A critical look at identification of Aśoka with Devānāmpriya of major rock edicts
In my previous article, I provided evidence that Sandrokottos of Greek accounts should be identified with Chandragupta-I of Imperial Gupta dynasty instead of Chandragupta Maurya. However, this identification is invalidated based on the second sheet anchor of Indian history.
The second sheet anchor is the identification of Devānāmpriya Priyadarśī of major rock edicts with Aśoka Maurya, the grandson of Chandragupta Maurya. In this article, we will take a critical look at this identification.
It was Princep, who identified Devānāmpriya Priyadarśī with Aśoka Maurya in 1838. Initially, Princep identified Antiochus III the Great as the contemporary of Aśoka, as shown below :
“The discovery I was myself so fortunate as to make, last year, of the alphabet of the Delhi pillar inscription, led immediately to results of hardly less consideration to the learned world. Dr. Mill regarded these inscriptions as all but certainly demonstrated relics of the classical periods of Indian literature. This slight remainder of doubt has been since removed by the identification of Piyadasi as Aśoka, which we also owe to Mr. Turnour’s successful researches; … I have now to bring to the notice of the Society another link of the same chain of discovery, which will, if I do not deceive myself, create a yet stronger degree of general interest in the labours, and of confidence in the deductions, of our antiquarian members than any that has preceded it. … But the principal fact which arrests attention in this very curious proclamation, is its allusion to Antiochus the Yona, (Sanskrit Yavana) or Greek king. … Mr. Turnour fixes the date of Aśoka’s accession in B.C. 247, or 62 years subsequent to Chandragupta, the contemporary of Seleucus. Many of his edicts are dated in the 28th year, that is in B.C. 219, or six years after Antiochus the Great had mounted the throne.”
However, in the same year, and just a month later, Princep claimed Antiochus I or II as the contemporary of Aśoka, instead of Antiochus III the Great, as follows :
“In continuation of the discovery I had the pleasure of bringing to the notice of the Society at its last meeting, I am now enabled to announce that the edicts in the ancient character from Gujerat do not confine their mention of Greek sovereigns to Antiochus the ally of Aśoka, but that they contain an allusion equally authentic and distinct, to one of the Ptolemies of Egypt! … It seems therefore more rational to refer the allusion in our edict to the former period, and so far to modify the theory I have lately adopted on prima facie evidence of the treaty of Aśoka with Antiochus the Great, as to transfer it to the original treaty with one of his predecessors, the first or second of the same name, Soter or Theos, of whom the former may have the preference from his close family connection with both Ptolemy and Magas, which would readily give him the power of promising free communication between India and Egypt.”
The identification of Devānāmpriya Priyadarśī of the inscriptions with Aśoka Maurya of the Mauryan dynasty confirms that the contemporary of Alexander and Seleucus was Chandragupta Maurya, grandfather of Aśoka Maurya, and not Chandragupta I of the Imperial Gupta Dynasty. In the thirteenth rock edict of Devānāmpriya Priyadarśī, five Greek rulers are mentioned who are supposed to be his contemporaries :
“And this (conquest) has been won repeatedly by Devanampriya both here and among all (his) borderers, even as far as at (the distance of) six hundred yojanas, where the Yona king named Antiyoka (is ruling), and beyond this Antiyoka, (where) four-4-kings (are ruling), (viz. the king) named Turamaya, (the king) named Antikini, (the king) named Maka, (and the king) named Alikasudara, (and) towards the south, (where) the Choḍas and Pāṇḍyas (are ruling), as far as Tāmraparṇī.”
This is the piece of evidence on which the chronology of Indian history rests. Five Greek kings mentioned by Devānāmpriya Priyadarśī are Antiyoka, Turamaya, Antikini, Maka and Alikasudara. Their phonetic equivalents are Antiochus, Ptolemy, Antigonus, Magas, and Alexander respectively.
Although it has been known for long that there is an alternative identification possible for first sheet anchor of Indian history, no one has come up with a reasonable alternative identification for second sheet anchor of Indian history so far. An alternative explanation was given by Somayajulu, as quoted by Pandit Kota Venkatachelam. According to him, Devānāmpriya Priyadarśī was not Aśoka Maurya but Aśokāditya, which was another name of Samudragupta :
“The so-called inscriptions of Aśoka do not belong to Aśoka. Most of them do not make any mention of Aśoka. If one or two mentions Aśoka they do not refer to Aśoka Vardhana of the Maurya dynasty, but they refer to Samudragupta of the Gupta dynasty who assumed the title of Aśokaditya.”
The problem is that there is no evidence whatsoever that Samudragupta ever took the title Aśokaditya. Also, there is no match between the known facts about Samudragupta and Devānāmpriya Priyadarśī. Devānāmpriya Priyadarśī is supposed to have fought only one war, the Kalinga war, and had become Buddhist after the war. Samudragupta was a great conqueror, who fought numerous wars, is not known to have waged war on Kalinga and had not converted to Buddhism.
Another proposed explanation is that Antiyoka, Turamaya, Antikini, Maka and Alikasudara are not kings, but the names of regions on the frontiers of ancient India in the second millennium BCE, the time of Aśoka Maurya, according to traditional Indian chronology . Apart from being unconvincing, there is a major problem with this explanation. In April 1958, a rock inscription was found at Shar-i-Kuna near Kandahar in Southern Afghanistan, which is a bilingual inscription in Greek and Aramaic. Prima facie, whoever Devānāmpriya Priyadarśī was, he had Greek subjects who were being addressed through the inscription in Greek. Since Greek colonies on the borderlands of India were formed after the invasion of India by Alexander, it implies that Devānāmpriya Priyadarśī could not have reigned before the time of Alexander. Sethna has presented a feeble explanation that the Greek part of the inscription is a much later addition to the original in Aramaic .
Thus, no satisfactory alternative explanation exists for the identification of Devānāmpriya Priyadarśī. Is Devānāmpriya Priyadarśī really Aśoka Maurya then? We can find out by comparing Devānāmpriya Priyadarśī known from his inscriptions with Aśoka Maurya known from the literature. The information from the inscriptions must match the information from the literature if both of them were same.
There is plenty of literary information available about Aśoka Maurya in, 1. Chronicles of Sri Lanka; 2. Aśokāvadāna as preserved in Divyāvadāna and Chinese versions; 3. Records of Chinese pilgrims; 4. Rājataraṅgiṇī of Kalhaṇa; and 5. Purāṇas . The chronicles of Sri Lanka include Dipavansha and Mahavansha, while records of Chinese pilgrims include travel notes of Fa-Hien and Yuan Xang. The 14 major rock edicts of Devānāmpriya Priyadarśī are given in the “Inscriptions of Aśoka” by Hultzsch . Let us now see whether the description of Aśoka Maurya from literature matches the description of Devānāmpriya Priyadarśī from inscriptions.
The Conquest of Kalinga
According to Rock edict 13, the conquest of Kalinga and the remorse from the ravages of war were the most important events in the life of Devānāmpriya Priyadarśī, but these events find no mention in the literature about Aśoka Maurya. The Kalinga war was the turning point in the life of Devānāmpriya Priyadarśī. After the Kalinga war Devānāmpriya Priyadarśī decided to change his ways and he accepted Buddhism. But literary sources about Aśoka Maurya are totally silent about the Kalinga war and even Basham, author of “The Wonder that was India”, has noted it .
The conversion to Buddhism
According to Rock edict 13, the Kalinga war was the main factor behind the conversion of Devānāmpriya Priyadarśī to Buddhism. However, according to Theravada tradition, he was converted by a seven-year-old monk with no relation to the Kalinga war . According to Fa-Hien, Aśoka was converted by a Buddhist monk, who was being tortured by Aśoka , again with no relation to the Kalinga war. There is no mention in literature that Aśoka Maurya converted to Buddhism due to the Kalinga war.
Third Buddhist Council
According to literary sources, the Third Buddhist Council was held under the patronage of Aśoka Maurya, but there is no mention of it in the edicts of Devānāmpriya Priyadarśī. The absence is very glaring, as Devānāmpriya Priyadarśī describes matters of far less significance in his edicts about what he has done to promote Dharma.
Aśoka had sent his son Mahendra and daughter Sanghamitra to Sri Lanka to spread Buddhism. There is no mention of them in the edicts of Devānāmpriya Priyadarśī. From the inscription on the Allahabad Pillar, we know that Karuwaki was the wife of Devānāmpriya Priyadarśī, and Tivara was their son. However, both Karuwaki and Tivara are not mentioned in literary sources about Aśoka Maurya. In the fifth rock edict, Devānāmpriya Priyadarśī mentions his brothers and sisters, while according to Dipavansa and Mahavansa, Aśoka had killed all his 99 stepbrothers save his own brother Tissa. We have no mention of killing of step brothers in any of the inscriptions. Also, there is no mention of Tissa in any of his inscriptions. It is very strange that there is not a single person that is common to both literary sources about Aśoka Maurya and inscriptions of Devānāmpriya Priyadarśī. Mahendra and Sanghamitrā from literature are not mentioned in the inscriptions, and Karuwaki and Tivara from the inscriptions of Devānāmpriya Priyadarśī are not to be found in the literature about Aśoka Maurya.
Aśoka was a Jain before conversion to Buddhism (Rājataraṅgiṇī 1.101-102). Chandragupta Maurya, grandfather of Aśoka Maurya, was a Jain who had spent the latter days of his life serving the Jain saint Bhadrabahu. Aśoka’s grandson Samprati was also a Jain. So if Aśoka’s grandfather was a devout Jain and his grandson Samprati was a devout Jain, it is natural to assume that Aśoka Maurya was also born a Jain. As Jains and Buddhists are both vegetarians, Aśoka was a vegetarian before and after conversion to Buddhism. However, Devānāmpriya Priyadarśī says in his edicts that before his conversion hundreds of thousands of animals were killed daily in the royal kitchen. This is incompatible with Aśoka always being a vegetarian, first as a Jain and then as a Buddhist.
Aśoka, who is considered an apostle of non-violence, was not so tolerant, even after his conversion to Buddhism. According to Aśokavadana, once Ājīvikas made a painting showing Buddha as subordinate to the founder of the Ājīvika sect. Aśoka was enraged and he ordered all the Ājīvikas of Pundravardhana (North Bengal) to be killed. Eighteen thousand Ājīvikas lost their lives in just one day [9-10]. Devānāmpriya Priyadarśī followed non-violence after his conversion to Buddhism according to his inscriptions, and it would be out-of-character for him to have ordered the massacre of Ājīvikas.
These arguments show that the identification of Devānāmpriya Priyadarśī with Aśoka Maurya is not as sacrosanct as the modern historians would make us believe. The question then is, “who was Devānāmpriya Priyadarśī”? Is there any other candidate for identification as Devānāmpriya Priyadarśī, who will fit the available evidence better? I will present an alternative identification for Devānāmpriya Priyadarśī in my next article. This identification has never been proposed and opens the door for constructing a new timeline of ancient Indian history in which our age old traditions will get validated.
- Princep, J. (1838). Discovery of the name of Antiochus the Great, in two of the edicts of Aśoka, king of India. Journal of Royal Asiatic Society of Bengal, February: pages 156-167.
- Princep, J. (1838). On the edicts of Piyadasi, or Aśoka, the Buddhist monarch of India, preserved on the Girnar rock in the Gujarat peninsula, and on the Dhauli rock in Cuttack; with the discovery of Ptolemy’s name therein. Journal of Royal Asiatic Society of Bengal, March: pages 219-282.
- Hultzsch, E. (1925). Corpus Inscriptionum Indicarum, Vol. I: Inscriptions of Asoka. New Edition. Oxford, UK: Printed for the Government of India at the Clarendon Press, pages 27-71.
- Venkatachelam, K. (1953). The plot in Indian Chronology. Ghandhinagara/Vijayawada, India: Bharata Charitra Bhaskara, page 8.
- Vyāsaśishya, K. (1988). Puranon men Itihasa (in Hindi). Delhi, India: Itihasa Vidya Prakashana, page 181.
- Sethna, K. D. (1989). Ancient India in a New Light. New Delhi, India: Aditya Prakashana, page 359.
- Basham, A.L. (1982). Aśoka and Buddhism – A Re-examination. The Journal of the International Association of Buddhistic Studies, 5 (1): pages 131-143.
- Legge, J. (1886). A Record of Buddhistic Kingdoms, Being an Account by the Chinese Monk Fa-Hien of His Travels in India and Ceylon (A.D. 399-414) in Search of the Buddhistic Books of Discipline. Oxford, UK: Clarendon Press, pages 90-92.
- Mukhopadhyaya, S. (1963). The Aśokavadana. Delhi, India: Sahitya Akademi, page xxxvii.
- Strong, J. S. (1989). The legend of King Aśoka: A study and translation of the Aśokavadana. Delhi, India: Motilal Banarsidass, page 232.
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