Ashoka’s Dhamma – Ancient India History Notes

Ashoka, also known as Asoka, was India’s last important ruler, ruling from 238 to 238 BCE. The Dhamma policy of Ashoka was a way of life and code of behaviour that the people were to follow. In his edicts, he emphasised his Dhamma policies. The majority of Ashoka’s inscriptions are on Dhamma (the Prakrit word for dharma). The topic of Dhamma was widely appealing to people of all faiths. Dhamma did not have any rules or regulations. Asoka’s favourite of the basic principles was tolerance. This article will explain to you the Ashoka’s Dhamma which will be helpful in Ancient History preparation for the UPSC Civil service exam.


  • Son of Mauryan Emperor Bindusara and Subhadrangi. Chandragupta Maurya’s grandson
  • His other names were Devanampiya (Sanskrit Devanampriya, which means Beloved of the Gods) and Piyadasi.
  • He was born in 304 BC.
  • His reign lasted from 268 BC until 232 BC, when he died.
  • As a young prince, Ashoka was a skilled commander who put down revolts in Ujjain and Takshashila.
  • As Emperor, he was ambitious and aggressive, re-establishing the Empire’s power in southern and western India. But it was his conquest of Kalinga (262–261 BCE) that proved to be the defining event of his life.
  • He became a Buddhist. Moggaliputta Tissa, a Buddhist monk, became his guru.
  • In 247 BC, Ashoka presided over the third Buddhist Council in Pataliputra, which was presided over by Moggaliputta Tissa.
  • The Dhamma is the subject of the bulk of Ashoka’s inscriptions (the Prakrit word for dharma).
  • People of various faiths were drawn to the concept of Dhamma. There were no laws or restrictions in Dhamma.


  • Dhamma’s programme was a sincere attempt to address some of the challenges and conflicts that a complex society faced.
  • The policy was developed as a result of Ashoka’s private empire. In later years, Ashoka was impacted by his close social context.
  • The Mauryan kings had a diverse viewpoint. In his later years, Chandragupta turned to Jainism, whereas Bindusara preferred the Ajivika.
  • Ashoka practised Buddhism in his personal life, but he never forced it on his subjects.
  • The Mauryan imperial structure had become complicated by the time Ashoka rose to the throne, incorporating many cultures, religions, and social and political tendencies.
  • Ashoka had to choose between maintaining the system by force, which would involve enormous costs, and defining a set of social standards that would be acceptable to all social behaviours and religious beliefs.
Ashoka and his Dhamma (Edicts)

Ashoka and his Dhamma (Edicts)

  • The concepts of Dhamma were developed to be acceptable to people from all cultures and religions. Dhamma has no formal definition or structure.
  • It promoted tolerance of individuals and care for slaves and servants; it emphasises loyalty to elders; and giving to the destitute, Brahmans, and Sarmanas.
  • In order to achieve concord, Ashoka called for tolerance of various religious factions.
  • Dhamma’s strategy also includes other welfare initiatives, such as tree planting and well digging.
  • Ceremonies and sacrifices were deemed useless by Ashoka.
  • To execute and popularise the many components of Dhamma, a corps of officials known as Dhamma mahamatras were established.
  • Ashoka charged them with spreading his message to diverse segments of society.
  • However, they quickly evolved into a form of Dhamma priesthood with immense powers and soon began to participate in politics.
  • Dhamma was obviously a non-religious concept.
  • The basic features of the dhamma that we may conclude from this huge rock edict and other important rock edicts are as follows:
  • Major Rock Edict I – Animal sacrifices and festival gatherings are prohibitedI.
  • Major Rock Edict II – Describes the Cholas’, Pandyas’, Satyaputras’, Kerala Putras’, Ceylon’s, and Antiochus’ worldwide medical missions for men and animals. Therapeutic plants and trees are planted along the roadways, and wells are dug.
  • Major Rock Edict III – Yuktas (subordinate officials), Rajukas (rural administrators), and Pradesikas (district chiefs) were directed to tour every five years and propagate Dhamma after 12 years after his consecration.
  • Being obedient to one’s mother and father, friends, and relatives, as well as being charitable to Brahmans and sramanas, are all part of it.
  • Major Rock Edict IV – The sound of the drum has changed into the sound of Dhamma, revealing to the people the divine form.
  • Major Rock Edict V – In his fourteenth year of rule, Buddha describes the institution of the dhamma-mahamatras, or Dhamma officials.
  • It also examines the humane treatment of servants by masters and the treatment of captives by government authorities.
  • Major Rock Edict VI – It explains the monarch’s connection with his subjects via the Mahamattas, and the Mahamattas are now expected to report to the king at any time and from any location.
  • Major Rock Edict VII – It promotes religious tolerance throughout the board.
  • Major Rock Edict VIII – In the tenth year of his reign, Asoka made a visit to Bodh-Gaya to view the Bodhi-tree.
  • Following this incident, he constructed the Dhamma-yatas system, which is described in full in this edict.
  • Major Rock Edict IX – Other rites are pointless save for Dhamma, which entails respect for others, including slaves and servants, as well as presents to sramanas and Brahmans.
  • Major Rock Edict X – It condemns fame and glory and reaffirms the benefits of adhering to Dhamma’s philosophy.
  • Major Rock Edict XI – It is a further clarification of Dhamma policy. It emphasises respect for elders, refraining from harming animals, and being generous to friends.
  • Major Rock Edict XII – It is again another call to sectarianism. This proclamation reveals the king’s worry over sectarian warfare and includes his call for concord.
Mauryan state and Dhamma

The Mauryan state and Dhamma

  • Ashoka’s Dhamma was more than just a compilation of lofty words. The monarch owes no one anything in the Arthashastra.
  • His only responsibility was to efficiently rule the state. Ashoka condemned war and violent conquest and prohibited the slaughter of many animals.
  • Ashoka set an example of vegetarianism by nearly eliminating meat intake in the royal household.
  • He dispatched countless missions to spread Dhamma because he desired to conquer the world by compassion and trust.
  • Ashoka also forbade unnecessary sacrifices and certain types of assemblies that resulted in waste, indiscipline, and superstition.
  • Dhamma yatras were also initiated by Ashoka. He and his top officers were to travel the land spreading Dhamma and making direct contact with his citizens.


The great Ashoka was a beloved Maurya Dynasty monarch. The Mauryan Empire lasted 50 years after Ashoka’s death before disintegrating. Brhadrata, the final Mauryan emperor, was assassinated in 185 BCE by one of his generals, Pusyamitra Sunga. Although his dynasty did not rule for long after his death, the Vedas and his directives, which may still be seen today on Ashok pillars and Ashoka’s Palace, carried on Ashoka’s ideals and examples. In addition, Ashoka is the only emperor to surrender after winning a battle. He made this decision after seeing the horror of the Kalinga conflict.

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