Edicts of Ashoka – Rock Edicts

Inscriptions of Ashoka

Rock Edicts (RE)

These are a group of 14 epigraphs in total. At some places, only twelve of the original series are found and the remaining two edicts were replaced with separate edicts, known as Kalinga edicts. These are found at nine places, except Sannati where only two Kalinga edicts and edict XII and XIV are found.

Harry Falk points that Ashoka would have setup his edicts in the places where there would be a large congregation of people, at least at certain appointed times of year. The details of these places is given below.

1. Shahbazgarh (Shahbazgarhi) –Shahbazgarhi was inside the Yusufzai territory during the British empire of India. Now this site comes in Pakistan. The ancient remains of this territory were described by H W Bellew. The site of Shahbazgarhi lies in the Sudam valley created by the Makam river. It is located 15 km north by northwest of Mardan in the center of the Peshawar plain. D K Chakrabarty tells that Shahbazgarhi was located on the ancient Karakoram route.

Alexander Cunningham tells that Babur visited this village during his way to India in 1519. There was a shrine of Shahbaz Qalandar in the village from which the village got its name. Babur ordered his troops to demolish that shrine as the saint was an ousted wanderer who were not accepted under the Muslim religion.

Alexander Cunningham suggests that Shahbazgarhi village in the Peshawar plains represents the ancient city Pushkalavati, Po-lu-sha of Xuanzang (Yuan Chwang) and Fo-sha0fu of Sungyun, the famous Buddhist village the scene of Wessantara jataka. It was probably the capital of the Yavana province of Ashoka.

The edicts are engraved on a rock 24 feet long, 10 feet high and 10 feet thick, lies 80 feet above the slope of a hill with its western face looking downwards towards the Shahbazgarh village, located 60 km NE of Peshawar and 1 km from Shahbazgarh village. It was first discovered by General M Court of the Ranjit Singh’s army in 1836 CE. The rock has inscription on its eastern and western face.

Captain Alexander Burnes tried to get a copy of the inscription in 1838 CE however the copy was not very satisfactory. Charles Masson took a copy in 1846 CE which was published by E Norris in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society in 1846 CE. H H Wilson, in the same volume, compared this inscription with the Girnar text.

General Court discovered thirteen inscription except edict XII, the edict XII was discovered later by Captain Harold Deane, Assistant Commissioner of Mardan. This edict is engraved on a separate piece of rock 50 yards distant from the main rock.

2. Mansehra (Mansahra)– The edicts are near village Mansehra located on the right bank of the Siran river, about 22 km north of Abbottabad in Pakistan. R K Mookerji states that the inscriptions were discovered in parts by Captain Leigh and an Indian employee of the Punjab Archaeological Survey in 1889 CE. E Hultzsch, however, gives the name of Alexander Cunningham in place of Captain Leigh.

All 14 edicts are found here. There are three boulders on which these 14 edicts are engraved. Edict 1-8 are on one boulder, edict 9-11 on the north face and edict 12 on the south face of the second boulder, and edict 13-14 on the third boulder. James Burgess took an estampage of it in 1886-87 CE, H Hargreaves took another one in 1921 CE for the study of E Hultzsch.

Dr D R Bhandarkar tells that there are no vestiges of old habitation nearby but A Stein suggests that this rock was originally set up by an ancient road leading to a place of pilgrimage then called Breri, equivalent to Devi or Durga in Kashmiri. Harry Falk tells that this place was selected as it marks the diversion from the main valley to the upper regions leading to Kashmir and to Gilgit via Balakot over the Babusar Pass along the Kundar all the way to Taxila.

Senart points that as edict XII is on a separate rock at Shahbazgarhi and on a separate rock-face at Mansehra, this suggests that this edict has more importance in these provinces. As this edict talks about religious tolerance hence its importance can be evident in frontier territory of Ashoka’s empire.

3. Kalsi– Kalsi is about 20 km west of Mussoorie and the inscription boulder is about 3 km from Kalsi village in Dehradun district of Uttaranchal. It was first discovered by Forrest in 1860. H G Walton in his Gazetteer of Dehradun describes Kalsi stone as a huge quartz boulder some 10 feet high, 10 feet long and 8 feet broad at the base diminishing in width going upwards.

All 14 edicts are found here. On the right hand side of the boulder is traced in outline one elephant labeled Gajatame = ‘the superlative elephant’. This elephant refers to Buddha as per Dr D R Bhandarkar. Bhandarkar also tells that this place is situated near the ancient and prosperous city of Srughna.

4. Girnar – Position of Girnar or Junagadh on the ancient route is not very clear as all the ancient routes were along the western coastline. The ancient name of the hill is Urjayat as evident from the inscription of Rudradaman, and the ancient name of the place is Girinagara.

It was first discovered by Colonel Tod in 1822 CE. All 14 edicts are found here. The rock lies about 1 km E of the city of Junagadh. It is located between Vagheshvari Gate which is the entrance to Girnar Hill and Vagheshvari Mata temple. The boulder lies few yards to the right of the road, few hundred yards from the Vagheshvari Gate.

Portion of edict V and XIII were broken by gunpowder blast during the work to build a causeway between Girnar and Junagadh. Lieutenant Postans found these broken portions in the debris in 1838 CE. James Burgess deciphered the inscription based on the estampages taken by Captain Lang in 1835 CE. James Burgess took a definitive estampage copy in 1875 CE.

Below edict XIII, separated by an indentation was engraved, “….va sveto hasti savaloka-sukhaharo nama= the white elephant whose name is the bringer of happiness to the whole world.

Professor Kern was the first to recognize its reference to Buddha which Bhandarkar also agrees with.This rock holds the status of a celebrated epigraph among the historians as on the same rock are inscribed the inscription of Rudradaman and Skandagupta informing about a lake Sudarshana constructed by the orders of Chandragupta Maurya.

5. Yerragudi – Yerragudi is a village near Gooty in the Kurnool district of Andhra Pradesh. All 14 edicts are found here.

6. Sopara –  Sopara is located north of Mumbai, between Agashi in north and Bassein in south. Sopara was an important port under the name of Surparaka (Mahabharata), Suppara (Periplus) or Soupara (Ptolemy). Mahabharata states that it was founded by Parashurama and he made a Rama-tirtha here. B L Indraji indentifies Sopara with the capital of Aparanta.

Fragments of edict VIII and IX were discovered at Sopara by B L Indraji in 1881-82 CE. This suggests that a full copy of the fourteen edicts were once here. Later fragments of edict IX were also discovered in the coastal village of Bhui (Bhuigao) in 1956 CE. The edicts are engraved on the blocks of Basalt joined together to form a wall or rock.

7. Dhauli – Dhauli is located on the bank of the Daya river, about 10 km from Bhubaneshwar. It was discovered by Markham Kittoe in 1837 CE. J Beglar described the details of the village and inscription in his 1882 CE report. He tells that the village got its name from Dhavaleswari Mata temple.

The edicts are engraved on a rock locally known as Aswastama. There are eleven edicts except XII and XIII and in addition two separate edicts known as Kalinga edicts.

8. Jaugada – These edicts are inscribed on a rock in old fort called Jaugada, near the Rishikulya river, about 25 km from the town of Ganjam. It was discovered by Markham Kittoe in 1837 CE however it was J Beglar who described the fort and inscription in details in his 1882 CE report.

There are eleven edicts out of original fourteen, XI, XII and XIII missing, and in addition two separate Kaling edicts. These edicts were first copied by Sir Walter Elliot in 1850.

9. Sannati – Sannati is located on the right bank of Bhima river, about 50 km northwest of Chitapur in Karnataka. Only two Kalinga edicts were found here. The stones carrying these edicts were used as the pedestal for the main image of the local Chandralamba goddess temple. These came to light during the repair works. The inscription slab is 2.33m x 1.2m and 30 cm thick.

An inscribed panel bearing inscription referring to King Ashoka has also came to light. It is the first such panel which shows the king with his two queens.

Chronology – Amulyachandra Sen says that the preamble, ‘the beloved of the gods, king Priyadarshi spoke thus’ or ‘This dhamma script is caused to be written by the Beloved of the gods, king Priyadarshi’, is only present in few rock edicts. The edicts in which it is missing should be considered to have been issued along with the last edict having this preamble. This puts RE 1 & 2 issued together, RE 3 & 4 together, 5 alone, RE 6, 7 & 8 together, RE 9 & 10 together, Re 11, 12 & 13 together and RE 14 alone.

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