Stories writ in stone

Heritage

Stories writ in stone

The Maski edict found nearly a century ago is important because it changed experts’ understanding of Indian history. The edict revealed beyond doubt that ‘Devanampriya’ was none other than the legendary Mauryan emperor, Ashoka the great, writes Srinivas Sirnoorkar

British gold mining engineer C Beadon did not, in his wildest dreams, think he would soon be creating history when he went for a stroll around the hillocks of Maski in Raichur district’s Lingsugur taluk. Way back in 1915, on January 26, he chanced upon a minor edict on a boulder in a cavern. This triggered a debate on the use of the title ‘Devanampriya’ found in a number of edicts across the country. Historians and scholars of India and abroad were thrilled over the discovery, because, for the first time, it revealed beyond doubt that ‘Devanampriya’ was none other than legendary Mauryan emperor Ashoka, the great.

The Maski edict in Prakrit language, carved in Brahmi script and dated 256 BC, changed the very course of historians and experts’ understanding of ancient Indian history. The pseudonym ‘devanampirya’ found in a number of edicts had, till the British engineer found the Maski edit, remained a mystery. Research scholars struggled hard to unearth the mystery but met with no success. The Maski edict clearly told the world that it was Ashoka who had got the inscriptions carved under the name ‘Devanampriya’. The inscription has a mention of ‘Devanampriya Asoka.’

What it is all about

The inscription remains a dharma shasana, an edict exhorting people to follow the tenets of Buddhism. Though the inscription is dated around 256 BC, it took over 2,100 years for it to see the light of the modern world. For over two millennia, it has withstood the vagaries of weather and onslaughts of nature. It has become increasingly difficult to protect and preserve this rare edict. It is already reported that a number of prehistoric finds in the Maski hillocks have been vandalised by miscreants and treasure hunters.

The inscription kills several birds with a single stone. Apart from associating the title ‘Devanampriya’ with Ashoka, the inscription suggests the spread of Mauryan rule up to the Krishna valley of north-eastern Karnataka.

Some historians believe that Ashoka must have attached some special significance to the region because he chose to reveal his name only in this inscription and nowhere else. It is also said that Ashoka had sent his emissaries including his kith and kin to Sri Lanka to spread Buddhism, apart from making a visit to Maski.

The inscription also makes one believe that Prakrit was the widely spoken language and Brahmi was a well-understood script in ancient Karnataka. Above all, it suggests that Buddhism was an important religion of the time.

Maski town situated on the banks of the river by the same name must have been a developed town with a vibrant civilisation and culture. Politically, economically and industrially, Maski must have been a prominent place.

One may also surmise that the town was a major urban centre in the remote past as is evident from the traces of iron and gold workings covering large parts of the region. It is one of the most important prehistoric sites in India, and various kinds of neolithic implements and artifacts, megalithic burials, graves containing funerary urns made of burn clay, vast traces of ancient metallurgy in the form of ash mounds, etc have been found. The abundant beads found here indicate that Maski was famous for its bead industry centuries before and was a major bead exporter to the West.

In spite of such a glorious past and the town’s position on the historical and heritage map of India, Maski remains largely unknown because no efforts whatsoever have been made to preserve, protect and promote not only the inscription but also other prehistoric finds and artifacts. Experts feel there is a need to carry out more excavations and conduct extensive research in and around Maski to uncover some more fascinating aspects of ancient and prehistoric times.

The message

A reconstruction of the edict reads thus: “For two and a half years I am a lay worshipper of Buddha. (For more than)...I have gone to...the Sangha...I have gone to...Before in Jambudvipa...now they have become mixed...This purpose is even able to be attained by a lowly person who is joined with dharma. It is not only to be seen that a high person might attain this. It is to be said to a lowly person and a high person...Doing thus...Thus (it will be) long standing and will increase (up to) one and half.” The edict is highly fragmented.

A few years later  one more edict was found  at Gujarra in Madhya Pradesh with the name of the King Ashoka.

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