Ashoka by Charles Allen

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Ashoka by Charles Allen

Post by Idéfix on Tue Jul 31, 2012 1:54 pm

I picked up this wonderful new book on my India trip. I started reading it on my first flight back. Normally I am deep asleep before the plane pushes back from the gate, and I wake up only for wine and meals. But once I started reading the book, I kept on. Over three flights and two layovers, I couldn't put the book down. By the time the taxi pulled into our driveway, I finished the book.

I haven't read any other books by Charles Allen, but I am going to now. He has written extensively about Indian history and the Orientalists who uncovered large parts of India's forgotten history. This book, just published in 2012, is simply called Ashoka, but it is not a traditional biography. It tells the story of how Ashoka was forgotten by Indians for many centuries, except for his name being mentioned in the puranas along with those of many others. His grandfather Chandragupta's name and deeds survived in Sanskrit literature, but Ashoka himself was lost to history. Allen tells the story of how Orientalists starting with John Marshall and William Jones (who founded the Asiatic Society in Kolkata) painstakingly pieced together evidence to reconstruct Ashoka's fascinating story.

The clues to this puzzle came from many places and epochs. There were the Sanskrit puranas that listed Mauryan kings. There were the Pali historical chronicles of Sri Lankan Buddhism, called Mahavamsa and Dipavamsa. There were the Chinese Buddhist chronicles of Xuanzang and Faxien. And then there were the monumental works commissioned by Ashoka himself. The rock edicts and pillar edicts that he had carved all over the subcontinent in the earliest known form of the Brahmi script, which we now know as the ancestor of all Indic scripts. Allen does a masterful job of presenting the information like a detective story; at every turn he tries to give you just as much information as the Orientalists had and no more.

The book tells the stories of how the Orientalists convinced reluctant Indian scholars to teach them Sanskrit and Pali, how James Princep deciphered the Brahmi script through a stroke of inspiration, and how many priceless archaeological remains were carelessly looted both by Europeans and Indians looking for building material. The story of Princep's deciphering was one of the high points of the book. Princep studied ancient coins from Saurashtra and figured out the meaning of just one character. The character indicated the genitive case singular ("of" or the suffix apostrophe-s in English; the suffix -sya in Sanskrit). He was also studying inscriptions from a pillar in Sanchi that were all short and ended with the same two letters and a dot. He reckoned that might indicate acknowledgement to various donors, and from that he figured out that the letters were dA and na and the dot was the closing m sound -- dAnam in Sanskrit. After that, he quickly figured out the rest of the characters, and was able to read ancient Brahmi and make sense of inscriptions made 2,300 years ago in Magadhi Prakrit.

As one of the quotes in the blurb says: All who relish India's antiquity should read this book.

PS: What made the book particularly interesting for me at this time was that on my trip, I saw two of the clues the Orientalists used to decipher the puzzle: Ashoka's rock edict at Dhauli and the Buddhist caves at Khandagiri, both in Bhubaneswar.

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Re: Ashoka by Charles Allen

Post by Idéfix on Tue Jul 31, 2012 2:22 pm

Here is a good review of the book in The Guardian: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2012/mar/16/ashoka-india-emperor-charles-allen-review

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Re: Ashoka by Charles Allen

Post by Maria S on Tue Jul 31, 2012 2:25 pm

Mr. Carvaka,

I do pay attention to your recos..you may not remember this..but, you recommended the Blackberry to me..it may not the smartest phone anymore (like you'all have moved on and embraced now), but I am sticking to my Blackberry! Ok, I do have an iPad..and the combo- works well for me.

Funny how I was teasing someone for still sticking to/only using their hotmail..when people moved on to yahoo, gmail etc..and I was just reading how hotmail has been redesigned and looks cool now!

Anyways, I kind of like Emperor Ashoka- although he had his bad guy sides (his mom was from Andhra?) ..so will check this book, thanks. There was a Charles Allen who used to write columns in Atlanta JC..who was also a Methodist minister..I assume this author is a different person.








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Re: Ashoka by Charles Allen

Post by Idéfix on Tue Jul 31, 2012 2:32 pm

Maria S wrote:I do pay attention to your recos..you may not remember this..but, you recommended the Blackberry to me..it may not the smartest phone anymore (like you'all have moved on and embraced now), but I am sticking to my Blackberry! Ok, I do have an iPad..and the combo- works well for me.
I had forgotten all about this, but I am glad your are enjoying the Blackberry. Next time, get an Android though Smile.

Maria S wrote:Anyways, I kind of like Emperor Ashoka- although he had his bad guy sides (his mom was from Andhra?) ..so will check this book, thanks.
I didn't know about that theory. Interesting -- Wikipedia says Subhadrangi was from Telangana, will see if I can find any other references. Allen's book says she was from Champaran (which is in Bihar).

Maria S wrote:There was a Charles Allen who used to write columns in Atlanta JC..who was also a Methodist minister..I assume this author is a different person.
Probably a different person -- this guy has written lots of books about Indian history.

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Re: Ashoka by Charles Allen

Post by Maria S on Tue Jul 31, 2012 2:50 pm

panini press wrote: I had forgotten all about this, but I am glad your are enjoying the Blackberry. Next time, get an Android though Smile.

I didn't know about that theory. Interesting -- Wikipedia says Subhadrangi was from Telangana, will see if I can find any other references. Allen's book says she was from Champaran (which is in Bihar).
probably a different person -- this guy has written lots of books about Indian history.



See..have to be careful about the power of suggestion/recommendations..never know who is listening/will remember if it's a good one:) Hmm, we'll see about the Android, am happy with what I have at this time.

I remember a history teacher mentioning something about Ashoka's Mom..he could have been a good SI interested in synthesis- trying to make some connection with a NI Emperor! If you find something reliable, let us know. If true she could be like Sonia Gandhi..who crossed borders and had the heir of a powerful dynasty..those days (but, Sonia herself is the Empress:)

Yes, seems like the author is a different person.


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Re: Ashoka by Charles Allen

Post by Impedimenta on Thu Aug 02, 2012 4:36 pm

Just ordered it on amazon. thanks for the reco. BTW, gone girl is pretty gripping!

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/17/books/review/gillian-flynns-gone-girl-and-more.html

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comments of porus100 in the guardian w.r.to ashoka

Post by rawemotions on Sat Aug 18, 2012 2:46 pm

http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2012/mar/16/ashoka-india-emperor-charles-allen-review

The comments section in this article, by a person name porus100 and his interactions with flaky and ssrrrr are very illuminating!

Worth reading!

His knowledge of history is comprehensive.



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Re: Ashoka by Charles Allen

Post by Guest on Mon Sep 10, 2012 3:15 am

bought this book on kindle last night. younger installed kindle on my phone. reading the first few pages on my phone was a magical experience for me. i can hold the book in my palm or with my fingers; the text is crisp and clear and i can flip pages without having to press down the facing page to avoid hindrance. i can even slide the book into my pocket if disturbed. i don't need bookmarkers. this is even better than an ipad! i had never imagined i'd get to experience this in my lifetime!

i can see how accessible reading has become for me -- i don't need to carry books; my phone is enough.

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Re: Ashoka by Charles Allen

Post by Guest on Wed Sep 12, 2012 9:30 am

the book starts with bhaktiyar khilji. my wife's nanihal or her mom's maiden house is in bhaktiarpur -- a town near nalanda that was renamed after bhaktiyar khilji. it was here that khilji and his men had camped during their long siege on nalanda.

fascinating and suspense laden account of the stone pillars. allen is a good writer. the book is unputdownable.

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Re: Ashoka by Charles Allen

Post by Maria S on Wed Sep 12, 2012 9:38 am

Mr. HK,

It would have been nice..if you could have posted a Yay or Nay or "no comment" (!) in my post - a quote from Haruki Murakami for you in the "Men in Power" thread.. (did make a tiny effort for that!)..

*Sorry to butt into your thread about another thread PP..hope you don't mind!

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Re: Ashoka by Charles Allen

Post by Guest on Wed Sep 12, 2012 9:43 am

yikes, i missed that post. sometimes i skip if any of my posts is not captioned (thus i am not being addressed) or it does not start by addressing me.

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Re: Ashoka by Charles Allen

Post by Maria S on Wed Sep 12, 2012 9:47 am

Huzefa Kapasi wrote:yikes, i missed that post. sometimes i skip if any of my posts is not captioned (thus i am not being addressed) or it does not start by addressing me.



Me too, I skip most of the posts which are not addressed to me- and a few which I know will make no difference whatsoever, if I respond, so why even bother!

Got it..from now on, will do..address you:)

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Re: Ashoka by Charles Allen

Post by Guest on Wed Sep 12, 2012 11:30 am

what a book!! utterly, utterly fascinating. allen lays bare the treacherous journey the orientalists, william jones, took to decipher india's per-islamic history (over and above the puranical glossing over of buddhism). a journey with too many stumbling blocks and gaps. after applying all his reason and learning, william jones, the gifted , the child prodigy, the polyglot and philologist, was forced to believe that the buddha and his followers must have been a benign ethiopian tribe. ha ha! but that was the only obvious and reasonable conjecture he could make then (as anyone would have).

i agree with allen that we diss orientalists a bit too much. they are NOT, as edward said likes to call them, a bunch of "dead white men in periwigs." too insensitive a treatment there by us.

ok no more posts about the book. i don't want to litter space.

texas a lot pp for this reco. or maybe scratch that. no, no, no. you don't have THE THING. you don't deserve thanks. and i need not always agree with you.

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Re: Ashoka by Charles Allen

Post by Idéfix on Wed Sep 12, 2012 12:06 pm

I am glad you like the book! You should post any other thoughts you have about the book -- that's what this space is for, and it's not littering.

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Re: Ashoka by Charles Allen

Post by Guest on Thu Sep 13, 2012 4:10 am

i cried a little the day i learnt that the taliban had destroyed the imposing statues of buddha in bamiyan. today i regret having cried. my religion had done the same in this part of the subcontinent. buddhist sculptures had been defaced and temples erected over buddhist monuments by brahmin zealots and hindu tyrants. a precious culture of the land was mercilessly rubbed off and its memory lost. thank you orientalists. thank you hiuen tsang, i tsing and fa hien. allen does not mention it but buchanan did not discover nalanda by accident. if memory serves me right, i had read that hiuen tsang left geographical markers of nalanda's location in his memoirs (NSEW distances from famous points) which helped track the general location of the university. because such markers do not exist for some other equally famous universities (like vallabhi university in gujarat for one), we have never been able to locate their ruins.

a part of me wishes to go back to being buddhist (as my ancestors, no doubt, must have been). but buddhism is atheistic -- perhaps that is best.

the last words of my philosophy professor in college, sydney morgenbesser, were -- god makes me suffer so much because i do not believe in him. he was an atheist and taught us epistemology. he died a few years ago.

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Re: Ashoka by Charles Allen

Post by Jeremiah Mburuburu on Thu Sep 13, 2012 10:30 am

Huzefa Kapasi wrote:my religion had done the same in this part of the subcontinent. buddhist sculptures had been defaced and temples erected over buddhist monuments by brahmin zealots and hindu tyrants.
your religion is still trying to do the same and worse, including kill, maim, rape, burn down, and disenfranchise people of other religions in a democratic country.

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Re: Ashoka by Charles Allen

Post by Guest on Thu Sep 13, 2012 11:33 am

i am a bit disturbed and rattled by the various accounts of ashoka's last years. i am half way into the book and am pausing to reflect. the acounts from the various sources are by no means authentic but they all agree that his last years were anguished. i spent a few years of my life travelling and reading up on ashoka (that had actually begun as a quest to understand gautama buddha) and by the close of it i had thought i knew all there was to know about the man and i had his mind algorithm'd. but now i am shaken. i am sad that his glorious life had to end this way. but whatever it is, i must know the truth. (the truth, ruefully, to be truthful, nobody knows!)

i also glanced over the footnotes. mercifully, i read, that edward said's hypothesis in orientalism (that i have read and from which a phrase is cited by allen as reproduced above) has been discredited since.

p.s. i read half the book on my phone today. i have to finish it by tomorrow -- as if i have a choice! i picked it up the first thing today after waking! anyway, my phone's battery is completely drained! just keeping the phone on for 12 hours drains all its battery? now i am going to hit the ipad but am tempted to buy the iphone 5 that promises longer battery life (longer than android phones like mine).

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Re: Ashoka by Charles Allen

Post by Guest on Thu Sep 13, 2012 11:44 am

i can understand why the chinese and korean accounts describe gautama buddha's death to be as far back as in 880 BCE. amartya sen touched on this aspect in his the argumentative indian. the confucianists were trying to portray confucius as a disciple of buddha or one who taught him enlightment in order to absorb the buddhist followers (quite the way brahmins did by incorporating buddha as the 9th avatar of vishnu). a war of rewriting history broke out between the confucianists and the buddhists. the buddhists moved the birth of buddha by a decade to discredit the confucianist theory and the confucianists followed suit and it went on and on.

but surprising why tibetan records also show him to be of ~800 BCE. hmm...
as far as a i have read (or told by my guide in nalanda), the monks who fled the onslaught of bhaktiyar khilji were the ones who started the buddhist order in tibet.

these "guides," the scholarly bent of them, are great repositories of truth you will not find in books. they have known and also learnt from tourists. after finishing this book i plan on visiting sir william jones' grave in the wrong end of park street to read his epitaph. i've been there only once as a college student to study the grave of henry vivian derozio. i also plan on visiting the right end of park street where the asiatic society (and hopefully its museum) is located.

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Re: Ashoka by Charles Allen

Post by Guest on Thu Sep 13, 2012 12:15 pm

the friendship of ashoka with devanapiya (king of sri lanka) is heart warming; almost poetic. (in one place allen suggests than ashoka's son mahinda succeeded devanapiya -- i have to check wiki tomorrow and read up all about sri lanka history from devanapiya downwards; i'm familiar only with the post ashokan or pratihara history of sri lanka-- this post is actually a bookmark and this thread a diary -- hey, i have the admins pe'mission, wogay?)

equally poetic is one of ashoka's latter edicts on stone pillars. i am too lazy to type it right now, but emperor ashoka says, in the edict, and i paraphrase, let these edicts shine and survive weather and age; let them be timeless till the suns and moons continue to dance, so that all of mankind can read them for years to come and even beyond. these edicts should have been on the gold record of voyager (ok, i am a bit tipsy right now). i will visit vaishali again. i saw the askok sthump or the ashokan pillar in vaishali. it shined above the darkness around it. on closer examination, i found inscriptions. not the brahmi one but the colonial, victorian ones. "i love so and so" carvings from one officer to one emily and a little above (dust subsumes excavations till it is recovered yet again) ilu ilu messages by aaver hindi road-side romeos. they all survive, along with ashoka's edicts. but i did not understand that alien brahmi script then. i do now. and yes, king piyadasi, beloved-of-the-gods, you were right!

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Re: Ashoka by Charles Allen

Post by Guest on Thu Sep 13, 2012 12:48 pm

Jeremiah Mburuburu wrote:
Huzefa Kapasi wrote:my religion had done the same in this part of the subcontinent. buddhist sculptures had been defaced and temples erected over buddhist monuments by brahmin zealots and hindu tyrants.
your religion is still trying to do the same and worse, including kill, maim, rape, burn down, and disenfranchise people of other religions in a democratic country.
i concur. my religion was never a tolerant religion. it was harsh and brutal and destroyed all edifices and remnants of ashoka and buddhism (though ashoka's legacy never died and this fact was later identified by the orientalists). in contrast ashoka's buddhism was the first "secular" religion. and the first "non violent" movement. my religion was wily. it used subterfuge to snare devotees of other religions in its fold and used force when convenient. it even rewrote history (well, it never had a tradition of recording history -- perfect tactics, by the way, for such a wily religion). but my religion's character of subterfuge and co-opting (not found in other religions) is what still endears me to it. you can't throw the baby out with the bathwater. in a primitive sense, my religion accepts me despite its castiest delineations. i am not a mleccha or a heretic as long as i conform to the prescribed minimum guidelines. my religion met its match in islam that was inflexible. yet my religion survived. i believe my religion is a bad religion (despite my continued affinity for it) and it was good buddhism undermined it once. i have a lot of respect for the monastic orders, be they mahavira, buddha, or even guru nanak and many others. my religion gave them the flexibility to think and act differently. my religion was NEVER inflexible. perhaps ashokan buddhism was. my religion is unparalleled. i continue to love-hate it. i will blabber more tomorrow when sober.

in conclusion, i owe allegiance to no religion; yet i believe in god.

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Re: Ashoka by Charles Allen

Post by Idéfix on Thu Sep 13, 2012 12:50 pm

Huzefa Kapasi wrote:i am sad that his glorious life had to end this way. but whatever it is, i must know the truth. (the truth, ruefully, to be truthful, nobody knows!)
As HA's signature says, a king has his reign and then he dies. As for nobody knowing the real truth, that is true as well. The Buddhist accounts of Ashoka's life are hagiographies, and the description of the final years may have been exaggerated to show his piety and devotion to the Bodhi tree and the sangha.

Huzefa Kapasi wrote:i also glanced over the footnotes.
Yes, the footnotes in Allen's book are quite interesting. He also provides a full translation of all the edicts at the end of the book which makes fascinating reading.


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Re: Ashoka by Charles Allen

Post by Guest on Thu Sep 13, 2012 12:54 pm

panini press wrote:Yes, the footnotes in Allen's book are quite interesting. He also provides a full translation of all the edicts at the end of the book which makes fascinating reading.
yes, i know. i am tempted but i am not reading them. i want to read them last.

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Re: Ashoka by Charles Allen

Post by Idéfix on Thu Sep 13, 2012 12:58 pm

Huzefa Kapasi wrote:
Jeremiah Mburuburu wrote:
Huzefa Kapasi wrote:my religion had done the same in this part of the subcontinent. buddhist sculptures had been defaced and temples erected over buddhist monuments by brahmin zealots and hindu tyrants.
your religion is still trying to do the same and worse, including kill, maim, rape, burn down, and disenfranchise people of other religions in a democratic country.
i concur. my religion was never a tolerant religion. it was harsh and brutal and destroyed all edifices and remnants of ashoka and buddhism (though ashoka's legacy never died and this fact was later identified by the orientalists). in contrast ashoka's buddhism was the first "secular" religion. and the first "non violent" movement. my religion was wily. it used subterfuge to snare devotees of other religions in its fold and used force when convenient. it even rewrote history (well, it never had a tradition of recording history -- perfect tactics, by the way, for such a wily religion). but my religion's character of subterfuge and co-opting (not found in other religions) is what still endears me to it. you can't throw the baby out with the bathwater. in a primitive sense, my religion accepts me despite its castiest delineations. i am not a mleccha or a heretic as long as i conform to the prescribed minimum guidelines. my religion met its match in islam that was inflexible. yet my religion survived. i believe my religion is a bad religion (despite my continued affinity for it) and it was good buddhism undermined it once. i have a lot of respect for the monastic orders, be they mahavira, buddha, or even guru nanak and many others. my religion gave them the flexibility to think and act differently. my religion was NEVER inflexible. perhaps ashokan buddhism was. my religion is unparalleled. i continue to love-hate it. i will blabber more tomorrow when sober.

in conclusion, i owe allegiance to no religion; yet i believe in god.
Every religion has within it strains of intolerance and claims of being the best religion. Even Buddhism has exhibited those strains in modern Sri Lanka.

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Re: Ashoka by Charles Allen

Post by Guest on Thu Sep 13, 2012 11:02 pm

Huzefa Kapasi wrote:i'm familiar only with the post ashokan or pratihara history of sri lanka
now i am not so sure. i googled but couldn't find anything. i faintly recall reading that for some time, sri lanka was ruled by kings from NW india who had reached by the sea route perhaps (or ruled in the name of the NW kings).

i found inscriptions. not the brahmi one but the colonial, victorian ones. "i love so and so" carvings from one officer to one emily and a little above (dust subsumes excavations till it is recovered yet again) ilu ilu messages by aaver hindi road-side romeos.
crap! ignore the sentence in italics. no such thing happens so fast. the colonial defilings were above the indian ones (because in colonial times the pillar had not been excavated to the base).

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Re: Ashoka by Charles Allen

Post by Idéfix on Fri Sep 14, 2012 12:04 am

Huzefa Kapasi wrote:i googled but couldn't find anything. i faintly recall reading that for some time, sri lanka was ruled by kings from NW india who had reached by the sea route perhaps (or ruled in the name of the NW kings).
Here is your man: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Devanampiya_Tissa_of_Anuradhapura. If you trace his history back (according to the Mahavamsa as depicted on Wikipedia) he was descended from Vijaya who landed in Mannar with 700 followers around the time of the Buddha. (They were not Buddhists yet; his descendent Tissa the beloved-of-the-gods would be the first to convert to that faith). The same book traces Vijaya's roots back to Banga and Kalinga: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prince_Vijaya#Ancestry_and_arrival_in_Lanka.

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Re: Ashoka by Charles Allen

Post by Guest on Fri Sep 14, 2012 12:16 am

yes! this is what i was probably recollecting. let me read up. thanks!

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Re: Ashoka by Charles Allen

Post by Guest on Fri Sep 14, 2012 7:19 am

Huzefa Kapasi wrote:allen does not mention it but buchanan did not discover nalanda by accident. if memory serves me right, i had read that hiuen tsang left geographical markers of nalanda's location in his memoirs (NSEW distances from famous points) which helped track the general location of the university.
allen does mention it later. it is cunningham who is credited with discovering nalanda based on pointers thrown by hiuen tsang. the spot (a mound, a hill actually) aroused buchanan's interest and he recorded it and many decades later cunningham nailed it as none other than the nalanda university and commenced excavations as the chief archaeologist reporting to the viceroy (no longer directors of EICo).

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Re: Ashoka by Charles Allen

Post by Guest on Fri Sep 14, 2012 7:29 am

this book also shows how biased romila thapar is in her reading of history. she downplays pushyamitra's persecution of buddhism and destruction of stupas (says archaelogical evidence does not support it -- but it does to allen and he shows it to us). she downplays ghazni's attacks on somnath. it's as if she is on an appointment to her majesty, sonia gandhi, to downplay religious tensions no matter what!

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Re: Ashoka by Charles Allen

Post by Guest on Sat Sep 15, 2012 6:05 am

finished the book. by far the most comprehensive account of ashoka i have read. i don't think i will want to read anything more about ashoka now -- this book satisfies all curiosity.

he makes a compelling case for panini being contemporaneous with chankya. i believe it. but sanskrit evolving from the prakrits? hmm. i do not, for a moment, doubt allen's scholarship but this definitely sends a lot of theories about sanskrit and IE language families into a tailspin. i am not going to go searching for it on the net either. as he rightly mocks, rather sardonically, in one place, and i paraphrase, this gave rise to theory of an indigenous proto-brahmi script or the saraswati script which is better left to the internet (talking about pottery ware discovered in TN and sri lanka dated to 5/600 BCE with symbols in purported brahmi). the ardh magadhi prakrit in the book does sound a tad like sanskrit. case in point, your "danam" above which is in ardh magadhi.

i too want to read allen's other works on india.

this is my last post on this book (hopefully). i do want to say a few things about ashoka and allen but let me see if i do.

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Re: Ashoka by Charles Allen

Post by ashdoc on Sat Sep 15, 2012 6:59 am

i dont like this emperor ashoka . he ruined the greatest empire india had ever created---built painstakingly by his grandfather chandragupta maurya and his preceptor Chanakya for the defence of this land against foreign invaders .

Chandragupta had defeated the greek invader selukos nikator who was alexander's general and regained punjab and baluchistan besides adding a foreign territory to india---afghanistan . this was india's greatest moment---a peaceful civilization had come of age as a military power !! the general of a world shaking conqueror ( for selukos was alexander's general ) was royally humiliated and forced to give his daughter Helena in marriage to chandragupta---and giving a daughter in marriage after defeat to the victor was a humiliation in those days.....

india's star was rising....

and then came ashoka with his effeminate philosophy of pacifism......

his policy converted india into a land full of monasteries which were filled with monks instead of fighters . all the military mindset was lost and people were forced into pursuit of pacifism .

after his death the empire broke into pieces and was gone as the military mindset required to maintain cohesion of the empire was lost because the military became a unfavoured profession and being a monk became more important . all the empire's greatness was gone .

ashoka was good for other nations as he brought civilization and culture to them . he was bad for india .

very truely someone ( a colonel rane writing in a marathi book on india's wars ) has said---'' why is it that all the mahatmas of the world had to be born into this country only . that is truely our nation's misfortune !! "

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Re: Ashoka by Charles Allen

Post by Guest on Sat Sep 15, 2012 8:19 am

ashdoc wrote:i dont like this emperor ashoka ... all the military mindset was lost and people were forced into pursuit of pacifism .
not really. after reading this book, i have a better understanding of ashoka. he was not entirely a pacifist. he was a practical man. if ghori had come knocking on his door, to threaten his dharma, he would have taken up arms. here are a few examples that support my contention,

(i) his rock and pillar edicts were for the people of the land as well as for posterity (more specifically his descendants but to be read and imbibed by his successors). he set out, in his edicts, that one should conquer by dharma and rarely by battle. by battle only if it were imperative and even then minimum bloodshed should be encouraged (thus he did not entirely denounce battles);

(ii) his followers, the western kshatraps, the satavahanas (some of them), the hunas and kushans remodeled his dharma, and correctly, to read: do not kill, except in battle;

(iii) 3 years before he died, he had his wife, with the dissenting brahmanical sect of the court she was galvanizing against him, executed. this, in my opinion, pulled the veneer off his face. he was forever an "aspiring" buddhist and never a practicing buddhist; never an ajivika like his grandfather chandragupta was -- who abdicated his throne (ashoka did not) and actually led an asectic life. this is not to say that he did not want to become a practicing buddhist. (i read his frustration at never becoming a true buddhist, to his liking, as tics he later developed -- obsessiveness with the bodhi true; in the hope that obsessive rituals could finally light the forever smoldering fire in his heart. but anyway, he was a complicated man; a paradox as allen calls him) something held him back from asceticism (maybe the welfare state, maybe the zeal for proselytization through the state apparatus, maybe his will). he had great love for his buddhist wife devi but could not emulate her (devi lived separately in a monastery in MP). his dharma, in his edicts, is equally ambiguous and speaks in general terms (do good, act good, do not kill) and is not, per se, buddhist in dogma. you can say he was gandhian in thoughts with the only difference that he was always prepared to take to the sword IF necessary (which was never to be);

(iv) his edicts also spoke to the neighbouring regions to the south that he had not conquered. they assured them that they need not fear him for he now wished to conquer only by dharma and by dharma alone. but cloaked in the rhetoric were also hints like, "you will be forgiven IF you are worthy of being forgiven." his imperialism and egotism (which goes hand in hand with violence) never actually died. he had thousands of monks of an upstart, dissenting buddhist sect executed!

(v) his successors, the western kshatraps and the kushans were able BUDDHIST kings, PACIFIST kings. ashoka modeled a method of good governance and a welfare state. pacifism was a part of it. but not surrender. you are equating the two. at the core, ashoka preached religious tolerance. all his edicts start with, "...show respect to the brahmans and monks." not just monks alone. the guptas, harshas and the satavahanas after him and others modeled themselves along these lines. regardless of their own religion, they promoted all religions in their dominions. this was the message of ashoka that his successors understood and emulated. his message was not to disband military. his message was to focus on good governance, peace and welfare of the people and not just military or military conquest. these were all manifestations of chanakya's arthashastra that he was intimate with (and chankya's grandson was his chief minister and the one who had helped him sieze the throne). chanakya had challenged manu's preeminence as a divine figure and reinterpreted that he was an "elected" figure and his preeminence lay in the trust and confidence of his people that he enjoyed and only for as long as he enjoyed it he would be their leader. there is a wonderful comment in the book by way of a passage from nehru's DoI. nehru says, people often compare chanakya with machiavelli but the comparison is wrong. machiavelli was a failed theoretician whereas chanakya had been successful at what he preached. a lot of what ashoka did was as prescribed in arthashastra (though he gave it his own flourishes).

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Re: Ashoka by Charles Allen

Post by ashdoc on Sat Sep 15, 2012 8:52 am

yes , but the effect of his pacifist teachings was to turn the people away from military mindset , something that was desperately needed to defend against foreign invasions given the fact that india's riches atttracted hordes of them , but was always in short supply given the vegetarianism of its people .

and many who replaced ashoka's rule ( like the kushans ) were foreign invaders not indians---so that means that asoka's rule was paveway for later foreign invasions . the pacifist mentality he embeded in the minds of indians made the way easy for foreign invaders .

anyway , excellent post that of yours....

only thing is---i dont think ashoka failed to practice what he preached when he indulged in violence after his conversion to buddhism . in fact he was only being practical . a great emperor has to be practical otherwise his empire will collapse . and anyway as emperor akbar said---rules are different for kings and different for common people . a king may enact a law for common people but he does not apply it to himself !!

but if ashoka thought that he was being clever in following the above rule of akbar then he was being too clever by far.....
even though he didnt follow his own rules the common people did , and they did turn pacifist.....

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Re: Ashoka by Charles Allen

Post by Guest on Sat Sep 15, 2012 9:19 am

even hinduism remodeled itself after ashoka. animal sacrifice in rituals was disbanded (which you want reintroduced!). adi shankracharya's revival focused on krishna and other playful, benign dieties to make it an inclusive religion accessible to all. bhakti movement followed close on heels. OTOH, had ashokan buddhism survived (as it did in sri lanka), it would have become harsh and inflexible and would have been the perfect match for islam! ashokan buddhism was perhaps the first "religion" of the world as the word is understood today -- with conversions, proselytising, orders, churches, missionaries and state patronage. this was perhaps ashoka's real dream. unfortunately it start petering out with ashoka's sons itself. it lasted only as long as momentum would let it.

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Re: Ashoka by Charles Allen

Post by truthbetold on Sat Sep 15, 2012 9:21 am

Ashdoc,
what invasions were you talking about? Muslim invasion came after a thousand years of history following ashoka. By the time of muslim invasion buddist religion was either dead or in great decline. Only present day afghanistan saw wars between islamic tribes and remnants of buddist rulers.
Jains before buddists and brahmins followed vegetarianism. Why blame buddists? Most of the warrior classes were non veg. Population at large was non veg. Proper diet and foodndistributionnwere larger issues in rain dependent india.
welfare state was ashoka's biggest contribution.

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Re: Ashoka by Charles Allen

Post by ashdoc on Sat Sep 15, 2012 9:27 am

truthbetold wrote:Ashdoc,
what invasions were you talking about?

read history....

after decline of ashoka's empire and before islamic invasions there were many other invasions---that of shakas , huns , kushans etc .

but because the islamic invasion has had such a massive impact on india we tend to forget these invasions .

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Re: Ashoka by Charles Allen

Post by Guest on Sat Sep 15, 2012 9:28 am

ashdoc wrote:yes , but the effect of his pacifist teachings was to turn the people away from military mindset , something that was desperately needed to defend against foreign invasions given the fact that india's riches atttracted hordes of them , but was always in short supply given the vegetarianism of its people .
the military mindset belongs to the rulers not the people. ashoka's sons turned to hinduism so it took no time to disband the pacifist mindset (i am equating buddhism with pacifism). also ashoka tried to separate the church from the state. his edicts do not contain any buddhist dogma -- they are general statements about conduct and administration and welfare (he speaks about dams he has constructed, efforts to make medicinal facilities available to people in his dominion and neighbouring dominions).

and many who replaced ashoka's rule ( like the kushans ) were foreign invaders not indians---so that means that asoka's rule was paveway for later foreign invasions . the pacifist mentality he embeded in the minds of indians made the way easy for foreign invaders .
do you know that chandragupta was a native of gandhara (as was chanakya)? he had been a mountain-man mercenary in the army of alexander! as if that is not foreign enough! who is foreign and who is not? only those are foreign who do not convert to the religion of the land in the crudest definition of the term "foreign."

anyway , excellent post that of yours....
it's all from ashoka by charles allen that i just read.


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Re: Ashoka by Charles Allen

Post by ashdoc on Sat Sep 15, 2012 9:30 am

Huzefa Kapasi wrote:even hinduism remodeled itself after ashoka.

thats the point !!! isn't it.....

hindiusm had to become mild in order to accomodate the new ideas introdued by ashoka .

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Re: Ashoka by Charles Allen

Post by Guest on Sat Sep 15, 2012 9:34 am

well yes. but in it's earlier form it was ugly. ashoka could see that. i don't see how you see any beauty in it. challenging islam (by being ruthless like it) is not the cornerstone of hinduism. we are not pakistan which exists to oppose india.

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Re: Ashoka by Charles Allen

Post by ashdoc on Sat Sep 15, 2012 9:40 am

Huzefa Kapasi wrote:
the military mindset belongs to the rulers not the people. ashoka's sons turned to hinduism so it took no time to disband the pacifist mindset (i am equating buddhism with pacifism).

i am not saying that ashoka had any long term effect lasting upto islamic invasions . but his short term effect was to liquidate the empire after his death .

and i dont think it takes ''no time'' to disband a pacific mindset in india . in fact knowing the mentality of indians i feel that it is hard to bring them out of it !!

i dont know about chandragupta being native of gandhara . different people have different versions about his origins .

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Re: Ashoka by Charles Allen

Post by ashdoc on Sat Sep 15, 2012 9:47 am

Huzefa Kapasi wrote:well yes. but in it's earlier form it was ugly.

you are saying my religion was ugly .

i can also say similar things about others religions . this not a argument , this plain slander .

so forget it....no point in debating further.....

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Re: Ashoka by Charles Allen

Post by Guest on Sat Sep 15, 2012 9:53 am

ashdoc wrote: but his short term effect was to liquidate the empire after his death .
yes, this is true. this is entirely to ashoka's discredit. he had become obsessively involved with the buddhist sangha in his last days -- very unbecoming of an able statesman.

i dont know about chandragupta being native of gandhara . different people have different versions about his origins .
yes, there are different versions. even i was not sure of which version to believe till i read this book. allen lays bare all versions and gives clinching evidence to prove that he was in fact gandharan. more precisely of mount mero in afghanistan. the key lies in the fact that he was the indian mercenary sisikottos in alexander's army. after sisikottos was successfully identified as being none other than chandragupta (earlier called sashigupta; sashi = chandra = moon; thus sisikottos a greekified sashigupta), the other references to sisikottos in greek memoirs nail his ethnicity (namely local chieftan of mount mero province in afghanistan). chandragupta later defected (his life was being controlled by chanakya who was a ruthless opportunist). as narrated in the book, chandragupta later had rued that alexander was a fool for he could have easily defeated the nandas (despite the formidable width of the ganges that intimidated alexander). chandragupta had seen both sides. had alexander conquered magadha, chandragupta, with the help of wily chanakya, would have moved up in rank to rule magadha as a satrap of the selucids! now that is foreign!


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Re: Ashoka by Charles Allen

Post by Guest on Sat Sep 15, 2012 9:55 am

ashdoc wrote:
Huzefa Kapasi wrote:well yes. but in it's earlier form it was ugly.

you are saying my religion was ugly .

i can also say similar things about others religions . this not a argument , this plain slander .

so forget it....no point in debating further.....
i am NOT saying your religion (and mine too) is ugly. i am saying you want to make it ugly (by encouraging animal sacrifice). your point?

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Re: Ashoka by Charles Allen

Post by ashdoc on Sat Sep 15, 2012 10:00 am

Huzefa Kapasi wrote:
i am NOT saying your religion (and mine too) is ugly. i am saying you want to make it ugly (by encouraging animal sacrifice). your point?

no , you are not saying it IS ugly .

you are saying it WAS ugly before ashoka .

so prove it---what was so ugly ??

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Re: Ashoka by Charles Allen

Post by Guest on Sat Sep 15, 2012 10:02 am

1) animal sacrifice; (cruelty to animals)
2) ellaborate rituals, yagnas; (waste of money and time)
3) casteism. (cruelty to humans)

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Re: Ashoka by Charles Allen

Post by ashdoc on Sat Sep 15, 2012 10:09 am

Huzefa Kapasi wrote:his life was being controlled by chanakya who was a ruthless opportunist

not completely foreign....

if his life was being controlled by chanakya an indian brahmin then the rule was indian .

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Re: Ashoka by Charles Allen

Post by Guest on Sat Sep 15, 2012 10:11 am

ashdoc wrote:if his life was being controlled by chanakya an indian brahmin then the rule was indian .
is akbar, by your definition, foreign or indian?

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Re: Ashoka by Charles Allen

Post by ashdoc on Sat Sep 15, 2012 10:14 am

Huzefa Kapasi wrote:1) animal sacrifice; (cruelty to animals)
2) ellaborate rituals, yagnas; (waste of money and time)
3) casteism. (cruelty to humans)

casteism exists in brutal form even today---in bihar , the heartland of the empire , the mecca of caste wars . so what difference did ashoka make ??

animal sacrifice---exists in nepal , assam and bengal all of which are pretty close to bihar .

and elaborate rituals and yagnas were done even by the great shivaji at the time of his coronation---much after ashoka came and went .

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Re: Ashoka by Charles Allen

Post by ashdoc on Sat Sep 15, 2012 10:34 am

Huzefa Kapasi wrote:
is akbar, by your definition, foreign or indian?

thats a loaded question...difficult to answer .

but you know what makes akbar's rule foreign---the fact that his later successors ( after jahangir etc )like aurangzeb and all aurangzeb's succesors as heir's of the mughal empire ( or what was left of it after aurangzeb died ) were loyal to the religion of the land they came from ( central asia ) and all oppressed the majority of their subjects who were hindus .

but chandragupta and his successors did not oppress their own subjects in the name of a religion of a foreign land nor did they continue to hark for it . so they were indians . the ethos of their rule was indian .

akbar's father humayun and his father babar clearly thought themselves as foreign conquerors in an alien land . and look at the attitude of akbar's successors with the exception of jahangir . even shah jahan was more loyal to islam and indulged in temple breaking though he did not impose jizya tax on hindus . the ethos of their rule was not indian .

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Re: Ashoka by Charles Allen

Post by Guest on Sat Sep 15, 2012 10:42 am

ashdoc wrote:but chandragupta and his successors did not oppress their own subjects in the name of a religion of a foreign land
ashoka oppressed his subjects with a religion of and founded by a prince of a foreign land, nepal.

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Re: Ashoka by Charles Allen

Post by ashdoc on Sat Sep 15, 2012 10:57 am

Huzefa Kapasi wrote:
ashoka oppressed his subjects with a religion of and founded by a prince of a foreign land, nepal.

yes but majority of buddha's followers were indians and for all practical purposes its an indian religion . its holy places equivalent to mecca are not in nepal .

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