Hellenistic Structures > Edicts of Ashoka

Edicts of Ashoka


The Edicts of Ashoka are a collection of inscriptions on pillars, boulders, and cave walls made by Emperor Ashoka of the Maurya Dynasty during his reign from 268 to 232 BCE. Ashoka is renowned for his conversion to Buddhism and his efforts to spread Buddhist principles throughout his empire and beyond. Here is a detailed overview of the Edicts of Ashoka:

Historical Context

  1. Emperor Ashoka:

    • Ashoka was the third emperor of the Maurya Dynasty, ruling most of the Indian subcontinent.
    • His reign is notable for his embrace of Buddhism after the bloody Kalinga War, which deeply affected him and led to his conversion.
  2. Purpose of the Edicts:

    • The edicts were intended to communicate Ashoka's policies and moral principles to his subjects.
    • They aimed to promote ethical governance, religious tolerance, and the welfare of the people.

Types of Edicts

  1. Major Rock Edicts:

    • These are large inscriptions found on natural rock surfaces. There are fourteen major rock edicts.
    • They address various aspects of Ashoka’s policies, including his dedication to non-violence, respect for all religions, and social and moral precepts.
  2. Minor Rock Edicts:

    • Smaller inscriptions found on rocks, often reinforcing messages from the major rock edicts or addressing local concerns.
    • They also include personal reflections and appeals to his subjects to follow the Dhamma (moral law).
  3. Pillar Edicts:

    • These are inscribed on stone pillars, many of which were erected throughout the empire.
    • There are seven main pillar edicts, which elaborate on specific aspects of Ashoka’s governance, such as justice, morality, and animal welfare.
  4. Cave Inscriptions:

    • Found in various caves, these inscriptions often reflect Ashoka’s support for the monastic community and his promotion of Buddhism.

Key Themes and Messages

  1. Dhamma (Dharma):

    • Ashoka’s concept of Dhamma emphasized moral and ethical conduct, compassion, tolerance, and non-violence.
    • He promoted the idea of living a virtuous life, respecting all living beings, and following a path of righteousness.
  2. Religious Tolerance:

    • The edicts advocate for respect and tolerance towards all religions, recognizing the value of different spiritual paths.
    • Ashoka sought to create harmony among his diverse subjects by promoting mutual respect.
  3. Welfare of the People:

    • The edicts highlight Ashoka’s concern for the welfare of his people, including efforts to improve healthcare, infrastructure, and justice.
    • He established medical facilities, planted trees, dug wells, and built rest houses to ensure the well-being of his subjects.
  4. Non-Violence (Ahimsa):

    • Ashoka strongly promoted the principle of non-violence, condemning unnecessary slaughter and animal sacrifice.
    • He implemented policies to reduce animal killings and encouraged vegetarianism.

Notable Edicts

  1. Rock Edict XIII:

    • This edict famously describes Ashoka’s remorse after the Kalinga War and his subsequent conversion to Buddhism.
    • It emphasizes the horrors of war and Ashoka’s commitment to spreading Dhamma to prevent further suffering.
  2. Pillar Edict VII:

    • This edict outlines Ashoka’s efforts to promote Dhamma and his support for Buddhist missions to spread the teachings beyond India.

Geographical Spread

Language and Script


  1. Historical Importance:

    • The Edicts of Ashoka are some of the earliest written records in Indian history and provide valuable insights into the administration, society, and values of the Mauryan Empire.
    • They represent a significant early example of a ruler’s attempt to govern through moral and ethical principles.
  2. Cultural Impact:

    • Ashoka’s emphasis on Dhamma and his support for Buddhism had a profound impact on the spread of Buddhism in Asia.
    • His legacy as a benevolent and ethical ruler continues to be celebrated in Indian culture and history.

In summary, the Edicts of Ashoka are a remarkable testament to the moral and ethical vision of one of ancient India’s greatest emperors. They reflect his commitment to governance based on compassion, tolerance, and welfare, leaving a lasting legacy on the Indian subcontinent and the broader Buddhist world.


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