Selected Edicts of King Ashoka

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Selected Edicts of King Ashoka

Introduction

King Ashoka (r. 268–231 b.c.), Priyadarśī in the Edicts, the third of the Mauryan kings, left behind on rock and pillar edicts the oldest Indian written documents of any historical significance. In addition to their historical importance, the edicts also contain a number of personal statements believed to have been drafted by Ashoka himself. For this reason, more is known about the personality of Ashoka and his administration and policy than any other ancient Indian ruler. His story was a remarkable one. After a decade as a typical Indian king he had, after the Battle of Kalinga, a change of heart and embarked on a new policy. While not abjuring force entirely, he established a social policy marked by high ethical content. To enforce this policy he created a class of officials called dharma-mahāmātra, "Officers of Righteousness." It is believed that Ashoka became a Buddhist, although he supported other religious sects. The Pāli canon was codified at a great Buddhist council held at Ashoka's capital, Pataliputra, and he sent missionaries to Ceylon. It was during his reign that Buddhism ceased to be an Indian sect alone and began to be a universal religion. Rock Edict VIII tells of how Ashoka was converted to his new policy and how his life changed. Rock Edict VI explains how he was available to officials day and night, no matter what he was doing, as his highest calling was the welfare of his subjects.