appearance of] Suvrata's composition, who condensed them in order that (their substance) might be easily remembered.
• Verse 12. Suvrata's poem, though it has obtained celebrity, does not show dexterity in the exposition of the subject-matter, as it is rendered troublesome [reading] by misplaced learning.
• Verse 13. Owing to a certain want of care, there is not a single part in Ksemendra's "List of Kings" (Nrpavali) free from mistakes, though it is the work of a poet.
• Verse 14. Eleven works of former scholars containing the chronicles of the kings, I have inspected, as well as the [Purana containing the] opinions of the sage Nila.
• Verse 15. By looking at the inscriptions recording the consecrations of temples and grants by former kings, at laudatory inscriptions and at written works, the trouble arising from many errors has been overcome.

Despite these stated principles, Kalhana's work is also full of legends and inconsistencies (see Historical reliability below).

List of kings

The kings of Kashmir described in the Rajatarangini are given below. Notes in parentheses refer to a book ("Taranga") and verse. Thus (IV.678) is Book IV verse 678. The summary is from J.C. Dutt's translation. Kalhana's work uses Kali and Laukika (or Saptarishi) calendar eras: the ascension year in CE, as given below, has been calculated by Dutt based on Kalhana's records.[3]

Book 1

Kalhana mentions that Gonanda I ascended the throne in 653 Kali calendar era. According to Jogesh Chander Dutt's calculation, this year corresponds to 2448 BCE.[3] The total reign of the following kings is mentioned as 1266 years.[4]

Ruler[4] / Notes

Gonanda I / Contemporary of Yudhishthira, a relative of Magadha's ruler Jarasindhu (I.59). He was killed by Balarama, the elder brother of Jarasandha's enemy Krishna.

In the Hindu epic, the Mahabharata, Yudhishtira is the first among the five Pandava brothers. He was the son of the king Pandu of Kuru and his first wife, Kunti and was blessed to the couple by the god Dharma, who is often identified with the death god Yama. In the epic, Yudhishthira becomes the emperor of Indraprastha and later of Kuru Kingdom (Hastinapura).

-- Yudhishthira, by Wikipedia


Damodara I / Killed in a battle by Krishna's friends

Yashovati / Wife of Damodara. She was pregnant at the time of her husband's death, and Krishna helped her ascend the throne.

Gonanda II / Son of Yashovati and Damodara

35 kings (names lost) / A manuscript titled Ratnakar Purana supposedly contained these names, and was translated into Persian by the orders of the later Muslim ruler Zain-ul-Abidin. The purported original manuscript as well as its translation are now lost. A Muslim historian named Hassan is said to have obtained a copy of the translation, and the later Muslim historians provided a fabricated list of 35 names ending in -Khan.[5]

Ghiyas-ud-Din Zain-ul-Abidin, 25 November 1395 – 5 April 1470) was the eighth sultan of Kashmir. He was known by his subjects as Bod Shah (lit. 'Great King').

The first 35 years of his reign are described by Jonaraja in the Rajatarangini Dvitiya, while the subsequent years are described by his pupil, Srivara, in the Rajatarangini Tritiya.

-- Zain-ul-Abidin, by Wikipedia


Lava / --

Kusheshaya / Son of Lava

Khagendra / Son of Kusheshaya

Surendra / Son of Khagendra

Godhara / Belonged to a different family from Lava's dynasty (I.95)

Suvarna / Known for constructing a canal named Suvarnamani

Janaka / Unsuccessfully invaded Persia

Shachinara / Died childless

Ashoka / Great-grandson of Shakuni and son of Shachinara's first cousin. Built a great city called Srinagara (near but not same as the modern-day Srinagar). In his days, the mlechchhas (foreigners) overran the country, and he took sannyasa. According to Kalhana's account, this Ashoka would have ruled in the 2nd millennium BCE, and was a member of the dynasty founded by Godhara. Kalhana also states that this king had adopted the doctrine of Jina, constructed stupas and Shiva temples, and appeased Bhutesha (Shiva) to obtain his son Jalauka. Despite the discrepancies, multiple scholars identify Kalhana's Ashoka with the Mauryan emperor Ashoka, who adopted Buddhism.[6] Although "Jina" is a term generally associated with Jainism, some ancient sources use it to refer to the Buddha.[7]

Ashoka, also known as Ashoka the Great, was an Indian emperor of the Maurya Dynasty [322-180 BCE], who ruled almost all of the Indian subcontinent from c. 268 to 232 BCE. A grandson of the dynasty's founder 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), which he conquered in about 260 BCE. According to an interpretation of his Edicts, he converted to Buddhism 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. 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.

The Edicts of Ashoka are a collection of more than thirty inscriptions on the pillars, as well as boulders and cave walls, attributed to Emperor Ashoka of the Mauryan Empire who reigned from 268 BCE to 232 BCE. Ashoka used the expression Dhaṃma Lipi (Prakrit in the Brahmi script: [x] "Inscriptions of the Dharma") to describe his own Edicts. These inscriptions were dispersed throughout the areas of modern-day Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Afghanistan and Pakistan, and provide the first tangible evidence of Buddhism. The edicts describe in detail Ashoka's view about dhamma, an earnest attempt to solve some of the problems that a complex society faced. According to the edicts, the extent of Buddhist proselytism during this period reached as far as the Mediterranean, and many Buddhist monuments were created.

These inscriptions proclaim Ashoka's adherence to the Buddhist philosophy which, as in Hinduism, is called dharma, "Law". The inscriptions show his efforts to develop the Buddhist dharma throughout his kingdom. Although Buddhism as well as Gautama Buddha are mentioned, the edicts focus on social and moral precepts rather than specific religious practices or the philosophical dimension of Buddhism. These were located in public places and were meant for people to read.

In these inscriptions, Ashoka refers to himself as "Beloved of the Gods" (Devanampiya). The identification of Devanampiya with Ashoka was confirmed by an inscription discovered in 1915 by C. Beadon, a British gold-mining engineer, at Maski, a village in Raichur district of Karnataka. Another minor rock edict, found at the village Gujarra in Datia district of Madhya Pradesh, also used the name of Ashoka together with his titles: "Devanampiya Piyadasi Asokaraja". The inscriptions found in the central and eastern part of India were written in Magadhi Prakrit using the Brahmi script, while Prakrit using the Kharoshthi script, Greek and Aramaic were used in the northwest. These edicts were deciphered by British archaeologist and historian James Prinsep.

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 program. The edicts were based on Ashoka's ideas on administration and behaviour of people towards one another and religion.

Besides a few inscriptions in Greek and Aramaic (which were discovered only in the 20th century), the Edicts were mostly written in the Brahmi script and sometimes in the Kharoshthi script in the northwest, two Indian scripts which had both become extinct around the 5th century CE, and were yet undeciphered at the time the Edicts were discovered and investigated in the 19th century.

The first successful attempts at deciphering the ancient Brahmi script were made in 1836 by Norwegian scholar Christian Lassen, who used the bilingual Greek-Brahmi coins of Indo-Greek king Agathocles to correctly and securely identify several Brahmi letters. The task was then completed by James Prinsep, an archaeologist, philologist, and official of the East India Company, who was able to identify the rest of the Brahmi characters, with the help of Major Cunningham. In a series of results that he published in March 1838 Prinsep was able to translate the inscriptions on a large number of rock edicts found around India, and to provide, according to Richard Salomon, a "virtually perfect" rendering of the full Brahmi alphabet. The edicts in Brahmi script mentioned a King Devanampriya Piyadasi which Prinsep initially assumed was a Sri Lankan king. He was then able to associate this title with Ashoka on the basis of Pali script from Sri Lanka communicated to him by George Turnour.

The Kharoshthi script, written from right to left, and associated with Aramaic, was also deciphered by James Prinsep in parallel with Christian Lassen, using the bilingual Greek-Kharoshthi coinage of the Indo-Greek and Indo-Scythian kings. "Within the incredibly brief space of three years (1834-37) the mystery of both the Kharoshthi and Brahmi scripts (were unlocked), the effect of which was instantly to remove the thick crust of oblivion which for many centuries had concealed the character and the language of the earliest epigraphs"....

Ashokan inscriptions in Prakrit precede by several centuries inscriptions in Sanskrit, probably owing to the great prestige which Ashokan inscriptions gave to the Prakrit language. Louis Renou called it "the great linguistical paradox of India" that the Sanskrit inscriptions appear later than Prakrit inscriptions, although Prakrit is considered as a descendant of the Sanskrit language.

Ashoka was probably the first Indian ruler to create stone inscriptions, and in doing so, he began an important Indian tradition of royal epigraphical inscriptions. The earliest known stone inscriptions in Sanskrit are in the Brahmi script from the first century BCE.[122] These early Sanskrit inscriptions include the Ayodhya (Uttar Pradesh) and Hathībada-Ghosundi (near Chittorgarh, Rajasthan) inscriptions. Other important inscriptions dated to the 1st century BCE, in relatively accurate classical Sanskrit and Brahmi script are the Yavanarajya inscription on a red sandstone slab and the long Naneghat inscription on the wall of a cave rest stop in the Western Ghats. Besides these few examples from the 1st century BCE, the bulk of early Sanskrit inscriptions were made from the 1st and 2nd-century CE by the Indo-Scythian Northern Satraps in Mathura (Uttar Pradesh), and the Western Satraps in Gujarat and Maharashtra. According to Salomon, the Scythian rulers of northern and western India while not the originators, were promoters of the use of Sanskrit language for inscriptions, and "their motivation in promoting Sanskrit was presumably a desire to establish themselves as legitimate Indian or at least Indianized rulers and to curry the favor of the educated Brahmanical elite".

The Brahmi script used in the Edicts of Ashoka, as well as the Prakrit language of these inscriptions was in popular use down through the Kushan period, and remained readable down to the 4th century CE during the Gupta period. After that time the script underwent significant evolutions which rendered the Ashokan inscriptions unreadable. This still means that Ashoka's Edicts were for everyone to see and understand for a period of nearly 700 years in India, suggesting that they remained significantly influential for a long time.

Questions of authorship

According to some scholars such as Christopher I. Beckwith, Ashoka, whose name only appears in the Minor Rock Edicts, should be differentiated from the ruler Piyadasi, or Devanampiya Piyadasi (i.e. "Beloved of the Gods Piyadasi", "Beloved of the Gods" being a fairly widespread title for "King"), who is named as the author of the Major Pillar Edicts and the Major Rock Edicts. Beckwith also highlights the fact that [neither] Buddhism nor the Buddha are mentioned in the Major Edicts, but only in the Minor Edicts. Further, the Buddhist notions described in the Minor Edicts (such as the Buddhist canonical writings in Minor Edict No.3 at Bairat, the mention of a Buddha of the past Kanakamuni Buddha in the Nigali Sagar Minor Pillar Edict) are more characteristic of the "Normative Buddhism" of the Saka-Kushan period around the 2nd century CE.

This inscriptional evidence may suggest that Piyadasi and Ashoka were two different rulers. According to Beckwith, Piyadasi was living in the 3rd century BCE, probably the son of Chandragupta Maurya known to the Greeks as Amitrochates, and only advocating for piety ("Dharma") in his Major Pillar Edicts and Major Rock Edicts, without ever mentioning Buddhism, the Buddha or the Samgha. Since he does mention a pilgrimage to Sambhodi (Bodh Gaya, in Major Rock Edict No.8) however, he may have adhered to an "early, pietistic, popular" form of Buddhism. Also, the geographical spread of his inscription shows that Piyadasi ruled a vast Empire, contiguous with the Seleucid Empire in the West.

On the contrary, for Beckwith, Ashoka himself was a later king of the 1st-2nd century CE, whose name only appears explicitly in the Minor Rock Edicts and allusively in the Minor Pillar Edicts, and who does mention the Buddha and the Samgha, explicitly promoting Buddhism. He may have been an unknown or possibly invented ruler named Devanampriya Asoka, with the intent of propagating a later, more institutional version of the Buddhist faith. His inscriptions cover a very different and much smaller geographical area, clustering in Central India. According to Beckwith, the inscriptions of this later Ashoka were typical of the later forms of "normative Buddhism", which are well attested from inscriptions and Gandhari manuscripts dated to the turn of the millennium, and around the time of the Kushan Empire. The quality of the inscriptions of this Ashoka is significantly lower than the quality of the inscriptions of the earlier Piyadasi.


However, many of Beckwith's methodologies and interpretations concerning early Buddhism, inscriptions, and archaeological sites have been criticized by other scholars, such as Johannes Bronkhorst and Osmund Bopearachchi.

-- Edicts of Ashoka, by Wikipedia


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 "Aśoka" means "painless, without sorrow" (the a privativum and śoka, "pain, distress"). In his edicts, he is referred to as Devānāmpriya (Pali Devānaṃpiya or "the Beloved of the Gods"), and Priyadarśin or Priyadarshi (Pali Piyadasī or "He who regards everyone with affection").

Devanampiya Piyadasi (i.e. "Beloved of the Gods Piyadasi", "Beloved of the Gods" being a fairly widespread title for "King").

-- Edicts of Ashoka, by Wikipedia


His fondness for a tree is the reason for his name being connected to the "Ashoka tree" or Polyalthia longifolia, and this is 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."

-- Ashoka, by Wikipedia


Jalauka (Jaloka) / A staunch Shaivite, who constructed several Shiva temples. He rid the country from the mlechchhas (foreigners, possibly Greco-Bactrians). Romila Thapar equates Jalauka to the Mauryan prince Kunala, arguing that "Jalauka" is an erroneous spelling caused by a typographical error in Brahmi script.[8]

Damodara II / Devout Shaivite. Built a new city called Damodarasuda, and a dam called Guddasetu.

Hushka, Jushka, and Kanishka[9] / Buddhist kings of Turashka origin (according to Kalhana). The third king is identified with Kanishka of the Kushan Empire.[10]

Abhimanyu I / A Shaivite during whose reigns Buddhists also flourished. Because of the rising Buddhist influence, people stopped following the Shaivite Nāga rites prescribed in the holy text Nila Purana. This angered the Nāgas, who heavily persecuted the Buddhists. To avoid this disorder, the king retired. A Brahmin named Chandradeva restored Shaivite rites by worshipping Shiva.


Gonanditya dynasty

The Gonanditya dynasty ruled Kashmir for 1002 years.[4]

Ruler / Reign[4] / Ascension year / Notes

Gonanda III / 35 years / 1182 BCE / Gonanda III founded a new dynasty. (I.191) He belonged to Rama's lineage, and restored the Nāga rites

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Rama, also known as Ramachandra, is a major deity in Hinduism. He is the seventh avatar of Vishnu, one of his most popular incarnations along with Krishna, Parshurama, and Gautama Buddha. Jain Texts also mentioned Rama as the eighth balabhadra among the 63 salakapurusas. In Sikhism, Rama is mentioned as one of twenty four divine incarnations of Vishnu in the Chaubis Avtar in Dasam Granth. In Rama-centric traditions of Hinduism, he is considered the Supreme Being.

-- Rama, by Wikipedia


Vibhishana I / 53 years, 6 months / 1147 BCE / --

Indrajit / 35 years / 1094 BCE / --

Ravana / 30 years, 6 months / - / A Shivalinga attributed to Ravana could still be seen at the time of Kalhana.

Vibhishana II / 35 years, 6 months / 1058 BCE / --

Nara I (Kinnara) / 40 years, 9 months / 1023 BCE / His queen eloped with a Buddhist monk, so he destroyed the Buddhist monasteries and gave their land to the Brahmins. He tried to abduct a Nāga woman, who was the wife of a Brahmin. Because of this, the Nāga chief burnt down the king's city, and the king died in the fire.

Siddha / 60 years / 983 BCE / Siddha, the son of Nara, was saved from Nāga's fury, because he was away from the capital at the time. He was a religious king, and followed a near-ascetic lifestyle.

Utpalaksha / 30 years, 6 months / 923 BCE / Son of Siddha

Hiranyaksha / 37 years, 7 months / 893 BCE / Son of Utpalaksha

Hiranyakula / 60 years / 855 BCE / Son of Hiranyaksha

Vasukula (Mukula) / 60 years / 795 BCE / Son of Hiranyakula. During his reign, the Mlechchhas (possibly Hunas) overran Kashmir.

Mihirakula / 70 years / 735 BCE / Identified with the Huna ruler Mihirakula (6th century CE), although Kalhana does not mention him as a Huna, and places him nearly 1200 years earlier. According to historical evidence, Mihirakula's predecessor was Toramana. Kalhana mentions a king called Toramana, but places him much later, in Book 3.[11] According to Kalhana, Mihirakula was a cruel ruler who ordered killings of a large number of people, including children, women and elders. He invaded the Sinhala Kingdom, and replaced their king with a cruel man. As he passed through Chola, Karnata and other kingdoms on his way back to Kashmir, the rulers of these kingdoms fled their capitals and returned only after he had gone away. On his return to Kashmir, he ordered killings of 100 elephants, who had been startled by the cries of a fallen elephant. Once, Mihirakula dreamt that a particular stone could be moved only by a chaste woman. He put this to test: the women who were unable to move the stone were killed, along with their husbands, sons and brothers. He was supported by some immoral Brahmins. In his old age, the king committed self-immolation.

Vaka (Baka) / 63 years, 18 days / 665 BCE / A virtuous king, he was seduced and killed by a woman named Vatta, along with several of his sons and grandsons.

Kshitinanda / 30 years / 602 BCE / The only surviving child of Vaka

Vasunanda / 52 years, 2 months / 572 BCE / "Originator of the science of love"

Nara II / 60 years / 520 BCE / Son of Vasunanda

Aksha / 60 years / 460 BCE / Son of Nara II

Gopaditya / 60 years, 6 days / 400 BCE / Son of Aksha. Gave lands to Brahmins. Expelled several irreligious Brahmins who used to eat garlic (non-Sattvic diet); in their place, he brought others from foreign countries.

Gokarna / 57 years, 11 months / 340 BCE / Son of Gopaditya

Narendraditya I (Khingkhila) / 36 years, 3 months, 10 days / 282 BCE / Son of Gokarna

Yudhisthira I / 34 years, 5 months, 1 day / 246 BCE / Called "the blind" because of his small eyes. In later years of his reign, he started patronizing unwise persons, and the wise courtiers deserted him. He was deposed by rebellious ministers, and granted asylum by a neighboring king. His descendant Meghavahana later restored the dynasty's rule.


Book 2

No kings mentioned in this book have been traced in any other historical source.[11] These kings ruled Kashmir for 192 years.[4]

Ruler / Reign[4] / Ascension year / Notes

Pratapaditya I / 32 years / 167 BCE / Pratapaditya was a relative of a distant king named Vikrmaditya (II.6). This Vikramaditya is not same as the Vikramaditya of Ujjain, who is mentioned later as a patron of Matrigupta.

Jalauka / 32 years / 135 BCE / Son of Pratapaditya

Tungjina I / 36 years / 103 BCE / Shared the administration with his queen. The couple sheltered their citizens in the royal palace during a severe famine resulting from heavy frost. After his death, the queen committed sati. The couple died childless.

Vijaya / 8 years / 67 BCE / From a different dynasty than Tungjina.

Jayendra / 37 years / 59 BCE / Son of Vijaya: his "long arms reached to his knees". His flatters instigated him against his minister Sandhimati. The minister was persecuted, and ultimately imprisoned because of rumors that he would succeed the king. Sandhimati remained in prison for 10 years. In his old age, the childless king ordered killing of Sandhimati to prevent any chance of him becoming a king. He died after hearing about the false news of Sandhimati's death.

Sandhimati alias Aryaraja / 47 years / 22 BCE / Sandhimati was selected by the citizens as the new ruler. He ascended the throne reluctantly, at the request of his guru Ishana. He was a devout Shaivite, and his reign was marked by peace. He filled his court with rishis (sages), and spent his time in forest retreats. Therefore, his ministers replaced him with Meghavahana, a descendant of Yudhishthira I. He willingly gave up the throne.


Book 3: Restored Gonandiya dynasty

Main article: Gonanda dynasty (II)

Ruler / Reign[4] / Ascension year / Notes

Image
Meghavahana / 34 years / 25 CE / Meghavahana was the son of Yudhisthira I's great grandson, who had been granted asylum by Gopaditya, the king of Gandhara. Meghavahana had been selected the husband of a Vaishnavite princess at a Swayamvara in another kingdom. The ministers of Kashmir brought him to Kashmir after Sandhimati proved to be an unwilling king. Meghavahana banned animal slaughter and compensated those who earned their living through hunting. He patrnozed Brahmins, and set up a monastery. His queens built Buddhist viharas and monasteries. He subdued kings in regions as far as Sinhala Kingdom, forcing them to abandon animal slaughter.

Shreshtasena (Pravarasena I / Tungjina II) / 30 years / 59 CE / Son of Meghavahana

Hiranya / 30 years, 2 months / 89 CE / Son of Shreshtasena, assisted by his brother and co-regent Toramana. The king imprisoned Toramana, when the latter stuck royal coins in his own name. Toramana's son Pravarasena, who had been brought up in secrecy by his mother Anjana, freed him. Hiranya died childless. Several coins of a king named Toramana have been found in the Kashmir region. This king is identified by some with Huna ruler Toramana, although his successor Mihirakula is placed much earlier by Kalhana.[11]

Matrigupta / 4 years, 9 months, 1 day / 120 CE / According to Kalhana, the emperor Vikramditya (alias Harsha) of Ujjayini defeated the Shakas, and made his friend and poet Matrigupta the ruler of Kashmir. After Vikramaditya's death, Matrigupta abdicated the throne in favour of Pravarasena. According to D. C. Sircar, Kalhana has confused the legendary Vikramaditya of Ujjain with the Vardhana Emperor Harsha (c. 606-47 CE).[13] The latter is identified with Shiladitya mentioned in Xuanzang's account. However, according to M. A. Stein, Kalhana's Vikramaditya is another Shiladitya mentioned in Xuanzang's account: a king of Malwa around 580 CE.[14]

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Pravarasena II / 60 years / 125 CE / Historical evidence suggests that a king named Pravarasena ruled Kashmir in the 6th century CE.[11] According to Kalhana, Pravarasena subdued many other kings, in lands as far as Saurashtra. He restored the rule of Vikramaditya's son Pratapshila (alias Shiladitya), who had been expelled from Ujjain by his enemies. Pratapshila agreed to be a vassal of Pravarasena after initial resistance. He founded a city called Pravarapura, which is identified by later historians as the modern city of Srinagar on the basis topographical details.[15]

Yudhishthira II / 39 years, 8 months / 185 CE / Son of Pravarasena

Narendraditya I (Lakshmana) / 13 years / 206 CE / Son of Yudhishthira II and Padmavati

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Ranaditya I (Tungjina III) / 300 years / 219 CE / Younger brother of Narendraditya. His queen Ranarambha was an incarnation of Bhramaravasini. The Chola king Ratisena had found her among the waves, during an ocean worship ritual.

Vikramaditya / 42 years / 519 CE / Son of Ranaditya

Baladitya / 36 years, 8 months / 561 CE / Younger brother of Vikramaditya. He subdued several enemies. An astrologer prophesied that his son-in-law would succeed him as the king. To avoid this outcome, the king married his daughter Anangalekha to Durlabhavardhana, a handsome but non-royal man from Ashvaghama Kayastha caste.


Book 4: Karkota dynasty

See also: Karkota dynasty

Ruler / Reign[4] / Ascension year / Notes

Image
Durlabhavardhana (Prajnaditya) / 38 years / 598 CE / Born to Nāga Karkota (a deity), Durlabhavardhana was Baladitya's officer in charge of fodder. Baladitya married his daughter Anangalekha to him. As the royal son-in-law, he became known as a just and wise man, and was given the title "Prajnaditya" by the king. His wife Anangalekha became involved in an extra-marital affair with the minister Kharga. Despite catching them sleeping together, Durlabhavardhana forgave Khankha, and won over his loyalty. After Baladitya's death, Khankha crowned him the new king.

Durlabhaka (Pratapaditya II) / 60 years / 634 CE / Son of Durlabhavardhana and Anangalekha. He was adopted as a son by his maternal grandfather, and assumed the title Pratapaditya after the title of the grandfather's dynasty.

Chandrapida (Vajraditya I) / 8 years, 8 months / 684 CE / Son of Durlabhaka and Shrinarendraprabha.

Tarapida (Udayaditya) / 4 years, 24 days / 693 CE / Younger brother of Chandrapida.

Muktapida (Lalitaditya I) / 36 years, 7 months, 11 days / 697 CE / Younger brother of Chandrapida and Tarapida. According to the historical evidence, Lalitaditya Muktapida ruled during the 8th century. Kalhana states that Lalitaditya Muktapida conquered the tribes of the north and after defeating the Kambojas, he immediately faced the Tusharas. The Tusharas did not give a fight but fled to the mountain ranges leaving their horses in the battle field. Then Lalitaditiya meets the Bhauttas in Baltistan in western Tibet north of Kashmir, then the Daradas in Karakoram/Himalaya, the Valukambudhi and then he subdues Strirajya, the Uttar Kuru/Western China and the Pragjyotisha respectively (IV.165-175). According to some historians, Kalhana has highly exaggerated the military conquests of Muktapida.[17][18]

Kuvalayapida / 1 year, 15 days / 733 CE / Son of Lalitaditya and Kamaladevi. His short reign was marked by a succession struggle with his half-brother Vajraditya II. He abdicated the throne, and a became a hermit to seek peace.

Image
Vajraditya II (Bappiyaka / Vappiyaka / Lalitaditya II) / 7 years / 734 CE / Son of Lalitaditya and Chakramardika. He was a cruel and immoral person, who introduced the evil habits of mlechchhas to Kashmir.

Prithivyapida I / 4 years, 1 month / 741 CE / Son of Vajraditya II and Mangjarika. Deposed by his half-brother Sangramapida.

Sangramapida I / 7 days / 745 CE / Son of Vajraditya II and Massa. Deposed his half-brother to become the king, but died after a week.

Jayapida (Vinayaditya); Jajja / 31 years; 3 years / 745 CE / Youngest son of Vajradjtya II. He erected a monument at Prayaga, which existed at Kalhana's time. His wife Kalyanadevi was the daughter of Jayanta, the king Pundravardhana in Gauda region. Jayapida subdued five kings of Gauda, and made them vassals of his father-in-law. On his way back to Kashmir, he also defeated the king of Kanyakubja. While Jayapida was in Gauda, his brother-in-law usurped the throne in Kashmir. After three years of ruling Kashmir, Jajja was killed by Shrideva, a supporter of Jayapida. Jayapida became the king once again, and patronized scholars. He waged wars against Bhimasena of the East and Aramuri of Nepala. In both instances, he was first imprisoned by the enemy king, but managed to escape and defeated the enemy. During the last years of his reign, he imposed excessive taxes on advice of Kayasthas, and treated his subjects cruelly. He died because of a curse by a Brahmin.

Lalitapida / 12 years / 776 CE / Son of Jayapida and Durgi. He devoted his time to sensual pleasures, and neglected royal duties.

Sangramapida II (Prithivyapida II) / 7 years / 788 CE / Son of Jayapida and Kalyana.

Chippatajayapida (Brhspati / Vrihaspati) / 12 years / 795 CE / Son of Lalitapida and his concubine Jayadevi. The actual power was in hands of Jayadevi's brothers Padma, Utpalaka, Kalyana, Mamma and Dharmma.

Ajitapida / 37 years / 813 CE / Son of Lalitapida and Jayadevi, made the king by his maternal uncle Utpalaka. Dethroned by Utpalaka's rival Mamma and the latter's son Yashovarman.

Anangapida / 3 years / 849 CE / Son of Sangramapida II. Made king by Mamma and Yashovarman.

Utpalapida / 2 years / 852 CE / Son of Ajitapida. Made king by Sukhavarman, the son of Utpala. Deposed by the minister Shura.


Book 5

Ruler / Reign / Ascension year / Notes

Avantivarman / -- / 855 CE / Son of Sukhavarman. Made king by the minister Shura. Established the city of Avantipura

Shankaravarman / -- / 883 CE / According to Kalhana, this king "did not speak the language of the gods but used vulgar speech fit for drunkards, showed that he was descended from a family of spirit-distillers" (Stein's translation). This refers to the fact that the power had passed to the brothers of a queen, who was born in a family of spirit-distillers.

Gopalavarman / 2 years / 902 CE / Son of Shankaravarman; ruled with help of his mother Sugandha; Murdered

Sankata / 10 days / 904 CE / Brother of Gopalavarman, died soon after ascending the throne

Sugandha / 2 years / 904 CE / Became queen after the death of all male heirs. Deposed by Tantrin soldiers, who had earlier served as the royal bodyguards. Waged a war against the Tantrins with help of their rivals (known as Ekanga), but was defeated and killed.

Partha / -- / 906 CE / 10-year-old child of Nirjitavarman; placed on throne by the Tantrins

Nirjitavarman / -- / 921 CE / Half-brother of Avantivarman.

Chakravarman / -- / 922 CE / Purchased the throne from the Tantrins

Shuravarman I / 1 year / 933 CE / Purchased the throne from the Tantrins

Partha (2nd reign) / -- / 934 CE / Purchased the throne from the Tantrins

Chakravarman (2nd reign) / -- / 935 CE / Purchased the throne from the Tantrins

Shankaravardhana (or Shambhuvardhana) / -- / 935 CE / Purchased the throne from the Tantrins

Chakravarman (3rd reign) / -- / 936 CE / Defeated the Tantrins with help of Damara feudal lords. An unpopular king, he was killed.

Unmattavanti ("Mad Avanti") / -- / 937 CE / Son of Partha. Murdered his father, and starved his half-brothers to death.

Shuravarman II / -- / 939 CE / Son of Unmattavanti


Book 6

Ruler / Ascension year / Notes

Yashaskara-deva / 939 CE / Elected by a council of Brahmins

Varnata / 948 CE / --

Sangramadeva (Sanggrama I) / 948 CE / Murdered by the divira (clerk or writer) Parvagupta, who had become a regent-minister

Parvagupta / 948 CE / Strong but unpopular ruler

Kshemagupta / 950 CE / Son of Parvagupta and husband of Didda (a member of the Lohara dynasty). Didda and/or her relatives ran the administration.

Abhimanyu II / 958 CE / Ruled with his mother Didda as regent, aided by the minister Naravahana. Died young.

Nandigupta / 972 CE / Didda's grandson, deposed by her

Tribhuvanagupta / 973 CE / Didda's grandson, deposed by her

Bhimagupta / 975 CE / Didda's grandson, deposed by her

Didda / 980 CE / Wife of Kshemagupta. After a young son of Yashaskara, Pravaragupta, a Divira (clerk), became king. His son Kshemagupta married Didda, daughter of Simharaja of Lohara. After ruling indirectly and directly, Didda (980-1003 CE) placed Samgramaraja, son of her brother on the throne, starting the Lohara dynasty.


Book 7: First Lohara dynasty

Ruler / Reign[4] / Ascension year / Notes

Sangramaraja (Samgramaraja / Kshamapati) / -- / 1003 CE / Nephew of Didda. Ascended the throne after her death, beginning Lohara dynasty's rule over Kashmir

Hariraja / 22 days 1/ 028 CE / --

Ananta-deva / -- / 1028 CE / Abdicated the throne in favour of his son, but retained power through his minister Haladhara

Kalasha (Ranaditya II) / -- / 1063 CE / Rebelled against his parents, leading to the suicide of his father Ananta, followed by sati-suicide by his mother. His son Harsha revolted against him, and was imprisoned.

Utkarsha / 22 days / 1089 CE / Second son of Kalasha. His half-brother Vijaymalla rebelled against him, and got Harsha released from prison. Utkarsha was imprisoned and committed suicide

Image
Harsha / -- / died in 1101 CE / In his early years, he was a sagacious king, and a patron of art and literature. The later years of his reign were marked by unsuccessful military campaigns, resulting in excessive taxation and plundering of temples. Revolts by his generals Uchchala and Sussala (of Lohara family) ended his reign. His son Bhoja was killed, and Harsha himself was killed by Uchchala's men while hiding in a village.


Book 8: Second Lohara dynasty

Ruler[4] / Notes

Uchchala / Made his brother Sussala the ruler of Lohara. Murdered by Radda.

Radda (Shankharaja) / Usurped the throne, claiming to be a descendant of Yashaskara

Salhana / Uchchala's step-brother; became the king after Radda's death. The real power lay in the hands of a noble named Gargachandra. Salhana was deposed and imprisoned.

Sussala / Uchchala's brother; ascended throne with Gargachandra's support

Bhikshachara / Harsha's grandson, who had escaped Uchchala's revolt. Brought up by Naravarman, the king of Malava. Deposed Sussala.

Sussala (2nd reign) / Within 6 months of Bhikshachara's ascension, Sussala recovered his capital, leading to a civil war

Jayasimha (Sinha-deva) / Sussala's son. In the early years of his reign, the actual power was held by Sussala. Kalhana's account closes in the 22nd year of his reign.


Evaluation

Literary


Kalhana was an educated and sophisticated Sanskrit scholar, well-connected in the highest political circles. His writing is full of literary devices and allusions, concealed by his unique and elegant style.[19]

Historical reliability

Despite the value that historians have placed on Kalhana's work, there is little evidence of authenticity in the earlier books of Rajatarangini. For example, Ranaditya is given a reign of 300 years. Toramana is clearly the Huna king of that name, but his father Mihirakula is given a date 700 years earlier.[20] Even where the kings mentioned in the first three books are historically attested, Kalhana's account suffers from chronological errors.[21]

Kalhana's account starts to align with other historical evidence only by Book 4, which gives an account of the Karkota dynasty. But even this account is not fully reliable from a historical point of view. For example, Kalhana has highly exaggerated the military conquests of Lalitaditya Muktapida.[17][18]

Sequels

Rajatarangini by Jonaraja


During the reign of Zain-ul-Abidin, Jonaraja authored a sequel by the same name. Also known as Dvitiya Rajatarangini ("second Rajatarangini"), it gives an account of Kashmir from c. 1150 CE to 1459 CE.[22][23]

Jaina-Rajatarangini by Srivara

After Jonaraja's death in 1459, his disciple Srivara Pandita continued his work. He titled his work Jaina-Rajatarangini, and it is also known as Tritiya Rajatarangini ("third Rajatarangini"). It gives an account of Kashmir from 1459 CE to 1486 CE.[24]

Rajavalipataka by Prajyabhatta

Prajyabhatta's Rajavalipataka gives an account of Kashmir from 1486 to 1512.[24]

Chaturtha Rajatarangini by Suka

Suka extended Prajyabhatta's work, resulting in the Chaturtha Rajatarangini ("fourth Rajatarangini"). Suka's book ends with the arrival of Asaf Khan to Kashmir. A later interpolation also covers the arrival of the Mughal emperor Akbar and subsequent events.[25]

Translations

A Persian translation of Rajatarangini was commissioned by Zain-ul-Abidin, who ruled Kashmir in the 15th century CE.

Horace Hayman Wilson partially translated the work, and wrote an essay based on it, titled The Hindu History of Kashmir (published in Asiatic Researches Volume 15). Subsequent English translations of Kalhana's Rajatarangini include:

• Rajatarangini: The Saga of the Kings of Kashmir by Ranjit Sitaram Pandit (The Indian Press, Allahabad; 1935)
• Kings of Kashmira (1879) by Jogesh Chandra Dutt
• Kalhana's Rajatarangini: a chronicle of the kings of Kaśmir by Marc Aurel Stein

Translations in other languages include:

• Rajatarangini with Hindi commentary by Ramtej Shastri Pandey (Chaukhamba Sanskrit Pratishthan, 1985)
• Rajatarangini of Kalhana, edited by Vishwa Bandhu (1963–65); a later addition includes the texts of Jonaraja, Srivara and Suka (1966–67)
• Rajatarangini, Hindi translation by Pandit Gopi Krishna Shastri Dwivedi
• Histoire Des Rois Du Kachmir: Rajatarangini, French translation by M. Anthony Troyer
• Rajatarangini, Urdu translation by Pandit Thakar Acharchand Shahpuriah
• Rajatarangini, Telugu translation by Renduchintala Lakshmi Narasimha Sastry

Adaptations

Several books containing legendary stories from Rajatarangini have been compiled by various authors. These include:

• S.L. Sadhu's Tales from the Rajatarangini (1967)[26]
• Devika Rangachari's Stories from Rajatarangini: Tales of Kashmir (2001)
• Anant Pai's Amar Chitra Katha series:
o Chandrapeeda and other Tales of Kashmir (1984)
o The Legend of Lalitaditya: Retold from Kalhana's Rajatarangini (1999)

A television series based on Rajatarangini named Meeras was begun in 1986 in Doordarshan Srinagar.

References

1. "Rajatarangini" Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2011. Web. 17 December 2011.
2. Stein, M. A. (2007). Kalhana's Rajatarangini: A Chronicle of the Kings of Kashmir. 1–3 (Reprint ed.). Srinagar, India: Saujanya Books. ISBN 81-8339-043-9.
3. Dutt 1879, pp. xix-xxiii.
4. Stein 1979, pp. 133-138.
5. Raina 2013, p. 260.
6. Guruge 1994, pp. 185-186.
7. Lahiri 2015, pp. 378-380.
8. Guruge 1994, p. 130.
9. Pandit, Ranjit Sitaram (1935). River Of Kings (rajatarangini). p. 23 I168-.
10. Pandit, Ranjit Sitaram (1935). River Of Kings (rajatarangini). p. 23 I168-.
11. Stein 1979, pp. 65.
12. Cribb, Joe. "Early Medieval Kashmir Coinage – A New Hoard and An Anomaly". Numismatic Digest volume 40 (2016).
13. D. C. Sircar (1969). Ancient Malwa And The Vikramaditya Tradition. Munshiram Manoharlal. p. 111. ISBN 978-8121503488. Archived from the original on 17 June 2016.
14. Stein 1979, pp. 66.
15. Stein 1989, pp. 439-441.
16. "The dynasty which he founded ruled for more than two centuries, from c. A.D. 625 to 855 (see Appendix I). Kalhaņa tells us little about Durlabha-vardhana except that he built a temple of Vishņu and granted two villages to Brāhmaṇas. (...) The mixed metal coins bearing the legend Sri Durlabha on the obverse and jayati Kidāra on the reverse, belong to this monarch ." Majumdar, R. C. (Editor) (1981). A Comprehensive History of India: pt. 1. A.D. 300-985. People's Publishing House. p. 30.
17. Chadurah 1991, p. 45.
18. Hasan 1959, pp. 54.
19. Kalhana - Makers of Indian Literature. IDE087 by Somnath Dhar Paperback (Edition: 1998)
20. A history of Sanskrit literature by Arthur Berriedale Keith, Motilal Banarsidass Publ., 1993; ISBN 81-208-0979-3, ISBN 978-81-208-0979-6
21. Stein 1979, pp. 69.
22. Sharma 2005, pp. 37.
23. Hasan 1959, pp. 2.
24. Hasan 1959, pp. 3.
25. Sharma 2005, pp. 38.
26. Machwe, Prabhakar, and Samyukta. 1969. Indian Literature 12 (2). Sahitya Akademi: 72–74.

Bibliography

• Dutt, Jogesh Chandra (1879). Kings of Káshmíra. Trübner & Co.
• Stein, Marc Aurel (1979) [1900]. "Chronological and Dynastic Tables of Kalhana's Record of Kasmir Kings". Kalhana's Rajatarangini: A Chronicle of the Kings of Kasmir. 1. Motilal Banarsidass.
• Sharma, Tej Ram (2005). Historiography: A History of Historical Writing. Concept.
• Hasan, Mohibbul (1959). Kashmir Under the Sultans. Aakar. ISBN 9788187879497.
• Guruge, Ananda (1994). "King Aśoka and Buddhism: historical and literary studies". In Nuradha Seneviratna (ed.). King Asoka and Buddhism: Historical and Literary Studies. Buddhist Publication Society. ISBN 978-955-24-0065-0.
• Chadurah, Haidar Malik (1991). History of Kashmir. Bhavna Prakashan.
• Stein, Marc Aurel (1989). Kalhana's Rajatarangini: a chronicle of the kings of Kasmir. Motilal Banarsidass. ISBN 978-81-208-0370-1.
• Raina, Mohini Qasba (2013). Kashur The Kashmiri Speaking People. Partridge. ISBN 9781482899450.
• Lahiri, Nayanjot (2015). Ashoka in Ancient India. Harvard University Press. ISBN 978-0-674-91525-1.
• Culture and Political History of Kashmir: Medieval Kashmir by Prithivi Nath Kaul Bamzai, 1994 ISBN 81-85880-31-X, 9788185880310

External links

• Rajatarangini of Kalhana - English translation by Jogesh Chunder Dutt
• Rajatarangini: The Saga of The Kings of Kasmir, English translation by Ranjit Sitaram Pandit
• Rajatarangini and the Making of India's Past, Webcast of a talk by Chitralekha Zutshi
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George Turnour
by Wikipedia
Accessed: 5/25/21
Until about a hundred years ago in India, Ashoka was merely one of the many kings mentioned in the Mauryan dynastic list included in the Puranas. Elsewhere in the Buddhist tradition he was referred to as a chakravartin/ cakkavatti, a universal monarch, but this tradition had become extinct in India after the decline of Buddhism. However, in 1837, James Prinsep deciphered an inscription written in the earliest Indian script since the Harappan, brahmi. There were many inscriptions in which the King referred to himself as Devanampiya Piyadassi (the beloved of the gods, Piyadassi). The name did not tally with any mentioned in the dynastic lists, although it was mentioned in the Buddhist chronicles of Sri Lanka. Slowly the clues were put together but the final confirmation came in 1915, with the discovery of yet another version of the edicts in which the King calls himself Devanampiya Ashoka.

-- The Penguin History of Early India: From the Origins to A.D. 1300, by Romila Thapar

In a study of the Mauryan period a sudden flood of source material becomes available. Whereas with earlier periods of Indian history there is a frantic search to glean evidence from sources often far removed and scattered, with the Mauryan period there is a comparative abundance of information, from sources either contemporary or written at a later date.

This is particularly the case with the reign of Aśoka Maurya, since, apart from the unintentional evidence of sources such as religious literature, coins, etc., the edicts of the king himself, inscribed on rocks and pillars throughout the country, are available.
These consist of fourteen major rock edicts located at Kālsi, Mānsehrā, Shahbāzgarhi, Girnār, Sopārā, Yeṟṟaguḍi, Dhauli, and Jaugaḍa; and a number of minor rock edicts and inscriptions at Bairāṭ, Rūpanāth, Sahasrām, Brahmagiri, Gāvimath, Jaṭiṅga-Rāmeshwar, Maski, Pālkīguṇḍu, Rajūla-Maṇḍagiri, Siddāpura, Yeṟṟaguḍi, Gujarra and Jhansi. Seven pillar edicts exist at Allahabad, Delhi-Toprā, Delhi-Meerut, Lauriyā-Ararāja, Lauriyā-Nandangarh, and Rāmpūrvā. Other inscriptions have been found at the Barābar Caves (three inscriptions), Rummindei, Nigali-Sāgar, Allahabad, Sanchi, Sārnāth, and Bairāṭ. Recently a minor inscription in Greek and Aramaic was found at Kandahar.

The importance of these inscriptions could not be appreciated until it was ascertained to whom the title ‘Piyadassi’ referred, since the edicts generally do not mention the name of any king; an exception to this being the Maski edict, which was not discovered until very much later in 1915. The earliest publication on this subject was by Prinsep, who was responsible for deciphering the edicts. At first Prinsep identified Devanampiya Piyadassi with a king of Ceylon, owing to the references to Buddhism. There were of course certain weaknesses in this identification, as for instance the question of how a king of Ceylon could order the digging of wells and the construction of roads in India, which the author of the edicts claims to have done. Later in the same year, 1837, the Dīpavaṃsa and the Mahāvaṃsa, two of the early chronicles of the history of Ceylon, composed by Buddhist monks, were studied in Ceylon, and Prinsep was informed of the title of Piyadassi given to Aśoka in those works. This provided the link for the new and correct identification of Aśoka as the author of the edicts.


-- Asoka and the Decline of the Mauryas, by Romila Thapar

Legends about past lives

Buddhist legends mention stories about Ashoka's past lives. According to a Mahavamsa story, Ashoka, Nigrodha and Devnampiya Tissa were brothers in a previous life. In that life, a pratyekabuddha was looking for honey to cure another, sick pratyekabuddha. A woman directed him to a honey shop owned by the three brothers. Ashoka generously donated honey to the pratyekabuddha, and wished to become the sovereign ruler of Jambudvipa for this act of merit. The woman wished to become his queen, and was reborn as Ashoka's wife Asandhamitta. Later Pali texts credit her with an additional act of merit: she gifted the pratyekabuddha a piece of cloth made by her. These texts include the Dasavatthuppakarana, the so-called Cambodian or Extended Mahavamsa (possibly from 9th–10th centuries), and the Trai Bhumi Katha (15th century).

According to an Ashokavadana story, Ashoka was born as Jaya in a prominent family of Rajagriha. When he was a little boy, he gave the Gautama Buddha dirt imagining it to be food. The Buddha approved of the donation, and Jaya declared that he would become a king by this act of merit. The text also state that Jaya's companion Vijaya was reborn as Ashoka's prime-minister Radhagupta. In the later life, the Buddhist monk Upagupta tells Ashoka that his rough skin was caused by the impure gift of dirt in the previous life. Some later texts repeat this story, without mentioning the negative implications of gifting dirt; these texts include Kumaralata's Kalpana-manditika, Aryashura's Jataka-mala, and the Maha-karma-vibhaga. The Chinese writer Pao Ch'eng's Shih chia ju lai ying hua lu asserts that an insignificant act like gifting dirt could not have been meritorious enough to cause Ashoka's future greatness. Instead, the text claims that in another past life, Ashoka commissioned a large number of Buddha statues as a king, and this act of merit caused him to become a great emperor in the next life.

The 14th century Pali-language fairy tale Dasavatthuppakarana (possibly from c. 14th century) combines the stories about the merchant's gift of honey, and the boy's gift of dirt. It narrates a slightly different version of the Mahavamsa story, stating that it took place before the birth of the Gautama Buddha. It then states that the merchant was reborn as the boy who gifted dirt to the Buddha; however, in this case, the Buddha his attendant to Ānanda to create plaster from the dirt, which is used repair cracks in the monastery walls....


Rediscovery

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:
"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

-- Ashoka, by Wikipedia

[I would like at this point to pay belated acknowledgement to my respected friend and colleague, Karl Khandalawala, which whom I have sometimes expressed differences of interpretation, in this case in opposing his view (which on hindsight appears to be entirely correct) that the Sarnath pillar reveals the influences of foreign (Achaemenid) influence. I hope this eminent art historian will now accept my personal apology and withdrawal. On this particular issue I am ready to admit that he was right, though I reserve my differences on other issues involving Asokan pillars. A further issue reflecting his correctness is embodied in the self-styled title Asoka used as the opening words of many of his inscriptions (Devanampiya Piyadassi), often translated as 'Beloved of the Gods." A century ago, this term was rightly recognised by the brilliant French Indologist Emile Senart, as borrowed from earlier Achaemenid inscriptions in Persia, yet since then ignored by all authorities writing on Asoka in English.]

-- The True Chronology of Aśokan Pillars, by John Irwin

[The Mahavamsa] is very important in dating the consecration of the Maurya Emperor Ashoka…

The Mahavamsa first came to the attention of Western readers around 1809 CE, when Sir Alexander Johnston, Chief Justice of the British colony in Ceylon, sent manuscripts of it and other Sri Lankan chronicles to Europe for publication. Eugène Burnouf produced a Romanized transliteration and translation into Latin in 1826... Working from Johnston's manuscripts, Edward Upham published an English translation in 1833, but it was marked by a number of errors in translation and interpretation, among them suggesting that the Buddha was born in Sri Lanka and built a monastery atop Adam's Peak. The first printed edition and widely read English translation was published in 1837 by George Turnour, an historian and officer of the Ceylon Civil Service…

Historiographical sources are rare in much of South Asia…

Early Western scholars like Otto Franke dismissed the possibility that the Mahavamsa contained reliable historical content…

The Chinese pilgrims Fa Hsien and Hsuan Tsang both recorded myths of the origins of the Sinhala people in their travels that varied significantly from the versions recorded in the Mahavamsa…

[T]he genealogy of the Buddha recorded in the Mahavamsa describes him as being the product of four cross cousin marriages. Cross-cousin marriage is associated historically with the Dravidian people of southern India -- both Sri Lankan Tamils and Sinhala practiced cross-cousin marriage historically -- but exogamous marriage was the norm in the regions of northern India associated with the life of the Buddha. No mention of cross-cousin marriage is found in earlier Buddhist sources…

The Mahavamsa is believed to have originated from an earlier chronicle known as the Dipavamsa... The Dipavamsa is much simpler and contains less information than the Mahavamsa.


-- Mahavamsa, by Wikipedia

[The Dipavamsa] was... composed anonymously...

Regarding the Vijaya legend, Dipavamsa has tried to be less super-natural than the later work, Mahavamsa in referring to the husband of the Kalinga-Vanga princess, ancestor of Vijya, as a man named Sinha who was an outlaw that attacked caravans en route. In the meantime, Sinha-bahu and Sinhasivali, as king and queen of the kingdom of Lala (Lata), "gave birth to twin sons, sixteen times." The eldest was Vijaya and the second was Sumitta. As Vijaya was of cruel and unseemly conduct, the enraged people requested the king to kill his son. But the king caused him and his seven hundred followers to leave the kingdom, and they landed in Sri Lanka, at a place called Tamba-panni, on the exact day when the Buddha passed into Maha Parinibbana.

The Dipavamsa is considered "source material" to the Mahavamsa. The latter is more coherently organized...

The Dipavamsa was translated into English by Hermann Oldenberg in 1879.


-- Dipavamsa, by Wikipedia

George Turnour Jnr, CCS (1799–1843) was a British colonial administrator, scholar and a historian. A member of the Ceylon Civil Service, he served as a Government Agent, Assistant Colonial Secretary and Treasurer of the Colony. He is known for his translation of the Mahavamsa, the Great Chronicle of Sri Lankan history which was published in 1837.[1] Along with James Prinsep and Captain Edward Smith, he began to decipher the inscriptions on the first discovered Pillar of Ashoka.

Early life

Born in Ceylon on 11 March 1799, his father was the Honorable George Turnour Snr, the son of the British politician Edward Garth-Turnour, 1st Earl Winterton. George Turnour Snr came to India joining the Bengal Native Infantry as an ensign. He landed in Ceylon in 1783 with the 73rd Regiment. In 1795, he was appointed Fort Adjutant of the Jaffna Fort and later made Commandant of the Mannar Fort in 1797. He married Emilie de Beaussett, niece of Cardinal Duc de Beaussett. In 1799, Lieutenant Turnour was dismissed from command following an inquiry instituted by the Governor on irregularities in the Mannar Pearl Fishery which found "gross and incalculable fraud". Thereafter, Turnour Snr tried his hand in trading business between Indian and Ceylon which failed, prompting him to return to Jaffna insolvent in 1807. He was able to gain appointment as Revenue Agent of the Wanni, Assistant Collector of Jaffna in 1813 and served as Sitting Magistrate and Fiscal. He died in April 1813.[2]

George Turnour Jnr was the eldest of six siblings, he had one younger brother Edward Archer and four sisters Anne Emily, Frances, Elizabeth and Jane. In 1811, he was sent to England for education under the patronage of Sir Thomas Maitland.

Civil service career

On his return in 1820, he was appointed to the Ceylon Civil Service as Assistant to the Commissioner of Revenue. Thereafter he was made Assistant to the Chief Secretary. In 1822 he was appointed the Collector of Kalutara. In 1825 he was appointed Government Agent of Sabaragamuwa Province based in Ratnapura until he was transferred to Kandy as Revenue Commissioner in 1828. In 1833, he was appointed as the first Government Agent of the Central Province. In 1841, he was transferred to Colombo as Assistant Colonial Secretary and was appointed Treasurer. Due to ill health he retired early and returned to England and set out to Italy where he died in Naples on the 10 April 1843 aged 44 years.

Honors

He was elected an honorary member of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland. Following his death, a fund was raised which erected a tablet at St. Pauls Church, Kandy. The remaining funds were used to start the Turnour Prize at the Royal College, Colombo.[3]

Works

• History of Ceylon
• The Mahawanso in Roman Characters with the Translation Subjoined, and an Introductory Essay on Pali Buddhistical Literature. Cotto 1837.
• Eleven Years in Ceylon

See also

• Mahavamsa
• James Prinsep
• Pillars of Ashoka
• Turnour Prize
References[edit]
• Lee, Sidney, ed. (1899). "Turnour, George" . Dictionary of National Biography. 57. London: Smith, Elder & Co.

Notes

1. mahavamsa
2. George Turnour: The man who brought world fame to the Mahavamsa
3. Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland, Volume 8

External links

• Mulkirigala (Mulgirigala) Raja Maha Viharaya
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Part 1 of 4

Ashoka
by Wikipedia
Accessed: 5/26/21



Highlights:

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")….

Information about Ashoka comes from his own inscriptions; other inscriptions that mention him or are possibly from his reign; and ancient literature, especially Buddhist texts. These sources often contradict each other… while Ashoka is often attributed with building many hospitals during his time, there is no clear evidence any hospitals existed in ancient India during the 3rd century BC or that Ashoka was responsible for commissioning the construction of any….

Ashoka's own inscriptions are the earliest self-representations of an imperial power in the Indian subcontinent. However, these inscriptions are focused mainly on the topic of dhamma, and provide little information regarding other aspects of the Maurya state and society. Even on the topic of dhamma, the content of these inscriptions cannot be taken at face value: in words of American academic John S. Strong, it is sometimes useful to think of Ashoka's messages as propaganda by a politician whose aim is to present a favourable image of himself and his administration, rather than record historical facts….

Much of the information about Ashoka comes from Buddhist legends, which present him as a great, ideal king. These legends appear in texts that are not contemporary to Ashoka, and were composed by Buddhist authors, who used various stories to illustrate the impact of their faith on Ashoka. This makes it necessary to exercise caution while relying on them for historical information. Among modern scholars, opinions range from downright dismissal of these legends as mythological to acceptance of all historical portions that seem plausible….

All these legends can be traced to two primary traditions:

• the North Indian tradition preserved in the Sanskrit-language texts such as Divyavadana (including its constituent Ashokavadana); and Chinese sources such as A-yü wang chuan and A-yü wang ching.

• the Sri Lankan tradition preserved in Pali-language texts, such as Dipavamsa, Mahavamsa, Vamsatthapakasini (a commentary on Mahavamsa), Buddhaghosha's commentary on the Vinaya, and Samanta-pasadika.

There are several major differences between the two traditions. For example, the Sri Lankan tradition emphasises Ashoka's role in convening the Third Buddhist council, and his dispatch of several missionaries to distant regions, including his son Mahinda to Sri Lanka. However, the North Indian tradition makes no mention of these events, and describes other events not found in the Sri Lankan tradition, such as a story about another son named Kunala.

Even while narrating the common stories, the two traditions diverge in several ways. For example, both Ashokavadana and Mahavamsa mention that Ashoka's queen Tishyarakshita had the Bodhi Tree destroyed. In Ashokavadana, the queen manages to have the tree healed after she realises her mistake. In the Mahavamsa, she permanently destroys the tree, but only after a branch of the tree has been transplanted in Sri Lanka. In another story, both the texts describe Ashoka's unsuccessful attempts to collect a relic of Gautama Buddha from Ramagrama. In Ashokavadana, he fails to do so because he cannot match the devotion of the Nagas who hold the relic; however, in the Mahavamsa, he fails to do so because the Buddha had destined the relic to be enshrined by king Dutthagamani of Sri Lanka. Using such stories, the Mahavamsa glorifies Sri Lanka as the new preserve of Buddhism….

Ashoka's name appears in the lists of Mauryan kings in the various Puranas, but these texts do not provide further details about him…

For some scholars such as Christopher I. Beckwith, Ashoka, whose name only appears in the Minor Rock Edicts, should be differentiated from the ruler Piyadasi, or Devanampiya Piyadasi (i.e. "Beloved of the Gods Piyadasi", "Beloved of the Gods" being a fairly widespread title for "King"), who is named as the author of the Major Pillar Edicts and the Major Rock Edicts. This inscriptional evidence may suggest that these were two different rulers. According to him, Piyadasi was living in the 3rd century BCE, probably the son of Chandragupta Maurya known to the Greeks as Amitrochates, and only advocating for piety ("Dharma") in his Major Pillar Edicts and Major Rock Edicts, without ever mentioning Buddhism, the Buddha or the Samgha. Also, the geographical spread of his inscription shows that Piyadasi ruled a vast Empire, contiguous with the Seleucid Empire in the West.

On the contrary, for Beckwith, Ashoka was a later king of the 1st–2nd century CE, whose name only appears explicitly in the Minor Rock Edicts and allusively in the Minor Pillar Edicts, and who does mention the Buddha and the Samgha, explicitly promoting Buddhism. His inscriptions cover a very different and much smaller geographical area, clustering in Central India. According to Beckwith, the inscriptions of this later Ashoka were typical of the later forms of "normative Buddhism", which are well attested from inscriptions and Gandhari manuscripts dated to the turn of the millennium, and around the time of the Kushan Empire. The quality of the inscriptions of this Ashoka is significantly lower than the quality of the inscriptions of the earlier Piyadasi….

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.… these legends include obviously fictitious details such as narratives of Ashoka's past lives…

The exact date of Ashoka's birth is not certain, as the extant contemporary Indian texts did not record such details….

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…. the gods declared that he would go on to conquer the whole earth….

According to the Mahavamsa, Bindusara appointed Ashoka as the viceroy of present-day Ujjain… This tradition is corroborated by the Saru Maru inscription discovered in central India; this inscription states that he visited the place as a prince….

"The king, who (now after consecration) is called "Piyadasi", (once) came to this place for a pleasure tour while still a (ruling) prince, living together with his unwedded consort." – Saru Mara, by Wikipedia…

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….

Ashoka declared that if the throne was rightfully his, the gods would crown him as the next king. At that instance, the gods did so, Bindusara died, and Ashoka's authority extended to the entire world, including the Yaksha territory located above the earth, and the Naga territory located below the earth….

The Mahavamsa… also states that Ashoka killed ninety-nine of his half-brothers, including Sumana. The Dipavamsa states that he killed a hundred of his brothers, and was crowned four years later….

The figures such as 99 and 100 are exaggerated, and seem to be a way of stating that Ashoka killed several of his brothers. Taranatha states that Ashoka, who was an illegitimate son of his predecessor, killed six legitimate princes to ascend the throne. It is possible that Ashoka was not the rightful heir to the throne, and killed a brother (or brothers) to acquire the throne. However, the story has obviously been exaggerated by the Buddhist sources, which attempt to portray him as an evil person before his conversion to Buddhism….

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. The date of the Buddha's death is itself a matter of debate, and the North Indian tradition states that Ashoka ruled a hundred years after the Buddha's death, which has led to further debates about the date….

The Ashokavadana also calls [Ashoka] "Chandashoka", and describes several of his cruel acts:

• The ministers who had helped him ascend the throne started treating him with contempt after his ascension. To test their loyalty, Ashoka gave them the absurd order of cutting down every flower-and fruit-bearing tree. When they failed to carry out this order, Ashoka personally cut off the heads of 500 ministers.

• One day, during a stroll at a park, Ashoka and his concubines came across a beautiful Ashoka tree. The sight put him in a sensual mood, but the women did not enjoy caressing his rough skin. Sometime later, when Ashoka fell asleep, the resentful women chopped the flowers and the branches of his namesake tree. After Ashoka woke up, he burnt 500 of his concubines to death as a punishment….

The 5th century Chinese traveller Faxian states that Ashoka personally visited the underworld to study the methods of torture there, and then invented his own methods.…

Such descriptions of Ashoka as an evil person before his conversion to Buddhism appear to be a fabrication of the Buddhist authors, who attempted to present the change that Buddhism brought to him as a miracle. In an attempt to dramatise this change, such legends exaggerate Ashoka's past wickedness and his piousness after the conversion….

Ashoka's own inscriptions mention that he conquered the Kalinga region during his 8th regnal year…

On the other hand, the Sri Lankan tradition suggests that Ashoka was already a devoted Buddhist by his 8th regnal year, having converted to Buddhism during his 4th regnal year, and having constructed 84,000 viharas during his 5th–7th regnal years. The Buddhist legends make no mention of the Kalinga campaign….

According to Ashoka's Major Rock Edict 13, he conquered Kalinga 8 years after his ascension to the throne. The edict states that during his conquest of Kalinga, 100,000 men and animals were killed in action; many times that number "perished"; and 150,000 men and animals were carried away from Kalinga as captives. Ashoka states that the repentance of these sufferings caused him to devote himself to the practice and propagation of dharma. He proclaims that he now considered the slaughter, death and deportation caused during the conquest of a country painful and deplorable; and that he considered the suffering caused to the religious people and householders even more deplorable.

This edict has been found inscribed at several places, including Erragudi, Girnar, Kalsi, Maneshra, Shahbazgarhi and Kandahar. However, [it] is omitted in Ashoka's inscriptions found in the Kalinga region, where the Rock Edicts 13 and 14 have been replaced by two separate edicts that make no mention of Ashoka's remorse. It is possible that Ashoka did not consider it politically appropriate to make such a confession to the people of Kalinga. Another possibility is the Kalinga war and its consequences, as described in Ashoka's rock edicts, are "more imaginary than real": this description is meant to impress those far removed from the scene, and thus, unable to verify its accuracy….

Taranatha claims that Ashoka conquered the entire Jambudvipa.

Different sources give different accounts of Ashoka's conversion to Buddhism….

The Dipavamsa states that Ashoka invited several non-Buddhist religious leaders to his palace, and bestowed great gifts upon them in hope that they would be able to answer a question posed by the king. The text does not state what the question was… he met the Buddhist monk Moggaliputta Tissa, and became more devoted to the Buddhist faith. The veracity of this story is not certain. This legend about Ashoka's search for a worthy teacher may be aimed at explaining why Ashoka did not adopt Jainism, another major contemporary faith that advocates non-violence and compassion. The legend suggests that Ashoka was not attracted to Buddhism because he was looking for such a faith, rather, for a competent spiritual teacher….

The A-yu-wang-chuan states that a 7-year-old Buddhist converted Ashoka. Another story claims that the young boy ate 500 Brahmanas who were harassing Ashoka for being interested in Buddhism; these Brahmanas later miraculously turned into Buddhist bhikkus at the Kukkutarama monastery, where Ashoka paid a visit….

Both Mahavamsa and Ashokavadana state that Ashoka constructed 84,000 stupas or viharas….

The Ashokavadana states that Ashoka collected seven out of the eight relics of Gautama Buddha, and had their portions kept in 84,000 boxes made of gold, silver, cat's eye, and crystal. He ordered the construction of 84,000 stupas throughout the earth, in towns that had a population of 100,000 or more. He told Elder Yashas, a monk at the Kukkutarama monastery, that he wanted these stupas to be completed on the same day. Yashas stated that he would signal the completion time by eclipsing the sun with his hand. When he did so, the 84,000 stupas were completed at once.

The Mahavamsa states that Ashoka ordered construction of 84,000 viharas (monasteries) rather than the stupas to house the relics. Like Ashokavadana, the Mahavamsa describes Ashoka's collection of the relics, but does not mention this episode in the context of the construction activities. It states that Ashoka decided to construct the 84,000 viharas when Moggaliputta Tissa told him that there were 84,000 sections of the Buddha's Dhamma. Ashoka himself began the construction of the Ashokarama vihara, and ordered subordinate kings to build the other viharas. Ashokarama was completed by the miraculous power of Thera Indagutta, and the news about the completion of the 84,000 viharas arrived from various cities on the same day.

The number 84,000 is an obvious exaggeration, and it appears that in the later period, the construction of almost every old stupa was attributed to Ashoka….

Ashoka's rock edicts suggest that during his 8th–9th regnal years, he made a pilgrimage to the Bodhi Tree, started propagating dhamma, and performed social welfare activities. The welfare activities included establishment of medical treatment facilities for humans and animals…

The Sri Lankan tradition presents a greater role for Ashoka in the Buddhist community. In this tradition, Ashoka starts feeding monks on a large scale. His lavish patronage to the state patronage leads to many fake monks joining the sangha. The true Buddhist monks refuse to co-operate with these fake monks, and therefore, no uposatha ceremony is held for seven years. The king attempts to eradicate the fake monks, but during this attempt, an over-zealous minister ends up killing some real monks. The king then invites the elder monk Moggaliputta-Tissa, to help him expel non-Buddhists from the monastery founded by him at Pataliputra. 60,000 monks (bhikkhus) convicted of being heretical are de-frocked in the ensuing process. The uposatha ceremony is then held, and Tissa subsequently organises the Third Buddhist council, during the 17th regnal year of Ashoka. Tissa compiles Kathavatthu, a text that reaffirms Theravadin orthodoxy on several points.

The North Indian tradition makes no mention of these events, which has led to doubts about the historicity of the Third Buddhist council….

in his Minor Rock Edict 3, Ashoka recommends the members of the Sangha to study certain texts (most of which remain unidentified)….

In the Sri Lankan tradition, Moggaliputta-Tissa –- who is patronised by Ashoka –- sends out nine Buddhist missions to spread Buddhism in the "border areas" in c. 250 BCE.…

The tradition adds that during his 19th regnal year, Ashoka's daughter Sanghamitta went to Sri Lanka to establish an order of nuns, taking a sapling of the sacred Bodhi Tree with her.

The North Indian tradition makes no mention of these events. Ashoka's own inscriptions also appear to omit any mention of these events…

The Rock Edict XIII states that Ashoka won a "dhamma victory" by sending messengers to five kings and several other kingdoms. Whether these missions correspond to the Buddhist missions recorded in the Buddhist chronicles is debated. Indologist Etienne Lamotte argues that the "dhamma" missionaries mentioned in Ashoka's inscriptions were probably not Buddhist monks, as this "dhamma" was not same as "Buddhism". Moreover, the lists of destinations of the missions and the dates of the missions mentioned in the inscriptions do not tally [with] the ones mentioned in the Buddhist legends….

According to Gombrich, the mission may have included representatives of other religions, and thus, Lamotte's objection about "dhamma" is not valid. The Buddhist chroniclers may have decided not to mention these non-Buddhists, so as not to sideline Buddhism. Frauwallner and Gombrich also believe that Ashoka was directly responsible for the missions, since only a resourceful ruler could have sponsored such activities. The Sri Lankan chronicles, which belong to the Theravada school, exaggerate the role of the Theravadin monk Moggaliputta-Tissa in order to glorify their sect….

According to the Ashokavadana, Ashoka resorted to violence even after converting to Buddhism. For example:

• He slowly tortured Chandagirika to death in the "hell" prison.

• He ordered a massacre of 18,000 heretics for a misdeed of one.

• He launched a pogrom against the Jains, announcing a bounty on the head of any heretic; this results in the beheading of his own brother -– Vitashoka.

According to the Ashokavadana, a non-Buddhist in Pundravardhana drew a picture showing the Buddha bowing at the feet of the Nirgrantha leader Jnatiputra. The term nirgrantha ("free from bonds") was originally used for a pre-Jaina ascetic order, but later came to be used for Jaina monks. "Jnatiputra" is identified with Mahavira, 24th Tirthankara of Jainism. The legend states that on complaint from a Buddhist devotee, Ashoka issued an order to arrest the non-Buddhist artist, 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. Sometime later, another Nirgrantha follower in Pataliputra drew a similar picture. Ashoka burnt him and his entire family alive in their house…

[T]hese stories of persecutions of rival sects by Ashoka appear to be clear fabrications arising out of sectarian propaganda….

Ashoka's last dated inscription -- the Pillar Edict 4 is from his 26th regnal year. The only source of information about Ashoka's later years are the Buddhist legends….

Both Mahavamsa and Ashokavadana state that Ashoka extended favours and attention to the Bodhi Tree, and a jealous Tissarakkha mistook "Bodhi" to be a mistress of Ashoka. She then used black magic to make the tree wither. According to the Ashokavadana, she hired a sorceress to do the job, and when Ashoka explained that "Bodhi" was the name of a tree, she had the sorceress heal the tree. According to the Mahavamsa, she completely destroyed the tree, during Ashoka's 34th regnal year.

The Ashokavadana states that Tissarakkha (called "Tishyarakshita" here) made sexual advances towards Ashoka's son Kunala, but Kunala rejected her. Subsequently, Ashoka granted Tissarakkha kingship for seven days, and during this period, she tortured and blinded Kunala. Ashoka then threatened to "tear out her eyes, rip open her body with sharp rakes, impale her alive on a spit, cut off her nose with a saw, cut out her tongue with a razor." Kunala regained his eyesight miraculously, and pleaded for mercy on the queen, but Ashoka had her executed anyway. Kshemendra's Avadana-kalpa-lata also narrates this legend, but seeks to improve Ashoka's image by stating that he forgave the queen after Kunala regained his eyesight….

According to the Ashokavadana, the emperor fell severely ill during his last days. He started using state funds to make donations to the Buddhist sangha, prompting his ministers to deny him access to the state treasury. Ashoka then started donating his personal possessions, but was similarly restricted from doing so. On his deathbed, his only possession was the half of a myrobalan fruit, which he offered to the sangha as his final donation….

Various sources mention five consorts of Ashoka: Devi (or Vedisa-Mahadevi-Shakyakumari), Karuvaki, Asandhimitra (Pali: Asandhimitta), Padmavati, and Tishyarakshita (Pali: Tissarakkha).

Kaurvaki is the only queen of Ashoka known from his own inscriptions: she is mentioned in an edict inscribed on a pillar at Allahabad. The inscription names her as the mother of prince Tivara, and orders the royal officers (mahamattas) to record her religious and charitable donations….

According to the Mahavamsa, Ashoka's chief queen was Asandhimitta, who died four years before him. It states that she was born as Ashoka's queen because in a previous life, she directed a pratyekabuddha to a honey merchant (who was later reborn as Ashoka). Some later texts also state that she additionally gave the pratyekabuddha a piece of cloth made by her. These texts include the Dasavatthuppakarana, the so-called Cambodian or Extended Mahavamsa (possibly from 9th–10th centuries), and the Trai Bhumi Katha (15th century). These texts narrate another story: one day, Ashoka mocked Asandhamitta [as she] was enjoying a tasty piece of sugarcane without having earned it through her karma. Asandhamitta replied that all her enjoyments resulted from merit resulting from her own karma. Ashoka then challenged her to prove this by procuring 60,000 robes as an offering for monks. At night, the guardian gods informed her about her past gift to the pratyekabuddha, and next day, she was able to miraculously procure the 60,000 robes. An impressed Ashoka makes her his favourite queen, and even offers to make her a sovereign ruler. Asandhamitta refuses the offer, but still invokes the jealousy of Ashoka's 16,000 other wives. Ashoka proves her superiority by having 16,000 identical cakes baked with his royal seal hidden in only one of them. Each wife is asked to choose a cake, and only Asandhamitta gets the one with the royal seal. The Trai Bhumi Katha claims that it was Asandhamitta who encouraged her husband to become a Buddhist, and to construct 84,000 stupas and 84,000 viharas.

According to Mahavamsa, after Asandhamitta's death, Tissarakkha became the chief queen. The Ashokavadana does not mention Asandhamitta at all, but does mention Tissarakkha as Tishyarakshita. The Divyavadana mentions another queen called Padmavati, who was the mother of the crown-prince Kunala.

As mentioned above, according to the Sri Lankan tradition, Ashoka fell in love with Devi (or Vidisha-Mahadevi), as a prince in central India. After Ashoka's ascension to the throne, Devi chose to remain at Vidisha than move to the royal capital Pataliputra. According to the Mahavamsa, Ashoka's chief queen was Asandhamitta, not Devi: the text does not talk of any connection between the two women, so it is unlikely that Asandhamitta was another name for Devi….

Tivara, the son of Ashoka and Karuvaki, is the only of Ashoka's sons to be mentioned by name in the inscriptions.

According to North Indian tradition, Ashoka had a son named Kunala. Kunala had a son named Samprati.

The Sri Lankan tradition mentions a son called Mahinda, who was sent to Sri Lanka as a Buddhist missionary; this son is not mentioned at all in the North Indian tradition. The Chinese pilgrim Xuanzang states that Mahinda was Ashoka's younger brother (Vitashoka or Vigatashoka) rather than his illegitimate son.

The Divyavadana mentions the crown-prince Kunala alias Dharmavivardhana, who was a son of queen Padmavati. According to Faxian, Dharmavivardhana was appointed as the governor of Gandhara.

The Rajatarangini mentions Jalauka as a son of Ashoka.

According to Sri Lankan tradition, Ashoka had a daughter named Sanghamitta, who became a Buddhist nun. A section of historians, such as Romila Thapar, doubt the historicity of Sanghamitta, based on the following points:

• The name "Sanghamitta", which literally means the friend of the Buddhist Order (sangha), is unusual, and the story of her going to Ceylon so that the Ceylonese queen could be ordained appears to be an exaggeration.

• The Mahavamsa states that she married Ashoka's nephew Agnibrahma, and the couple had a son named Sumana. The contemporary laws regarding exogamy would have forbidden such a marriage between first cousins.

• According to the Mahavamsa, she was 18 years old when she was ordained as a nun. The narrative suggests that she was married two years earlier, and that her husband as well as her child were ordained. It is unlikely that she would have been allowed to become a nun with such a young child.

Another source mentions that Ashoka had a daughter named Charumati, who married a kshatriya named Devapala.

According to the Ashokavadana, Ashoka had an elder half-brother named Susima. According to the Sri Lankan tradition, Ashoka killed his 99 half-brothers.

Various sources mention that one of Ashoka's brothers survived his ascension, and narrate stories about his role in the Buddhist community.

• According to Sri Lankan tradition, this brother was Tissa, who initially lived a luxurious life, without worrying about the world. To teach him a lesson, Ashoka put him on the throne for a few days, then accused him of being an usurper, and sentenced him to die after seven days. During these seven days, Tissa realised that the Buddhist monks gave up pleasure because they were aware of the eventual death. He then left the palace, and became an arhat.

• The Theragatha commentary calls this brother Vitashoka. According to this legend, one day, Vitashoka saw a grey hair on his head, and realised that he had become old. He then retired to a monastery, and became an arhat.

• Faxian calls the younger brother Mahendra, and states that Ashoka shamed him for his immoral behaviour. The brother than retired to a dark cave, where he meditated, and became an arhat. Ashoka invited him to return to the family, but he preferred to live alone on a hill. So, Ashoka had a hill built for him within Pataliputra.

• The Ashoka-vadana states that Ashoka's brother was mistaken for a Nirgrantha, and killed during a massacre of the Nirgranthas ordered by Ashoka.

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.

Hermann Kulke and Dietmar Rothermund believe that Ashoka's empire did not include large parts of India, which were controlled by autonomous tribes….

The distribution of Ashoka's inscriptions suggests that his empire included almost the entire Indian subcontinent, except its southernmost parts…. In the north-west, Ashoka's kingdom extended up to Kandahar, to the east of the Seleucid Empire ruled by Antiochus II. The capital of Ashoka's empire was Pataliputra in the Magadha region….

A legend in the Buddhist text Vamsatthapakasini states that an Ajivika ascetic invited to interpret a dream of Ashoka's mother had predicted that he would patronise Buddhism and destroy 96 heretical sects. However, such assertions are directly contradicted by Ashoka's own inscriptions. Ashoka's edicts, such as the Rock Edicts 6, 7, and 12, emphasise tolerance of all sects. Similarly, in his Rock Edict 12, Ashoka honours people of all faiths. In his inscriptions, Ashoka dedicates caves to non-Buddhist ascetics, and repeatedly states that both Brahmins and shramanas deserved respect. He also tells people "not to denigrate other sects, but to inform themselves about them".

In fact, there is no evidence that Buddhism was a state religion under Ashoka. None of Ashoka's extant edicts record his direct donations to the Buddhists….

Ashoka's various inscriptions suggest that he devoted himself to the propagation of "Dharma" (Pali: Dhamma), a term that refers to the teachings of Gautama Buddha in the Buddhist circles. However, Ashoka's own inscriptions do not mention Buddhist doctrines such as the Four Noble Truths or Nirvana. The word "Dharma" has various connotations in the Indian religions, and can be generally translated as "law, duty, or righteousness". In the Kandahar inscriptions of Ashoka, the word "Dharma" has been translated as eusebeia (Greek) and qsyt (Aramaic), which further suggests that his "Dharma" meant something more generic than Buddhism....

Ashoka instituted a new category of officers called the dhamma-mahamattas, who were tasked with the welfare of the aged, the infirm, the women and children, and various religious sects. They were also sent on diplomatic missions to the Hellenistic kingdoms of west Asia, in order to propagate the dhamma.

Historically, the image of Ashoka in the global Buddhist circles was based on legends (such as those mentioned in the Ashokavadana) rather than his rock edicts. This was because the Brahmi script in which these edicts were written was forgotten soon and remained undeciphered until its study by James Prinsep in the 19th century. The writings of the Chinese Buddhist pilgrims such as Faxian and Xuanzang suggest that Ashoka's inscriptions mark the important sites associated with Gautama Buddha. These writers attribute Buddhism-related content to Ashoka's edicts, but this content does not match with the actual text of the inscriptions as determined by modern scholars after the decipherment of the Brahmi script. It is likely that the script was forgotten by the time of Faxian, who probably relied on local guides; these guides may have made up some Buddhism-related interpretations to gratify him, or may have themselves relied on faulty translations based on oral traditions. Xuanzang may have encountered a similar situation, or may have taken the supposed content of the inscriptions from Faxian's writings. This theory is corroborated by the fact that some Brahmin scholars are known to have similarly come up with a fanciful interpretation of Ashoka pillar inscriptions, when requested to decipher them by the 14th century Muslim king Firuz Shah Tughlaq. According to Shams-i Siraj's Tarikh-i Firoz Shahi, after the king had these pillars transported from Topra and Mirat to Delhi as war trophies, these Brahmins told him that the inscriptions prophesized that nobody would be able to remove the pillars except a king named Firuz. Moreover, by this time, there were local traditions that attributed the erection of these pillars to the legendary hero Bhima….

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"….

There is obvious and undeniable trace of cultural contact through the adoption of the Kharosthi script, and, 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….

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…

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).

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.

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

Buddhist legends mention stories about Ashoka's past lives. According to a Mahavamsa story, Ashoka, Nigrodha and Devnampiya Tissa were brothers in a previous life. In that life, a pratyekabuddha was looking for honey to cure another, sick pratyekabuddha. A woman directed him to a honey shop owned by the three brothers. Ashoka generously donated honey to the pratyekabuddha, and wished to become the sovereign ruler of Jambudvipa for this act of merit. The woman wished to become his queen, and was reborn as Ashoka's wife Asandhamitta….

According to an Ashokavadana story, Ashoka was born as Jaya… he gave the Gautama Buddha dirt imagining it to be food. The Buddha approved of the donation, and Jaya declared that he would become a king by this act of merit. The text also states that Jaya's companion Vijaya was reborn as Ashoka's prime-minister Radhagupta…. The Chinese writer Pao Ch'eng's Shih chia ju lai ying hua lu asserts that an insignificant act like gifting dirt could not have been meritorious enough to cause Ashoka's future greatness. Instead, the text claims that in another past life, Ashoka commissioned a large number of Buddha statues as a king, and this act of merit caused him to become a great emperor in the next life.

The 14th century Pali-language fairy tale Dasavatthuppakarana (possibly from c. 14th century) combines the stories about the merchant's gift of honey, and the boy's gift of dirt. It narrates a slightly different version of the Mahavamsa story, stating that it took place before the birth of the Gautama Buddha. It then states that the merchant was reborn as the boy who gifted dirt to the Buddha; however, in this case, the Buddha [gave it to] his attendant Ānanda to create plaster from the dirt, which is used [to] repair cracks in the monastery walls….

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….

Ashoka probably got the idea of putting up these inscriptions from the neighbouring Achaemenid empire….

Ashoka's inscriptions have not been found at major cities of the Maurya empire, such as Pataliputra, Vidisha, Ujjayini, and Taxila…. the 7th century Chinese pilgrim Xuanzang refers to some of Ashoka's pillar edicts, which have not been discovered by modern researchers….

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:

"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.

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")…

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…. 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) [which] generally focus on moral themes [that] members of all the religions would accept….

[T]he edicts alone strongly indicate that he was a Buddhist… 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….

After Ashoka's death, the Maurya empire declined rapidly. The various Puranas provide different details about Ashoka's successors, but all agree that they had relatively short reigns. The empire seems to have weakened, fragmented, and suffered an invasion from the Bactrian Greeks….

Romila Thapar, have suggested that the extent and impact of his pacifism have been "grossly exaggerated"….

-- Ashoka, by Wikipedia


Image
A c. 1st century BCE/CE relief from Sanchi, showing Ashoka on his chariot, visiting the Nagas at Ramagrama.[1][2]
3rd Mauryan Emperor
Reign: c. 268 – c. 232 BCE[3]
Coronation: 268 BCE[3]
Founder: Chandragupta Maurya
Predecessor: Bindusara
Successor: Dasharatha
Born: c. 304 BCE, Pataliputra, Mauryan Empire (adjacent to present-day Patna, Bihar, India)
Died: 232 BCE (aged c. 71 – 72), Pataliputra, modern-day Patna, Bihar, India
Spouses: Devi (Sri Lankan tradition); Karuvaki (own inscriptions); Padmavati (North Indian tradition); Asandhimitra (Sri Lankan tradition); Tishyaraksha (Sri Lankan and North Indian tradition)
Issue: Mahendra (Sri Lankan tradition); Sanghamitra (Sri Lankan tradition); Tivala (own inscriptions); Kunala (North Indian tradition); Charumati

Dynasty: Maurya
Father: Bindusara
Mother: Subhadrangi or Dharma[note 1]

Mother of Ashoka
by Wikipedia
Accessed: 5/26/21

Mother of Ashoka
Empress consort of the Maurya Empire
Spouse: Bindusara
Issue: Ashoka; Vitashoka (according to Ashokavadana) / Tissa (according to Mahavamsa)
Dynasty: Maurya
Father: A Brahmin of Champa (according to Ashokavadana)
Religion: Ajivika (according to Mahavamsa-tika)

The information about mother of Ashoka (c. 3rd century BCE), the Maurya emperor of ancient India, varies between different sources.

Name

The various Buddhist texts provide different names for Ashoka's mother:

• Subhadrangi, in Asokavadanamala[1][2]
• Dharma (Pali: Dhamma), in Vamsatthapakasini or Mahavamsa-tika, a 10th century commentary on Mahavamsa[2]
• Janapada-kalyani, in a Divyavadana legend;[3] according to scholar Ananda W. P. Guruge, this is not a name, but an epithet.[1]

Ancestry

Ashokavadana, which does not mention Ashoka's mother by name,[4] states that she was the daughter of a Brahmin from Champa.[5] According to the Mahavamsa-tika, she belonged to the Moriya Kshatriya clan.[2]

According to the 2nd century historian Appian, Ashoka's grandfather Chandragupta entered into a marital alliance with the Greek ruler Seleucus I Nicator, which has led to speculation that Ashoka's father Bindusara (or Chandragupta himself) 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.[6]

Ashokavadana legend

The Ashokavadana legend about Ashoka's mother goes like this: She was the daughter of a Brahmin from the Champa city near the Mauryan capital Pataliputra. She was extremely beautiful, and some unnamed fortune-tellers predicted that she would marry a king. They also prophesized that she would bear two sons, one of whom will become a chakravartin (universal) king, while the other would be religiously-inclined. Accordingly, her father took her to Pataliputra, and offered him in marriage to king Bindusara.[7][8]

Bindusara considered the woman an auspicious celestial maiden, and inducted her into his harem. The king's concubines, who were jealous of her beauty, did not let her sleep with the king, and instead trained her as a barber. She soon became an expert barber, and whenever she groomed the king's hair and beard, the king would become relaxed and fall asleep. Pleased with her, the king promised to grant her one wish, to which she asked the king to have intercourse with her. The king stated that he was a Kshatriya (member of the warrior class), and would not sleep with a low-class barber girl. The girl explained that she was the daughter of a Brahmin (a member of the high priestly class), and had been made a barber by the other women in the harem. The king then told her not to work as a barber, and made her his chief queen.[9]

After some time, she gave birth to a boy. She named the child Ashoka, because she had become "without sorrow" (a-shoka) when he was born. Later, she gave birth to a second son. She named the child Vitashoka, because her sorrow had ceased (vigate-shoke) when he was born.[9]


Mahavamsa-tika legend

According to the Mahavamsa-tika, Ashoka's mother - named Dhamma - was a devotee of the Ajivika sect. During her pregnancy, she once said that she wanted to "trample on the moon and the sun to play with the stars and to eat up the forests". Based on an interpretation of this wish, an Ajivika ascetic predicted that her son would conquer and rule over entire India, destroy 96 heretical sects, and promote Buddhism. The ascetic also predicted that the son would kill his brothers for displeasing him (the text later states that Ashoka killed 99 out of his 100 brothers).[10]

References

1. Ananda W. P. Guruge 1993, p. 19.
2. Radhakumud Mookerji 1962, p. 2.
3. Upinder Singh 2008, p. 332.
4. Nayanjot Lahiri 2015, p. 323:"In the Ashokavadana, Ashoka's mother is not named."
5. John S. Strong 1989, pp. 204-205.
6. Romila Thapar 1961, p. 20.
7. John S. Strong 1989, p. 204.
8. Nayanjot Lahiri 2015, pp. 31-32.
9. John S. Strong 1989, p. 205.
10. Romila Thapar 1961, p. 26.
11. Playing onscreen mother was a challenge: Pallavi Subhash, IBN Live, 31 January 2015, archived from the original on 2 February 2015

Bibliography

• Ananda W. P. Guruge (1993). Aśoka, the Righteous: A Definitive Biography. Central Cultural Fund. ISBN 978-955-9226-00-0.
• John S. Strong (1989). The Legend of King Aśoka: A Study and Translation of the Aśokāvadāna. Motilal Banarsidass. ISBN 978-81-208-0616-0. Retrieved 30 October 2012.
• Nayanjot Lahiri (5 August 2015). Ashoka in Ancient India. Harvard University Press. ISBN 978-0-674-05777-7.
• Radhakumud Mookerji (1962). Aśoka (3rd revised ed.). Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass. ISBN 978-81-208-0582-8.
• Upinder Singh (2008). A History of Ancient and Early Medieval India: From the Stone Age to the 12th Century. Pearson Education India. ISBN 978-81-317-1120-0.
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Religion: Buddhism

Ashoka [x] ; Brāhmi: [x], Asoka,[4] IAST: Aśoka), also known as 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.[5][6] A grandson of the dynasty's founder 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),[7] which he conquered in about 260 BCE.[8] According to an interpretation of his Edicts, he converted to Buddhism[7] 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.[9] 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.[10]

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 "Aśoka" means "painless, without sorrow" (the a privativum and śoka, "pain, distress"). In his edicts, he is referred to as Devānāmpriya (Pali Devānaṃpiya or "the Beloved of the Gods"), and Priyadarśin or Priyadarshi (Pali Piyadasī or "He who regards everyone with affection").

Until about a hundred years ago in India, Ashoka was merely one of the many kings mentioned in the Mauryan dynastic list included in the Puranas. Elsewhere in the Buddhist tradition he was referred to as a chakravartin/ cakkavatti, a universal monarch, but this tradition had become extinct in India after the decline of Buddhism. However, in 1837, James Prinsep deciphered an inscription written in the earliest Indian script since the Harappan, brahmi. There were many inscriptions in which the King referred to himself as Devanampiya Piyadassi (the beloved of the gods, Piyadassi). The name did not tally with any mentioned in the dynastic lists, although it was mentioned in the Buddhist chronicles of Sri Lanka. Slowly the clues were put together but the final confirmation came in 1915, with the discovery of yet another version of the edicts in which the King calls himself Devanampiya Ashoka.

-- The Penguin History of Early India: From the Origins to A.D. 1300, by Romila Thapar

In a study of the Mauryan period a sudden flood of source material becomes available. Whereas with earlier periods of Indian history there is a frantic search to glean evidence from sources often far removed and scattered, with the Mauryan period there is a comparative abundance of information, from sources either contemporary or written at a later date.

This is particularly the case with the reign of Aśoka Maurya, since, apart from the unintentional evidence of sources such as religious literature, coins, etc., the edicts of the king himself, inscribed on rocks and pillars throughout the country, are available.
These consist of fourteen major rock edicts located at Kālsi, Mānsehrā, Shahbāzgarhi, Girnār, Sopārā, Yeṟṟaguḍi, Dhauli, and Jaugaḍa; and a number of minor rock edicts and inscriptions at Bairāṭ, Rūpanāth, Sahasrām, Brahmagiri, Gāvimath, Jaṭiṅga-Rāmeshwar, Maski, Pālkīguṇḍu, Rajūla-Maṇḍagiri, Siddāpura, Yeṟṟaguḍi, Gujarra and Jhansi. Seven pillar edicts exist at Allahabad, Delhi-Toprā, Delhi-Meerut, Lauriyā-Ararāja, Lauriyā-Nandangarh, and Rāmpūrvā. Other inscriptions have been found at the Barābar Caves (three inscriptions), Rummindei, Nigali-Sāgar, Allahabad, Sanchi, Sārnāth, and Bairāṭ. Recently a minor inscription in Greek and Aramaic was found at Kandahar.

The importance of these inscriptions could not be appreciated until it was ascertained to whom the title ‘Piyadassi’ referred, since the edicts generally do not mention the name of any king; an exception to this being the Maski edict, which was not discovered until very much later in 1915. The earliest publication on this subject was by Prinsep, who was responsible for deciphering the edicts. At first Prinsep identified Devanampiya Piyadassi with a king of Ceylon, owing to the references to Buddhism. There were of course certain weaknesses in this identification, as for instance the question of how a king of Ceylon could order the digging of wells and the construction of roads in India, which the author of the edicts claims to have done. Later in the same year, 1837, the Dīpavaṃsa and the Mahāvaṃsa, two of the early chronicles of the history of Ceylon, composed by Buddhist monks, were studied in Ceylon, and Prinsep was informed of the title of Piyadassi given to Aśoka in those works. This provided the link for the new and correct identification of Aśoka as the author of the edicts.


-- Asoka and the Decline of the Mauryas, by Romila Thapar

Legends about past lives

Buddhist legends mention stories about Ashoka's past lives. According to a Mahavamsa story, Ashoka, Nigrodha and Devnampiya Tissa were brothers in a previous life. In that life, a pratyekabuddha was looking for honey to cure another, sick pratyekabuddha. A woman directed him to a honey shop owned by the three brothers. Ashoka generously donated honey to the pratyekabuddha, and wished to become the sovereign ruler of Jambudvipa for this act of merit. The woman wished to become his queen, and was reborn as Ashoka's wife Asandhamitta....

According to an Ashokavadana story, Ashoka was born as Jaya in a prominent family of Rajagriha. When he was a little boy, he gave the Gautama Buddha dirt imagining it to be food. The Buddha approved of the donation, and Jaya declared that he would become a king by this act of merit. The text also state that Jaya's companion Vijaya was reborn as Ashoka's prime-minister Radhagupta. In the later life, the Buddhist monk Upagupta tells Ashoka that his rough skin was caused by the impure gift of dirt in the previous life. Some later texts repeat this story, without mentioning the negative implications of gifting dirt; these texts include Kumaralata's Kalpana-manditika, Aryashura's Jataka-mala, and the Maha-karma-vibhaga. The Chinese writer Pao Ch'eng's Shih chia ju lai ying hua lu asserts that an insignificant act like gifting dirt could not have been meritorious enough to cause Ashoka's future greatness. Instead, the text claims that in another past life, Ashoka commissioned a large number of Buddha statues as a king, and this act of merit caused him to become a great emperor in the next life....


Rediscovery

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:
"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

-- Ashoka, by Wikipedia

[I would like at this point to pay belated acknowledgement to my respected friend and colleague, Karl Khandalawala, which whom I have sometimes expressed differences of interpretation, in this case in opposing his view (which on hindsight appears to be entirely correct) that the Sarnath pillar reveals the influences of foreign (Achaemenid) influence.... A further issue reflecting his correctness is embodied in the self-styled title Asoka used as the opening words of many of his inscriptions (Devanampiya Piyadassi), often translated as 'Beloved of the Gods." A century ago, this term was rightly recognised by the brilliant French Indologist Emile Senart, as borrowed from earlier Achaemenid inscriptions in Persia, yet since then ignored by all authorities writing on Asoka in English.]

-- The True Chronology of Aśokan Pillars, by John Irwin

[The Mahavamsa] is very important in dating the consecration of the Maurya Emperor Ashoka…

The Mahavamsa first came to the attention of Western readers around 1809 CE, when Sir Alexander Johnston, Chief Justice of the British colony in Ceylon, sent manuscripts of it and other Sri Lankan chronicles to Europe for publication. Eugène Burnouf produced a Romanized transliteration and translation into Latin in 1826... Working from Johnston's manuscripts, Edward Upham published an English translation in 1833, but it was marked by a number of errors in translation and interpretation, among them suggesting that the Buddha was born in Sri Lanka and built a monastery atop Adam's Peak. The first printed edition and widely read English translation was published in 1837 by George Turnour, an historian and officer of the Ceylon Civil Service…

Early Western scholars like Otto Franke dismissed the possibility that the Mahavamsa contained reliable historical content…

The Chinese pilgrims Fa Hsien and Hsuan Tsang both recorded myths of the origins of the Sinhala people in their travels that varied significantly from the versions recorded in the Mahavamsa…

[T]he genealogy of the Buddha recorded in the Mahavamsa describes him as being the product of four cross cousin marriages. Cross-cousin marriage is associated historically with the Dravidian people of southern India -- both Sri Lankan Tamils and Sinhala practiced cross-cousin marriage historically -- but exogamous marriage was the norm in the regions of northern India associated with the life of the Buddha. No mention of cross-cousin marriage is found in earlier Buddhist sources…

The Mahavamsa is believed to have originated from an earlier chronicle known as the Dipavamsa... The Dipavamsa is much simpler and contains less information than the Mahavamsa.


-- Mahavamsa, by Wikipedia

In the meantime, Sinha-bahu and Sinhasivali, as king and queen of the kingdom of Lala (Lata), "gave birth to twin sons, sixteen times." The eldest was Vijaya and the second was Sumitta. As Vijaya was of cruel and unseemly conduct, the enraged people requested the king to kill his son. But the king caused him and his seven hundred followers to leave the kingdom, and they landed in Sri Lanka, at a place called Tamba-panni, on the exact day when the Buddha passed into Maha Parinibbana.

The Dipavamsa was translated into English by Hermann Oldenberg in 1879.


-- Dipavamsa, by Wikipedia

His fondness for a tree is the reason for his name being connected to the "Ashoka tree" or Polyalthia longifolia, and this is 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."[11]

Sources of information

Information about Ashoka comes from his own inscriptions; other inscriptions that mention him or are possibly from his reign; and ancient literature, especially Buddhist texts.[12] These sources often contradict each other, although various historians have attempted to correlate their testimony.[13] Plenty is known or not known, and so, for example, while Ashoka is often attributed with building many hospitals during his time, there is no clear evidence any hospitals existed in ancient India during the 3rd century BC or that Ashoka was responsible for commissioning the construction of any.[14]

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

Inscriptions

Ashoka's own inscriptions are the earliest self-representations of an imperial power in the Indian subcontinent.[15] However, these inscriptions are focused mainly on the topic of dhamma, and provide little information regarding other aspects of the Maurya state and society.[13] Even on the topic of dhamma, the content of these inscriptions cannot be taken at face value: in words of American academic John S. Strong, it is sometimes useful to think of Ashoka's messages as propaganda by a politician whose aim is to present a favourable image of himself and his administration, rather than record historical facts.[16]

A small number of other inscriptions also provide some information about Ashoka.[13] For example, he finds a mention in the 2nd century Junagadh rock inscription of Rudradaman.[17] An inscription discovered at Sirkap mentions a lost word beginning with "Priy", which is theorised to be Ashoka's title "Priyadarshi", although this is not certain.[18] Some other inscriptions, such as the Sohgaura copper plate inscription, have been tentatively dated to Ashoka's period by a section of scholars, although this is contested by others.[19]

Buddhist legends

Much of the information about Ashoka comes from Buddhist legends, which present him as a great, ideal king.[20] These legends appear in texts that are not contemporary to Ashoka, and were composed by Buddhist authors, who used various stories to illustrate the impact of their faith on Ashoka. This makes it necessary to exercise caution while relying on them for historical information.[21] Among modern scholars, opinions range from downright dismissal of these legends as mythological to acceptance of all historical portions that seem plausible.[22]

The Buddhist legends about Ashoka exist in several languages, including Sanskrit, Pali, Tibetan, Chinese, Burmese, Sinhala, Thai, Lao, and Khotanese. All these legends can be traced to two primary traditions:[23]

• the North Indian tradition preserved in the Sanskrit-language texts such as Divyavadana (including its constituent Ashokavadana); and Chinese sources such as A-yü wang chuan and A-yü wang ching.[23]
• the Sri Lankan tradition preserved in Pali-language texts, such as Dipavamsa, Mahavamsa, Vamsatthapakasini (a commentary on Mahavamsa), Buddhaghosha's commentary on the Vinaya, and Samanta-pasadika.[23][17]

There are several major differences between the two traditions. For example, the Sri Lankan tradition emphasises Ashoka's role in convening the Third Buddhist council, and his dispatch of several missionaries to distant regions, including his son Mahinda to Sri Lanka.[23] However, the North Indian tradition makes no mention of these events, and describes other events not found in the Sri Lankan tradition, such as a story about another son named Kunala.[24]

Even while narrating the common stories, the two traditions diverge in several ways. For example, both Ashokavadana and Mahavamsa mention that Ashoka's queen Tishyarakshita had the Bodhi Tree destroyed. In Ashokavadana, the queen manages to have the tree healed after she realises her mistake. In the Mahavamsa, she permanently destroys the tree, but only after a branch of the tree has been transplanted in Sri Lanka.[25] In another story, both the texts describe Ashoka's unsuccessful attempts to collect a relic of Gautama Buddha from Ramagrama. In Ashokavadana, he fails to do so because he cannot match the devotion of the Nagas who hold the relic; however, in the Mahavamsa, he fails to do so because the Buddha had destined the relic to be enshrined by king Dutthagamani of Sri Lanka.[26] Using such stories, the Mahavamsa glorifies Sri Lanka as the new preserve of Buddhism.[27]


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

Other sources

Numismatic, sculptural, and archaeological evidence supplements research on Ashoka.[28] Ashoka's name appears in the lists of Mauryan kings in the various Puranas, but these texts do not provide further details about him, as their Brahmanical authors were not patronised by the Mauryans.[29] Other texts, such as the Arthashastra and Indica of Megasthenes, which provide general information about the Maurya period, can also be used to make inferences about Ashoka's reign.[30] However, the Arthashastra is a normative text that focuses on an ideal rather than a historical state, and its dating to the Mauryan period is a subject of debate. The Indica is a lost work, and only parts of it survive in form of paraphrases in later writings.[13]
The 12th-century text Rajatarangini mentions a Kashmiri king Ashoka of Gonandiya dynasty who built several stupas: some scholars, such as Aurel Stein, have identified this king with the Maurya king Ashoka; others, such as Ananda W. P. Guruge dismiss this identification as inaccurate.[31]



Alternative interpretation of the epigraphic evidence

The Edicts and their declared authors

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Edicts in the name of Piyadasi or Devanampiya Piyadasi ("King Piyadasi"):
* Major Rock Edicts
* Major Pillar Edicts

Image
Edicts in the name of Ashoka or just "Devanampiya" ("King"), or both together:
*Minor Rock Edicts
*Minor Pillar Edicts

The different areas covered by the two types of inscriptions, and their different content in respect to Buddhism, may point to different rulers.[32]


For some scholars such as Christopher I. Beckwith, Ashoka, whose name only appears in the Minor Rock Edicts, should be differentiated from the ruler Piyadasi, or Devanampiya Piyadasi (i.e. "Beloved of the Gods Piyadasi", "Beloved of the Gods" being a fairly widespread title for "King"), who is named as the author of the Major Pillar Edicts and the Major Rock Edicts.[32] This inscriptional evidence may suggest that these were two different rulers.[32] According to him, Piyadasi was living in the 3rd century BCE, probably the son of Chandragupta Maurya known to the Greeks as Amitrochates, and only advocating for piety ("Dharma") in his Major Pillar Edicts and Major Rock Edicts, without ever mentioning Buddhism, the Buddha or the Samgha.[32] Also, the geographical spread of his inscription shows that Piyadasi ruled a vast Empire, contiguous with the Seleucid Empire in the West.[32]

On the contrary, for Beckwith, Ashoka was a later king of the 1st–2nd century CE, whose name only appears explicitly in the Minor Rock Edicts and allusively in the Minor Pillar Edicts, and who does mention the Buddha and the Samgha, explicitly promoting Buddhism.[32] His inscriptions cover a very different and much smaller geographical area, clustering in Central India.[32] According to Beckwith, the inscriptions of this later Ashoka were typical of the later forms of "normative Buddhism", which are well attested from inscriptions and Gandhari manuscripts dated to the turn of the millennium, and around the time of the Kushan Empire.[32] The quality of the inscriptions of this Ashoka is significantly lower than the quality of the inscriptions of the earlier Piyadasi.[32]

[I would like at this point to pay belated acknowledgement to my respected friend and colleague, Karl Khandalawala, which whom I have sometimes expressed differences of interpretation, in this case in opposing his view (which on hindsight appears to be entirely correct) that the Sarnath pillar reveals the influences of foreign (Achaemenid) influence. I hope this eminent art historian will now accept my personal apology and withdrawal. On this particular issue I am ready to admit that he was right, though I reserve my differences on other issues involving Asokan pillars. A further issue reflecting his correctness is embodied in the self-styled title Asoka used as the opening words of many of his inscriptions (Devanampiya Piyadassi), often translated as 'Beloved of the Gods." A century ago, this term was rightly recognised by the brilliant French Indologist Emile Senart, as borrowed from earlier Achaemenid inscriptions in Persia, yet since then ignored by all authorities writing on Asoka in English.]

-- The True Chronology of Aśokan Pillars, by John Irwin

Names and titles

Names and titles of Ashoka

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"Devānampiyasa Asoka", in the Maski Edict of Ashoka.

Image
The name "Asoka" ([x] A-so-ka) in the Maski Minor Rock Edict.

Image
Ashoka's title "Devanaṃpiyena Piyadasi" ([x]) 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.[33]

The name Priyadasi is associated with Ashoka in the 3rd–4th century CE Dipavamsa.[34][35] 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.[36]

Ashoka's inscriptions mention his title Devanampiya (Sanskrit: Devanampriya, "Beloved of the Gods"). The identification of Devanampiya and Ashoka as the same person is established by the Maski and Gujarra inscriptions, which use both these terms for the king.[37][38] The title was adopted by other kings, including the contemporary king Devanampiya Tissa of Anuradhapura and Ashoka's descendant Dasharatha Maurya.[39]

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.[40] While these legends include obviously fictitious details such as narratives of Ashoka's past lives, they include some plausible historical details about Ashoka's period.[40][41]

Date

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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.

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 the 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).[42] Thus, Ashoka must have been born sometime in the late 4th century BCE or early 3rd century BCE (c. 304 BCE),[43]

Pataliputra at the time of Ashoka

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Ruins of pillared hall at Kumrahar site at Pataliputra.

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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.


Ancestry

Ashoka's own inscriptions are fairly detailed, but make no mention of his ancestors.[44] 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.[45] The Ashokavadana also names his father as Bindusara, but traces his ancestry to Buddha's contemporary king Bimbisara, through Ajatashatru, Udayin, Munda, Kakavarnin, Sahalin, Tulakuchi, Mahamandala, Prasenajit, and Nanda.[46] The 16th century Tibetan monk Taranatha, whose account is a distorted version of the earlier traditions,[30] describes Ashoka as the illegitimate son of king Nemita of Champarana from the daughter of a merchant.[47]

Ashokavadana states that Ashoka's mother was the daughter of a Brahmin from Champa, and was prophesized to marry a king. Accordingly, her father took her to Pataliputra, where she was inducted into Bindusara's harem, and ultimately, became his chief queen.[48] The Ashokavadana does not mention her by name,[49] although other legends provide different names for her.[50] For example, the Asokavadanamala calls her Subhadrangi.[51][52] 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.[52] A Divyavadana legend calls her Janapada-kalyani;[41] according to scholar Ananda W. P. Guruge, this is not a name, but an epithet.[51]

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.[53]

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 assemble 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 to provide the prince a royal elephant for the travel.[54] At the Garden, Pingala-vatsajiva examined the princes and realised 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.[55]

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.[56] Another possibility is that he sent Ashoka to distant regions to keep him away from the imperial capital.[57]

Rebellion at Takshashila

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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[58] (present-day Bhir Mound[59]). This episode is not mentioned in the Sri Lankan tradition, which instead states that Bindusara sent Ashoka to govern Ujjain. Two other Buddhist texts – Ashoka-sutra and Kunala-sutra – state that Bindusara appointed Ashoka as a viceroy in Gandhara (where Takshashila was located), not Ujjain.[56]

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 on to conquer the whole earth.[58]

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.[60] However, no extant contemporary source mentions the Takshashila rebellion, and none of Ashoka's own records state that he ever visited the city.[61] That said, the historicity of the legend about Ashoka's involvement in the Takshashila rebellion may be corroborated by an Aramaic-language inscription discovered at Sirkap near Taxila. The inscription includes a name that begins with the letters "prydr", and most scholars restore it as "Priyadarshi", which was a title of Ashoka.[56] 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").[62]

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.[63]

Governor of Ujjain

According to the Mahavamsa, Bindusara appointed Ashoka as the viceroy of present-day Ujjain (Ujjeni),[56] which was an important administrative and commercial centre in the Avanti province of central India.[64] This tradition is corroborated by the Saru Maru inscription discovered in central India; this inscription states that he visited the place as a prince.[65]

In the main cave were found two inscriptions of Ashoka: a version of the Minor Rock Edict n°1, one of the Edicts of Ashoka, and another inscription mentioning the visit of Piyadasi: ...

"The king, who (now after consecration) is called "Piyadasi", (once) came to this place for a pleasure tour while still a (ruling) prince, living together with his unwedded consort."

-- Saru Maru, by Wikipedia


Ashoka's own rock edict mentions the presence of a prince viceroy at Ujjain during his reign,[66] which further supports the tradition that he himself served as a viceroy at Ujjain.[67]

Image
The Saru Maru commemorative inscription seems to mention the presence of Ashoka [Piyadassi!] 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.[68]

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.[69] 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.[70]

The Mahavamsa states that Devi gave birth to Ashoka's son Mahinda in Ujjain, and two years later, to a daughter named Sanghamitta.[71] 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.[72]

Ascension to the throne

Legends suggest that Ashoka was not the crown prince, and his ascension on the throne was disputed.[73]
Ashokavadana states that Bindusara's eldest son Susima once slapped a bald minister on his head in jest. The minister worried that after ascending the throne, Susima may jokingly hurt him with a sword. Therefore, he instigated five hundred ministers to support Ashoka's claim to the throne when the time came, noting that Ashoka was predicted to become a chakravartin (universal ruler).[74] Sometime later, Takshashila rebelled again, and Bindusara dispatched Susima to curb the rebellion. Shortly after, Bindusara fell ill, and expected to die soon. Susima was still in Takshashila, having been unsuccessful in suppressing the rebellion. Bindusara recalled him to the capital, and asked Ashoka to march to Takshashila.[75] However, the ministers told him that Ashoka was ill, and suggested that he temporarily install Ashoka on the throne until Susmia's return from Takshashila.[74] When Bindusara refused to do so, Ashoka declared that if the throne was rightfully his, the gods would crown him as the next king. At that instance, the gods did so, Bindusara died, and Ashoka's authority extended to the entire world, including the Yaksha territory located above the earth, and the Naga territory located below the earth.[75] When Susima returned to the capital, Ashoka's newly appointed prime minister Radhagupta tricked him into a pit of charcoal. Susima died a painful death, and his general Bhadrayudha became a Buddhist monk.[76]

The Mahavamsa states that when Bindusara fell sick, Ashoka returned to Pataliputra from Ujjain, and gained control of the capital. After his father's death, Ashoka had his eldest brother killed, and ascended the throne.[70] The text also states that Ashoka killed ninety-nine of his half-brothers, including Sumana.[66] The Dipavamsa states that he killed a hundred of his brothers, and was crowned four years later.[74] The Vamsatthapakasini adds that an Ajivika ascetic had predicted this massacre based on the interpretation of a dream of Ashoka's mother.[77] According to these accounts, only Ashoka's uterine brother Tissa was spared.[78] Other sources name the surviving brother Vitashoka, Vigatashoka, Sudatta (So-ta-to in A-yi-uang-chuan), or Sugatra (Siu-ka-tu-lu in Fen-pie-kung-te-hun).[78]

The figures such as 99 and 100 are exaggerated, and seem to be a way of stating that Ashoka killed several of his brothers.[74] Taranatha states that Ashoka, who was an illegitimate son of his predecessor, killed six legitimate princes to ascend the throne.[47] It is possible that Ashoka was not the rightful heir to the throne, and killed a brother (or brothers) to acquire the throne. However, the story has obviously been exaggerated by the Buddhist sources, which attempt to portray him as an evil person before his conversion to Buddhism. Ashoka's Rock Edict No. 5 mentions officers whose duties include supervising the welfare of "the families of his brothers, sisters, and other relatives". This suggests that more than one of his brothers survived his ascension, although some scholars oppose this suggestion, arguing that the inscription talks only about the families of his brothers, not the brothers themselves.[78]

Date of ascension

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.[79] The date of the Buddha's death is itself a matter of debate,[80] and the North Indian tradition states that Ashoka ruled a hundred years after the Buddha's death, which has led to further debates about the date.[24]

Assuming that the Sri Lankan tradition is correct, and assuming that the Buddha died in 483 BCE – a date proposed by several scholars – Ashoka must have ascended the throne in 265 BCE.[80] The Puranas state that Ashoka's father Bindusara reigned for 25 years, not 28 years as specified in the Sri Lankan tradition.[45] 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.[80] The Mahavamsa states that Ashoka consecrated himself as the king four years after becoming a sovereign. This interregnum can be explained assuming that he fought a war of succession with other sons of Bindusara during these four years.[81]

The Ashokavadana contains a story about Ashoka's minister Yashas hiding the sun with his hand. Professor P. H. L. Eggermont theorised that this story was a reference to a partial solar eclipse that was seen in northern India on 4 May 249 BCE.[82] 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 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.[80][42] 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 literary and religious context of the legend.[83]

Reign before Buddhist influence

Both Sri Lankan and north Indian traditions assert that Ashoka was a violent person before his conversion to Buddhism.[84] Taranatha also states that Ashoka was initially called "Kamashoka" because he spent many years in pleasurable pursuits (kama); he was then called "Chandashoka" ("Ashoka the fierce"), because he spent some years performing extremely wicked deeds; and finally, he came to be known as Dhammashoka ("Ashoka the righteous") after his conversion to Buddhism.[85]

The Ashokavadana also calls him "Chandashoka", and describes several of his cruel acts:[86]

• The ministers who had helped him ascend the throne started treating him with contempt after his ascension. To test their loyalty, Ashoka gave them the absurd order of cutting down every flower-and fruit-bearing tree. When they failed to carry out this order, Ashoka personally cut off the heads of 500 ministers.[86]
• One day, during a stroll at a park, Ashoka and his concubines came across a beautiful Ashoka tree. The sight put him in a sensual mood, but the women did not enjoy caressing his rough skin. Sometime later, when Ashoka fell asleep, the resentful women chopped the flowers and the branches of his namesake tree. After Ashoka woke up, he burnt 500 of his concubines to death as a punishment.
[87]
• Alarmed by the king's personal involvement in such massacres, the prime minister Radha-gupta proposed hiring an executioner to carry out future mass killings, so as to leave the king unsullied. Girika, a Magadha village boy who boasted that he could execute the whole of Jambudvipa, was hired for the purpose. He came to be known as Chandagirika ("Girika the fierce"), and on his request, Ashoka built a jail in Pataliputra.[87] Called Ashoka's Hell, the jail looked lovely from outside, but inside it, Girika brutally tortured the prisoners.[88]

The 5th century Chinese traveller Faxian states that Ashoka personally visited the underworld to study the methods of torture there, and then invented his own methods. The 7th century traveller Xuanzang claims to have seen a pillar marking the site of Ashoka's "Hell".[85]

The Mahavamsa also briefly alludes to Ashoka's cruelty, stating that Ashoka was earlier called Chandashoka because of his evil deeds, but came to be called Dharmashoka because of his pious acts after his conversion to Buddhism.[89] However, unlike the north Indian tradition, the Sri Lankan texts do not mention any specific evil deeds performed by Ashoka, except his killing of 99 of his brothers.[84]

Such descriptions of Ashoka as an evil person before his conversion to Buddhism appear to be a fabrication of the Buddhist authors,[85] who attempted to present the change that Buddhism brought to him as a miracle.[84] In an attempt to dramatise this change, such legends exaggerate Ashoka's past wickedness and his piousness after the conversion.[90]

Kalinga war and conversion to Buddhism

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Kanaganahalli inscribed panel portraying Asoka with Brahmi label "King Asoka", 1st–3rd century CE.[91]

Ashoka's own inscriptions mention that he conquered the Kalinga region during his 8th regnal year: the destruction caused during the war made him repent violence, and in the subsequent years, he was drawn towards Buddhism.[92] 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.[93]


On the other hand, the Sri Lankan tradition suggests that Ashoka was already a devoted Buddhist by his 8th regnal year, having converted to Buddhism during his 4th regnal year, and having constructed 84,000 viharas during his 5th–7th regnal years.[92] The Buddhist legends make no mention of the Kalinga campaign.[94]

Based on Sri Lankan tradition, some scholars – such as Eggermont – believe that Ashoka converted to Buddhism before the Kalinga war.[95] Critics of this theory argue that if Ashoka was already a Buddhist, he would not have waged the violent Kalinga War. Eggermont explains this anamoly by theorising that Ashoka had his own interpretation of the "Middle Way".[96]

Some earlier writers believed that Ashoka dramatically converted to Buddhism after seeing the suffering caused by the war, since his Major Rock Edict 13 states that he became closer to the dhamma after the annexation of Kalinga.[94] However, even if Ashoka converted to Buddhism after the war, epigraphic evidence suggests that his conversion was a gradual process rather than a dramatic event.[94] For example, in a Minor Rock Edict issued during his 13th regnal year (five years after the Kalinga campaign), he states that he had been an upasaka (lay Buddhist) for more than two and a half years, but did not make much progress; in the past year, he was drawn closer to the sangha, and became a more ardent follower.[94]

The war

According to Ashoka's Major Rock Edict 13, he conquered Kalinga 8 years after his ascension to the throne. The edict states that during his conquest of Kalinga, 100,000 men and animals were killed in action; many times that number "perished"; and 150,000 men and animals were carried away from Kalinga as captives. Ashoka states that the repentance of these sufferings caused him to devote himself to the practice and propagation of dharma.[97] He proclaims that he now considered the slaughter, death and deportation caused during the conquest of a country painful and deplorable; and that he considered the suffering caused to the religious people and householders even more deplorable.[97]

This edict has been found inscribed at several places, including Erragudi, Girnar, Kalsi, Maneshra, Shahbazgarhi and Kandahar.[98] However, [it] is omitted in Ashoka's inscriptions found in the Kalinga region, where the Rock Edicts 13 and 14 have been replaced by two separate edicts that make no mention of Ashoka's remorse. It is possible that Ashoka did not consider it politically appropriate to make such a confession to the people of Kalinga.[99] Another possibility is the Kalinga war and its consequences, as described in Ashoka's rock edicts, are "more imaginary than real": this description is meant to impress those far removed from the scene, and thus, unable to verify its accuracy.
[100]

Ancient sources do not mention any other military activity of Ashoka, although the 16th century writer Taranatha claims that Ashoka conquered the entire Jambudvipa.[95]

First contact with Buddhism

Different sources give different accounts of Ashoka's conversion to Buddhism.[85]

According to Sri Lankan tradition, Ashoka's father Bindusara was a devotee of Brahmanism, and his mother Dharma was a devotee of Ajivikas.[101] The Samantapasadika states that Ashoka followed non-Buddhist sects during the first three years of his reign.[102] The Sri Lankan texts add that Ashoka was not happy with the behaviour of the Brahmins who received his alms daily. His courtiers produced some Ajivika and Nigantha teachers before him, but these also failed to impress him.[103]

The Dipavamsa states that Ashoka invited several non-Buddhist religious leaders to his palace, and bestowed great gifts upon them in hope that they would be able to answer a question posed by the king. The text does not state what the question was, but mentions that none of the invitees were able to answer it.[104] One day, Ashoka saw a young Buddhist monk called Nigrodha (or Nyagrodha), who was looking for alms on a road in Pataliputra.[104] He was the king's nephew, although the king was not aware of this:[105] he was a posthumous son of Ashoka's eldest brother Sumana, whom Ashoka had killed during the conflict for the throne.[106] Ashoka was impressed by Nigrodha's tranquil and fearless appearance, and asked him to teach him his faith. In response, Nigrodha offered him a sermon on appamada (earnestness).[104] Impressed by the sermon, Ashoka offered Nigrodha 400,000 silver coins and 8 daily portions of rice.[107] The king became a Buddhist upasaka, and started visiting the Kukkutarama shrine at Pataliputra. At the temple, he met the Buddhist monk Moggaliputta Tissa, and became more devoted to the Buddhist faith.[103] The veracity of this story is not certain.[107] This legend about Ashoka's search for a worthy teacher may be aimed at explaining why Ashoka did not adopt Jainism, another major contemporary faith that advocates non-violence and compassion. The legend suggests that Ashoka was not attracted to Buddhism because he was looking for such a faith, rather, for a competent spiritual teacher.[108] The Sri Lankan tradition adds that during his 6th regnal year, Ashoka's son Mahinda became a Buddhist monk, and his daughter became a Buddhist nun.[109]

A story in Divyavadana attributes Ashoka's conversion to the Buddhist monk Samudra, who was an ex-merchant from Shravasti. According to this account, Samudra was imprisoned in Ashoka's "Hell", but saved himself using his miraculous powers. When Ashoka heard about this, he visited the monk, and was further impressed by a series of miracles performed by the monk. He then became a Buddhist.[110] A story in the Ashokavadana states that Samudra was a merchant's son, and was a 12-year-old boy when he met Ashoka; this account seems to be influenced by the Nigrodha story.[95]

The A-yu-wang-chuan states that a 7-year-old Buddhist converted Ashoka. Another story claims that the young boy ate 500 Brahmanas who were harassing Ashoka for being interested in Buddhism; these Brahmanas later miraculously turned into Buddhist bhikkus at the Kukkutarama monastery, where Ashoka paid a visit.[110]

Several Buddhist establishments existed in various parts of India by the time of Ashoka's ascension. It is not clear which branch of the Buddhist sangha influenced him, but the one at his capital Pataliputra is a good candidate.[111] Another good candidate is the one at Mahabodhi: the Major Rock Edict 8 records his visit to the Bodhi Tree – the place of Buddha's enlightenment at Mahabodhi – after his 10th regnal year, and the minor rock edict issued during his 13th regnal year suggests that he had become a Buddhist around the same time.[111][94]
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Reign after Buddhist influence

Construction of Stupas and Temples


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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.

Both Mahavamsa and Ashokavadana state that Ashoka constructed 84,000 stupas or viharas.[112] According to the Mahavamsa, this activity took place during his 5th–7th regnal years.[109]

The Ashokavadana states that Ashoka collected seven out of the eight relics of Gautama Buddha, and had their portions kept in 84,000 boxes made of gold, silver, cat's eye, and crystal. He ordered the construction of 84,000 stupas throughout the earth, in towns that had a population of 100,000 or more. He told Elder Yashas, a monk at the Kukkutarama monastery, that he wanted these stupas to be completed on the same day. Yashas stated that he would signal the completion time by eclipsing the sun with his hand. When he did so, the 84,000 stupas were completed at once.[26]

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Illustration of the original Mahabodhi Temple temple built by Asoka at Bodh Gaya. At the center, the Vajrasana, or "Enlightenment Throne of the Buddha", with its supporting columns, being the object of adoration. A Pillar of Ashoka topped by an elephant appears in the right corner. Bharhut relief, 1st century BCE.[113]

Image
The rediscovered Vajrasana, or "Enlightenment Throne of the Buddha", at the Mahabodhi Temple in Bodh Gaya. It was built by Ashoka to commemorate the enlightenment of the Buddha, about two hundred years before him.[114][115]

The Mahavamsa states that Ashoka ordered construction of 84,000 viharas (monasteries) rather than the stupas to house the relics.[116] Like Ashokavadana, the Mahavamsa describes Ashoka's collection of the relics, but does not mention this episode in the context of the construction activities.[116] It states that Ashoka decided to construct the 84,000 viharas when Moggaliputta Tissa told him that there were 84,000 sections of the Buddha's Dhamma.[117] Ashoka himself began the construction of the Ashokarama vihara, and ordered subordinate kings to build the other viharas. Ashokarama was completed by the miraculous power of Thera Indagutta, and the news about the completion of the 84,000 viharas arrived from various cities on the same day.[26]

The number 84,000 is an obvious exaggeration
, and it appears that in the later period, the construction of almost every old stupa was attributed to Ashoka.[118] [Gombrich, Richard (1995). "Aśoka – The Great Upāsaka". In Anuradha Seneviratna (ed.). King Aśoka and Buddhism: Historical and Literary Studies. Buddhist Publication Society. P. 6-7]

Chapter 2: Aśoka in Buddhist Tradition, Excerpt from "King Asoka and Buddhism: Historical & Literary Studies"
Edited by Anuradha Seneviratna
1994

2. Aśoka in Buddhist Tradition

The missions had a great influence on world history. But in other respects the Aśoka who influenced later Buddhists, serving as the model for Buddhist rulers, was the Aśoka portrayed in the Buddhist chronicles. A large body of stories grew up around him. We shall, however, restrict ourselves to the Theravādin chronicles, and in particular to the account of the Mahāvaṃsa.26

Most features of the Aśoka of legend are perhaps simpleminded inflations of the truth. Thus he is said to have built 84,000 monasteries and as many stūpas; it seems that in later times almost every old stūpa was attributed to him. He is also said to have been preternaturally wicked before his conversion, killing 99 half-brothers.

The story of Aśoka’s conversion is that one day he chanced to see a Buddhist novice walking down the street and was so impressed by his tranquil deportment that he conceived confidence in him and invited him in. (There is a romantic tale that, unbeknown to the king, he was his nephew; but that is not the point of the episode.) “The king said, ‘Sit down, dear sir, on a suitable seat.’ Seeing no other monk present, he went up to the throne.” 27 This establishes that the most junior monk has precedence over the highest layman, the king. Again, significantly, the novice preaches to the king about diligence (appamāda); he is thereupon converted and starts to feed monks on a vast scale. In due course Aśoka’s younger brother, his son Mahinda, and his daughter Saṅghamittā enter the Saṅgha.

The lavish state patronage has an unintended consequence; it tempts non-Buddhists to join the Saṅgha, or rather, to dress up as monks. The true monks cannot co-operate with them, so no uposatha ceremony is held for seven years. The king’s first attempt to rectify this leads to disaster when his too-zealous minister has some real monks beheaded for this non-co-operation. He then invites the venerable elder Tissa Moggaliputta, who first assures him that without evil intention there is no bad kamma. The king and the elder then proceed to the big monastery the king has founded in Pāṭaliputta, and the king cross-examines its inhabitants to weed out the non-Buddhists. (Notice that this says nothing about doctrine within Buddhism or Buddhist sect formation: the men who merit expulsion were never Buddhists at all.) Finally Aśoka says to the elder, “Since the Saṅgha is purified, let it perform the uposatha ceremony,” 28 and they do so in concord. Tissa then organizes the Third Council; they compile the scriptures (by reciting them) and he composes the Kathāvatthu, the last book in the Pali Abhidhamma Piṭaka. In effect he thus as it were seals off the Tipiṭaka, the Pali version of the Canon, with the possible exception of the large “Collection of Minor Texts” (Khuddaka Nikāya) of the Sutta Piṭaka, the contents of which remained somewhat fluid for many centuries. The Kathāvatthu establishes or reaffirms Theravādin orthodoxy on a host of points, mostly minor, on which they differed from some or other Buddhist schools.

The story of the Third Council is peculiar to the Theravāda tradition; evidently it concerned only them. The story of Aśoka’s intervention to purify the Saṅgha is found in other Buddhist traditions too, though with variant details. It is not corroborated by inscriptional evidence, as the inscription cited above does not say that Aśoka has actually expelled monks himself; on the other hand, it is almost certain that many of Aśoka’s inscriptions have been lost — new ones are still being discovered — and the argument from silence is weak. The surviving inscription certainly proves that Aśoka took an interest in the unanimity and purity of the Saṅgha. Scholars have treated the Theravādin account with scepticism because of various implausible features in it. Certainly, it confuses the fortunes of one sect, or perhaps even just one monastery, with those of Buddhism throughout India: it is impossible to believe that no uposatha ceremony was held in all India for seven years, and in any case Aśoka’s expulsion of pseudo-monks from one monastery would only have rectified matters in that particular sangha, not in the Saṅgha as a whole. It also seems odd that it should be Aśoka, a layman, who tests monks on their doctrine. Yet this is hardly out of character for a king whom we know put up an inscription telling the Saṅgha which texts to study. It is the occupational hazard of rulers to think they know best.

Whether the story is essentially accurate or inflates a minor incident in which Aśoka did not personally participate, it serves in the Theravādin literature to complement the Vinaya, supplying the missing piece to the puzzle of the Saṅgha’s regulation. Buddhist kings ever after Aśoka saw it as their duty to act as Defender of the Faith — to use the Christian phrase — by expelling malefactors to purify the Saṅgha. For a Buddhist, to defend the faith is to defend the Saṅgha.

Aśoka has been the model for rulers all over the Buddhist world. Within the next thousand years at least five kings of Sri Lanka prohibited the killing of animals.29 In Burma, Aśoka’s example has constantly been invoked by kings,30 and Prime Minister U Nu, modelling himself on Aśoka, had innumerable small stūpas put up.31 The great Khmer ruler Jayavarman VII (1181 –after 1215) saw himself as a “living Buddha” and in his inscriptions expressed Aśokan sentiments on the material and spiritual welfare of his subjects and announced that he had had hospitals built.32 In eleventh-century Thailand, King Rāma Khamhaeng ordered that for urgent business he should be disturbed even on the toilet.33 In fifth-century China, the Buddhist emperor Lian-u-thi went and lived in a monastery with monks.34 Of course no one before the nineteenth century had access to the inscriptions, or even knew they existed; they based themselves on Buddhist literary sources. In modern times, Aśoka’s precedent has been no less invoked but more distorted. The great Sinhalese Buddhist reformer Anagārika Dharmapāla, whose assumed name Dharmapāla means “Defender of the Faith,” called Aśoka’s “the greatest democratic empire,” 35 while the Sinhalese polemicist D.C. Vijayavardhana, who regarded the Buddha as somehow anticipating Karl Marx, described Aśoka as “the Lenin of Buddhism.”


The construction of following stupas and viharas is credited to Ashoka:

• Sanchi, Madhya Pradesh, India
• Dhamek Stupa, Sarnath, Uttar Pradesh, India
• Mahabodhi Temple, Bihar, India
• Barabar Caves, Bihar, India
• Nalanda Mahavihara (some portions like Sariputta Stupa), Bihar, India
• Taxila University (some portions like Dharmarajika Stupa and Kunala Stupa), Taxila, Pakistan
• Bhir Mound (reconstructed), Taxila, Pakistan
• Bharhut stupa, Madhya Pradesh, India
• Deorkothar Stupa, Madhya Pradesh, India
• Butkara Stupa, Swat, Pakistan
• Sannati Stupa, Karnataka, India
• Mir Rukun Stupa, Nawabshah, Pakistan

Propagation of dhamma

Ashoka's rock edicts suggest that during his 8th–9th regnal years, he made a pilgrimage to the Bodhi Tree, started propagating dhamma, and performed social welfare activities. The welfare activities included establishment of medical treatment facilities for humans and animals; plantation of medicinal herbs; and digging of wells and plantation of trees along the roads. These activities were conducted in the neighbouring kingdoms, including those of the Cholas, the Pandyas, the Satiyaputras, Tamraparni, the Greek kingdom of Antiyoka.[119]

The edicts also state that during his 10th–11th regnal years, Ashoka became closer to the Buddhist sangha, and went on a tour of the empire that lasted for at least 256 days.[119]

By his 12th regnal year, Ashoka had started inscribing edicts to propagate dhamma, having ordered his officers (rajjukas and pradesikas) to tour their jurisdictions every five years for inspection and for preaching dhamma. By the next year, he had set up the post of the dharma-mahamatra.[119]

During his 14th regnal year, he commissioned the enlargement of the stupa of Buddha Kanakamuni.[119]

Third Buddhist Council

The Sri Lankan tradition presents a greater role for Ashoka in the Buddhist community.[23] In this tradition, Ashoka starts feeding monks on a large scale. His lavish patronage to the state patronage leads to many fake monks joining the sangha. The true Buddhist monks refuse to co-operate with these fake monks, and therefore, no uposatha ceremony is held for seven years. The king attempts to eradicate the fake monks, but during this attempt, an over-zealous minister ends up killing some real monks. The king then invites the elder monk Moggaliputta-Tissa, to help him expel non-Buddhists from the monastery founded by him at Pataliputra.[105] 60,000 monks (bhikkhus) convicted of being heretical are de-frocked in the ensuing process.[23] The uposatha ceremony is then held, and Tissa subsequently organises the Third Buddhist council,[120] during the 17th regnal year of Ashoka.[121] Tissa compiles Kathavatthu, a text that reaffirms Theravadin orthodoxy on several points.[120]

The North Indian tradition makes no mention of these events, which has led to doubts about the historicity of the Third Buddhist council.[24]


Image
Ashoka and Monk Moggaliputta-Tissa at the Third Buddhist Council. Nava Jetavana, Shravasti.

Richard Gombrich argues that the non-corroboration of this story by inscriptional evidence cannot be used to dismiss it as completely unhistorical, as several of Ashoka's inscriptions may have been lost.[120] Gombrich also argues that Asohka's inscriptions prove that he was interested in maintaining the "unanimity and purity" of the Sangha.[122] For example, in his Minor Rock Edict 3, Ashoka recommends the members of the Sangha to study certain texts (most of which remain unidentified). Similarly, in an inscription found at Sanchi, Sarnath, and Kosam, Ashoka mandates that the dissident members of the sangha should be expelled, and expresses his desire to the Sangha remain united and flourish.[123][124]

The 8th century Buddhist pilgrim Yijing records another story about Ashoka's involvement in the Buddhist sangha. According to this story, the earlier king Bimbisara, who was a contemporary of the Gautama Buddha, once saw 18 fragments of a cloth and a stick in a dream. The Buddha interpreted the dream to mean that his philosophy would be divided into 18 schools after his death, and predicted that a king called Ashoka would unite these schools over a hundred years later.[77]

Buddhist missions

In the Sri Lankan tradition, Moggaliputta-Tissa – who is patronised by Ashoka – sends out nine Buddhist missions to spread Buddhism in the "border areas" in c. 250 BCE. This tradition does not credit Ashoka directly with sending these missions. Each mission comprises five monks, and is headed by an elder.[125] To Sri Lanka, he sent his own son Mahinda, accompanied by four other Theras –- Itthiya, Uttiya, Sambala and Bhaddasala.[23] Next, with Moggaliputta-Tissa's help, Ashoka sent Buddhist missionaries to distant regions such as Kashmir, Gandhara, Himalayas, the land of the Yonas (Greeks), Maharashtra, Suvannabhumi, and Sri Lanka.[23]

The Sri Lankan tradition dates these missions to Ashoka's 18th regnal year, naming the following missionaries:[119]

• Mahinda to Sri Lanka
• Majjhantika to Kashmir and Gandhara
• Mahadeva to Mahisa-mandala (possibly modern Mysore region)
• Rakkhita to Vanavasa
• Dhammarakkhita the Greek to Aparantaka (western India)
• Maha-dhamma-rakkhita to Maharashtra
• Maharakkhita to the Greek country
• Majjhima to the Himalayas
• Soṇa and Uttara to Suvaṇṇabhūmi (possibly Lower Burma and Thailand)

The tradition adds that during his 19th regnal year, Ashoka's daughter Sanghamitta went to Sri Lanka to establish an order of nuns, taking a sapling of the sacred Bodhi Tree with her.[125][121]

The North Indian tradition makes no mention of these events.[24] Ashoka's own inscriptions also appear to omit any mention of these events
, recording only one of his activities during this period: in his 19th regnal year, he donated the Khalatika Cave to ascetics to provide them a shelter during the rainy season. Ashoka's Pillar Edicts suggest that during the next year, he made pilgrimage to Lumbini -– the place of Buddha's birth, and to the stupa of the Buddha Kanakamuni.[121]

The Rock Edict XIII states that Ashoka's won a "dhamma victory" by sending messengers to five kings and several other kingdoms. Whether these missions correspond to the Buddhist missions recorded in the Buddhist chronicles is debated.[126] Indologist Etienne Lamotte argues that the "dhamma" missionaries mentioned in Ashoka's inscriptions were probably not Buddhist monks, as this "dhamma" was not same as "Buddhism".[127] Moreover, the lists of destinations of the missions and the dates of the missions mentioned in the inscriptions do not tally [with] the ones mentioned in the Buddhist legends.[128]

Other scholars, such as Erich Frauwallner and Richard Gombrich, believe that the missions mentioned in the Sri Lankan tradition are historical.[128] According to these scholars, a part of this story is corroborated by archaeological evidence: the Vinaya Nidana mentions names of five monks, who are said to have gone to the Himalayan region; three of these names have been found inscribed on relic caskets found at Bhilsa (near Vidisha). These caskets have been dated to the early 2nd century BCE, and the inscription states that the monks are of the Himalayan school.[125] The missions may have set out from Vidisha in central India, as the caskets were discovered there, and as Mahinda is said to have stayed there for a month before setting out for Sri Lanka.[129]

According to Gombrich, the mission may have included representatives of other religions, and thus, Lamotte's objection about "dhamma" is not valid. The Buddhist chroniclers may have decided not to mention these non-Buddhists, so as not to sideline Buddhism.[130] Frauwallner and Gombrich also believe that Ashoka was directly responsible for the missions, since only a resourceful ruler could have sponsored such activities. The Sri Lankan chronicles, which belong to the Theravada school, exaggerate the role of the Theravadin monk Moggaliputta-Tissa in order to glorify their sect.[130]

Some historians argue that Buddhism became a major religion because of Ashoka's royal patronage.[131] However, epigraphic evidence suggests that the spread of Buddhism in north-western India and Deccan region was less because of Ashoka's missions, and more because of merchants, traders, landowners and the artisan guilds who supported Buddhist establishments.[132]

Violence after conversion

According to the Ashokavadana, Ashoka resorted to violence even after converting to Buddhism. For example:[133]

• He slowly tortured Chandagirika to death in the "hell" prison.[133]
• He ordered a massacre of 18,000 heretics for a misdeed of one.[133]
• He launched a pogrom against the Jains, announcing a bounty on the head of any heretic; this results in the beheading of his own brother – Vitashoka.[133]

According to the Ashokavadana, a non-Buddhist in Pundravardhana drew a picture showing the Buddha bowing at the feet of the Nirgrantha leader Jnatiputra. The term nirgrantha ("free from bonds") was originally used for a pre-Jaina ascetic order, but later came to be used for Jaina monks.[134] "Jnatiputra" is identified with Mahavira, 24th Tirthankara of Jainism. The legend states that on complaint from a Buddhist devotee, Ashoka issued an order to arrest the non-Buddhist artist, 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.[135][136] Sometime later, another Nirgrantha follower in Pataliputra drew a similar picture. Ashoka burnt him and his entire family alive in their house.
[136] 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.[135] Ashoka realised his mistake, and withdrew the order.[134]

For several reasons, scholars say, these stories of persecutions of rival sects by Ashoka appear to be clear fabrications arising out of sectarian propaganda.[136][137][138]

Last years

Tissarakkha as the queen


Ashoka's last dated inscription - the Pillar Edict 4 is from his 26th regnal year.[121] The only source of information about Ashoka's later years are the Buddhist legends. The Sri Lankan tradition states that Ashoka's queen Asandhamitta died during his 29th regnal year, and in his 32nd regnal year, his wife Tissarakkha was given the title of queen.[121]

Both Mahavamsa and Ashokavadana state that Ashoka extended favours and attention to the Bodhi Tree, and a jealous Tissarakkha mistook "Bodhi" to be a mistress of Ashoka. She then used black magic to make the tree wither.[139] According to the Ashokavadana, she hired a sorceress to do the job, and when Ashoka explained that "Bodhi" was the name of a tree, she had the sorceress heal the tree.[140] According to the Mahavamsa, she completely destroyed the tree,[141] during Ashoka's 34th regnal year.[121]

The Ashokavadana states that Tissarakkha (called "Tishyarakshita" here) made sexual advances towards Ashoka's son Kunala, but Kunala rejected her. Subsequently, Ashoka granted Tissarakkha kingship for seven days, and during this period, she tortured and blinded Kunala.[142] Ashoka then threatened to "tear out her eyes, rip open her body with sharp rakes, impale her alive on a spit, cut off her nose with a saw, cut out her tongue with a razor." Kunala regained his eyesight miraculously, and pleaded for mercy on the queen, but Ashoka had her executed anyway.[139] Kshemendra's Avadana-kalpa-lata also narrates this legend, but seeks to improve Ashoka's image by stating that he forgave the queen after Kunala regained his eyesight.[143]


Death

According to the Sri Lankan tradition, Ashoka died during his 37th regnal year,[121] which suggests that he died around 232 BCE.[144]

According to the Ashokavadana, the emperor fell severely ill during his last days. He started using state funds to make donations to the Buddhist sangha, prompting his ministers to deny him access to the state treasury. Ashoka then started donating his personal possessions, but was similarly restricted from doing so. On his deathbed, his only possession was the half of a myrobalan fruit, which he offered to the sangha as his final donation.[145] Such legends encourage generous donations to the sangha and highlight the role of the kingship in supporting the Buddhist faith.[41]

Legend states that during his cremation, his body burned for seven days and nights.[146]

Family

Image
[i]A king - most probably Ashoka - with his two queens and three attendants, in a relief at Sanchi.[2] The king's identification with Ashoka is suggested by a similar relief at Kanaganahalli, which bears his name.[147][2][/i]

The discoveries at the site included a broken relief sculpture showing a king and queen flanked by female attendants, two of whom held up a parasol and fly whisk -- symbols of sovereignty -- in their hands. An inscription in Brahmi letters read 'Ranyo Ashoka' (king Ashoka), leaving no doubt about who the central figure was supposed to represent.

-- A History of Ancient and Early Medieval India: From the Stone Age to the 12th century, by Upinder Singh


Image
Ashoka with his queen, at Kanaganahalli near Sannati, 1st–3rd century CE. The relief bears the inscription "Rāya Asoko" ([x], "King Ashoka") in Brahmi script. It depicts the king with his queen, two attendants bearing fly-whisks, and one attendant bearing an umbrella.[147][2]

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

Queens

Various sources mention five consorts of Ashoka: Devi (or Vedisa-Mahadevi-Shakyakumari), Karuvaki, Asandhimitra (Pali: Asandhimitta), Padmavati, and Tishyarakshita (Pali: Tissarakkha).[148]

Kaurvaki is the only queen of Ashoka known from his own inscriptions: she is mentioned in an edict inscribed on a pillar at Allahabad. The inscription names her as the mother of prince Tivara, and orders the royal officers (mahamattas) to record her religious and charitable donations.
[81] According to one theory, Tishyarakshita was the regnal name of Kaurvaki.[81]

According to the Mahavamsa, Ashoka's chief queen was Asandhimitta, who died four years before him.[81] It states that she was born as Ashoka's queen because in a previous life, she directed a pratyekabuddha to a honey merchant (who was later reborn as Ashoka).[149] Some later texts also state that she additionally gave the pratyekabuddha a piece of cloth made by her.[150] These texts include the Dasavatthuppakarana, the so-called Cambodian or Extended Mahavamsa (possibly from 9th–10th centuries), and the Trai Bhumi Katha (15th century).[150] These texts narrate another story: one day, Ashoka mocked Asandhamitta was enjoying a tasty piece of sugarcane without having earned it through her karma. Asandhamitta replied that all her enjoyments resulted from merit resulting from her own karma. Ashoka then challenged her to prove this by procuring 60,000 robes as an offering for monks.[150] At night, the guardian gods informed her about her past gift to the pratyekabuddha, and next day, she was able to miraculously procure the 60,000 robes. An impressed Ashoka makes her his favourite queen, and even offers to make her a sovereign ruler. Asandhamitta refuses the offer, but still invokes the jealousy of Ashoka's 16,000 other wives. Ashoka proves her superiority by having 16,000 identical cakes baked with his royal seal hidden in only one of them. Each wife is asked to choose a cake, and only Asandhamitta gets the one with the royal seal.[151] The Trai Bhumi Katha claims that it was Asandhamitta who encouraged her husband to become a Buddhist, and to construct 84,000 stupas and 84,000 viharas.[152]

According to Mahavamsa, after Asandhamitta's death, Tissarakkha became the chief queen.[81] The Ashokavadana does not mention Asandhamitta at all, but does mention Tissarakkha as Tishyarakshita.[142] The Divyavadana mentions another queen called Padmavati, who was the mother of the crown-prince Kunala.[81]

As mentioned above, according to the Sri Lankan tradition, Ashoka fell in love with Devi (or Vidisha-Mahadevi), as a prince in central India.[69] After Ashoka's ascension to the throne, Devi chose to remain at Vidisha than move to the royal capital Pataliputra. According to the Mahavamsa, Ashoka's chief queen was Asandhamitta, not Devi: the text does not talk of any connection between the two women, so it is unlikely that Asandhamitta was another name for Devi.
[153] The Sri Lankan tradition uses the word samvasa to describe the relationship between Ashoka and Devi, which modern scholars variously interpret as sexual relations outside marriage, or co-residence as a married couple.[154] Those who argue that Ashoka did not marry Devi argue that their theory is corroborated by the fact that Devi did not become Ashoka's chief queen in Pataliputra after his ascension.[67] The Dipavamsa refers to two children of Ashoka and Devi – Mahinda and Sanghamitta.[155]

Sons

Tivara, the son of Ashoka and Karuvaki, is the only of Ashoka's sons to be mentioned by name in the inscriptions.[81]

According to North Indian tradition, Ashoka had a son named Kunala.[24] Kunala had a son named Samprati.[81]

The Sri Lankan tradition mentions a son called Mahinda, who was sent to Sri Lanka as a Buddhist missionary; this son is not mentioned at all in the North Indian tradition.[23] The Chinese pilgrim Xuanzang states that Mahinda was Ashoka's younger brother (Vitashoka or Vigatashoka) rather than his illgetimate son.[156]

The Divyavadana mentions the crown-prince Kunala alias Dharmavivardhana, who was a son of queen Padmavati. According to Faxian, Dharmavivardhana was appointed as the governor of Gandhara.[81]

The Rajatarangini mentions Jalauka as a son of Ashoka.[81]


Daughters

According to Sri Lankan tradition, Ashoka had a daughter named Sanghamitta, who became a Buddhist nun.[109] A section of historians, such as Romila Thapar, doubt the historicity of Sanghamitta, based on the following points:[157]

• The name "Sanghamitta", which literally means the friend of the Buddhist Order (sangha), is unusual, and the story of her going to Ceylon so that the Ceylonese queen could be ordained appears to be an exaggeration.[153]
• The Mahavamsa states that she married Ashoka's nephew Agnibrahma, and the couple had a son named Sumana. The contemporary laws regarding exogamy would have forbidden such a marriage between first cousins.[156]
• According to the Mahavamsa, she was 18 years old when she was ordained as a nun.[153] The narrative suggests that she was married two years earlier, and that her husband as well as her child were ordained. It is unlikely that she would have been allowed to become a nun with such a young child.[156]

Another source mentions that Ashoka had a daughter named Charumati, who married a kshatriya named Devapala.[81]


Brothers

According to the Ashokavadana, Ashoka had an elder half-brother named Susima.[46] According to the Sri Lankan tradition, Ashoka killed his 99 half-brothers.[105]

Various sources mention that one of Ashoka's brothers survived his ascension, and narrate stories about his role in the Buddhist community.[158]

• According to Sri Lankan tradition, this brother was Tissa, who initially lived a luxurious life, without worrying about the world. To teach him a lesson, Ashoka put him on the throne for a few days, then accused him of being an usurper, and sentenced him to die after seven days. During these seven days, Tissa realised that the Buddhist monks gave up pleasure because they were aware of the eventual death. He then left the palace, and became an arhat.[78]
• The Theragatha commentary calls this brother Vitashoka. According to this legend, one day, Vitashoka saw a grey hair on his head, and realised that he had become old. He then retired to a monastery, and became an arhat.[134]
• Faxian calls the younger brother Mahendra, and states that Ashoka shamed him for his immoral behaviour. The brother than retired to a dark cave, where he meditated, and became an arhat. Ashoka invited him to return to the family, but he preferred to live alone on a hill. So, Ashoka had a hill built for him within Pataliputra.[134]
• The Ashoka-vadana states that Ashoka's brother was mistaken for a Nirgrantha, and killed during a massacre of the Nirgranthas ordered by Ashoka.[134]


Imperial extent

Image
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.[159]

Image
Hermann Kulke and Dietmar Rothermund believe that Ashoka's empire did not include large parts of India, which were controlled by autonomous tribes.[159]

The extent of the territory controlled by Ashoka's predecessors is not certain, but it is possible that the empire of his grandfather Chandragupta extended northern India from western coast (Arabian Sea) to the eastern coast (Bay of Bengal), covering nearly two-thirds of the Indian subcontinent. Bindusara and Ashoka seem to have extended the empire southwards.[160] The distribution of Ashoka's inscriptions suggests that his empire included almost the entire Indian subcontinent, except its southernmost parts. The Rock Edicts 2 and 13 suggest that these southernmost parts were controlled by the Cholas, the Pandyas, the Keralaputras, and the Satiyaputras. In the north-west, Ashoka's kingdom extended up to Kandahar, to the east of the Seleucid Empire ruled by Antiochus II.[2] The capital of Ashoka's empire was Pataliputra in the Magadha region.[160]

Religion and philosophy

Relationship with Buddhism


Image
The word Upāsaka ([x], "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).

The Buddhist legends state that Ashoka converted to Buddhism,[161] although this has been debated by a section of scholars.[162] The Minor Rock Edict 1 leaves no doubt that Ashoka was a follower of Buddhism. In this edict, he calls himself an upasaka (a lay follower of Buddhism) and a sakya (i.e. Buddhist, after Gautama Buddha's title Shakya-Muni).[163] This and several other edicts are evidence of his Buddhist affiliation:[164]

• In his Minor Rock Edict 1, Ashoka adds that he did not make much progress for a year after becoming an upasaka, but then, he "went to" the Sangha, and made more progress. It is not certain what "going to" the Sangha means – the Buddhist tradition that he lived with monks may be an exaggeration, but it clearly means that Ashoka was drawn closer to Buddhism.[165]
• In his Minor Rock Edict 3, he calls himself an upasaka, and records his faith in the Buddha and the Sangha.[166][167]
• In the Major Rock Edict 8, he records his visit to Sambodhi (the sacred Bodhi Tree at Bodh Gaya), ten years after his coronation.[167]
• In the Lumbini (Rumminidei) inscription, he records his visit to the Buddha's birthplace, and declares his reverence for the Buddha and the sangha.[83]
• In the Nigalisagar inscription, he records his doubling in size of a stupa dedicated to a former Buddha, and his visit to the site for worship.[123]
• Some of his inscriptions reflect his interest in maintaining the Buddhist sangha (see #Purification of sangha below).[123]
• The Saru Maru inscription states that Ashoka dispatched the message while travelling to Upunita-vihara in Manema-desha. Although the identity of the destination is not certain, it was obviously a Buddhist monastery (vihara).[168]

Other religions

A legend in the Buddhist text Vamsatthapakasini states that an Ajivika ascetic invited to interpret a dream of Ashoka's mother had predicted that he would patronise Buddhism and destroy 96 heretical sects.[77] However, such assertions are directly contradicted by Ashoka's own inscriptions. Ashoka's edicts, such as the Rock Edicts 6, 7, and 12, emphasise tolerance of all sects.[169] Similarly, in his Rock Edict 12, Ashoka honours people of all faiths.[170] In his inscriptions, Ashoka dedicates caves to non-Buddhist ascetics, and repeatedly states that both Brahmins and shramanas deserved respect. He also tells people "not to denigrate other sects, but to inform themselves about them".[165]

In fact, there is no evidence that Buddhism was a state religion under Ashoka.[171] None of Ashoka's extant edicts record his direct donations to the Buddhists.
One inscription records donations by his queen Karuvaki, while the emperor is known to have donated the Barabar Caves to the Ajivikas.[172] There are some indirect references to his donations to Buddhists. For example, the Nigalisagar Pillar inscription records his enlargement of the Konakamana stupa.[173] Similarly, the Lumbini (Rumminidei) inscription states that he exempted the village of Buddha's birth from the land tax, and reduced the revenue tax to one-eighth.[174]

Ashoka appointed the dhamma-mahamatta officers, whose duties included the welfare of various religious sects, including the Buddhist sangha, Brahmins, Ajivikas, and Nirgranthas. The Rock Edicts 8 and 12, and the Pillar Edict 7, mandate donations to all religious sects.[175]

Ashoka's Minor Rock Edict 1 contains the phrase "amissā devā". According to one interpretation, the term "amissā" derives from the word "amṛṣa" ("false"), and thus, the phrase is a reference to Ashoka's belief in "true" and "false" gods. However, it is more likely that the term derives from the word "amiśra" ("not mingled"), and the phrase refers to celestial beings who did not mingle with humans. The inscription claims that the righteousness generated by adoption of dhamma by the humans attracted even the celestial gods who did not mingle with humans.[176]

R. Thapar writes that the classical writers did not refer to Asoka [xxxvi]. This is clearly absurd; they must have used a different name, not Asoka or Piyadassi. A careful study shows that Devanampiya, the most common name of Asoka in the Edicts is in fact the same as Devadatta[xxxvii] or Diodotus. The interpretation of Devanampiya as `beloved of the Gods' is superficial. Asoka states that his ancestors were Devanampiyas, which shows that it is a patronymic, not a title -- even Chandragupta was a Devanampiya or Diodotus (of Erythrae). 'Nam' in Persian and 'Nomos' in Greek means 'law' another Persian word for which is 'Dat'. Thus Devanam is the same as Devadat. Piya or Priya may have had the sense of a redeemer as in the case of the name of Priam of Troy. Many Parthian Kings assumed the titles Priapatius and Assak. As can be seen from the Shahnama, the Avesta and Xerexes' inscriptions, `Deva' initially meant a clan, not god. Ignorance of this has led to senseless translations of Asoka's Edicts as `Gods mingled with men'. Only oblique scholarship has obscured that the name Devadatta occurring in the second line of Asoka's famous Taxila pillar inscription refers to Asoka himself. The line "l dmy dty `l " [xxxviii] which Marshall and Andreas translated as `for Romedatta', refers to Devadatta.

-- An Altar of Alexander Now Standing at Delhi [REDUCED VERSION], by Ranajit Pal


Dharma

Main article: Ashoka's policy of Dhamma

Ashoka's various inscriptions suggest that he devoted himself to the propagation of "Dharma" (Pali: Dhamma), a term that refers to the teachings of Gautama Buddha in the Buddhist circles.[177] However, Ashoka's own inscriptions do not mention Buddhist doctrines such as the Four Noble Truths or Nirvana.[83] The word "Dharma" has various connotations in the Indian religions, and can be generally translated as "law, duty, or righteousness".[177] In the Kandahar inscriptions of Ashoka, the word "Dharma" has been translated as eusebeia (Greek) and qsyt (Aramaic), which further suggests that his "Dharma" meant something more generic than Buddhism.[162]

The inscriptions suggest that for Ashoka, Dharma meant "a moral polity of active social concern, religious tolerance, ecological awareness, the observance of common ethical precepts, and the renunciation of war."[177] For example:

• Abolition of the death penalty (Pillar Edict IV)[165]
• Plantation of banyan trees and mango groves, and construction of resthouses and wells, every 800 metres (1⁄2 mile) along the roads. (Pillar Edict 7).[170]
• Restriction on killing of animals in the royal kitchen (Rock Edict 1); [170] the number of animals killed was limited to two peacocks and a deer daily, and in future, even these animals were not to be killed.[165]
• Provision of medical facilities for humans and animals (Rock Edict 2).[170]
• Encouragement of obedience to parents, "generosity toward priests and ascetics, and frugality in spending" (Rock Edict 3).[170]
• He "commissions officers to work for the welfare and happiness of the poor and aged" (Rock Edict 5)[170]
• Promotion of "the welfare of all beings so as to pay off his debt to living creatures and to work for their happiness in this world and the next." (Rock Edict 6)[170]

Modern scholars have variously understood this dhamma as 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.[15]

Ashoka instituted a new category of officers called the dhamma-mahamattas, who were tasked with the welfare of the aged, the infirm, the women and children, and various religious sects. They were also sent on diplomatic missions to the Hellenistic kingdoms of west Asia, in order to propagate the dhamma.[175]

Historically, the image of Ashoka in the global Buddhist circles was based on legends (such as those mentioned in the Ashokavadana) rather than his rock edicts. This was because the Brahmi script in which these edicts were written was forgotten soon and remained undeciphered until its study by James Prinsep in the 19th century.[178] The writings of the Chinese Buddhist pilgrims such as Faxian and Xuanzang suggest that Ashoka's inscriptions mark the important sites associated with Gautama Buddha. These writers attribute Buddhism-related content to Ashoka's edicts, but this content does not match with the actual text of the inscriptions as determined by modern scholars after the decipherment of the Brahmi script. It is likely that the script was forgotten by the time of Faxian, who probably relied on local guides; these guides may have made up some Buddhism-related interpretations to gratify him, or may have themselves relied on faulty translations based on oral traditions. Xuanzang may have encountered a similar situation, or may have taken the supposed content of the inscriptions from Faxian's writings.[179] This theory is corroborated by the fact that some Brahmin scholars are known to have similarly come up with a fanciful interpretation of Ashoka pillar inscriptions, when requested to decipher them by the 14th century Muslim king Firuz Shah Tughlaq. According to Shams-i Siraj's Tarikh-i Firoz Shahi, after the king had these pillar transported from Topra and Mirat to Delhi as war trophies, these Brahmins told him that the inscriptions prophesized that nobody would be able to remove the pillars except a king named Firuz. Moreover, by this time, there were local traditions that attributed the erection of these pillars to the legendary hero Bhima.[180]

According to scholars such as Richard Gombrich, Ashoka's dharma shows Buddhist influence. For example, the Kalinga Separate Edict I seems to be inspired by Buddha's Advice to Sigala and his other sermons.[165]
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Part 4 of 4

Animal welfare

Ashoka's rock edicts declare that injuring living things is not good, and no animal should be slaughtered for sacrifice.[181] However, he did not prohibit common cattle slaughter or beef eating.[182]

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.[183][184]

Ashoka also abolished the royal hunting of animals and restricted the slaying of animals for food in the royal residence.[185] 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".[186]

Pasteurism is insidiously working its way in India, the Central Committee, according to the Indian, having in hand at Lahore Rs. 31,000, at Bombay Rs. 5,000, and in Bengal Rs. 30,000. Up to the present time the worst crime of modern science, vivisection, has not penetrated into India, but it is hoped that Pasteur Institutes will lead to the complete vivisector’s laboratory. The culture of poison germs and their experimental injection into animals is a form of “research” which, identical in principle with vivisection, does not at first sight shock people to the same extent as the deliberate carving up, burning and tearing of living animals. The injecting syringe filled with venom causes no more pain, it is argued, than the prick of a needle, and the subsequent slow torture of the poisoned animals is left out of account. But Pasteurism is vivisection in a modified form, and though the sufferings caused by it are small compared with the horrors of the torture-trough, they are wrought under the sway of that evil principle that we may rightly seek to escape the penalty of our own misdoings by inflicting pain on others weaker than ourselves. The bond between man and his animal cousins has always been clearly recognized in India, and the presence of the One Life in the hearts of all beings— not of man only— has been a fundamental doctrine in Indian philosophy. Mineral, vegetable, animal, man, all pulsate by the same Life, and those to whom this truth is a reality can never carelessly destroy anything or deliberately torture a being that can feel pain. Hence the axiom, “Harmlessness is the highest law,” and the ideal held up of being “the friend of every creature.” Repeated conquests by rougher and harsher races have hardened the old tenderness, and the alienation of sympathy between men and the brutes which is so marked a feature in city life has led to street cruelties to horses and cattle such as disgrace the cities of Europe. But even yet the animals wander freely in friendly fashion in many of the towns and in the country districts, pushing enquiring noses into shops, no man making them afraid. Worn-out creatures pass their last days peacefully, and if a European suggests the idea of slaying a beast because it can no longer labour, he is regarded with shocked surprise. Yet in this land an attempt is being made, and threatens to be successful, to introduce vivisection under the shield of western science, and it has actually been found necessary to form an Anti-vivisection Society in Calcutta. I had the pleasure of lecturing for this Society in the Calcutta Town Hall last January, but the very necessity for its existence shows how India has fallen from her old ideals. Rationalizing Societies like the Brahmo Samaj, with its flesh-eating and alcohol-drinking, have paved the way, by their disregard of the ancient rules of pure living, for the worse abuses that are now threatening to invade the laud. The International Society for the Protection of Animals from Vivisection has given useful help to the Indian movement by its literature. It is an interesting and significant fact that in Paris, one of the chief centres of the vivisectionists, we see also the most dangerous forms of magic and the lowest depths of “Satanism.” The selfishness which finds one of its most extreme expressions in vivisection, in the attempt to wrench open nature’s secrets by reckless torture of others, is the essential characteristic of the black magician, and vivisection is but one kind of sorcery. Its practice is a graduation in the black art, and carries a man far along the terrible road whose end is death— not of the body alone.

-- Lucifer, On the Watch-Tower, May 15, 1896


Foreign relations

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Territories "conquered by the Dhamma" according to Major Rock Edict No.13 of Ashoka (260–218 BCE).[187][188]

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). the idea of installing inscriptions might have travelled with this script. There is obvious and undeniable trace of cultural contact through the adoption of the Kharosthi script, and, 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.[189]

Hellenistic world

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)[190]


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).[189] Dionysius is reported to have been such a Greek ambassador at the court of Ashoka, sent by Ptolemy II Philadelphus,[191] 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.[192]

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).[193]

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.[194] [The Idea of Ancient India: Essays on Religion, Politics, and Archaeology by Upinder Singh p.18]

The Three Yavana Donors, Excerpt from "The Idea of Ancient India: Essays on Religion, Politics, and Archaeology
by Upinder Singh
2016

P. 18

Yavanas occur as donors in three Sanchi inscriptions: The reading of inscription no. 89 is not absolutely certain. It seems to read: '[Sv]etapathasa (Yona?)sa danam' ('The gift of Yona? of Svetapatha'). Inscription no. 433 {engraved on two adjacent pavement slabs), reads: 'Cudayo[vana]kasa bo silayo' ('Two slabs of Cuda, the Yovanaka'). Inscription no. 475 reads: 'Setapathiyasa Yonasa danam' ('The gift of Yona of Setapatha').

The term Yavana may originally have referred to Greeks, but very soon was being used in a more general way to refer to foreigners from various parts of West Asia or the eastern Mediterranean region.69 Svetapatha and Setapatha sound like the same place. The Puranas refer to the Sveta mountain range lying to the north of Meru mountain.70 They also mention Svetadvipa as a place associated with Visnu and visited by Narada.71 This place appears in the Santi Parva of the Mahabharata as well, as an island lying to the north of Meru mountain, at the northern border of the ocean of milk, where Mahavisnu performed austerities in order to obtain brahma-vidya. The text adds that the people of Svetadvipa are worshippers of Siva and are rich in knowledge. They have certain peculiar physical traits -- they do not have sense-organs, do not have to eat food in order to live; their bodies and bones are very hard, their heads very broad and flat; they have four arms and sixty teeth, and have very loud voices.72
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"The term Yavana may originally have referred to Greeks, but very soon was being used in a more general way to refer to foreigners from various parts of ..." -- How to Get Your Foot in the Door of Indian History ("Myths R Us")

This Svetadvipa of the great epic and the Puranas seems to be a mythological place, and is of little help in identifying the place where our Sanchi Yavanas came from. One is tempted to suggest an identification of Svetapatha with the Svetapada of the Kalyan plates of Yasovarman;73 a place which corresponds with the area around Nasik, and where one could visualise Yavanas visiting or residing in this period for trade purposes. But the inscription in question is very late (11th century), and the time-gap between the Sanchi references and this inscription is too great for the identification to be pressed.

The Yavanarajya inscription is in Brahmi script and describes a dedication for a well and a tank in Mathura on "The last day of year 116 of Yavana dominion (Brahmi script: [x] Yavanarajya)". Although the term "Yavanas" can sometimes mean "westerners" in general, inscriptions made at this early period generally use the term Yavana to refer to the Indo-Greeks, and known inscriptions referring to the Indo-Parthians or Indo-Scythians in Mathura never use the term Yavana.

-- Yavanarajya inscription, by Wikipedia

It is thought that Ashoka's palace at Patna was modelled after the Achaemenid palace of Persepolis.[195] [De la Croix, Horst; Tansey, Richard G.; Kirkpatrick, Diane (1991). Gardner's Art Through the Ages (9th ed.). Thomson/Wadsworth. p. 428]
Buddhist Dominance: Early Architecture and Sculpture, Excerpt from “Gardner's art through the ages”
by Helen Gardner, d. 1946; Horst De la Croix; Richard G. Tansey, Diane Kirkpatrick
1991

BUDDHIST DOMINANCE

Early Architecture and Sculpture


The earliest known examples of art in the service of Buddhism (from the middle of the third century B.C.) are both monumental and sophisticated. Emperor Asoka (272-232 B.C.), the grandson of Chandragupta, converted to Buddhism after witnessing the horrors of the brutal military campaigns by which he himself forcibly had unified most of northern India. His palace at Patna in Bihar (ancient Pataliputra) was designed after the Achaemenid palace at Persepolis (Fig. 2-38).

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11-3i. Lion capital of column erected by Emperor Asoka (272-232 B.C.) from Patna (ancient Pataliputra), India. Polished sandstone, 7’ high. Archeological Museum, Sarnath

Megasthenes, a Greek ambassador at the court of Asoka, has left a glowing report of Pataliputra. Only parts of columns, the foundations of buildings, and remnants of a wooden palisade now remain, but we may draw some idea of the architectural details from a series of commemorative and sacred columns that Soka raised throughout much of northern India. These monolithic pills were of polished sandstone, some as high as 60 or 70 feet. The capital of one (Fig. 11-3), now in the Sarnath Museum near Benares, typifies the style of the period. It consists of a lotiform capital (a capital in the form of a lotus petal), on which rests a horizontal disk sculptured with a frieze of four animals alternating with four wheels. Seated on the disk are four addorsed (back-to-back) lions that originally were surmounted by another huge wheel. All of the forms are symbolic. The lotus, traditional symbol of divinity, also connoted humanity’s salvation in Buddhism. The wheel represented the cycle of life, death, and rebirth. This “wheel of life” often had other levels of meaning. In this instance, it was the teaching of Buddha – the “turning of the wheel of the law.” The wheel itself (probably developed from ancient sun symbols) and the four animals (the four quarters of the compass) with which it is associated here imply a cosmological meaning in which the pillar as a whole symbolizes the world axis. The lions also had manifold meanings, but here they were specifically equated with Sakyamuni Buddha, who was known as the lion of the Sakya clan.

The pillars are noteworthy not only for their symbolism, but also because they exemplify continuity of style. Although the stiff, heraldic lions are typical of Persepolis, the low-relief animals around the disk are treated in the much earlier, fluid style of Mohenjo Daro. So, too, are the colossal figures of yakshas and yakshis, sculptured during Asoka’s time or somewhat later. These male and female divinities, originally worshiped as local nature spirits, gods of trees and rocks, now were incorporated into the Buddhist and Hindu pantheons.

Legends about past lives

Buddhist legends mention stories about Ashoka's past lives. According to a Mahavamsa story, Ashoka, Nigrodha and Devnampiya Tissa were brothers in a previous life. In that life, a pratyekabuddha was looking for honey to cure another, sick pratyekabuddha. A woman directed him to a honey shop owned by the three brothers. Ashoka generously donated honey to the pratyekabuddha, and wished to become the sovereign ruler of Jambudvipa for this act of merit.[196] The woman wished to become his queen, and was reborn as Ashoka's wife Asandhamitta.[149] Later Pali texts credit her with an additional act of merit: she gifted the pratyekabuddha a piece of cloth made by her. These texts include the Dasavatthuppakarana, the so-called Cambodian or Extended Mahavamsa (possibly from 9th–10th centuries), and the Trai Bhumi Katha (15th century).[150]

According to an Ashokavadana story, Ashoka was born as Jaya in a prominent family of Rajagriha. When he was a little boy, he gave the Gautama Buddha dirt imagining it to be food. The Buddha approved of the donation, and Jaya declared that he would become a king by this act of merit. The text also state that Jaya's companion Vijaya was reborn as Ashoka's prime-minister Radhagupta.[197] In the later life, the Buddhist monk Upagupta tells Ashoka that his rough skin was caused by the impure gift of dirt in the previous life.[133] Some later texts repeat this story, without mentioning the negative implications of gifting dirt; these texts include Kumaralata's Kalpana-manditika, Aryashura's Jataka-mala, and the Maha-karma-vibhaga. The Chinese writer Pao Ch'eng's Shih chia ju lai ying hua lu asserts that an insignificant act like gifting dirt could not have been meritorious enough to cause Ashoka's future greatness. Instead, the text claims that in another past life, Ashoka commissioned a large number of Buddha statues as a king, and this act of merit caused him to become a great emperor in the next life.[198]

The 14th century Pali-language fairy tale Dasavatthuppakarana (possibly from c. 14th century) combines the stories about the merchant's gift of honey, and the boy's gift of dirt. It narrates a slightly different version of the Mahavamsa story, stating that it took place before the birth of the Gautama Buddha. It then states that the merchant was reborn as the boy who gifted dirt to the Buddha; however, in this case, the Buddha [gave it to] his attendant Ānanda to create plaster from the dirt, which is used repair cracks in the monastery walls.
[199]

Legacy

Architecture


Besides the various stupas attributed to Ashoka, the pillars erected by him survive at various places in the Indian subcontinent.

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.[200] Before Ashoka's time, buildings were probably built in non-permanent material, such as wood, bamboo or thatch.[200][201] Ashoka may have rebuilt his palace in Pataliputra by replacing wooden material by stone,[202] and may also have used the help of foreign craftmen.[203] Ashoka also innovated by using the permanent qualities of stone for his written edicts, as well as his pillars with Buddhist symbolism.

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

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The Diamond throne at the Mahabodhi Temple, attributed to Ashoka

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Front frieze of the Diamond throne

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

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

Symbols

Symbols of Ashoka

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Ashoka's pillar capital of Sarnath. This sculpture has been adopted as the National Emblem of India.

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


Ashokan capitals were highly realistic and used a characteristic polished finish, Mauryan polish, giving a shiny appearance to the stone surface. Lion Capital of Ashoka, the capital of one of the pillars erected by Ashoka features a carving of a spoked wheel, known as the Ashoka Chakra. This wheel represents the wheel of Dhamma set in motion by the Gautama Buddha, and appears on the flag of modern India. This capital also features sculptures of lions, which appear on the seal of India.[160]

Both the Rampurva Bull and the Sankisa Elephant are, in my opinion, masterpieces of underestimated antiquity and importance. Both sculptures are unquestionably of pre-Asokan and even pre-Buddhist origin, as I suggested a decade ago in my Burlington Magazine series (see fn. 3, above). Since then, these conclusions have met with opposition in the West as well as in India; from Buddhists as well as non-Buddhists (although none has stated a case for his opposition). It is only now that public opinion is ready to listen. A decisive moment of change coincided with the publication in Berlin of my 1979 address to the Fifth Conference of South Asian Archaeologists in Western Europe, where I read a paper offering firm proof that the Allahabad/Prayaga (formerly, 'Allahabad-Kosam') Pillar -- shown here in its present-day form at fig. 3) had been another pre-Asokan Bull-pillar like the one found at Rampurva (fig. 1).

-- The True Chronology of Aśokan Pillars, by John Irwin


Inscriptions

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Distribution of the Edicts of Ashoka, and location of the contemporary Greek city of Ai-Khanoum.[204]

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

The edicts of Ashoka are a collection of 33 inscriptions on the Pillars of Ashoka, as well as boulders and cave walls, issued during his reign.[failed verification] 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.[205]

Before Ashoka, the royal communications appear to have been written on perishable materials such as palm leaves, birch barks, cotton cloth, and possibly wooden boards. While Ashoka's administration would have continued to use these materials, Ashoka also had his messages inscribed on rock edicts.[206] Ashoka probably got the idea of putting up these inscriptions from the neighbouring Achaemenid empire.[165] It is likely that Ashoka's messages were also inscribed on more perishable materials, such as wood, and sent to various parts of the empire. None of these records survive now.[18]

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.[13] 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."[205]

Most of Ashoka's inscriptions are written in a mixture of various Prakrit dialects, in the Brahmi script.[207]

Several of Ashoka's inscriptions appear to have been set up near towns, on important routes, and at places of religious significance.[208] Many of the inscriptions have been discovered in hills, rock shelters, and places of local significance.[209] Various theories have been put forward about why Ashoka or his officials chose such places, including that they were centres of megalithic cultures,[210] were regarded as sacred spots in Ashoka's time, or that their physical grandeur may be symbolic of spiritual dominance.[211] Ashoka's inscriptions have not been found at major cities of the Maurya empire, such as Pataliputra, Vidisha, Ujjayini, and Taxila. [209] It is possible that many of these inscriptions are lost; the 7th century Chinese pilgrim Xuanzang refers to some of Ashoka's pillar edicts, which have not been discovered by modern researchers.[208]

It appears that Ashoka dispatched every message to his provincial governors, who in turn, relayed it to various officials in their territory.[212] For example, the Minor Rock Edict 1 appears in several versions at multiple places: all the versions state that Ashoka issued the proclamation while on a tour, having spent 256 days on tour. The number 256 indicates that the message was dispatched simultaneously to various places.[213] Three versions of a message, found at edicts in the neighbouring places in Karnataka (Brahmagiri, Siddapura, and Jatinga-Rameshwara), were sent from the southern province's capital Suvarnagiri to various places. All three versions contain the same message, preceded by an initial greeting from the arya-putra (presumably Ashoka's son and the provincial governor) and the mahamatras (officials) in Suvarnagiri.[212]

Coinage

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".[214] 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.[215]

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Caduceus symbol on a Maurya-era punch-marked coin

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A punch-marked coin attributed to Ashoka[216]

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A Maurya-era silver coin of 1 karshapana, possibly from Ashoka's period, workshop of Mathura. Obverse: Symbols including a sun and an animal Reverse: Symbol Dimensions: 13.92 x 11.75 mm Weight: 3.4 g.

Modern scholarship

Rediscovery


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:

"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.[34]


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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"):[217] [The Cambridge Shorter History of India. CUP Archive. p. 42.] [218] [Gupta, Subhadra Sen (2009). Ashoka. Penguin UK. p. 13.]

Asoka, the Sungas and the Andhras

After a reign of some twenty-five years, Bindusara was succeeded about 274 B.C. by his son, Asokavardhana, usually known as Asoka, whose importance in the eyes of Buddhists has given him a place in Indian history to which, from a political point of view, his grandfather is much more entitled. He is called Asokavardhana in the Puranas, and in Buddhist literature Asoka; in the only one of his inscriptions in which he refers to himself by name he is Asoka. In all his other inscriptions he is called Devanampriya, usually with the epithet Priyadarsin. The term Devanampriya, "dear to the gods" may be translated as "His Majesty"; from one of the rock edicts we learn that it was also used by his predecessors, and we find it in an inscription of his grandson, Dasaratha; in the Mudrarakshasa it is applied to his grandfather, Chandragupta. One other reference to Asoka is found, that in the Girnar inscription of the satrap Rudradaman, which calls him Asoka Maurya. It hardly required the recently discovered Maski inscription to confirm the identity of the Asoka of Buddhist tradition with the Priyadarsin or Piyadasi of the inscription. It is to these inscriptions, engraved on rock in various parts of his vast empire, that we owe the fact chat we have a picture of Asoka such as we possess of no other character in early Indian history. But although they throw some valuable light on the history of his reign, these inscriptions were not intended as historical documents.

For the events attending Asoka's accession our only source of information is Buddhist tradition.


-- The Cambridge Shorter History of India, p. 42.

The more he read, the more questions bedevilled Prinsep. Who was this King Piyadasi? At times he referred to himself as 'raja magadhe', so he must have ruled the kingdom of Magadha. None of the ancient Sanskrit lists of kings carried such a name. Then he got a lucky break. A scholar named George Turnour, working in Sri Lanka, was translating an ancient text called Mahavamsa and he discovered that there was a Lankan king named Piyadasi. But it was hard to believe that this king, ruling a tiny island south of the Indian subcontinent, could get inscriptions placed as far north as Bihar! The final link was again found in a Lankan text that explained that Piyadasi was a popular royal title and that the Lankan king shared it with another king who ruled at the same time in India. The two kings were allies and the text gave the real name of this Indian king. [NO CITATION!] A few decades later another inscription was discovered at Maski in Karnataka that confirmed it.

Raja Devanam Piyadasi's name was Ashoka.

-- Chapter 1. Discovering Ashoka, Excerpt from "Ashoka: The Great and Compassionate King", by Subhadra Sen Gupta

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Image
[Librarian's Comment: Contrast increased to show how the word "Ashoka" was added to the end of the first line in a rough-uneven area that the original writer was careful to avoid with respect to the entirety of the remaining inscription, that has all been rendered on the flattest-available portions of the rock face. If stones could speak, this one would cry "foul!"]
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Maski is a town and an archaeological site in the Raichur district of the state of Karnataka, India. It lies on the bank of the Maski river which is a tributary of the Tungabhadra. Maski derives its name from Mahasangha or Masangi. The site came into prominence with the discovery of a minor rock edict of Emperor Ashoka by C. Beadon in 1915. It was the first edict of Emperor Ashoka that contained the name Ashoka in it instead of the earlier edicts that referred him as Devanampiye piyadasi. This edict was important to conclude that many edicts found earlier in the Indian sub-continent in the name of Devanampiye piyadasi, all belonged to Emperor Ashoka....

The Maski version of Minor Rock Edict No.1 was historically especially important in that it confirmed the association of the title "Devanampriya" ("Beloved-of-the-Gods") with Ashoka.


-- Maski, by Wikipedia


[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.[219]


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.

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."[220] 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".[221]

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."[220] Finally, he promotes ideals that correspond to the first three steps of the Buddha's graduated discourse.[222]

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.[223]

Impact of pacifism

After Ashoka's death, the Maurya empire declined rapidly. The various Puranas provide different details about Ashoka's successors, but all agree that they had relatively short reigns. The empire seems to have weakened, fragmented, and suffered an invasion from the Bactrian Greeks.[147]

Some historians, such as H. C. Raychaudhuri, have argued that Ashoka's pacifism undermined the "military backbone" of the Maurya empire. Others, such as Romila Thapar, have suggested that the extent and impact of his pacifism have been "grossly exaggerated".[224]

In art, film and literature

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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).

• Jaishankar Prasad composed Ashoka ki Chinta (Ashoka's Anxiety), a poem that portrays Ashoka's feelings during the war on Kalinga.
• Ashoka, a 1922 Indian silent historical film about the emperor produced by Madan Theatres.[225]
• The Nine Unknown, a 1923 novel by Talbot Mundy about the "Nine Unknown Men", a fictional secret society founded by Ashoka.
• Samrat Ashok, a 1928 Indian silent film by Bhagwati Prasad Mishra.[225]
• Ashok Kumar is a 1941 Indian Tamil-language film directed by Raja Chandrasekhar. The film stars Chittor V. Nagaiah as Ashoka.
• Samrat Ashok is a 1947 Indian Hindi-language film by K.B. Lall.[226]
• Uttar-Priyadarshi (The Final Beatitude), a verse-play written by poet Agyeya depicting his redemption, was adapted to stage in 1996 by theatre director, Ratan Thiyam and has since been performed in many parts of the world.[227][228]
• In 1973, Amar Chitra Katha released a graphic novel based on the life of Ashoka.
• In Piers Anthony's series of space opera novels, the main character mentions Ashoka as a model for administrators to strive for.
• Samrat Ashok is a 1992 Indian Telugu-language film about the emperor by N. T. Rama Rao with Rao also playing the titular role.[226]
• Aśoka is a 2001 epic Indian historical drama film directed and co-written by Santosh Sivan. The film stars Shah Rukh Khan as Ashoka.
• In 2002, Mason Jennings released the song "Emperor Ashoka" on his Living in the Moment EP. It is based on the life of Ashoka.
• In 2013, Christopher C. Doyle released his debut novel, The Mahabharata Secret, in which he wrote about Ashoka hiding a dangerous secret for the well-being of India.
• 2014's The Emperor's Riddles, a fiction mystery thriller novel by Satyarth Nayak, traces the evolution of Ashoka and his esoteric legend of the Nine Unknown Men.
• In 2015, Chakravartin Ashoka Samrat, a television serial by Ashok Banker, based on the life of Ashoka, began airing on Colors TV.
• Bharatvarsh is an Indian television historical documentary series, hosted by actor-director Anupam Kher on Hindi news channel ABP News. The series stars Aham Sharma as Ashoka.[229]

Notes

1. The North Indian sources indicate Subhadrangi as the name of Ashoka's mother, while the Sri Lankan sources mention her as Dharma

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Bibliography

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• Kosmin, Paul J. (2014), The Land of the Elephant Kings: Space, Territory, and Ideology in Seleucid Empire, Harvard University Press, ISBN 978-0-674-72882-0
• Lahiri, Nayanjot (2015). Ashoka in Ancient India. Harvard University Press. ISBN 9780674057777.
• Mookerji, Radhakumud (1962). Aśoka (3rd revised ed.). Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass. ISBN 978-81-208-0582-8.
• Singh, Upinder (2017). Political Violence in Ancient India. Harvard University Press. ISBN 978-0-674-97527-9.
• Singh, Upinder (2008). A history of ancient and early medieval India : from the Stone Age to the 12th century. New Delhi: Pearson Education. ISBN 978-81-317-1120-0.
• Singh, Upinder (2012). "Governing the State and the Self: Political Philosophy and Practice in the Edicts of Aśoka". South Asian Studies. University of Delhi. 28 (2): 131–145. doi:10.1080/02666030.2012.725581. S2CID 143362618.
• Strong, John S. (1995). "Images of Aśoka: Some Indian and Sri Lankan Legends and their Development". In Anuradha Seneviratna (ed.). King Aśoka and Buddhism: Historical and Literary Studies. Buddhist Publication Society. ISBN 978-955-24-0065-0.
• Strong, John S. (1989). The Legend of King Aśoka: A Study and Translation of the Aśokāvadāna. Motilal Banarsidass. ISBN 978-81-208-0616-0.
• Thapar, Romila (1995). "Aśoka and Buddhism as Reflected in the Aśokan Edicts". In Anuradha Seneviratna (ed.). King Aśoka and Buddhism: Historical and Literary Studies. Buddhist Publication Society. ISBN 978-955-24-0065-0.
• Thapar, Romila (1961). Aśoka and the Decline of the Mauryas. Oxford University Press. OCLC 736554.
• Thapar, Romila (1980) [First published 1961]. Aśoka and the Decline of the Mauryas (2nd ed.). Oxford University Press. OCLC 736554. SBN 19-660379 6.

Further reading

• India portal
• Religion portal
• History portal
• Biography portal
• Harry Falk (2006). Aśokan Sites and Artefacts: A Source-book with Bibliography. Von Zabern. ISBN 978-3-8053-3712-0.
• Patrick Olivelle; Janice Leoshko; Himanshu Prabha Ray (2012). Reimagining Asoka: Memory and History. Oxford University Press India. ISBN 978-0-19-807800-5.
• E. Hultzsch (1925). Inscriptions of Asoka: New Edition. Government of India.
• Rongxi, Li (1993). The Biographical Scripture of King Aśoka: Translated from the Chinese of Saṃghapāla (PDF). Numata Center for Buddhist Translation and Research. ISBN 978-0-9625618-4-9.
• Nikam, N. A.; McKeon, Richard (1959). The Edicts of Aśoka. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
• James Merry MacPhail (1918). Asoka. London: Oxford University Press.

External links

• Media related to Ashoka at Wikimedia Commons
• Quotations related to Ashoka at Wikiquote
• Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Asoka" . Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
• Ashoka at the Encyclopædia Britannica
• Ashoka at Curlie
• BBC Radio 4: Sunil Khilnani, Incarnations: Ashoka.
• BBC Radio 4: Melvyn Bragg with Richard Gombrich et al., In Our Time, Ashoka the Great.
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Edicts of Ashoka
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Accessed: 5/26/21



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Edicts of Ashoka
A Major Pillar Edict of Ashoka, in Lauriya Araraj, Bihar, India.
Material: Rocks, pillars, stone slabs
Created: 3rd century BCE
Present location: Nepal, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh

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The Edicts of Ashoka are a collection of more than thirty inscriptions on the pillars, as well as boulders and cave walls, attributed to Emperor Ashoka of the Mauryan Empire who reigned from 268 BCE to 232 BCE.[1] Ashoka used the expression Dhaṃma Lipi (Prakrit in the Brahmi script: [x], "Inscriptions of the Dharma") to describe his own Edicts.[2] These inscriptions were dispersed throughout the areas of modern-day Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Afghanistan and Pakistan, and provide the first tangible evidence of Buddhism. The edicts describe in detail Ashoka's view about dhamma, an earnest attempt to solve some of the problems that a complex society faced.[3] According to the edicts, the extent of Buddhist proselytism during this period reached as far as the Mediterranean, and many Buddhist monuments were created.

These inscriptions proclaim Ashoka's adherence to the Buddhist philosophy which, as in Hinduism, is called dharma, "Law". The inscriptions show his efforts to develop the Buddhist dharma throughout his kingdom. Although Buddhism as well as Gautama Buddha are mentioned, the edicts focus on social and moral precepts rather than specific religious practices or the philosophical dimension of Buddhism. These were located in public places and were meant for people to read.

In these inscriptions, Ashoka refers to himself as "Beloved of the Gods" (Devanampiya). The identification of Devanampiya with Ashoka was confirmed by an inscription discovered in 1915 by C. Beadon, a British gold-mining engineer, at Maski, a village in Raichur district of Karnataka. Another minor rock edict, found at the village Gujarra in Datia district of Madhya Pradesh, also used the name of Ashoka together with his titles: "Devanampiya Piyadasi Asokaraja".[4] The inscriptions found in the central and eastern part of India were written in Magadhi Prakrit using the Brahmi script, while Prakrit using the Kharoshthi script, Greek and Aramaic were used in the northwest. These edicts were deciphered by British archaeologist and historian James Prinsep.[5]

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 program. The edicts were based on Ashoka's ideas on administration and behaviour of people towards one another and religion.

Decipherment

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Brahmi script consonants, and their evolution down to modern Devanagari, according to James Prinsep, as published in the Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, in March 1838. All the letters are correctly deciphered, except for two missing on the right: [x].[6]

Besides a few inscriptions in Greek and Aramaic (which were discovered only in the 20th century), the Edicts were mostly written in the Brahmi script and sometimes in the Kharoshthi script in the northwest, two Indian scripts which had both become extinct around the 5th century CE, and were yet undeciphered at the time the Edicts were discovered and investigated in the 19th century.[7][8]

The first successful attempts at deciphering the ancient Brahmi script were made in 1836 by Norwegian scholar Christian Lassen, who used the bilingual Greek-Brahmi coins of Indo-Greek king Agathocles to correctly and securely identify several Brahmi letters.[8] The task was then completed by James Prinsep, an archaeologist, philologist, and official of the East India Company, who was able to identify the rest of the Brahmi characters, with the help of Major Cunningham.[8][9] In a series of results that he published in March 1838 Prinsep was able to translate the inscriptions on a large number of rock edicts found around India, and to provide, according to Richard Salomon, a "virtually perfect" rendering of the full Brahmi alphabet.[10][5] The edicts in Brahmi script mentioned a King Devanampriya Piyadasi which Prinsep initially assumed was a Sri Lankan king.[11] He was then able to associate this title with Ashoka on the basis of Pali script from Sri Lanka communicated to him by George Turnour.[12][13]

The Kharoshthi script, written from right to left, and associated with Aramaic, was also deciphered by James Prinsep in parallel with Christian Lassen, using the bilingual Greek-Kharoshthi coinage of the Indo-Greek and Indo-Scythian kings.[14][15] "Within the incredibly brief space of three years (1834-37) the mystery of both the Kharoshthi and Brahmi scripts (were unlocked), the effect of which was instantly to remove the thick crust of oblivion which for many centuries had concealed the character and the language of the earliest epigraphs".[14][16]

The Edicts

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The first known inscription by Ashoka, the Kandahar Bilingual Rock Inscription, in Greek and in Aramaic, written in the 10th year of his reign (260 BCE).[17][18][19]

The Edicts are divided into four categories, according to their size (Minor or Major) and according to their medium (Rock or Pillar). Chronologically, the minor inscriptions tend to precede the larger ones, while rock inscriptions generally seem to have been started earlier than the pillar inscriptions:

• Minor Rock Edicts: Edicts inscribed at the beginning of Ashoka's reign; in Prakrit, Greek and Aramaic.
• Minor Pillar Edicts: Schism Edict, Queen's Edict, Rummindei Edict, Nigali Sagar Edict; in Prakrit.
• Major Rock Edicts: 14 Edicts (termed 1st to 14th) and 2 separate ones found in Odisha; in Prakrit and Greek.
• Major Pillar Edicts: 7 Edicts, inscribed at the end of Ashoka's reign; in Prakrit.

General content

The Minor Rock Edicts (in which Ashoka is sometimes named in person, as in Maski and Gujarra) as well as the Minor Pillar Edicts are very religious in their content: they mention extensively the Buddha (and even previous Buddhas as in the Nigali Sagar inscription), the Sangha, Buddhism and Buddhist scriptures (as in the Bairat Edict).[20]

On the contrary, the Major Rock Edicts and Major Pillar Edicts are essentially moral and political in nature: they never mention the Buddha or explicit Buddhist teachings, but are preoccupied with order, proper behaviour and non violence under the general concept of "Dharma", and they also focus on the administration of the state and positive relations with foreign countries as far as the Hellenistic Mediterranean of the mid-3rd century BCE.[20]

Minor Rock Edicts

Main article: Minor Rock Edicts

Minor Rock Edicts

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Minor Rock Edict from Maski.

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Map of the Minor Rock Edicts

The Minor Rock Edicts are often Buddhist in character, and some of them specifically mentions the name "Asoka" (Ashoka [x], center of the top line) in conjonction with the title "Devanampriya" (Beloved-of-the-gods).


The Minor Rock Edicts of Ashoka (r.269-233 BCE) are rock inscriptions which form the earliest part of the Edicts of Ashoka. They predate Ashoka's Major Rock Edicts.

Chronologically, the first known edict, sometimes classified as a Minor Rock Edict, is the Kandahar Bilingual Rock Inscription, in Greek and in Aramaic, written in the 10th year of his reign (260 BCE) at the border of his empire with the Hellenistic world, in the city of Old Kandahar in modern Afghanistan.[17][18][19]

Ashoka then made the first edicts in the Indian language, written in the Brahmi script, from the 11th year of his reign (according to his own inscription, "two and a half years after becoming a secular Buddhist", i.e. two and a half years at least after returning from the Kalinga conquest of the eighth year of his reign, which is the starting point for his remorse towards the horrors of the war, and his gradual conversion to Buddhism). The texts of the inscriptions are rather short, the technical quality of the engraving of the inscriptions is generally very poor, and generally very inferior to the pillar edicts dated to the years 26 and 27 of Ashoka's reign.[21]

There are several slight variations in the content of these edicts, depending on location, but a common designation is usually used, with Minor Rock Edict N°1 (MRE1)[22] and a Minor Rock Edict N°2 (MRE2, which does not appear alone but always in combination with Edict N°1), the different versions being generally aggregated in most translations. The Maski version of Minor Rock Edict No.1 is historically particularly important in that it confirmed the association of the title "Devanampriya" with the name "Asoka", thereby clarifying the historical author of all these inscriptions.[23][24] In the Gujarra version of Minor Rock Edict No.1 also, the name of Ashoka is used together with his full title: Devanampiya Piyadasi Asokaraja.[4]

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The full title Devanampiyasa Piyadasino Asokaraja ([x]) in the Gujarra inscription.[25]

There is also a unique Minor Rock Edict No.3, discovered next to Bairat Temple, for the Buddhist clergy, which gives a list of Buddhist scriptures (most of them unknown today) which the clergy should study regularly.[26]

A few other inscriptions of Ashoka in Aramaic, which are not strictly edicts, but tend to share a similar content, are sometimes also categorized as "Minor Rock Edicts". The dedicatory inscriptions of the Barabar caves are also sometimes classified among the Minor Rock Edicts of Ashoka.

The Minor Rock Edicts can be found throughout the territory of Ashoka, including in the frontier area near the Hindu Kush, and are especially numerous in the southern, newly conquered, frontier areas of Karnataka and southern Andhra Pradesh.

Minor Pillar Edicts

Main article: Minor Pillar Edicts

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Minor Pillar Edict on the Sarnath pillar of Ashoka, and the Lion Capital of Ashoka which crowned it.

The Minor Pillar Edicts of Ashoka refer to 5 separate minor Edicts inscribed on columns, the Pillars of Ashoka.[27] These edicts are preceded chronologically by the Minor Rock Edicts and may have been made in parallel with the Major Rock Edicts.

The inscription technique is generally very poor compared for example to the later Major Pillar Edicts, however the Minor Pillar Edicts are often associated with some of the artistically most sophisticated pillar capitals of Ashoka, such as the renowned Lion Capital of Ashoka which crowned the Sarnath Minor Pillar Edict, or the very similar, but less well preserved Sanchi lion capital which crowned the very clumsily inscribed Schism Edict of Sanchi.[28] According to Irwin, the Brahmi inscriptions on the Sarnath and Sanchi pillars were made by inexperienced Indian engravers at a time when stone engraving was still new in India, whereas the very refined Sarnath capital itself was made under the tutelage of crafstmen from the former Achaemenid Empire, trained in Perso-Hellenistic statuary and employed by Ashoka.[29] This suggests that the most sophisticated capitals were actually the earliest in the sequence of Ashokan pillars and that style degraded over a short period of time.[28]

These edicts were probably made at the beginning of the reign of Ashoka (reigned 268-232 BCE), from the year 12 of his reign, that is, from 256 BCE.[30]

The Minor Pillar Edicts are the Schism Edict, warning of punishment for dissent in the Samgha, the Queen's Edict, and the Rummindei Edict as well as the Nigali Sagar Edict which record Ashoka's visits and Buddhist dedications in the area corresponding to today's Nepal. The Rummindei and Nigali Sagar edicts, inscribed on pillars erected by Ashoka later in his reign (19th and 20th year) display a high level of inscriptional technique with a good regularity in the lettering.[29]

Major Rock Edicts

Main article: Major Rock Edicts

Major Rock Edicts

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Rock edicts of Khalsi

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Map of the Major Rock Edicts


The Major Rock Edicts of Ashoka refer to 14 separate major Edicts, which are significantly detailed and extensive.[31] These Edicts were concerned with practical instructions in running the kingdom such as the design of irrigation systems and descriptions of Ashoka's beliefs in peaceful moral behavior. They contain little personal detail about his life.[32] These edicts are preceded chronologically by the Minor Rock Edicts.

Three languages were used, Prakrit, Greek and Aramaic. The edicts are composed in non-standardized and archaic forms of Prakrit. Prakrit inscriptions were written in Brahmi and Kharosthi scripts, which even a commoner could read and understand. The inscriptions found in the area of Pakistan are in the Kharoshthi script. Other Edicts are written in Greek or Aramaic. The Kandahar Greek Edict of Ashoka (including portions of Edict No.13 and No.14) is in Greek only, and originally probably contained all the Major Rock Edicts 1-14.[33]

The Major Rock Edicts of Ashoka are inscribed on large rocks, except for the Kandahar version in Greek (Kandahar Greek Edict of Ashoka), written on a stone plaque belonging to a building. The Major Edicts are not located in the heartland of Mauryan territory, traditionally centered on Bihar, but on the frontiers of the territory controlled by Ashoka.[34]

Major Pillar Edicts

Main article: Major Pillar Edicts

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Major Pillar Edicts (Delhi-Topra pillar), and one of the capitals (from Rampurva) which crowned such edicts.


The Major Pillar Edicts of Ashoka refer to seven separate major Edicts inscribed on columns, the Pillars of Ashoka, which are significantly detailed and extensive.[27]

These edicts are preceded chronologically by the Minor Rock Edicts and the Major Rock Edicts, and constitute the most technically elegant of the inscriptions made by Ashoka. They were made at the end of his reign, from the years 26 and 27 of his reign, that is, from 237-236 BCE.[30] Chronologically they follow the fall of Seleucid power in Central Asia and the related rise of the Parthian Empire and the independent Greco-Bactrian Kingdom circa 250 BCE. Hellenistic rulers are not mentioned anymore in these last edicts, as they only appear in Major Rock Edict No.13 (and to a lesser extent Major Rock Edict No.2), which can be dated to about the 14th year of the reign of Ashoka circa 256–255.[35] The last Major Pillar Edicts (Edict No.7) is testamental in nature, making a summary of the accomplishments of Ashoka during his life.

The Major Pillar Edicts of Ashoka were exclusively inscribed on the Pillars of Ashoka or fragments thereof, at Kausambi (now Allahabad pillar), Topra Kalan, Meerut, Lauriya-Araraj, Lauria Nandangarh, Rampurva (Champaran), and fragments of these in Aramaic (Kandahar, Edict No.7 and Pul-i-Darunteh, Edict No.5 or No.7 in Afghanistan)[36][37] However several pillars, such as the bull pillar of Rampurva, or the pillar of Vaishali do not have inscriptions, which, together with their lack of proper foundation stones and their particular style, led some authors to suggest that they were in fact pre-Ashokan.[38][39]

The Major Pillar Edicts (excluding the two fragments of translations found in modern Afghanistan) are all located in central India.[40]

The Pillars of Ashoka are stylistically very close to an important Buddhist monument, also built by Ashoka in Bodh Gaya, at the location where the Buddha had reached enlightenment some 200 years earlier: the Diamond Throne.[41][42] The sculpted decorations on the Diamond Throne clearly echoe the decorations found on the Pillars of Ashoka.[43] The Pillars dated to the end of Ashoka's reign are associated with pillar capitals that tend to be more solemn and less elegant than the earlier capitals, such as those of Sanchi or Sarnath. This led some authors to suggest that the artistic level under Ashoka tended to fall towards the end of his reign.[44]

Languages of the Edicts

Three languages were used: Ashokan Prakrit, Greek (the language of the neighbouring Greco-Bactrian kingdom and the Greek communities in Ashoka's realm) and Aramaic (the official language of the former Achaemenid Empire). The Prakrit displayed local variations, from early Gandhari in the northwest, to Old Ardhamagadhi in the east, where it was the "chancery language" of the court.[45] The language level of the Prakrit inscriptions tends to be rather informal or colloquial.[46]

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The four scripts used by Ashoka in his Edicts: Brahmi (top left), Kharoshthi (top right), Greek (bottom left) and Aramaic (bottom right).

Four scripts were used. Prakrit inscriptions were written in the Brahmi and Kharosthi scripts, the latter for the area of modern Pakistan. The Greek and Aramaic inscriptions used their respective scripts, in the northwestern areas of Ashoka's territory, in modern Pakistan and Afghanistan.

While most Edicts were in Ashokan Prakrit, a few were written in Greek or Aramaic. The Kandahar Rock Inscription is bilingual Greek-Aramaic. The Kandahar Greek Edict of Ashoka is in Greek only, and originally probably contained all the Major Rock Edicts 1-14. The Greek language used in the inscription is of a very high level and displays philosophical refinement. It also displays an in-depth understanding of the political language of the Hellenic world in the 3rd century BCE. This suggests the presence of a highly cultured Greek presence in Kandahar at that time.[47]

By contrast, in the rock edicts engraved in southern India in the newly conquered territories of Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, Ashoka only used the Prakrit of the North as the language of communication, with the Brahmi script, and not the local Dravidian idiom, which can be interpreted as a kind of authoritarianism in respect to the southern territories.[48]

Ashoka's edicts were the first written inscriptions in India after the ancient city of Harrapa fell to ruin.[49] Due to the influence of Ashoka's Prakrit inscriptions, Prakrit would remain the main inscriptional language for the following centuries, until the rise of inscriptional Sanskrit from the 1st century CE.[46]

Content of the Edicts

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. The expressions used by Ashoka to express the Dharma, were the Prakrit word Dhaṃma, the Greek word Eusebeia (in the Kandahar Bilingual Rock Inscription and the Kandahar Greek Edict of Ashoka), and the Aramaic word Qsyt ("Truth") (in the Kandahar Bilingual Rock Inscription).[50]

Moral precepts

Right behaviour


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The Prakrit word "Dha-ṃ-ma" ([x], Sanskrit: Dharma) in the Brahmi script, as inscribed by Ashoka in his Edicts. Topra Kalan pillar, now in New Delhi.

Dharma is good. And what is Dharma? It is having few faults and many goods deeds, mercy, charity, truthfulness and purity. (Major Pillar Edict No.2)[51]

Thus the glory of Dhamma will increase throughout the world, and it will be endorsed in the form of mercy, charity, truthfulness, purity, gentleness, and virtue. (Major Pillar Edict No. 7)[27]


Benevolence

Ashoka's 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. He also thought that dharma meant doing the right thing.

Kindness to prisoners

Ashoka showed great concern for fairness in the exercise of justice, caution and tolerance in the application of sentences, and regularly pardoned prisoners.

But it is desirable that there should be uniformity in judicial procedure and punishment. This is my instruction from now on. Men who are imprisoned or sentenced to death are to be given three days respite. Thus their relations may plead for their lives, or, if there is no one to plead for them, they may make donations or undertake a fast for a better rebirth in the next life. For it is my wish that they should gain the next world. (Major Pillar Edict No. 4)[27]

In the period [from my consecration] to [the anniversary on which] I had been consecrated twenty-six years, twenty-five releases of prisoners have been made. (Major Pillar Edict No. 5)[27]


Respect for animal life

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Animals pervade imperial Mauryan art. Rampurva bull capital established by Ashoka, 3rd century BCE. Now in the Rashtrapati Bhavan Presidential Palace, New Delhi.

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 embraced Buddhism 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.[52][53]

This rescript on morality has been caused to be written by Devanampriya Priyadarsin. Here no living being must be killed and sacrificed. And also no festival meeting must be held. For king Devanampriya Priyadarsin sees much evil in festival meetings. And there are also some festival meetings which are considered meritorious by king Devanampriya Priyadarsin. Formerly in the kitchen of king Devanampriya Priyadarsin many hundred thousands of animals were killed daily for the sake of curry. But now, when this rescript on morality is caused to be written, then only three animals are being killed (daily), (viz.) two peacocks (and) one deer, but even this deer not regularly. But even these three animals shall not be killed (in future). (Major Rock Edict No.1)[54][27]

King Devanampriya Priyadansin speaks thus. (When I had been) anointed twenty-six years, the following animals were declared by me inviolable, viz. parrots, mainas, the aruna, ruddy geese, wild geese, the nandimukha, the gelata, bats, queen-ants, terrapins, boneless fish, the vedaveyaka, the Ganga-puputaka, skate-fish, tortoises and porcupines, squirrels (?), the srimara, bulls set at liberty, iguanas (?), the rhinoceros, white doves, domestic doves, (and) all the quadrupeds which are neither useful nor edible. Those [she-goats], ewes, and sows (which are) either with young or in milk, are inviolable, and also those (of their) young ones (which are) less than six months old. Cocks must not be caponed. Husks containing living animals must not be burnt. Forests must not be burnt either uselessly or in order to destroy (living beings). Living animals must not be fed with (other) living animals. (Major Pillar Edict No.5)[55][27]


Ashoka 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.

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.[53]

Religious precepts

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Ashoka and his two queens, visiting the Bodhi Tree in Bodh Gaya, in a relief at Sanchi (1st century CE). The identification with Ashoka is confirmed by the similar relief from Kanaganahalli inscribed "Raya Asoka".[56][57]

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The words "Bu-dhe" ([x], the Buddha) and "Sa-kya-mu-nī " ( [x], "Sage of the Shakyas") in Brahmi script, on Ashoka's Rummindei Minor Pillar Edict (circa 250 BCE).

Buddhism

Explicit mentions of Buddhism or the Buddha only appear in the Minor Rock Edicts and the Minor Pillar Edicts.[20] Beyond affirming himself as a Buddhist and spreading the moral virtues of Buddhism, Ashoka also insisted that the word of the Buddha be read and followed, in particular in monastic circles (the Sanghas), in a unique edict (Minor Rock Edict No.3), found in front of the Bairat Temple[58]

I have been a Buddhist layman ("Budha-Shake" in the Maski edict, upāshake in others)[59] for more than two and a half years, but for a year I did not make much progress. Now for more than a year I have drawn closer to the Order and have become more ardent. (Minor Rock Edict No.1)[27]

The king of Magadha, Piyadassi, greets the Order and wishes it prosperity and freedom from care. You know Sirs, how deep is my respect for and faith in the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Samgha [i.e. the Buddhist creed]. Sirs, whatever was spoken by the Lord Buddha was well spoken. (Minor Rock Edict No.3)[27]

These sermons on Dhamma, Sirs - the Excellence of the Discipline, the Lineage of the Noble One, the Future Fears, the Verses of,the Sage, the Sutra of Silence, the Question, of Upatissa, and the Admonition spoken by the Lord Buddha to Rahula on the subject of false speech - these sermons on the Dhamma, Sirs, I desire that many monks and nuns should hear frequently and meditate upon, and likewise laymen and laywomen. (Minor Rock Edict No.3)[27]


Ashoka also expressed his devotion for the Buddhas of the past, such as the Koṇāgamana Buddha, for whom he enlarged a stupa in the 14th year of his reign, and made a dedication and set up a pillar during a visit in person in the 20th year of his reign, as described in his Minor Pillar Edict of Nigali Sagar, in modern Nepal.[60][61]

Belief in a next world

By doing so, there is gain in this world, and in the next there is infinite merit, through the gift of Dhamma. (Major Rock Edict No.11) [27]

It is hard to obtain happiness in this world and the next without extreme love of Dhamma, much vigilance, much obedience, much fear of sin, and extreme energy. (Major Pillar Edict No. 1)[27]


Religious exchange

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The Barabar caves were built by Ashoka for the ascetic sect of the Ajivikas, as well as for the Buddhists, illustrating his respect for several faiths. Lomas Rishi cave. 3rd century BCE.

Far from being sectarian, Ashoka, based on a belief that all religions shared a common, positive essence, encouraged tolerance and understanding of other religions.

The Beloved of the Gods, the king Piyadassi, wishes that all sect may dwell in all places, for all seek self-control and purity of mind. (Major Rock Edict No.7[27]

For whosoever praises his own sect or blames other sects, — all (this) out of pure devotion to his own sect, (i.e.) with the view of glorifying his own sect, — if he is acting thus, he rather injures his own sect very severely. But concord is meritorious, (i.e.) that they should both hear and obey each other's morals. For this is the desire of Devanampriya, (viz.) that all sects should be both full of learning and pure in doctrine. And those who are attached to their respective (sects), ought to be spoken to (as follows). Devanampriya does not value either gifts or honours so (highly) as (this), (viz.) that a promotion of the essentials of all sects should take place. (Major Rock Edict No.12[62][27]


Social and animal welfare

According to the edicts, Ashoka took great care of the welfare 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. The Greek king Antiochos ("the Yona king named Antiyoga" in the text of the Edicts) is also named as a recipient of Ashoka's generosity, together with the other kings neighbouring him.[63]

Medicinal treatments

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The Seleucid king Antiochos ("Aṃtiyakā", "Aṃtiyako" or "Aṃtiyoga" depending on the transliterations) is named as a recipient of Ashoka's medical treatments, together with his Hellenistic neighbours.[63]

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"Aṃtiyako Yona Rājā" ("The Greek king Antiochos"), mentioned in Major Rock Edict No.2, here at Girnar. Brahmi script.[64]

Everywhere in the dominions of king Devanampriya Priyadarsin and (of those) who (are his) borderers, such as the Chodas, the Pandyas, the Satiyaputa,[note 1] the Kelalaputa,[note 2] Tamraparni, the Yona king named Antiyoga, and the other kings who are the neighbours of this Antiyoga, everywhere two (kinds of) medical treatment were established by king Devanampriya Priyadarsin, (viz.) medical treatment for men and medical treatment for cattle. Wherever there were no herbs beneficial to men and beneficial to cattle, everywhere they were caused to be imported and to be planted. Likewise, wherever there were no roots and fruits, everywhere they were caused to be imported and to be planted. On the roads trees were planted, and wells were caused to be dug for the use of cattle and men. (Major Rock Edict No. 2, Khalsi version)[67][27]


Roadside facilities

On the roads banyan-trees were caused to be planted by me, (in order that) they might afford shade to cattle and men, (and) mango-groves were caused to be planted. And (at intervals) of eight kos wells were caused to be dug by me, and flights of steps (for descending into the water) were caused to be built. Numerous drinking-places were caused to be established by me, here and there, for the enjoyment of cattle and men. [But] this so-called enjoyment (is) [of little consequence]. For with various comforts have the people been blessed both by former kings and by myself. But by me this has been done for the following purpose: that they might conform to that practice of morality. (Major Pillar Edict No.7)[55][27]


Officers of the faith

Now, in times past (officers) called Mahamatras of morality did not exist before. Mahdmatras of morality were appointed by me (when I had been) anointed thirteen years. These are occupied with all sects in establishing morality, in promoting morality, and for the welfare and happiness of those who are devoted to morality (even) among the Yona, Kambojas, and Gandharas, and whatever other western borderers (of mine there are). They are occupied with servants and masters, with Brahmanas and Ibhiyas, with the destitute; (and) with the aged, for the welfare and happiness of those who are devoted to morality, (and) in releasing (them) from the fetters (of worldly life). (Major Rock Edict No.5)[68][27]


Birthplace of the historical Buddha

Main article: Lumbini pillar inscription

In a particularly famous Edict, the Rummindei Edict in Lumbini, Nepal, Ashoka describes his visit in the 21st year of his reign, and mentions Lumbini as the birthplace of the Buddha. He also, for the first time in historical records, uses the epithet "Sakyamuni" (Sage of the Shakyas), to describe the historical Buddha.[69]

Rummindei pillar, inscription of Ashoka (circa 248 BCE)

Translation (English) / Transliteration (original Brahmi script) / Inscription (Prakrit in the Brahmi script)

When King Devanampriya Priyadarsin had been anointed twenty years, he came himself and worshipped (this spot) because the Buddha Shakyamuni was born here. (He) both caused to be made a stone bearing a horse (?) and caused a stone pillar to be set up, (in order to show) that the Blessed One was born here. (He) made the village of Lummini free of taxes, and paying (only) an eighth share (of the produce).

— The Rummindei Edict, one of the Minor Pillar Edicts of Ashoka.[70] / [x] Devānaṃpiyena Piyadasina lājina vīsati-vasābhisitena [x]atana āgācha mahīyite hida Budhe jāte Sakyamuni ti [x] silā vigaḍabhī chā kālāpita silā-thabhe cha usapāpite [x] hida Bhagavaṃ jāte ti Luṃmini-gāme ubalike kaṭe [x] aṭha-bhāgiye cha — Adapted from transliteration by E. Hultzsch.[71] /
Image
The Rummindei pillar edict in Lumbini.


Ashoka's proselytism according to the Edicts

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The Kalsi rock edict of Ashoka, which mentions the Greek kings Antiochus, Ptolemy, Antigonus, Magas and Alexander by name (underlined in color).

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The word Yona for "Greek" in the Girnar 2nd Major Rock Edict of Ashoka. The word is part of the phrase "Amtiyako Yona Raja" (The Greek King Antiochus).[72]

In order to propagate welfare, Ashoka explains that he sent emissaries and medicinal plants to the Hellenistic kings as far as the Mediterranean, and to people throughout India, claiming that Dharma had been achieved in all their territories as well. He names the Greek rulers of the time, inheritors of the conquest of Alexander the Great, from Bactria to as far as Greece and North Africa, as recipients of the Dharma, displaying a clear grasp of the political situation at the time.[73][74][75]

Proselytism beyond India

Now, it is the conquest by the Dharma that the Beloved of the Gods considers as the best conquest. And this one (the conquest by the Dharma) was won here, on the borders, and even 600 yojanas (leagues) from here, where the king Antiochos reigns, and beyond where reign the four kings Ptolemy, Antigonos, Magas and Alexander, likewise in the south, where live the Cholas, the Pandyas, and as far as Tamraparni.

— Extract from Major Rock Edict No.13.[76]


The distance of 600 yojanas (4,800 to 6,000 miles) corresponds roughly to the distance between the center of India and Greece.[63]

In the Gandhari original Antiochos is referred to as "Amtiyoge nama Yona-raja" (lit. "The Greek king by the name of Antiokos"), beyond whom live the four other kings: "param ca tena Atiyogena cature 4 rajani Tulamaye nama Amtekine nama Makā 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".[77]

• Amtiyaka ([x]) or Amtiyoga ([x]), refers to Antiochus II Theos of Syria (261–246 BCE), who controlled the Seleucid Empire from Syria to Bactria in the east from 305 to 250 BCE, and was therefore a direct neighbor of Ashoka.[63][78]
• Tulamāya ([x]) 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.[63][78]
• Amtekina ([x]) refers to Antigonus II Gonatas of Macedon (278–239 BCE).[63][78]
• Makā ([x]) refers to Magas of Cyrene (300–258 BCE).[63][78]
• Alikyaṣadala ([x]) refers to Alexander II of Epirus (272–258 BCE).[63][78]

All the kings mentioned in Ashoka's Major Rock Edict No.13 are famous Hellenistic rulers, contemporary of Ashoka:[63][79]

Image
Seleucid king Antiochus II Theos of Syria (261–246 BCE).

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Ptolemy II Philadelphos of Egypt (285–247 BCE) with his sister Arsinoe II.

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Antigonus II Gonatas of Macedon (278–239 BCE).

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Magas of Cyrene (300–258 BCE).

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Alexander II of Epirus (272–258 BCE) on a cameo of agate.

Emissaries

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Territories "conquered by the Dharma" according to Major Rock Edict No.13 of Ashoka (260–232 BCE).[63][78]

It is not clear in Hellenic records whether these emissaries were actually received, or had any influence on the Hellenic world. But the existence of the edicts in a very high-level Greek literary and philosophical language testifies to the high sophistication of the Greek community of Kandahar, and to a true communication between Greek intellectuals and Indian thought.[80][81] According to historian Louis Robert, it becomes quite likely that these Kandahar Greeks who were very familiar with Indian culture could in turn transmit Indian ideas to the philosophical circles of the Mediterranean world, in Seleucia, Antioch, Alexandria, Pella or Cyrene.[81] He suggests that the famous Ashoka emissaries sent to the Western Hellenistic Courts according to Ashoka's Major Rock Edict No.13 were in fact Greek subjects and citizens of Kandahar, who had the full capacity to carry out these embassies.[81]

Another document, the Mahavamsa (XII, 1st paragraph),[82] also states that in the 17th year of his reign, at the end of the Third Buddhist Council, Ashoka sent Buddhist missionaries to eight parts of Southern Asia and the "country of the Yonas" (Greeks) to propagate Buddhism.[83]

Presence in the West

Overall, the evidence for the presence of Buddhists in the west from that time is very meager.[84] But some scholars point to the possible presence of Buddhist communities in the Hellenistic world, in particular in Alexandria.[85] Dio Chrysostum wrote to Alexandrians that there are "Indians who view the spectacles with you and are with you on all occasions" (Oratio.XXXII.373).[86][87][85] According to Ptolemy also, Indians were present in Alexandria, to whom he was much endebted for his knowledge of India (As.Res.III.53).[88] Clement of Alexandria too mentioned the presence of Indians in Alexandria.[89] A possible Buddhist gravestone from the Ptolemaic period has been found by Flinders Petrie, decorated with a depiction of what may be Wheel of the Law and Trishula.[85][90] According to the 11th century Muslim historian Al-Biruni, before the advent of Islam, Buddhists were present in Western Asia as far as the frontiers of Syria.[91][92]

Possible influences on Western thought

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Top: Wheels in Egyptian temples according to Hero of Alexandria.[93] Bottom: Possible wheel and trisula symbol on Ptolemaic tombstones in Egypt.[93]

Colonial era scholars such as Rhys Davids have attributed Ashoka's claims of "Dharmic conquest" to mere vanity, and expressed disbelief that Greeks could have been in any way influenced by Indian thought.[94]

But numerous authors have noted the parallels between Buddhism, Cyrenaicism and Epicureanism, which all strive for a state of ataraxia ("equanimity") away from the sorrows of life.[95][96][97] The positions of philosophers such as Hegesias of Cyrene were close to Buddhism, his ideas recalling the Buddhist doctrine of suffering: he lived in the city of Cyrene where Magas ruled, the same Magas under whom the Dharma prospered according to Ashoka, and he may have been influenced by Ashoka's missionaries.[97][98][99][100]

The religious communities of the Essenes of Palestine and the Therapeutae of Alexandria may also have been communities based on the model of Buddhist monasticism, following Ashoka's missions.[101][102][103] According to semitologist André Dupont-Sommer, speaking about the consequences of Ashoka's proselytism: "It is India which would be, according to us, at the beginning of this vast monastic current which shone with a strong brightness during about three centuries in Judaism itself".[104] This influence would even contribute, according to André Dupont-Sommer, to the emergence of Christianity: "Thus was prepared the ground on which Christianity, that sect of Jewish origin influenced by the Essenes, which was so quickly and so powerfully to conquer a very large part of the world."[105][102]

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 also lived in the northwest of the Mauryan empire, currently in Pakistan, notably ancient Gandhara, and in the region of Gedrosia, nowadays in Southern Afghanistan, following the conquest and the colonization efforts of Alexander the Great around 323 BCE. These communities therefore seem to have been still significant during the reign of Ashoka. The Kambojas are a people of Central Asian origin who had settled first in Arachosia and Drangiana (today's southern Afghanistan), and in some of the other areas in the northwestern Indian subcontinent in Sindhu, Gujarat and Sauvira. The Nabhakas, the Nabhapamkits, the Bhojas, the Pitinikas, the Andhras and the Palidas were other people under Ashoka's rule:

Here in the king's domain among the Greeks, the Kambojas, the Nabhakas, the Nabhapamkits, the Bhojas, the Pitinikas, the Andhras and the Palidas, everywhere people are following Beloved-of-the-Gods' instructions in Dhamma. Rock Edict Nb13 (S. Dhammika)


Influences

Achaemenid inscriptional tradition


Image
The word Lipī ([x]) used by Ashoka to describe his "Edicts". Brahmi script (Li=[x]).

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The same word was "Dipi" in the northwest, identical with the Persian word for writing, as in this segment "Dhrama-Dipi" ([x], "inscription of the Dharma") in Kharosthi script in the First Edict at Shahbazgarhi. The third letter from the right reads "Di" Kharoshthi letter Di.jpg and not "Li" Kharoshthi letter Li.jpg.[106]

Image
The same expression Dhamma Lipi ("Dharma inscriptions") in Brahmi script ([x]), Delhi-Topra pillar.

The inscriptions of Ashoka may show Achaemenid influences, including formulaic parallels with Achaemenid inscriptions, presence of Iranian loanwords (in Aramaic inscriptions), and the very act of engraving edicts on rocks and mountains (compare for example Behistun inscription).[107][108] To describe his own Edicts, Ashoka used the word Lipī ([x]), now generally simply translated as "writing" or "inscription". It is thought the word "lipi", which is also orthographed "dipi" ([x]) in the two Kharosthi versions of the rock edicts,[note 3] comes from an Old Persian prototype dipî ([x]) also meaning "inscription", which is used for example by Darius I in his Behistun inscription,[note 4] suggesting borrowing and diffusion.[109][110][111] There are other borrowings of Old Persian terms for writing-related words in the Edicts of Ahoka, such as nipista or nipesita ([x], "written" and "made to be written") in the Kharoshthi version of Major Rock Edict No.4, which can be related to the word nipištā ([x], "written") from the daiva inscription of Xerxes at Persepolis.[112]
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Hellenistic inscriptions

It has also been suggested that inscriptions bearing the Delphic maxims from the Seven Sages of Greece, inscribed by philosopher Clearchus of Soli in the neighbouring city of Ai-Khanoum circa 300 BCE, may have influenced the writings of Ashoka.[113][114] These Greek inscriptions, located in the central square of Ai-Khanoum, put forward traditional Greek moral rules which are very close to the Edicts, both in term of formulation and content.[114][115]

Ancestor of the Hindu-Arabic numeral system

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The numerals used by Ashoka in his Edicts.

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The number "256" in Ashoka's Minor Rock Edict No.1 in Sasaram.

The first examples of the Hindu-Arabic numeral system appeared in the Brahmi numerals used in the Edicts of Ashoka, in which a few numerals are found, although the system is not yet positional (the zero, together with a mature positional system, was invented much later around the 6th century CE) and involves different symbols for units, dozens or hundreds.[116] This system is later further documented with more numerals in the Nanaghat inscriptions (1st century BCE), and later in the Nasik Caves inscriptions (2nd century CE), to acquire designs which are largely similar to the Hindu-Arabic numerals used today.[117][118][119]

The number "6" in particular appears in Minor Rock Edict No.1 when Ashoka explains he has "been on tour for 256 days". The evolution to the modern glyph for 6 appears rather straightforward. It was written in one stroke, somewhat like a cursive lowercase "e". Gradually, the upper part of the stroke (above the central squiggle) became more curved, while the lower part of the stroke (below the central squiggle) became straighter. The Arabs dropped the part of the stroke below the squiggle. From there, the European evolution to the modern 6 was very straightforward, aside from a flirtation with a glyph that looked more like an uppercase G.[120]

Influence on Indian epigraphy

Main article: Early Indian epigraphy

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The Edicts of Ashoka started a tradition of epigraphical inscriptions.[121] 1800 years separate these two inscriptions: Brahmi script of the 3rd century BCE (Major Pillar Edict of Ashoka), and its derivative, 16th century CE Devanagari script (1524 CE), on the Delhi-Topra pillar.

Ashokan inscriptions in Prakrit precede by several centuries inscriptions in Sanskrit, probably owing to the great prestige which Ashokan inscriptions gave to the Prakrit language.[122] Louis Renou called it "the great linguistical paradox of India" that the Sanskrit inscriptions appear later than Prakrit inscriptions, although Prakrit is considered as a descendant of the Sanskrit language.[122]

Ashoka was probably the first Indian ruler to create stone inscriptions, and in doing so, he began an important Indian tradition of royal epigraphical inscriptions.[121] The earliest known stone inscriptions in Sanskrit are in the Brahmi script from the first century BCE.[122] These early Sanskrit inscriptions include the Ayodhyā (Uttar Pradesh) and Hāthībādā-Ghosuṇḍī (near Chittorgarh, Rajasthan) inscriptions.[122][123] Other important inscriptions dated to the 1st century BCE, in relatively accurate classical Sanskrit and Brahmi script are the Yavanarajya inscription on a red sandstone slab and the long Naneghat inscription on the wall of a cave rest stop in the Western Ghats.[124] Besides these few examples from the 1st century BCE, the bulk of early Sanskrit inscriptions were made from the 1st and 2nd-century CE by the Indo-Scythian Northern Satraps in Mathura (Uttar Pradesh), and the Western Satraps in Gujarat and Maharashtra.[125] According to Salomon, the Scythian rulers of northern and western India while not the originators, were promoters of the use of Sanskrit language for inscriptions, and "their motivation in promoting Sanskrit was presumably a desire to establish themselves as legitimate Indian or at least Indianized rulers and to curry the favor of the educated Brahmanical elite".[126]

The Brahmi script used in the Edicts of Ashoka, as well as the Prakrit language of these inscriptions was in popular use down through the Kushan period, and remained readable down to the 4th century CE during the Gupta period. After that time the script underwent significant evolutions which rendered the Ashokan inscriptions unreadable. This still means that Ashoka's Edicts were for everyone to see and understand for a period of nearly 700 years in India, suggesting that they remained significantly influential for a long time.[127]

Questions of authorship

The Edicts and their declared authors

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Edicts in the name of Piyadasi or Devanampiya Piyadasi ("King Piyadasi"):
Major Rock Edicts
Major Pillar Edicts


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Edicts in the name of Ashoka or just "Devanampiya" ("King"), or both together:
Minor Rock Edicts
Minor Pillar Edicts


The different areas covered by the two types of inscriptions, and their different content in respect to Buddhism, may point to different rulers.
[128]


According to some scholars such as Christopher I. Beckwith, Ashoka, whose name only appears in the Minor Rock Edicts, should be differentiated from the ruler Piyadasi, or Devanampiya Piyadasi (i.e. "Beloved of the Gods Piyadasi", "Beloved of the Gods" being a fairly widespread title for "King"), who is named as the author of the Major Pillar Edicts and the Major Rock Edicts.[128] Beckwith also highlights the fact that Buddhism nor the Buddha are mentioned in the Major Edicts, but only in the Minor Edicts.[129] Further, the Buddhist notions described in the Minor Edicts (such as the Buddhist canonical writings in Minor Edict No.3 at Bairat, the mention of a Buddha of the past Kanakamuni Buddha in the Nigali Sagar Minor Pillar Edict) are more characteristic of the "Normative Buddhism" of the Saka-Kushan period around the 2nd century CE.[129]

This inscriptional evidence may suggest that Piyadasi and Ashoka were two different rulers.[128] According to Beckwith, Piyadasi was living in the 3rd century BCE, probably the son of Chandragupta Maurya known to the Greeks as Amitrochates, and only advocating for piety ("Dharma") in his Major Pillar Edicts and Major Rock Edicts, without ever mentioning Buddhism, the Buddha or the Samgha.[128] Since he does mention a pilgrimage to Sambhodi (Bodh Gaya, in Major Rock Edict No.8) however, he may have adhered to an "early, pietistic, popular" form of Buddhism.[130] Also, the geographical spread of his inscription shows that Piyadasi ruled a vast Empire, contiguous with the Seleucid Empire in the West.[128]

On the contrary, for Beckwith, Ashoka himself was a later king of the 1st-2nd century CE, whose name only appears explicitly in the Minor Rock Edicts and allusively in the Minor Pillar Edicts, and who does mention the Buddha and the Samgha, explicitly promoting Buddhism.[128] He may have been an unknown or possibly invented ruler named Devanampriya Asoka, with the intent of propagating a later, more institutional version of the Buddhist faith.[129][131] His inscriptions cover a very different and much smaller geographical area, clustering in Central India.[128] According to Beckwith, the inscriptions of this later Ashoka were typical of the later forms of "normative Buddhism", which are well attested from inscriptions and Gandhari manuscripts dated to the turn of the millennium, and around the time of the Kushan Empire.[128] The quality of the inscriptions of this Ashoka is significantly lower than the quality of the inscriptions of the earlier Piyadasi.[128]


However, many of Beckwith's methodologies and interpretations concerning early Buddhism, inscriptions, and archaeological sites have been criticized by other scholars, such as Johannes Bronkhorst and Osmund Bopearachchi.[132][133]

See also

• List of Edicts of Ashoka
• Pillars of Ashoka
• Ashokan Edicts in Delhi
• Ashoka's Major Rock Edict
• Edict
• Greco-Buddhism
• Kambojas

Notes

1. Seems to refer to Tamil ruler Athiyaman.[65]
2. Kelalaputa is the Prakrit for Kerala.[66]
3. For example, according to Hultzsch, the first line of the First Edict at Shahbazgarhi (or at Mansehra) reads: "(Ayam) Dhrama-dipi Devanapriyasa Raño likhapitu" ("This Dharma-Edicts was written by King Devanampriya" Inscriptions of Asoka. New Edition by E. Hultzsch (in Sanskrit). 1925. p. 51.
This appears in the reading of Hultzsch's original rubbing of the Kharoshthi inscription of the first line of the First Edict at Shahbazgarhi.
4. For example Column IV, Line 89
• Gandhari original of Edict No. 13 (Greek kings: Paragraph 9): Text

References

Citations


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62. Translation by E. Hultzsch (1857-1927). Published in India in 1925. Inscriptions of Asoka p.34. Public Domain.
63. Kosmin, Paul J. (2014). The Land of the Elephant Kings. Harvard University Press. p. 57. ISBN 9780674728820.
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68. Translation by E. Hultzsch (1857–1927). Published in India in 1925. Inscriptions of Asoka p. 32. Public Domain.
69. Hultzsch, E. /1925). Inscriptions of Asoka. Oxford: Clarendon Press, pp. 164–165
70. Hultzsch, E. (1925). Inscriptions of Asoka. Oxford: Clarendon Press, pp. 164–165
71. Hultzsch, E. (1925). Inscriptions of Asoka. New Edition by E. Hultzsch (in Sanskrit). p. 164.
72. Inscriptions of Asoka. New Edition by E. Hultzsch (in Sanskrit). 1925. pp. 3–5.
73. Sadasivan, S. N. (2000). A Social History of India. APH Publishing. ISBN 9788176481700.
74. Heinz, Carolyn Brown; Murray, Jeremy A. (2018). Asian Cultural Traditions: Second Edition. Waveland Press. p. 166. ISBN 9781478637646.
75. Bozeman, Adda Brümmer. Politics and culture in international history. Transaction Publishers. p. 126. ISBN 9781412831321.
76. S. Dhammika, The Edicts of King Ashoka The Fourteen Rock Edicts/13
77. Inscriptions of Asoka. New Edition by E. Hultzsch (in Sanskrit). 1925. p. 46.
78. Thomas Mc Evilly "The shape of ancient thought", Allworth Press, New York, 2002, p. 368.
79. Lahiri, Nayanjot (2015). Ashoka in Ancient India. Harvard University Press. p. 25. ISBN 9780674057777.
80. Lahiri, Nayanjot (2015). Ashoka in Ancient India. Harvard University Press. p. 173. ISBN 9780674057777.
81. Une nouvelle inscription grecque d'Açoka [article], Schlumberger, Daniel, Comptes rendus des séances de l'Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres Année 1964 p.139
82. Mahavamsa. "Chapter XII". lakdiva.org.
83. Jermsawatdi, Promsak (1979). Thai Art with Indian Influences. Abhinav Publications. pp. 10–11. ISBN 9788170170907.
84. Heirman, Ann; Bumbacher, Stephan Peter (2007). The Spread of Buddhism. BRILL. pp. 148–149. ISBN 978-9004158306.
85. Thomas Mc Evilly "The shape of ancient thought", Allworth Press, New York, 2002, p. 383.
86. "For I behold among you, not merely Greeks and Italians and people from neighbouring Syria, Libya, Cilicia, nor yet Ethiopians and Arabs from more distant regions, but even Bactrians and Scythians and Persians and a few Indians, and all these help to make up the audience in your theatre and sit beside you on each occasion" "LacusCurtius • Dio Chrysostom — Discourse 32". penelope.uchicago.edu.
87. Sugirtharajah, R. S. (2013). The Bible and Asia. Harvard University Press. p. 48. ISBN 9780674726468.
88. Thomas Mc Evilly "The shape of ancient thought", Allworth Press, New York, 2002, p. 383, quoting As.Res.III Asiatic Researches Or Transactions Vol. 3. 1799. p. 297.
89. Dayal, Har (1999). The Bodhisattva Doctrine in Buddhist Sanskrit Literature. Motilal Banarsidass. p. 41. ISBN 9788120812574.
90. Simpson, William (1898). "The Buddhist Praying Wheel". Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society. 30(4): 875. doi:10.1017/S0035869X00146659. JSTOR 25208047. Apud William Woodthorpe Tarn (1951). The Greeks in Bactria and India (2nd ed.). Cambridge: University Press. p. 370.
91. Skilton, Andrew (2013). Concise History of Buddhism. Windhorse Publications. p. 196. ISBN 9781909314122.
92. "Compareti - Buddhist Activity in Pre-Islamic Persia - Transoxiana 12". http://www.transoxiana.org.
93. William Simpson (1898). "The Buddhist Praying Wheel". Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society. 30(4): 875. doi:10.1017/S0035869X00146659. JSTOR 25208047.
94. Lahiri, Nayanjot (2015). Ashoka in Ancient India. Harvard University Press. p. 341 Note 43. ISBN 9780674057777.
95. Scharfstein, Ben-Ami (1998). A Comparative History of World Philosophy: From the Upanishads to Kant. SUNY Press. p. 202. ISBN 9780791436837.
96. Cooper, David E.; James, Simon P. (2017). Buddhism, Virtue and Environment. Routledge. p. 105. ISBN 9781351954310.
97. Berenice II and the Golden Age of Ptolemaic Egypt, Dee L. Clayman, Oxford University Press, 2014, p.33
98. "The philosopher Hegesias of Cyrene (nicknamed Peisithanatos, "The Death-Persuader") was contemporary of Magas and was probably influenced by the teachings of the Buddhist missionaries to Cyrene and Alexandria. His influence was such that he was ultimately prohited to teach" —Jean-Marie Lafont . Les Dossiers d'Archéologie (254): 78, INALCO
99. Éric Volant, Culture et mort volontaire, quoted in
100. Historical Dictionary of Ancient Greek Philosophy, Anthony Preus, Rowman & Littlefield, 2015, p.184
101. Bhandarkar, Devadatta Ramkrishna; Bhandarkar, R. G. (2000). Asoka. Asian Educational Services. p. 165. ISBN 9788120613331.
102. Nakamura, Hajime (1987). Indian Buddhism: A Survey with Bibliographical Notes. Motilal Banarsidass. p. 95. ISBN 9788120802728.
103. Essénisme et Bouddhisme, André Dupont-Sommer, Comptes rendus des séances de l'Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres Year 1980 124-4 pp.704-715
104. "C'est l'Inde qui serait, selon nous, au départ de ce vaste courant monastique qui brilla d'un vif éclat durant environ trois siècles dans le judaïsme même" in Essénisme et Bouddhisme, André Dupont-Sommer, Comptes rendus des séances de l'Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres Year 1980 124-4 pp. 698-715 p.710-711
105. "Ainsi s'était préparé le terrain où prit naissance le Christianisme, cette secte d'origine juive, essénienne ou essénisante, qui devait si vite et si puissamment conquérir une très grande partie du monde."in Essénisme et Bouddhisme, Dupont-Sommer, André, Comptes rendus des séances de l'Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres Year 1980 124-4 pp. 698-715 p.715
106. Inscriptions of Asoka. New Edition by E. Hultzsch (in Sanskrit). 1925. p. 51.
107. Sagar, Krishna Chandra (1992). Foreign Influence on Ancient India. Northern Book Centre. p. 39. ISBN 9788172110284.
108. "Ashoka" in Encyclopaedia Iranica
109. Hultzsch, E. (1925). Corpus Inscriptionum Indicarum v. 1: Inscriptions of Asoka. Oxford: Clarendon Press. p. xlii.
110. Sharma, R. S. (2006). India's Ancient Past. Oxford University Press. p. 163. ISBN 9780199087860.
111. "The word dipi appears in the Old Persian inscription of Darius I at Behistan (Column IV. 39) having the meaning inscription or "written document" in Indian History Congress (2007). Proceedings - Indian History Congress. p. 90.
112. de Voogt, Alexander J.; Finkel, Irving L. (2010). The Idea of Writing: Play and Complexity. BRILL. p. 209. ISBN 978-9004174467.
113. Erskine, Andrew (2009). A Companion to the Hellenistic World. John Wiley & Sons. p. 421. ISBN 9781405154413.
114. Valeri P. Yailenko, Les maximes delphiques d'Aï Khanoum et la formation de la doctrine du dharma d'Asoka, Dialogues d'histoire ancienne, Vol. 16, No.1, 1990 pp.239-256
115. Henk Singor, Leiden University King Ashoka's Philanthropia
116. Hollingdale, Stuart (2014). Makers of Mathematics. Courier Corporation. pp. 95–96. ISBN 9780486174501.
117. Publishing, Britannica Educational (2009). The Britannica Guide to Theories and Ideas That Changed the Modern World. Britannica Educational Publishing. p. 64. ISBN 9781615300631.
118. Katz, Victor J.; Parshall, Karen Hunger (2014). Taming the Unknown: A History of Algebra from Antiquity to the Early Twentieth Century. Princeton University Press. p. 105. ISBN 9781400850525.
119. Pillis, John de (2002). 777 Mathematical Conversation Starters. MAA. p. 286. ISBN 9780883855409.
120. Georges Ifrah, The Universal History of Numbers: From Prehistory to the Invention of the Computertransl. David Bellos et al. London: The Harvill Press (1998): 395, Fig. 24.66
121. Singor, Henk (2014). King Ashoka's Philanthropia (PDF). p. 4.
122. Salomon 1998, pp. 86-87. sfn error: multiple targets (6×): CITEREFSalomon1998 (help)
123. Theo Damsteegt (1978). Epigraphical Hybrid Sanskrit. Brill Academic. pp. 209–211.
124. Sonya Rhie Quintanilla (2007). History of Early Stone Sculpture at Mathura: Ca. 150 BCE - 100 CE. BRILL Academic. pp. 254–255. ISBN 978-90-04-15537-4.
125. Salomon 1998, p. 87 with footnotes. sfn error: multiple targets (6×): CITEREFSalomon1998 (help)
126. Salomon 1998, p. 93. sfn error: multiple targets (6×): CITEREFSalomon1998 (help)
127. Beckwith, Christopher I. (2015). Greek Buddha: Pyrrho's Encounter with Early Buddhism in Central Asia. Princeton University Press. p. 242. ISBN 9781400866328.
128. Beckwith, Christopher I. (2017). Greek Buddha: Pyrrho's Encounter with Early Buddhism in Central Asia. Princeton University Press. pp. 226–250. ISBN 978-0-691-17632-1.
129. Beckwith, Christopher I. (2015). Greek Buddha: Pyrrho's Encounter with Early Buddhism in Central Asia. Princeton University Press. p. 238. ISBN 9781400866328.
130. Beckwith, Christopher I. (2015). Greek Buddha: Pyrrho's Encounter with Early Buddhism in Central Asia. Princeton University Press. p. 134. ISBN 9781400866328.
131. Beckwith, Christopher I. (2015). Greek Buddha: Pyrrho's Encounter with Early Buddhism in Central Asia. Princeton University Press. p. 231. ISBN 9781400866328.
132. Bopearachchi, Osmund (2016). "Review of C.I. Beckwith, Greek Buddha".
133. Bronkhorst, Johannes (2016). How the Brahmins Won. Brill. pp. 483–489.

Sources

• Cunningham, Alexander (1877). Inscriptions of Asoka, Calcutta : Office of the Superintendent of Government Printing
• Dhammika, S. (1993). "The Edicts of King Asoka: An English Rendering", The Wheel Publication No. 386/387, Kandy Sri Lanka: Buddhist Publication Society, ISBN 955-24-0104-6
• Gombrich, Richard; Guruge, Ananda (1994). King Ashoka and Buddhism: Historical and Literary studies, Kandy: Sri Lanka; Buddhist Publication Society, 1st edition, ISBN 9552400651
• Mookerji, Radhakumud (1962). Aśoka (3rd ed.). Delhi: Motilal Banarsidas.
• Salomon, Richard (1998). Indian Epigraphy: A Guide to the Study of Inscriptions in Sanskrit, Prakrit, and the other Indo-Aryan Languages. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-535666-3.
• Singh, Upinder (2008). "Chapter 7: Power and Piety: The Maurya Empire, c. 324-187 BCE". A History of Ancient and Early Medieval India: From the Stone Age to the 12th Century. New Delhi: Pearson Education. ISBN 978-81-317-1677-9.
• Le, Huu Phuoc (2010). Buddhist Architecture. Grafikol. ISBN 9780984404308.

External links

• The Edicts of King Ashoka by Dhammika
• Edicts in original Gandhari
• Inscriptions of India – Complete listing of historical inscriptions from Indian temples and monuments
• Ashoka Library in Bibliotheca Polyglotta with all inscriptions, Māgadhī and English
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Shanti Parva
by Wikipedia
Accessed: 5/27/21

Image
Yudhishthira receives counsel from sages (shown) and from dying Bhishma on proper governance, justice and rule of law in Shanti parva.

The Shanti Parva (Sanskrit: शान्ति पर्व; IAST: Śānti parva; "Book of Peace") is the twelfth of eighteen books of the Indian Epic Mahabharata. It traditionally has 3 sub-books and 365 chapters.[1][2] The critical edition has 3 sub-books and 353 chapters.[3][4] It is the longest book among the eighteen books of the epic.

The book is set after the war is over- the two sides have accepted peace and Yudhishthira starts his rule of the Pandava kingdom. The Shanti parva recites the duties of the ruler, dharma and good governance, as counseled by the dying Bhishma and various Rishis.[5] The parva includes many symbolic tales such as one about "starving and vegetarian Vishvamitra stealing meat during a famine" and fables such as that of "the fowler and pigeons". The book also provides what some have described as a "theory of caste" as well as a comparative discussion between a rule of truth versus a rule of rituals, declaring truth to be far superior over rituals.[6] Shanti parva has been widely studied for its treatises on jurisprudence, prosperity and success.[7][8]

Scholars have questioned whether parts or all of the parva was inserted or interpolated at a later age.[9][10]


Structure and chapters

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Yudhishthira arrives in Hastinapur to be crowned as king of the combined Kaurava and Pandava kingdoms.

This Parva (book) traditionally has 3 sub-parvas (sub-books or little books) and 365 adhyayas (sections, chapters).[2][1] The following are the sub-parvas:[11]

1. Rajadharma-anusasana Parva (Chapters: 1–130)[2][6]
This sub-book describes the duties of kings and leaders, among other things.

2. Apaddharma-anusasana Parva (Chapters: 131–173)[6]
This sub-book describes the rules of conduct when one faces adversity.

3. Moksha-dharma Parva (Chapters: 174–365)[2]

This sub-book describes behavior and rules to achieve moksha (emancipation, release, freedom).

Shanti parva begins with sorrowful Yudhishthira lamenting the loss of human lives during the war. The great Rishis came there to see that monarch, among them were Vyasa, Narada, Devala, Devasthana and Kanwa. Yudhishthira griefs for loss of his kinsmen and especially for his eldest brother. He says that for gaining kingdom, unwittingly, he caused that brother of his to be slain, for that his heart is burning exceedingly. He says that if he had both Karna and Arjuna for aiding him, he could have vanquished the gods himself. He asks Narada who was acquainted with everything of world, the cause for car wheel stuck and curses on his brother. Narada says, Nothing could resist Karna and Arjuna in battle. And what he is about to tell him is unknown to the very gods. He tell him how Kunti conceived that child and latter he had status of Suta, how when refused by Drona for Brahma weapon, he met with Rama, how he obtained celestial weapons by servicing Rama, how he was cursed by a brahmin for killing his cow unwitting, by Rama for lying, and by goddess earth, how he came to be with friendship of Duryodhana, how when Duryodhana abducted the maiden of Kalingas with force, Karna defended him from the other kings, how when king Jarasandha challenged him to a single combat he fought with him, how when he was about to sever his antagonist body into two pieces, spared him from desire of friendship. From friendship he gave unto Karna the town Malini & Champa, and made him famous for his valour. When for their good, the Lord of the celestials begged of him his natural coat of mail and ear-rings, stupefied he gave away those precious possessions. Deprived of his armor and ear-rings, in consequence of Brahmana's curse as also of the illustrious Rama, of the boon granted to Kunti, of illusion practised on him by Indra, of his depreciation by Bhishma as only half a car-warrior, of destruction of his energy caused by Shalya keen speeches, of Vasudeva's policy, and lastly of the celestial weapons given to Arjuna of Rudra, Indra, Yama, Varuna, Kuvera, Drona and Kripa, with these the wielder of Gandiva succeeded in slaying, that tiger among men, Vikartana's son Karna, of effulgence like that of sun. Having said these words, the celestial Rishi Narada became silent. Yudhishthira griefs, shedding copious tears and Kunti consoles him. Yudhishthira announces his desire to renounce the kingdom, move into a forest as a mendicant and live in silence. He receives counsel from his family and then sages Narada and Vyasa, as well as Devala, Devasthana and Kanwa.[6] The parva includes the story of king Janaka and the queen of the Videhas, presenting the theory of true mendicant as one who does not crave for material wealth, not one who abandons material wealth for an outward show. Arjuna argues it is more virtuous to create and maintain virtuous wealth and do good with it, than to neither create nor have any. Yudhishthira challenges Arjuna how would he know. Sage Vyasa then intervenes and offers arguments from Vedas that support Arjuna's comments, and the story of Sankha and Likhita. Krishna concurs with Arjuna and Vyasa, and adds his own arguments. Vasudeva then tells him to approach Bhishma who was in his bed of arrows and question him about knowledge of life and duties of the four orders, before he disappears. They all go and meet with Bhishma, where Krishna relieves Bhishma from pain using his power and Bhishma gives them lecture about duties of a king, further days.[2][6]

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Shanti parva recites a theory of governance and duties of a leader.[5] This theory is outlined by dying Bhishma to Yudhishthira and his brothers (shown), as well as words from sage Vidura.[1]

Shanti parva is a treatise on duties of a king and his government, dharma (laws and rules), proper governance, rights, justice and describes how these create prosperity. Yudhishthira becomes the king of a prosperous and peaceful kingdom, Bhima his heir apparent, sage Vidura the prime minister, Sanjaya the finance minister, Arjuna the defense and justice minister, and Dhaumya is appointed one responsible to service priests and counsels to the king.[1][6] This books also includes a treatise on yoga as recited by Krishna.

English translations

Shanti Parva was composed in Sanskrit. Several translations of the book in English are available. Two translations from 19th century, now in public domain, are those by Kisari Mohan Ganguli[1] and Manmatha Nath Dutt.[2] The translations vary with each translator's interpretations.

Clay Sanskrit Library has published a 15 volume set of the Mahabharata which includes a translation of Shanti Parva by Alex Wynne. This translation is modern and uses an old manuscript of the Epic. The translation does not remove verses and chapters now widely believed to be spurious and smuggled into the Epic in 1st or 2nd millennium AD.[12]

Debroy, in 2011, notes[13] that updated critical edition of Shanti Parva, after removing verses and chapters generally accepted so far as spurious and inserted into the original, has 3 sub-books, 353 adhyayas (chapters) and 13,006 shlokas (verses).

Salient features

Shanti parva - the longest book and most number of verses - has a number of treatises and fables embedded in it. Examples include a theory on caste,[14] a theory on governance,[15] and the fable of the wicked fowler and compassionate pigeons.[6]

Shanti parva on caste

Chapters 188 and 189 of the parva begin by reciting Bhrigu's theory of varna, according to whom Brahmins were white, Kshatriyas red, Vaishyas yellow, and Shudras black. Rishi Bharadwaja asks how can castes be discriminated when in truth all colors are observed in every class of people, when in truth people of all groups experience the same desire, same anger, same fear, same grief, same fatigue, same hunger, same love and other emotions? Everyone is born the same way, carries blood and bile, and dies the same way, asserts Bharadwaja. Why do castes exist, asks Bharadwaja? Bhrigu replies there is no difference among castes. It arose because of differentiation of work. Duty and rites of passage are not forbidden to any of them.[2][6] According to John Muir, Shanti Parva and its companion book Anushasana Parva claim neither birth, nor initiation, nor descent, nor bookish knowledge determines a person's merit; only their actual conduct, expressed qualities and virtues determine one's merit.[16] There is no superior caste, claims Shanti parva.[17]

Shanti parva on governance

The parva dedicates over 100 chapters on duties of a king and rules of proper governance. A prosperous kingdom must be guided by truth and justice.[18] Chapter 58 of Shanti parva suggests the duty of a ruler and his cabinet is to enable people to be happy, pursue truth and act sincerely. Chapter 88 recommends the king to tax without injuring the ability or capacity of citizens to provide wealth to monarchy, just like bees harvest honey from flower, keepers of cow draw milk without starving the calf or hurting the cow; those who cannot bear the burden of taxes, should not be taxed.[1] Chapter 267 suggests the judicial staff to reflect before sentencing, only sentence punishment that is proportionate to the crime, avoid harsh and capital punishments, and never punish the innocent relatives of a criminal for the crime.[19] Several chapters, such as 15 and 90, of the parva claim the proper function of a ruler is to rule according to dharma; he should lead a simple life and he should not use his power to enjoy the luxuries of life.[2][5] Shanti parva defines dharma not in terms of rituals or any religious precepts, but in terms of that which increases Satya (truth), Ahimsa (non-violence), Asteya (non-stealing of property created by another), Shoucham (purity), and Dama (restraint).[20][21] Chapter 109 of Shanti parva asserts rulers have a dharma (duty, responsibility) to help the upliftment of all living beings. The best law, claims Shanti parva, is one that enhances the welfare of all living beings, without injuring any specific group.[2][22]

The fowler and the pigeons

Image
The fable of the fowler and the pigeons is recited in Shanti parva.

Shanti parva recites many symbolic fables and tales,[23] one of which is the fable of the fowler and the pigeons. This fable is recited in Chapters 143 through 147, by Bhishma to Yudhishthira, as a lesson on virtue, profit and desire:[24] A wicked fowler made his living by capturing wild birds in the forest, by cruel means, and selling them for their meat or as pets. One day, while he was in the forest, a cold storm blew in. The storm knocked down a pigeon, who lay helpless on ground, trembling in cold. The fowler picked up the pigeon and put her in a cage to sell her. The storm continued. The fowler decided to take shelter and spent the cold night under a tree. As he sat under a huge tree, he loudly called on all deities and creatures abode the tree to allow him shelter as he is their guest. On one of the branches of the tree lived a pigeon family, whose lady-of-the-nest had gone out for food but not returned. The male pigeon lamented how he missed his wife, cooing, "One's home is not a home, it is a wife that makes a home. Without my wife, my house is desolate. If my wife does not come back today, I do not want to live, for there is no friend like a wife."[6] That missing wife of lamenting pigeon was in the cage below.

The pigeon in the cage called out her pigeon husband, and asked him not to worry about her or his own desire, but to treat the fowler as a guest to the best of his abilities. The fowler is cold and hungry, said the she-pigeon. Be hospitable to him, do not grieve for me. One should be kind to everyone, even those who have done you wrong, said the she-pigeon. The pigeon husband, so moved by his wife's request, flew down and welcomed the fowler. The pigeon asked what he could provide to make the fowler comfortable. The fowler said a warm fire could drive his cold away. So, the pigeon collected some dry leaves and set them ablaze.[6] The fire warmed up the fowler, who then told the male pigeon he was very hungry. The pigeon had no food to offer to his guest. So, the pigeon walked around the fire three times, then told the fowler to eat him, and the pigeon entered the fire to provide a meal for the fowler. The pigeon's compassion shook the fowler, who began reflecting on his life. The fowler resolved to be compassionate to all creatures. He silently released the female pigeon from the cage. She, who had just lost her pigeon husband in fire, was so deeply in love that she too walked into the fire. The fowler cried, and was overwhelmed with sadness for all the injury and pain he had caused to wild birds over the years.[2]

Critical reception

Scholars[25][26] have questioned the chronology and content of many chapters in Shanti Parva and its companion book the Anushasana Parva. These scholars ask whether these two books represent wisdom from ancient India, or were these chapters smuggled in to spread social and moral theories during India's medieval era or during second millennium AD.[9]

Iyer, in 1923, compared different versions of Shanti Parva manuscripts found in east, west and south India, in Sanskrit and in different Indian languages. The comparison showed that while some chapters and verses on moral and ethical theories are found in all manuscripts, there are major inconsistencies between many parts of the manuscripts. Not only is the order of chapters different, large numbers of verses were missing, entirely different or somewhat inconsistent between the manuscripts. The most inconsistent sections were those relating to social customs, castes, and certain duties of kings. Iyer claims[10] these chapters were smuggled and interpolated into the Mahabharata, or the answers rewritten to suit regional agenda or views. Alf Hiltebeitel similarly has questioned the chronology and authenticity of some sections in Shanti and Anushasana Parvas.[27] Kisari Mohan Ganguli also considers Shanti Parva as a later interpolation in the Mahabharata.[28]


Quotations and teachings

Rajadharma anushasana parva, Chapter 25:

Sorrow comes after happiness, and happiness after sorrow;
One does not always suffer sorrow, nor always enjoy happiness.

Only those who are stolid fools, and those who are masters of their souls, enjoy happiness here;
They, however, who occupy an intermediate position suffer misery.

Happiness and misery, prosperity and adversity, gain and loss, death and life, in their turn, visit all creatures;
The wise man, endued with equanimous soul would neither be puffed up with joy, nor be depressed with sorrow.

— Vyasa, Shanti Parva, Mahabharata Book xii.25.23-31[29]


Rajadharma anushasana parva, Chapter 56:

There is nothing which leads so much to the success of kings as Truth,
the king who is devoted to Truth enjoys happiness both here and hereafter.
Even to the Rishis, O king, Truth is the greatest wealth,
Likewise for the kings, there is nothing that so much creates confidence in them as Truth.

— Bhishma, Shanti Parva, Mahabharata Book xii.56.17-18[30]


Apaddharma anushasana parva, Chapter 138:

Nobody is nobody's friend,
nobody is nobody's well-wisher,
persons become friends or enemies only from motives of interest.

— Bhishma, Shanti Parva, Mahabharata Book xii.138.108[31]


Apaddharma anusasana parva, Chapter 142:

I do not instruct you regarding duty from what I have learned from the Vedas alone;
What I have told you is the result of wisdom and experience, it is the honey that the learned have gleaned.
Kings should collect wisdom from various sources,
One cannot go successfully in the world with the help of a one sided morality;
Duty must originate from understanding, the practices of the good should always be determined.
A king by the help of his understanding and guided by knowledge gathered from various sources,
should so arrange that moral laws may be observed.

— Bhishma to Yudhishthira, Shanti Parva, Mahabharata Book xii.142.3-7[32]


Moksha dharma parva, Chapter 259:

All men who live on this earth, are filled with doubts regarding the nature of Righteousness.
What is this that is called Righteousness? Whence does Righteousness come?

— Yudhishthira, Shanti Parva, Mahabharata Book xii.259.1-2[33]


Moksha dharma parva, Chapter 259:

Righteousness begets happiness as its fruit;
There is nothing superior to truth; Everything is supported by truth, and everything depends on truth.


One should not take other's properties, that is an eternal duty;
A thief fears everybody, he considers other people as sinful as himself;
A pure hearted person is always filled with cheerfulness, and has no fear from anywhere;
Such a person never sees his own misconduct in other persons.

A person should never do that to others, which he does not like to be done to him by others;
Whatever wishes one cherishes about his own self, one should certainly cherish regarding another.


The Creator ordained Virtue, gifting it with the power of holding the world together.

— Bhishma, Shanti Parva, Mahabharata Book xii.259.5-25[34]


Moksha dharma parva, Chapter 299:

There is no fixed time for the acquisition of righteousness. Death waits for no man. When man is constantly running towards the jaws of Death, the accomplishment of righteous acts is proper at all times. Like a blind man who, with attention, is capable of moving about his own house, the man of wisdom, with mind set on Yoga, succeeds in finding the track he should follow. (...) One who walketh along the track recommended by the understanding, earns happiness both here and hereafter.

— Parāśara, Shanti Parva, Mahabharata Book xii.299[35]


See also

• Previous book of Mahabharata: Stri Parva
• Next book of Mahabharata: Anushasana Parva

References

1. Ganguli, K.M. (1883-1896) "Shanti Parva" in The Mahabharata of Krishna-Dwaipayana Vyasa (12 Volumes). Calcutta
2. Dutt, M.N. (1903) The Mahabharata (Volume 12): Shanti Parva. Calcutta: Elysium Press
3. van Buitenen, J.A.B. (1973) The Mahabharata: Book 1: The Book of the Beginning. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, pp 477-478
4. Debroy, B. (2010) The Mahabharata, Volume 1. Gurgaon: Penguin Books India, pp xxiii - xxvi
5. S. N. Mishra (2003). Public governance and decentralisation, Vol. 1. Mittal Publications. p. 935. ISBN 81-7099-918-9.
6. John Murdoch (1898), The Mahabharata - An English Abridgment, Christian Literature Society for India, London, pages 108-115
7. Sivakumar & Rao (2010), An integrated framework for values-based management – Eternal guidelines from Indian ethos, International Journal of Indian Culture and Business Management, 3(5), pages 503-524
8. Harrop Freeman (1959), An Introduction to Hindu Jurisprudence, The American Journal of Comparative Law, 8(1), pages 29-43
9. VISHNU S. SUKTHANKAR (1933), The Mahabharata, Critically Edited Version Archived 2014-02-02 at the Wayback Machine A history of the debate of various conflicting versions of the Mahabharata, University of Goettingen Archives, Germany, Prologue section
10. V.V. Iyer (1922), Notes on a study of the preliminary chapters of The Mahabharata - An attempt to separate genuine from spurious matter, Ramaswami Sastrulu & Sons, Madras, pages 270-282, also see pages 1-19
11. "Mahābhārata (Table of Contents)". The Titi Tudorancea Bulletin. Retrieved 2021-03-01.
12. Alex Wynne, Book XII - Volume 3, The Clay Sanskrit Library, Mahabharata: 15-volume Set, ISBN 978-0-8147-9453-1, New York University Press, Bilingual Edition
13. Bibek Debroy, The Mahabharata : Volume 3, ISBN 978-0143100157, Penguin Books, page xxiii - xxiv of Introduction
14. John Murdoch, Caste: Its Supposed Origin: Its History; Its Effects: The Duty of Government, Hindus and Christians with respect to it and its prospects, p. 5, at Google Books
15. S. Garg, Political Ideas of Shanti Parva, The Indian Journal of Political Science, Vol. 65, No. 1 (Jan.-March, 2004), pages 77-86
16. John Muir, Metrical Translations from Sanskrit Writers, Oxford University, Trubner & Co., London, pages 260-264
17. Alain Daniélou (1993), Virtue, Success, Pleasure, and Liberation: The Four Aims of Life in the Tradition of Ancient India, ISBN 978-0892812189, Page 26
18. Sarkar, B. K. (1921), The Hindu theory of the state, Political Science Quarterly, 36(1), pages 79-90; Sarkar, B. K. (1920), The Theory of Property, Law, and Social Order in Hindu Political Philosophy, International Journal of Ethics, 30(3), pages 311-325; Sarkar, B. K. (1919), Hindu theory of international relations, The American Political Science Review, 13(3), pages 400-414
19. Kisari Mohan Ganguli (Translator), Chapter 267, Shanti Parva The Mahabharata, Published by P.C. Roy (1890), page 385
20. Suda, J. P. (1970), DHARMA: ITS NATURE AND ROLE IN ANCIENT INDIA, The Indian Journal of Political Science, pages 356-366
21. Muniapan & Dass (2008), Corporate social responsibility: A philosophical approach from an ancient Indian perspective, International Journal of Indian Culture and Business Management, 1(4), pages 408-420
22. D. Hema (2010), Good Governance Models from Ancient India and Their Contemporary Relevance: A Study, IBA Journal of Management & Leadership, Volume 2, Issue 1, pages 75-88
23. Horace Hayman Wilson, Reinhold Rost (ed.) Essays on Sanskrit literature, p. 286, at Google Books
24. Shanti Parva Archived 2014-02-22 at the Wayback Machine The Mahabharata, Translated by Manmatha Nath Dutt (1903), page 220-222
25. E. Washburn Hopkins, Epic Chronology, Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol. 24 (1903), pages 7-56
26. V.V. Iyer (1922), Notes on a study of the preliminary chapters of The Mahabharata - An attempt to separate genuine from spurious matter, Ramaswami Sastrulu & Sons, Madras
27. Alf Hiltebeitel, (2001) Rethinking the Mahabharata: A Reader's Guide to the Education of the Dharma King, ISBN 0-226-34054-6, University of Chicago Press, see Chapter 1, Introduction
28. Ganguli, Kisari Mohan. "Mahabharata, Shanti Parva". Retrieved 21 January 2015.
29. Shanti Parva Archived 2014-02-22 at the Wayback Machine The Mahabharata, Translated by Manmatha Nath Dutt (1903), Chapter 25, page 30-31 Abridged
30. Shanti Parva Archived 2014-02-22 at the Wayback Machine The Mahabharata, Translated by Manmatha Nath Dutt (1903), Chapter 56, page 78
31. Shanti Parva Archived 2014-02-22 at the Wayback Machine The Mahabharata, Translated by Manmatha Nath Dutt (1903), Chapter 138, page 202
32. Shanti Parva Archived 2014-02-22 at the Wayback Machine The Mahabharata, Translated by Manmatha Nath Dutt (1903), page 218
33. Shanti Parva Archived 2014-02-22 at the Wayback Machine The Mahabharata, Translated by Manmatha Nath Dutt (1903), page 385
34. Shanti Parva Archived 2014-02-22 at the Wayback Machine The Mahabharata, Translated by Manmatha Nath Dutt (1903), page 385-386
35. Mahabharat, Shanti Parva: Part II. Section CCXCIX p. 367-368.

External links

• Shanti Parva, English Translation by Kisari Mohan Ganguli
• Shanti Parva, English Translation by Manmatha Nath Dutt
• Shanti Parva - Volume 1 English Translation by Kisari Mohan Ganguli, scanned and archived at Princeton University
• Shanti Parva - Volume 2 English Translation by Kisari Mohan Ganguli, scanned and archived at Princeton University
• Shanti Parva in Sanskrit by Vyasadeva with commentary by Nilakantha - A large file in Adobe Acrobat PDF format
• Shanti Parva in Sanskrit and Hindi by Ramnarayandutt Shastri, Volume 5
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