The Emperor Asoka’s Period

The Emperor Asoka’s Period

In the Buddhist history of Nepal too, the Asokan period is very important. Emperor Asoka was the first person to inscribe and erect stone pillars which are important to the history of Buddhism. Three Asokan pillars were found (four pieces) in present-day Nepalese territory. Among them, two have inscriptions. The pillar inscription in Lumbini reads as follows:

“Because Buddha, the sakya sage, was born here, the Beloved  of  the  gods,  King  Priyadarsin,  (when)  crowned twenty years,  himself  came  and   worshipped  (here),  (and)  a  stone  made railing was caused to be built (here by him), and a stone-pillar was erected. Because the Blessed One was born here, the Lumbini   village is made tree of taxes, and paying an eighth share (of  the product)”.

The inscription  of Lumbini  was admired by pilgrims and copied  as momentous and kept sakes for a long period. Hany  Flak  discusses  two such kinds of spurious Asokan records. The other Asokan pillar with an inscription was found near Niglisagara,  Kapilavastu   District   of   Nepal.   It   gives   evidence   of   a Buddhist belief that there are predecessor Buddhas. The inscription reads as follows:

“The Beloved of the  gods,  King  Priyadarsin,  (when) crowned fourteen years, enlarged the Stupa of  Buddha Kanakamuni (Konagamana)  to double  (its  former size),  and  (when) crowned   (twenty)   years,  himself   came  (here),  worshipped,  (and a stone-pillar) was erected.”

Sir John Marshall and Alfred Foucher have discovered substantial evidence on Emperor Asoka’s Cultural Messengers.  The gist of which is as follows: A few casket inscriptions are found on stupa II at Sanchi (Sonari Stupa). It relates names of the Sapurisa or saint Kasapagota, Majhima, Haritiputa, Mahavanaya, Apagira, Kodiniputa (Kosikiputa), Kosikiputa, Gotiputa, Mogaliputa and Vachiya-Suvijayita  Of these the first and the last names were appeared in the inscription found on the stone box in  which  those caskets  were contained. The first three names are inscribed in a single casket. The Vachiya-Suvijayita appears on the second; the Kodiniputa, Mahavanaya and Apagira appear on the third. The remaining names are appear on the fourth.

The   saints(Sapurisa)   Kasapagota, Majhima Kosikiputa and Gotiputa appear on the Sonari caskets while those of Gotiputa, Haritiputa and Mogaliputa occurred on the three other caskets from Andher.

The Dudubhisara is identified with Dundubhisara mentioned in the Dipavamsa (VIII   10)   as one  of  the  five  cultural  messengers  sent  by the Venerable Tissa to the Himalayan country after the conclusion of the Third Council in the reign of  Asoka.  The four other cultural  messengers were Mulakadeva, Sahadeva, Kassapagotta and Majhinma. The Kasapagota  is  referred   to  in  these  caskets  as  SAVA-HEMAVATA – ACARIYA which translates as the teacher  of  all  the  Himavanta (Himalayan) region or, of all the people of Himavata. This confirms the legendary Ceylonese accounts (Mahavamsa and Dipavamsa) of dispatching cultural messengers to the Himalayas.

Hemavata was also the name of a branch of the Theravada school. The expression SAVA-HEMAVATA-ACARIY thus may yield another  meaning   that  being,   the  teacher  of  the  whole  Himavata school. It  probably indicates that this sect arose in theHimavata region under  the inspiration of the five teachers of  Himavata.

Modern Nepal was known as  the Mighty  Himalayan  region  from the ancient time. The area which we call Nepal today at that time was called Himavata Padesa or Himavatakhanda. There is clear evidence showing that the cultural messengers of Emperor Asoka also came to Himalayas, including the Nepal Valley.

The Nepalese chronicles claim that not only Emperor Asoka’s cultural messengers but the king himself  came  with  his daughter Carumati, together retinues to the Kathmandu Valley. Princess Carumati married the prince of the Nepal Valley and in her old age became a Bhikkhuni  (Buddhist  nun)  staying  at Carumati Vihara.

The Sanchi casket inscriptions are sufficient epigraphic evidence to support the Nepalese and Ceylonese chronicles concerning the Himavata Region which includes the Kathmandu valley. This shows the possibility that Emperor Ashokas cultural messengers to Kathmandu were Emperor Asoka’s very own kinsmen. Another possibility is that the cultural messengers may have been inhabitants of Sanchi itself. Detailed records may not have yet been found or were simply never kept. All the same, we can not turn blind eyes from the evidence of the Emperor Asoka’s religious messengers to Nepal.


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