Tuesday, 6 September 2011
Discuss the comparative merits of Ashokan inscriptions over the literary evidences, as a source of information, for the study of Mauryan Empire.
The Mauryan Empire is the first and one of the greatest empires in Indian history, supposedly established by Chandra Gupta Maurya by overthrowing Nandas and expelling Greek Kshatrapas of North-West India, and later conquest of the Deccan provinces. Ashokan inscriptions and the literary sources play a crucial role for the study of Mauryan Empire.
Among the literary sources, ‘Indika’ by the Greek ambassador ‘Megasthenes’ is of some relevance as it throws light on socio-economic and political conditions of the Mauryan age. However, Indika is just available in fragments, in the form of quotations in the works of later Greek writers. Also, the observations of Indika have been contradicted in ‘Arthasastra’ authored by ‘Chanakya’. Most of the historians doubt the reliability of Arthasastra based on its date and the age of Mauryan Empire, supposedly to be non-contemporary. In spite of its limitations, Arthasastra is considered as a treatise on statecraft and administration of its age. Later works like ‘Mudra Rakshasa’ of ‘Visakadatta’, describes the rise of Mauryan Empire, however not very reliable and trustworthy.
Ashokan inscriptions form the core of epigraphic sources and are of immense help of learn about Mauryan Empire. The minor, major rock and pillar edicts of Ashoka give us abundant and authentic information about his conquest, dhamma and socio-economic conditions of his reign. Major Rock Edict XIII, being most important, discusses the conquest of Kalinga, geographical extent of Mauryan Empire and propagation of Dhamma. Major Rock Edict XII consists of Ashoka’s appeal of equal respect to all sects, virtuous qualities to be possessed and the sins to be abstained from. The Pillar Edict II calls for the moral code of conduct and social harmony. In totality, Ashokan inscriptions, concentrate simultaneously on material and moral welfare of the subjects. The major thrust is on the propagation of ‘Dhamma’ lay the means of non-violence, religious tolerance and righteousness. The diplomatic relations with Hellenic world is thoroughly described in Major Rock Edict XIII.
Ashokan inscriptions are much reliable sources than the literary texts because the texts contain serious flaws and supposedly biased and superficial nature. Whereas Ashokan inscriptions are trustworthy and reliable because they provide detailed information of Ashoka’s reign and later interpolations are not possible.
In conclusion, through Ashokan inscriptions are very handy and informative than the literary sources, a corroborative study is essential, to derive a complete and rational picture of the Mauryan Empire.