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Ashoka pillar: JNU professor Romila Thapar highlights history behind inscription

The Allahabad Ashoka Pillar is a unique monument that carries three particularly significant edicts that describe Ashoka’s 27th ruling year, the achievements of Samudragupta as eulogised by Hari Sena, and Jahangir’s family tree.

Mumbai |
February 17, 2018 5:16:54 am
Romila Thapar at the lecture. (Express Photo by Amit Chakravarty)

Historian and professor emerita at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, Romila Thapar, presented a lecture titled ‘Encapsulating the World: Ashoka’s pillar at Allahabad’ as a part of the special lecture series, ‘India & the World: A History in Nine Stories’, organised by the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (CSMVS). The Allahabad Ashoka Pillar is a unique monument that carries three particularly significant edicts that describe Ashoka’s 27th ruling year, the achievements of Samudragupta as eulogised by Hari Sena, and Jahangir’s family tree.

“There are many pillars in India that carry the occasional inscriptions, but the Allahabad Pillar of Ashoka is remarkable for the particular inscriptions that it carries and the very different inscriptions that it carries, with wide-ranging references. These are a reflection of the diverse period of history extending across three millennia with each later inscription registering a change,” Thapar said.

The edicts on the pillar are all in different languages, using different scripts. Ashoka’s edict was written in Prakrit, Samudragupta’s in Brahmi and Jahangir’s in the Nastalik (a Persian script). Thapar said it was unlikely that the successive authors could read the scripts in with the previous edicts were inscribed or even knew the identity of the preceding authors. Yet, they all seemed to think that the pillar was an effective way in which to “proclaim the legitimacy of their rule”.

Professor Thapar concluded the lecture by emphasizing on the montage of Indian history that the monument provides. “It is also an indication of how one cannot see the world around, any country and certainly not India, as remaining identical and similar century after century…it has the power to generate history and demonstrate that history never actually comes to a closure,” Thapar said.

Written by Tanvi Shenoy

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