Group of pictures showing symbols of India    

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In this lesson
-Explore national symbols and their meanings
-Understand the significance of Emperor's Ashoka's reign
-Learn about Buddhism and non-violence
-Prompt discussion about religion and government

Video Resources
Edicts Of Ashoka from the PBS series 'Story of India'
Buddhist Monuments at Sanchi from UNESCO
More Extension Activities
-What was happening in other parts of the world such as Greece and China when the Mauryan Empire was at its peak under Emperor Ashoka is the 3rd century BCE?
-Create your own edicts.  Where would you place them and what would they say?

Ashoka's vast Empire

Download a pdf of the lesson here


Ashoka, Asoka, Aesop’s fables, Arthashastra, Ashoka Pillar, Brahmi Script, Buddhism, Edicts, Buddhist literature, Chanakya, Chandragupta Maurya, civic ideals and practices; culture; dhamma, Dharma Chakra, dharma, edicts, Emperor Ashoka, fables, parables, giant empires, global connections; human rights, Jataka tales, Kautilya, Lion Capital, Lost emperor, Maurya, Mauryan Empire, Megasthenes, National emblem, National Flag, national symbols, non-violence, Panchatantra, past, present, future; Pataliputra, people, places and environments; power, authority and governance; primary sources, religion and government, religion, Sarnath Lion Capital, Satyamev Jayate, social justice, thangka painting, Thangka, The Dalai Lama, The Tibetan Government in Exile, time, continuity and change; world history timeline, world history, world literature

Essential Questions:

- Why do countries have National symbols?

- What do stories behind National Symbols tell us about what people of a country value?

- What would you pick to be your personal symbol?  What symbol or symbols could connect your past, present and future?

- Historians, geographers, economists and other social scientists work together to discover the past by using different sources of information such as primary sources, religious texts as well as carved edicts and proclamations: can our current view of history be biased by the source of information used to decode it?

- How are religious beliefs diffused across borders and across vast distances.

- Illustrate your life as a thangka painting from the Buddhist tradition.

- If you were told a story about a great emperor who lived in ancient India, how would you find out if the story was true?

The Mauryan Empire (ca. 323–185 BCE):  Ashoka, the third Mauryan emperor is thought to have ruled for about forty years until 232 BCE.  His was a vast empire stretching from one end of the Indian sub-continent to the other from what is known today as the Arabian Sea on the west to the Bay of Bengal on the East.


The Heilbrun Timeline of Art History

Mauryan Empire at its height under Emperor Ashoka 3rd century BCE 

The expansion of two kingdoms in the northeast laid the groundwork for the emergence of India's first empire, ruled by the Mauryan dynasty (ca. 321–185 BCE). According to the writings of the Greek diplomat Megasthenes, Pataliputra, the capital—surrounded by a wooden wall pierced by 64 gates and 570 towers—rivaled the splendors of contemporaneous Persian sites such as Susa and Ecbatana.

By 303 BCE, Chandragupta Maurya (known to the Greeks as Sandracotta) had gained control of an immense area ranging from Bengal in the east to Afghanistan in the west and as far south as the Narmada River. Much of his success is attributed to his prime minister and mentor, Kautilya (also known as Chanakya), author of the Arthashastra, a cold-blooded treatise on the acquisition and maintenance of power. His son, Bindusara, extended the empire into central and parts of southern India.

The third Mauryan emperor, Ashoka who ruled from around 269BCE to 332 BCE, is one of the most famous rulers in Indian history.

His conversion to and support of Buddhism is often likened to the impact of the Roman emperor Constantine the Great's acceptance of Christianity in 313 A.D. Beginning in 254 BCE, Ashoka had monumental edicts on Buddhism carved into rocks and caves throughout his empire. One records his sending of religious envoys—with no apparent results—to the Greek rulers of Syria, Egypt, Macedonia, Cyrene, and Epirus. Thirteen years later, he issued seven additional edicts carved into strategically placed polished sandstone pillars. One of the best preserved, at Lauriya Nandagarh in Bihar, stands thirty-two feet high and is capped by a seated lion. Ashoka is also credited with building 84,000 stupas to enshrine the relics of the Buddha and commemorate key events in the life of Siddhartha Gautama, the founder of Buddhism.




Updated April 2019