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Updated: December 21, 2011 12:34 IST

Aspects of Asokan edicts

Y. Subbarayalu
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The Mauryan period is one of the well-documented and well-researched periods in early Indian history. There are already several studies on the stone inscriptions of the time of Asoka, the third Mauryan king. Those inscriptions, popularly known as ‘Asokan edicts', are spread over a major part of India and outside up to Kandahar in Afghanistan, and they are the most important sources of study.

This book by Dilip K. Chakrabarti, a well-known archaeologist and scholar, is another significant contribution to the historiography of the Asokan times. It is concerned with the geo-political aspects of the locations of the Asokan edicts. Though many aspects of this study are already familiar to students of Asokan history, the work has its own significance, in that it presents rich first-hand geographical information gathered through extensive field visits.


Chakrabarti first looks at the locations of the minor rock edicts, then the major rock edicts, and finally the pillar edicts. Recognised as the earliest Asokan records, the minor edicts are taken up for consideration in the form of recognisable clusters. In the author's view, these were put up by the side of highways, some of which survive till now or could be traced by some other means. It is argued that the southern clusters found in Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh were overlooking the communication network linking the Konkan coast on the West and the one proceeding towards the Tamil country on the South.

Of the 14 major rock edicts analysed, Sopara near Mumbai is considered particularly important for the Mauryan state for controlling the sea traffic. The two sites in Orissa — at Dhauli and Jaugada — were chosen for their strategic importance in controlling the land route along the East coast from Eastern Ganga plains to the deep South. Incidentally, the author also tries to locate the site where the famous Kalinga battle took place. As for the sites in Andhra-Karnataka, special attention is paid to the new site of Sannati on the banks of the Bhima river, which, because of its elaborate fortification, is identified with Suvarnagiri, one of the four provincial capitals of the empire. In this, Chakrabarti differs from the earlier scholars who either located it near Erragudi in Kurnool District or near Maski in Raichur District. The way myriads of geographical names, places, rivers, and roads are presented, a non-professional reader may find it difficult to follow them without the aid of good maps. And the maps given in the book are inadequate.

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