In the year 262 BC, having been on the throne for eight years, the emperor Ashoka raised a great army and moved against the independent kingdom of Kalinga on the eastern seaboard in present-day Orissa.
It’s a battle he famously won, but not without a staggering loss of human life. In his own account of the conflict, he records that 100,000 people were killed, and 150,000 living persons were carried away captive, many to perish later.
This proved to be a turning point for Ashoka, who renounced violence and went on a personal pilgrimage to Buddhist sacred places, ending up in Bodhgaya at the foot of the famous bodhi tree. This marked the beginning of a new order. Ashoka took the Buddhist ideas of compassion and self-possession and combined them with the Jain ideas on non-violence, and he used them as the basis of both personal morality and politics. Much of his thinking would not be out of place today, “Forests must not be needlessly destroyed,’ he said. Other laws called for the preservation of many animal species, from the Ganges porpoise, the rhino, and even the white ant.
He recorded his thoughts and actions on a series of edicts carved initially on rocks in prominent places across his empire, and subsequently on huge monolithic polished stone pillars. About sixty have been discovered so far, a third have only been known about for the last fifty years.
Located in a small neighbourhood park in East of Kailash, not far from the ISKCON temple on Raja Dhirsan Marg is one of Ashoka’s Rock Edicts.
The remains of the inscription (in Brahmi script) are on a smooth rock face projecting from the top of a rocky hillock, and can be seen through the railings of an ugly concrete shelter.
The park seems to have a constant stream of Buddhist pilgrims visiting the site, the gate to the shelter was closed and is probably always locked so I tried to get a photo of at least some of the inscription but it’s almost impossible to achieve successfully.
This is considered to be one of Ashoka’s minor rock edicts, and does little more than emphasise the importance of a Buddhist way of life :
” It is two and half years since I became a Buddhist layman. At first no great exertion was made by me but in the last year I have drawn closer to the Buddhist order and exerted myself zealously and drawn in others to mingle with the gods. This goal is not one restricted only to let the people great to exert themselves and to the great but even a humble man who exerts himself can reach heaven. This proclamation is made for the following purpose: to encourage the humble and the great to exert themselves and to let the people who live beyond the borders of the kingdom know about it. Exertion in the cause must endure forever and it will spread further among the people so that it increases one-and-half fold “
This edict was only discovered in 1966 by a building contractor. It’s an important part of Delhi’s history because it implies that somewhere nearby was a settlement important enough in the 3rd century BC for an edict to have been carved. Either that or it was at the junction of a number of important trading routes, which itself would probably have resulted in some sort of human settlement in the vicinity.
Although this is not considered to be one of Ashoka’s major rock edicts, it’s staggering to think that something of this age have survived 2,200 years in the heart of Delhi. The fact that these edicts were placed on prominent rocky outcrops probably prevented it from being built upon.
If you want to visit the Ashokan Rock Edict be aware that hardly anyone seems to know that it exists. None of the auto drivers I flagged down had any idea of it, and even showing them the location on Google maps didn’t seem to help matters. So be prepared to be the navigator yourself when you venture out to explore this location.
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