Sep 3, 2019

Ashoka: the Search for India's Lost Emperor - Review

Charles Allen one of the great chroniclers of India, a traveller, and a historian his book Ashoka The Search for India's Lost Emperor is a discovery of the Great Indian King who patronised Buddhism and showed religious tolerance.

The above book has 16 chapters, The Breaking of Idols, The Golden Column of Firoz Shah, Objects of Enquiry, Enter Alexander, Furious Orientalists, The Long Shadow of Horace Hayman Wilson, Prinsep's Ghat, Thus Spake King Piyadasi, Brian Hodgson's Gift, Records of the Western Regions, Alexander Cunningham the Great, Sir Alexander is Excelsis, Corpus Inscriptionum Indicarum, India after Cunningham, Ashoka in the Twentieth Century and The Rise and Fall of Ashokadharma.

This book is not about the life history of Ashoka, as many may feel, it is about how the great king and his work once again brought to the general public.

The entrance of British colonial rule in India paved the way in finding out the lost and forgotten period of ancient India. The laborious work carried out by John Marshall (1670), Jesuit priest Joseph Tiefenthaler (during the 1750s), jurist, scholar, philologist and a child prodigy able to speak fluently in thirteen languages William 'Oriental' Jones (1770s), James Prinsep (1830s) followed by Alexander Cunningham and John Marshall the man behind the discovery of Indus Valley Civilization and finally the Asiatic Society re-discovered Ashoka.

Not only the above mentioned the early writings such as Vishnu Purana, Mahavamsa and the travel accounts of Xuangzang helped to shed light on the subject. 

Click the above image to enlarge.

The book further delves into how the Brahmi script was deciphered, the findings of Rock Edicts, Pillar Edicts and stupas. The author also gives us the facts about the burning down the Buddhist library by a warlord Muhammed Bakhtiyar, removal of the golden pillar by Firoz Shah, the brahmans who tried to suppress the records and some kings after the Mauryan dynasty defaced most of the structures erected by King Ashoka. 

The above image shows King Ashoka faints on seeing the condition of Bodhi Tree. Click the above image to enlarge. The images are from Wikipedia.

The general consensus on the date of Ashoka.
(1) 302 BCE - Birth of Ashoka.
(2) 285 BCE - Birth of Ashoka's eldest son Mahinda
(3) 282 BCE - Birth of Ashoka's eldest daughter Sangamitta.
(4) 274 BCE - Death of Bindusara.
(5) 270 BCE - Ashoka anointed as the King by the help of Chanakya's grandson.
(6) 265 BCE - Ashoka's conversion to lay Buddhist.
(7) 261 BCE - Conquest of Kalinga.
(8) 260 BCE - Ashoka issues first Minor Rock Edicts and also starts his stupa building programme.
(9) 259 BCE - Ashoka issues Kalinga Rock Edicts.
(10) 253 BCE - Ashoka inaugurates Third Buddhist council.
(11) 252 BCE - Ashoka sends his eldest son Mahinda to Lanka to institute missionary programmes.
(12) 243 to 242 BCE - Ashoka issues Pillar Edicts.
(13) 240 BCE - King Ashoka celebrates the five-year festival.
(14) 239 BCE - Death of Ashoka's Queen.
(15) 235 BCE - Ashoka's marries Tishyarakshita. And also Ashoka celebrates the five-year festival.
(16) 234 BCE - Queen Tishyarkshita leads Anti-Buddhist faction and is executed. Followed by Ashoka's grandson and son of Kunala, Samprati becomes the heir apparent.
(17) 233 BCE - King Ashoka dies in Cock Monastery.

The Rock and Pillar edicts of King Ashoka is given as an appendix. The narration in the book takes us to the 3rd century BCE, for the past one month I have been living in that century, enjoying every page of the book. A collectors edition for history buffs especially Indian history.

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