The Brahminical culture of Hinduism and its “caste system” has predominated seemingly since time immemorial in the land we call India. It has now become clear that this predominance has been at the expense of Buddhism which in its time, itself was a huge civilization and way of life. Yet Buddhism, or correctly the Buddha-Dhamma, is held in the highest esteem all around the world by those people who understand it – it is the pearl without price! From all reports, it appears now that there have been extensive efforts, unpleasant efforts to obliterate Buddhism altogether. For some years while the Buddha walked the land, the inhuman “caste” system was subdued, but since then the movement has gathered strength and achieved great power and influence. It is this dominance that has allowed fanatical Hindus (together with looting, murderous Muslims) to totally obliterate thousands of buildings: universities, schools, temples, shrines and monuments, built during the Ashokan period and the post Ashokan period, too – a thousand years of Buddhist civilization, itself, a culture that had dominated a vast area of South Asia. This amounts to a massive, colossal cultural genocide.
The first information came to light about 150 years ago when the British discovered the remains of ancient temples and mysterious pillar inscriptions. They recorded the words spoken by one, Devanam Piyadassi – who eventually turned out to be the personage of one, no less than Emperor Ashoka himself. Over the years the history of this man has been uncovered and now, scholars proclaim him “The Great”. But his name was totally unknown to Indians of the time! The truth shall out!
ASHOKA OF INDIA
About two thousand three hundred years ago in India, Ashoka Maurya rose to become emperor and he went on to do great works for his country and especially for Buddhism. But the recording of history was neglected and his name was forgotten for tens of hundreds of years.
The Maurya Dynasty
We now know that firstly came the brave, daring King Chandragupta. He was the famous, turbulent ruler and founder of the Maurya dynasty, but, it is said, someone who came from a low status. Having been triggered by quenchless flaming ambition, by dint of his personal courage, ready wit, super skill in arms and extra ordinary diligence, Chandragupta conquered his father Dhana Nanda and his empire, and went on to capture the throne of Pataliputra (Patna) in 322 BC. He consolidated an empire of enormous size and which had an extraordinarily long border. King Chandragupta was a Jain by faith.
His 28-year rule came to an end at the time of a severe famine in his kingdom when his own subjects were dying of hunger. King Chandragupta sacrificed his own life by starvation in accordance with the Jain tradition of Srabanavelgola.
King Chandragupta was followed by his son Bindusara, around 294bce – who took the title “Amirtaghat” (The Slayer of Enemies). He ruled India for about 25 years. King Bindusara was a practicing, but pragmatic Buddhist. It is said (by Venerable Narada1) that he had sixteen official royal wives and one hundred and one sons! Of them all, Ashoka was the most intelligent and capable. He was born of Subhadrangi (also Known as “Dharma”) in 304bce. His eldest step brother was Sumana (or Susima). His uterine brother Tissa, also called Vitasoka or Vigatasoka, was younger and entered the Order and later attained Arahantship. In these circumstances, it is not difficult to conclude that young Prince Ashoka was strongly influenced by his father and the prevailing culture of intelligent inquiry and humanism as taught by the Buddha in an all-pervading Shramana culture.
Young Prince Ashoka had first functioned as Viceroy of Taxila and Ujjain, just when Taxila was a centre for Buddhist learning and discussion. As Viceroy, he served a sort of apprenticeship for the job by gathering knowledge and experience before he became ruler of India. Whilst he was acting as Viceroy in Avanti, he met and was united with a young Sakyan woman named Devi, the daughter of a Banker. When he became Emperor the Royal Wives were: Asandhimitra (Chief Queen), Devi, Karuvaki, Padmavati and Tisyarashita. He sired a total of four sons and two daughters: Mahinda and Sanghamitta were the children of Devi; Tivasa was the son of Karuvaki, and Kunala was the son of Padmavati. He also had another son named Jalauka and a daughter named Charumati. His grandsons were Prince Dasarath, who later succeeded him to the throne, Sampati, son of Kunala, and Sumana, son of Sanghamitta.
Upon the death of his father he ascended the imperial throne of Pataliputra (Patna) at the age of 30, which was 218 years after the Parinibbana of the Buddha, but his actual accession to power came three years later. He reigned 37 years after his installation and died in his 71st year. Prince Ashoka became the third and greatest ruler of the short Maurya dynasty.
Ashoka and the Affairs of State
The neighbouring state of Kalinga was large and powerful. It had retained its sovereignty and independence all through the years. Having such a powerful state nearby would have been a constant source of anxiety to any ruler, due to the threat of attack.
Ashoka, therefore, at the smallest provocation was almost obliged to wage war to settle the matter. So, in the year 261bce – eight years after he became paramount ruler, Ashoka, launched his greatest war.
The conquest of Kalinga was a real achievement for the ruler of Patliputra because it removed all foreseeable hostility – peace and prosperity! Undoubtedly Ashoka’s many brothers contributed greatly to winning this great battle. Casualties among the brothers are unknown. And for Emperor Ashoka, this war was the bloodiest and became his last. The records say, “Kalinga was conquered by His Sacred and Gracious majesty the King after he has been in power eight years. One hundred and fifty thousand people were there slain, and many times that number died of their wounds and starvation”.
With the conquest of Kalinga, the western boundary of his empire was the Hindu Kush mountains and included the greater part of Afghanistan, Baluchistan, Makran and the entire Kashmir region. The northern boundary went right up to the foot of the Himalayan Ranges and included the entire Nepal Tarai. To the east, the boundary reached as far as modern day Burma. In the south, “The frontier may be drawn with practical accuracy from Nallore (14.27’ N.) on the east coast at the mouth of the Penner river to the mouth of the Kalynpuri river (13.15’ N.) on the west coast.” There remained only four or five independent small kingdoms at the southernmost tip of the Indian peninsula.
Ashoka became the paramount ruler of his own Empire; it was a huge territory – an empire. No other ruler ever controlled such a vast kingdom in all of Indian history right up to the time when the British came armed with lethal weapons and ruled the Indian landmass. No Indian sovereign, including Muslims, possessed sovereignty over the territories beyond the Vindhya. The Hindu rulers of the Gupta dynasty, during the 4th to 6th Century CE, ruled north India only. The most powerful of the great Mughals, emperor Akabar too, at the zenith of his power only held a territory confined to north India.
Emperor Ashoka abandoned further warfare and ruled his giant South Asian empire in peace for around 37 years.
Ashoka and his Remorse
Removing the threat posed by a powerful neighbor would normally be considered as a sensible, regal move. But Ashoka lamented. Why? Why was there a soft corner in the emperor heart?
It can be admitted that there is an oddity here – an enduring psycho-logical reaction which can be observed in the emperor after sight of the carnage. Such a psychological reaction does not arise from nothing: all is ‘Cause and Effect’. It is suggested that it arose due to his years of being immersed in Buddhist society and its culture, even if he, himself was not practicing the Buddha-Dhamma.
The Good Deeds of Emperor Ashoka
During this period of thirty-seven years, he was not idle nor did he waste his time by merry-making, it was as though he was making amends for that loss of life. Emperor Ashoka brought in a period of progress and development – a “peace dividend”; he worked for the betterment of his people in so many ways and not least was his work in disseminating of the Buddha-Dhamma. Concerning Buddhism, he did not limit himself to his vast Empire but propagated Buddhism in other parts of Asia. He even sent Venerable Monk missionaries to Eastern Europe and even North Africa.
He propagated around his vast empire one of the Buddha’s most important teachings “The Law of Self-Conquest, or the Law of Piety” as taught by the Buddha in his Fire Sermon. This Sutta urges people to great efforts in the personal conquest of their own ‘Three Fires of ‘Self’’ which, in summary, is the conquest of ignorance and delusion (= Moha (or avijja)), anger and hate (= Lobha (or thanha)) and strong desire (= Dosa (or viyapada))” all around his Kingdom – an excellent philosophy never before propagated by any monarch for his subjects to put into practice. He declared, “Asu putra, prapoutra me navam vijoyam ma vijitavyam,” – my sons and grandsons, whoso ever may it be, do not think it their (greedy) duty to conquer (or harm) any living being who is weaker. “Because His Sacred Majesty desires for all animate beings ‘to live in security, self control, peace of mind and joyousness.’” This Law of Piety requires the conquest of ‘Self’ (i.e. ego), which is the greatest conquest of all, as told by the Buddha. But by setting a good example in the conquest of Self, His Sacred Majesty himself, sets a good example for all to follow, both here (in the hundred leagues where the Greek king named Antiochos dwells) … in the south, the Cholas and Pandayas as far as the Tamraparni river … everywhere, they follow the instruction of His Sacred Majesty on the Law of Piety.”
He transformed Buddhism into a world religion. He made the important teachings of the Buddha popular by his numerous interesting rock edicts. He urged the population to literacy and so, to read them! He erected so many Buddhist monasteries (Viharas) around Patna that the whole province became known as Vihara, now Bihar. He made pilgrimages to almost all the hallowed places connected with the life of the Buddha, and lasting monuments were erected to mark those historic spots. Even the slaughtering of animals for food in the palace was slowly reduced and eventually stopped, and, most excellently, he forbade all animal sacrifice in his empire. As Pandit Nehru says: “Ashoka’s example and the spread of Buddhism resulted in vegetarianism becoming popular” in South Asia. He put his entire imperial resources and power into establishing the most ancient of all “Welfare States” of the world. He blew the trumpet for the supremacy of knowledge, harmlessness, compassion and understanding of one’s fellow men. He brought about a cultural revolution. He disbanded the “Verighosa”.
Ashoka was interested not only in the moral development of his people, but also their material development. (He had as a sad example, the famine in his own grandfather’s time – a sign of catastrophic failure.) He treated all his subjects as his own family. An indication of his willingness promote the public good is given when he said: “At all times and all places, whether I am dining or in the ladies apartments, in my bedroom or in my closet, in my carriage or in my palace garden, the official reporters should keep me constantly informed of the people’s business. Work I must for the common weal.”
True to his words he acted like a father to all. In his time public gardens, medicinal herbs, hospitals for people and for animals, too, wells dug, roads and educational institutions were built all over his empire. To his eternal credit it should be said that it was Ashoka who, for the first time in the history of the world, established hospitals for humans and also built hospitals for animals, too, and it is claimed not only in Asia but also where his missionaries went – even Eastern Europe and North Africa.
According to the Pali Chronicles, at the end of the Third Council, held in the seventeenth year of Ashoka’s reign, under the presidency of Arahant Moggaliputta Tissa, it was decided to send competent Arahants to nine different places, both within the Empire and outside, to propagate the teachings of the Buddha.
The Venerable Monks (and their destinations) were: Majjhantika Thera (Kashmir and Gandahar); Mahadeva Thera (Mahimsaka Mandala – Mysore); Rakkhita Thera (Vanavasi – South India); Yonaka Dhammarakkhita Thera (Aparantaka – Gujarat, Sindh, etc); Mahadhammarakkhita Thera (Maharattha – Maharashtra); Maharakkhita Thera (Yonakaloka – Greek kingdom in West India); Majjhima Thero (Himavadantapadesa – Himalayas); Sonaka and Uttara Theras (Suvannabhumi – Burma-Thailand); Mahinda, Itthiya, Uttiya, Sambala, and Bhaddasala Theras (TambapanniDipa – Sri Lanka). Each mission consisted of five Theras so that it would be possible to perform the Upasampada ceremony for Monks in remote districts.
We can be proud of the fact that Emperor Ashoka was among the first to put India diplomatically on the world’s map. He initiated the practice of sending diplomats to foreign countries and in return regularly received envoys at Pataliputra from friendly countries. Ashoka was the glorious forerunner in forming the world’s first “international community.” But soon after Ashoka’s reign no foreign diplomats visited the Indian capital nor did India send any, but to the contrary, ‘crossing blue seas’ was made a taboo.
Ashoka’s Wide Range of Activities
The activities of Ashoka were so enormously varied and intelligent that it is difficult to properly asses the contributions he made in constructing and re-arranging the social, religious, economic, cultural and political history of India and even, with his missionaries, of the world. He recorded history, and so was one of the earliest historians, judging by his lengthy and elaborate discussion on various subjects, with minute details all carved on the durable surface of his rocks. His awareness of the need to record the important events in history helps one understand his responsible attitude to rule. He would have developed many good ideas from his posting at Taxila as a young man.
The fact is that the Emperor had an active mind, he was educated. His progressive ideas would have been formed with the help of the people who he came in contact with – Buddhists, both military and civilian, and Buddhist scholars – especially those he met early on in his life. He was unique in that he and his brothers all worked to develop the Empire using Buddhist ideals of equality, kindness to help people to lead better lives. They were acting in accordance to the teachings of Gautama, The Buddha, of which, it can be said Ashoka became an embodiment. And this is what made him ‘Ashoka the Great.’
He worked hard to encourage people to practice the Buddha’s teachings as a matter of natural wisdom – just as the Buddha had done himself. He made the ideals of the Buddha-Dhamma a reality. What the Buddha had preached, the Emperor had practiced himself and urged others to practice, too. He brought the Buddhist ethos alive all over a vast territory from Afghanistan and India to the border of Burma.
This had its effects on the literacy of the people and expanded the domain of knowledge in the society. The number of Universities founded rose to nine – nine great residential Universities. (Europe’s first, religious Universities were founded around 1600 years later!) – great centres of learning, Viharas – Monk’s temples were built, and stupas (chetiyas) built honouring great practitioners of the Dhamma. (Now, the whole of India and Afgahnistan is now littered with archeological sites; for example the Bhumiyan (Bamiyan) site was developed which had three great, golden Buddha statues and hundreds of dwelling places for monks; and so for many other sites.) This period of goodness is quite remarkable, and a testament to Ashoka’s greatness. The Buddhist ethos shaped the culture, religion, polity, politics and social interaction of the common people of this enormous expanse of land for a thousand years.
While on the one side of Buddhism there was the concept of knowledge leading to wisdom, the other side of the coin was the virtue of Loving Kindness, Compassion, Sympathetic joy, and Equanimity. The feeling of belonging together or to one group or oneness emerges out of the high degree of feelings of association. Without this feeling of oneness the concept of equality between men is never welcome.
The Impact of Buddhism on Ashoka and his Administration
Many Indian historians mistakenly believe that simply as a result of the Kalinga war, emperor Ashoka embraced Buddhism. Rock Edict XIII reads: “Directly after the Kalinga had been annexed began His Sacred Majesty’s zealous propagation of the Law of Piety, his love of that Law, and his establishment of that Law. Thence arises the remorse of His Sacred Majesty for having conquered the Kalinga, because the conquest of the country previously unconquered, involved the slaughter, death, and carrying away of captive slaves of the people. That is a matter of profound regret to His Sacred Majesty.” This edict, if taken at face value, leads us to conclude that Ashoka took refuge in the religion of Gautam Buddha to get relief from the agony of remorse after the war. No doubt about it, all that bloodshed and misery would have hardened his resolve to make amends.
However, if we accept this event as the single cause of conversion to Buddhism then we have to ignore other important anecdotal evidence regarding the previous influence of Buddhism on Ashoka. From this other evidence it is clear, he did not convert due to the bloodshed of war – he was a Buddhist right from his early years and that is the real reason why he had the depth of knowledge to make such a great contribution to the propagation and practice of Buddhism.
The Life and Times of Emperor Ashoka
To know the reason for the deep remorse, at the sight of all those killed in battle, we need to go back in history. We suggest the reason was due to the social setting of the time. During the reign of the Mauryas all Indian and Afghan society, everywhere was egalitarian and the ethos of the contemporary society was simply nothing more than a set of high ideals; of harmlessness, humanitarian ideals and the teachings of Gautam the Buddha. Gautam was born in 563 BCE. He attained Mahaparinibbana after 80 years. Within a very short period, the luminous glow of his teachings of harmlessness and knowledge: his message of “Middle Path” engulfed, brightened and broadened the consciousness, graciousness and other inner virtues of the people all over the Indian continent and Afghanistan including Bamyan (Bhumiyan). So the glorious chanting of the Trisarana: “Buddhan Saranang Gachhami, Dhammang Saranang Gachhami, Sangham Saranang Gachhami…” reverberated around South Asia.
Buddhism, Young Ashoka and his Remorse
A psychological reaction can be observed in the Emperor after the sight of the carnage of war. This was undoubtedly due to his up-bringing in a Buddhist environment. This environment arose from some important events in India, as follows.
Soon after the death of Gautam, The Buddha, the Magadha emperor, Ajatshatru convened the first Buddha Sangeeti at the Saptaparni cave, under the presidency of Venerable Bhadant Mahakashyapa.
The impact of the Buddha-Dhamma on people’s lives was strong, and the Buddhists were a so numerically powerful majority that the five rulers that followed the reign of Ajatshatru, although each of a paternal, benevolent disposition, were dethroned by their subjects. And the Shramanas not Brahmins, appointed a follower of Buddha, Shishu Nag to the throne of Magadha in 413 BC. The second Buddha Sangeeti was held at Vaishali during the reign of his son, Kalasok. Following kings Pasenjit and Bimbisara who were contemporary to Gautam Buddha, after them almost all the Indian rulers were Buddhists. The whole society was charged, fired up with an active culture of Buddhist practice and gracious behaviour (Shramana-dharma -esp. good manners).
Oddly, young Ashoka, the son of the emperor Bindusara had a regal introduction to the destructiveness and cruelty of high office when he ordered royal executions. An ambitious king knows no bounds in celebrating his victory in war, but after the war with the Kalingas – ? – a surprise reaction! The paramount potentate, instead of celebrating victory through wanton and reckless festivities by rolling in wine and woman, instead broke down with remorse as if it was he who was defeated in the war. It is clear that Buddhism was deeply ingrained in him from an early age.
This explains Ashoka’s horrified reaction to the bloodshed which was so different from what would be normally expected in a victor. Ashoka’s reaction of shock reveals to us the tenderness and humanity in his heart. So, it is not true to say that he converted to Buddhism after being so shocked at the sight of bloodshed and death, but it can be conceded that his faith in, and pursuit of Buddhist ideals were strengthened by the bloodshed.
The emperor has recorded a part of his life in one of his Rock Edicts. The Minor Rock Edict I reads :
“His sacred Majesty (Devanampiya) gives these instructions: “For more than two and a-half years I was a lay disciple, without, however, exerting myself strenuously. But a year ago, in fact more than a year ago, I entered the Order, and since then have exerted myself strenuously.”
Other evidence available strengthens this position. For instance when Prince Ashoka was the governor of Ujjain he used to come to the capital via the trade route passing through Vidisa. There is a pleasant Buddhist traditional story about the young Prince Ashoka’s romantic life. (This story was neglected by the historians, perhaps because it runs counter to the theory of Ashoka’s becoming a Buddhist after the Kalinga War!) According to the Buddhist tradition, the adventurer prince became enamored with a beautiful daughter of a Banker of Vidisa. The advances of the Prince were rebuffed by the girl by the name of Devi. Her good character and strong inner qualities required her to refuse to marry the prince until he changed his unruly way of life into a life of discipline similar to the disciplined one, the Buddha. Devi herself was a disciple of the Buddha. Ashoka accepted these demands to follow Buddhism and they were united.
It is said that Devi produced two children: a daughter, Sanghamitra and a son, Mahendra by the emperor Ashoka. Later on, Ashoka ordered the building of the massive Sanchi Stupa (or Dagaba) amidst the natural beauty of the surroundings, on the hill top of the Vidisa Diri. (This Stupa has been included in the list of “World Heritage” sites by UNESCO.) It is believed that because of the pious desire and warm patronage of Queen Devi, the Vidisa region in Patna, became a very important Buddhist center with many Stupas, such as Satadhara, etc.
Brahmanism at a Low Ebb
This was a period when the esteem and influence of Brahminical Social Order and the power of the Brahmins was at its lowest ebb. The vicious social hierarchy based on “caste” which benefitted the priests and top leaders, was still in its infancy. All over India the Sudras were ruling. Nandas of the barber Sudra dynasty were ruling the country with absolute supremacy.
Srimad Bhagwat lamented the Brahmin plight in no uncertain terms:
“Nadivardhan will be the son of Ajoy and Mahanandi will be the son sprung from the loins of Nadhivardhan. These ten kings, the Sishunagas, alone will rule over the earth for three hundred and sixty years during the age of Kali. O jewel among the Kurus! Mahanandi’s mighty son, who will be born of Sudra woman. O king will be certain Nanda, who will win a huge army or untold riches and will bring about the ruin of the Kshatriya race. Thence forward, the rulers of men will be mostly Sudras and the unrighteous: 12/7-9.
When Magasthenes, the Hellenic envoy visited India he failed to find any trace of the Brahminical social hierarchy, the caste system. He described in his account only seven socio-economic groups who formed the social strata. They were as follows: “Philosopher, Husbandman, Artisan and Trader, Soldier, Overseer and Counsellor”. This absence or untraceable condition of Brahmin-Sudra caste strata system was definitely a result of the predominance of a caste-less Shramana culture in the country. But for the existence of such powerful Shramana culture it would not have been feasible for the lowest of the low born to displace the Brahmin-Kshatriya combine from power politics.
Emperor Ashoka had set people’s thoughts working along Buddhist lines for around a 1000 years in an area covering most of South Asia!
Brahmanism fights back
The Buddha told the truth as it was. He challenged the recently composed Vedas, the books at the bedrock of Brahmanism. He taught that all men are equal and the “caste system” which the Vedas and other Brahminical books supported, were completely false, a man’s invention. The Brahmins became enemies; they were opposed to the Buddha, not so much against his philosophical teachings as they were to his message of universal brotherhood and equality. This was because it directly challenged their positions of power over the people and the scriptures they had invented to legitimize their power.
The Name ‘Ashoka’ in India Expunged (Erased) from History
Hinduism makes everything a product of divinity and Gods. Hindu literature never mentions time and space/place because divinity is not bound or restricted to any time and place! Divinity is immortal and transcendental. But in the real world, the world where men and women actually live their lives, time, date and place are a reality to be counted and recorded, and cannot realistically be pushed into a metaphysical limbo. Therefore history, a truthful chronology of events, the history of a country or of the world, or even a version of events invented by the ruling powers that control the input to men’s innocent minds, can be recorded by these measurements of progressive human development. So, Ashoka was the first man in the history of human civilization who scrupulously maintained a record of time and place in his edicts. But, as a result his legacy of good deeds was subjected to the forces of nihilism in ancient India.
Now, India is a land of restricted education. According to their own stipulations, only the Brahmins – the elite – the ruling class, were entitled to full-fledged education. This elevated them, so they were able to thrive on the ignorance of others. Sudras were denied the right to eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge. And according to the Brahminical culture, writing factual history was totally forbidden. The only disciplines that they encouraged were the unseen spiritual, belief-ridden and speculative literature, full of myth and imaginary tales. It would have been impossible to reconstruct ancient Indian history, if it wasn’t for the documental evidence written on robust materials like rock in the form of epigraphic, archaeological sources, created by Ashoka the Great.
As an example of the parlous state of recording Indian history: the Bhagavat Purna has merely mentioned the names of the Maurya kings as follows:
“A certain Brahmin will uproot all the nine Nandas who will be at his mercy. On their destruction it is the Mauryas that will rule the earth during the kali age, the very Brahmin will install Chandragupta on the throne. His son indeed will be Warisara and Ashokavardhana will be born to the letter.” (12/121-13).
Other Priests made such brief and misleading and obscure statements on the past revealing nothing useful of actual history. These obscure statements give us no clues as to the true grandeur of ancient India and its relationships with the outside world. Until the discovery of the “Mask Edict” in Hyderabad, historians did not know, nor could even guess at the real name of the grand monarch who erected exceedingly polished and magnificent monolithic pillars all over this vast country.
It was a huge puzzle. Who was it who had ordered the erection of all these robust pillars with edicts, rock pillars which have withstood all the destructive events that nature and even human destructive attempts, could throw at them through the centuries?
The historians of yore failed to give the name of the India King who has done all this work of recording the tales and happenings of the contemporary India on innumerable polished surface of the hills, caves and rocks. Everywhere, it was credited to one DEVANAMPIYA (- dear to the gods) or THE PIYADASSI (pleasant to behold (- look at)). So it was extremely difficult for historians of the nineteenth century to identify this Piyadassi, the name was unknown to Indian literature and unknown to any reference work or dictionary. The true identity of ‘The Piyadassi’ had been obliterated form the annals of India. (But it was available in the Buddhist chronicles in Ceylon.)
Emperor Ashoka – Maker of His Own History!
When Indians themselves, had destroyed their own sources of Indian history then the true history of India could only be recovered from whatever sources could be found outside India. It can be observed that, ironically, it was Ashoka who had created these foreign sources. Only foreigners were willing and able to reveal the true history of India. Foreigners using foreign sources, worked to solve the puzzles of Indian history.
It all started when European civilians who came to administer India, of their own volition, took the burden of unearthing the buried truth of Indian history. It was James Princep who discovered the “Delhi-Meerat-Pillar Inscription” in 1750. This was the start of a great adventure to get answers to the mystery! Some years later, in 1784, the “Radhia” Pillar and the pillar inscription of “Lauria Arreraj” at Nepal Tarai were discovered. The scripts were deciphered by English scholars. Scripts with names such as Brahmin and Khrosti, and the languages, Pali and Prakrit were deciphered by English scholars and the chronicles Deepavamsa and Mahavamsa were searched for clues. But only the “Maski” edict, eventually discovered in 1915 mentioned the true name of Devanampiya Piyadassi – Emperor Ashoka! Not long ago at all, to this writer!
The Efforts to Debunk the Maurya Dynasty
The Buddhism the Mauryans introduced on a wide scale was egalitarian with policies which had been used previously to rule different small states in Indian history and govern their subjects compassionately. The Mauryan rule promoted harmlessness, humanitarian principles and democracy, which was totally inimical to Brahmincal values as enshrined in the ‘caste’ system.
It is clear now that the Brahmins went on the offensive. They looked for opportunities to weaken and denigrate Buddhism.
Two Popular Hindu Historical Dramas
For example King Chandragupta, despite all his bravery and derring-do had a weak-spot; an Achilles heel. He was vulnerable to denigration in the Caste system, it is said, due to his low birth. It is said that his mother Mura, was a slave girl to Emperor Dhana Nanda. Her son Chandragupta, was by Dhana Nanda. (Mura belonged to the tribe of north Bihar, who traditionally used to rear Mayur or peacocks.) The Maurya dynasty were from the Sudra class and were the object of Hindu contempt.
So, despite this glorious derring-do of King Chandragupta, Brahmanic literature of a much later age, denigrates and belittles the glory and meritorious caliber of this low-born man who rose to the rank of emperor. Two Sanskrit books, Artha Shastra and Mudra Rakshasa, are the only sources available for a description of the personal life of King Chandragupta, and which also could give a useful insight to contemporary socio-economic and politico-religious life of India. In the drama, Mudra Rakshasa, written by Vishakhdutta in the 5th century, Chadragupa is repeatedly addressed by his Chief Minister Chanakya, as Vrisal even in the presence of the ordinary subjects. Vrisal means Sudra, the lowest of the castes in Varnashram. Sudras are regarded worthlessly low, devoid of any praiseworthy human qualities.
These Sanskrit works claiming to be historical literature, written around eight hundred years after Chandragupta, are clearly intended to satisfy and uphold Brahminic pride and power. The descriptions as given in these books do not provide us with reliable information about anything, especially a character description of Chandragupta. And the stories provoke such questions as why should such a feeble Vrisal be tolerated at all, by the worthy Chief Minister Chanakya when this tolerance was in total contravention to the Hindu scriptural dictum? How was it that to punish and top and tail the Sudra Nanda dynasty, as the story claims, the Brahmin of high caliber took up the very low born Sudra Chandragupta? Was there no Kshatriya or Brahmin or Vaishya of merit available to be groomed by the worthy minister Chanakya!!
Besides, in fact, we know that Chandragupta was not a Hindu, he was a Jain by religious faith. So, to have the drama portray low-born ‘Vrisal’ and a Jain, too, appointed by the all powerful minister Chanakya was not convincing. As the story is told, he would have made a great contribution himself, to Chandragupta becoming emperor. How come the Sudra Chandragupta with his Jain culture was not repudiated and sent out by the Brahmins of those days?
Despite all of these contradictions to realistic narrative history given in these stories, hard evidence shows that this supposed Sudra dynasty continued with, and accelerated their efforts against the caste-ridden religion Hinduism with all its inhumanities, and propagated humanistic Buddhism.
It has also been widely accepted by historians that the second story, the famous “Artha Shastra” authored by Chanakya alias Vishnugupta was in fact, written much later than the declared date.
These two books reveal a concerted attempt to detract from, and even expunge from history this glorious Buddhist-Jain epoch. It was an attempt to distort, at a minimum, or totally destroy this history and its source materials – an organized attempt to Aryanize or hijack these chapters of Indian history.
The Stone Edicts – The Stone Pillars and Their Misuse:
It is very difficult to know how many inscriptions Ashoka got engraved on stone pillars and rocks because no subsequent rulers, whether Buddhist or Brahminical or Hindu took any step to locate, record and preserve them. They form an invaluable body of ancient Indian history – a wealth of information on the past.
But perversely, the natural process of erosion over time has been greatly assisted by human activity – seemingly Brahminical hostility and determination to wipe out all evidence of this epoch of Buddhist philosophy and practice. Only a few of these edicts survive and only that when hidden under the cover of deep jungles and heaps of mud in some deserted and remote places.
It is interesting to mention here that the Ashoka pillar found at the Sanchi Stupa (Vidisa) was found in a mutilated form. It has been preserved by the authorities of the Archaeology Department and is now kept on the ground in a flat position. The pieces of the pillar remaining have been well preserved by modern archaeologists. These remnants show many definite and deep marks of damage. That tells us of the many attempts that were made to break it into pieces: tell-tale signs of heavy blows marking the body of the pillar. The department of Archaeology has very kindly displayed a notice board nearby, to inform visitors that some Hindu fanatic Zamindars tried to destroy the pillar.
There is a Lingaraj temple some sixty miles away from Vidisa and near to Bhopal city. The Shiva Linga in the temple is around eighteen feet high and twenty feet in diameter. A close and careful observation reveals that the Shivalinga has been cut and shaped from a massive Ashokan pillar – and it is the same sand stone. It should be noted that the Linga temple was constructed a thousand years after the pillars were shaped and inscribed by Emperor Ashoka’s men. The entire temple other than the Linga, including the base on which the Linga has been placed was made out of distinctly different stone of slate colour. The school of architecture appears to be different.
There are many other instances of destruction or the appropriation of Buddhist relics and architectural remains by Hindus – called the process of Hinduisation. It is known that many Hindu Temples in India have been built on or converted from the remains of Buddhist stupas, viharas, etc.
You can say that Muslims were motivated primarily, for loot and for women. The Buddhist temples and universities were un-defended prizes to be won at little or no cost to themselves. Muslims in India and Afghanistan plundered Buddhist sites for relics of any worth and smashing up what remained. This was and still is their great interest, and where possible they are joined by the Brahmans in that vast undefended continent. But the Brahmans – called Hindus after the arrival of Islam in India, apart from plunder – also had an agenda of cultural annihilation for Buddhism. A thousand years of human-friendly Buddhism was neglected in their history books!
In writing this history, recourse has been made to several sources, here listed in importance as follows:
Information has been taken from ‘ASHOKA The Great’ – Part I of a long dissertation dispelling the Indian Dark Age of Ignorance about their own history by Hon. Dr. S.K. Biswas, in four parts. It was re-typed from the original by Chakradhar Hadke, but this writer found it incoherent.)
Information2 on Ashoka’s family connections was taken from Venerable Narada’s handboook, ‘A Manual of Buddhism’ – including details of the Missionaries Ashoka had sent out and their destinations.
Information on “The Law of Self-Conquest, or the Law of Piety” and mention of the Fire Sutta, has been taken from Venerable Walpola Rahula’s “What the Buddha Taught”
Information on the number of universities that were destroyed by forces hostile to Buddhism and its learning – kindly supplied by Dr. Daya Hewapathirana by E-mail, giving the names of the nine Universities to the best of his knowledge,
Information has been gleaned from documents by D.P. Barua –on “Old Bangladesh a Buddhist Stronghold” and “How the Buddhists and Jains were Persecuted in Ancient India” by Murad A. Baig. http://www.chowk.com/articles/14150
“The Gift of Truth that Leads to Wisdom is the Greatest of all Gifts”