Ashoka Inscription: Major Rock Edicts of Ashoka, History

By Ritesh|Updated : July 28th, 2022

Rock Edicts of Ashoka are the 33 inscriptions engraved on the pillars and rocks by the Mauryan Emperor. The third monarch Ashoka from the Maurya dynasty was a great emperor who made his way to Buddhism after what he saw as the terrible war effects that took place in Kalinga. He was the one who put up pillars and edicts with the inscriptions prescribing the people to adhere to some positive traits to correct their behaviour and his independent views on Dhamma. They are popularly known as Rock Edicts of Ashoka and Ashokan Inscriptions.

The Ashoka inscription is a part of ancient Indian history, and it finds its relevance in the UPSC Syllabus. That's why the UPSC aspirants must read this topic for both Prelims and Mains stage of the UPSC CSE.

Table of Content

What are the Rock Edicts of Ashoka?

The Edicts of Ashoka, as they are commonly called contain a collection of thirty-three inscriptions that are imprinted on the pillars, large stones, and walls of the caves by the great emperor Ashoka.

  • These included major rock and pillar edicts along with the minor ones that talked about Dhamma - right behavior, good conduct, and decency towards others.
  • These 33 inscriptions in total are first and foremost categorized as major rock edicts, minor rock edicts, separate rock edicts, and major and minor pillar edicts.
  • The point of keeping them in public places and the routes used by the people for travel purposes meant they can be read by maximum people and learned to be followed in their life for the betterment of one and all.
  • They were not just religious dissertations but made the people aware of the moral duties they must render and helped them conduct their life in the best possible manner. More so, they talked about Ashoka being a kind ruler and his great work for his people.

Download Short Notes on Rock Edicts of Ashoka

History of Rock Edicts of Ashoka

The first person to make sense of these popular edicts was a British antiquary who was a great administrator in colonial times and went by the name of James Prinsep. That is how these inscriptions came to be substantial proof of the existence of Buddhism and remain so to date.

  • Ashoka reigned the empire from 268 BCE to 232 BCE with the earlier edicts carved on rock surfaces very conveniently, and thus they got the name major or minor rock edicts. Then in the latter half, the use of pillars came into the picture to cut and engrave accordingly.
  • Prakrit language was used when the inscriptions had to spread the message to the major public with the dialect in Magadhi with the writings being in Brahmi script for the overall tenure of his empire. That is how his incredible story made its way to people all across the globe.

Features of Rock Edicts of Ashoka

These edicts are majorly divided into four categories depending on their size in the form of Major and Minor and then the medium that covers Rock or Pillar.

  • The Major Rock Edicts are behind the peaceful existence that talks about Dhamma, the universal law, or the religious order. This was Ashoka's basic vision during his time due to these all-time famous edicts.
  • The Minor Rock Edicts talk about Ashoka's early reign when he ruled his kingdom as a great ruler at the very beginning. They were the initial ones that came into being.
  • Out of the 14 major rock edicts, twelve of them (original ones) were searched for and found, but the remaining two got replaced by separate edicts, also called Kalinga edicts.
  • The Minor Pillar Edicts were very much similar to the Minor Rock Edicts and had great religious content in Prakrit.
  • And the Major Pillar Edicts marked the end of his reign.

Significance of Rock Edicts of Ashoka

These edicts came to spread the message of Buddhism through different Dhammas and instructed the people to follow them more often. The earlier behavior of Ashoka and his dedication to peace by following these Buddhist principles made him repent and work towards protecting life, giving it a different meaning and enough care for all living beings.

He made Buddhism a world religion and not just restricted to a particular sect or group of people, making them lead a peaceful, contented life and care for others in the process, giving them the best of what they can.

13th Rock Edict of Ashoka

Though all the edicts of Ashoka, in whatever form available, provided a great source of information about his tenure as a great emperor when he had the maximum powers in his hands. They were known to contain religious information and instructions that gave a peaceful message for life, especially regarding following Buddhism and its varied principles.

  • The 13th Rock Edict of Ashoka that came into the picture while the Kalinga war was about to end presented a completely changed and vibrant form of Ashoka.
  • This edict saw him changing from a destructive and fierce warrior who only believed in killing and hurting people to a great lover of peace who believed in preaching the same and not just following it for the sake of it.
  • One can very well say that the Kalinga war or its related effects brought Ashoka to Buddhism, which became the major purpose of his edicts and preaching to the world.

Rock Edicts of Ashoka UPSC

It is advisable for the students appearing for UPSC exam and other competitive exams to lay their hands on NCERT Books for UPSC for thorough preparation of every edict. Try to solve as many UPSC Previous Year Question Papers and complete the IAS syllabus before you sit for your exams.

Candidates can also download the expert-recommended UPSC Books to ensure all related topics are covered in an exhaustive manner.

Download Rock Edicts of Ashoka UPSC Notes PDF

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Brahmo SamajBattle of Plassey 1757
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FAQs for Rock Edicts of Ashoka

  • The great emperor Ashoka was behind 33 edicts which can be found engraved on the rocks or pillars depending on the size and the medium in question.

  • These inscriptions were kept in public places and on the routes used by the people for travel purposes including highways so that they can be read by most people and learned to be followed in their life for the betterment of one and all. The concept of Dhamma was spread through these inscriptions.

  • The 13th Rock Edict of Ashoka, a major one, explained his downfall through Dhamma rather than a war. That is why it is used to explain the victory of the great ruler in the Kalinga war.

  • No one other than Ashoka, the great is called the beloved of God since he describes himself as Devanampriya Piyadasi meaning beloved of God in most of his inscriptions.

  • Rock Edicts of Ashoka are the main source of information about the reign of Ashoka, and they contain instructions on religious matters, especially Buddhism.

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