ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Ashoka in Retrospection

Romila Thapar’s impressive scholarship is deployed to a more or less discursive reading of Ashoka’s pronouncements. But the socio-economic base of such studies tends to get blurred. Ashoka, we come to know, took upon himself the task of spelling out new principles of governance and rule founded on Dhamma which amounts to an ethical relationship among his subjects above narrow loyalties of tribes and sects. Ahimsa was both an ethical norm and a social lubricant reducing tension and friction among a diversity of people in different levels of economic advance and cultural sophistication.

Romila Thapar’s impressive scholarship is deployed to a more or less discursive reading of Ashoka’s pronouncements. But the socio-economic base of such studies tends to get blurred. Ashoka, we come to know, took upon himself the task of spelling out new principles of governance and rule founded on Dhamma which amounts to an ethical relationship among his subjects above narrow loyalties of tribes and sects. Ahimsa was both an ethical norm and a social lubricant reducing tension and friction among a diversity of people in different levels of economic advance and cultural sophistication. This is a fresh insight. But why was it necessary to establish and maintain such an empire? Not the overweening ambition of the ruler, who had a different vision from that of Alexander. One presumes, with the backing of Kosambi, that expansion of trade and economic exchange was the motive force behind such a political promulgation of Dhamma

Second, the erasure from memory of Ashoka’s tremendous undertaking was evidently the result of a systematic brahminical effort lasting centuries, which made even resilient folk abandon the memory of one of the greatest world-figures. The narrowing down of Dhamma to mean strict Varnashrama not only implies a narrowing of mental horizons, but also a sad constriction of exchange and cooperation, with the more or less self-sufficient village as the microcosm of Indian society.

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