Ashoka Inscription: 14 Major Rock Edicts of Ashoka, Minor Rock Edicts, 13th Rock Edict

By BYJU'S Exam Prep

Updated on: November 14th, 2023

The 33 Ashoka inscriptions were 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 Ashoka inscriptions prescribing the people to adhere to some positive traits to correct their behavior 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 IAS syllabus. The Ashoka inscriptions carry morals, values, and ethics. The major significance of the Ashoka inscriptions lies in spreading the message of Buddhism. The 13th rock edict of Ashoka witnessed the altered personality of Ashoka.

What are the Ashoka Inscriptions?

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

  • These included major rock and pillar edicts along with the minor ones that talked about Ashoka Dhamma – right behavior, good conduct, and decency towards others.
  • These 33 Ashoka 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 the maximum number of 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.

History of Ashokan Inscriptions

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 Ashoka 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.

Types of Major Rock Edicts

These are based on the types of material used, and also the content of the inscription. One more category known as Kalinga rock edicts is found only in the Kalinga region and in the south. It is of four types:

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

About Major Pillar Edicts of Ashoka

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 a vivid description of which animals to kill on 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, the 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 the Nigalisagar Pillar inscription, located originally at Kapilvastu. It says, the height of stupa of Buddha Konakamana to its double size.

About Major Rock Edicts of Ashoka

The complete details about the major rock edicts comprising the Ashoka inscriptions have been enlightened here. The table illustrates the significance of the Ashoka inscriptions and other major edicts of Ashoka. Check here the Ashoka rock edict list.

Major rock edicts of Ashoka Significance of Ashoka Inscriptions
Rock Edict I Illustrates the prohibition of animal sacrifices.
Rock Edict II Elaborates on the medical care of humans and animals. Also, illustrate the South Indian Pandyas, Kerala Putras, and Satyapuras.
Rock Edict III Mentions about the generosity of Brahmins. Mentions about Yuktas, Pradeshikas, and Rajukas who went to different segments of the territory to spread Dhamma every five years.
Rock Edict IV This illustrates the triumph of the Dhammaghosha over Bherighosha.
Rock Edict V This portrays the Mahamatras of Dhamma. It mentions that the slaves should be treated properly. The special cadre of officials was recruited with the aim of spreading knowledge across the realm.
Rock Edict VI The aspiration of the King to get in touch with the difficulty of his subjects. It concerns welfare measures.
Rock Edict VII It maintains tolerance for all sects. It governs the public welfare programs of the nearby kingdoms
Rock Edict VIII It illustrates the Bodhi tree and the visit of Ashoka to Bodh Gaya
Rock Edict IX This focuses on right and ethical behavior, and popular rituals are criticized.
Rock Edict X This does not approve of the individual’s quest for popularity and glory.
Rock Edict XI Dhamma engages the respect of the elders and benevolence for the slaves and servants.
Rock Edict XII Indicates to the Mahamattas to take the charge of women’s welfare and great tolerance for all the other religions.
Rock Edict XIII illustrates the defeat at Kalinga, it possesses mentions of the Pandyas, Cholas etc.
Rock Edict XIV Possesses the aim of the rock edicts

Minor Rock Edicts of Ashoka

The minor rock edicts of Ashoka mention the history of Ashoka and present an overview of his dhamma. These were penned in the Brahmi script. The content of the edicts witnesses slight alterations based on the changes in the location. Numerous edicts have been illustrated in Greek and Aramaic languages. The minor edicts of Ashoka have been enlisted here-

  • Nettur in AP
  • Gujjara in Madhya Pradesh
  • Maski
  • Brahmagiri in Karnataka

Features of Rock Edicts of Ashoka

The rock edicts of Ashoka are majorly divided into four categories depending on their size in the form of the major and minor and then the medium that covers Rock or Pillar. The Major rock edicts of Ashoka are behind the peaceful existence which 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 of Ashoka 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 Ashoka Inscriptions

These edicts came to spread the message of Buddhism through different Dhammas and instructed the people to follow them more often.

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.

  • The inscription can be found not only in the Indian subcontinent but also in Kandahar 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, Ashokan inscriptions 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). At rest, he is named, Piyadasi, Devanama, etc.
  • They have been written mostly in a 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 on the top and several emblems. Also, the presence of horses, 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 Ashoka rock 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 rock edicts of Ashoka 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.

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 mentions the victory of Ashoka in the Kalinga War. It also stated the win of Ashoka’s Dhamma over the Greek Kings.
  • The 13th Rock Edict of Ashoka came into the picture while the Kalinga war was about to end presenting 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.

Ashoka Inscription and Rock Edicts UPSC

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

Candidates can also download the expert-recommended UPSC Books to ensure all related topics are covered in an exhaustive manner. They can attain detailed knowledge of the rock edicts of Ashoka and prepare effectively for the topic.

Ashokan Rock Edicts UPSC Questions

The Ashokan inscriptions and major rock edicts is an essential topic of the UPSC exam. By gaining an understanding of the topic the candidates will be able to solve the questions accurately. Check here the list of the questions as mentioned below-

Question: Which rock edict of Ashoka gives a description of the Kalinga War? [A] Major Rock Edict XI [B] Major Rock Edict X [C] Major Rock Edict XIII [D] Major Rock Edict X

Answer: (Option C) Major Rock Edict XIII

Question: Which of the following places in Karnataka is not a find spot for Ashokan Minor Rock edicts? [A] Rupnath, [B] Gavimath, [C] Brahmagiri, [D] Maski

Answer: (Option A) Rupnath

Question: How is Ashoka named in the Sarnarh Inscriptions? [A] Debanampiya [B] Priyadassi [C] Dharmashoka [D] Buddhashakya

Answer: (Option C) Dharmashoka

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