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Lions On Ashokan Pillars

  • King Ashoka, a convert to Buddhism, made a decision to erect pillars. The pillars were erected all over the Magadha region in Northern India. The qualities of King Ashoka were written on these pillars.
  • Ashoka, the 3rd king of the Mauryan dynasty, was the 1st leader to accept Buddhism and the 1st main sponsor of Buddhist art. After seeing the bloodshed which resulted from his occupation of the village of Kalinga, Ashoka converted to Buddhism. Ashoka didn’t force anyone to become Buddhist, and Buddhism was not declared as the state religion, but due to Ashoka’s support, it spread rapidly and widely.
The Pillars
  • Among Ashoka’s first artistic plans was to construct the pillars which are now spread all over Northern India. The heights of pillars differ from 40 to 50 feet. They are carved from 2 different kinds of stone—one for the capital and another for the shaft. The shaft was engraved from a single piece of stone. The stone from quarries in Chunar and Mathura in northern India were dragged and cut by labourers. Each pillar weighed approximately 50 tons. The first pillar was found out in the 16th century. Just 19 of the original pillars still exist.
Lotus and Lion
  • The Buddhist doctrine is stressed by the physical presence of the pillars. In most of the pillars sculptures of animals are on top. An inverted lotus flower also tops each pillar. This flower as well as the animal which is on top of it constitutes the capital, the uppermost part of a pillar. A majority of pillars are topped with a bull or a lion. The animals are always carved from a single piece of stone. In many cultures, the lion also indicates leadership or royalty.
The Edicts
  • Some pillars had declarations engraved upon them. The declarations were translated in the 1830s. Since the 17th century, 150 Ashokan declarations have been found engraved into the face of cave walls, rocks, and the pillars, all of which marked his kingdom which stretched across India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. The pillars and rocks were positioned in border cities and along trade routes where the declarations would be read by the greatest possible number of people. They were also built at pilgrimage places such as at Sanchi, where the Great Stupa of Sanchi is situated and Sarnath, the site of Buddha’s First Sermon where he shared the Four Noble Truths, and Bodh Gaya, the place where Buddha attained enlightenment. Presently the pillar is at its original site. The capital is displayed at the Sarnath Museum. This pillar is the Indian national symbol. It is shown on note of one rupee and coin of two rupees.
  • A stupa is a burial hill for a respected person. When the Buddha expired, he was burnt and his remains were divided and buried in many stupas. These stupas turned into pilgrimage sites for Buddhists.
  • Some pillars were also engraved with dedicatory engravings, which name Ashoka as the sponsor. Some of the declarations are written in a style which is closely linked to Sanskrit. A pillar in Afghanistan is engraved in both Greek and Aramaic. A few of the engravings are irreligious in nature. Ashoka makes an apology for the bloodbath in Kalinga and promises the people to keep only their welfare in mind. Some admire the good works which Ashoka has carried out, highlighting his wish to provide for his people.