Inscriptions, Edicts & Pillar Edicts of Asoka

  1. The Edicts of Asoka are a collection of 33 inscriptions on the Pillars of Asoka, as well as boulders and cave walls, made by the Emperor Ashoka during his reign from 272 to 231 BC.
  2. These inscriptions are dispersed throughout the areas of modern-day Pakistan, Nepal and India, and represent the first tangible evidence of Buddhism.
  3. The edicts describe in detail the first wide expansion of Buddhism through the sponsorship of one of the most powerful kings of Indian history. According to the edicts, the extent of Buddhist proselytism during this period reached as far as the Mediterranean, and many Buddhist monuments were created.
  4. These inscriptions proclaim Ashoka’s beliefs in the Buddhist concept of dharma and his efforts to develop the dharma throughout his kingdom. Although Buddhism and the Buddha are mentioned, the edicts focus on social and moral precepts rather than religious practices or the philosophical dimension of Buddhism.
  5. In these inscriptions, Ashoka refers to himself as “Beloved of the Gods” and “King Priya-darshi.”
  6. The identification of King Priya-darshi with Ashoka was confirmed by an inscription discovered in 1915.
  7. 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.
  8. These edicts were decodified by British archeologist and historian James Prinsep.
  9. The inscriptions revolve around a few repetitive 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.
  10. Major Rock edicts have been found at Mansehra (Hazara) , Shahbagarhi ( Peshwar ) Kalsi Dehradun, Girnar (Junagarh), Sopara (Thana) , Dhauli (Puri), Jougarh (Ganjam) , Iragudo (Kurnool) , Roopnath (Jabalpur) , Bairath ( Jaipur), Sasaram, Gavimatha, Palki & Gundu (Hyderabad) & Yerragudi.
  11. Minor Rock Edicts were engraved by Capara.

Major Rock Edicts:

  1. Major rock edict I
    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 as well.
  2. Major Rock Edict II
    Provides care for man and animals, describes about Chola, pandya , Satyapura and Keralputra Kingdoms of South India
  3. Major Rock Edict III
    Generosity to Brahmans. Issued after 12 years of Asoka’s consecration, 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.
  4. Major Rock Edict IV
    Dhammaghosa is ideal to the mankind and not the Bherighosa.
  5. Major Rock Edict V
    Concerns about the policy towards slaves and masters
  6. Major Rock Edict VI
    Describes Kings desire to get informed about the conditions of the people constantly
  7. Major Rock Edict VII
    Requests tolerance for all religions
  8. Major Rock Edict VIII
    Describes Asoka’s first Dhamma Yatra to Bodhgaya
  9. Major Rock Edict IX
    Condemns popular ceremonies
  10. Major Rock Edict X
    Condemns the desire for fame and glory
  11. Major Rock Edict XI
    Elaborates Dhamma
  12. Major Rock Edict XII
    Direct and determined request for tolerance among different religious sects.
  13. Major Rock Edict XIII
    Asoka’s victory over kalinga . Victory of Asoka’s dhamma over Greek Kings, Antiochus, Ptolemy, Antigonus, Magas, Alexander and Chola, padya etc.
  14. Major Rock Edict XIV
    Describes engraving of inscriptions in different parts of country.

Separate Edicts :They were found at sites in Kalinga

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

Other Edicts :

  1. Queen Edict : mentions about second queen of Asoka
  2. Barbara cave Inscription: giving away the Barbara cave to Ajivika sect
  3. Kandhar Bilingual Rock Inscription: Expresses satisfaction over asoka’s policy

Asoka’s 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.

  1. Pilar Edict I
    Asoka’s principle of protection to people
  2. Pilar Edict II
    Defines dhamma as minimum of sins, many virtues, compassion, liberality, truthfulnessand purity
  3. Pilar Edict III
    Abolishes sins of harshness, cruelty, anger, pride etc
  4. Pilar Edict IV
    Deals with duties of Rajukas
  5. Pilar 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 prisionars by asoka.
  6. Pilar Edict VI
    Dhamma Policy
  7. Pilar Edict VII
    Works done by asoka for Dhamma Policy

Other Pillars :

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

Further Reading :

read this article for a detailed analysis of Asoka’s Inscription

Languages and Scripts of Ashoka’s Inscriptions – By Romila Thapar