Ashoka's Edicts and Inscriptions

By Avinash Kumar|Updated : July 20th, 2020

Ashoka was the third ruler of the Mauryan Dynasty and Son of Bindusara. The Mauryan polity reached to its greatest extent under his rule. His reign lasted from around 268 BCE to 232 BCE.       

Ashoka was among the earliest ruler to speak directly to his people. He chose the way of inscriptions for these and hence emerged the different forms of edicts. The inscriptions are in the form of 44 royal orders. There were several copies of each such order. The edicts were first deciphered by renowned archaeologist James Princep in 1837. Ashoka was identified as the author of those in the early 20th century.

Types of Edicts:

These are based on the types of material used, and also the content of the inscription. It is of four types:

  • Major Rock Edicts
  • Minor Rock Edicts
  • Major Pillar Edicts
  • Minor Pillar Edicts.

One more category known as Kalinga rock edicts is found only in the Kalinga region and in the south.

Chronology of Edicts

  • Minor rock edicts: 258 BC (Eleventh or twelfth year of Ashoka’s rule)
  • Major rock edicts: 257 BC (Twelfth or thirteenth year of Ashoka’s rule)
  • Pillar edicts: 243 BC (Twenty-sixth year)
  • Many of edicts itself contained the year of inscription and hence could be easily put into it.

Contents and Locations of Edicts

Major Rock Edicts: 14


Manshera (Hazara, Pakistan), Shahbajgarhi (Peshawar, Pakistan), Kalsi (Dehradun, Uttarakhand), Junagarh (Girnar, Gujarat), Sopara (Thane, Maharashtra), Yerragudi (Kurnool, Andhra Pradesh), Dhauli (Puri, Odisha), Jaugada (Ganjam, Odisha)


  • Prohibition of animal sacrifices and festive gatherings.
  • Measures of Social welfare.
  • Respect to Brahmans.
  • Courtesy to elders and consideration for animals.
  • Appointment of Dhamma Mahamatras and their duties.
  • Need for efficient organization of administration
  • Need for tolerance among all religious sects
  • System of Dhamma – Yatras
  • Attack on meaningless rituals and ceremonies.
  • Conquest through Dhamma instead of war
  • Explanation of Dhamma orders
  • Appeal for tolerance among all religious sects.
  • Kalinga war, mentions 5 contemporary Hellenic (Greek) kings.
  • Inspiration to spend religious life.

About Other Edicts:

Ashokan Edicts



Minor Rock Edicts

Personal history of Ashoka and summary of his dhamma

Sasaram (Bihar), Maski (Karnatak), Bhabru – Bairat (Rajasthan), Rupanath (MP), Gavimath, Palkig-undu, Siddhpur, Jating Rameshwar, Brahmagiri (Karnataka)

2 Kalinga Rock Edicts

A new system of administration after the Kalinga War.

Dauli or Tosali (Puri, Odisha), Jaugada (Ganjam, Odisha)

Bhabru – Bairat Rock Edicts

Ashoka’s conversion to Buddhism

Bhabru – Bairat (Rajasthan)

7 Pillar Edicts

Appendix to rock edicts

Meerut – Delhi (Choti Lata), Topra – Delhi (Badi Lata), Allahabad (UP), Lauriya Nandangarh, Lauriya Areraj and Raampurva (Bihar)

4 Minor Edicts

Signs of Ashoka’s fanaticism to Dhamma

Sanchi (MP), Sarnath and Allahabad

Tarai Edicts

Ashoka’s respect for Buddhism

Rumendei/Lumbini and Nigaliva (Tarai of Nepal)

Cave Edicts

Ashoka’s Toleration

3 Barabar caves

Seven pillar edicts contain similar orders like his rules and principles of protecting the people. It also defines Dhamma and says it to be the minimum of sins, many virtues, compassion etc.

  • Pillar III abolishes all hatred, harshness, cruelty and pride.
  • Pillar IV deals with the duties of Rajukas.
  • Pillar V gives the vivid description on which animals to kill which day and those which cannot be sacrificed at all.
  • Pillar VI is about the Dhamma Policy 
  • Pillar VII is about the work done by Ashoka for these.
  • Two other pillar inscriptions, Rumendei Pillar inscription is about Ashoka’s visit to Lumbini. As the place is associated with Lord Buddha, his birthplace, Ashoka reduced the taxation in that area by half through that inscription.
  • Also, according to Nigalisagar Pillar inscription, located originally at Kapilvastu. It says, the height of stupa of Buddha Konakamana to its double size.


Features and Importance of the edicts:

  • The inscription can be found not only in the Indian subcontinent but also in Kandhar in Afghanistan and also in the Iranian Empire, showing the extent of influence he had on his empire and overall continent.
  • The inscription shows the diverse use of language in the territory. There has been the use of Prakrit written in Brahmi script in most of the region, but the use of Kharosti script can be seen in North-Western regions.
  • Also, in Afghanistan, Ashoka used, Aramaic written in the Greek language for the inscription. It lays down the multicultural and diverse foundation of India.
  • The interesting thing about the inscription is that Ashoka’s name is found in only four minor rock edicts. They are located at, Maski, Brahmagiri (Karnataka), Gujjara (MP) and Nettur (AP). In rest, he is named as, Piyadasi, Devanama etc.
  • They have been written mostly in the way that it could be read by the common public and hence the communication gap between the ruler and its subjects can be reduced.
  • Pillars carried large capitals and bases in the top and several emblems. Also, the presence of horse, bulls, elephants etc can be found. They are monoliths. One such in Sarnath has also been used as the National Emblem and National Symbol of our country.
  • Most of the edicts lay down the principle of Ashoka’s governance, the order of the state, international and internal policies and the extent of the empire. Also, the edicts explain the contemporary rulers and give rich content for studying history.
  • Different edicts also contain different names proclaimed by Ashoka.
  • They also show the religious tolerance policy of Ashoka and also the propagation of Buddhism, missionaries sent to different places, even outside India.
  • Through edicts, he showed his transformation from Bherighosa to Dhammaghosa and how he is bent to walk on the path of peace leaving wars.
  • Through the inscriptions in Kalinga, he showed the fatherly nature of the king. He asked the subjects to obey the king as the head of the family and show faith in him. 

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