What does Ashokan inscriptions tell about the Mauryas? Describe the limitations of the inscriptional evidences.
The Asokan inscriptions give us a lot of information about the Mauryas. Asoka was one of the greatest Mauryan kings who engraved several of his orders and doctrines on rocks and stones.
- Most of the Asokan inscriptions are written in Pali and Prakrit. Because these inscriptions were engraved for the common people, it indicates that these were the local languages of the people. In northwestern parts of the subcontinent, the inscriptions were in kharosthi script as the Greeks had ruled this region.
- Asoka in one of his inscriptions has laid down that earlier rulers had no arrangements to receive reports.
- The Asokan inscriptions shed light on the policy of dhamma followed by Asoka. According to the Asokan principle of dhamma, elders should be respected, slaves should be treated kindly and religious tolerance should be practised. These highlight the liberal principles of the Mauryan ruler.
- One of the Asokan inscriptions also narrates the pain of the king after the Kalinga War in which thousands of soldiers were killed. After the war, the king embraced Buddhism.
Limitations of inscriptional evidences
Inscriptions are writings engraved on hard surfaces such as stone, metal or pottery. Inscriptions usually recorded the order, activities or achievements of kings. They are great sources of history as they narrate the victories and policies of rulers.
It is not easy to decipher inscriptions which were written thousands of years ago. Some letters may be faintly engraved which makes it difficult to read them. Inscriptional evidences cannot be taken at face value. It is because they only recorded the orders of the kings and rich priests. Not everything that we may consider politically or economically significant was necessarily recorded in inscriptions. For example, routine agricultural practices and joys and sorrows of common people do not find mention in inscriptions. Similarly, the Asokan inscriptions only mentioned Asoka's policy of dhamma, but the reactions of the people towards his policies have not been recorded in any inscriptions. Thus, inscriptional evidences need to be juxtaposed with other historical perspectives so as to arrive at a better understanding of the past.