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Major Pillar Edict VI of the Mauryan king Aśoka (fragment)

Pillar fragment. Curved horizontal fragment of a burnished sandstone pillar engraved with part of Major Pillar Edict VI of the Mauryan king Asoka.

3rd century BCE
Architecture
British Museum

“Pillar Edict VI of the Mauryan king Aśoka,” 3rd century BCE, © The Trustees of the British Museum, no. 1880.21, https://www.britishmuseum.org/collection/object/A_1880-21

King Asoka (ruled 268 – 232 BCE) was one of the most famous kings of the Maurya Empire. Asoka embraced Buddhism and began to support that religion. He built thousands of Buddhist shrines. But one of the most unusual things he did was to make up edicts, or announcements of rules about morality and behavior, and have them carved on pillars and rocks all over the Maurya Empire. Since rock is very durable, most of these edicts can still be read. This excerpt from the edicts discusses the role of the dhamma mahamatras, officials who were supposed to make sure people obeyed dhamma. Asoka made sure that the edicts were translated into all the languages spoken in the area around the rock or pillar. What people lived in the western part of the empire? How would the edicts, the shrines, and the dhamma mahamatras spread the religion of Buddhism to the edges of the Maurya Empire and beyond? Vocabulary dhamma: the word dharma in the Prakrit language, which many people in India spoke at the time. To Asoka, a person’s dhamma was to follow Buddhist teachings, live in peace, and give charity. domain: empire shrine: place of worship

It is widely accepted that the words on the rock and pillar edicts were personally dictated by King Asoka himself, providing insight into his own voice, thoughts, and ideas as a ruler. Asoka’s edicts were generally about moral issues, centered around the concept of dhamma, moral behavior by people of all religions. Greeks lived in the western part of the empire, because the Mauryas had extended their control into Central Asia, where Indo-Greek states, such as Bactria, were located. The edicts were situated along major trade and pilgrimage routes with the intention that they would be widely read. Asoka’s efforts to spread Buddhism were a major reason that this religion began to move outside of India into Central Asia to the northwest and Sri Lanka to the south. He may also have sought to use the spread of Buddhism as a means of spreading his power and influence throughout Asia.

All sects are honoured by me in many ways, but I regard that to be my principal duty (viz. meeting the people personally). This dharma edict was caused to inscribed when I had been anointed twenty-six years'