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?


Download a pdf of this lesson here


Ashoka, Asoka, Aesopís 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?

Introduction: Who was Emperor Ashoka?

Emperor Ashoka (304-232 BCE) was the third king of the Maurya Dynasty.  He ruled a truly massive kingdom that stretched from the Hindu Kush to the Bay of Bengal.  It was India's first great empire.  It included all modern-day India, as well as portions of modern-day Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Iran, Nepal, Pakistan, and China. But is not just that Ashoka ably ruled this huge empire but the quality of social justice that he brought to his already strong administration.


Remorseful after his bloody campaign and conquest of Kalinga, Ashoka embraced Buddhism.  Thereafter reverence for life, tolerance, compassion and peaceful co-existence were the cornerstones of his administration. Under him the earliest known bans on slavery and capital punishment as well as environmental regulations came into place.  

The origins of many symbols of modern India, such as those used in the national flag and on coins and paper money can be traced to his reign.


Not much was known about Ashoka until the 19th Century when a picture of his reign and times was pieced together from Buddhist texts, carved inscriptions and proclamations.  He was known in ancient Buddhist texts as a supporter and patron of Buddhism under whose reign Buddhism spread east and west to other parts of the ancient world.


Video Resources
PBS series 'Story of India'
Edicts Of Ashoka 

UNESCO Buddhist Monuments at Sanchi 




PBS series 'Story of India' World History Timeline



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Updated April 2019