Emperor Ashoka the Great (sometimes spelt Aśoka) lived from 304 to 232 BCE and was the third ruler of the Indian Mauryan Empire, the largest ever in the Indian subcontinent and one of the world’s largest empires at its time. He ruled form 268 BCE to 232 BCE and became a model of kingship in the Buddhist tradition.

  • He was grandson of the founder of the Maurya Dynasty, Chandragupta Maurya.
  • 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.

Conquests:

  • During the expansion of the Mauryan Empire, Ashoka led a war against a feudal state named Kalinga (present day Orissa) with the goal of annexing its territory, something that his grandfather had already attempted to do. 

Asoka Administration:

  • His kingdom was divided into Pradesha or provinces which were subdivided into Vishyas or subdivisions and Janapadas, which were further subdivided into villages.
  • The five chief provinces under Ashoka’s reign were the Uttarapatha(Northern Province) with its capital at Taxila; Avantiratha (western province) with its headquarters at Ujjain; Prachyapatha (eastern province) with its centre at Toshali and the Dakshinapatha (southern province) with its capital as Suvarnagiri. The central province, Magadha with its capital at Pataliputra was the administrative centre of the empire. 
  • The three major officials of the provinces were thepradesika, the rajuka and the yukta. The pradesika was in charge of the overall administration of a district – supervising the collection of revenue and of maintaining law and order both in the rural areas and in the towns within his district. The rajuka was responsible for surveying and assessing land.
  • The overall judicial and administration were overseen by Amatyas or civil servants whose functions were clearly delineated by the Emperor.
  • He appointed several Pativedakas or reporters, who would report to him the general and public affairs, leading the king to take necessary steps.
  • The Akshapataladhyaksha was in charge of currency and accounts of the entire administration. 
  • The Akaradhyaksha was in-charge of mining and other metallurgical endeavours.
  • The Sulkadhyaksa was in charge of collecting the taxes.
  • The Panyadhyaksha was controller of commerce.
  • The Sitadhyaksha was in charge of agriculture.

The Edicts of Ashoka:

Edicts of Ashoka can be classified into three categories: Major rock edicts, Minor rock edicts and Pillar edicts. 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.

Asoka got these 14 major edicts engraved in stone pillars and slabs and had them placed at strategic places around his kingdom.

Major Rock Message
Edict I King prohibited animal slaughter especially during the festive gatherings
Edict II Medical care for human as well as animals throughout his Empire
Edict III It was made after 12 years of Asoka’s coronation. It says that the Yuktas (subordinate officers and Pradesikas (district Heads) along with Rajukas (Rural officers) shall go to the all areas of kingdom every five years and spread the Dhamma Policy of Asoka. It also decoded the practical instructions to generosity to Brahmins.
Edict IV  One should always respect one’s parents, priests and monks
Edict V It states about the concerns about the policy towards slaves and mentioned the appointment of Dhammamahamatras. And also in this rock edict, Ashoka mentions that”Every Human is my child”.
Edict VI It describes King’s desire to get informed about the conditions of the people constantly. In other words, talks about welfare measures.
Edict VII He welcomed all religions as they desire self-control and purity of heart.
Edict VIII It describes Asoka’s first Dhamma Yatra to Bodhgaya & Bodhi Tree.
Edict IX It condemns the popular ceremonies like ceremonies after birth, illness, marriage and before setting out of journey. It also stress on the practice of dhamma.
Edict X It condemns the fame and glory and reasserts the merits of the dhamma policy.
Edict XI It explained the policy of dhamma and also emphasises the act of individual towards elders and also abstaining from killing animals and liberality towards friends
Edict XII It directed and determined request for tolerance among different religious sects.
Edict XIII It is the paramount importance in understanding the Ashok’s Policy of dhamma. This rock edict pleads the way of conquest which is dhamma instead of war. This is logical culmination of the thorough processes which began from the 1st rock edict.
Edict XIV It describes engraving of inscriptions in different parts of country.

Other Rock Edicts and inscriptions

1. Edict I: Asoka declared all people are my sons

2. Edict II: proclamation of edicts even to a single person.

3. Queen Edict: Mentions about second queen of Asoka

4. Barbara cave Inscription: Discusses giving away the Barbara cave to Ajivika sect Kandhar

5. Bilingual Rock Inscription: Expresses gratification over Ashoka’s policy

Pillar Edicts

Asoka’s 7 pillar edicts have been found at Topra (Delhi), Meerut, Kausambhi, rampurva, Champaran, Mehrauli. Minor pillar edicts have been found at Sanchi, Sarnath, Rummindei, Nigalisagar.

Pillar EdictsMessage
Edict I Asoka’s principle of protection to people
Edict II Defines dhamma as minimum of sins, many virtues, compassion, liberality, truthfulness and purity
Edict III Abolishes sins of harshness, cruelty, anger, pride etc
Edict IV Deals with duties of Rajukas
Edict V List of animals and birds which should not be killed on some days and another list of animals which have not to be killed at all occasions. Describes release of 25 prisoners by Asoka.
Edict VI Dhamma Policy
Edict VII Works done by Asoka for Dhamma Policy. He says that all sects desire both self control and purity of mind.

Other Pillar Inscription

1. Rummindei Pillar Inscription: Asokha’s visit to Lumbini & exemption of Lumbini from tax.

2. Nigalisagar Pillar Inscription: It was originally located at Kapilvastu. It mentions that Asoka increased the height of stupa of Buddha Konakamana to its double size.

Missionary activities of Asoka:

  • The missionary activities of Asoka started from the tenth year of his reign.
  • Asoka adopted several measures for the spread of Buddhism. He went on tours to preach Buddhism.
  • He ordered his officers like the Yuktas, Rajukas, Purushas and Pradeshikas to go on tours and preach his Law of Piety to the people in addition to their official duties.
  • Asoka tried to win over the goodwill of the people through philanthropic and benevolent activities. 
  • He ordered the planting of shady banyan tries and mango groves. He ordered the digging of wells and construction of rest-houses by the road side for the people.
  • Watering places were established both for men and animals. He made arrangements for the treatment of men and animals. He also planted medicinal herbs for the treatment of people. He also issued a series of comprehensive legislations to check slaughter and injury to animals.

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