Ashoka the great holds an important place in Indian history. His life has been followed by many, and students must learn about him to learn insights into life’s meaning. Ashoka was one of the greatest rulers known to history and on his instructions, inscriptions were inscribed on pillars, as well as on rock surfaces.
A very big kingdom = an empire
- The lions that we see on our notes and coins have a long history, They were carved in stone, and placed on top of a massive stone pillar at Sarnath.
Lion Capital, Sarnath
- Ashoka was one of the greatest rulers of history ruled-empire founded by his grandfather, Chandragupta Maurya over 2300 years ago.
- He was supported by a wise man named Chanakya or Kautilya. Chanakya’s ideas were written down in the Arthashastra.
- There were several cities in the empire (marked with black dots on the map), which included the capital Pataliputra, Taxila, and Ujjain as well as Taxila, a gateway to the northwest, including Central Asia.
- Ujjain lay on the route from north to south India. Merchants, officials and craftspersons lived in these cities.
- In other areas, there were villages of farmers and herders. In central India, there were forests where people gathered forest produce and hunted animals for food.
- People in different parts of the empire spoke different languages and ate different kinds of food. They wore different kinds of clothes as well.
Try yourself:How many lions are shown in our national Emblem?
The State Emblem of India, as the national emblem of India is called, is an adaptation of the Lion Capital of Ashoka at Sarnath, preserved in the Sarnath Museum near Varanasi, India. The actual Sarnath capital features four Asiatic lions standing back to back, symbolizing power, courage, confidence and pride, mounted on a circular base.
How are empires different from kingdoms?
- Emperors need more resources than kings as they are larger than kingdoms.
- They need to be protected by big armies and they also need a larger number of officials who collect taxes.
Ruling the Empire
- Large empire in different parts was ruled differently. The area around Pataliputra was under the direct control of the emperor.
- Officials were appointed to collect taxes from farmers, herders, craftspersons and traders(who lived in villages and towns in the area).
- They also punished those who disobeyed the ruler’s orders-officials were given salaries. Messengers went to and fro.
- Also, spies kept a watch on the officials. The emperor supervised them all, with the help of members of the royal family and senior ministers.
- Other areas or provinces were ruled from a provincial capital such as Taxila or Ujjain with some amount of control from Pataliputra, and royal princes were often sent as governors.
- Local customs and rules were probably followed and there were vast areas between these centres.
- Mauryas tried to control roads and rivers important for transport. They collected whatever resources were available as tax and tribute.
Unlike taxes, collected on a regular basis, tribute was collected as and when it was possible from people who gave a variety of things, more or less willingly.
Ashoka, a unique ruler
- Famous Mauryan ruler, Ashoka was the first ruler who tried to take his message to the people through inscriptions.
- These inscriptions were in Prakrit and written in the Brahmi script.
Try yourself:Which script was used in Ashoka's inscriptions?
The edicts are composed in non-standardized and archaic forms of Prakrit. Prakrit inscriptions were written in Brahmi and Kharosthi scripts, which even a commoner could read and understand. Most of the Ashoka's inscription are written in Magadhi language using Brahmi Script.
Ashoka’s war in Kalinga
- Kalinga was the ancient name of coastal Orissa.
- Ashoka fought a war to conquer Kalinga.
- He was horrified when he saw the violence and bloodshed and so decided not to fight any more wars.
- He is the only king in the history of the world who gave up conquest after winning a war.
What was Ashoka’s dhamma?
The Rampurwa Bull- Polished stone structure was a part of Mauryan Empire
- Did not involve worship of a god, or performance of a sacrifice. He had a duty to instruct his subjects and was also inspired by the teachings of the Buddha.
- A number of problems troubled him. People in the empire followed different religions, which led to conflict.
- Animals were sacrificed, Slaves and servants were ill-treated, quarrels in families and amongst neighbours.
- Ashoka’s duty was to solve these problems.
- He appointed officials, known as the dhamma mahamatta, who went from place to place teaching people about dhamma.
- His messages were inscribed on rocks and pillars.
- He instructed his officials to read his message to those who could not read it themselves.
- He also sent messengers to spread ideas about dhamma to other lands, such as Syria, Egypt, Greece and Sri Lanka. He built roads, dug wells, and built rest houses and arranged for medical treatment for both human beings and animals.