Inscriptions of Ashoka
Minor Rock Edicts (MRE)
We are fortunate enough that many of Ashoka inscriptions are discovered across the present Indian territories and also in few foreign countries. His inscriptions are popularly known as edicts as made famous by the early historians. However, whether these can be termed as edicts is not very clear as though Ashoka commands his people however does not force them to follow his command.
Dr R K Mookerji writes, ‘In these sermons on stone we find his true self revealed and expressed, his philosophy of life, his conception of an emperor’s duties and responsibilities, and the extent to which he lived to realize the high ideals and principles he professed and preached’. Hence these were sermons or preachings of his rather then his edicts.
As these inscriptions are his sermons and preachings hence we find the same inscription at various places. Because of this nature of these epigraphs, the historians do not categorize them by the place where these are discovered but by the groups as per their characteristic. His inscriptions can be classified broadly into five categories.
- Rock Edicts
- Minor Rock Edicts
- Pillar Edicts
- Minor Pillar Edicts
- Cave and miscellaneous inscriptions
Minor Rock Edicts (MRE) – At present there are eighteen places where we find minor rock edicts. These are usually in sets of two, rarely in three.
1. Sasaram (Sahasram) – Sasaram is lies at the foot of Kaimurs in the present Bihar state. D K Chakrabarty tells that any land-route from Varanasi to Patna (Pataliputra) or Rajagir (Rajagriha) had to pass through Kaimurs. The ancient alignment was Rajagriha-Bodhgaya-Sasaram.
This edict was discovered in 1839 by E L Ravenshaw and was comprehensively discussed by Alexander Cunningham. Cunningham, however, assigns this to Dasaratha, the grandson of Ashoka instead to Ashoka. The edict is engraved inside a cave with 4 feet opening on a hill, little below the Chand Shahid shrine, a modern shrine of a Muslim Pir, on the outskirts of Sasaram. Only MRE1 is found at this site.
V A Smith says that it is probable that this place would have been visited by Hindus in past however it is a mere conjecture.
2. Ghurhupur (Ratanpurwa)/Basaha – This edict was discovered in 2009 and reported by K K Thaplyal. Ghurhupur is about 60 km from Varanasi via Chakia. The village can be approached from Chakia via Saidupur.
There are rock-shelters in the vicinity of Ghrhupur and few have paintings inside. The inscription is found in one of these shelters. The inscription has nine lines written in Brahmi of Ashoka’s period. The language is Magadhan Prakrit as mentioned by K K Thaplyal. Only MRE1 is found at this site.
There is some controversy about this find. The authenticity of the inscription is questioned by Tripathi, Upadhyay and Kumar, all from Banaras Hindu University. They say that the color of the rock on which this inscription is found is different from its adjacent surface color which suggests that the inscription was engraved recently. It is a wonder that there is no weathering of rocks in the inscribed area even after a lapse of several centuries and the rock face is open to sun and rain.
However D K Chakrabarty and K K Thaplyal are of opinion that it is not a fake. The cave inside which it is found would have saved this from weathering and other spoilers.
3. Ahraura – This edict is located on a hill-top shared with the local Bhandari devi temple. Ahraura is in Mirzapur district of Uttar Pradesh about 25 km from Varanashi. The edict was discovered by R G Pandeya in 1961 and translated by D C Sircar. Only MRE1 is found at this site.
Sircar says that Ahraura version of the edict is the only Ashokan record which states that the pilgrimage was undertaken immediately after the installation of the relics of Buddha on a platform no doubt for worship in the capital city of Pataliputra. Why he used word ‘platform’ instead of ‘stupa’ which seems more appropriate.
Translation by D C Sircar
This declaration (has been made by me while I am) on a tour (of pilgrimage) for 256 nights (i.e. days) since the relics of the Buddha ascended (i.e. were caused to be installed by me on) the platform (for worship).
4. Rupnath – Rupnath is located near Jabalpur. The edict is engraved on a boulder of dark red sandstone. Rupnath lies the foot of the Kaimur hills. A small stream here breaks the crest of the kaimur range and after three low falls, forms a deep secluded pool at the foot of the scarp.
These three low falls are locally known as Rama, Lakshmana and Sita in order from top to down. Alexander Cunningham tells that a fair was held at every Shivaratri however it was discontinued since 1857. I am not sure when this fair was started again, as when I visited the place the fair was in full swing.
D K Chakrabarty tells that Rupnath is situated near the ancient city of Kakrehta which antiquity goes back to the Mauryan period.
5. Panguraria – Panguraria is located on Vidisha-Nandner (south of Bhopal)-Panguraria-Ninnore route. Nadner and Ninnore are ancient sites. Panguraria has many rock-shelters which are known as Panguraria-Bayan complex of rock-shelters. The edict is in a rock-shleter, locally known as Saru-Maru rock-shelter.
Translation by Falk
The king, who (now after consecration) is called Piyadassi, (once) came to this place on a pleasure tour while he was still a ruling prince, living together with this (unwedded) consort.
Translation by D C Sircar
The king named Priyadarsin (speaks) to Kumara Samba from his march (of pilgrimage) to the Upunitha-vihara ( or Opunitha-vihara) in Mansema-desa. (this) declaration (was issued by me when I was) on tour (of pilgrimage and had stayed away from the capital for) 256 (nights).
6. Gujarra – It was discovered in 1953 CE. The edict is located north of the village Gujarra at the foot of a low hill locally known as Siddham ki Todiya. Gujarra is located on Agra-Gwalior-Jhansi route, near the town of Datia. The edict here refers Ashoka with his personal name. Only MRE I is found here.
7. Bahapur (Srinivaspuri) – This edict lies in the heart of New Delhi, below the famous Kalkaji hill. Antiquity of Delhi is unquestioned and the city has the patronage from the times of Mahabharata.
8. Bairat – It was discovered by A C L Carlleyle in 1870-71 CE. It is located just where the road coming from Sariska and Delhi approaches the fortified early historic site of Bairat. It falls on the modern route, Delhi-Gurgaon-Alwar via Sariska. The edict is engraved on a huge isolated block standing at the foot of a hill called the Hinsagir hill.
9. Nittur – Nittur is located NW of Bellary-Sirguppa road via Tekkalakota. It is few km SW of Tekkalakota village. The edict is engraved on a rock outcrop amidst the cultivate fields. It has both, MRE I and II, engraved on separate boulders. Both these edicts refer Ashoka with his personal name.
10. Udegolam – Udegolam is 5 km SW of Nittur and here also the edict is engraved on a rock outcrop amidst the cultivated fields. Only MRE II is found here.
11. Maski – It was discovered by C Beadon in 1915 CE. This was the first found edict which referred Ashoka with his personal name. Maski can be approached via Bellary-Sirguppa-Sindhnur-Maski route. Maski would be the corrupt form of the old Mosangi town.
D K Chakrabarty points that Maski could be the old Musangi, where a battle was fought between the Chalukyan king Jayasimha II and the Chola king Rajendra I as evident from the Thirumalai inscription of the latter.
12. Palkigundu – Only MRE I is found here. The edict is located on the top of a hill on west of the modern city of Koppal.
13. Gavimath – Only MRE I is found here. The edict is on the hill-spur on the east of the Palkigundu hill.
14. Brahmagiri – It was discovered by B Lewis Rice in 1892 CE. Both, MRE I and MRE II are found here. Brahmagiri is easily accessible from the modern town of Hanagal/Hangal.
15. Siddapur – It was discovered by B Lewis Rice in 1892 CE. Both, MRE I and MRE II are found here. Siddapur is about 1.5 km from Brahmagiri.
16. Jatinga Ramesvar – It was discovered by B Lewis Rice in 1892 CE. Both, MRE I and MRE II are found here. It is located 5 km north by west of Brahmagiri. The inscription is engraved on a floor immediately in front of the staircase leading up to the temple of Jatinga Ramesvar.
These edicts (Brahmagiri, Siddapur, Jatinga Ramesvar) alone contain a short supplementary edict giving a summary of Ashoka’s Dharma. D K Chakrabarty tells that just because there is an extra text at the end of these edicts, we should not separate them into two edicts but it should be considered same as MRE I.
17. Yerragudi/Erragudi – This edict lies by the side of the road from Gooti to Adoni. Both, MRE I and II, are found here. Suvarnagiri of Yerragudi could be Sannati but not Kanakagiri or Jonnagiri as the latter two do not have signs of ancient occupation.
18. Rajula Mandagiri – This site can be approached from Pattikonda. Both, MRE I and II, are found here. This inscriptions was discovered in 1953-54 CE and it is located 35 km from the Yerragudi inscription.
Nine out of the eighteen MREs are in Karnataka, and two in Andhra Pradesh. However these all are written in Pali and Brahmi script but not in any regional script. The reason might be, as suggested by Meena Talim, that the Buddhist community of South India might be comfortable with the Pali language as all the ancient Buddhist literature is in the same language. Dr R Thapar suggests that Ashoka did not try to use the local language of Southern India, though he did in the case of Greek and Aramaic speaking areas, as there was no local script in southern India at that time.
Meenal Talim does not agree with Thapar and the former tells that it was not only the change of script in Greek and Aramaic case but the language was also changed into the local diction. Also the argument of missing local script in southern India cannot be upheld as we have many Tamil inscriptions in Brahmi script which can be dated close to Ashoka’s period. There is no trend of change of diction among Ashoka’s edicts within India, except the change in script to Kharoshti at Mansehra and Shahbazgarh, which probably was due to their closeness to the north-west frontier kingdoms.