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Nature of Ashokas Dhamma = Responsible for the downfall
of MaURYAN empire?
What was the nature of Asoka's Dhamma?
Till very recently historians were confused as to the true nature of
Asoka's Dhamma. Some pointed that Buddhism and Asoka's Dhamma
are one and the same. But after a deep analysis of Asokan Edicts on
Dhamma it has been found the these are two different things and one
should not be confused with the other.
Indeed, Asoka embraced Buddhism after the Kalinga war.
According to Romila Thapar, Dhamma was Asoka's own
In his Dhamma, Asoka had suggested a moral life that was
convenient to follow.
Dhamma incorporated a way of life that included a number of
ideals and practices.
Abstinence from killing, respect to elder moderation in
behaviour, etc. were the ideals that could be follow- by all
No matter to what religion they belonged. In conclusion it may be
said that Buddhism was the personal religion of Asoka while
Dhamma was the way of life that he wanted, as a king, the people
in general to follow.
Ashokas dhamma meant righteousness.
The concept of dhamma is well discussed in Ashoka edicts
which were the oldest surviving documents of Indian history.
The edicts found scattered all over the Indian subcontinent are
basically official pronouncement of policy, and instructions of
Ashoka to his officials and subjects.
Ashoka is said to have underwent a complete charge of heart
after Kalinga war during his eight regnal year and thus visualized
The traditional policy of territorial expansion was substituted by
Dhamma. As mentioned in Ashokan edicts, Dhamma calls for certain
virtues to be possessed and the negative traits to be abstained from. It
gives a moral guidance to the subjects and stresses on social harmony
and religious tolerance.
Respect to elders, parents teachers; equal treatment to all
religious sects, ahimsa, moderate accumulation of wealth and
judicious spending etc, are dealt with in detail in the Major Rock
Edicts VII and III respectively.
The major rock edict IX condemns rituals as the source of
ignorance and Ashoka appeals for non-sacrifice of animals in
ceremonies and food habits.
The Major Rock Edict V speaks about the welfare activities
undertaken and the appointment of Dhamma Mahavratas to
propagate Dhamma. Ashoka strived for the moral and spiritual
development of his subjects. He even undertook pilgrimages and
sent his kith and kin as missionaries to propagate Dhamma
1. Ashoka's creation of the institution of the Dhammamahamattas
convincingly proves that Asoka's Dhamma did not favor any particular
religious doctrine. Had that been case, then there would have been no
need for such an office, as Ashoka could have utilized
the organisation of Samgha to propagate Dhamma.
2. A careful study of Rock Edicts depicts that Ashoka wanted to
promote tolerance and respect to all religions sects and duty of the
Dhammamahamattas included working for the Brahmans and Sarmans.
In totality, Dhamma was not a religion but a way of life.
Relevance in the current Society ?
Ashokas Dhamma holds good even in the present society.
Dhamma is distinguished by several characteristic doctrines and
philosophical positions.
Tolerance was insisted upon as an absolute duty, which is very
much necessary for multi-religious country India.
Dhamma is completely cosmopolitan and has universal
It can act as a panacea for the religious and social unrest
currently prevailing in India.
In conclusion, Dhamma being secular in nature and advocates
humanitarian approach, making it a very practical solution. Dhamma
promotes social equality and is realistic. So, Dhamma is the need of
the hour of the present India. Ashokas Dhamma has all-time
applicability in a divergent Indian society.
Was Ashoka's Dhamma responsible for the downfall of his empire?
According to the historians, the sole cause behind the decline of
the Mauryas after Ashoka was his weak successors.
After Ashoka`s demise, there was none among his heirs to equal
the gigantic task of maintaining unity within the vast Empire.
Moreover the successors of Ashoka had been reared in the
tradition of non-violence and the policy of Dharma Vijaya.
To them, aggressive imperialism initiated by Chandragupta
Maurya was a dim idea.
As a result they had neither will nor the strength to bridle the
process of disruption within the Empire.
None of Ashoka`s successors except Dasharatha could really
understand and implement the Dharma Vijaya policy inaugurated
by the enigmatic man.
The later Mauryas followed the policy of Dharma Vijaya only by
forbidding any armed resistance against the invaders and
internal revolutionaries. As a result the very foundation of the
Mauryas was shattered.
However downfall of the Mauryan Empire cannot solely be attributed to
Ashoka's Dhamma..infact der were many other genuine reasons due
which the EMPIRE could not STAND as follows :-
1. The Partition of the Mauryan Empire:
An immediate cause for the decline was the partition of the
Mauryan Empire into two halves .
"Had the partition not taken place, the Greek invasions of the
north-west could have been held back for a while. The partition
of the empire disrupted the various services as well."
2. Weak later-Mauryan Rulers:
The succession of weak Mauryan rulers after Asoka completely
disrupted the Mauryan administration.
The weak ness of these rulers can be imagined from the fact that
as many as six rulers could rule only 52 years over the eastern
part of the empire and finally the last Mauryan King was
assassinated by his own commander-in-Chief Pusyamitra
These weak later-Mauryan rulers could also not con tinue the
traditional policies of the Mauryas.
3. Asoka's Responsibility for the Decline:
Many scholars have accused Asoka as being directly
responsible for the decline of the Mauryan Em pire.
H.C. Raychaudhuri maintains that Asoka's pacifist policies were
responsible for undermining the strength of the empire.
He says: "From the time of Bimbisara to Kalinga war the history
of India was the story of the expansion of Magadha from a tiny
state in South Bihar to a gigantic empire extending from the foot
of the Hindukush to the borders of the Tamil country.
4. Pressure on Mauryan Economy:
D.D. Kosambi has expressed the opinion that there was
considerable pressure on Mauryan economy under the later
This view is based on the increase of taxes and debasement of
later- Mauryan punch- marked coins.
But contrary to the above, the foreign accounts and the material
remains of the period give a picture of an expand ing economy
5. Highly Centralized Administration:
Prof. Romila Thapar is of the view: "The machinery of the
Mauryan administrative system was so central ized that an able
ruler could use it both to his own advantage and that of his
people, to the same degree it could become harmful to both
under a weak ruler who would lose its central control and allow
forces of decay to disintegrate and wreck it."