ASOKA’S EDICTCS AND SOCIAL PEACE
By Dr. Bhikkhu Bodhipala, Pali and Buddhist Studies,
Department of Religion,
Tamil Nadu Theological Seminary,
Madurai - 625 016, India.
Who was the king that Asoka waged war against in Kalinga war? The answer for this question is
found in his edicts.
When the history of a nation has not been recorded and properly codified the events those
occurred in a nation there are some other source available to decipher certain important events
through edicts of the kings, biography of the kings, some ordinance and endowments declared by
the kings, important war events written in the forms of poems and epics by renowned poets and
historians, even travelogues by foreigners, consecration of temples and so on.
As such the edicts of the emperor Asoka first deciphered life history of the Buddha, especially
the four important places of north India the Buddha related with in his life, the place of his birth,
the place of his enlightenment, the place of his first sermon and the place of his great demise
Maha Parinirvana. Emperor Asoka under took a pilgrimage to all these places as a Buddhist King
and exempted these places from taxations. His edicts not only tell about his regal activities but
also his biography, his personal affairs , his family life, time of his coronation, about neighbor
nations and kings, his religious missions, his intentions towards his citizens. In the entire world
King Asoka was the only king who concerned about welfare of his citizen not only in present life
but also the next world. All his edicts triumphs the King Asoka was the king of righteousness.
His edicts covers the following subjects and social welfare programs and the edicts revealed the
truth that the king expected peaceful life of his citizen and a warless world so giving first place
for peace and non-violence. Here and there Buddha’s teachings are inscribed mentioning that
Dharma. Wherever the term Dharma is mentioned Asoka clearly meant teachings of the Buddha.
His edicts cover the following matters and issues.
(i) Administration of justice and judicial procedures
(ii) Religious missionary works
(iii) Revenue and taxations
(iv) Code of conduct for Government Officials
(v) Public works
(vi) Social welfare Activities
(vii) Ecology and wild life welfare (viii) Health and animal husbandry
(ix) Protection of Animals and birds
(x) Impacts of Kalinga war and his personal transformation, embracing Buddhism
(xi) Requesting the Sangha the monks and nuns not to make schism in Sangha
(xii) The teachings of Buddha
(xiii) The inter-religious harmony
Asoka did not directly mentions the teachings of the Buddha, but employed the term”Dharma”
and he as mostly influenced by the tenets of ‘Maha Mangala’ Suttam of Lord Buddha.
Though the edicts are written in the grammar of third person singular form but there is always a
personal tone of orders, requests, suggestions and even condemning. Though the sentences begin
in third person as ‘Devanampiriya, King Piyadarsi they have been effectively written in a
‘personal voice’ in the capacity of a RIGHTEOUS KINGA.
Sources for, the whether history or biography of Asoka are found in many Pali literatures like
Divyananda, the Asokavadana, the Sri Lankan Pali chronicle Maha Vamsa Which is an authentic
record of history of Sri Lankan. But the sources of information for personal life of Asoka are
only his edicts, through which one can see the king as autobiography. The other sources seem to
be mere mythology and narrating his early life and about his life before coronation. Further very
often quotes his day of coronation in his edicts than his date of birth. The points to be noted that
all his edicts were written only after the war of kalinga and Kalinga war made a remarkable
change in the life of the king; a wicked king turned righteous king.
This is the only one declaration of Asoka which shows his devout nature to his citizens and a
specimen of extreme humility .In 6 edition of major rock edict Asoka says “But now I have
given this order that at any time whether I am eating , in the harem , in the bed chamber, the
chariot, the palanquin, in the park, or wherever , reporters to be posted with instruction to report
to me affairs of the people so that I might to attend these affairs wherever I am……further he
writes “Truly, I consider the welfare of all to be my duty and the root of this exertion and the
prompt despatch of business”. Truly the behavior of Dharmasoka would have been noticed by
not only neighbouring Kings but also very far away nations like Greek, Rome, Alexandria,
Suvarna Bhoomi (modern Myanmar) Kamboj (modern Cambodia) and as he dispatched his own
son and later daughter to Tambra Parani (modern Sri Lanka).
Though he put down his sword the other kings dare wage war against his kingdom. Instead, his th
mighty power was not unrecognized by neighbouring kings. Asoka occupied more or less 3/4 of
Indian peninsula but at the same time he never tried to conquer the kingdoms of southern
peninsula like Pandiyas, Cholas and Ceras. That proved King Asoka had dreamed a war-less
world even 2,300 years ago further it was the first declaration of a mighty king in the world, in
his major rock edict ( no 13 ) he is very clear in his notion he says about the impact of Kalinga
war “..But Beloved of Gods is pained even more by this –that brhmanas, ascetics, and house holders of different religions who live in those countries and who are respectful to superiors, to
mothers and fathers, elders “ ….That they are injured killed, or separated from their family and
loved ones. Even those who are not affected by all these suffer when they see friends,
acquaintances, companions, and relatives affected. These misfortunes befall as a result of war
and this pains Beloved-of-the-Gods”.
The major rock edict no 13 is like confession and repentance. But Asoka was not satisfied just
on his repentance and also began his Dharma activity .The information given in the Indian
history doest completely picturising Asoka and righteous works done for his citizens. The Indian
history depicts only few aspects of his social welfare activities that he dug wells and planted
trees on the road such trees(species) still even today called as Asoka tree. The remorse mood of
the king after kalinga war made him a righteous king and he embraced Buddhism. Destruction
caused by Kalinga war was an eruption of Dharma which had a permanent impact on the mind of
Ashoka. The sorrowful cries of mother and children started echoing into his ears.
PURPOSE OF HIS EDICTS: Over all the purpose of his all edicts is to implement his
projects and programmes as mentioned earlier but Asoka was monitoring his officials through
his edicts. Asoka exercised both his temporal as well as spiritual sovereignty not always concern
with mundane purpose of the life. Asoka was the first ruler who sympathized spiritual up
liftment of his citizens> In his edicts very often mentions “…in this life and next…”
Asoka’s life history widely available in the classical texts like Mahavamsa, Divyananda, the
Asoka vadana and other works. But the German rendering of Mahavamsa by a German scholar
Wilhelm Geiger deciphered Asoka .Then the Indian historians began to view India in a different
ankle. Asoka was the first king who consolidated India a sub-continent politically by removing
minor tribal rulers and made India as a civilly evolved nation.
SUBJECT MATTERS AND LANGUSGE OF HIS EDICTS: His Major Rock Edicts
Asoka’s edicts are mainly concerned with the reforms he initiated and instituted and the moral
principle he recommended in his attempt to create a just and human society. Generally the edicts
of the kings are specimen of “blowing one’s on horn” boasting the victory in a war. But Asoka’s
edicts are pieces of humility of mighty emperor.
All his edicts have the opening sentence of Beloved of Gods, King Piyadasi …
Edict No 1: “ Here in my domain no living beings are to slaughtered or offered in sacrifice” he
further continues “ Formerly in the kitchen of Beloved of the Gods, King Piyadasi hundreds of
thousands of animals were killed every day to make curry. But now with writing of this Dhamma
edict only three creatures, two peacocks and a deer are killed and the deer not always. And in
time not even these three creatures will be killed. By this edict Asoka proved himself the king of non-violence and peace because he even
considered and concerned about animals and birds. That proved his loving kindness towards
animals too. So Asoka indirectly promoted vegetarianism in his domain.
Edict no 2: “… King Piyadasi made provision for two types of medical treatment: … for
humans …and animals…”.Wherever medical herbs suitable for humans or animals, I have made
them imported and grown. Along road side I have had wells dug and trees planted for the
benefits of huma