Ashoka’s Edicts and Inscriptions

15th Sept 2021


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  • 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.


  • Ashoka pillars, (usually made of chunar sandstone), as a symbol of the state, assumed a great significance in the entire Mauryan Empire.
  • Objective: The main objective was to disseminate the Buddhist ideology and court orders in the entire Mauryan empire.
  • Language: While most Ashoka pillar edicts were in Pali and Prakrit language, few were written in Greek or Aramaic language also.
  • Architecture: Mauryan pillars mainly comprise of four parts:
  • Shaft: A long shaft formed the base and was made up of a single piece of stone or monolith.
  • Capital: On top of shaft lay the capital, which was either lotus-shaped or bell-shaped.
  • Abacus: Above the capital, there was a circular or rectangular base known as the abacus.
  • Capital Figure: All the capital figures (usually animals like a bull, lion, elephant, etc) are vigorous and carved standing on a square or circular abacus.

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.

Ashoka’s 7 pillar edicts: 

These were found at Topra (Delhi), Meerut, Kausambhi, Rampurva, Champaran, Mehrauli:

  • Pillar Edict I: Asoka’s principle of protection to people.
    • Pillar Edict II: Defines Dhamma as the 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.
    • Pillar Edict VI: Dhamma policy
    • Pillar Edict VII: Works done by Asoka for Dhamma policy.
  • Minor Pillar Inscriptions
    • Rummindei Pillar Inscription: Asokha’s visit to Lumbini & exemption of Lumbini from tax.
    • Nigalisagar Pillar Inscription, Nepal: It mentions that Asoka increased the height of stupa of Buddha Konakamana to its double size.
  • Major Pillar Inscriptions
    • Sarnath Lion Capital: Near Varanasi was built by Ashoka in commemoration of Dhammachakrapravartana or the first sermon of Buddha.
    • Vaishali Pillar, Bihar, single lion, with no inscription.
    • Sankissa Pillar, Uttar Pradesh
    • Lauriya-Nandangarth, Champaran, Bihar.
    • Lauriya-Araraj, Champaran, Bihar
    • Allahabad pillar, Uttar Pradesh.

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