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The Asoka Inscriptions: Analysing a Corpus

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Item Code: HAN881
Author: Herman Tieken
Publisher: Primus Books, Delhi
Language: English
Edition: 2023
ISBN: 9789355725677
Pages: 504
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 9.5x6.5 INCH
Weight 724 gm
Book Description
About the Book

The Asoka Inscriptions: Analysing a Corpus attempts a textual and literary analysis of the inscriptions of Asoka-the oldest in India-and their relationship as a corpus. Unique in both content and format, the inscriptions primarily engage with ideas of good kingship and dhamma rather than with donations made or the celebration of territorial conquests, the usual topics of later inscriptions. They are also characterized by a division that determined their distribution across the realm: the Rock Edict Series (consisting of fourteen edicts) was intended for people living near the borders of Asoka's realm while the Pillar Edict Series (six in number) was meant for people living at the empire's centre. Meant to be part of a project to commemorate Asoka, the inscriptions also testify to the existence of an epistolary tradition in the subcontinent, as the texts themselves were selected by later Maurya kings from the letters sent by Asoka to his representatives across the empire.
A detailed study of the texts also allows a fresh look at many old problems such as those concerning the monument commemorating the Buddha's birth, mentioned in the Lumbini inscription, while raising new questions like the apparently random order of the individual edicts of the Rock Edict Series in Erragudi, which differs significantly from those at other sites.

About the Author

Herman Tieken studied Sanskrit and Tamil at the Kern Institute of the University of Leiden in The Netherlands, where he later taught Sanskrit. His areas of interest are Kavya literature in Sanskrit, Prakrit and Apabhramsa, as well as Jaina texts, classical Tamil poetry and the Asoka inscriptions. His work on these inscriptions, which he has published widely, fits into his longstanding interest in the arrangement and internal cohesion of texts and in textual corpora.


THE SO-CALLED ASOKA inscriptions are the oldest inscriptions in South Asia. They have been ascribed to the Maurya king Asoka from Pataliputra in Magadha, known from the Puranas and Buddhist legendary literature," who reigned during the third century BC. They are not only the oldest inscriptions but are also unique because of their contents. With a few exceptions, they do not register donations or the raising of monuments nor do they proudly commemorate military expeditions, as most later inscriptions do. Instead, we learn of a king haunted by the distress he had caused people in newly annexed territories, and of a king promoting his dhamma among his subjects so that they would attain a place in heaven. The inscriptions include two
1See Richard Salomon, Indian Epigraphy: A Guide to the Study of Inscriptions in Sanskrit, Prakrit, and the Other Indo-Aryan Languages, New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998. This does not include the Harappan seals and early graffiti.
2E.g. the Dipavarisa, Mahavama and Asoka-avadana.
3 Exceptions are the inscriptions at Lumbini and Nigliva, which commemorate the king's visits to these sites and the building activities initiated by him there. In addition, there is the so-called Queen's Edict found on a pillar at Allahabad, a curious document, which orders that the gifts made by the second queen should be registered in the name (her name?) of Kaluvakt, the mother of Tivala (see K.R. Norman, 'Notes on the So-called "Queen's Edict" of Asoka', SHE, vol. 3, 1976, pp. 35-42). Equally curious is the Calcutta-Bairat inscription, in which 'King Piyadasi of Magudha [sic]' recommends a number of texts from the Buddhist canon for study by the monks and nuns of the local samgha.

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