The Geographical Locations of The Rock Edicts of Asoka

THE locations of the edicts are of geographical importance, as the selection of their sites was not arbitrary. They were deliberately placed either near habitations, or on important travel routes, or at places of religious interest, thereby ensuring that they would be available to as many people as possible. The reasons for the choice of a particular site will be given in this appendix. Such an analysis demands considerable archaeological evidence to substantiate literary and epigraphical indications. Unfortunately not all the sites have as yet been excavated. Therefore, in some cases the reasons can only be regarded as suggestions. Concerning the importance of the sites in south India we must keep in mind that the area within which most of the edicts have been found tallies closely with the gold-mining area of the south. The Arthasastra mentions this activity in the south, and speaks of gold as a special commodity of trade with the south. Thus this region was of tremendous economic importance and this may have been the prime reason for the selection of some of the southern sites. The inscriptions were probably situated in the well-inhabited mining areas or along the main routes to this area. The list of sites is given in alphabetical order.

AHRAURA. The site lies 23 miles south of present day Banaras. It was probably on the route from Magadba to the west coast, as were Sabasr Amand Rupanath.

ALLAHABAD-KOSAM (Pillar Edicts I-VI, the Queen's Edict, and the Kausambi Edict or Schism Edict). The importance of Allahabad, the old Prayaga was largely due to its being a pilgrim centre. It lay on what was then a great sandy plain between the two rivers, the (Ganges and the Yamuna Hsuan Tsang describes it as a place sacred to Hindus and relates many legends regarding its temples. Since the Kausambi Edict is directed to the mahamattas of Kausambi, this pillar was originally situated at the latter site. The site is the same as modern Kosam on the left bank of the Yamuna, twenty-eight miles south-west of Allahabad. Kausambi having been a place of religious importance in Buddhist times may well have attracted pilgrims from various parts of the country and would therefore have been an excellent site for the edicts. The Asokan pillar was inscribed on, at later period by various rulers including Samudragupta and Jahangir. It would appear from Samudragupta's inscription that the pillar was still at Kausambi during the Gupta period. Probably Jahangir was responsible for its removal to the fort at Allahabad, which he did in imitation of Firoz Shah, who had brought similar pillars from Topra and Meerut to Delhi. Both Allahabad and Kausambi being on the river Yamuna, the transportation of the pillar would not have been too difficult.

BAIRAT(Minor Rock Edict and the Bbabra Edict). Bairat is located in Rajasthan,forty-two miles north-east of Jaipur. It has been identified with Viratathe capital of the Matsya state. The presence of the Bhabra Edict addressed specifically to the Sangha is explained by the fact that the remains of two monasteries have been discovered on a hill about a mile south-west of Bairat. More recently, excavations in the region revealed a brick chamber resembling a stupa. It may have been an early Buddhist shrine of a period prior to the emergence of the stupa as a regular Buddhist feature. This points to Bairat being an old and established centre of Buddhism.It was thus both a centre of religious activity and an important city of the region, with a large population.

BARABAR HILL CAVES (Donatory inscriptions to the Ajivika sect). The inscriptions in these caves are donatory, and therefore their significance does not rest in the particular importance of their site. The caves were in a group of hills girdling the city of Rajagrha.

BROACH is not mentioned in the edicts nor is it the site of any Asokan inscription, but from other evidence it was clearly the most important commercial centre for trade with the West and as such must have held a prominent position during the Mauryan period. It is mentioned with great frequency in the Periplus. Since the ports of Saurastra had communication with the cities in the Ganges basin they became important in the course of this trade. Furthermore the Aparanta area to the west of the Mauryan empire, had considerable Greek and Persian contacts, which no doubt the people of this area wished to maintain.

BRAHMAGIRI(Minor Rock Inscription). Excavations at the site have revealed considerable archaeological evidence pointing to Brahmagiri having been an important centre in south India even well before the Mauryan period.Continual habitation for many hundreds of years resulted in its emerging as an influential town, particularly after it had become one of the southern outposts of the Mauryan empire. It may also have been the starting point of pilgrimages to the sources of the two rivers, Godavari and Kaveri.

DELHI-MEERUT and DELHI-TOPRA (Pillar Edict, I-VI and I-VII respectively). The Delhi-Meerut and the Delhi-Topra pillars are so called because they were transported to Delhi by Firoz Shah from their original sites at Meerutand Topra. Both these places lie to the north-west of Delhi. Neither of these two sites has been excavated as yet so that the reason for their being selected as the location for the Pillar Edicts remains uncertain. It would appear that both sites were important stopping places on the road from Pataliputra to the north-west. If there were caravanserals at these two points no doubt a fairly large habitation must have grown up around them.

DHAULI (Major Rock Edicts). The Dhauli inscription has been cut high on a rock in a group of hills which rise abruptly from the surrounding plain. The site has been identified with Tosali which is mentioned by Ptolemy as a metropolis. It was situated near the sacred pool of Kosala-Ganga and thus developed into a religious centre as well. The identification of Dhauli with Tosali is most convincing and is borne out by the text of the 1st Separate Edict which is addressed to the mahamattas of Tosali. It seems reasonable that the edicts would be as near the city as possible if not actually within it.

GAVIMATH (Minor Rock Edict). Gavimath is situated in modem Mysore and is one among the group of places in the neighbourhood of Siddapur where this edict is found with great frequency. Its importance may have been largely due to its being a mining area or on an important route.

GIRNAR (Major Rock Edicts). The importance of Girnar is not difficult to account for. It is situated one mile to the east of Junagarh in Kathiawar. That it was a site of immense importance is amply proved by the number of major inscriptions to be found there, including apart from those of Asoka,those of Rudradaman and Skandagupta. It is mentioned as Girinagar in the  Brhat Samhita. By tradition the mountain is regarded as sacred both to Brahmans and Jainas. Its importance was increased by the fact that during the reign of Candragupta a dam was constructed on the Sudarsanalake in the neighbourhood of Girnar. The Rudradaman inscription informs us that the lake was originally built by Pusyagupta the provincial governor of Candragupta. Subsequently conduits were worked from it by Tusaspa in the reign of Asoka.It refers to the town of Girinagar in the vicinity. It appears from the inscription of Skandagupta that the lake continued to supply water to the surrounding area until well into the Gupta period, eight hundred years later.Since it was the source of water for irrigation it must have been the focal point in the area. It is possible that in the Asokan period the city of Girnar was closer to the lake than is the present site of Junagadh,since it would have been more practical to build the city as near the water supply as possible. Thus the hill on which the inscription was engraved was the centre of considerable activity.

GUJARRA (Minor Rock Edict). Gujarra is located near Jhansi in the Datia district. It appears to have been on one of the more important routes from the Ganges valley to the west coast, possibly via Ujjain to Broach.

JATINGA-RAMESHWAR (Minor Rock Edict). This sitelies about three miles from Brahmagiri and the inscription belongs tothe Mysore group. It might originally have been a place of religiousinterest since the inscription is within the precincts of the present Jatinga-Rameshwar temple.

JAUGADA (Major Rock Edicts, similar to the Dhauli version).The inclusion of the two Separate Edicts among the Jaugada series wouldpoint to its being within Kalinga. It is now a ruined fort in theBehrampur taluka of the Ganjam district. It is situated on the northernbank of the Rishikulya river. The two Separate Edicts are addressed tothe mahamattas of Samapa, which was probably the name of the town inthe Mauryan period. The area covered by the ruins would suggest thatthe town must have been a fairly large one, and the presence of thefort might point to its having been a military centre. Its proximity tothe sea may have given it the added advantage of trade and maritime activities.

KALSI (Major Rock Edicts). The town of Kalsi lies at thejunction of theTons and Yamuna rivers, which in itself would give it religioussignificance. Recent excavations at the site have revealed a brickaltar inscribed with Sanskrit verses placed almost opposite the rock inscription. The altar marked the site of the fourth aivamedhaof King Ailayarman during the third century A.D., indicatingthereby that the site was of some significance during that period. Thesection of the Ganges plain lying between the foot-bilb of theHimalayas and DelL has always been a strategic area. It controls theentrance to the plain extending farther east. The main artery fromnorth-west India to the east also runs through this region, a roadsystem which was constantly maintained by Indian rulers and which untilrecent years was called the Grand Trunk Road. KiWi being in the lowerhills of the Himalayas was possibly the controlling centre of thisarea. It may also have bordered on the region inhabited by the Nibhaka tribes.

KANDANAR(Bilingual Greek-Aramaic Inscription). The site of the inscription isShar-i-Quna, the old city of Kandahar in southern Afghanistan. It grewto importance with the establishment of trade between the Hellenicworld and north-west India after the campaigns of Alexander hadcatablishcd contact. Kandahar dominated the southern route from Indiato area farther west. The presence of a sizeable Greek-speakingpopulation is attested to by the fact that the edict is in Greek as well as Aramaic.

LAMPAYA (AramaicInscription attributed to Asoka). The Lampaka Aramaic Inscription nowin the Kabul museum was found at the site of Lampaka or Lambakagenerally identified with the modern Lamghan on the northern bank of the Kabul river near Jalalabad. The inscription has been connected withthe Asokan period on the basis of the text referring to the setting up of a pillar inscription by Devanampiya.

LAURIYA-ARARAJ(Pillar Edicts I-VI). The pillar is situated at this site in northernBibar. Its importance was probably due to the fact that the areawas associated with Buddhism and consequently had a religioussignificance. It has also been suggested that the pillars in this region marked the course of the royal road from Pataliputra to Nepal.

LAURIYA-NANDANGARH(Pillar Edicts I-VI). This site is also in northern Bihar close to thevillage of Nandangarh and to the above site. Some funerary mounds havebeen discovered near the pillar which are believed to be of apre-Buddhist period, and it has been suggested that these may have beenthe ancient caityas of the Vrjjis referred to by theBuddha. Recent excavations at one of these mounds produced a mixture ofcontents, including punch-markedcoins, cast copper coins and terracotta figurines and clay sealings of the first century B.C.

MAHASTHAN (Pre-Asokan Mauryan Inscription). The inscription was found at Mahasthangarh in the Bogra district of Bengal. The site was probably the headquarters of the local administrator (of the eastern section of the empire), its name during that period having been Pundranagara, as is mentioned in the inscription. The mahamatta of Pundranagarais described as being in charge of measures for famine relief. So far, excavations at the site have revealed terracottas of the Sunga period.

MANSEHRA (Major Rock Edicts inscribed in Kharosthi). The site is that of a village in the Hazara district of the north-west province of Pakistan. The site lay on an important pilgrim route and was on the main road running from the north-west frontier to Pataliputra and beyond. It was probably also chosen because of its proximity to the northern border.

MASKI (Minor Rock Edict). Maski is located in the Raichur district of Hyderabad. Anidentification of Maski with Suvarinagiri has been suggested but it isunacceptable as will be clear in the consideration of the location of Suvarnagiri.

NIGALI-SAGAR (Pillar Inscription). The purpose of erecting apillar at Nigali-Sagar is clear from the inscription. It was originallysituated near the stupa of Buddha Konakarnana to recordfirst the enlargement of the stupa and later Asoka's visit to the site.Hsuan Tsang writes that he saw the pillar at the site of the Konakamanastupa, six miles from Kapilavastu, and that the pillar was surmounted by a carved lion.Neither the stupa nor the lion have so far been found,since the pillar has been removed from its original site. It is now near Rummindei, within Nepalese territory.

PALKIGUNDU (Minor Rock Edict). Palkigundu lies at a distanceof four miles from Gavimath. This site again belongs to the group around Brahmagiri.

PATALIPUTRA(it is mentioned in one of the edicts, but surprisingly noversion of any of the edicts has been found in the neighbourhood). Theidentificationof Pataliputra is certain and its geographical importance is wellknown.It was the capital of the Mauryan empire and at the time of Asoka had along history going back three centuries to the rise of Magadha. It isreferred to in literary sources both European and Indian and in theedicts of Asoka.Extensive excavations have shown that the city existed in certain sitesin and around modern Patna, probably by the river, the course of whichhaschanged somewhat through the centuries. These excavations haveunearthedthe wooden palisade which surrounded the city of Pataliputra and whichwas mentioned by Megasthenes. The pillared hall of the palace, similarin many ways to that of Persepolis and the arogya vihara(sanatorium) have also been found, including various smaller objectssuch as beads,terracottas, coins, and pottery of a type usually associated with theMauryan period.

RAJULA-MANDAGIRI (Minor Rock Edict). This site is included in the southern group of inscriptions not far from Yerragudi.

RAMPURYA (PillarEdicts I-VI). Rampurva is located thirty-two miles north of Bettiah innorthern Bihar. This area between the Ganges and the Himalayas, beingextremely fertile, was no doubt heavily populated and would thus be agood region for edicts. In addition many of the places sacred toBuddhism were in this area, and probably attracted pilgrims from all over the country.

RUMMINDEI (Pillar Inscription). The Rummindei Pillar standsnear theshrine of Rurnmindei just within the border of Nepal. The pillar waserectedby Asoka to commemorate the birth-place of the Buddha, the Lumbinigrove.It is thought that the pillar locates the actual place, Rummindei beingthe modern name for Lumbini. According to Hsuan Tsang the pillar had ahorse capital which had been struck by lightning, and the pillar itselfhad broken in the middle. Today the lower shaft of the pillar stillstands, the upper part having been split into two. There is no trace of the capital.

RUPANATH(Minor Rock Edict). The location of Rupanath is on the Kaimur hills near Saleemabad in Madhya Pradesh. The existence of a linganow makes it a sacred place to Saivites. It may have been of religiousimportance even in the Asokan period visited by Hindu pilgrims. It wasprobably also along an important route. The route from Allahabad(Prayaga) to Broach mustcertainly have passed via Rupanath. From Allahabad there is a rise overthe Kaimur hills. Thence to Jabulpur would be a fairly easy stretchalongthe top of the plateau. Jabulpur lies close to the Narmada and fromherethe route has merely to follow the valley of the Narmada, arrivingdirectlyat Broach. An alternative route to Jabulpur may have been fromPataliputra following the hills. This would explain in part the importance of Sahasram.

SAHASRAM (Minor Rock Edict). It is located in the Shahabaddistrict of Bihar not far from the river Son, and ninety milessouth-west of Patna. Thesite of the inscription is not far from the modern town of Sahasram.Theedge of the Kaimur hills extends as far as this point. The existence ofa town here would confirm our view that there was a route from Patna,upthe Son valley, across the plateau to Jubbalpur and then down theNarmada valley to Broach. Sahasram would then be an important town on the northern edge of the plateau, the outpost of Magadha before therather uncertain journey across the plateau.

foot of Asoka pillar Foot of Asoka pillar near stupa 1 at SanciBase of Asoka Pillar near Stupa 1 at Sanci (1)

SANCHI(Schism Edict). The modern name of Sanchi (or Sanci) was giventothe site at a comparatively late period, since it was known asKakanadabota, from the Buddhist period until that of the Guptas. Thefragmentary surviving inscription addressed to the dhamma-mahamattas andundoubtedly theSangha, would point to Sanchi being an important Buddhist centre eveninthe Asokan period. It is apparent from archaeological evidence that thestupa was enlarged and encased in its presentcovering during theSunga period. No doubt the nearness of Sanchi to Ujjain gave it addedimportance.It is located near Bhopal, a few miles from Bhilsa, believed to be theancient Vidisa.

SARNATH (Pillar Inscription, Schism Edict addressed to the mahamattas).The location of Sarnath is three and a half miles fromBanares. This pillar is situated in a place of immense importance tothe Buddhists, since it was at Sarnath that Buddha preached his firstsermon. There appearsto have been an important monastery at Sarnath to the monks of whichthisedict was also directed. Hsuan Tsang writes that he saw the pillarcarrying the inscription in front of a stupa said to havebeen built byAsoka. Apart from its religious importance, Sarnath was an importantcentreof trade. Being on the banks of the Ganges it had a fair control overriver traffic, which in those days of small boats, and not many roadsmust have been of a considerable magnitude, despite the fact that thetown lay so farup the river. Its position midway between Prayaga (Allahabad) andPataliputra(Patna), meant that it must have acted as a point of exchange for goodscoming from either place. It appears to have been included among thetowns reached by the main road running from the north-west to Pataliputra.

SHAHBAZGARHI(Major Rock Edicts, inscribed in Kharosthi). The position of this siteis near Mardan in the Yusufzai area of Peshawar. An attempt has beenmade to identify it with Arrian's description of Bazaria or Bazira.According to Hsuan Tsang who calls it Po-lu-sha, the town wasconstructed on the ruins of an ancient stone-built city, which wouldconfirm Arrian's description. The area around Shahbazgarhi has not yetbeen excavated, therefore there is no confirmation from archaeologicalsources. If there was a town at this site during the Asokan period, asseems very probable, it was regarded as a frontier town, although notactually on the frontier, with an importance similar to modern frontiertowns such as Peshawar. It would also have been linked to the main highway.

SIDDAPUR(Minor Rock Edict). Siddapur lies one mile to the west of Brahmagiri,and three miles south of the location of the Jatinga-Rameshwarinscription. This group of inscriptions may have marked the southernboundary of the empire,in addition to their importance from other points of view which we have already considered.

SOHGAURA (Copper-plate Inscription of the Mauryan period). Sohgaura is located in the Gorakhpur district of Uttar Pradesh.

SOPARA (Major Rock Edict. Fragment of the 8th Edict). Sopara situated in the Thana district of Bombay is the site of air ancient sea-port and town,which no doubt was of importance during the reign of Asoka. It has been identified with the Soupara of Ptolemy, described as a commercial centre. Its ancient name was Supparaka. Sopara was an advantageous position for an inscription since being a sea-port, the edicts would be read by a constant stream of people coming and going. Furthermore,foreigners visiting the port would thus be made acquainted with the Dhamma of Asoka.

SUVARNAGIRI(Minor Rock Edict). Suvarnagiri is the modern town of Kanakagiri south of Maski in Hyderabad. The word means 'golden mountain' and this has been connected with the ancient gold-mining area in Raichur which to this day shows traces of ancient gold workings. Suvarnagiri was the capital of the southern province of the empire.

TAMRALIPTI. This Mauryan sea-port is generally identified with the modern Tamluk in the Midnapur district of Bengal. It was the principal port on the mouth of the Ganges. The chronicles from Ceylon refer to it as Timalitti. Fa-hsien writes that he embarked from Tamralipti for Ceylon. Hsuan Tsang records having seen some stupas built by Asoka at the same site. Apart from the sea traffic it controlled the river traffic going up the Ganges.Evidence of Mauryan occupation of Tamluk is available from archaeological remains as well.

TAXILA. Taxila is mentioned frequently in the literary sources on the Asokan period. It was the capital of the northern province and one of the main cities of the empire.Archaeological remains indicate a high degree of craft and culture. The importance of Taxila can be accounted for by various reasons. Its long history of contact with regions to the west resulted in its becoming a cosmopolitan centre. It was noted as a place of learning and was the residence of well-known teachers. It was the meeting point of three major trade routes, the royal highway from Pataliputra, the northwestern route through Bactria, Kapisa, and Puskalavati (Peshawar),and the route from Kashmir and Central Asia, via Srinagar, Mansehra,and the Haripurvalley. When the sea traffic with the West increased, the land route through Bactria and Peshawar became less important and this was one of the factors which led later to the decline of Taxila.

UJJAIN. Ujjain was the capital of the western province of the empire. Apart from its political importance, it was, similar to Taxila, the meeting point of many routes. It was connected with the ports on the western coast,particularly Broach and Sopara and controlled much of the trade that passed through these ports. Some of the southern routes terminated at Ujjain,which was in turn linked with Pataliputra. Ptolemy refers to it as0zene.It was a Buddhist centre during the Mauryan period and judging by the importance of its monasteries, had a long history as such. An excavation of a mound at Kumhar Tekri four miles north-cast of Ujjain,reveals that it was a burial-cum-cremation ground dating back to before the third century B.C. Hsuan Tsang writes that not far from Ujjain was a stupa constructed on the site where Asoka had built a 'Hell'.

YERRAGUDI (Major Rock Edicts and Minor Rock Edict). Yerragudi is situated eight miles from Gooty on the southern border of the Kurnool district, and is eighty miles north-east of Siddapur. Clearly it was a site of some significance since both the Major and the Minor Edicts are to be found here. No remains of a town have yet been discovered in the area, but it is  possible that a frontier town may have existed at the site, with a route leading through it to the south Indian kingdoms.


1)Asoka pillar: 3rd century BC - 1st century AD. Photo around 1920.DigiBeeld nr.13991. Stupa 1 with remains of Asoka pillar, Sanci.;SilverGelatine Developing Out Paper (OGZ); Kern Institute, Leiden University.The picture is in the free domain. The picture of the base of the pillar is cut from the picture of the stupa as a whole.