Major Rock Edicts

The Major Rock Edicts of Indian Emperor Ashoka refer to 14 separate major Edicts of Ashoka which are significantly detailed and represent some of the earliest dated rock inscriptions of any Indian monarch.[1] For a full English translation of the Edicts: . These edicts are preceded chronologically by the Minor Rock Edicts.

Ashoka was the third monarch of the Maurya Empire in India, reigning from around 269 BCE.[2] Ashoka famously converted to Buddhism and renounced violence soon after being victorious in a gruesome Kalinga War, yet filled with deep remorse for the bloodshed of the war. Although he was a major historical figure, little definitive information was known as there were few records of his reign until the 19th century when a large number of his edicts, inscribed on rocks and pillars, were found in India, Nepal, Pakistan and Afghanistan. In India, Places where rock edicts were found are – Kalsi, Uttarakhand; Sopara, Maharashtra; Mount Girnar, Gujarat; Yerragudi, Andhra Pradesh; Dhauli, Odisha; Jaugada, Odisha. These many edicts, of which Ashoka's Major Rock Edicts were the first and most impressive, were concerned with practical instructions in running a kingdom such as the design of irrigation systems and descriptions of Ashoka's beliefs in peaceful moral behavior. They contain little personal detail about his life.[2]

Prohibits animal slaughter. Bans festive gatherings and killings of animals. Only two peacocks and one deer were killed in Asoka’s kitchen. He wished to discontinue this practice of killing two peacocks and one deer as well.
Generosity to Brahmans. Issued after 12 years of Asoka’s coronation. It says that the Yuktas (subordinate officers) and Pradesikas (district Heads) along with Rajukas (Rural officers ) shall go to the all areas of kingdom every five years and spread the Dhamma Policy of Asoka.

Dhammaghosa is ideal to the mankind and not the Bherighosa. Impact of Dhamma on society.

Concerns about the policy towards slaves. He mentions in this rock edict "Every Human is my child". Appointment of Dhammamahamatras is mentioned in this edict.
Describes King’s desire to get informed about the conditions of the people constantly. Talks about welfare measures.
Requests tolerance for all religions - "To foster one’s own sect, depreciating the others out of affection for one’s own, to exalt its merit, is to do the worst harm to one’s own sect."
Condemns the desire for fame and glory. Stresses on popularity of Dhamma.
Directed and determined request for tolerance among different religious sects.
Also written in Greek in the Kandahar Greek Edict of Ashoka (last portion)
This edict was also written in Greek (probably together with all the other Major Rock Edicts I-XIV originally) in the Kandahar Greek Edict of Ashoka (first portion recovered).

Three languages were used, Prakrit, Greek and Aramaic. Four scripts were used. The edicts are composed in non-standardized and archaic forms of Prakrit. Prakrit inscriptions were written in Brahmi and Kharosthi scripts, which even a commoner could read and understand. The inscriptions found in the area of Pakistan are in the Kharoshthi script.

Other Edicts are written in Greek or Aramaic. The Kandahar Rock Inscription is bilingual Greek-Aramaic (but more often categorized as a Minor Rock Edict). The Kandahar Greek Edict of Ashoka is in Greek only, and originally probably contained all the Major Rock Edicts 1-14.

Ashoka's edicts were the first written inscriptions in India after the ancient city of Harrapa fell to ruin.[8]

Several authors have pointed out that the Major Rock Edicts do not have a very strong Buddhist flavour, in particular compared to the Minor Rock Edicts. The subject of the Major Rock Edicts is the Dharma, which is essentially described as a corpus of moral and social values ("compassion, liberality, thruthfulness, purity, gentleness, goodness, few sins, many vituous deeds") and neither the Buddha, nor the Samgha, nor Buddhism are ever mentioned.[9] The only likely mention of Buddhism only appears with the word "Sramanas" ("ascetics"), who are always mentioned next to "Brahmanas", in what appears as a rather neutral enumeration of the major religious actors of the period.[9][10] In the 12th Major Rock Edict, Ashoka also claims to be honouring all sects.[11]

In Major Rock Edict No.8 though, Ashoka unambiguously describes his pilgrimage to Sambodhi (Sambodhi inscription.jpg Saṃ+bodhi, “Complete Enlightenment”),[12] another name of Bodh Gaya, the location of the Buddha's awakening.[9] Ashoka also repeatedly condemns ceremonies and sacrifices, an apparent attack on Brahmanism.[10] In the Major Rock Edicts Ashoka also expresses his belief in karma and rebirth, affirming that good deeds with be rewarded in this life and the next, in Heaven (𑀲𑁆𑀯𑀕 svaga).[13]

Overall, according to Christopher I. Beckwith, the author of the Major Rock Edicts adhered to an "early, pietistic, popular" form of Buddhism.[14]

The Major Rock Edicts of Ashoka are inscribed on large rocks, except for the Kandahar version in Greek (Kandahar Greek Edict of Ashoka), written on a stone plaque belonging to a building. The Major Edicts are not located in the heartland of Mauryan territory, traditionally centered on Bihar, but on the frontiers of the territory controlled by Ashoka.[15]

There are altogether 14 Major Rocks Edicts, forming a group which is duplicated with only slight variations in 10 known locations, and two Separate Major Rock Edicts, in Dhauli and Jaugada.

Asoka’s providing of medical services, for human and animals, as well as herbs and fruit plants, to kings on his borders, including Hellenistic kings.

The importance of self-control, purity of mind, gratitude, and firm devotion.

Morality tours by Ashoka. This Edict is remarkable in that it describes the visit of the king to Sambodhi (Sambodhi inscription.jpg Saṃ+bodhi, “Complete Enlightenment”),[12] another name of Bodh Gaya. It is thought that Ashoka built in Bodh Gaya the Diamond Throne, in order to mark the place where the Buddha reached enlightenment.[21][22]

According to tradition, Ashoka was profoundly grieved when he discovered that the sacred pipal tree was not properly being taken care of and dying out due to the neglect of Queen Tiṣyarakṣitā.[23] As a consequence, Ashoka endeavoured to take care of the Bodhi Tree, and built a temple around it. This temple became the center of Bodh Gaya. A sculpture at Sanchi, southern gateway of Stupa No1, shows Ashoka in grief being supported by his two Queens. Then the relief above shows the Bodhi Tree prospering inside its new temple. Numerous other sculptures at Sanchi show scenes of devotion towards the Bodhi Tree, and the Bodhi Tree inside its temple at Bodh Gaya.[23]

The Kalsi version also uses the title "Devampriyas" to describe previous kings (whereas the other versions use the term "Kings"), suggesting that the title "Denampriya" had a rather wide usage.[24][25]

Content: Asoka’s victory in the Kalinga war followed by remorse. Victory of morality in India and among the Greeks (Yonas), as far as where the Greek kings Antiochus, Ptolemy, Antigonus, Magas and Alexander rule.[4]

The kings mentioned in Edict 13 as following the Dharma have been identified with the major Hellenistic rulers of the period:[6][4]

In Dhauli and Jaugada, on the east coast of India, in the recently conquered territory of Kalinga, Major Rock Edicts 11 to 13 were omitted from the normal complement of Edicts from 1 to 14, but two separate Edicts were put in their place. The First Separate Major Rock Edicts mainly addresses local officials (from Tosali in the Dhauli Separate Edicts and from Somāpā in the Jaugada versions) referring to the requirements of a fair judicial system, and the system of control established by Ashoka through the Mahamatras, sent from Pataliputra, Ujjain and Taxila.

Chronologically, it seems that the First Separate Rock Edict was actually engraved after the Second Separate Rock Edict.[29] The first and second separate edicts seem to have been inscribed at about the same time as the other Major Rock Edicts, in the 13th and 14th years of Ashoka's reign.[30]

In Dhauli and Jaugada, on the east coast of India, in the recently conquered territory of Kalinga, Major Rock Edicts 11 to 13 were omitted, but another separate Edict was put in their place, the Second Separate Major Rock Edict, addressed to the officials of Tosali in the Dhauli Separate Edicts and of Somāpā in the Jaugada versions. The Second Separate Edict asks the local officials to try to convince "unconquered bordering tribes" that the intentions of Ashoka towards them are benevolent.