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Ashoka ruled the largest Empire in the Indian subcontinent, even greater the size of the present India. It is truly amazing to think that a single man ruled this enormous piece of land. Emperor Ashoka lived, ruled and died, and with time the people of India forgot this magnificent monarch of whom it is difficult to find a parallel. However his vision of an Empire lived on, and stood like a monument which could sustain the erosion of time. The inscriptions that Emperor Ashoka carved on stone across different places in his gigantic Empire is not just the constitution of the Nation he ruled, but unlike many of his contemporaries and who followed him, laid down the principles of conduct and morality to his subject, an Emperor cum Philosopher is not-too-often blend in history. We can compare him Gandhi, or with the Biblical King Solomon, but he is different, he was out of his time, and his messages along with his legend has stood the test of time. Monarchy has been displaced by and large, and everything related with it has been thrown out of the window, but through the skylight the light of wisdom of a unique monarch still hold so relevant, and it is because of his timeless messages. It is because of its relevance that I present you the translations of the rock edicts of Ashoka.
- Ban on Animal Slaughter.
“The following edict of religion is promulgated by the heaven-beloved king Piyadasi (Ashoka):
“‘In this place the putting to death of anything whatever that hath life, either for the benefit of the puja, or in convivial meetings, shall not be done. Much cruelty of this nature occurs in such assemblies. The heaven- beloved king Piyadasi is (as it were) a father (to his people). Uniformity of worship is wise and proper for the congregation of the heaven- beloved Piyadasi Raja.
“‘Formerly, in the great refectory and temple of the heaven-beloved king Piyadasi, daily were many hundred thousand animals sacrificed for the sake of meat food. So even at this day while this religious edict is under promulgation, from the sacrifice of animals for the sake of food, some two are killed, or one is killed; but now the joyful chorus resounds again and again – that henceforward not a single animal shall be put to death.’’
Translation by James Prinsep, EDICT I.
- Hospital for all, even for animals!
“Everywhere within the conquered province of Raja Piyadasi, the beloved of the gods, as well as in the parts occupied by the faithful, such as Chola, Pida, (Cholas and Pandyas) Satiyaputra (definition not clear), and Ketalaputra ( Cera also spelled Chera), even as far as Tambapanni (Ceylon) ; and, moreover, within the dominions of ANTIOCHUS, the Greek (of which Antiochus’ generals are the rulers), everywhere the heaven-beloved Raja Piyadasi’s double system of medical aid is established- both medical aid for men, and medical aid for animals, together with the medicaments of all sorts, which are suitable for men, and suitable for animals. And wherever there is not (such provision), in all such places they are to be prepared, and to be planted: both root-drugs and herbs, wheresoever’s there is not ( a provision of them), in all such places shall they be deposited and planted.
“And in the public highways wells are to be dug, and trees to be planted, for the accommodation of men and animals.”
Translation by James Prinsep, EDICT II.
- Social behaviour.
There is no such charity as the charity which springs from virtue- the intimate knowledge of virtue, the inheritance of virtue, the close union with virtue. And in these maxims it is manifested-kindness towards servants and hirelings, towards mother and father dutiful service is proper, towards a friend’s offspring, to kindred in general, to Brahmans and Sramans (monks by broader definition) alms giving is proper, avoiding destruction of animal life is proper.
Translation by James Prinsep, EDICT XI.
- Tolerance of all religion.
The beloved of the gods king Priyadasi honours all forms of religious faith whether professed by ascetics or householders he honours them with gifts and with manifold kinds of reverence, but the beloved of the gods considers no gift or honour so much as the increase of the substance of religion his encouragement of the increase of the substance of all religious belief is manifold. But the root of his encouragement is this reverence for one’s own faith and no reviling nor injury of that of others. Let the reverence be shown in such and such a manner as is suited to the difference of belief as when it is done in that manner it augments our own faith and benefits that of others. Whoever acts otherwise injures his own religion and wrongs that of others for he who in some way honours his own religion and reviles that of others.
Translation by Wilson, EDICT XII.
- Social Welfare.
King Devanampiya Piyadasi again spoke as follows- Along the high roads I have caused fig trees to be planted that they may be for shade to animals and men. I have also planted mango trees and at every half coss (in Mughal time a coss is about 2 miles). I have caused wells to be constructed and resting places for nights to be erected. And how many taverns or serais (roadside hotels) have been erected by me at various places for the entertainment of man and beast! So that as the people finding the road to every species of pleasure and convenience in these places of entertainment these new towns rejoice under my rule so let them thoroughly appreciate and follow after the same system of benevolence is my object and thus I have done.
Translation by Prinsep, EDICT VIII.
- Festival of Duty.
The beloved of the gods Priyadasi Raja says- Every man that is celebrates of festivity as on the removal of incumbrances on invitations on marriages on birth of a son or on setting forth on a on these and other occasions a man various rejoicings. The benevolent man also celebrates many and various kinds of pure disinterested festivities and such rejoicing to be practised. Such festivities are fruitless and vain but the festivity that bears great is the festival of duty such as the respect the servant to his master reverence for teachers is good tenderness for living is good liberality to Brahmans and Sramans is good. These and other such acts constitute verily the festival of duty and it is be cherished as father by son a dependant his master. This is good this is the festival to be observed for the establishment of this object virtuous donations are made for is no such donation or benevolence as the duty or the benevolence of duty that benevolence is chaff which is contracted with friend a companion a kinsman or an associate and is to be reprehended. In such and in manner this is to be done. This is good these means let a man seek Swarga (heaven). This to be done by these means it is to be done by them Swarga has been gained.
Translation Wilson, EDICT IX.
- Justice and Morality.
By command of Devanampiya the the gods. In the city of Tosalî the in charge of the town are to be as follows- Whomsoever I ascertain to be a murderer I desire to be imprisoned. This I publicly proclaim and I will carry into effect however difficult, for this my supreme will is irresistible this account the present Tope (Stupa, pillar) is denominated the tope of commandment. From amongst many thousand souls, oh you chosen people repair you to the holy men. Every righteous man is my true subject for my subjects I desire this only,that they may be possessed of every benefits and happiness as to things of this world and of beyond….. and furthermore I desire not purify the wicked until. In this country and not anywhere else is seen such a stupa in which is rules of moral conduct. When one man relieves his fellow creature from the bondage and misery of sin it necessarily follows that he himself is released.
Translation Prinsep, DHAULI AND JAUGADA, No.1 separate Edict.
- Special Animals to be protected.
Thus spoke King Devanampiya Piyadasi- In the twenty seventh year of my anointment the following animals shall not be put to death the parrot the maina or thrush, the wild duck of the wilderness the goose, the bull faced owl, the vulture, the bat the ambaka-pillika (unknown bird), the raven, and the common crow, the vedaveyaka (unknown bird), the adjutant the lankujamava the kaphalasayaka the panatasetimala the sandaka the okapada, those that go in pairs, the white dove, and the domestic pigeon. Among all four footed beasts the following shall not be for food they shall not be eaten- the she goat of various kinds, and the sheep, and the sow, either when heavy with young or when giving milk. Un-killed birds of every sort for the desire of their flesh shall not be put to death. The same being alive shall not be injured whether because of their uselessness or for the sake of amusement they shall not be injured. Animals that prey on life shall not be cherished. In the three four monthly periods of the year on the evening of the full moon during the three holy days namely the fourteenth the fifteenth and the first day after conjunction in the midst of the uposatha (Buddhist observance of fasting) ceremonies or strict fasts un-killed things or live fish shall not be exposed for sale. On these days neither the snake tribe nor the feeders on fish alligators nor any living beings whatsoever shall be put to death. On the eighth day of the paksha (or half month) on the fourteenth on the fifteenth (on the days when the moon is in the mansions of) tirsha or punarvasuna on these several days i.e the three four monthly periods the ox shall not be tended, the goat the sheep, and the pig if indeed, any be tended for domestic use shall not then be tended. On the tirsha or punarvasuna of every four months and of every paksha (or semi lunation) of the four months it is forbidden to keep for labour either the horse or the ox.
Translation by Prinsep, EDICT V.
- Practising Religion.
The king Devanampiya Piyadasi says- In religion is the chief excellence but religion consists in good works in the non omission of many acts mercy and charity purity and chastity these are to me the anointment of consecration. Towards the poor and the afflicted towards bipeds and quadrupeds towards the fowls of the air and things that move in the waters manifold have been the benevolent acts performed by me. Out of consideration for things inanimate even many other excellent things have been done by me. To this purpose is the present edict promulgated let all pay attention to it or take cognizance thereof, and let it endure for ages to come and he who acts in conformity thereto the same shall attain eternal happiness.
Translation by Prinsep,EDICT II.
- Empire, Religion and the eternal message!
King Devanampiya Piyadasi again spoke. And religion increase among men by two separate processes by performance of religious offices and by security against persecution. Accordingly religious offices and immunities might abound among multitudes. I have observed the ordinances as the apple of my eye as testified by all these animals which have been saved from and by manifold other virtuous acts performed on my behalf. And that the religion may from the persecution of men increasing through the absolute prohibition to put to death beings or to sacrifice aught that draw breath. For such an object is all this done that may endure to my sons and their sons, sons as long as the sun and moon shall last. Wherefore them follow its injunctions, and be obedient thereto, and let it be had in reverence and respect. In twenty seventh year of my reign have I caused this edict to be written so says Devanampiya. Let stone pillars be prepared and let this edict of religion be engraved thereon that it may unto the remotest ages.
2. Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, Volume 6, Part 2.
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Sumit Soren is the founder of Livelystories. Basically an Agricultural Engineer, Sumit has interest in varied topics. He regularly writes on tribal history, internet and science related topics.