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THE son and successor of Chandragupta is in Buddhist literature known as Bindusara, whereas the Puranas give the name Nandasara or Bhadrasara : in such a matter the Buddhist testimony would have superior authority. The Greeks use instead of the name a title, Amitrochates = Sanskrit Amitraghkata, ‘slayer of the foe’, a form which is quoted, perhaps with reference to this king, in the grammatical work of PataƱjali.

From Greek sources we learn concerning Bindusara only that he was in communication with Seleucus Nicator, from whom he received an envoy named Daimachus and solicited the purchase of sweet wine, figs, and a philosopher, the last named being refused on the ground that the sale of a sophist was not in accordance with Greek usage. The second Ptolemy, Philadelphus, also dispatched a representative, Dionysius, whose memoirs are unfortunately not preserved.

The Puranas attribute to Bindusara a reign of twenty-five years, the Pali books one of twenty-seven or twenty-eight. Whether he earned, or merely assumed, his soubriquet, we do not learn; but it is clear that he maintained intact the dominions inherited from Chandragupta. He had to deal with disaffection in Taxila, a city which was also to give trouble to his successor. It was allayed by the despatch of that destined successor, his son Ashoka.

The events and occurrences of the life of Ashoka, as we know them from the sole trustworthy source, namely his own inscriptions, are as follows. In the ninth year after his coronation he effected the conquest of the Kalinga country, i.e. Orissa with the Ganjam District of Madras. The slaughter and suffering which attended the conquest produced upon his mind such an impression that it proved the turning-point in his career. He joined the Buddhist order as a lay disciple, and thus subjected himself to the influence of ideas of which he was destined to be one of the greatest propagators. His active devotion to that faith began, however, two and a half years later, about the end of the eleventh year from his coronation, when he became a member of the Sangha, or order of monks, and in that capacity travelled from place to place, like the wandering Buddhist and Jain brothers, displaying energy, as he phrases it. This energy took the form of visits and gifts to Brahmans, ascetics, and old people, instructions and discussions relating to the Buddhist Dharma, or religious rules and principles. At the end of this tour, which he claims to have had important results, not however very clearly indicated, he issued the first of his religious proclamations, an exhortation to his officials to adopt the like principle of energetic action; and he also orders that his missive should everywhere be engraved upon rocks and on stone pillars, where such existed. The practice of carving Buddhist sentiments in this manner on conspicuous objects was afterwards to receive a very wide extension, as is still visible in Tibet, in Central Asia, in China, and throughout the Buddhist world.

During the following two years, the thirteenth and fourteenth, Ashoka’s activity must have been at its height. He issued no fewer than sixteen missives, of which fourteen are found engraved, in one corpus, in places as far distant as the extremities of his empire, at Girnar in Kathiawar, at Mansehra and Shahbazgarhi in the Punjab, and twelve of the same with two others at Dhauli and Jaugada in Orissa. In these records, which seem to have been engraved in his fourteenth year, Ashoka gives an account of the administrative and other measures which he had adopted. He had been active in causing wells to be dug by the roads, in providing medical aid for men and animals (perhaps a reference to animal hospitals, now known as Panjroles), and in propagating medical or useful plants; and this not only in his own dominions, but in those of the neighboring, independent and quasi-independent, states of South India and the north-west frontier, nay, even as far as the Greek kingdom of Antiochus and beyond. Then he had made regulations restricting the slaughter of animals for food and especially on occasions of festivals and public shows. He had issued eloquent appeals for kindness and consideration in family relationships, in dealings with Brahmans and teachers, in the mutual attitudes of different sects; further, he had denounced what he regarded as excess of profitless (i.e. Brahman) ceremony in public and private life, and had inculcated economy, earnestness, and mutual exhortation. For the gay progresses of his predecessors on their hunting and holiday excursions he had substituted edifying spectacles and pious conferences; and he had arranged that he should himself always, even in his most private hours, be accessible to urgent calls a serious inroad upon the strict apportionment of the royal time which we have detailed above.

Finally, in his thirteenth year he had instituted quinquennial circuits of the leading officials for the purpose of proclaiming the moral law as well as for the discharge of their normal functions. In the fourteenth year he appointed high officials, entitled dharma-mahamatras, with the duty of inculcating piety, redressing misfortune or wrong, organising charitable endowments and gifts. Some of these officers stood in special relation to the establishments, and benevolences, of his various relatives, and the operations of others extended even to the foreign countries to which allusion has been made above.

The next objects of Ashoka’s solicitude were the unsubdued frontier peoples, and persons in the provinces who had incurred penalties, concerning whom we have the two edicts addressed to his officers at Dhauli and Jaugada in the Kalinga country. Towards both classes he expresses a paternal regard : he is anxious to win the confidence of the borderers; and, as regards imprisoned persons, he solemnly exhorts his officials to make justice, patience, and forbearance the principles of their action. At the same time he gives instruction for the periodical public recitation of these admonitions, and repeats, for the benefit of the Kalinga officials, his intention of instituting quinquennial circuits. His sons, the Viceroys in Taxila and Ujjain, would follow a similar practice at intervals of three years.

The ensuing period of about twelve years has left little record in documents emanating from the emperor himself. But we may plausibly conjecture that Ashoka now entered upon that course of religious foundations which has given him his unique reputation as a builder of Buddhist shrines. Eighty-four thousand religious edifices a conventional high number in India are ascribed to him, the chief sites being the places famed as having been visited by Buddha; and he is said to have redistributed among them the relics of Buddha, which were originally portioned between eight favored cities. The actual records are not at variance with such a supposition. We know that in his thirteenth, and again in his twentieth, year he dedicated cave-dwellings in the Barabar hills for the use of monks of the Ajivika sect. In his fifteenth year he enlarged the stupa of the Buddha Kanakamuni, not far from Kapilavastu; and during the twenty-first year he personally visited this site and that of Buddha's own birth-place, the garden of Lumbini, setting up commemorative pillars and in the latter case granting a remission of taxation. In this period would also fall the inscriptions which attest his growing attachment to the Buddhist order and doctrine, that which ordains ecclesiastical penalties for schism, and the address to the community of monks, which among the sayings of Buddha, containing nothing that has not been well said, selects certain passages as pre-eminently suited for instruction and meditation.

At this point we should doubtless interpolate a series of events which were of high importance for the spread of Buddhism, and which, though not mentioned by the emperor himself, are among all the legendary matter that has gathered round his name the portion best entitled to credence. It is in the nineteenth year from Ashoka’s coronation, the twenty-first according to a proposed chronological emendation, that the Mahavamsa, the Pali history of Buddhism in India and Ceylon, places the Third Council, held under the emperor's patronage in the Ashokarama at Pataliputra.

The Council, occasioned by sectarian differences among the Buddhist confession, of which as many as eighteen divisions are named, was held under the presidency of a famous monk, named Moggaliputta Tissa, to be distinguished from another Tissa mentioned in the same accounts as brother and viceroy of Ashoka : in the northern texts he is called Upagupta. It deliberated during a period of nine months; and its ultimate decision is stated to have been in favour of the school of the Sthaviras, which afterwards prevailed in Ceylon. This remarkable gathering, though ignored by the northern Buddhists, can hardly be a fiction : it represents the culmination of the earlier form of Buddhism, which with the ensuing expansion was destined to undergo a profound modification of spirit. The canon of authoritative scriptures is stated to have been on this occasion definitely closed; and in the Kathavatthu, composed at the time by Upagupta, we have a full record of the divergencies of opinion which led to its convention. Its dismissal was the signal for an organization of the missionary activity which was already, as we have seen, included in the policy of Ashoka.

Missionary Activity

The names of the chief evangelisers of the different provinces are carefully preserved to us. To Kashmir and Gandhara was sent Madhyantika, and to the Yavana or Greek country (Bactria?), Maharakshita; southern India, in its several provinces, claimed the apostles Mahadeva (Mahishamandala), Rakshita (Vanavasa), Dharmarakshita a Yavana (Aparantaka), and Mahadharmarakshita (Maharashtra); Majjhima proceeded to the Himalaya regions, and the fraternal pair Sona and Uttara, linked by the common vicissitudes of more than a single existence, to Suvarnabhumi, or a part of further India. That these are no mere legendary names we are permitted to know from some of the earliest surviving monuments of Buddhism, the stupas of Sanchi, dating from the second, or first, century BC, where relics of some of them have actually come to light. But their fame has been eclipsed by that of the saints entrusted with the conversion of Ceylon, who are said to have been no other than Ashoka’s own children, his son the monk Mahendra and his daughter the nun Sanghamitra. Accompanied by the sthaviras Rishtriya, Utriya, Shambala, and Bhadrasara, they received a becoming welcome from the king of Ceylon, Devanampiya Tissa, who with his people was ultimately converted, and founded in honor of the evangelists the Great Vihara, thenceforward the headquarters of Singhalese Buddhism.

The special history of the island falls outside the scope of this chapter : the mission of the princely pair was treasured in the memory of Indian Buddhism; and its dispatch has been supposed to be depicted in a fresco on a wall in one of the caves of Ajanta.

We now return to Ashoka’s own rescripts, the concluding group of seven edicts, which are found inscribed upon pillars, the whole number at Delhi and six of them also at other spots in the central regions of Hindustan. They belong to the twenty-seventh and following year from the coronation. In tenor they open out no new courses of action, but repeat and continue the earlier principles. One of them, however, which will be textually introduced below, has an especial interest, as a recapitulation of the aims and measures of the reign.

The whole duration of Ashoka’s rule was, according to the concurrent testimony of the Brahman and Buddhist historians, 36-37 years, reckoned, no doubt, from his accession. He himself makes mention of his brothers and sisters, a sufficient refutation of the legend that at his accession he began his reign by putting to death all the hundred other sons of Bindusara. His elder brother, known hi northern literature as Susima, and in Pali books as Sumana, doubtless did incur the fate of a vanquished rival : and it is to the son of Susima, by name Nigrodha, that the king's conversion to Buddhism is ascribed. A full brother, Tissa, plays a considerable part in the Pali story. He is said to have been for a time viceroy, and to have joined the Buddhist order, along with Agni-Brahma, husband of Sanghamitra, in the fourth year after Ashoka's coronation. A Chief Queen and her sons, no doubt the princes referred to as viceroys in Taxila and Ujjain, are mentioned in the edicts, as also are the second queen Karuvaki and her son Tivara.

The Chief Queen, in the Ceylon records named Asandhimitra, may possibly have been the heroine of Ashoka's youthful romance as Viceroy of Ujjain, the lovely maiden named Devi, of Vedisa (Vidiga, the modern Bhilsa), mother of Mahendra and Sanghamitra. Another romance is connected with the name of Tishyarakshita, represented as an attendant upon Asandhimitra and Chief Queen of Ashoka's later years, who, enacting the part of Potiphar's wife, is stated to have occasioned the blinding of the emperor's eldest son and heir, Kunala, Viceroy of Taxila, and in a still later legend founder of the Buddhist dynasty of Khotan in Chinese Turkestan. The jealousy of Tishyarakshita is said to have been aroused also by Ashoka's devotion to the sacred Banyan tree at Gaya, under which the son of Shuddhodana had attained to Perfect Enlightenment. And thus on the Sanchi stupa, where we find carved the propitiatory procession to the tree, by which the threatened mischief was appeased, we have an actual first or second century representation in art, though by no means a portrait, of the great propagator of the Buddhist faith and morals and the imperially lavish founder of its shrines.

Foundation of Shrines and Cities

Ashoka’s activity in this latter respect is not proportionally evidenced by existing monuments. When the Chinese pilgrims refer, as they constantly do, to a stupa of Ashoka, we cannot in strictness understand anything more than one of archaic style, such as are those still more or less intact at Sanchi or Bharhut or figured on their sculptures and elsewhere, nor are we allowed to ascribe en bloc to the emperor himself the pillars at Delhi, Allahabad, Sarnath, Rampurva and in other places, on which his edicts are found inscribed : he himself forbids this, when he orders his edicts to be engraven on pillars, where such should be found. The only works of this nature particularised by him in the edicts relating to the places in question are the double enlargement of the stupa of Konagamana at Nigliva, the pillar erected at the same place and that at the Lumbini garden : the cave-dwellings assigned to the Ajivika monks in the Barabar hills are not expressly stated to have been constructed by Ashoka’s orders. When we have added the stone railing round the Bodhi-tree, which seems to be figured on the stupa of Sanchi, we have completed the list of what can certainly be ascribed to him. But, no doubt, the remains of the palace, the Ashokarama, the Kukkutarama, and other erections at Pataliputra may be plausibly claimed for him; and we may also mention the completion on his behalf, by the Yavana king Tushaspha, of the Sudarshana tank in Junagarh, which had been begun by his grandfather Chandragupta. For the rest we must be content to believe that the great reputation which he enjoyed in this respect had a solid foundation.

Two famous cities in frontier countries have a traditional claim to Ashoka as founder. The former is Shrinagar, the capital of Kashmir, embracing the site of the old Shrinagari, which is connected with his name. In Nepal the ancient city of Deo-Patan (Deva-pattana) and the adjacent village of Chabahil are associated with a visit of Ashoka accompanied by a daughter Charumati and her Kshatriya husband Devapala. The two latter are said to have remained in the country and to have built respectively a nunnery and a monastery, the latter left unfinished by its founder. The legend for such it is derives some support from the archaic style of the four neighbouring stupas ascribed to Ashoka.

The name Ashoka occurs in only one of the known inscriptions. Elsewhere the emperor employs (in conjunction with raja, ‘king’) the official titles devanam priya,  ‘dear to the gods' ‘, and priyadarshana, ‘of friendly mien’ . The former style which in later ages the popular grumbling, so humorously common in India, as in other countries, diverted to the sense of ‘fool’ is known to have been employed by contemporary kings in Ceylon, and by Ashoka’s grandson (or still more remote descendant) Dasharatha, so that it was probably normal; indeed Ashoka himself once uses the plural in the sense practically of ‘kings’. Priyadarshin also, which has been well rendered ‘gracious’, may represent a customary view that the king should wear 'a mild, pleasant, and composed aspect'. But it is certainly quite possible, as M. Senart suggests, that it was adopted by Ashoka as his ordination name.

Chronology of Reign

The chronology of the reign is fixed within wide limits by the mention in the thirteenth Rock Edict of 'the Yona King Antiochus and beyond that Antiochus to where dwell the four kings severally named Ptolemy (Philadelphus of Egypt, 285-247 B.C.), Antigonus (Gonatas of Macedon, 278-239), Magas (of Cyrene, died 258), and Alexander (of Epirus, 272-258?)'. The fact that these are all supposed to be reigning makes it unlikely that the edict was issued long after the year 258 BC, when one, if not two, of them died. A prior limit of any value does not seem to be supplied by the passage, inasmuch as Antiochus Theos, whose reign began in 261 BC, was preceded by a sovereign, his father, of like name. The omission of the Bactrian ruler Diodotus, whose independence of the Seleucid empire dates from about 250 BC, confirms the inference that the edict is not long posterior to the year 258. Adopting 258-7 as its provisional date, and accepting the arguments which assign it to the fourteenth year, we arrive at 270 BC as the latest year for the coronation : but plainly nothing in the calculation forbids an earlier date. That the coronation was posterior by four years to the actual beginning of the reign is affirmed by the Ceylon tradition and perhaps also indirectly implied by the same : which would give the year 274 BC as the latest possible for Ashoka's accession. But this may reasonably be suspected as an invention made in the interest of a chronological system. A provisional chronological scheme of the reign might then take shape as follows :


274 B.C. at latest : accession.

270 B.C. at latest: coronation.

262 B.C. at latest: conquest of Kalinga and adhesion to Buddhism.

260 B.C. at latest : entry into the order of monks and beginning of active propaganda.

259 B.C. at latest : issue of first Edict (that of Sahasram, Rupnath, Bairat and Brahmagiri).

258-7 B.C. at latest : issue of the fourteen Rock Edicts; dedication of cave dwellings in the Barabar hills.

256 B.C. at latest : visit to Kapilavastu.

253 B.C. ? : Council of Pataliputra.

250 B.C. at latest : second visit to Kapilavastu and visit to the Lumbini garden.

243-2 B.C. at latest : issue of Pillar Edicts.

237-6 B.C. ? : death of Ashoka (on the assumption that the reign lasted 36 or 37 years, as the Puranas and Pali books affirm).


According to the Ceylon tradition the coronation of took place 218 years (i.e. in the 219th year) after the death of Buddha, and the Council in the 236th year. The tradition of Khotan on the other hand, as reported in Tibetan books, places the 50th year (out of 55) in the reign at an interval of 234 years from the Parinirvana. The Chinese and Sanskrit reckonings are, as is well known, vitiated by confusion with another Ashoka, Kalashoka or Kakavarna of the Shisuunaga dynasty, who is placed one century after Buddha. The number 218 may very well be deserving of credit as a genuine tradition; but it is of value for the determination rather of the date of Buddha than that of Ashoka. A much discussed number 256 in the earliest edict has no bearing upon chronology.

The activity of Ashoka lay wholly, so far as we are informed of it, in the sphere of dharma, i.e. according to the Indian definition, the sphere of conduct leading to heaven or to final liberation; we may say, the spheres of religion and morality. It therefore furnishes a complement to the strictly political system of the Arthashastra. We may consider it under the aspects of the emperor's principles and personal action, his admonitions, and his ordinances and institutions.

It was, as we have seen, the events of the Kalinga war that awoke the humanitarian and missionary spirit in Ashoka. He was impressed both by the actual horrors of the campaign and by the interference with the peaceful and moral influence of the religious teachers. The chords which were struck have in Indian life a dominant note : Ashoka attached himself to the Buddhist religion, the most important of those which upheld the doctrines of ahimsa and maitri, abstinence from doing hurt to, and benevolent feeling towards, living creatures. Two and a half years later he awoke to the possibilities of his position, joined the order of monks, and entered upon a course of activity.

The importance of energetic action by the sovereign was not a new conception; the Indian writers on policy make it the subject of constant admonition to their rulers. Nor was the idea of royal responsibility for the virtue of the people a novelty : the king is, as we have seen (ibid.), the upholder of dharma and incurs a proportion of the sin of the people, if he exacts the taxes without maintaining the social order. But Ashoka gives to these principles a new force and direction by calling upon all to participate in his energy and by fixing attention upon moral improvement as a means to happiness in the present, and further in another, life. His position is therefore not merely paternal, as the books would require, and as he himself professes: he has also a moral and religious responsibility and mission.


The degree of Ashoka’ s appreciation of Buddhism is not very easily definable; and it was even at one time contended that his early faith, which laid such special stress upon the doctrine of benevolence, was rather that of Jainism. He emphasises the principle of tolerance, wishes for the real prosperity of all sects, and, while not discouraging discussion, always a prominent feature of Indian religious life, earnestly preaches avoidance of offence. If he discountenances what he considers vain ceremonials and certain popular entertainments, which were occasions of animal slaughter, his attitude to the Brahman system in general is benevolent and respectful : he believes in the gods and would have his people strive for heaven. Nevertheless, Ashoka was undoubtedly a Buddhist : he became a lay disciple and then a monk; later he proclaims his regard for the religion and his personal faith; he addresses the church, naming certain passages from the scriptures as specially suitable for teaching and study; he denounces penalties for schism; he holds a council which defines the canon; and finally he stands out as by far the greatest author of the religious foundations of the sect. On the other hand we hear from him nothing concerning the deeper ideas or fundamental tenets of the faith; there is no mention of the Four Grand Truths, the Eightfold Path, the Chain of Causation, the supernatural quality of Buddha : the word and the idea of Nirvana fail to occur; and the innumerable points of difference which occupied the several sects are likewise ignored. Ashoka, therefore, is no theologian or philosopher; and only in the saying that the gift of dharma is above all other gifts, and in the preference of meditation to liberality, do we find any trace of such modes of thought.

Of Ashoka'’s personal action the most important features were his religious tours and progresses, which began at the end of the eleventh year. They were the occasion of personal intercourse with the people, including discussions and instructions in religious matters. In the course of these, and on other occasions, he was wont to issue religious proclamations, which were published by his officials and inscribed on rocks and pillars. He claims that in little more than a year he had brought the Brahman gods to the knowledge of those people in India, i.e. the wild tribes, who had formerly known nothing of them. Further he organized shows and processions exhibiting figures of the gods in their celestial cars, of sacred elephants, and fires. The practice of earlier times, which made the king accessible to the public only at certain hours, he modified to the extent of being ready to transact business or see officials even in his most private seclusion. He subjected his household to supervision by special religious dignities : and finally he restricted the diet of the palace practically to the point of vegetarianism. His activity in causing trees to be planted by the roads, and wells for travellers to be constructed at every half-koss, also his provision of medical aid for men and animals, and his propagation of useful plants, need not be further dwelt upon : only in degree were they a new feature of royal beneficence in India.

Ashoka’s relations with the Buddhist Sangha were, no doubt, friendly and cordial. He had himself been ordained, as had his brother, and by the surrender of his son and daughter also he had acquired a right to the title ‘Kinsman of the Faith’. But no doubt the monkish chronicles go too far in representing his devotion as without bounds. Even his lavish expenditure upon religious edifices is exaggerated in the statement that he thrice gave away, and purchased back, Jambu-dvipa or the continent of India! It can hardly be that an emperor so conscious of the responsibilities of his unique position should have been made more amenable to the authority of a religious order by himself joining it. Nor is there in his actual references to the Saugha any note of special deference; nor again do his ordinances accord to it any special regard, since the parishads whose affairs were to be supervised by the dharma-mahamatras included the managing committees of all sects.

On the other hand, we fail to detect even in the advice which Ashoka gives to the Sangha concerning specially applicable passages from the scriptures any note of the arrogance which might have betrayed an emperor himself at home in the order. In fact such an attitude would be both un-Indian (as sanctity and learning in India excite a genuine respect) and anachronistic in what was still an age of faith. On the whole, easy as it would be to imagine flaws, one way or the other, in Ashoka’s relations with the clergy, it would be hard to demonstrate them to a sound intelligence : by his grasp of the essential he rises superior to such personal suspicions.

Of the Buddhist leaders with whom he is said to have been in correspondence the most important is Upagupta or Moggaliputta Tissa. This divine is reckoned as fifth in the succession of Vinaya teachers from the time of Buddha, the series being Upali, Dasaka, Sonaka, Siggava and Chandavajji, Moggaliputta Tissa. Tissa was 60 years old at the time of Ashoka’s coronation, and he died 26 years later, being succeeded by Mahendra. Apart from the Kathavatthu he is not known as an author, his great monument being the Third Council. A famous stupa was built in his honor at Mathura.

Moral Exhortations

Mention has already been made of the missionary leaders, whose activity is said to have followed upon the Third Council, and of Ashoka’s several relatives who joined the order. The Pali books mention also a Mahavaruna, and the two sons of Kunti, Tissa and Sumitta, who are said to have died after Ashoka’s eighth year : they are not otherwise known.

The northern books mention a minister Radhagupta, who is said to have played an important part in Ashoka’s attainment of sovereignty and his administration; and another minister, the Arhat Yashas, associated with the Khotan legend of Kustana. The existence of the minister Yashas seems deserving of credence as he is mentioned in the Sutralamkara of Ashvaghosha.

The moral exhortations which Ashoka most frequently addresses to his people refer to the practice of simple virtues, namely proper treatment of slaves and servants, obedience to father and mother, generosity and respect to friends, companions, relations, ascetics, and Brahmans, abstinence from cruelty to living creatures. For this imperial insistence upon such obvious duties we are right to demand some explanation; and we may perhaps find an explanation in his statement that there had been during a long period a deterioration in these respects. Not to attribute to Ashoka the character merely of a retrospective pessimism, we may think of the social and other changes which might naturally accompany the growth of a great empire, the succession of dynastic tragedies, the subjugation of small states, the Greek invasion, and the initiation of numerous sects. And, apart from the general responsibility of a paternal rule, he might have found even in the Arthashastra the principle that the royal authority should ensure the observance of proper discipline in the household, an obligation which even the modern state does not decline. As regards the aged and the poor, who are placed under the care of religious officials, we have seen that in the absence of a 'poor law' the care of such was a traditional obligation of royalty. These primary admonitions recur also in the latest of the edicts, as they had been prominent, along with the appeal for energy and mutual exhortation, in the earliest. But we hear also from the beginning of piety friendship in piety, liberality in piety, kinship in piety concord and the growth of sects in essential matters, in a word of religion, dharma, as something more than shila, ‘morality’. It was to be expected that with advancing years the religious feeling should acquire a stronger hold; whence we are not surprised to find in the later edicts a special exhortation to self-examination and the view that the chief thing is personal adherence to a man's adopted faith. In a country where during later ages the ecstatic, metaphysical, and fanciful aspects of religion have predominated, the sober Buddhist piety revealed in the edicts (and not uncommonly evidenced in the literature of Buddhism, both of the Great and Little Vehicles) deserves remark.

The measures, enactments, and institutions of Ashoka need not more than moderately detain us. His philanthropic activity in providing wells and trees along the roads, in propagating medicinal plants, and in founding hospitals for men and animals an activity not confined to his own dominions and further his great role as propagator of his religion and pious founder, also his regulations concerning the slaughter and treatment of animals, have already received due notice. To the same sphere belong his rules concerning prisoners, the reservation of capital punishment, and the respite of the condemned during three days with a view to their spiritual welfare and edifying works. The official system remained for the most part unchanged.

The presence of Ashoka’s envoys even as far as the various Greek kingdoms is plainly contemplated. The general term denoting the superior officials is mahamatra, while the lower, especially the clerkly ranks, are entitled yukta. The highest local officers ‘set over many hundreds of thousands of people’ - corresponding no doubt to the sthanikas of the Arthacastra - are mentioned as rajukas, and with them are associated pradeshikas, perhaps the pradeshtris whose functions we have already defined. It is to these officers that a number of the edicts are addressed. They are exhorted to adopt towards the people under their charge the mild, patient, and benevolent principles of the emperor himself: they are compared to nurses entrusted with the charge of children.

An institution several times referred to is the anusamyana, or periodical tour, still a feature of Indian administration. This was not an innovation on the part of Ashoka, but a part of the system which he inherited. However, he added to the duties of the touring officials, as early as his thirteenth year, that of following his own example in making their visitations the occasion of benevolent activity and religious propaganda. For this purpose, however, he himself organized a special ecclesiastical hierarchy of religious officers (dharma-mahamatra), to whom these two functions were primarily assigned, and who moreover superintended the bounties of his own household, and those of his queens, his sons, and other relatives, and organised the activities of the committees and councils (parishad) at the head of the Buddhist, Jain, Ajivika and other sects. The tolerance of all sects as regards liberty of residence in every district seems also to be a feature of Ashoka's own conception, as it is opposed to the rule of the Arthashastra.

The Edicts

Here we conclude our analytical appreciation of Ashoka's rule. But the personality which in so un-Indian a fashion pervades the whole of his proclamations - a personality which in its rather highstrung, and by consequence partly plaintive, energy recalls another flawless imperial saint, the Roman Marcus Aurelius - can be communicated only in his own words : and we are therefore justified in citing two of his edicts, one a normal specimen of their tone, and the second the solemn review of his measures, which, published in the twenty-seventh year from his consecration, we have ventured to designate as ‘the testament of Ashoka’ .


In the past, during many centuries, there has been steady growth in the practice of taking life, ill-usage of living creatures, misbehaviour among relatives, misbehaviour towards Brahmans and ascetics. But now through the pious observance of king Piyadasi, dear to the gods, the signal of the drum has become a signal of piety, displaying to the people sights of celestial cars, sights of elephants, bonfires, and other heavenly shapes. In such wise as has not been before in many centuries, there has been at present, owing to the inculcation of piety by king Piyadasi, dear to the gods, growth in abstinence from taking life, in abstinence from ill-usage of living creatures, in proper behaviour towards relatives, proper behaviour towards Brahmans and ascetics, obedience to mother and father, obedience to elders. In these and other manifold ways pious observance has grown, and this pious observance king Piyadasi, dear to the gods, will make still to grow. The sons, also, and grandsons, and great-grandsons of king Piyadasi, dear to the gods, will foster this pious observance until the end of time. Standing fast by piety and morality, they will inculcate piety. For this is the best action, inculcation of piety : pious observance, again, is not found in an immoral person. Hence in this respect also growth and no falling off is good. To this end has this been inscribed, that men may effect growth in this respect and that falling off may not be suffered. This has been inscribed by king Piyadasi, dear to the gods, having been consecrated twelve years.



Thus says king Piyadasi, dear to the gods :

The kings who were in the past wished thus : 'How may the people grow with the growth of piety? 'The people, however, did not grow with a proper growth in piety.

In this matter thus says king Piyadasi, dear to the gods :

This thought came to me : In the past the kings had this wish : 'How may the people grow with a proper growth in piety? 'The people, however, did not grow with a proper growth in piety. Whereby then can the people be made to conform? Whereby can the people be made to grow with a proper growth in piety? Whereby can I elevate any of them by a growth in piety?

In this matter thus says king Piyadasi, dear to the gods :

This thought came to me, 'I will publish precepts of piety, I will inculcate instructions in piety : hearing these, the people will conform, will be elevated, and will grow strongly with the growth of piety'. For this purpose precepts of piety were published, manifold instructions in piety were enjoined, so that my officers in charge of large populations might expound them and spread them abroad. The governors also, in charge of many hundred thousand lives, they also were ordered, 'thus and thus catechise the persons of the establishment of piety'.

Thus says Piyadasi, dear to the gods :

With the same object pillars of piety were made by me, dignitaries of piety were instituted, precepts of piety were proclaimed.

Thus says king Piyadasi, dear to the gods :

On the roads also banyans were planted, to give shade to cattle and men : mango-gardens were planted : and at each half-koss wells were dug : also resthouses were made : many watering-stations also were made in this and that place for the comfort of cattle and men. Little indeed is mere comfort : for with various gratifications the people have been gratified both by previous kings and by myself. But, that they might conform with a conformity in piety, for this reason was this done by me.

Thus says Piyadasi, dear to the gods :

Dignitaries of piety were appointed by me in charge of manifold indulgences, these both for ascetics and for householders; also over all sects were they appointed. Over the affairs of the Sangha also were they set, 'these shall be appointed'; likewise over Brahmans, Ajivikas also were they set, 'these shall be appointed'. Over Nirgranthas also were they set, 'these shall be appointed'. Over various sects also were they set, 'these shall be appointed'. According to circumstances such and such dignitaries were set over such and such. Dignitaries of piety also were appointed over both these and all other sects.

Thus says king Piyadasi, dear to the gods :

These and various other classes were appointed in charge of the distribution of charity, both my own and that of the queens. And in my whole harem they carry out in manifold fashions such and such measures of satisfaction, both here and in all quarters. The same has been done as regards the distribution of charity on the part of my sons and the other princes, 'these shall be appointed over the distributions of charity', with a view to ensamples of piety and for conformity to piety. For this is an ensample of piety and conformity to piety, when in the people compassion, liberality, truth, honesty, mildness, and goodness shall thereby be increased.

Thus says king Piyadasi, dear to the gods :

Whatsoever good deeds have been done by me, thereto the people have

conformed, and those they copy. And thereby they have grown and will grow in obedience to mothers and fathers, in obedience to venerable persons, in conformity to the old, in right behaviour towards Brahmans and ascetics, the poor and wretched, slaves and servants.

Thus says king Piyadasi, dear to the gods :

This growth in piety is a growth in two respects, in the restraints of piety and in considerateness. Now of these restraint by piety is a little thing, but considerateness a greater. The restraint of piety is this, that I have had such and such creatures made exempt from slaughter, and there are other restraints of piety which have been ordained by me. But by considerateness there has been to a greater degree a growth in piety on the part of men, conducing to abstention from ill-usage to living creatures and to non-taking of life. This was done to this end, that sons and grandsons may continue therein as long as moon and sun endure, and that they may conform accordingly. For by so conforming this life and the future life are secured. This Edict of Piety was inscribed by me, when I had been six and twenty years consecrated.

Thus says the dear to the gods :

Where there are stone pillars or stone slabs, there this Edict of Piety is to be inscribed, that it may be permanent.

Dynastic Successors

The dynastic successors of Ashoka are by the Brahman and Buddhist traditions diversely reported according to the following scheme :


Brahman Sources.
Buddhist Sources.


Pargiter, Dynasties of the Kali Age



1. Kunala or Suyashas, reigned 8 years. 1. Kunala.
2. Bandhupalita, son of Kunala, reigned 8 years. 2. Samprati, son of Kunala.
3. Indrapalita. 3. Brihaspati, son of Bandhupalita.
4. Dashona, son of Indrapalita, reigned 7 years. 4. Vrishasena, son of Indrapalita.
5. Dasharatha, son of Dashona, reigned 8 years. 5. Pushyadharma, son of Dashona.
6. Samprati or Saugata, son of Dasharatha, reigned 9 years. 6. Pushyamitra, son of Dasharatha.
7. Shalishuka, son of Samprati, reigned 13 years.

8. Bevadharman or Devavarman or Somasharman, son of Shalishuka, reigned 7 years.
9. Shatadhanvan or ShaShadharman, son of Bevadharman, reigned 8 years.
10. Brihadratha, reigned 7 years.




Taranatha, History of Buddhism

Jaloka in Kashmir, son of Ashoka. 1. Kunala.
2. Vigatashoka.
3. Virasena


These meagre and conflicting lists are evidently no material for history : but they supply certain indications which may hereafter be verified. One of the Buddhist sources includes in the dynasty the name of Pushyamitra, really the founder of the succeeding line of the Shungas : he was commander-in-chief to Brihadratha andhe availed himself of a grand review of the army to overthrow and slay his master. Lest this error of the Buddhists should lead us wholly to prefer the Brahman accounts, let us observe that the latter differ in numerous particulars, some naming more kings than others, and all presenting diversities of spelling : moreover, none of them justifies in detail the total of 137 years which they unanimously ascribe to the whole Maurya dynasty.

The existence of some of the kings named in the list is avouched by independent evidence. Dasharatha is known by three inscriptions bestowing on the Ajivika sect caves in the Nagarjuni hills : Samprati is mentioned in the Jain tradition as a convert of their patriarch Suhastin. Jaloka is celebrated in the history of Kashmir, as a great propagator of Shaivism and for a time a persecutor of the Buddhists, further as having freed the country from an invasion of Mlecchas, who would be Greeks, and a conqueror who extended his dominions as far as Kanyakubja or Kanauj.

The extreme confusion reigning in the legends is probably, as was indicated long ago, to be explained by a division of the empire, perhaps beginning after Samprati. The Buddhists will then give the western line, as is indicated by the fact that Virasena is represented as ruling in Gandhara, and further by the fact that Sophagasenus, or Subhagasena, with whom Antiochus the Great renewed an ancestral friendship in 206 BC, is indicated by his name as a member of this line. This series will then have been terminated by the Greek conquest of the Punjab under Euthydemus and his successors. At Pataliputra the second line may have held out a little longer, until about the year 184 BC, when it was overthrown by Pushyamitra, whose power may have centred about Ujjain, and who, as is indicated in the drama of Kalidasa called the Malavikagnimitra, succeeded to the struggle with the Greeks. But descendants of Ashoka were as late as the seventh century AD, if we may trust the statement of Hiuen Tsiang, still in possession of small dominions in eastern India : for he relates that shortly before his visit Purnavarman, king of Magadha, a descendant of Ashoka, had restored the Bodhi-tree, which had been destroyed by Shashanka, otherwise named Narendragupta, of Karnasuvarna, or Bengal.