Ancient India Unit: Interpreting Ashoka's Edicts Note: Asoka is spelled differently depending on your source. Both are correct: Asoka (pronounced uh-SOH-kuh or uh-SHO-kuh) and Ashoka (pronounced uh-SHO-kuh); the common pronunciation is uh-SHO-kuh for both spellings Assignments to hand in: Ashoka Billboard, Understanding How Ashoka's Edicts Helped Unify India Graphic Organizer, Comprehension Questions Worksheet
Essential Questions, shared learning target & introduction:
Essential Question 2: Why do people live the way they do? (Culture) Essential Question 3: How and why do humans organize their societies the way they do? (Civics, Government) What will I be able to do? You will be able to interpret the edicts written by Ashoka of the Mauryan Empire and explain how they helped unify India. What idea, topic, or subject is important for me to learn and understand so that I can do this? You will learn about the Mauryan Empire and how Ashoka the Great helped to unify ancient India.
What will I do to show that I know this? You will show what you know by creating a billboard interpreting one of Ashoka's edicts, completing a graphic organizer on some of Ashoka's edicts, and answering comprehension questions about how the edicts helped unify ancient India.
Introduction: (Video excerpt from The Story of India - PBS) Shown in class.
Step 1: Historic Background of Ashoka - Read the handout: The First Unification of India. Look at the pictures below and read the corresponding information as it highlights the information in the reading.
India consisted of many small kingdoms from around 1900 B.C.E. until the founding of the Mauryan Empire around 322 B.C.E. At this time, a nobleman named Chandragupta Maurya conquered all of northern India and set up a strong central government. Chandragupta was deathly afraid of enemies and used his army and spies to protect himself. After Chandragupta died in 297 B.C.E., his son Bindusara and grandson Ashoka succeeded him.
The Mauryan Empire reached its height during Ashoka's reign from around 269 to 232 B.C.E. After a brutal battle in which he conquered the kingdom of Kalinga, Ashoka rejected violence and converted to Buddhism. Ashoka practiced Buddhist values by giving up wars of conquest, becoming a vegetarian, and urging his subjects to respect each other. However, Ashoka still allowed slavery and kept all the land that the Mauryans had conquered.
(Ashoka at the brutal battle at Kalinga)
Ashoka created a strong empire by spreading his Buddhist values through messages, or edicts. Ashoka urged his citizens to act morally and responsibly. The edicts also described Ashoka's own efforts to live morally and to maintain peace for his people.
(One of Ashoka's edicts inscribed on a pillar in Delphi)
Ashoka's edicts were carved on cave walls, rocks, and towering pillars. Skilled craftspeople built and decorated the highly polished stone pillars with Buddhist symbols and animals. The pillars, rocks and caves were located along important roads and at important locations where the greatest number of people would see them.
(An Ashokan pillar built in 243 B.C.E. at Lauriya Nandangarth in northeast India)
Step 2: Create a Billboard for Ashoka's Edicts - Read the excerpts of Ashoka's edicts below. You will use one of the edicts to create a billboard with a visual representation and a one-sentence interpretation of the edict you are addressing. Reread the Directions for Creating a Billboard before beginning. We will discuss the assignment requirements in class, and where your edict and rough draft will be approved.
Background: Ashoka's edicts were posted along important roads and at important locations, similar to the way billboards are posted along major travel routes in modern society to communicate information. From billboards we can learn about new products, services, shopping areas, public service announcements, etc. Reading billboards posted around a community can tell us about that community. Similarly, Ashoka's edicts tell us about India during the Mauryan Empire.
Ashoka's Edicts (Excerpts):
"On the roads...trees have been planted for the enjoyment of animals and men. I have had ponds dug and shelters erected along the roads. Everywhere I have had wells dug."
"It is good to be obedient to one's mother and father, friends, and relatives. It is good not only to spend little, but to own the minimum of property."
"My officers have been appointed for the welfare [safety] and happiness of the...people. I have given them... authority in judgment and punishment. But it is desirable that there should be uniformity [sameness] in judicial [trial] procedure and punishment."
"This world and the other [the world after death] are hard to gain without great love of Righteousness [correct behavior], great self-examination, great obedience, great effort."
"If the unconquered peoples on my border ask what is my will, they should understand this: I desire that they should trust me and should have only happiness in their dealings with me."
"This... has been engraved so that the officials of the city should always see to it that no one is ever imprisoned or tortured without good cause. To ensure this I shall send out every five years on a tour of inspection officers who are not fierce or harsh."
"There is no gift comparable to the gift of Dharma [righteousness, or correct behavior], and this is: good behavior towards slaves and servants, obedience to parents, generosity towards friends, acquaintances, and relatives... and abstention [staying away] from killing living beings."
"Everywhere, I, Ashoka, King Priyadarsi, Beloved of the Gods, have arranged for two kinds of medical treatment: medical treatment for men and medical treatment for animals."
"Men who are sentenced to death are to be given three days' respite [waiting period before being put to death]. Thus their relations may plead for their lives, or [the] men may make donations or undertake a fast [not eat] for a better rebirth in the next life."
Step 3: Interpreting Ashoka's Edicts - Read the four categories that Ashoka's edicts can be classified in below and complete the handout: Understanding How Ashoka's Edicts Helped Unify India Graphic Organizer. Read the directions on the handout carefully.
Categories Each Edict Can Be Classified In:
Buddhist Values: Edicts in this category are concerned with the Buddha's teachings about how to live a correct life. General Welfare: Edicts in this category are concerned with making sure people have good health, shelter, clean water, and enough food. Justice: Edicts in this category are concerned with fair laws and treatment in court and jail. Security: Edicts in this category are concerned with the protection of people from foreign enemies.
Step 4: Comprehension Questions - Answer the following questions citing evidence from the lesson. (Worksheet and answers to questions will be done in class.)
1. What are the main ideas expressed in Ashoka's edicts? 2. What are some of the ways in which Ashoka's leadership promoted unity in India? 3. In what ways did Ashoka's Buddhist beliefs contribute to the unification of India? 4. In addition to the edicts, what else might have contributed to the unification of India during this time period?