Edicts of Ashoka (Minor & Major Rock and Pillar Edicts)

The Edicts of Ashoka are a collection of 33 inscriptions on the pillars, as well as boulders and cave walls, attributed to Emperor Ashoka (268 BC to 232 BC) of the Mauryan Empire.

These inscriptions were dispersed throughout the areas of modern-day Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Afghanistan and Pakistan, and provide the first tangible evidence of Buddhism.

Ashoka used the expression Dhaṃma Lipi (Prakrit in the Brahmi script) to describe his own Edicts.

These were located in public places and were meant for people to read.

In these inscriptions, Ashoka refers to himself as "Beloved of the Gods" (Devanampiya).

The identification of Devanampiya with Ashoka was confirmed by an inscription discovered in 1915 by C. Beadon, a British gold-mining engineer, at Maski, a village in Raichur district of Karnataka.

Another minor rock edict, found at the village Gujarra in Datia district of Madhya Pradesh, also used the name of Ashoka together with his titles: "Devanampiya Piyadasi Asokaraja".

The inscriptions found in the greater part of the empire (central and eastern) were written in Magadhi Prakrit using the Brahmi script, while Prakrit using the Kharoshthi script, Greek and Aramaic were used in the northwest.

These edicts were deciphered by British archaeologist and historian James Prinsep.

The inscriptions revolve around a few recurring 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.

The edicts were based on Ashoka's ideas on administration and behaviour of people towards one another and religion.

The Edicts are divided into four categories, according to their size (Minor or Major) and according to their medium (Rock or Pillar).

Chronologically, the minor inscriptions tend to precede the larger ones, while rock inscriptions generally seem to have been started earlier than the pillar inscriptions.

Minor Rock Edicts (269-233 BC)

Minor Rock Edicts forms the earliest part of the Edicts of Ashoka and are found on 15 rocks across the country and in Afghanistan, the first known edict (Minor Rock Edict), is the Kandahar Bilingual Rock Inscription.

Kandahar Bilingual Rock Inscription is in Greek and in Aramaic, written in the 10th year of his reign (260 BCE) at the border of his empire with the Hellenistic world, in the city of Old Kandahar (Afghanistan).

Ashoka then made the first edicts in the Indian language, written in the Brahmi script, from the 11th year of his reign, two and a half years at least after returning from the Kalinga conquest.

The texts of the inscriptions are rather short, the technical quality of the engraving and generally very inferior to the pillar edicts dated to the years 26 and 27 of Ashoka's reign.

They are mostly located in Maski (Karnataka), Brahmagiri (Karnataka), Sasaram (Bihar), Rupanath (Madhya Pradesh), Bhabru - Bairat (Rajasthan).

In Bhabhru edict, the Mauryan Emperor Ashoka expressed himself as Piyadassi laja Magadhe (Piyadassi, King of Magadha).

Ashoka uses his name only in four of these edicts: Maski (Karnataka), Brahmagiri (Karnataka), Gujjara (MP) and Nettur (AP).

Minor Rock Edict No.1

The Maski (Karnataka) version of Minor Rock Edict No.1 confirmed the association of the title "Devanampriya" with the name "Asoka".

In the Gujarra version of Minor Rock Edict No.1 also, the name of Ashoka is used together with his full title: Devanampiya Piyadasi Asokaraja.

Minor Pillar Edicts (268-232 BC)

The Minor Pillar Edicts of Ashoka refer to 5 separate minor Edicts inscribed on columns, the Pillars of Ashoka.

These edicts are preceded by the Minor Rock Edicts and may have been made in parallel with the Major Rock Edicts.

Minor Pillar Edicts Features Inscribed in Edicts
The schism edicts Warning of punishment for dissent in Samgha
The Queen's edicts Ashoka announces that gifts of the Queens should be credited
Nigali Sagar pillar inscriptions Mentions about Ashoka's dedication to increase the height of Kanakamuni Buddha
Rummindei pillar inscriptions Mentions about Ashok's visit to Lumbini i.e. birthplace of Buddha

Major Rock Edicts (3rd Century BC)

The Major Rock Edicts of Ashoka refer to 14 separate major Edicts, which are significantly detailed and extensive.

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.

They contain little personal detail about his life.

Three languages were used, Prakrit, Greek and Aramaic.

The edicts are composed in non-standardized and archaic forms of Prakrit, Prakrit inscriptions were written in Brahmi and Kharosthi scripts, which even a commoner could read and understand.

The inscriptions found in the area of Pakistan are in the Kharoshthi script.

The Kandahar Greek Edict of Ashoka (including portions of Edict No.13 and No.14) is in Greek only, and originally probably contained all the Major Rock Edicts 1-14.

The Major Rock Edicts of Ashoka are inscribed on large rocks, except for the Kandahar version in Greek (Kandahar Greek Edict of Ashoka), written on a stone plaque belonging to a building.

The Major Edicts are not located in the heartland of Mauryan territory, traditionally centered on Bihar, but on the frontiers of the territory controlled by Ashoka.

Edict Ashoka Inscription Details
Major Rock Edict I Prohibition of animal sacrifice, especially during festive seasons.
Major Rock Edict II Medical treatment of humans and animals, planting of fruits, medicinal herbs and the digging of wells.
Mentions the Pandyas, Satyapuras and Keralaputras (Sangam Kingdoms) of South India.
Major Rock Edict III Generosity to Brahmins.
About Yuktas, Pradeshikas and Rajukas who would go every five years to different parts of his empire to spread Dhamma.
Major Rock Edict IV Dhammaghosha (sound of Dhamma/righteousness) over Bherighosha (sound of war).
The King Ashoka attached greatest value to his duty.
Major Rock Edict V About Dhammamahamatras.
Talks about treating slaves right.
A special cadre of officials, Dhamma Gosha were appointed and entrusted with the duty of spreading Dhamma within the kingdom.
Major Rock Edict VI King's desire to know about his people's conditions.
About welfare measures.
Major Rock Edict VII Tolerance towards religions among all sects and welfare measures for the public in his as well as his neighbouring kingdoms.
Major Rock Edict VIII Ashoka's first visit to Bodh Gaya and the Bodhi tree (his first Dhamma Yatra).
Gave importance to Dhamma tours.
Major Rock Edict IX Condemns popular ceremonies.
Stresses on moral conduct.
Major Rock Edict X Disapproves of the individual's desire for fame and glory and stresses on Dhamma.
Major Rock Edict XI Dhamma is the best policy to follow, which includes respect for elders and concern for slaves and servants.
Major Rock Edict XII It mentions Mahamattas in charge of women's welfare, Ithijika Mahamatta and tolerance towards the dhamma of others.
Major Rock Edict XIII Mentions victory over Kalinga.
Mentions Ashoka's Dhamma victory over Greek Kings Antiochus of Syria (Amtiyoko), Ptolemy of Egypt (Turamaye),
Magas of Cyrene (Maka), Antigonus of Macedon (Amtikini), Alexander of Epirus (Alikasudaro). Also mentions Pandyas, Cholas (Sangam Kingdoms), etc.

The thirteenth rock edict which was issued at the end of the Kalinga war gives a vivid picture of the change of Ashoka from an aggressive and
violent warrior to a great lover and preacher of peace.

The direct and immediate effect of the Kalinga war was the conversion of Ashoka to Buddhism.
Major Rock Edict XIV Purpose of rock edicts.

Major Pillar Edicts(237 to 236 BC)

The Major Pillar Edicts of Ashoka refer to seven separate major Edicts inscribed on columns, the Pillars of Ashoka, which are significantly detailed and extensive.

They were made at the end of his reign, and constitute the most technically elegant of the inscriptions made by Ashoka.

The last Major Pillar Edicts (Edict No.7) is testamental in nature, making a summary of the accomplishments of Ashoka during his life.

Major Pillar Edicts Features Inscribed in Edicts
Pillar Edict I Ashoka's principles relating to protection of his people
Pillar Edict II Dhamma is defined as the minimum of sins, possession of compassion, liberty, virtues, purity and truthfulness.
Pillar Edict III Sins such as harshness, anger, cruelty etc., are being abolished
Pillar Edict IV The duties of Rajukas are mentioned
Pillar Edict V A List of animals and plants which should not be killed on certain occasions and a list of animals and plants which should be never killed.
Describes about release of 25 prisoners by Ashoka
Pillar Edict VI Policy of Dhamma is explained
Pillar Edict VII Tolerance towards all religious sects.

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