Monday 25 August 2014

The edict that "nailed" Ashoka

Scores of edicts belonging to the Mauryan period (322 BC-185 BC) of Indian history have been discovered in India and even in countries such as Pakistan, Afganisthan and Bangladesh.
The Mauryans ruled over large tracts of  undivided India and they were a force to reckon with in the ancient world. They reached the zenith of their power during the reign of Ashoka the Great (268 BC-232 BC).
One of the greatest emperors to rule, Ashoka was as much known for his non-violence (after the Kalinga war in present day Orissa which saw a bloodbath of unprecedented proportions) as he is for his strong and unequivocal advocacy of Buddhism, which he embraced after the Kalinga war.
Ashoka put up edicts in almost all provinces of his kingdom and today these edicts are found all over India and other countries. The edicts have been divided into major and minor edicts,  depending as they are on the content and context.
Karnataka is home to one major (Sannati) and nine minor edicts (Maski, Nittur, Udegolam, Gavimatha, Palkigundu, Brahmagiri, Jatinga-Rameshwara and Siddapur). However, of all these, there is one edict which is rather unique. It is the only one so far in India that names Devanampiya as Ashoka. This stone inscription is in Karnataka.
This unique inscription is in Maski town of Raichur district.  The district of Raichur is important epigraphically as it is home to several hundreds epigraphs beginning from Ashoka and extending upto the Muslim rulers of the Deccan.
The edicts are in a variety of languages like Sanskrit, Prakrit, Kannada, Arabic and Persian and belonging to almost all the dynasties that ruled over the Dekkan.
Three minor rock edicts of Ashoka have been discovered in Raichur district, with one at Maski in Lingasugur taluk and the other two near Koppal. The edicts prove that Karnataka also formed part of the Mauryan Empire and that it was governed by a Viceroy or Mahamatra of Ashoka.
The Maski Edict of Ashoka was discovered by Mr. W. R. C.Bedon, a Mining Engineer and gold prospector, in January 1915. However, the edict was not fully exposed and studied till July that year. This is the first edict which contains real name of  Devanam Piyadassi as Ashoka. It also spells the emperor’s name as De Va Na Pi Ya Sa A Sho K a Sa.
The edict is etched on a rock-face of Durgada-gudda, which is one of the many gneissic outcrops that dot Karnataka.
The Maski edict is important as it finally confirmed once for all that King Priya-darshi was none other than Ashoka. Subsequently, another minor rock edict in Gujarra village of Datia district of Madhya Pradesh also contained a similar text as that of Maski.
The Maski edict, which is engraved on a boulder, 9 feet by five feet, is in Prakit language and Brahmi script. The edict was found in a cave and today there are steps leading to it. It closely resembles the Rupnath and Sahasram inscriptions.
The first line contains the name-Devanampiyasa Ashoka. The follows a statement saying , “during the two years and half that I was a lay disciple. Then, the following sentence is erased. The edicts concludes with the engraving, “those who were formerly gods in Jambudweepa are now false.
The Maski edicts is dated sometime to 260 BC. The region of Maski was studied initially by Robert Bruce Foote in 1870 and again in 1888. However, it was in 1915 that Beadon discovered the edict. In 1935-37, the archaeological department of Hyderabad explored this region and in 1954 Amalananda Ghosh excavated this place on behalf of the Archaeological Survey of India. But much before him, the Government Archaeologist, Rao Sahib H. Krishna Sastri, examined it after its discovery.
Thus we see that it is first from the Maski inscription of Karnataka that historians were able to connect King Devanampiyasi with Ashoka. The edicts also helped historians delineate the border of the Mauryan Empire. It also showed that Ashoka preferred to use Prakrit as the language and that he did not get the edicts inscribed in the local languages.

The edict also tells us that Ashoka was a steadfast and firm believer and follower of Buddhism. Unfortunately, as the edict is classified as minor,  people have tended to forget it. 

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