The Edicts of Ashoka are a collection of 33 inscriptions on the Pillars of Ashoka as well as boulders and cave walls made by the Emperor Ashoka of the Mauryan Empire during his reign from 269 BCE to 232 BCE. These inscriptions were dispersed throughout the areas of modern-day Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Afghanistan and Pakistan and represent the first tangible evidence of Buddhism. The edicts describe in detail the Ashoka's view about dhamma, an earnest attempt to solve some of problems that a complex society faced. According to the edicts, the extent of Buddhist proselytism during this period reached as far as the Mediterranean, and many Buddhist monuments were created.
The Edicts are divided into:
* Pillar Edicts
* Major Rock Edicts: 14 Edicts (termed 1st to 14th) and 2 separate ones found in Odisha
* Minor Rock Inscriptions: Minor Rock Edicts, the Queen's Edict, Barabar Caves inscriptions and the Kandahar bilingual inscription.
These inscriptions proclaim Ashoka's adherence to the Buddhist philosophy which, as in Hinduism is called dharma, "Law". The inscriptions show his efforts to develop the Buddhist dharma throughout his kingdom. Although Buddhism and the Gautama Buddha are mentioned, the edicts focus on social and moral precepts rather than specific religious practices or the philosophical dimension of Buddhism.
In these inscriptions, Ashoka refers to himself as "Beloved of the Gods" (''Devanampiyadasi'') The identification of Devanampiyadasi with Ashoka was confirmed by an inscription discovered in 1915 by C. Beadon, a British gold-mining engineer, at Maski, a village in Raichur district of Karnataka. Another minor rock edict is found at the village Gujarra in Datia district of Madhya Pradesh. This also shows the name "Ashoka" in addition to usual "Devanampiyadasi". The inscriptions found in the eastern part of India were written in Magadhi Prakrit using the Brahmi script. These edicts were deciphered by British archaeologist and historian James Prinsep.
The inscriptions revolve around a few recurring themes: Ashoka's conversion to Buddhism, the description of his efforts to spread Buddhism, his moral and religious precepts, and his social and animal welfare program.
== Ashoka's proselytism ==
In order to propagate the Buddhist faith, Ashoka explains that he sent emissaries to the Hellenistic kings as far as the Mediterranean, and to people throughout India, claiming they were all converted to the Dharma as a result. He names the Greek rulers of the time, inheritors of the conquest of Alexander the Great, from Bactria to as far as Greece and North Africa, displaying a clear grasp of the political situation at the time.
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