History

The Mauryas

Inscriptions of Ashoka

Rock Edict (RE) IV

Sanskrit text of the Girnar edict by Meena Talim

  1. अतिकात अंतर बहुनि वससतानि वढीतो एव पाणारंभो विहिंसा च भूतानं णातिसु
  2. असंप्रटिपती ब्राह्मणसमणानं असंप्रतीपति [.] अज देवानंप्रियस प्रियदसिनो राजो
  3. धंमचरणेन भेरीघोसो अहो धमघोसो विमानदसणा च हास्तिदसणा च
  4. अगिरवंधनि च अणानि च दिव्यानि रूपानिं दसयित्वा जनं [.] यारिसे बहुहि
  5. न भूतपुवे तारिसे अज वढीते देवानंप्रियस प्रियदसिनो राजो धमानुसस्तिया अनारं -
  6. भो प्राणानं अविहिसा भूतान यातीनं संपटिपति ब्राहमण समणानं संपटिपति मातरि पितरि
  7. सुस्त्रुसा थेरसुस्त्रुसा [.] एस अये बहुविधे धम चरणे वढीते वढयिसति [.] चेव देवानं प्रियो
  8. प्रियदसि राजा धमचरणम इद [.] पुत्रा च पोत्रा च प्रपोत्रा च देवानंप्रियस प्रियदसिनं राजो
  9. …धयिसति इदं धमचरणम आव सवटाकप धंमम्हि सीलम्हि तिठतो धम अनुससिसति [.]
  10. एसा हि सेतो कमे य धंमानुसासन [.] धमचरणे न भवति असीलम्हि [.] धमम्हि अथाम्हि
  11. ….च अहिनी च साधुएताय अथाय इदं लिखापिता इमस अथस वधि युजतु  हीनि च
  12. नो लोचतव्या [.] दादसवसभिसितेनं देवानं प्रियेन प्रियदसिना  राजा इदं लिखापितां [.]

English translation by Meena Talim

1-2 : In times past, for many hundred of years, there had been increase in the acts of killing animals, hurting living beings and not looking after relatives, Brahmans and Sramanas.
3-4 : Today, Devanamppiya Piyadassi has sounded the drum-proclamation that let all beings practice Dhamma. This proclamation was done by exhibiting aerial (mansion) chariots, exhibiting elephants, a great mass of fire and such other divine forms.
5 – Such has not been exhibited in the past, for many hundred years, but today it has been promoted.
6 – King Devanamppiya Piyadassi gives instructions according to Dhamma, namely, abstain from killing animals, hurting living beings and to look after your relatives, Brahmans and Sramanas, obedience to mother and father and obedience to the elders.
7 – Thus, today in many other ways the Dhamma will be practised and will be increased. King Devanamppiya Piyadassi has recommended  this practice of Dhamma.
8 – The sons, grandsons and great-grandsons of Devanamppiya Piyadassi will increase this practice of Dhamma, as long as this earth stands, for aeon; the Dhamma and Sila (morality) will remain on this earth and practiced.
9 – The act (Kamma) is the best act, which follows the instructions of Dhamma (in this world). Practice of Dhamma will not make one devoid of morals.
10-11 – Therefore, it is good that practice of Dhamma should be increased and should not be neglected (decreased). For this purpose this scripture has been written. Let the meaning be increased and negligence will not be approved.
12 – King Devanamppiya Piyadassi has caused this to be written in the twelfth year of his coronation.

English translation of the Shahbazgarhi text by G Buhler

A long period, many hundred of years, have passed, during which the slaughter of animals, the cruel treatment of created beings, the unbecoming behavior towards relatives and the unbecoming behavior towards ascetics and Brahmans have only increased. But now, in consequence of the fulfillment of the sacred law by king Priyarasin, beloved of the gods, the sound of drums, or rather the sound of law, has been heard, while the sight of cars of the gods, elephants and other heavenly spectacles were exhibited to the people. As has not happened formerly in many centuries, even so have grown now through the go-beloved King Priyadarsin’s preaching of the law the non-destruction of animals, the good treatment of living creatures, the decorous behavior towards relatives, the decorous behavior towards ascetics and Brahmans, the obedience towards parents, the obedience towards the aged. Thus, in many other ways, the fulfillment of the sacred law has grown, and King Priyadarsin, beloved of the gods, will make this fulfillment of the scared law grow still more. Moreover, the sons, the grandsons, and great-grandsons of King Priyadarsin, beloved of the gods, will make this fulfillment of the sacred law grow until the end of time, and will preach the sacred law, abiding by the sacred law and by virtuous conduct; for that is the best work, viz. the preaching of the sacred law; but the fulfillment of the sacred law is not possible for a man destitute of virtuous conduct. The growth of this very matter and its non-diminution are meritorious. For this purpose, viz. that they may cause the growth of this matter and may not permit its diminution, this edict has been written. This edict has been written by King Priyadarsin, beloved of the gods, when he had been anointed twelve years.

English translation by Dr D R Bhandarkar

A long period, many hundreds of years, have elapsed, (during which) the slaughter of animate beings, injury to creatures, unseemly behavior to relatives, (and) unseemly behavior to Brahmans and Sramanas only increased. But now, in consequence of the practice of Dhamma by King Priyadarsin, Beloved of the gods, the sound of drum has become the sound of Dhamma after (his) having shown to people spectacles of aerial chariots, spectacles of elephants, masses of fire and other divine representations. As has not happened for many hundred years before, have now increased, through king-Priyadarsin-Beloved-of-Gods’ instructions in Dhamma, abstention from slaughter of animate beings, abstention from injury to creatures, seemly behavior to relatives, seemly behavior to Brahmans and Sramanas, hearkening to father and mother, hearkening to the elders. The practice of Dhamma of this and other manifold kinds just grown, and king Priyadarsin, Beloved of the gods, will (still more) cause this practice of Dhamma to grow. The sons, grandsons and great-grandsons of King Priyadarsin will cause the practice of Dhamma grow until the aeon of destruction, (and), abiding in Dhamma and virtuous conduct, will give instructions in Dhamma; for the most excellent act is instructions in Dhamma, and (the fostering of) the practice of Dhamma is not for a man devoid of virtuous conduct. Growth and non-diminution in this matter are therefore excellent. For this purpose, namely, that (my descendants) may enjoin the growth of this matter and that no diminution should be noticeable, has this (Dhamma-lipi) been caused to be written. This was caused to be written by King Priyadarsin, Beloved of the gods, when he was consecrated twelve years.

English translation of the Girnar text by Dr R K Mookerji

For a long period past, for many hundreds of years, have increased the sacrificial slaughter of animals, cruelty towards living beings and improper treatment of relatives, of Brahmans and Sramanas. But today, in consequence of the practice of morality by His Sacred and Gracious Majesty the King, the sound of the war drum has become the call (not to arms but) to Dharma, exhibiting to the people the sight of cars of the gods, of elephants, masses of fire and other heavenly shows.
As were not seen before for many hundreds of years, so now have increased through the religious ordinances of His Sacred and Gracious Majesty the king cessation of slaughter of animals, non-violence towards living beings, proper treatment of relatives, of Brahmans and Sramanas, obedience to mother and father and to the seniors.
This and other practice of morality of many kinds has been increased. And His Sacred and Gracious Majesty the king will further increase this practice of morality.
And the sons, grandsons and great-grandsons, too, of His Sacred and Gracious Majesty the king will increase this practice of morality up to the end of time (“the aeon of universal destruction”) and will preach the Dharma, themselves abiding in Dharma and righteous conduct. For this is the highest work, viz. preaching of Dharma.
The practice of morality, too, is not of one devoid of virtue. The increase of this work, nay, even its non-diminution, is laudable. For this purpose has this been inscribed that they (i.e. Asoka’s successors) may apply themselves to the promotion of this object, and that its decline should not be entertained.
By His Sacred and Gracious Majesty the king consecrated twelve years was this caused to be inscribed.

English translation of the Girnar text by V A Smith

For a long period past, even for many hundred years, have increased the sacrificial slaughter of living creatures, the killing of animate beings, unseemly behavior (or “discourtesy “) to relatives, unseemly behavior to Brahmans and ascetics. But now, by reason of the practice of piety by His Sacred and Gracious Majesty the King, the reverberation of the war-drums has become the reverberation of the law. while he exhibits spectacles of the dwellings of the gods, spectacles of elephants (or “the elephant “), bonfires (”illuminations,” Sh.), and other representations of a divine nature. As for many  hundred years before it has not happened, now at this present, by reason of the inculcation of the Law of Piety by His Sacred and Gracious Majesty the King, have increased abstention from the sacrificial
Slaughter of living creatures, abstention from the killing of animate beings, seemly behavior (or “courtesy”) to relatives, seemly behavior to Brahmans and ascetics, hearkening to father and mother, hearkening to elders. Thus, and in many other ways the practice of the Law has increased, and His Sacred and Gracious Majesty the King will make such practice of the Law increase further. The sons, grandsons, and great-grandsons of his Sacred and Gracious Majesty the King will cause this practice of the Law to  increase until the aeon of universal destruction (other texts omit “of universal destruction”). Standing firm in the Law of Piety and in morality they will inculcate the Law.  For this is the best of deeds  even the inculcation of the Law. Practice of the Law is not for the immoral man.    Both increase and non-diminution in this matter are excellent. For this purpose has this [document] been caused to be written that they may strive for increase and not give countenance to diminution.
When he had been consecrated twelve years His Sacred  and Gracious Majesty the  King had this written.

English translation by D C Sircar

In times past, for many hundreds of years, slaughter of life, cruelty to living creatures, disrespect to relatives and disrespect to the Brahmans and Sramanas increased indeed. But now, as a result of the practice of Dharma on the part of king Priyadarshi, Beloved of the Gods, every proclamation by the beating of drums has become the proclamation of Dharma. Abstention from the slaughter of life, absence of cruelty to living creatures, seemly behavior to relatives, seemly behavior to the Brahmans and Sramanas, obedience to mother and father, and obedience to the aged have increased by King Priyadarsi, Beloved of the Gods, to such a degree as was not possible to achieve for many hundreds of years in the past by means of showing to the people the representations of celestial cars and celestial elephants, masses of hell-fire as well as many other heavenly forms. The practice of Dharma of the above kind as also of various other kinds have increased and king Priyadarsi, Beloved of the Gods, will cause such practices of Dharma to increase still more. Further, the sons, grandsons and great-grandsons of king Priyadarsi, Beloved of the Gods, will promote this practice of Dharma till the time of universal destruction and, themselves abiding by Dharma and good conduct will instruct the people in Dharma.
Verily, instruction in Dharma is considered by me to be my supreme duty. But the practice to Dharma is not possible for a person devoid of good conduct. In the matter of Dharma, an increase of it is good as also its non-decrease.
This record has been caused to be written for the following purpose, viz. that the proclamation of Dharma should be adhered to and that no decrease of it should be countenanced.
This record has been caused to be written by King Priyadarsi twelve years after his coronation.

English translation by S Dhammika

In the past, for many hundreds of years, killing or harming living beings and improper behavior towards relatives, and improper behavior towards Brahmans and ascetics has increased. But now due to Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi’s Dhamma practice, the sound of the drum has been replaced by the sound of the Dhamma. The sighting of heavenly cars, auspicious elephants, bodies of fire and other divine sightings has not happened for many hundreds of years. But now because Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi promotes restraint in the killing and harming of living beings, proper behavior towards relatives, Brahmans and ascetics, and respect for mother, father and elders, such sightings have increased.
These and many other kinds of Dhamma practice have been encouraged by Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi, and he will continue to promote Dhamma practice. And the sons, grandsons and great-grandsons of Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi, too will continue to promote Dhamma practice until the end of time; living by Dhamma and virtue, they will instruct in Dhamma. Truly, this is the highest work, to instruct in Dhamma. But practicing the Dhamma cannot be done by one who is devoid of virtue and therefore its promotion and growth is commendable.
This edict has been written so that it may please my successors to devote themselves to promoting these things and not allow them to decline. Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi, has had this written twelve years after his coronation.

Observations:

Vimana – This term has been variably translated by many scholars, Kern translates as ‘apparitions of chariots of the gods’, E Senart as ‘processions of reliquaries’, G Buhler as ‘sight of cars of the gods’, S Krishnaswami Aiyangar as ‘processional cars’.

D R Bhandarkar points to Vimanavatthu which mentions the bliss of heaven awaiting a virtuous man after death as comprising, 1) the vimana, a movable palace, 2) the hasti, all-white celestial elephant, 3) shining complexion, resembling star, fire of lighting. Hence he suggests that by vimana here, Ashoka meant heavenly chariot or column-supported mansion. Meena Talim also goes with this identification.

Hastidasana – Kern translates it as ‘apparitions of celestial elephants’, G Buhler, E Senart, S Krishnaswami Aiyangar and Meena Talim as ‘elephants’. D R Bhandarkar mentions that it should mean the all-while celestial elephant which is a priced possession of all the gods in the heavens above. And this is what promised here to human beings on earth as the bliss or gift they will get when they attain the upper world.

Agni-skandha – Kern translates it as ‘fiery balls’, E Senart as ‘torches’, G Buhler does not give any translation, F W Thomas and S Krishnaswami Aiyangar as ‘bon-fire’, Meena Talim as ‘great mass of fire’. D R Bhandarkar suggests that it probably represents that shining complexion which is visible on the faces of every heavenly god. By use of fire, Ashoka exhibited the complexion which a virtuous human being will gain when he attains heaven.

Ashoka: an autocrat – There has been suggestions that Ashoka used fist of iron to implement his policies on dhamma on his subjects. In this edict, Ashoka mentions that negligence in following his policies should not be approved. Does this suggest that he was dealing as an autocrat in this regard? Was there strict order to his subject to follow his policies and all the officials, appointed by him, were given instructions to take care of this? Were his subjects, in anyway, forced to follow his dhamma?

In some manner, it seems possible that Ashoka wanted his policies to be forced on his subjects. However, we should be careful on what was his dhamma. He was not promoting Buddhism in anyway as he clearly mention that respect all religions and treat Brahmans and Sramanas alike. Therefore he was promoting a moral discipline among his subjects, and probably he was little strict here as he had seen much immorality during his early period.

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