Ashoka, the Great

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September 07, 2023

Why in news?

Three Ashokan era edicts were recently found in Delhi.

Who is Ashoka, the Great?

  • Parents- Mauryan King Bindusara and Devi Dhamma.
  • Year- 273 BC - 232 BC
  • In the initial phase of his life, Ashoka was a cruel and ruthless king. He applied brutal ideas to expand his kingdom.
  • Patron of Buddhism- In 265 BC, he won the battle of Kalinga and after seeing the bloodsheds he had a change of heart. He started to follow the path of non-violence and Buddhism.
  • He also made Buddhism as State religion around 260 BC.
  • 3rd Buddhist Council- It was held at Pataliputra (250 BC) under the patronage of King Ashoka and Chairman is Moggaliputta Tissa.
  • Compilation of Abhidhamma Pitaka took place at this council.
  • Edicts - Ashoka started to preach dhamma and wrote his philosophy through 14 edicts that spread throughout the empire. These were known as Ashokan edicts.
  • Great Sanchi Stupa was inscribed as a World Heritage Site by UNECSO in 1989.
  • Sarnath Pillar- The Ashokan Pillar at Sarnath has a four-lion capital, which was later adopted as the national emblem of the Indian republic post independence.

Mauryan Empire

  • The Maurya Empire (322 – 185 B.C.E.), ruled by the Mauryan dynasty, was a geographically extensive and powerful political and military empire in ancient India.
  • Chandragupta Maurya founded 322 BCE after overthrowing the Nanda Dynasty.
  • Chanakya (also known as Kautilya and Vishnugupta) who wrote Arthashastra was the political mentor of Chandragupta Maurya
  • Ashoka is the 3rd ruler of Mauryan Empire.


What are the edicts and inscriptions of Ashoka?

All rock edicts are inscriptions but all inscriptions are not rock edicts

  • Edicts- It is a decree or announcement of law, which can be under any official authority. It can be issued in any number of physical forms
    • Major and Minor Pillar Edicts
    • Major Rock Edicts- 14 edicts (termed 1st to 14th) and two separate ones found in Odisha.
    • Minor Rock Edicts
  • Inscriptions- It is a text produced by carving the letters into solid surface like stones, coins, buildings and rocks.
    • Major Rock Inscriptions
    • Barabar cave inscriptions and
    • Kandahar bilingual inscription.


What does Ashokan edicts and inscriptions say about?

  • Themes of inscriptions
    • Ashoka’s conversion and his efforts to spread Buddhism,
    • Moral and religious precepts and
    • Social and animal welfare programmes
  • In these inscriptions, Ashoka refers himself as “Beloved Servant of the God” (Devanampiyadasi).
  • The identification of Devanampiyadasi with Ashoka was confirmed by an inscription at Maski, found in the eastern part of India were written in Magadhi Prakrit using the Brahmi script.
  • Edicts- The Edicts of Ashoka are a collection of 33 inscriptions on the Pillars of Ashoka as well as boulders and cave walls made by the Emperor Ashoka.
  • These inscriptions were dispersed throughout the country and it represents the first tangible evidence of Buddhism. The edicts describe in detail the Ashoka’s view about dhamma, to solve the severe problems faced by the complex society.
  • It is mainly on social and moral precepts rather than specific religious practices or the philosophical dimension of Buddhism.

Major Rock Edict



  • Prohibits animal slaughter
  • Bans festive gatherings


  • Mentions the South Indian kingdoms such as Cholas, Pandya, Satyaputas and Keralaputras.
  • Deals with social welfare measures


  • Liberty to Brahmanas Every five years Yukatas, Pradesikas along with Rajukas.
  • To visit all the areas of the kingdom to spread Dhamma.


  • Preference of Dhammaghosa (Sound of peace) over Berighosa (Sound of wandrums).
  • Impact of Dhamma on society


  • Humane treatment of slaves by their masters.
  • Mentions about the appointment of Dhamma Mahamatras.


  • Deals with the welfare measures King’s wish to know about the condition of the people


  • Tolerance towards all religions and sects


  • Mentions about Ashoka’s visit to Bodh Gaya and Bodhi tree
  • Maintaining contact with rural people via Dhammayatras


  • Stresses on the moral conduct of people.
  • Avoiding expensive ceremonies


  • Condemns the desire for fame and glory


  • Elaborate explanation of Dhamma


  • Appeal for developing tolerance towards all religious sects


  • Explains about Kalinga war and conquest through dhamma


  • Deals with the purpose of engraving inscriptions in various parts of the country


Pillar Edict



  • Ashoka’s principle of protecting his people


  • Defines Dhamma as minimum of sins, many virtues, compassion, liberty, truthfulness and purity.


  • Avoiding practices of cruelty, sin, harshness, pride and anger among his subjects.


  • Responsibilities of the Rajukas.


  • List of animals and birds that should not be killed on certain days.
  • Another list mentions animals that should never be killed.
  • Describes release of 25 prisoners.
  • This pillar edict is also known as Delhi-Topra Pillar Edict.


Dhamma policy of the State (welfare of the people).


Ashoka’s work for fulfilling Dhamma. Tolerance for all sects. Also, about Dhamma Mahamatta


Inscription / Edict


Allahabad – Kosam/Queens

Edict/Kausambi or Schism Edict

Ashoka asks the members of the Sangha to refrain from causing

division in the ranks.

Kandahar Inscription

It is a famous bilingual edict in Greek and Aramaic.

Kalinga Edict

Mentions “all men are my children”

What is Ashoka’s policy of Dhamma?

  • The word dhamma is the Pali form of the Sanskrit word dharma.
  • Aim - To create a harmonious atmosphere in the state where all people irrespective of their religious and cultural diversities, lived in peace and harmony.
  • Ahimsa- Ban on animal sacrifices, it reduced killing of animals for food in the royal kitchen.
  • Good conduct- It emphasised on good conduct and social responsibilities that were part of dhamma.
    • Proper courtesy to slaves and servants
    • Respectful behaviour towards elders
    • Restrain in one’s dealing with all living beings.
  • Gift of dhamma-
    • Obedience to mother and father
    • Liberality towards friends, relatives, acquaintances and relatives
  • Mutual respect- Religious toleration
  • Dhamma as a king-
    • To promote welfare of the people
    • Discharge the debt he owes to all beings
    • Ensure people’s happiness in this world
    • Renunciation of warfare



  1. Indian Express- 3 Ashokan era edicts in Delhi
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