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Asia Society
Homeland Afghanistan

Geography and Destiny For centuries, scarce resources and difficult terrain have required people in the Hindu Kush region to develop unique solutions to survive. But while geography has brought challenges, it has also offered opportunities. In Afghanistan, geography is a multi-sided destiny.

Identity and Perception Local, tribal, and religious identities in the Hindu Kush region have always shifted depending on one’s point of view. As Afghanistan decides what it means to be Afghan, it faces a kaleidoscope of moving perspectives.

Tradition and Modernization Afghans have always had to be flexible. At times, this flexibility has brought people together, and at other times it has torn them apart. Reconciling tradition and modernization means making sense of what’s at stake when people change--and when they don’t.

Traces and Narratives History is not always written. Much of what we know about Afghanistan comes from scattered artifacts, symbols, and oral traditions. Understanding these traces means piecing together the narratives that history leaves behind.

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Ashoka's Piety

CIRCA 273 BCE
THEMES:

Identity & Perception

Traces & Narratives

Reveal Source

AleReportage. "Sanchi_16." Digital image. AleReportage's Flickr Photostream. Accessed August 20, 2010. http://www.flickr.com/photos/alereportage/2554581752/.
Creative Commons: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/deed.en

AleReportage. "Sanchi_2." Digital image. AleReportage's Flickr Photostream. Accessed August 20, 2010. http://www.flickr.com/photos/alereportage/2554584758/in/set-72157605456146615/.
Creative Commons: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/deed.en

AleReportage. "Sanchi_30." Digital image. AleReportage's Flickr Photostream. Accessed August 20, 2010. http://www.flickr.com/photos/alereportage/2554601936/in/set-72157605456146615/.
Creative Commons: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/deed.en

Asoka Kandahar." Digital image. Wikipedia Commons. Accessed August 20, 2010. http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:AsokaKandahar.jpg.

Cunningham, Alexander. "Inscriptions of Ashoka, Corpus Inscriptionum Indicarum Vol. 1." Digital image. Accessed August 20, 2010. http://www.archive.org/stream/inscriptionsaso00hultgoog#page/n8/mode/1up.

Gandhara Buddha. Tokyo National Museum, Tokyo, Japan.

Geiger, Johann Nepomuk. Die Hunnen Im Kampf Mit Den Alanen. 1873.

Mahwash. "Gar Konad Saheb-E-Man (If My Eyes Meet The Ones Of The Lord)." By Saheb & Ustad M Sarahang. In Radio Kaboul. Accords Croisés, 2003, CD.

"Mōko Shūrai Ekotoba 2." Digital image. Wikipedia Commons. Accessed August 20, 2010. http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:M%C5%8Dko_Sh%C5%ABrai_Ekotoba_2.jpg.

Repin, Ilja Jefimowitsch. Ivan the Terrible and His Son Ivan on November 16th, 1581. 1885. State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow.

Royer, Lionel-Noël. Vercingetorix Throws Down His Arms at the Feet of Julius Caesar. 1899. Crozatier Museum, Puy-en-Velay.

Unknown. The Battle of Panipat and the Death of Sultan Ibrāhīm, the Last of the Lōdī Sultans of Delhi, from Illuminated Manuscript Baburnama (Memoirs of Babur). Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, MD.

World Imaging. "Chakravatin." Digital image. Wikipedia Commons. Accessed August 20, 2010. http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Chakravatin.JPG. GNU Free Documentation License: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/GNU_Free_Documentation_License


Producer: Grace Norman

Reveal Transcript

Make no mistake. Imperial history was bloody. Brutal assassinations, unthinkable acts of torture, and brash displays of treachery were commonplace.

But ironically, it was bloodshed that, for a time, put an end to bloodshed. When 100,000 people were killed by King Ashoka’s Mauryan army, something changed.

Ashoka was so devastated by the carnage that he had caused that he surrendered himself to a Buddhist life of nonviolence and righteous duty.

Ashoka was the ruler of the Mauryan Empire that was based in northern India and in Afghanistan as well. He was the kind of great ruler that the Buddhists idolized. A shakravartan, a great leader who exemplified the Buddhist values and supported and patronized Buddhism. In terms of political support and patronage, he was probably the most important figure in the development of early Buddhism both in India and in Afghanistan.

Ashoka traveled throughout his Empire, spreading Buddhist ideals.

He left 33 edicts carved in stone. The edicts told the story of a benevolent King who spread ideas of piety, respect, and nonviolence.

The one in Kandahar was was written in Greek and Aramaic. It pleaded:

“[I] abstain from killing living beings, and other men who work for me have desisted from hunting. And if people have a bad temper, they will cease from intemperance. … They will be obedient to their fathers and mothers and to the elders. By so acting on every occasion, they will live better and more happily.”

Ashoka’s reign helped strengthen Buddhism in Afghanistan. It provided a foundation for the religion to flourish for hundreds of years.

Ashokha's stone edict in Kandahar was ironically lost to war in the 20th century.

Here is the story of a benevolent king who spread ideas of piety, respect, and nonviolence. Read his message to the citizens of Kandahar.

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