King Asoka has come to be regarded as one of the most exemplary rules in world history. His edicts, inscribed on rocks and pillars, proclaim Asoka’s reforms and policies and promulgate his advice to his subjects.
The presents book makes a pioneering attempt to provide the texts of Asoka’s edicts converted into Pali along with English translations discusses pertinent problems, viz: Dates of the edicts, why King Asoka did eulogize Buddha? Who inscribed? For the first time all the edicts and edicts, pillar edicts, cave edicts and edicts inscribed outside India- have been studied together. In addition, tables of chronology of all the edicts have been enumerated. Also provided are the maps giving the exact location of the edicts.
The present rendering of his edicts offers the reader insights into a powerful and capable ruler’s attempt to establish an empire on the formulation of righteousness, reign which makes the moral and spiritual welfare of his subjects its primary concern. The volume would this provide a peep unto the life and personality of king Asoka and is bound to be an asset for the scholars, students and those interested in Ancient Indian History and culture.
Dr. Meena Talim is the first person to be awarded a Ph.D in Pali from University of Mumbai (1960). She was retired as Professor and head, department of Ancient Indian Culture and Pali, St. Xavier’s collage, Mumbai (1990).
Her publications include Buddhavamso (1969), woman in early Buddhist Literature (1972), Bagh Paintings- Identification and Interpretation (2002), Science of Medicine and Surgery in Buddhist India (2009), life of women in Buddhist Literature (in Press), Unidentified and Misinterpreted painting of Ajanta, (forthcoming). She has also written seven books for children and contributed more than seventy-five research papers to reputed Indological journals and Magazines.
Dr. Talim is presently working as Honorary Professor at K.J. Somaiya centre for Buddhist studies, Mumbai and Visiting professor at University of Mumbai, Mumbai.
It is true that life is very unpredictable! I have never thought of studying epigraphy, but now I am much involved in the edicts of Asoka. I entered into the field of epigraphy accidentally. It so happened that a curator of Heras Institute, then Dr. Asarapota found a bundle of estampages of Girnar Rock Edicts while cleaning an old stock from the room of late Rev. Fr. J. Heras. She and the Director of the Institute, Rev. Fr. A. Mascarenhas, handed over the bundle of estampages to me. This I feel was an act of great trust in me, for which I am grateful to them. All these estampages of Girnar Edicts were taken under the supervision of Rev. Fr. Heras, Probably in 1936-1936.
The bundle consists of nine estampages, containing ten Rock Edicts. Rock Nos. I, II, III and IX are missing in this bundle. The remaining ones are not in good condition. They are old, tattered, at times not legible and the pages have become very brittle. Many a time ink has smeared and washed off the letters. Rock edict No. XII is completely in two pieces and it was a difficult job to connect one page with other. I could solve all these difficulties owing to an intuitive thought the thought that Asoka’ s edicts must be closer to Pali and in line with early teachings of Buddhism. I am happy that after transliterating Brahmi script into Devanagari, I could find that my presumption was correct. Hence I have decided to convert all transliterated edicts into Pali and substantiate them with translation into English. I hope this will prove that the edicts of Asoka are more in Pali, little in Prakrit and less in Sanskrit.
In order to have all the edicts of Girnar together, I have copied the missing texts of edicts nos. I, II, III and IX from Dr. Hiranand Sastri. The remaining ten edicts and a neglected fragment of Rock Edict XIII from the estampages were studied. In the beginning I have transliterated Brahmi script into Devanagari script and then converted them into Pali language. Generally the scholars who have previously worked on Asoka edicts have translated the edicts into Sanskrit language.
However, I believe in the views of E.J. Rapson who states, “Buddha and his followers adopted common form of vernacular speech, the then ‘Hindustani’ in which the Pali canon was composed.” I hope this study of converting edits into Pali language will ensure to give us fresh insights and clear vision of King Asoka, his mission and the history of the time. As hi was working on Girnar edicts, I become more ambitions I thought of pursuing all Asokan edicts that are prevalent in India and abroad.
The great scholar Dr. K.R. Norman in his concluding remarks, said:
The kings original were, therefore, inscribed as they had been misheard, miscopied and misinterpreted to a great or less extent by the various members of the secretariat. It must be our aim to remove the faults which have crept on, and try to find out exactly what Asoka said.
I may point out here that such flaws were not only committed by the members of the secretariat of the King Asoka but many a time, words of Asoka were bot correctly interpreted by scholarly community. I feel that the present attempt of mine might reveal exactly, “how King Asoka was and what he had said”
There are certain points, which I would like to explain here :
Once a learned professor of Sanskrit questioned me, “why are you converting edicts into Pali, when they are almost in Pali?” I was surprised felt sad but steadfastly continued my research. I am sure that after reading the present work such questions of doubts and inquisitiveness will not linger in the minds of people.
After reading the estampages of the Girnar edicts, I was convinced that the edicts are dominated by Pali language. This aroused my interest and I decided to study all the edicts of Asoka in detail; I then realized that Asokan edicts are more in Pali; may be 75% in Pali, 20% in Prakrit dialect and 5% in Sanskrit. Dr. R.G. Bhandarkar writes,
We then examined the languages of the inscriptions of Asoka and found that it is either the same as Pali or in the same stage of development and there existed in those times two or three varieties of speech slightly differing from each other.
We do notice three Prakrit dialects as pointed out by Dr. R.G. Bhandarkar, in the inscriptions; but the base of all the edicts is on the Pali language. However, owing to the mixture of these languages and dialects, edicts have become difficult to those who understand Pali. Besides Sanskritisation of inscriptions (by many scholars) have bifurcated edicts completely from Pali. Hence I thought that I should convert the edicts into Pali which this conviction. A conversion of edicts into Pali would definitely make a difference as it would be more closer to Buddhism. Many are the scholars who have dealt with the Asokan Inscriptions, since the second quarter of the 19th century. These predecessors were great scholars of archaeology, philology, orthography, epigraphy and foremostly Sanskritist. With such a towering background of the scholars, I would humbly confess that I do not possess any if such scholarship. Against such illuminous group of scholars, I am only an ardent researcher in Pal, Buddhist studies and ancient Indian culture. My approach to the subject will therefore focus on the study of the edicts through these sources and to find a true clear picture of each edict. At the same time I would like to assure readers that as far as possible I shall not trample down hypothesis, which my predecessors have arrived at. I shall confine myself to three aspects, viz.
a. To review the edict in the light of Pali
b. Thereby search new areas of Buddhism
c. To observe and point out misunderstanding or injustice, if any, done to the edict or to Asoka.
Much has been debated on the ‘language of the edicts’. Vincent smith states.
All the inscriptions are composed in one or other dialect of Prakrit that is to say in vernacular nearly allied to recognize literary languages Sanskrit, Pali and Prakrit books, but not identical with any of them.
Dr. B.M. Barua has elaborately discussed this point and after scrutinising dialects (Prakrits), namely, Ardhamagdhi, Saurseni, Paisachi and Maharastri, he arrived at the following conclusion: “One may hold without fear of contradiction that a clear idea if main dialectical basis of Pali may be formed from the diction of Girnar versions of Asoka’s Rock Edicts.
Dr. R.G. Bhandarkar in his lectures has made a detailed study of Pali language. He draws our attention to the fact that Pali is closer to Vedic Sanskrit than other dialects. He further explained.
Pali represents middle Sanskrit or the usage of that prevailed during the period between the composition of the Brahmanas and Yaska or Panini and must have begun to be formed during that period. We shall hereafter find that latter Prakrits represent the third stage in the development Sanskrit ….called classical Sanskrit the same relation that Pali does to middle Sanskrit.
I am quoting all these scholars for I find that there is a misconception amongst the people about Pali. It is very sad to observe such misunderstanding prevailing amongst some professors, teaching classical languages or ancient Indian History. It is absolutely disheartening to observe that some scholars mention, “The edicts were written according to the language or different regions which was Prakrit but scholars named them Pali.
I am quoting all these scholars for I find that there is a misconception amongst the people about Pali. It is very sad to observe such misunderstanding prevailing amongst some professors, teaching classical languages or ancient Indian history. It is absolutely disheartening to observe that some scholars mention, “The edicts were written according to the language of different regions which was Prakrit but scholars named them Pali.
Dr. R.G. Bhandarkar, in his ‘Wilson Philological Lectures’, has discussed at length proving that,
Pali was at the time a sacred and a literary language among the Buddhist. It is wrong to push Pali into a mere category of dialect. Pali has its own identity as a language. I need not explore this point as the point has been explored by scholarly predecessors. However, I would further say that Pali was ‘Lingua Franca’ of ancient India, even in 6th century BC, which remained intact till the time of King Asoka. Asokan edicts which are found at four quarters of India; evidently prove this conjecture. However, the four Prakrits namely, Maharastri, Magadhi, Paisachi and Sourseni have made an impact on the edicts yet the main kernel of edict is in Pali. Dr.E.J. Rapson has stated, “Buddha and his followers adopted common from of vernacular speech in then ‘Hindustani’ in which Pali canon was composed.”
Dr. R.G. Bhandarkar has accepted this view and further enlightened us,
Extensive record of inscriptions from 250 BC to AD 450 could not possibly have been a living popular language, spoken over such an extensive area and over such period as seven centuries, but may, in all likelihood have framed the ‘Lingua Franca’ or ‘Hindustani’ of ancient time from circa BC to AD 450.
Similarly, Drs. Fleet and Prof. Rhys mentioned that inscriptions ranging between 300 BC to AD 100 are all in Pali, closely allied to and bases upon the vernaculars. Thus, scholars are of the opinion that inscriptional language current up to AD 450 was practically Pali or closer to Pali.
One can observe the same texts of edicts at different places have different versions. Dr. Bhikkhu Jagadisa Kassapa has enlightened us on this point, by giving an example of major Rock Edict-I at Girnar, Jaugada and mansehara. He writes that as
Pali language came in contact with different provinces it was polluted with the dialects of the regions which is evident in above Asokan edicts; and by reading all these versions one can realize that they are different forms of the same language and are alike.
Pali was not only popular language of the people but was also considered as a sacred language of the Buddhists. Besides, it was also a literary language of the Buddhists scriptures and much study was done on this aspect by Buddhists missionaries to enhance the literary forms of the language. The biographies and autobiographies that were written in Pali claim to be the first in the history of world literature. Similarly; Pali helped to enrich inscriptions of Buddhist and Hindus too.
Pali unlike Sanskrit was mainly written in prose form and very less in poetry or verse from. The same method can be observed in the inscriptions of king Asoka was well acquainted with the Tipitaka. Hence he could have followed the style in his inscriptions. Dr. R.G. Bhandarkar brings to our notice, “It thus appears that the Pali was at that that time (of Gautamiputra) a sacred language and literary language among the Buddhists. And so was the language of other inscriptions. This means that the influence of Asokan edicts was so great that later Hindu king Gautamiputra satakarni (2nd cent. AD) also adopted the same style without any hesitation. This great Hindu ruler of satavahana dynasty has many inscriptions to his credit, including those at Nasik and Kanheri. Dr.R.G. Bhandarkar has observed that,
The range of inscriptional language extending from Asokan period to Vaishanava inscriptions of satakarni and satavahana dynasty which are practically the same as Pali of Buddhist scriptures.
Dr. S. Settar thinks that,
Evidence of the pre-Asokan times show that there was a common mode of communication –common script and a common language –which was intelligible to people settled at both ends of the Mauryan state.
As regards the question raised by Dr. R.G. Bhandarkar, namely, how is it possible for a language to spread over such a wide area and pass through seven centuries without decay or transformation? I can suggest a historical factor that may be taken into consideration. We know that in India, at the beginning of 1st sent. AD, Theravada Buddhism started dwindling at a very slow phase. We need not go to find the causes for it, as it would be a separate issue itself. In spite of this fact, the popularity of Pali as a sacred language remained intact till the first quarter of the 5th cent. AD. Secondly, king Asoka had elevated Pali to make a diction of his inscriptions. The impact was so much that later rulers of satakarnis and satavahanas followed the same diction; and the Pali diction thus remained the same. These rulers without making much hassle copied the idea of inscribing on rock, using the same language that King copied the idea of inscribing on rock using the same language that King Asoka has used. As pointed out by Dr. R.G. Bhandarkar some of these inscriptions were engraved so late as the 3rd cent. AD when Pali could hardly have been vernacular, but it becomes the sacred language of the Buddhist and hence it was used in these inscriptions as Sanskrit was in order.
It is indeed sad to hear the statements made by some, such as No epigraphy without Sanskrit (Dr. H.S. Ritti) or ‘Asokan Brahmi’ is an intrusion. I shall not deal with the above points raised by scholars but only point out the Mahavagga (Likkhitakacoravattu and Upalidarakavatthu) gives enough references to prove an official use of Pali language in 6th cent. BC. In the court of king Bimbisara of Magadha (6th cent. BC) writing reports, charge –sheets or choosing profession as a writer was very common. This means that the script (Brahmi) used for administrative purpose was handed down from generation to generation in the court of Magadha and King Asoka made use of it in the edicts..
Asokan edicts when converted into Pali will prove that Pali is an indigenous language having a separate identity and perhaps may help to eradicate for it. On the other hand, Pali is not averse to Sanskrit but two-fifth Vedic Sanskrit is retained in Pali. Buddha had said to his monks, “I allow you, oh monks to teach the word of Buddha on one’s own language.” King Asoka has also allotted a honourable place for regional languages in his edicts and hence inclusion of dialectic- words were not prohibited.
I find it difficult to understand why some scholar are giving undue importance to Prakrit words found in Asokan edicts. We know the Pali Vinaya Pitaka too contains many Prakrit words were accepted in Pali without much ado about it, e.g.,
Kaddhati (Prk-Maharastri) = take away
Addhudha (Prk-Maharastri)= one fourth (helf of half)
Lagula (Prk-Maharastri) =stick of wood
Cumbata (Prk-Maharastri) = a coil
Candana (Possibly a non- Aryan word=dravida)
Oakkusa (non –Aryan word referring to non-Aryan)
Pali (Prk- Maharastri) = around
There are some scholars who are not happy about the repetitions that occurred in Asokan edicts. Vincent smith writes,
It is true that many of the inscriptions are as in Rock Edict XIV, full of repetitions which jar on the ear of the European reader but such repetitions are even still more prominent in the Buddhist-Pali canon, and were the result of Asoka deliberate choice.
I personally do not see any involvement of Asoka in the language of the edicts, nor is it his deliberate choice. If we take into consideration the age of the Tipitakas before 1st cent. BC (till the time of Vattagamini, when it came into writing), all the three pitakas were learnt by heart and were memorized by monks. Hence, repetition was inevitable in Pali. The science of Mnemonics accepts as one of the essential features of learning and it is one of the devices of mnemonics. Thus, ‘Pali’ an ancient language of India (2550 BC) made use of it, which seems to have known only to ancient Greeks and Romans (2000 BC).
Almost all the scholars who have worked on Asoka’s edicts have converted the texts of edicts into Sanskrit and accordingly translated the edicts into English. There may not be great difference in Sanskrit conversion and Pali conversion yet many a time the fundamental principles of Buddhism and the traditions are completely ignored. Similarly the finer and suggestive literary evidences are trampled down. Buddhists way of life that is reflected in the edicts is not taken into consideration and foremostly the words in the edicts that throw flood of light on Asoka, his methods and his involvement, go unnoticed.
Secondly one can observe that the scholars who have converted texts into Sanskrit have a habit of blending together two or three sentences of the edicts and give an English rendering in small paragraphs. This many a time results in omitting important words and sometimes even sentences. I feel that this method has proved very harmful to the original text of the edicts as the subtle and important hints given in the edicts are lost and such omissions in translation are definitely not justifiable.
On the other hand, texts of edicts converted into Pali given a smooth flow and help to understand them correctly. Besides, there is no need to make a perpetual attempt to shift the words or make change in the sentences. There is no hazard in understanding a true and purposeful meaning which intended in an edict.
I have while converting edicts into Pali, taken a precaution to keep each and every line of the text at its original place, neither put together sentences nor shifted any word of the edict. Another great advantage by converting edicts into Pali is keeping an emotional sway of the sentences intact. I think one must consider the fact that these edicts have been inscribed predominantly in the Buddhist period and by King Asoka hence are bound to be parallel to Buddhist. So why not they be converted in the language of the Buddhist, namely, Pali? I sincerely feel that conversion of the edicts into Pali would provide us a true picture of the edicts.
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