Pillars of Ashoka

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One of the Pillars of Ashoka, in Vaishali

The pillars of Ashoka are a series of monolithic columns dispersed throughout the Indian subcontinent, erected or at least inscribed with edicts by the Mauryan Emperor Ashoka during his reign from c.  268 to 232 BCE.[1] Ashoka used the expression Dhaṃma thaṃbhā ("pillars of the Dharma") to describe his own pillars.[2][3]

Of the pillars erected by Ashoka, twenty still survive, including those with inscriptions of his edicts. Two pillars were relocated to Delhi by Firuz Shah Tughlaq.[4] Several pillars were relocated later by Mughal Empire rulers, the animal capitals (i.e. the heads of the pillars) being removed.[5] Averaging between 12 and 15 m (40 and 50 ft) in height, and weighing up to 50 tons each, the pillars were dragged, sometimes hundreds of miles, to where they were erected.[6]

All the pillars of Ashoka were built at Buddhist monasteries, many important sites from the life of the Buddha and places of pilgrimage. Some of the columns carry inscriptions addressed to the monks and nuns.[7] Some were erected to commemorate visits by Ashoka. Major pillars are present in the Indian States of Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and some parts of Haryana.

The pillars of Ashoka are among the earliest known stone sculptural remains from India. It is thought that before the 3rd century BCE, wood rather than stone was used as the main material for Indian architectural constructions, and that stone may have been adopted following interaction with the Persians and the Greeks.[8] A graphic representation of the Lion Capital of Ashoka, from a column erected at Sarnath, was adopted as the official State Emblem of India.

Further reading:


  1. Bisschop, Peter C.; Cecil, Elizabeth A. (May 2019). Copp, Paul; Wedemeyer, Christian K., eds. "Columns in Context: Venerable Monuments and Landscapes of Memory in Early India". History of Religions. University of Chicago Press. 58 (4): 355–403. doi:10.1086/702256. 
  2. Inscriptions of Asoka. New Edition by E. Hultzsch. 1925. p. 132, Edict No 7 line 23. 
  3. Skilling, Peter (1998). Mahasutras. Pali Text Society. p. 453. ISBN 9780860133209. 
  4. India: The Ancient Past: A History of the Indian Subcontinent from c. 7000 BCE to CE 1200, Burjor Avari Routledge, 2016 p.139
  5. Krishnaswamy, 697-698
  6. "KING ASHOKA: His Edicts and His Times". www.cs.colostate.edu. Retrieved 29 October 2017. 
  7. Companion, 430
  8. India: The Ancient Past: A History of the Indian Subcontinent from c. 7000 BCE to CE 1200, Burjor Avari, Routledge, 2016 p.149
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