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Ashokan edicts in Delhi, Ashokan Pillar at Feroze Shah Kotla-New Delhi

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Ashokan edicts in Delhi, Ashokan Pillar at Feroze Shah Kotla-New Delhi


The Ashokan edicts in Delhi are a series of edicts on the teachings of Buddha created by Ashoka, the Mauryan Emperor who ruled in the Indian subcontinent during the 3rd century BC. The Edicts of Ashoka were either carved on in-situ rocks or engraved on pillars erected throughout the empire; examples of both are found in Delhi.

The first in-situ rock edict was discovered in Delhi in 1966, and establishes the city’s ancient historical link with the Ashokan era (273–236 BC).[1][2][3] Delhi’s stone pillar edicts were transported from their original sites in Meerut and Ambala during the reign of Firuz Shah Tughlaq (1351–1388 AD). They were erected in Feruzabad, the fourth medieval city of Delhi, established by Feroz Shah Tughlaq.

The inscriptions are written in Prakrit, a colloquial language used in everyday speech. The edicts were intended to teach the people of the morals and ideals of civilised living, to bring peace and harmony to the vast empire. The philosophy bears a striking resemblance to the teachings of the Buddha, which his followers believe lead to enlightenment (the universal law of nature), and the constituent elements of the world as it is experienced (the characteristic of elements).

Until the 3rd century BC, a large region of the Indian subcontinent was ruled by Chandragupta Maurya (322–298 BC), founder of Mauryan Empire. He was the grandfather of Ashoka. Ashoka’s father Bindusara ruled from 297–272 BC. Ashoka, known as Ashoka the Great, after he took over reigns of the Mauryan Empire from his father then expanded and consolidated his grandfather’s region into a much larger empire with command over large swathes of the Indian subcontinent and with his capital at Pataliputra, the present day Patna in Bihar. Ashoka ruled for three decades. During his reign, he underwent a dramatic change in his life-style after winning the Kalinga War of 261 BC, at the cost of immense loss of life. As one of his edict inscriptions states: “150,000 people were forcibly abducted from their homes, 100,000 were killed in battle, and many more died later on”. This event had a profound impact upon him. He was repentant. He then decided to renounce further warfare. He then converted to Buddhist religion, as the ethos of Buddhism (teachings of Buddha, an awakened teacher who shared his insights to help sentient beings end suffering (or dukkha), achieve nirvana, and escape what is seen as a cycle of suffering and rebirth} appealed to him. His 13th edict is a form of self indictment: “Even a hundredth or a thousandth part only of the people who were slain, or killed or abducted in Kalinga is now considered as a grievous loss by Devanmpiya, beloved of the Gods, i.e., Ashoka”.

He avowed that his future actions would entirely be on spiritual lines and devoted to the spread of the doctrine of the right conduct. Two years after the Kalinga war, as a primary member of the Buddhist faith, for 265 days, he undertook a nationwide pilgrimage of holy places of Buddhist religion. On his return to Pataliputra, his capital, in 258 BC, after a grand celebration, he launched his missionary campaign throughout his empire and even spread to South India and Sri Lanka. Ashoka’s son Mahindra was involved in this mission. In 257 BC, he got the first four of his 14 rock edicts inscribed in different parts of his empire. Out of the fourteen rock edicts, one rock edict has been discovered in Delhi, though not in a complete form.

While edicts inscribed on rocks were found in many parts of the world, erection of carved pillars was unique to Ashokan times, totally independent of any other structures


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