King Asoka, the third monarch of the Indian Mauryan dynasty, has come to be regarded as one of the most exemplary rulers in world history. The British historian H.G. Wells has written: "Amidst the tens of thousands of names of monarchs that crowd the columns of history ... the name of Asoka shines, and shines almost alone, a star." Although Buddhist literature preserved the legend of this ruler -- the story of a cruel and ruthless king who converted to Buddhism and thereafter established a reign of virtue -- definitive historical records of his reign were lacking. Then in the nineteenth century there came to light a large number of edicts, in India, Nepal, Pakistan and Afghanistan. These edicts, inscribed on rocks and pillars, proclaim Asoka's reforms and policies and promulgate his advice to his subjects. The present rendering of these edicts, based on earlier translations, offers us insights into a powerful and capable ruler's attempt to establish an empire on the foundation of righteousness, a reign which makes the moral and spiritual welfare of his subjects its primary concern. The Australian bhikkhu Ven. S. Dhammika, the compiler of the present work, is the spiritual director of the Buddha Dhamma Mandala Society in Singapore.
Quick Facts Type Syllabic Alphabetic Genealogy Brahmi Location South Asia Time 5th century BCE to 4th century CE Direction Variable (Horizontal) The Brahmi script is one of the most important writing systems in the world by virtue of its time depth and influence. It represents the earliest post-Indus corpus of texts, and some of the earliest historical inscriptions found in India. Most importantly, it is the ancestor to hundreds of scripts found in South, Southeast, and East Asia. This elegant script appeared in India most certainly by the 5th century BCE, but the fact that it had many local variants even in the early texts suggests that its origin lies further back in time. There are several theories on to the origin of the Brahmi script. The first theory is that Brahmi has a West Semitic origin. For instance, the symbol for a resembles Semitic letter 'alif. Similarly, dha, tha, la, and ra all appear quite close to their Semitic counterparts. Another theory, from a slightly different school of thought, proposes a Southern Semitic origin. Finally, the third theory holds that the Brahmi script came from Indus Valley Script. However, at least in my personal opinion, the lack of any textual evidence between the end of the Harappan period at around 1900 BC and the first Brahmi and Kharoshthi inscriptions at roughly 500 BC makes the Indus origin of Brahmi highly unlikely. Yet on the other hand, the way Brahmi, and its relative Kharosthi, works is quite different from Semitic scripts, and may point to either a stimulus-diffusion or even indigenous origin. The situation is complex and confusing, and more research should be conducted to either prove or disprove any of the theories. Brahmi is a "syllabic alphabet", meaning that each sign can be either a simple consonant or a syllable with the consonant and the inherent vowel /a/. Other syllabic alphabets outside of South Asia include Old Persian and Meroïtic. However, unlike these two system, Brahmi (and all subsequent Brahmi-derived scripts) indicates the same consonant with a different vowel by drawing extra strokes, called matras, attached to the character. Ligatures are used to indicate consonant clusters.