Ashoka that one encounters in the standard textbooks on Mauryan history is
hardly a flesh-and-blood hero.[i]
One can feel his presence from his remarkable Edicts which speak of an
unparalleled love and sympathy for men and other beings, yet some crucial
aspects of his life remain unknown. Not a
single archaeological relic of Ashoka has been found at Patna, said to be his
from the Edicts, there is little inscribed material. In a moment of inspiration
Romila Thapar writes that he could have been a half-Greek, cousin of Antiochus
II, but then she unceremoniously dumps him at Patna. Rummaging
among the heap of Jonesian absurdum
at Patna, she wonders why there are no edicts at his so-called capital[ii]. What she does not state
is that there are no relics of even Chandragupta
or the Nandas at Patna. Although
writers like H. P. Ray express satisfaction abut the punch-marked coins
attributed to him, this has been disputed. It is difficult to believe that the
ruler of such a vast empire could manage only with such primitive coins while
even minor Indo-Greek kings had such excellent coins. Palaces unearthed near
Patna have been said to be his, but in the absence of inscriptions this is
The Nittur Edict Ashoka Calls Himself The Ruler Of Parthia
"Mahalake hi vijitam" ('Vast is my empire'), proclaims Ashoka, but how extensive really was his dominion in the West? It is impossible to recognize the real Ashoka without answering this question. In the Nittur Edict he explicitly calls himself the king of Pathavi[iii] - an unmistakable allusion to Parthia or Parthava of the Achaemenian records. Writers like Romila Thapar attempt to explain this away by suggesting that Pathavi corresponds to Prithvi, or the Earth, and that the statement only demonstrates royal vainglory. This is absurd. A world emperor like Ashoka who sent missionaries to kings of many other parts of the Earth surely was not so foolish as to call himself the ruler of the Earth. His links with Parthia is in fact hidden in his name Ashoka Vardhana itself. Vardanes was a common Parthian King-name.
Some Of The Indo-Greek Kings Of Seistan Were Mauryas
inscribed statues have been found from far away Kanganhalli in Karnataka the
implication of which has not dawned upon writers like Prof. Thapar. The great
art historian Alfred Foucher noted that the Buddhist symbols like the lion, the
lotus etc. had no antecedents in the art of Eastern India where one must expect
them. This is linked to the fact that no original Buddhist texts have been
unearthed from modern India. Foucher was not aware of the blunder of Jones yet
from his profound study of art history he made the very significant remark that
the Mauryan empire must have extended in the north-west to the Hindu-Kush, and
to the west as far as Aria and Seistan. G. Tucci pointed out that even the Stupa
is of west Asian origin. Similar views were held by A. Coomaraswamy.
remark, in a sense, opens a Pandora's box. If Seistan and Bactria were within
the Maurya empire it is not unnatural to expect that the Indo-Greek rulers of
Bactria and Seistan were somehow related to the Mauryas. From the fact that
Seleucus' daughter became a member of the Mauryan royal family, it can be easily
argued that Ashoka could have been an Indo-Greek[iv]. His name Ashoka
Vardhana links him with Parthian Kings like Vardanes, Satibarzanes etc.. Romila
Thapar suggests that Antiochus could have been his half-brother. It turns out
that Ashoka's history matches that of Diodotus-I almost line by line.
Kandahar Edict clearly shows Ashoka as the master of Arachosia, whereas the
numerous coins of Diodotus-I found from this area indicate that Diodotus was the
sovereign of this region. The problem can be resolved only by assuming that
Ashoka was the same as Diodotus-I. Significantly whereas Ashoka has many
Coin portrait of Diodotus-I or Ashoka
No coins, Diodotus-I has many coins but no inscriptions which clearly shows that they complement one another. The coins of Ashoka are one of the best in the world.
which name was Ashoka known in the west? From the fact that the Greco-Roman
writers do not refer to Piadassi or Asoka, Romila Thapar concludes that he was
unknown in the West[v]
This is absurd; Asoka was one of the greatest Emperors of history who had sent
religious emissaries to the farthest corners of the civilized world. The
classical writers must have used a different name (the name Asoka is rare even
in his edicts). The
classical writers, Prof. Romila Thapar tells us, did not refer to Ashoka[vi]. This is clearly absurd
; they must have used a different name, not Ashoka or Piyadassi. A careful study
shows that Devanampiya, the most common name of Ashoka in the Edicts is in fact
the same as Devadatta[vii] or Diodotus. The
interpretation of Devanampiya as `beloved of the Gods' is superficial. Ashoka
states that his ancestors were Devanampiyas, which shows that it is a
patronymic, not a title - even Chandragupta was a Devanampiya or Diodotus (of
Erythrae). 'Nam' in Persian and 'Nomos' in Greek means 'law' another Persian
word for which is 'Dat'. Thus Devanam is the same as Devadat. Piya or Priya may
have had the sense of a redeemer as in the case of the name of Priam of Troy.
Many Parthian Kings assumed the titles Priapatius and Assak. As can be seen from
the Shahnama, the Avesta and Xerexes' inscriptions, `Deva' initially meant a
clan, not god. Ignorance of this has led to senseless translations of Ashoka's
Edicts as `Gods mingled with men'. Only oblique scholarship has obscured that
the name Devadatta occurring in the second line of Ashoka's famous Taxila pillar
inscription refers to Ashoka himself. The line "l
dmy dty `l " which Marshall and Andreas translated as `for Romedatta',
refers to Devadatta.
died exactly when Diodotus died; Ashoka's Edicts stopped appearing in 245 BC[viii] the year of Diodotus'
death. According to Wheeler, the first Edicts were inscribed 'in and after
257BC'. A.K. Narain and others maintain that Diodotus proclaimed himself as king
by about 256 BC. The great Indologist F. W. Thomas noted that in his Edicts
Ashoka did not mention Diodotus Theos who should have been his neighbour[ix]. It is difficult to
imagine that the man whose religious overtures won the heart of nearly the
entire civilized world failed to impress upon his god-like neighbour. Ashoka
does not mention Iran also in his Edicts; the nearest foreign king that he
mentions being Antiochus. This may indicate that the Syrian King stationed at
Seleucia near Babylon was indeed his neighbour. Ashoka does not refer to
Devadatta because he was Devadatta himself.
Erected Pillars In India Before Ashoka?
find-spot of a relic is of great importance in the reconstruction of history but
one of the many problems in Indian history is that pillars were frequently
re-written and re-erected at different locations. Unfortunately the effect of
this misuse by later rulers has often been overlooked by gullible historians.
Even though the weight of some of the Ashokan pillars is about thirty tons, it
is not safe to assume that these were erected in their present locations. In the
fourteenth century Sultan Feroz Shah was so impressed by the Ashokan pillars
that he had two of them shifted to Delhi, one from Meerut and another from Topra
in Ambala district, about 90 miles northwest of Delhi. F. J. Monahan[x] wrote,
that ten of the pillars bear inscriptions of Ashoka is proof they were erected
not later than his reign; it does not prove that none of them was erected
fame of Samudragupta as one of the greatest conquerors of India rests on his
famous Allahabad inscription which was rewritten on an old Ashokan pillar. Kulke
and Rothermund[xi] suggest that it was
transported from Kausambi. In the Mudrarakshasa Chandragupta is called
Piadamsana. From this H.C. Raychaudhuri concluded that
is not always safe to ascribe all epigraphs that make mention of Priyadarsana,
irrespective of their contents, to Ashoka the Great.
Ashoka was the first to use pillars and other monuments for the propagation of
Dhamma, the intriguing fact that emerges from his edicts is that pillars similar
to those bearing his edicts had been in existence in India before his time; in
the seventh of his Pillar Edicts, after recording that he has erected 'pillars
of the Sacred Law' (Dhamma-thambani), Ashoka writes,
Devanampiya speaks thus: this inscription of Dhamma is to be engraved wherever
there are stone pillars or stone slabs, that it may last long.
crucial question that arises now is who had erected these pre-Ashokan
Lion Of Chaeronea And Ashoka's Lions
was amazed by the double-lion capitals at Persepolis but could not recognise
that these could have been erected by Alexander. When the Sarnath pillar was
first discovered it created a flutter of sensation on an international scale.
Sir John Marshall wrote[xii],
Sarnath capital, on the other hand, though by no means a masterpiece, is the
product of the most developed art of which the world was cognisant in the third
what puzzled scholars like Foucher was that if it assumed that Ashoka was a
native of Bihar as R. Thapar and other Indologists state, his fascination for
the lion symbol remains an enigma. The lion is
intrusive element in Indian art. On the other hand the lion symbol was favoured
in Mycenae. It was also a symbol of great importance for the Macedonians. When
Phillip wanted to commemorate the great Macedonian victory at Chaeronea, he
setup the famous lion statue. It is thus very likely that his illustrious son
had also erected lion capitals in India; it is well known that he always carried
a small golden lion. However, it can be argued that Ashoka borrowed the lion
symbol from Nebuchadrezzar's Babylon - lions guarded the famous E-Sagila - oorr
from the Sumerians who also had a preference for the lion symbol; Gudea's double
lion mace-head is well known[xiii]. As Cumont noted, the
lion was a symbol of ancient Lydia. Four lions also guarded the Meghazil tomb
near Amrit, but the fact that Ashoka was an Indo-Greek closely related to
Seleucus' line makes it more likely that his lions were Greek-inspired. However,
though truth is indestructible it is often stranger than fiction - the
historians job has been made nearly impossible by Ashoka who had no qualms about
overwriting on the much-sought-after pillars of Alexander.
Altar That Once Stood Near Hyphasis
the middle ages one of the first westerners to notice the Ashokan pillars was
the Englishman Thomas Coryat who came to Delhi in 1616. Coryat was greatly
impressed by the superbly polished forty feet high monolithic column and
presumed that it must have been erected by Alexander the Great 'in
token of his victorie' over
Porus. In Coryat's time the script of the inscriptions in the pillar was
undeciphered but today, thanks to Prinsep, we know that it contains an
inscription of Ashoka; yet there is more to it than meets the eye. We know that
many of Ashoka's pillars were not erected by him.
the mutiny at Hyphasis Alexander gave up his plans to march further east and to
commemorate his presence in India erected twelve massive altars of dressed stone
as a thanksgiving to the deities who had blessed his success. Arrian
divided the army into brigades, which he ordered to prepare twelve altars to
equal in height the highest military towers, and to exceed them in point of
breadth, to serve as thank offerings to the gods who had led him so far as a
conqueror, and also as a memorial of his own labours. When the altars had been
constructed, he offered sacrifice upon them with the customary rites, and
celebrated a gymnastic and equestrian contest.
although most of the writers place the altars on the right bank of the river,
Pliny placed them on the left or the eastern bank. He wrote (vi,
Hyphasis was the limit of the marches of Alexander, who, however, crossed it,
and dedicated altars on the further bank.
information suggests a reappraisal of the age-old riddle of Alexander's altars.
Precisely how far east had Alexander and his men come? This has been a matter of
inconclusive debate; Sir E.H. Banbury held that the point where Alexander
erected the twelve altars cannot be regarded as determined within even
approximate limits but the Indian evidence now sheds new light on the problem.
Masson placed the altars on the united stream of the Hyphasis and Sutlez[xiv]. McCrindle also wrote
that the Sutlez marked the limit of Alexander's march eastward[xv] and this is precisely
the locality from which Feroze Shah transported a colossal pillar to Delhi. R.
Thapar ignores Alexander's momentous voyage[xvi] and writes that though
at present there is no archaeological evidence, Topra was probably an important
stopping place on the road from Pataliputra to the northwest. This clearly
skirts the central issue. It is impossible to think that anyone other than
Alexander could have erected such a grand pre-Ashokan pillar in this locality.
There can be little doubt that the Delhi-Topra pillar[xvii] which now bears
Ashoka's seventh edict is in fact one of the missing altars of Alexander the
Influence On Mauryan Art
Indo-Greek identity of Ashoka throws a flood of light on the history of Mauryan
art. Here one must pay tribute to scholars like Sir John Marshall, Alfred
Foucher and Niharranjan Ray who were not aware that Ashoka was Diodotus-I yet
made no mistake in recognizing the Hellenistic content of Mauryan art. Marshall
realized that the lion capitals of Ashoka represent a new era in Indian art that
has no precursors. Their fixed expression, authentic spirit, canon-based form
and stylization all betray a strong Hellenistic inspiration. Niharranjan Ray
echoes a similar sentiment[xviii]. Ray doubted that the
impetus could be from Achaemenid Persia and traced it to Hellenistic art. The
history of the Topra pillar leaves no doubt about how this stimulus was
transmitted. The failure to recognize that Chandragupta was in fact Sashigupta
who was once a satrap of Alexander has been at the root of many problems in the
interpretation of Gandhara art and Mauryan art. However, though Marshall and Ray
came very close to the truth, they failed to see Alexander's hand behind the
lions of Ashoka.
[i] Curiously Wikipedia, the standard online
encyclopedia adopts distinctly different yardsticks in the treatment of the life
histories of Julius Caesar and Ashoka. There is a much greater emphasis on the
miraculous and the fantastic in the case of Ashoka. The picture of Ashoka and the description of many anecdotes betray a callous
should be denounced in the strongest terms. This is gossip not history. See http://en.wikipedia.org/Ashoka.
[ii] R. Thapar, Aoka and the
Decline of the Mauryas, Oxford University Press, 1961, p. 20. She writes without
any warrant that the identification of Pataliputra is certain (p. 233). She has
no diificulty in imagining a wooden palace at Patna of Asoka whose architecture
is all stone.
In the Minor Rock Edict I Asoka
describes his dominion as Jambudvipa
which is uncritically assumed to be the same as modern India. In the version of
the edict found at Nittur in Tumkur district of Karnataka the emperor calls it
Pathavi. K.P. Jawasawal wrote that Jambudvipa was a much wider territory
covering nearly the whole of civilized Asia.
[iv] Wheeler wrote, 'It is just
possible that Ashoka had Seleukid blood in his veins; at least his reputed
vice-royalty of Taxila in the Punjab during the reign of his father could have
introduced him to the living memory of Alexander the Great, and, as king, he
himself tells us of proselytizing relations with the Western powers'. 'Early
India and Pakistan', Thames and Hudson, 1968, p. 170.
[v] Her categorical remark, Greek sources mention Sandrocottus and Amitrochates but do not mention Aoka presupposes that the Greeks would only use the name Aoka. Asoka and the Decline of the Mauryas, Oxford Univ. Press, p. 20.
[vi] D.C. Sircar added that
Ashoka was unknown because there was no foreign representative in his court.
This is clearly absurd; the emperor who claims to have sent emissaries no
distant corners of the globe cannot have been unknown to the western world.
[vii] After his conversion to
Buddhism Ashoka had to change his name Devadatta as it was a hated name among
[viii] R. Thapar is unaware that
the reason why Ashoka's edicts stopped appearing after 245 BC is that he died in
that year. The year of Ashoka's death given by Thapar and others is 232 BC but
this is clearly a mistake. Diodotus' son, who was also a Diodotus, died in 232
[ix] 'Ashoka', in Cambridge
History of Ancient India, p. 453.
[x] Like Vincent Smith, Monahan
was a distinguished British historian who was a member of the Indian Civil
Service, 'The Early History of Bengal', 1925, p.227.
[xi] Kulke, H., and Rothermund,
D., 'A History of India', Rupa, 1991, p. 86.
[xii] 'Cambridge History of
Ancient India', ed. E.J. Rapson, p.562.
[xiii] Ranajit Pal, 'Gotama Buddha
in West Asia', Annals of Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, vol. 77.
[xiv] It has to be borne in mind
that in ancient times the two rivers united at a point forty miles below their
[xv] McCrindle, J.W., "Invasion
of India by Alexander the Great", New Delhi, p. 120.
[xvi] "Ashoka and the Decline of the Mauryas", Oxford University Press", 1961, p.230.
[xvii] The precise location is
Firozabad near Delhi.
[xviii] 'Compared with later
figural sculptures in the round of Yakshas and their female counterparts or the
reliefs of Bharhut, Sanchi and Bodhgaya, the art represented by these crowning
lions belongs to an altogether different world of conception and execution, of
style and technique, altogether much more complex, urban and civilised. They
have nothing archaic or primitive about them, and the presumption is
irresistible that the impetus and inspiration of this art must have come from
outside.' 'Age of the Nandas and Mauryas', Motilal Banarasidas, 1967, p.