Ashoka's site of revelation

Last Updated 22 September 2012, 12:21 IST

Discovered in the year 1837 by Lt M Kittoo, the set of rock edicts found at Dhauli, a little distance away from Bhubaneswar, contain 11 of the 14 rock edicts of Ashoka.

Written in Magadhi Prakrita (Brahmi script), the edicts are living evidence of how Ashoka, the great Magadh king, was overcome with compassion after seeing the bloodshed in the Kalinga War, and renounced violence.

The edicts announce prohibition of killing of animals, their medicinal treatment, propagation of moral codes, morality and compassion by kingdom’s officials and sets self control and purity of mind as objects of attainment for all sects. They also make the king available for public redressal around the clock.  

The rock also has an elephant figure carved into it. The elephant symbolises Gautama, the Buddha, who was believed to have entered his mother’s womb, in a dream, in the form of elephant. The front legs, trunk, teeth, toes, eyes and ears — everything except the right ear — is in one piece despite the sculpture being over 2,000 years old. The elephant seems to be emerging out of the rock.  

A majestic white Shanti Stupa stands a few hundred metres from the rock edicts. This stupa depicts Buddha in different postures. Maintained by Kalinga Nippon Buddha Sangha, the stupa, situated on top of a hill, remembers how Ashoka, dejected by the bloodshed of in the Kalinga War decided to renounce violence. The great king was supposed to have reflected on war from the top of this hill. The summit gives a great view of Daya river, which flows to its right.

Shishupalgarh, one of the oldest cities excavated in Northeast India, is just a stone’s throw away from Dhauli. At the entrance, two large platforms enjoined by large square steps on two sides encircle a kutcha path that opens towards a moat. It was supposed to be a jetty-cum-gateway, where authorities of Shishupalgarh received supplies for city dwellers. The gate was connected to a fortification on the left and right.

A few metres away from the jetty are 18 pillars that were excavated between 2005 and 2008, by a 12-member team of archaeologists. The pillars stand erect even after having been covered under debris for two and a half millennia. The pillars were covered by a wooden roof and probably made space for housing public gatherings. The pillars have holes where wooden rafters or rims were fitted.

The fortified city had four gateways and an equal number of subsidiary gates that allowed people to walk into the city even when the main gateways were closed. It had well laid-out houses,lanes and by lanes. The discovery of ornaments, beads, bangles, terracotta, copper, iron implements like knives, blades and nails point to the possibility that the inhabitants of the city must have been quite advanced.

According to the archaelogists, the city had five water tanks — one in each of the four directions and one in the centre where people could take bath and wash clothes. Since Daya river flows on its left, it would have had an abundance of water sources. Even now, once can get water after digging one and half metres underground. Though not the largest in the country, Shishupalgarh must have been a bustling city.

Though the city existed for a millennium, it finds no mention in Ashoka’s edicts. The edicts only talk about northern and southern Toshali. Some historians believe that Shishupalgarh served as the capital of Toshali.

There are two other things that archaeologists are not certain about. Firstly, it is not clear what religion the residents of Shishupalgarh followed. Though the archaeologists have found Buddhist relics and a stupa in the commercial towns, which surrounded the fortified city from three sides, no such thing was found during the excavations within the fortification. Secondly, it is not clear as to who ruled over the city. It is said that Shishupalgarh, once the capital of Toshali, derived its name from Shishupal, a king of the Kesari clan of Somabams.

One thing is for certain, however. Shishupalgarh is clearly a treasure trove of ancient history.

(Published 22 September 2012, 12:21 IST)

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