Bihar govt settles questions on Ashoka's birthday

Bihar govt settles questions on Ashoka's birthday
Days after eminent historians questioned the Nitish regime about how it could arrive at a consensus on the date of birth of Mauryan Emperor Ashoka and declare April 14 as holiday to mark his birth anniversary, the Bihar government has clarified that it was based on Hindi (lunar) calendar.

Bihar Chief Secretary Anjani Kumar Singh said Ashoka’s date of birth was mentioned in some historical documents as “ashtami” of “shuklapaksha” in the month of “Chaitra”. In 2016, this day is on April 14, hence the conclusion on Ashoka’s date of birth, he added.

Historians had earlier laughed at the government’s move to “discover” the date of birth of Ashoka, the third ruler of Mauryan empire (after Chandragupta and Bindusara) since there was no record or unanimity over his place of birth or date of birth. “It’s a modern concoction. Ashoka’s epigraphs, the only written versions of events in his lifetime, do not mention either the date or year of his birth,” historian Navjot Lahiri, who has written a book on Ashoka, told a local newspaper.

Other eminent historians D N Jha and O P Jaiswal wondered who advised Nitish Kumar to “discover” Ashoka’s date of birth and declare April 14 as government holiday.

Though the Cabinet last week declared April 14 as holiday on account of Ashoka’s birth anniversary, the decision would hardly make any difference to the State government employees as April 14 is already a holiday for Ambedkar Jayanti.

At a press briefing, when asked how the Bihar government arrived at a consensus on Ashoka’s date of birth, Principal Secretary of Cabinet Coordination Department Brajesh Mehrotra parried the question saying he had no idea. “The proposal had come from the General Administration Department (GAD), which the Cabinet approved,” he said.

GAD Principal Secretary Amir Subhani later clarified that the government, on the basis of Hindi calendar, had arrived at the decision. “Based on Hindi calendar, the date would vary every year. That’s why we have not announced any celebration on that particular day. Only a holiday has been announced,” he cleared the air.

JD(U) spokesperson Ajay Alok, however, linked Ashoka’s birthday with that of Dalit icon B R Ambedkar. The Mauryan emperor embraced Buddhism in the latter part of his life.

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