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The Story of India

Lesson 2: An Edict on Ashoka

(Mauryan Empire, 3rd Century BCE)


  • Review the basic tenets of Buddhism.
  • Examine Ashoka's great victory at Kalinga and his subsequent renunciation of violence.
  • Analyze how Ashoka's conversion to Buddhism influenced his rule of the Mauryan Empire


Ashoka symbolizes one of India's great ages. After years of brutal rule and the bloody Battle of Kalinga, Ashoka felt tremendous regret for the violence he wrought upon his enemies. He converted to Buddhism and embraced the idea of dharma, ruling through righteousness. In the years that followed, he developed a tightly structured bureaucracy that allowed him to govern with efficiency and a justness that distinctly contrasted with the ruling traditions of the time throughout the world.

Through a series of edicts carved in stone and placed throughout the empire, Ashoka proclaimed to his people the importance of Buddhist values and his beliefs about how his people should act.

Main Task

First, write an edict that memorializes one of India's most influential leaders, Ashoka the Great. Topics can include his adherence to Buddhist values or his effective governing style.

Next, in the spirit of the Ashokan Edicts, write a series of modern-day edicts that reflect the beliefs of Ashoka but apply to issues faced today.

Brief Process

  1. Discuss the development of Buddhism and the basic principals the Buddha advocated for during his lifetime.
  2. Review the materials on Ashoka, the Battle of Kalinga, and the Edicts of Ashoka.
  3. As a class or individually, read and analyze some of Ashoka's Edicts. How do they exemplify his Buddhist beliefs? What types of topics does he address?
  4. In the style of the Ashoka's edicts, write one that commemorates Ashoka and his rule.
  5. Write additional edicts that Ashoka may have written in modern times, either in India, the United States, or elsewhere.


Off Site Resources

Extension Ideas

  • Design a drawing or a model of a modern pillar on which these edicts would be written.
  • Publish your edicts online through a multimedia creation tool, such as a blog or wiki.


Era 2: Classical Traditions, Major Religions, and Giant Empires, 1000 BCE-300 CE
Standard 3: How major religions and large-scale empires arose in the Mediterranean basin, China, and India, 500 BCE—300 CE
Grade Level Therefore, the student is able to
5-12 Describe the life and teachings of the Buddha and explain ways in which those teachers were a response to the Brahmanic system.
9-12 Explain the growth of the Mauryan Empire in the context of rivalries among Indian states.
5-12 Evaluate the achievements of the emperor Ashoka and assess his contribution to the expansion of Buddhism in India.
7-12 Analyze how Buddhism spread in India, Ceylon, and Central Asia.