Asoka’s Edicts & Inscriptions

The inscriptions and edicts of Asoka refer to a collection of 33 inscriptions on the Pillars of Asoka, as well as boulders and cave walls, made by the Emperor Asoka during his reign from 272 to 231 BC dispersed throughout the areas of modern-day Pakistan, Nepal and India.

The first tangible evidence of Buddhism is represented by the rock and pillar edicts of Asoka detailing wide expansion of Buddhism through the sponsorship of one of the most powerful kings of Indian history.

These edicts mention that Buddhism reached as far as the Mediterranean, and many Buddhist monuments were created in a wide area. Buddhism and the Buddha are mentioned, the edicts focus on social and moral precepts rather than religious practices or the philosophical dimension of Buddhism.

  • In these inscriptions, Ashoka refers to himself as “Beloved of the Gods” and “King Priya-darshi.”
  • The inscriptions found in the eastern part of India were written in the Magadhi language, using the Brahmi script. In the western part of India, the language used is closer to Sanskrit, using the Kharoshthi script,one extract of Edict 13 in the Greek language, and one bilingual edict written in Greek and Aramaic.
  • These edicts were decoded by British archeologist and historian James Prinsep.
  • Major themes are 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.

Major Rock Edicts

Major Rock Edict I

Prohibits animal slaughter. Bans festive gatherings and killings of animals. Only two peacocks and one deer were killed in Asoka’s kitchen. He wished to discontinue this practice of killing two peacocks and one deer as well.

Major Rock Edict II

Provides for care for man and animals, describes about Chola, Pandyas , Satyapura and Keralputra Kingdoms of South India

Major Rock Edict III

Generosity to Brahmans. Issued 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.

Major Rock Edict IV

Dhammaghosa is ideal to the mankind and not the Bherighosa. Impact of Dhamma on society.

Major Rock Edict V

Concerns about the policy towards slaves. He mentions in this rock edict ” Every Human is my child…”Appointment of Dhammamahamatras is mentioned in this edict.

Major Rock Edict VI

Describes King’s desire to get informed about the conditions of the people constantly. Talks about welfare measures.

Major Rock Edict VII

Requests tolerance for all religions

Major Rock Edict VIII

Describes Asoka’s first Dhamma Yatra to Bodhgaya & Bodhi Tree.

Major Rock Edict IX

Condemns popular ceremonies. Stress in ceremonies of Dhamma.

Major Rock Edict X

Condemns the desire for fame and glory. Stresses on popularity of Dhamma.

Major Rock Edict XI

Elaborates Dhamma

Major Rock Edict XII

Directed and determined request for tolerance among different religious sects.

Major Rock Edict XIII

Asoka’s victory over Kalinga . Victory of Asoka’s Dhamma over Greek Kings, Antiochus, Ptolemy, Antigonus, Magas, Alexander and Cholas, Pandyas etc. This is the Largest Edict. It mentions Kamboj, nabhaks, Bhoja, Andhra etc.

Major Rock Edict XIV

Describes engraving of inscriptions in different parts of country.

Separate Edicts

They were found at sites in Kalinga

  • Separate edict I : Asoka declared all people are my sons
  • Separate Edict II : proclamation of edicts even to a single person.

Other Edicts

Queen Edict

mentions about second queen of Asoka

Barbara cave Inscription

Discusses giving away the Barbara cave to Ajivika sect

Kandhar Bilingual Rock Inscription:

Expresses satisfaction over asoka’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 Edict I

Asoka’s principle of protection to people

Pillar Edict II

Defines dhamma as minimum of sins, many virtues, compassion, liberality, truthfulness and purity

Pillar Edict III

Abolishes sins of harshness, cruelty, anger, pride etc

Pillar Edict IV

Deals with duties of Rajukas

Pillar 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.

Pillar Edict VI

Dhamma Policy

Pillar Edict VII

Works done by Asoka for Dhamma Policy . He says that all sects desire both self control and purity of mind.

Other Pillars

Rummindei Pillar Inscription

Asoka’s visit to Lumbini & exemption of Lumbini from tax.

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.

Sources of Pillar Stones

The spotted and white sandstone was sourced from Mathura. Buff colored Sandstone and Quartzite was sourced from Amravati.

Language of Inscriptions

Three languages have been used viz. Prakrit, Greek and Aramaic. 4 scripts have been used Prakrit inscriptions were written in Brahmi and Kharoshthi. Rest written in Greek or Aramaic. The Kandahar Rock Inscription is bilingual. The inscriptions found in Pakistan area are in kharoshthi script.