Friday, 12 January 2018




The Indian empire reached its zenith during the dynasty of the Mauryas which remained in power for 137 years (324 B.C.E-187 B.C.E). The military exploits of Chandragupta (324- 300 B.C.E) averted the Seleucid threat in the west and achieved the unity of the empire; the political genius of the minister Chanakya established order and cohesion within its frontiers. The great figure of Chandragupta is eclipsed by that of his grandson Asoka (272 B.C.E-236 B.C.E), the most notable personality in Indian history. After the bloody conquest of Kalinga, he was converted to Buddhism and undertook to raise the spiritual and moral level of his subjects by endowing them with a Dharma which appears as the model of an administration based on tolerance and shrewd understanding. The Asokan Dharma, propagated by the emperor in person, by governors of provinces, itinerant officials and ambassadors abroad, was published in the form of edicts distributed throughout the empire. It should not be confused with the Good Law expounded by Shakyamuni for it merely defines the principles of natural morality, already established by the Buddha for the use of lay adherents; it falls short of the fundamental theorems of the profound doctrine discovered by the Master and instilled by him in the religious.

The Buddhist legend has somewhat distorted the true countenance of Asoka, as we see it in his edicts. It tried to take over the emperor, presenting him as the model upasaka, the official defender of the Good Law, the great patron of the community. It is true, in fact, that the royal favours exerted a decisive influence on the erection of Buddhist monuments, the founding of monasteries, the recruiting of members of the Order and the expansion of the Good Law throughout the whole of India. Royal officials entrusted with propagating the Asokan Dharma paved the way for Buddhist missionaries who profited from the favourable circumstances to intensify their activity.

Beyond the Hindukush, Bactria remained outside the great movement of Indian civilization. After having been drawn for some time into the orbit of the lieutenants of Alexander and the Seleucids (325 B.C.E-250 B.C.E), she was able to take advantage of the Parthian revolt to declare herself as independent. Diodotus I and II (250-225 B.C.E), by means of a skillful interplay of intrigues, firmly established their power. Their successor, Euthydemus of Magnesia (225-190 B.C.E), having successfully resisted the ventures of Antiochus III the Great, made Bactria a powerful state which soon became a threat to the Indian empire.

On the other hand, in Ceylon the kings Devanampiyatissa (250 B.C.E-210 B.C.E) and Uttiya (210-200 B.C.E) submitted unreservedly to the demands and desires of the Mauryas. They welcomed Asoka's messengers, exchanged embassies with the court at Pataliputra and gave the Buddhist missionaries an enthusiastic reception. It is doubtless somewhat of an exaggeration to claim that the conversion of the island took only a week, but it is certain that Ceylon very quickly became one of the strongholds of Buddhism.

The successes achieved in the Mauryan period by the Buddha's religion did not fail to provoke serious difficulties within the order. The Sinhalese chronicle refers to a third Buddhist council convened in the year 250 B.C.E at Pataliputra in order to expel from the Samgha a crowd of heretics who had entered it surreptitiously. The Sanskrit and Chinese sources mention the untoward action of a certain Mahadeva whose heretical proposals set the Buddhist communities against each other. Both the northern and southern sources know of the existence of a schism which decided a large number of monks to separate from the main body of the Elders (sthavira) in order to form a sect of the dissident majority (mahassamghika).

Through the fluctuations and inconsistencies of the tradition, one can get a glimpse of the difficulties which the Buddhist Samgha came up against in the first two centuries of its existence. From the time of the Buddha's decease, a closed group of Arhats inspired by Mahakasyapa undertook to recite jointly the Word of the Buddha and to codify the discipline of the order. They set themselves up as authorized guardians of the teaching, as upholders of strict observance and, as Arhats, claimed a certain amount of spiritual privileges.

This initiative did not receive universal approval. Some monks preferred to keep the teaching just as they themselves had heard it from the lips of the Buddha, even if it meant completing it with works of their own composition. Others would have liked a less strict discipline, with the minor precepts being abolished. Yet others, who had still not attained holiness, considered that the privileges claimed by the Arhats were exaggerated; they were supported by the laity who were regarded as subordinate members of the community, but who intended to bridge the gap which separated the upasaka from the monk.

The discontent smouldered for quite a long period. It burst into flames when a heretic put forward five proposals which were directly prejudicial to the honour of the Arhats. He was supported by several of the religious communities. When these proposals were condemned, a schism occurred. The objectors, who were the greater number, separated from the main body of the Elders (sthavira) and formed a dissident branch of the majority (mahasamghika). The schism, which had been long in preparation, reached its culmination in the reign of Asoka, possibly even a few years earlier, since it is doubtful  the king had played an active part in that event.

The major event of the Mauryan period was the spreading of the Buddha's religion throughout the whole of India. The Sinhalese chronicle narrates those conversions and ordinations which constitute the digvijaya of the Good Law. Archaeological discoveries and cross-references to the northern sources often guarantee the accuracy of the details it supplies. However, the chronicle distorts the facts by ascribing the general conversion of India to the action of a handful of missionaries sent out by Moggaliputtatissa, and by giving that memorable event a precise date : 250 B.C.E The northern sources provide a more accurate idea of the Buddhist propaganda. It was inaugurated by the Buddha and his immediate disciples and continued with varying success during the first two centuries of the Nirvana, reaching its culminating point in the Mauryan period. Even though Magadha remained the main axis of the movement, the action of the secondary centres, Kausambi, Ujjayini and Mathura, should not be underestimated. While not ignoring the role played by private initiative in the propagation of the faith, emphasis should be given to the intrinsic power of expansion of the Good Law a power which, in order to show itself, only needed favourable political circumstances. These were best achieved in the reign of the great Asoka. From then on, the Good Law gained ground rapidly, and step by step Sakhyamuni’s messages reached all the regions of India and Ceylon.

Archaeological discoveries enable us to follow the steps of this progress. Undoubtedly the state of the ruins does not always allow of a decision as to whether a monument does indeed date back to the ancient era or whether it belongs to a later period. However, the Chinese pilgrims and particularly, Hsuan tsang who visited India at the beginning of the seventh century, have enumerated what they called "Asokan stupas" - funerary and commemorative monuments of an archaic type with hemispherical domes - which go back to the period of the Mauryas, or at least the Sungas, and mark the trail of the triumphant progress of the Good Law.

The succession of kings:

According to the Purana (P., p. 30), the dynasty of the Mauryas lasted for 137 years, that is, if we abide by the chronological system adopted here, from 324 to 187 B.C.E. In order to establish the dates of the various reigns, we have at our disposal data supplied by the Purana (P., pp. 27-30) and the Sinhalese chronicles (Dpv., V, 100- 1 ; Mhv., V, 16- 22; XX, 1-6; Sp., p. 41). It should be noted that the latter date the events, not in completed years, as has sometimes been claimed, but from the year of inception : this is what appears from a passage in the Mahavamsa (XX, 1-6) which assigns an interval of 37 years to events which occurred in the years 18 + 12 + 4 + 3 + 4, which would make a total of 41, and not of 37 (17 + 11 + 3 + 2 + 4), if they were counted in completed years.

The chronicles locate the assumption of power by Asoka in 214 after the Nirvana (272 B.C.E), his consecration in 218 after the Nirvana (268 B.C.E) and, after that event, attribute to him a further 37 years of existence, i.e. from 218 to 255 after the Nirvana (268-231 B.C.E). The Puranas merely say that he ruled for 36 years; therefore if he assumed power in 272 B.C., from 272 to 236 B.C.E.

The Buddhist and Puranic traditions are not irreconcilable, since the northern Buddhists claim that, towards the end of his life, Asoka sank into his second childhood and fell under the guardianship of his grandson Sampadin; his actual reign, therefore, may well have ended some years before his death. As a working hypothesis, we posit here that Asoka assumed power in 214 after the Nirvana (272 B.C.E), was consecrated in 218 after the Nirvana (268 B.C.E), ruled effectively from 214 to 250 after the Nirvana (272-236 B.C.) and died several years later, in 255 after the Nirvana (231 B.C.).

Having said this, here is the order of succession of the Mauryan emperors who followed the kings of Magadha :

Sovereigns          Length of reign  

Chandragupta      24 Years
Bindusara                28 Years
Asoka                     36 Years
Last Mauryas       49 Years

With regard to these last Mauryas, the sources disagree seriously :

1 .The Purana (P., pp. 27-30) give the following list :

1. Kunalla or Suyasas, reigns 8 years
*2. Bandhupalita, son of 1, reigns 8 years
*3. Indrapalita
4. Dasona, son of 3, reigns 7 years
5. Dasaratha, son of 4, reigns 8 years
6. Samprati or Sangata, son of 5, reigns 9 years
*7. Salisuka, son of 6, reigns 13 years
8. Devadharman or Devavarman or Somavarman, son of 7, reigns 7 years
9. Satadhanvan or Sasadharman, son of 8, reigns 8 years
10. Brhadratha, reigns 7 years.

The names marked with an asterisk are passed over in silence by some of the Puranic recensions. The total of the reigns comes to seventy-five years, instead of the forty-nine calculated above. Several of these princes must therefore have reigned simultaneously in various parts of the empire.

2. The recensions of the Asokavadana (Divya, p. 433; T 99, ch. 25, p. 181b; T 2043, ch. 5, p. 149a-b) refer to only six sovereigns :

Divya                                      T 99                                   T 2043
1. Kunala                             1.Kunala                              1. Kunala
2.Samprati                          2.Sampradin                      2.Sampradin
3.Brhaspati                         3.Brhaspati                        3.Brhaspati
4.Vrsasena                          4.Vrsasena                         4.Vrsasena
5.Pusyadharman               5.Pusyasuma(na)              5.Pusyavarman
6.Pusyamitra                      6.Pusyamitra                     6.Pusyamitra

However, according to most of the Brahmanical sources, Pusyamitra pertained to the Sunga dynasty, and not the Maurya.

3. According to the Tibetan historian Taranatha (p. 48 sq.). Asoka's successors were Kunala, Vigatasoka and Virasena.

4. The Rajatararigini (1, 108-52) has a son of Asoka, named Jalauka, reign in Kasmir.

5. According to the Edict of the Queen (BLOCH, p. 159), Asoka had, by his second wife Kaluvaki, a son named Tivala.

6. Finally, in approximately the year 206, an Indian king named Sophagasenus ( = Subhagasena), who probably belonged to the family of the Mauryas, was beaten in the Kabul valley by the Seleucid Antiochus III the Great and had to surrender a considerable number of elephants to the victor, as well as a large indemnity (Polybius, XI, 34, 11-12).


ORIGIN-. Chandragupta belonged to the ksatriya clan of the Mauryas. This small republic, the centre of which was the Pipphalavana on the borders of the Nepalese Terai, was admitted to the sharing out of the Buddha's relics and received the coals which had been used to cremate him (Digha, II, p. 166). Its subjects were related to the sakyas and, after the massacre of the latter by Virudhaka, took refuge in the Himalayas. Chandragupta was therefore born in exile and was brought up by his mother, the former queen of the Mauryas, whose husband had just been murdered by a neighbouring king (Mahavamsa Comm., p. 181).

Other sources attribute a less noble origin to him. According to the classical historian Justin (XV, 4, 15), Sandracottus was of obscure birth; the Jaina tradition (Parisistaparvan, VIII, 229) as well as the Brahmanical (Mudriraksasa, II and IV) consider him as a descendant of the Nanda family and a humble village girl named Mura.

YOUTH. - A classical and probably apocryphal tradition claims that Androcottus often met Alexander in his early youth and later asserted that Alexander very nearly became ruler of India, since the king of that country Dhana-Nanda was generally hated and despised for his wickedness and the lowness of his birth (Plutarch, Vita Alex., LXII). However, the intrigues of the young Indian did not achieve the result he hoped since, "having offended king Alexander by his effrontery, he was condemned to death and sought his safety in the swiftness of his legs" (Justin, XV, 4, 16). Having taken refuge in the jungle, he became the leader of a band of brigands, induced the Indians of the North-West to rebel and prepared to wage war on the Macedonian satraps (Id., XV, 4, 16-19).


While retreating, Chandragupta fell under the influence of Chanakya, also called Visnugupta or Kautilya. According to the Mahavamsa Commentary (p. 181 sq.), this Chanakya was a brahmin and native of Taksasila. Having gone one day to Dhanananda's palace in Pataliputra, he had been insulted there. In order to avenge himself, he abducted the king's son, Parvatakumara; however, on meeting Chandragupta and considering him to be more capable of serving his purpose than the young prince, he had Parvatakumara put to death and transferred all his plans to Chandragupta. He assembled troops, then incited Chandragupta to rebel, kill Dhanananda and mount the throne of Magadha. The battle which set Chandragupta against Dhanananda's armies commanded by Bhaddasala was particularly murderous, a real "corpse-dance" (Milindapanha, p. 292). It concluded in complete victory for Chandragupta and his domination over the whole territory of Jambudvipa.

According to the dramatist Visakhadatta of the ninth century, Chanakya, having been offended in his brahmanic pride, left Magadha with his young protege Chandragupta and established a confederation of which the main leader, alongside Chandragupta, was Parvataka, a king from the North-West, who has sometimes been identified with the Porus of the Greek historians. Chandragupta and Parvataka agreed to share Dhanananda's states after the victory; however, once the latter was gained, Chanakya, by ruse or by force, eliminated all the other claimants leaving Chandragupta in sole power.

CONQUEST OF INDIA-. According to Plutarch, Androcottus "at the head of an army of 600,000 men, overran and subdued the whole of India" (Vita Alex., LXII). He began by liberating the North-West from the Macedonian yoke. In 321 B.C.E, at the partition of Triparadisus, the only Indian states located to the east of the Indus which acknowledged the foreign suzerainty were the Indian kingdoms of Taxiles and Porus, under the supervision of Eudemus; the satrapy of the Lower Indus entrusted to Peithon was reduced to the region neigbouring the Paropamisadae. In the years 317 B.C.E and 316 B.C.E, the two governors, involved in the battles between the Diadochi, abandoned their territories. Chandragupta immediately added them to his crown, since those regions no longer appear in the list of colonies which Antigonus distributed among his lieutenants after his victory over Eumenes (316 B.C.E). The Indus marked the frontier between India and the Seleucid empire.

With the Punjab liberated, Chandragupta proceeded with the conquest of Avanti and Surastra. The inscription of Rudradaman, on the Junagarh rock in Kathiawar (Luders ,965), recalls that the famous Sudarsana lake, in Girinagara, was originally dug by the vaisya Pusyagupta, a provincial governor of the Maurya king Chandragupta.

Some Tamil authors, Mamulanar, Paranar, etc., claim that at that early date the Mauryas had entered Konkan, crossed the district of Kongu (Coimbatore) and finally reached Podiyil Hill (Malaya). Similarly later inscriptions assert that Nagarkhanda, in Mysore, was protected by the sage Chandragupta, "an abode of usages of eminent Ksatriyas"

THE WAR WITH SELEUCUIS ( 305-304 B.C.E ). - We saw above how, from the evidence of Appian, Strabo and Plutarch, Seleucus I, having crossed the Indus, waged war on Chandragupta but ended by concluding a treaty of friendship and a matrimonial alliance with him. Some information supplied by the geographer Eratosthenes and supported by Strabo seems to indicate that the North-West frontier was moved back towards the west until it included all or part of the Paropamisadae, Arachosia, Gedrosia and even some districts of Aria. The new demarcation line remained unchanged until the beginning of the second century B.C.E; it was crossed, in approximately the year 200 B.C.E, by the troops of Euthydemus of Magnesia and his son Demetrius.

FOREIGN EMBASSIES. - Once peace was concluded, the Seleucids and Lagidae sent ambassadors to the court at Pataliputra, capital of the new Indian empire : Megasthenes and Deimachus of the Plataeans represented the Seleucids, Seleucus I Nicator (312-280 B.C.E) and Antiochus I Soter (280-261 B.C.E ), the first with Chandragupta, the second with Bindusara surnamed Amitraghata; Dionysius was sent by Ptolemy Philadelphus (285-247 B.C.E), either to Bindusara or to Asoka. This is what appears from the evidence of the ancient historians : "There were sent as embassies to Palimbothra, first Megasthenes to Sandracottus, then Deimachus to Allitrochades, son of the former; and they left memoirs of their travels"(Strabo, 11, 1,9). - "Megasthenes who was living with Sibyrtius, satrap of Arachosia, asserts that he called several times on Sandracottus, the king of the Indians" (Arrian, Anab., V, 6,2). - "Greek writers who had stayed at the Indian courts (Megasthenes and Dionysius sent by Philadelphus for this purpose) have described the strength of those peoples" (Pliny, VI, 58).

Megasthenes and Deimachus of the Plataeans in turn published Indike works of which only fragments remain, notable for the former (MULLER,FHG, II pp. 397-439), insignificant for the latter (ID., ibid., pp. 440-1). Both authors are severely criticized by Strabo : "We will point out", he says, "that, even if it is true that, as a general thesis, all the authors who wrote about India lied most of the time, Deimachus surpasses them all in that respect, and Megasthenes comes right after him" (Strabo, 11, 1, 9). On the other hand, Arrian, who cites Megasthenes profusely in his Indike, considers him as a serious historian and places him on the same level as the geographer Eratosthenes (Arrian, Anab., V, 5, 1). Although his critical sense was somewhat mediocre Megasthenes was nevertheless a keen observer and left us good descriptions of the town of Pataliputra, the royal palace, the customs at the imperial court and the composition of the army. The information he supplies is the clearest of what the ancient world knew about India, and is far superior to that of his predecessors, such as Scylax of Caryanda, Hecataeus of Miletus, Herodotus of Halicarnassus and Ctesias of Cnidos. It deserves to be compared with the Kautilya Arthasatra, that code of universal law which describes in detail all the competences of the political, judicial and executive administration of the Indian state. Debate still continues over the question of knowing whether this is indeed the work of Chanakya, Chandragupta's minister.              

DEATH OF CHANDRAGUPTA (300 B.C.E ). - Being closely controlled by the minister who had made his fortune, Chandragupta was doubtless a faithful observer of brahmanical customs. However, a late Jaina tradition, represented by the Parisistaparvan (VIII, 415 sq.), claims that towards the end of his life the emperor embraced the religion of the Tirthankaras, abdicated in favour of his son Simhasena, and retired with the holy Bhadrabihu to a monastery at Sravana- Belgola, in Mysore*. There he is said to have fasted to death in the Jaina fashion. Some inscriptions from Mysore, which date back to about the year 900 C.E, refer to the renowned couple, Bhadrabahu and Chandragupta.

One thing seems certain : namely, that the latter had no sympathy for Buddhism. The Theragatha Commentary claims that, on the instigation of Chanakya, he had the father of the Buddhist Thera Tekicchakari thrown into prison. So it is not without reason that the majority of the Buddhist sources, such as the Divyavadana, willingly pass over him in silence. The Manjusrimulakalpa (w. 439-40) devotes only a few lines to him : he was, it says, a very wealthy sovereign, faithful to his promises and religious; but, bad advisers led him to kill many people. As for his prime minister Chanakya (w. 454-6), he was fearful in anger, but successful in all his undertakings. These continued for three reigns.


The life of the second Maurya appears to be a web of legends, both Sanskrit and Pali. They are found in the Asokavadana (Divya, pp. 369-73; T 99, ch. 23, pp. 162a 17-163b 17; T 2042, ch. 1, pp. 99c 20-100c 27;T 2043, ch. 1, pp. 1326 1 I-133c 2), the Sinhalese chronicles (Dpv., V,101; VI, 15; Mhv., V 18 sq.; 38 sq.; Sp., p. 44) and the Mahdvamsa commentary (pp. 1 87-9, 324).

Known to the Greeks as Amitrochades, Amitrochates or Allitrochades (cf. Amitraghata "slayer of foes" in the Mahabhasya, III, 2, 87, by Patanjali), Bindusara was, according to the Jaina texts, the son of Chandragupta and Durdhara, a first cousin of the latter. Tradition attributes to him some hundred sons, of whom his eldest and favourite was named Susima in Sanskrit, Sumana in Pali. His chief wife, Janapadakalyani, Subhadrangi, or Dhamma, was the daughter of a Brahmin from Campala, and gave him two sons, Asoka and Vitasoka (Tissa in Pali). Among Bindusira's five hundred ministers, we note the names of the old chancellor Chanakya, the soothsayer Pingala Vatsajiva or Pilingavatsa, and the prime minister Radhagupta.

Taranatha (pp. 88-9) presents Bindusara and his minister Chanakya as tireless conquerors; they purportedly exterminated the kings and nobility of approximately sixteen cities and subjugated all the territories between the eastern and western seas. In fact, however, Bindusara merely subdued the revolts brought about by the cruelty of his governors in various parts of his states. According to the Divyavadana (pp. 371-2), two uprisings broke out successively, at Taksasila in the Punjab and at Khasa in the South-west of Kasmir : Asoka, commissioned by his father, succeeded in quelling them by treating the rebels with gentleness, by removing the bad governors and by setting up a feudal regime. The Pali sources add that Asoka also held a viceroyalty in Avantirastra (Dpv., VI, 15, Mhv., V, 39).

Bindusara was on excellent terms with the Seleucids, his neighbours. We have already seen that he received at his court Deimachus of the Plataeans, the ambassador of Seleucus I Nicator, and we also know through Hegesander (FHG, IV, p. 421) that he corresponded with Antiochus I Soter : "The figs were so sought after by all men that even Amitrochates, the Indian king, wrote to Antiochus asking him to send him, in return for money, wine, figs and a sophist. Antiochus replied that he was sending him the figs and wine, but that the Greeks were not in the habit of selling sophists".

With regard to internal politics, Bindusara patronised the Brahmins and ensured the daily maintenance of 60,000 adherents of the brahmanical sects (Sp., p. 44). Furthermore, he did not lack interest in religious wanderers, or Parivrajakas, at least one of whom, Pingalavatsa, exercised his talent, as soothsayer at the court (Divya, p. 370).

Bindusara chose as his successor Susima, his eldest son but his plans were thwarted by Asoka who, immediately after his father's death, occupied Pataliputra where, with the help of the minister Radhagupta, he held all the other claimants at bay. Once his position was assured, legend has it that he killed all his brothers, except Vitasoka (or Tissa), and exterminated the harem and the ministers.


The greatest political and spiritual figure of ancient India was Asoka Devanampriya Priyadarsan Raja Magadhe : "Asoka, the beloved of the gods, of amiable expression, king of Magadha"  Passed over in silence by the Graeco-Roman historians, he is known as much from contemporary documents - the edicts which he had engraved on rocks and pillars - as from later legends the most important of which are Buddhist in origin : Asokavadana (T 2042, 2043) - reproduced in extracts in the Divyavadana (pp. 348-434) and the Samyuktagama (T 99, ch. 23, pp. 161 6- 170c) - and the Sinhalese chronicles (Dipavamsa, Ch. I, V, VI, VII, XI; Mahavamsa, Ch. V, XI, XX : Samantapasadika, p. 35 sq.), not to mention the innumerable allusions in the Buddhist siitras and Siistras, Jaina texts and brahmanical literature. There are considerable divergences between these sources; without attempting to make them consonant, we will analyze them in turn, passing from history to legend, in order to bring out the accretions collected by the latter.

THE DHARMA OF ASOKA.- The remorse which Asoka felt after the bloody conquest of Kalinga led him to embrace the Buddhist religion. He became an upasaka, but for a year his zeal was far from ardent. A year and a half later, during a pilgrimage to the Bodhi tree, he visited the community of monks and, after a peregrination which lasted for two hundred and fifty-six nights, he promulgated the fourteen rock edicts (ca 254 B.C.E), which were followed, fourteen or fifteen years later (ca 242-241 B.C.E), by the seven pillar edicts which aimed at substituting the victory of the Dharma for the reign of coercion and violence.

Asoka himself established a clear distinction between his personal Dharma, which as sovereign he intended to render triumphant "in order to discharge his debt to creatures", and the Buddhist Law expounded by the Buddha and which, according to the recognized expression, he designated in his edict at Bhabra by the name of Saddharma "Good Law".

Therefore it would be fruitless to seek in his edicts the profound ideas and fundamental theories of Buddhism; no mention is made of the four noble truths, or the eightfold path, or the doctrine of dependent origination, or the Buddha's supernatural qualities; neither the name nor concept of Nirvana is encountered. Asoka might have believed he was failing in his duties as an impartial sovereign by favouring a particular religion to the detriment of others. His Dharma is superimposed on various beliefs without any claim to absorb them; acceptable to all, the lay and the religious, Indians or foreigners, it is also compulsory for all.

The Dharma is only an expression, in its most universal form, of the great principles of natural law; it teaches "proper conduct according to the ancient rule", a rule which kings in the past had already tried to promote. To avoid sin, practise virtue and perform the duties of human solidarity, such is the essence of Asoka's Dharma. Therefore, its parallels are not to be found in the Buddhist sutras devoted to the exaltation of the religious life, but in the Dharmasastras, the descriptions of lay morality scattered throughout the ancient anthologies of universal wisdom, Dhammapada, Suttanipdta, as well as the Advice to Upasakas dispersed throughout the canonical writings, Lakkhanasuttanta Singalovada and the various Gahapativagga in the Majjhima , Samyutta  and Anguttara.

The Asokavadana

In the paragraph concerning the Masters of the Law, the chapters of the Asokavadana devoted to Upagupta and his four predecessors were the subject of a brief analysis, but the main object of the work is the Exploits of Asoka which will be summarized here. We will attempt to establish that the chronicle of Asoka, as it appears in this work and directly related sources, was widely disseminated on the Indian continent and inspired men of letters and sculptors. The various episodes which are narrated concerning the king are no doubt of different date and origin; however, some of them, attested on the monuments at Sanci, are quite early in date and were already circulating in the second century B.C.E. THE GIFT OF EARTH AND BIRTH OF ASOKA (T 2A042, ch. 1, pp. 99~-102b; T 2043, ch. 1, pp. 1316 1356; T 99, ch. 23, pp. 161b1656; Divya, pp. 364-82).

Arriving from the Kalandakavana, the Buddha enters Rajagrha in order to beg for his food. His entry into the town is marked by several wonders. Two little boys, Jaya and Vijaya, are playing in the road and amusing themselves with making houses and granaries out of earth. On seeing the Buddha, Jaya respectfully offers him a handful of earth; Vijaya, his hands joined, approves his companion's action. The Buddha predicts to Ananda that, one hundred years after his Nirvana, young Jaya will be the holy king Asoka, who will reign in Pataliputra over the whole of India and will build 84,000 stupas; Vijaya will be his minister, with the name of Radhagupta.

In fact the Mauryan king Bindusara had two sons, Asoka and Vitasoka by a brahmin girl from Campala; the first was to fulfil the Buddha's prediction. At the time of his birth, the seer Pingalavatsa asserted that he would succeed his father, to the detriment of the crown prince Susima. In his youth, Asoka was sent by Bindusara to Takasasila and Khasa to quell the revolts which had been provoked by the governors' extortions. He accomplished that mission so skillfully that, on the death of Bindusura, the ministers made him mount the throne of Magadha. However, since Susima claimed his right to the crown, Asoka shut himself up in Pataliputra and set guards before the doors. Susima, while attempting to enter the town, fell into a cleverly hidden brazier and perished in it.

Now in power, Asoka named Radhagupta as his prime minister. He picked a quarrel with his counsellors and his women folk and had five hundred ministers and five hundred concubines put to death. These executions earned him the name of "Asoka the Cruel" (Candasoka). On the advice of Radhagupta, he built a prison modelled on the Buddhist hells and entrusted the guardianship of it to the cruel Girika, with the order to put to death all those who entered it.

The holy monk Samudra entered it inadvertently and was tortured by Girika; but as he had attained Arhatship, the torment did not affect him. Asoka came to see this wonder for himself, and the holy one reproached him for his cruelty and revealed the Buddha's prediction according to which Asoka was to become a holy king of the Law. Seized with remorse, Asoka embraced Buddhism and took the upasaka vows. He had the executioner Girika burned alive and the prison razed.

Asoka decided to erect a large number of monuments commemorating the glory of the Buddha and so withdrew the relics deposited by Ajatasattru and his contemporaries in the first seven stupas. However, the dragon-king Sagara and his companions, who guarded the stupa at Ramagrama, refused to give up their share to him. When he was in possession of all the relics available, Asoka divided them among 84,000 precious caskets. The Yaksas who were under his orders were dispersed all over Jambudvipa and built 84,000 sttipas in which the caskets were placed. The Sthavira Yasas, abbot of the Kukkutarama, gave the signal to start work by hiding the sun with his hand, and all the stupas were completed at the same time. Their construction earned Asoka the title of "King of the right Law".

The gift of earth by Jaya and Vijaya, the future Asoka and Radhagupta, is narrated in detail in the Hsien yu ching (T 202, ch. 3, p. 368c) and mentioned briefly in the Upadesa (T 1509, ch. 12, p. 147a); it is represented on bas-reliefs of Gandhara (Art greeco-bouddhique, I, p. 5 17; fig. 255, 256) and of the Andhra region (Nagarjunikonda, p. 37, pl. 366).

The struggles Asoka had to sustain in order to accede to the throne, and the massacres he perpetrated among the members of his family at the time he assumed power are known to the Sinhalese tradition. Nevertheless, reference is often made in the edicts to the "sons, grandsons and great grandsons" of the king, beloved of the gods (BLOCH, pp. 100, 102, 171).

The episodes concerning Asoka's Hell are narrated in the Fen pieh kung te lun (T 1507, ch. 3, p. 39a-c), and the ruins of the prison were visited by Fa hsien (T 2085, p. 8636-c) and Hsuan tsang (T 2087, ch. 8, p. 91 1); it consisted of a small fortified town of more than a thousand inhabitants.

Asoka attributes his conversion to Buddhism to the remorse he felt after the Kalinga massacres. Tradition has it that he embraced the religion under the influence of a monk (Samudra in the Asokavadana, Nigrodha in the Sinhalese chronicle) or following the example of one of his women (Kalpanamanditika, T 201, ch. 5, p. 2866).

All the sources without distinction, save the edicts, attribute the simultaneous construction of 84,000 stupas to Asoka. The Manjusrimulakalpa (w. 353-79) says in substance :

"One hundred years after the Parinirvana, there will be in Kusumapura a prince, a protector of the earth, known by the name of Asoka. He will be violent, cruel and pitiless at first; but, on meeting a friend of the good in the person of a disciplined, calm and disinterested bhiksu, and because of merits he had acquired previously through the "gift of earth", he will become a successful prince, capable of distinguishing the Dharma from the Adharma, compassionate and clement. Formerly that prince, without knowing [the Buddha] and as a game, had with joined hands placed some specks of earth in the alms-bowl of the Victorious One Sakyasimha. [The latter had said to him] : "Excercise your kingship, O Protector of the Earth, over Jambudvipa and its forests' ... Then, in the Venuvana at his capital Raja, he piously removed from the reliquary the relics which are to be found there, and, after having paid homage to the ancient stupa, he divided the relics into hundreds of portions and, in a single moment, called upon the Yaksas to adorn the whole of Jambudvipa with stupas and transform the earth into a reliquary. At his command the Yaksas, in half a night, erected stone pillars (SiIayasti) of superhuman beauty, and several thousand pilasters (stambha) were built in order to honour the Caityas and mark the presence of thc bodily relics ... Then the prince rapidly entered his chariot and having loaded it with gold, silver, copper and the most diverse ornaments, went in an instant to the places where the reliquaries had been erected and made them many offerings. From then on, he was known by the name of Dharmasoka 'Asoka the Pious"'.

The legend of the stupa of Ramagrama, collected on the spot by Fa hsien (T 2085, p. 8616) and Hsuan tsang (T 2087, ch. 6, p. 9026-c) consists of two episodes. In order to endow the 84,000 stupas which he had just had erected, Asoka removed the important relics contained in the first seven stupas which had been built after the decease of the Buddha. When he came to divest the eighth, that of Ramagrama, the Nagas, who were the guardians of the monument, opposed his claim, took him to their palace, and showed him the riches they had accumulated as homage. Asoka, considering that he could not match that, forewent emptying the stupa and left it in the charge of the Nagas. This first episode is represented on the southern door at Sanci (Sanci, pl. 11, 2) and on several bas-reliefs in the region of Andhra (Amaravati, p. 166, fig. 5a; pl. 61, 2; Revue des Arts Asiatiques, V, pl. 8, 2 and 11, 2), where one can see the Naga-serpents, with human figures surmounted by a cobra's hood, calmly but firmly opposing the king's archaeological venture.

The second episode, narrated by the same pilgrims, follows the previous one. Encroached upon by the nearby jungle, the stupa of Ramagrama continued to be honoured by a troop of Naga-elephants who came to pay homage to it. The scene is represented on the eastern door at Sanci where one can see a long procession of elephants approaching the monument (Sanci, pl. 46, 3).

However, there is a variation of the legend according to which the Ramagrama stupa was exploited by Asoka, as the preceding seven had been. The Samyuktagama (T 99, ch. 23, p. 165a 16-17) states that the king of the Nagas led Asoka to the Serpents' palace, but that Asoka "demanded the Sarira in order to pay homage to them, and the Nagas gave them to him". The Sinhalese legend (Mahdvarysa, XXXI, 18 sq.) claims that the relics from the Ramagrama stupa were delivered by Mahakala the dragon-king to the disciple Sonuttara, a companion of Mahinda, who transported them to Ceylon. They were placed in the Maha Thupa in Anuradhapura which had been built by Devanampiya, a contemporary of Asoka.

The monastery of the Kukkutarama, referred to by the Asokdvadana had been built by the king in Pataliputra, on the site of the old Kukkutarama "Cock's Park" already mentioned in the canonical texts (Vin., I, p. 300; Majhima, I, p. 349; Samyutta, V, pp. 15, 171; Anguttara, V, p. 342). While the Sanskrit sources (Divya, pp. 38 1, 430) continued to use the old name Kukkutaramama for the new monastery, the Pali sources (Dipavamsa, VII, 3; Mahavamsa, V, 80) prefer to call it the Asokarama. According to the Sanskrit sources, the abbot of the monastery was the Sthavira Yasas (Divya, pp. 381, 385, 399, 404, 406, 423), probably a former minister who had been won over to Buddhism by Asoka himself (Kalpanamanditika, T 201, ch. 3, p. 2741) : this person, unknown to the Pali sources, was familiar to the Chinese pilgrims, in particular Hsuan tsang who also refers to him as the abbot of the Kukkutarama (T 2087, ch. 8, p. 912c 2), then notes the presence of the "Great Arhat" at the Samajna monastery in Khotan (Zbid., ch. 12, p. 9446). According to the Annals of the Li-yul, he emigrated to Khotan with seven thousand adherents, and became the spiritual adviser to King Kustana.

Asoka and Kasmir

Kalhana, who, in the twelfth century, compiled the Kasmirian chronicle of the Rajatararigini links Asoka to the ancient royal lineage and gives as his great-grandfather a certain Sakuni, unknown elsewhere. However, he is not unaware that Asoka was a devout adherent of the Buddha's doctrine and even attributes to him the founding of a large number of stupas and viharas in the region of Suskaletra and Vitastrata (Rajat., I, 102-3). So far, no trace of these have been found, but it should be noted that Hsiian tsang (T 2087, ch. 3, p. 886a) had also recorded the existence in Kasmir of four Asokan stupas, each containing a bushel of relics.

Still according to Kalhana (I, 104-7), the foundation of Srinagari on the site of the presentday village of Pandrethan could be traced back to Asoka. His Buddhist convictions did not prevent him in the least from showing his respect for Sivaism : he replaced the old enclosure of the Vijayesvara shrine at Vijabron by a stone wall and enriched the sanctuary with two new temples which received the name of Asokesvara; he made a pilgrimage to the holy Mount Haramukuta where he gained the favour of Siva Bhutesa : the god granted him a son, Jalauka, who was destined to fight the Mlecchas who threatened the frontiers of the kingdom.

In the Kasmirian chronicle, Jalauka is presented as a popular hero : he repulsed the Mlecchas, undertook vast conquests, introduced new colonies into Kasmir and for the first time organized a complete system of administration. Having been instructed in the Sivaite religion by the holy Avadhuta, the "destroyer of Buddhist theoreticians", he became the official protector of the sanctuaries of Siva Vijayesvara and Nandisa. However, after opposing Buddhism, he adopted a more friendly attitude thanks to the intervention of a Buddhist enchantress, in memory of whom he built the Krtyasrama Vihara (Rajat., I, 108-52).

If there is any historical truth in this tradition, it seems to be submerged under a spate of anachronisms.

Asoka and Nepal

We have already seen, from the evidence of the Asokavadana, how in his youth the emperor had had to quell an uprising in Khasa. The historian Taranatha (p. 27) states that the rebellious movement extended to the hill-people of Nepal : the young prince easily mastered them and instituted taxes and tributes. The edicts of Rummindei and Nigali Sagar prove that Nepal formed part of the imperial states, and that Asoka went there in person to pay homage to the birthplace of the Buddha and the stupa of Kaunakamuni. The Nepalese tradition adds that the pilgrimage made by Asoka went as far as Nepal, that the king founded the town of Patan, two miles to the south-east of Kathmandu, and built five caityas, one in the centre and four on the periphery of the new city.The first still exists today : it is a stupa of an archaic type. On this journey, Asoka was probably accompanied by his daughter Carumati, who was to marry a Nepalese kstriya named Devapala. The young couple settled in Nepal, where they founded the town of Deopatan; towards the end of her life, Carumati retired to a vihara which she hadabuilt to the north of the city and which still bears her name : the Vihara of Chabahil. Tradition still.links Asoka with the famous shrine of the primordial Buddha Svayambhunatha, located in Western Nepal.

Asoka and Khotan

Some sources which go no further back than the seventh century C.E. attribute to Asoka or his sons the founding of the kingdom of Khotan in Central Asia. It is unlikely, however, that the Mauryan empire extended beyond India itself.

The most reasonable version of the legend is recorded by Hsuan tsang in his "Hsi yu chi "(T 2087, ch. 12, p. 943a-6) : Asoka banished from his empire the officials of Taksasila who, carrying out the orders of the cruel Tisyaraksita, had blinded his son Kunala. The exiles crossed the Snow Mountains and settled in a desert which covered the western part of Khotan. At the same period, a Chinese prince, who was also in exile, occupied the eastern part of Khotan. The two colonies came to blows; the leader of the Taxilians was vanquished and forced to flee, but he was captured and finally beheaded. The Chinese prince occupied the central portion of the kingdom, which extended between the two colonies - Chinese and Indian -, and established his capital there.

The Life of Hsuan tsang (T 2053, ch. 5, p. 251a) records these events in a somewhat different way : it is Kunala himself, Asoka's son, who was banished and withdrew to Khotan where he set up his capital. Since he had no descendants, he went to the temple of the god Vaisravana and asked him for a son. A male child emerged from the god's brow and, having no mother, was fed from a breast which issued miraculously from the ground near the temple. Hence the name of Kustana (stana "breast") given to the child.

The Buddhist prophecy in the Gosrngvyakarana, compiled about the seventh century, tells how a king of China had asked Vaisravana for a son and the god brought him an Indian boy who was none other than Asoka's son. A breast which appeared miraculously from the ground fed the child who took the name of "Breast of the Earth - Breast of the Mother" (Sa-las-nu-ma-nu), a periphrase which serves to translate Kustana. His adoptive father named him king of Khotan. He went to occupy his territory with the Lord Chancellor Hjan-So (Yasas) and several Chinese army units. The Chinese were soon joined by a numerous Indian tribe coming from the western region. An agreement was reached between the two colonies over the communal use of water and, throughout the territory, Hjan-So established Chinese and Indian towns and villages.

The Tibetan chronicle of the Li-yul supplies date and details : it locates Asoka's accession in 184 after the Nirvana (302 B.C.E), the birth of Kustana in 215-6 after the Nirvana (271-72 B.C.), his accession in 234-5 after the Nirvana (252-51 B.C.) and the death of Asoka in 239-40 after the Nirvana (247-46 B.C.). The Indian king Dharmasoka, who was converted to Buddhism by his "spiritual friend" the Arhat Yasas, went one day to Khotan. It was there that his wife, fertilized by an apparition of the god Vaisravana, gave birth to a male child. Asoka, fearing he might be dethroned by that son, abandoned him on the spot, but the child was fed from a breast which came out of the ground, and his name was Kustana. At that time, a Chinese king (Shih huang ti?) who had as yet only 999 sons, asked Vaisravana for a thousandth one. The god gave Kustana to him, and the king welcomed him among his own. Once he had grown up, the adopted son quarrelled with his brothers and father and returned to Khotan, his native country, with ten thousand Chinese colonists. Yasas, Asoka's minister, who had become insufferable at the Indian court, also went to Khotan with seven thousand men. There he came up against Kustana and the Chinese. After some frictions which were appeased by the god Vaisravana, an agreement was reached : the Chinese occupied Skam-Sed to the east of the rivers; the Indians settled in Kon-Sed to the west of the rivers; the centre of the country was exploited jointly by both colonies.

If there is the slightest element of truth in the Khotanese legend, it concerns the establishment of an early Indian colony in Khotan. Some documents in Prakrit of the North-West and in Kharosthi script, the oldest of which date the third century B.C., have been discovered in the southern part of the Tarim Basin, mainly at Niya and Endere.

They deal with affairs of public administration and private life, and the persons who signed them-have Indian names - such as Bhima, Bangusena, Nandasena, Samasena, Sitaka, Upajiva - or they are adapted from Indian, such as Angacha, Kusanasena, etc. These documents prove that one or several Indian colonies came and settled in Khotan during the last centuries B.C. and spoke a dialect linguistically related to Prakrit of the North-West (Taxila).

The Last Mauryas

The Indian empire, conquered after a hard-fought struggle by Chandragupta, politically organized by Chanakya, and spiritually unified by Asoka, fell into a decline on the death of the latter. By favouring the sects in general and Buddhism in particular, the pious emperor possibly alienated the sympathy of the brahmins, the traditional supporters of the throne. The doctrine of Ahimsa or Non-Violence, which was strictly enforced after the conquest of Kalinga, had perhaps avoided bloody wars, but it also contributed to the weakening of military power in the empire and deprived the central authorities of an indispensable instrument of domination. In reality, the Mauryan empire began to disintegrate and then collapsed under the very weight of its size, a victim of the centrifugal forces which brought pressure on it, palace .intrigues, communication difficulties, the greed of local governors and autonomist movements instigated by their exactions. Its final disintegration was the result of Greek invasions and a military revolt.

The last Mauryas are known from the Puranic and Buddhist lists reproduced above pp. 216-218). There are too many of them for the space of 49 years assigned to their reigns. It is probable that several of them ruled simultaneously over different provinces of the empire.

The legend woven around Kunala situates him in North-West India, in Taksasila, possibly even Khotan. Although he is unknown to the Buddhist and Jaina sources, the Dasaratha of the Puranic list left three short dedicatory inscriptions (LUDERs,546) which commemorate the gift of the Vahiyaka, Gopikaand Vadathika caves to the Venerable Ajivikas "by the beloved of the gods (devanampiya) Dasalatha". They are to be found on the Nagarjuni Hill near the Barabar caves which Asoka presented to the same sect.

In the Asokavadana, reference has already been made to Sampadin or Sampati, grandson of Asoka and son of Kunala. He opposed the foolish expenditure of his ageing grandfather and held him in thrall before inheriting the throne when it was bought back from the Samgha by Asoka's ministers. The Jaina sources (Pataliputrakalpa by Jinaprabhasuri) also refer to him as Asoka's immediate successor; he ruled in Pataliputra and, after his conversion to Jainism under the influence of Suhastin, "he established viharas for the (Jaina) Sramanas as far away as non-Aryan countries".

Salisuka, his successor according to the Purana, is mentioned in the Yogapurana of the Gargi Samhita (w. 89-93) : "In pleasant Puspapura (Pataliputra), Salisuka will reign. That king, the son of his deeds, wicked and pugnacious, will oppress his kingdom : he based his authority on the Dharma, being himself irreligious.. . And that madman will establish the supposed Victory of the Law". The text is corrupt and the passage obscure but, if we have understood it correctly, the author, from the viewpoint of his brahmanic orthodoxy, is reproaching Salisuka for a triumph of the Law which would have made him an emulator of his great ancestor.

Should the Vrsasena of the Buddhist list or the Virasena of Taranatha be identified with the Sophagasenus (Skt. Subhagasena) who, in approximately the year 206, was to make way for Antiochus III the Great, after a long war which the latter waged against Euthydemus of Magnesia, the king of Bactria? According to Polybius (XI, 34, 1 1-12), once the hostilities were over, Antiochus "having crossed the Caucasus (Hindukush) and having entered Indian territory, renewed his friendship with King Sophagasenus. He received elephants from him, so that in all he had one hundred and fifty and, after having supplied his troops with wheat, he returned with his army; however, he left behind Androsthenes of Cyzicus to bring back the treasure which had been granted to him by the king".

As will be seen further on, Brhadratha, the last of the line, was killed during a military parade by his commander-in- chief Pusyarnitra; however, the Buddhist sources are wrong in identifying the latter as a member of the Maurya family. The fall of the empire did not completely extinguish the lineage : there was still a Purnavarman in Magadha, some Mauryan princes in Konkan, a Dhavala in Rajputana, a Govindaraja in Khandesh and the memory of the Mauryas endured in Karnataka until the eleventh century.


BACTRIA FROM 325 TO 250 B.C.E. –

From the year 325 B.C.E onwards, the Greek military colonists who had been settled in Bactria by Alexander, rebelled; they separated from the Macedonians and, 3,000 in number, strove to return to their native land (Diodorus, XVII, 99, 5-6). They occupied the citadel of Bactra and their leader, Athenodorus, even assumed the title of king, less through greed for power than a desire to bring back to Greece those who acknowledged his authority. One of his compatriots, Biton, who was jealous of him, had him assassinated during a feast by the Bactrian Boxus. However, the rebels would not acknowledge Biton as king and were about to slay him (Quintus Curtius, IX, 7, 3-4). He returned to his country, but the majority of the colonists were still in the higher satrapies when Alexander's empire was shared out by Perdiccas in 323 B.C.E, a partition which confirmed Philippus as satrap of Bactria (Diodorus, XVIII, 3, 3).

However, the rebellious movement spread. The mercenaries chose the Aenean Philo as their general and built up an army of 20,000 infantry- men and 3,000 cavalrymen who had all taken part in warfare and were noted for their bravery. In order to subdue them, Perdiccas withdrew 3,000 infantry and 800 cavalry from the Macedonian army, and put the contingent in charge of General Peithon, the satrap of Media. The latter easily defeated the rebels. He would have liked to spare them, but his soldiers, obeying the orders of Perdiccas, were pitiless and massacred the vanquished taking them unawares. Peithon, frustrated in his wishes, could only take his Macedonians back to Perdiccas (Diodorus, XVIII, 7, 1-9).

Nevertheless, the Greek element did not disappear from Bactria. At the partition of Triparadisus in 321 B.C.E , the satrapy passed, together with Sogdiana, into the hands of Stasanor of Soloi (Diodorus, XVIII, 39, 6). The latter, with his colleagues from the higher satrapies, embraced the cause of Eumenes in his battle against Antigonus : including troops supplied by Stasandrus, satrap of Aria and Drangiana, the Bactrian contingent consisted of 1,500 infantry and 1,000 cavalry (Diodorus, XIX, 14,7). However after the indecisive battles waged in Paraecene and Gabiene, Eumenes was delivered to Antigonus by his argyraspides and strangled in his prison (316 B.C.E.); the satraps then disbanded and each of them thought nothing but his own safety. Stasanor of Soloi returned to Bactria, his possession of which was officially conhed by Antigonus (Diodorus, XIX, 48, 1).

During the final partition of Alexander's empire, Iran, as we know, fell to the Seleucids. From then on, the higher satrapies revolved in the orbit of the court of Antioch, in the reigns of Seleucus I Nicator (312-280 B.C.E ) and Antiochus I Soter (280-261B.C.E). They were to break away, at least in part, in the reign of Antiochus II Theos (261-247 B.C.E). This prince, engaged in the West during the second Syrian war (260-255B.C.E ) and allied with Macedonia, retook from the Egypt of the Ptolemies, the coast of Asia Minor and fortified towns in Coele-Syria. His second marriage (252 B.C.E) to Berenice, the daughter of Ptolemy II, and the repudiation of his wife and cousin Laodice involved the empire in a difficult problem of succession which, together with the external wars, enabled Bactria and Parthia to proclaim their independance.

DIODOTUS I, KING OF BACTRIA (ca 250-235 B.C.E). - Taking advantage of the troubles which had broken out in the trans-Taurian region subsequent to the lack of attention which the kings of Syria and Media, too busy elsewhere, could give to that remote part of their states, the leaders to whom those possessions had been entrusted roused Bactria and the whole adjacent region" (Strabo, XI, 9, 2). This defection took place in 250 B.C. "under the consulate of L. Manlius Vulso and M. Attilus Regulus". The satrap of Bactria and Margiana at the time was Diodotus, designated by Justin by the name of Theodotus : "Theodotus, the governor of a thousand towns in Bactria, defected and assumed the title of king" (Justin, XLI, 4, 5).

"The Scythian Arsaces, in turn, followed by a band of Dahae nomads, called Dahae Parni, who lived along the Ochus (Heri-rud), attacked and seized Parthia" (Strabo, XI, 9, 2). Justin states that, at the time, Parthia was governed by a certain Andragoras, some of whose coins have been found; Andragoras was killed, and Arsaces became ruler of the nation (Justin, XLI, 4, 6-7).

It is generally believed that Arsaces was a Scythian, although "some authors claim that he was a native of Bactria and that it was because he was not able to hold out against the increased power of Diodotus that he fled to Parthia and incited it to revolt" (Strabo, XI, 9,3). Aman gives the Arsacids, Arsaces and Tiridates, as the sons of Phriapita and grandsons of Arsaces (Parthica, fr. 1); Syncellius has them descend from the Achaemenid Artaxerxes II, king of the Persians (Syncell, p. 284b). According to these two authors, Parthia, at the time of the revolt, was governed by the Macedonian Pherecles or Agathocles, appointed satrap by Antiochus II Theos; this governor made an indecent attack on Tiridates' person, so 'the two brothers instigated a plot and killed him. The same fact is recorded by Zosimus (I, 18). Arsaces I ruled for two years (250-248 B.C.E); Antiochus II did not dispute his conquest, any more than he had troubled Diodotus I.

Tiridates succeeded his brother under the name of .Arsaces II, and reigned from 248 to 214 B.C.E. The Parthian era begins on April 14th 247 B.C.E, a date which has been established by a Babylonian tablet which gives both dates, Seleucid and Parthian.

In Syria, Antiochus II Theos, poisoned by Laodice, the wife he repudiated, left two children : Seleucus II Callinicus and Antiochus Heirax. Seleucus I1 ruled from 247 to 226. He spent his life on  campaigns. During the third Syrian war (246-241B.C.E ), his kingdom was invaded as far as the Tigris by Ptolemy III and he had only just repulsed this invasion when he had to engage his own brother, Antiochus Heirax, in implacable warfare which cut off his states in Asia Minor to the north of the Taurus (before 236 B.C.E).

In the meantime, Tiridates, promoted to the title of King and Great King in Parthia, had seized Hyrcania without any opposition and so was ruler of two kingdoms. It was only in 236 B.C.E that the legitimate sovereign, Seleucus II, considered disputing his conquest. He allied himself with another rebel, Diodotus I, the king of Bactria and marched against Tiridates. Faced with this danger, the latter "raised a great army because he feared Seleucus and Diodotus, king of Bactria" (Justin, XLI, 4, 8).

DIODOTUS II (ca 235-225 B.C.E). - The Bactro-Syrian coalition had made Arsaces II Tiridates fear-stricken : following the example given in the past by Bessus and Spitamenes, he took refuge with the Scythians,his compatriots : "Fleeing from Seleucus II Callinicus, he withdrew to the land of the Apasiacae (of the Massagetae race on the Middle Oxus)" (Strabo, XI, 8, 8). However, before hostilities began, Diodotus I died and was replaced by his son Diodotus II. The latter immediately broke off the alliances and, parting definitively from the court of Antioch, embraced the Parthians' cause. Thus it was that Tiridates "freed from anxiety by the death of Diodotus (I), made peace and allied himself with that prince's son also named Diodotus (II); shortly afterwards, he came to blows with Seleucus who came to punish the rebels and he was the victor" (Justin, XLI, 4, 9). Now that he was the uncontested ruler of Bactria, Diodotus II struck staters of gold and tetradrachms of copper with the legend : the obverse represented the profile of the prince as a young man; the reverse, a standing Zeus, throwing a thunderbolt.

EUTHYDEMUS OF MAGNESIA (c a 225-190 B.C.E). - The Diodotus lineage was overthrown by a certain Euthydemus of Magnesia, who later boasted to the Seleucids that he had put to death the descendants of the rebels (Polybius, XI, 34, 2). Whether or not he acted at the instigation of the Antioch court, he ruled in Bactria and struck coins representing on the reverse, no longer the Diodotus Zeus, but Heracles, sitting on a rock and holding a club in his right hand.

Euthydemus came up against a powerful opponent in the person of Antiochus III the Great. The latter, the son of Seleucus II who had died in 226 B.C.E, succeeded his elder brother Seleucus II Soter in 223 B.C.E, and immediately took steps to restore his kingdom. His attempt to reconquer Ptolemaic Syria and Palestine failed at the Egyptian victory of Raphia which ended the fourth Syrian war (219-216 B.C.E). He was more fortunate in Upper Asia where, from 212 to 204 B.C.E, he undertook an armed circuit comparable to the Anabasis of Alexander. With one hundred thousand infantry and twenty thousand cavalry, he traversed Southern Armenia, Sophene, the dynasty of which submitted; he then dealt with Arsaces III Artaban, king of the Parthians (214-196 B.C.E ); finally he proceeded to attack Bactria (208 B.C.E ).

According to Polybius (X, 49), Antiochus III entered the district of Tapuria (Tapuri on the Upper Atrek) which was defended by Euthydemus, crossed the river Anus (Heri-rud) by surprise, and put to flight the ten thousand Bactrian cavalrymen who were responsible for its defence. Fear-sticken, Euthydemus withdrew with his army to the town of Zariaspa in Bactria where Antiochus came and besieged him (Polybius, XXIX, 6A, 5). Hostilities continued for two years (208-206 B.C.E ), while Scythian hordes were a dangerous threat to the northern frontiers of the kingdom. This peril was skillfully exploited for Antiochus by Teleas, kinsman of Euthydemus, who pointed out the dangers which a fratricide battle between the Seleucids and the Greek king of Bactria would hold for the cause of Hellenism. Euthydemus, far from defecting, had killed the descendants of the rebel Diodotus, and it was wrong of Antiochus to try and dethrone him. The Bactrian king wished for peace and only asked to retain his title. A refusal would benefit only the nomad Scythians, who were ready to invade the country (Polybius, XI, 34, 1-5).

The plea of Teleas was heard. Only too happy to end the war which was dragging on, Antiochus agreed to deal with Demetrius, son of Euthydemus, who had been sent to him to conclude peace : "Having received him with favour, and judging the young man to be worthy of ruling, as much because of his good looks as the majesty of his address, Antiochus promised him the hand of one of his daughters, and granted his father Euthydemus the title of king. Having settled the other points with a written agreement and concluded a sworn alliance, he struck camp after having copiously revictualled his army and taking with him all the elephants which had belonged to Euthydemus" (Polybius, XI, 34,9-10).

Instead of returning to his country by the direct route, Antiochus, as we have seen, crossed the Hindukush and entered Indian territory. He renewed with the Maurya Subhagasena the treaty which had been concluded formerly between Seleucus I and the emperor Chandragupta, not without imposing on the Indian king a heavy war tax. Finally, he returned to Syria across Arachosia, Drangiana and Carmania.

Strengthened by the alliance concluded with the Seleucid, and making the most of the weakness of the last representative of the Mauryas in the North-West, Euthydemus and his son Demetrius extended their kingdom towards the north-west, at the expense of the Arsacids, and to the south-east to the detriment of the Indians. Euthydemus seems to have asserted his authority over Arachosia and the regions located to the west of the Indus. His coinage is wide-spread, and the variety of the monograms indicates the existence of many mints. The places where the coins were found suggest an extensive domain, and the variations of his effigy, going from youth to old age, bear witness to a long reign. It is believed that he died about the year 190 B.C.E. The weakening of the Seleucid empire by the defeats at Thermopylae, Magnesia under Sipylos and Corycus, the shameful peace of Apamea (188 B.C.E), soon followed by the death of Antiochus III (187 B.C.E), the collapse of the Mauryan empire after the assassination of Dasaratha (ca 187 B.C.E ), made Bactria the most powerful state of eastern Iran. Demetrius was able to take advantage of the circumstances to carve out an Indian empire for himself.

Greek through its dynasts, Bactria had remained Iranian in its beliefs and way of life : "Formerly", says Strabo, "there was hardly any difference, between the Nomads on the one hand, and the Sogdians and Bactrians on the other with regard to their way of life and all their manners and customs" (Strabo, XI, 11, 3). Homeland of Zoroastrianism, Bactria remained faithful to the cult of Fire and Anaitis, goddess of the Oxus, who, with her crown of rays, appears on the coins of Demetrius. According to Onesicritus, the Bactrians who reached old-age or who fell sick were thrown alive to "entomber-dogs"; the Tapurian males wore black and had long hair, and the bravest had the right to marry the woman of their choice; the Caspians left septuagenarians to die of hunger and exposed their bodies in the desert, where they were devoured by birds of prey. For a long time, Bactria was to remain faithful to her ancestral customs and force all her conquerors to become Iranized to a considerable degree. It was only after the Kusana period that she was to become accessible to Buddhist propaganda, whatever the efforts made by the missionaries may have been up till then. Ceylon on the contrary, if the tradition can be believed, embraced the Good Law in the reign of Devanampiyatissa, a contemporary of Asoka.


While Asoka and the last Mauryas occupied the throne of Magadha, two kings reigned in Ceylon whose names and dates are supplied to us by the chronicles :

Sovereign                      Length of reign                Ancient Era (B.C.)
Devanampiyatissa           40                                       250-210
Uttiya                                 10                                        210-200

The event of greatest importance was the introduction of Buddhism into Ceylon and the establishment of communities of bhiksus and bhiksunis which, under the protection of the kings, were able to develop freely.

As we saw earlier, it was in about the twelfth or thirteenth year of his reign (256-255 B.C.) that Asoka boasted in his edicts (BLOCHp, p. 93, 130) that he had made the Law victorious in foreign lands, in the kingdoms of South India and, in particular, Tamrapami or Ceylon. His envoys who, we should remember, were not Buddhist propagandists, no doubt arrived on the island towards the end of the reign of the fifth sovereign Mutasiva, who gave them a warm welcome. Five or six years later, Mutasiva died and the throne passed to his second son Devanampiya.

DEVANAPIYATISSA (236-276 after the Nirvana, 250-210 B.C.E).

The history of his reign, which lasted for forty years, is narrated in detail in the chronicles of the Dija (XI, 14 sq.; XII, 7; XVII, 92) and the Mahavamsa (XI, XIII-XX). Here, we will merely record its main facts.

The day of his first coronation was marked by the miraculous appearance of wonderful treasures. The king decided to send part of them to the emperor Asoka, with whom he was on friendly terms. An embassy, led by Maharittha, the king's nephew, was entrusted with conveying them to Pataliputra. Asoka, who had just initiated the third Buddhist council, graciously received the gifts which were made to him. He sent the embassy back to Ceylon with the material needed for a second coronation. At the same time, he sent a pressing invitation to Devanampiyatissa to embrace the Buddha's religion : "I have taken, my refuge", he wrote to the king, "in the Buddha, the Law and the Community; I have proclaimed myself to be a lay disciple in the religion of the Sons of the Shakya ,it is your turn, o best of men, to appease your mind through faith and take your refuge in those three supreme Jewels". On the return of the embassy, Devanampiyatissa was solemnly crowned a second time, and prepared to receive the Buddhist message.

Shortly after, at the full moon in the month of Jettha in the year 236 after. the Nirvana (May, 250 B.C.E), the king, who was engaged in a hunting party on Mount Missaka (Mihintale, eight miles north of the capital), saw landing at his side seven Buddhist missionaries who had flown through the air to convert the island of Ceylon. Mahinda, the head of the mission, expounded a sutta to him and the king, who wished for nothing else than to be converted, embraced Buddhism. His retinue, numbering five hundred persons, followed his example.

The following day, he took Mahinda and his companions to his capital and settled them in the Nandana and Mahameghavana parks, situated to the south of Anuradhapura. The missionaries organized a series of sermons which brought the number of converts to 8,500.

During the mission, which lasted for seven days, the king offered the Mahameghavana to the Samgha by pouring into Mahinda's hand the contents of a water pitcher, as a sign of an everlasting donation (Mhv., XV, 14-15; 24-5). Then, in order to ensure definitively the "establishment of the religion of the Victorious One" (jinasasanapattithana), he fixed with Mahinda the boundaries of the parish (sima) where the uposatha ceremonies and other acts of the Samgha were to take place (Dpv., XIV, 21-5; Mhv., XV, 180-94).

On the twenty-seventh day after the arrival of the missionaries fifty five young Sinhalese. Arittha among them, donned the religious robe and received ordination. The bhikkhus withdrew to Mount Missaka and spent the rainy season there. It was there that the king built the Cetiyapabbata vihara for them (Mhv., XVI, 12-17).

The monks' retreat ended at the full moon of the month of Kattika (October). Immediately, at Mahinda's instigation Devanampiyatissa sent the samanera Sumana, Asoka's grandson, who had come to Ceylon with Mahinda, to Pataliputra. Sumana acquired from his grandfather, as well as from the god Sakka, a quantity of precious relics, in particular the right clavicle (dakkhinakkhaka) and the alms-bowl (patta) of Sakyamuni. Once they reached Ceylon, all these relics were placed provisionally in the Cetiyapabbata (Mhv., XVII, 9-23).

Finally, Princess Anula, Mutasiva's daughter and Devanampiya's step-sister, expressed the desire to take up the religious life with some companions; it thus became necessary to acquire a chapter of Buddhist nuns so they could be ordained authentically. A third embassy, under the leadership of the bhikkhu Maharittha, was therefore sent to Asoka's court. Arittha asked the emperor of India not only for some ten nuns, but also for the southern branch of the tree of Enlightenment (mahabodhidakkhinasakha). His request was granted, and the nun Samghamitta, Asoka's own daughter, was sent to Ceylon with ten other bhikkhunis; they carried with them the branch of the holy tree. Asoka himself escorted them through the Vindhyas to the port of Tamalitti (Tamralipti, present-day Tamluk), on the eastern coast. The holy women, accompanied by Magadhan nobles, took to sea on the first day of the month of Maggasira (November). After a rapid but stormy crossing, they landed in Ceylon, at the port of Jambukola, where the king awaited them in the midst of a throng of people who had come from all parts of the island. The planting of the holy branch was performed with great ceremony. Saplings were planted in Anuradhapura and the surrounding area, in Jambukolapattana, in the village of Tivakka Brahmana in the north, in Kijaragima in the south, and in a place known as Candanagama which has not been identified. Later, thirty-two saplings were distributed throughout the island (Mhv., XVIII-XIX).

Samghamitta and the bhikkhunis conferred ordination on Princess Anula and her companions. The Upasika-vihara, where the last-named lived, was transformed and enlarged, and was given the name of Hatthalhaka-vihara or Bhikkhunupassaya. Samghamitta set up her quarters there (Mhv., XIX, 65-71).

Tradition attributes to Devanampiyatissa the founding of some twenty Buddhist monuments some of which still exist today : but they underwent so many transformations in the course of time, that any hope of discovering their original form is lost.

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