History

The Mauryas

Inscriptions of Ashoka

Rock Edict I (RE I)

The text of the edict is same at all places, contrary to the variations found among the MREs.

Sanskrit text of Girnar edict by Hiranand Sastri

  1. इयं धमंलिपि देवानंप्रियेन
  2. प्रियदसिना राजा लेखापिता [.] इध न किं-
  3. चि जीवं  आरभित्पा प्रजूहितव्यं [.]
  4. न च समाजो कतव्यो [.] बहुकं हि दोसं
  5. समाजम्हि पसति देवानंप्रियो प्रियदसि राजा [.]
  6. अस्ति चि तु एकचा समाजा साधुमता देवानं
  7. प्रियस प्रियदसिनो राजो [.] पुरा महानसम्हि
  8. देवानंप्रियस प्रियदसिनो  राजो अनुदिवसं ब-
  9. हुनि प्राण सतसहस्त्रानि आरभिसु सूपाथाय [.]
  10. से अज यदा अथं धमंलिपि लिखिता तो एव प्रा-
  11. णा आरभरे सुपाथाय द्वो मोरा एको मगो सो पि
  12. मगो ण ध्रुवो [.] एते पि त्री प्राणा पछा न आरभिसरे

English translation of Girnar text by Meena Talim

  1. This religious scripture has been caused to be written by
  2. King Devanamppiya Piyadassi.
  3. Here no living being should be killed, even for sacrifice.
  4. No festive gatherings should be held.
  5. King Devanampiyya Piyatissa sees many defects (evil) in such gatherings.
  6. However, King Devanamppiya Piyatissa considers that some such gatherings are meritorious.
  7. Formerly in the kitchen of King Devanamppiya
  8. Piyatissa many hundred thousand of animals
  9. were killed daily for the sake of curry.
  10. But now, today, when this scripture is being written
  11. only two peacocks and one deer are being killed.
  12. But even this way (of killing) is not permanent. These three creatures will not be killed in future.

English translation of Shahbazgarhi text by G Buhler

This religious edict has been incised by order of King Priyadarsin, beloved of the gods: No animal may be slaughtered and offered here as a burnt-sacrifice; nor shall any festive gathering be held; for King Priyadarsin, beloved of the gods, sees much evil in festive assemblies. There are, however, also some kinds of festive assemblies considered most excellent by King Priyadarsin, beloved of gods.
Formerly many hundred thousands animals were slaughtered daily in kitchen of King Priyadarsin, beloved of gods, in order to prepare curries. Now, when this religious edict is incised, only three animals are slain daily, two peacocks and one deer; the deer, however, not even regularly. But in future even these three animals will no longer be slaughtered.

English translation of the Shahbazgarhi edict by V A Smith

This scripture of Law of Duty has been written by command of His Sacred and Gracious Majesty the king:
Here no animal may be slaughtered for sacrifice, nor shall any merry-making be held. Because in merry-making His Sacred and Gracious Majesty sees much offense, although certain merry-makings are excellent in sight of His Sacred and Gracious Majesty the King. Formerly, in the kitchen of His Sacred and Gracious Majesty the King each day many hundred thousands of living creatures were slaughtered to make curries. But now, when this scripture of Law is written, only three living creatures are slaughtered for curry [daily], to wit, two peacocks and one antelope. The antelope, however, not invariably. Even those three living creatures shall not be slaughtered in future.

English translation by D R Bhandarkar

This Dhamma-lipi was caused to be engraved by king Priyadarsin, Beloved of the gods. No animal should here be immolated and offered as a sacrifice; nor should any samaja be held : for king Priyadarshin, Beloved of the gods, sees much evil in a samaja. There are, however, certain samajas, which are considered  excellent by Priyadarsin, beloved of the gods.
Formerly in the kitchen of king Priyadarsin, Beloved of the gods, many hundreds of thousands of animals were every day slaughtered for curry. But now when this Dhamma-lipi was written, only three animals were being killed for curry, namely two peacocks and one deer, but even that deer not regularly. Even these three animals will not be afterwards killed.

English translation of the Girnar text by D C Sircar

This record relating to Dharma has been caused to be written by King Priyadarsi, Beloved of the Gods.
Here no living being should be slaughtered for sacrifice and no festive gatherings should be held. For king Priyadarsi, Beloved of the Gods, sees manifold evil in festive gatherings. There is, however, one kind of festive gathering which is considered good by king Priyadarsi, Beloved of the Gods.
Many hundred thousands of living beings were formerly slaughtered every day in the kitchen of Priyadarsi, Beloved of the Gods, for the sake of curry. But now, when this record relating to Dharma is written, only three living creatures are killed daily for the sake of curry, viz. two birds and one animal. Even this animal also is not slaughtered regularly. These three living beings too shall not be killed in future.

English translation of the Shahbazgarhi text by R K Mookerji

This religious edict has been caused to be inscribed by His Sacred and Gracious Majesty.
Here not a single living creature should be slaughtered and sacrificed. Nor should any Samaja be held. For His Sacred and Gracious Majesty sees much objection in such samaja.
But there are also certain varieties of same which are considered commendable by His Sacred and Gracious Majesty.
Formerly in the kitchen of His Sacred and Gracious Majesty, daily many hundred thousands of living creatures were slaughtered for purpose of curries. But now when this religious edict is being inscribed, only three living creatures are slaughtered, two peacocks and one deer, and the deer, too, not regularly. Even these three living creatures afterwards shall not be slaughtered.

English translation by S Dhammika

Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi, has caused this Dhamma edict to be written. Here (in my domain) no living beings are to be slaughtered or offered in sacrifice. Nor should festivals be held, for Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi, sees much to object to in such festivals, although there are some festivals that Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi, does approve of.
Formerly, in the kitchen of Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi, hundreds of thousands of animals were killed every day to make curry. But now with the writing of this Dhamma edict only three creatures, two peacocks and a deer are killed, and the deer not always. And in time, not even these three creatures will be killed.

Observations:

धमंलिपि (Dhamma-lipi) – V A Smith translates it as ‘scripture of law of duty’, Kern as ‘righteousness-edict’, Buhler as ‘religious edict’. Lipi in literal sense means a writ or a record. D R Bhandarkar suggests we better leave Dhamma-lipi as it is as it could mean religious record as well as moral record.

इध (Idha) – It literally translates as ‘here’. Some scholars take it as ‘earth, some as ‘Pataliputra’, D R Bhandarkar as ‘palace and royal establishment’.

समाजा (Samaja) – E Senart interprets it as ‘a convivial assembly’, Pischel as ‘a battue’, G Buhler as ‘a festive assembly’. However these interpretations were not adequate enough to explain why Ashoka condemn few samajas and extol others.

Digha Nikaya mentions six objectionable samajas, dancing, singing, music, story-telling, cymbals and tam-tams. However, does Ashoka concerned about such entertainment gatherings? His main object in this edict was to stop animal slaughter and was such thing involved during the above mentioned entertainment shows?

Dance, music and singing are ancient arts and, in India, learning such arts was always appreciated. If the shows are just the pure display of arts and skills then, I believe, there is no issue of objection. However, the purity must be maintained, which of course is a hard task, even in today’s times.

On killing of animals – Meena Talim mentions that this edict reminds of ‘Kassapa siha-nada suttam’ where Kassapa, a Brahman, asked Buddha how to acquire virtue. Buddha said, ‘idha Kassapam panatipatam pahaya, panatipata pativirato hoti nihita-dando, lajji, dayapanno sabbapanabuta hitanukampi viharati. Idam pi assa hoti sila-sampadaya’. Meaning that one can acquire virtue by discarding killing, not taking pleasure in killing, leaving aside rod, weapon and have sense of shame, be kind to all loving creatures.

In due course, we will observe that king Ashoka was very much concerned about preserving and well care of the animal being, rather curiously, more than the human beings. Ahimsa, or non-violence, is one of the main feature of Buddhism however it is as well very prominent in Jain and later Hindu scriptures. What could be the cause of this very specific inclination of the king?

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