Ashoka's pillar - some exciting facts that we may not know!!


We are all aware of our national emblem  with carvings of four
 lions  being used in all government bonds, passports, stamp papers, court stamps, etc. This unique carving once topped  one of Ashoka's pillars at Sarnath. 

Ashoka's pillar.Lumbini, Nepal.

 The great Mauryan king Ashoka during his reign  his reign (from c.  268 to 232 BCE) in the 3rd century BC erected what are later called "Pillars of Ashoka"  which are important architectural monument with Mauryan polish on them.  The great emperor used to describe the pillars  Dhaṃma thaṃbhā (Dharma stambha), i.e. "pillars of the Dharma" . They  were built at Buddhist monasteries, many prominent  sites from the life of the Buddha and places of pilgrimage.  The columns carry inscriptions addressed to the monks and nuns. The Ashoka pillars are  a series of columns dispersed across  the Indian subcontinent, erected or at least inscribed with edicts by the ruler.  They are found in states like Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and some parts of Haryana.

Geographical spread of known pillar capitals.

 The following are interesting facts about Ashoka's pillars:

01. They are the earliest known stone pillars with inscriptions and in the earlier period before 3rd century BC only wooden pillars  topped by animal sculptures in copper metal existed; none have survived.

Ashok's edicts, locations

02. Ashoka  erected countless pillars, covering vast area. Alas! only, twenty pillars with inscriptions of his edicts have survived, some with animal capital. There are  seven well-preserved  animal sculptures (complete specimens) available. Ashokan capitals were highly realistic and  had well-polished finish, typical of Mauryan style,

Saranath  lion capital

Above image; Ashoka pillar with lion capital,  with Wheels of the moral Law represent; 3rd century BCE; the most celebrated of the Ashokan pillars. This is the site of Buddha's First Sermon where he shared the Four Noble Truths (the dharma or the law). The pillar remains  in the same place where it was originally sunk into the ground, but the capital is now on display at the Sarnath museum Among the 24 spokes in the wheel, 12 represent 12 sufferings............

Bull capital,  atop Ashok

Above image: The capital of Ashoka pillar. Rampurva zebu bull original (now in Rashtrapati Bhavan, New Delhi).

03. Among the  seven remaining complete capitals, five with lions, one with an elephant and one with a zebu bull are well-recorded. One of them, the four lions of Sainath, has become the State Emblem of India.

04. Two pillars were relocated by Firoz Shah Tughlaq to Delhi and  under the Mogul rule, many of these pillars were relocated with the removal of animal capital. The rulers were against idolatry They transported the pillars  dragging them over a hundred plus miles from original place to the new location.

 05. The average height of the pillars is 40 to 50 feet, each weighing as much as whopping 50 tons. 

Ashoka pillar- Delhi-Meerut. Delhi-Meerut

Ashoka's pillar, with no capital Feroz Shah kotla, Delhi. Alamy

Above images: Ashoka pillar  in the image are without the capital, apparently broken in transit or removed as Delhi rulers were against idolatry......................... 

06. These pillars were meant to commemorate the visit of Ashoka to those places.

07. The pillars are carved from two-types of sandstone (buff colored and fine grained)  quarried from  Chunar  near Varanasi or red-white colored from Mathura region. It seems the pillars were transported  to their sites, before or after carving, however, it is not clear.

08. That the carvings are uniform suggests that they were done in the same region by the craftsmen and then taken to different places for erection. It seems that the selected stone was taken from Mathura and Chunar to  various sites where the pillars are located now, and there it was cut to size and carved by talented craftsmen

09. The pillars, basically,  consist of  four component parts in two pieces: the three sections of the capitals make a  single piece, often made of a different stone to that of the monolithic cylindrical, circular shaft to which they are attached by a large metal dowel.
The shaft tappers upwards.

Ashoka's pilla,

10. The amazing feature of  the Mauryan art is the  crowning animals shown either seated or standing, always in the round and chiseled as a single piece with the abaci (slab on the capital of column).

11. The Ashoka's pillar edicts are mainly monolithic i.e. cut out a single piece of stone. They do not stand on base. The inscriptions have definite cultural and religious connotations.

12. Unlike Persian pillars that contain human figurine, Ashokan pillars contain the animal capital atop the pillar. Yet another distinction is Ashoka's  cylindrical pillars taper upward and differ from Persian pillars that have uniform cross section through-out.

One of the Pillars of Ashoka, in

13. Five of the pillars of Ashoka  possibly marked the course of the ancient Royal highway from Pataliputra to the Nepal valley -  two at Rampurva, one each at Vaishali, Lauriya-Araraj and Lauria Nandangarh.

Vaishali lion of Ashoka

Above image: The four lions on the Indian National Emblem symbolize power, courage, confidence, and pride........

14. The Vaishali lion of Ashoka is quite impressive, so is the depiction of a lion at Nineveh.

15. Ashoka' source of inspiration could be: Achaemenid column with lotus capital and animals, Persepolis, 6th-4th c. BCE.

16. Foreign influences could be noticed in the carving of capital, so is the design in the abacus - Greek art.