It was billed as a walk among ancient edicts, read a message from King Ashoka himself, a man who lived 2000 years ago. Now he was a rockstar of his times. His life story is the stuff what legends are made of. Reputed to be ruthless, he renounced his blood thirsty ways at the height of his power. He became a Buddhist and worked towards spreading it beyond the Indian shores.
Certainly I was not going to let this opportunity pass. Hence my presence in Kalsi, a small quiet town, home to the thirteenth Ashokan rock edict.
Surprisingly it was very easy to miss the directions to this historical treasure; the signboard was small and the letters were very subtle. Mercifully the entrance was well marked. A broad cobbled path lead down towards a smaller gate, the four lions atop a wheel, that’s the Indian national symbol, on the gateposts made an arresting sight.
Design copyright: King Ashoka.
It opened into a nondescript garden. A few people pottered around, eyes curiously following but none intruded. A short railing separated it from lush green fields that stretched as far as eyes could see. The garden was dominated by an unusual brick red building. A wave of disappointment hit me.
The rock edict was simply a huge boulder that had its own dome shelter in striking red, with doors and a private garden.
Squinting my eyes, I took a better look. I could trace patterns on the rock. That had to be the king’s message to his people.
The Hindi and the English translations were on hand – be good, kind, the usual and some name throwing of international monarchs. I particularly remember the Egyptian pharaoh being mentioned.
I believe it wasn’t always like this for the 2000 year old edict- fame did not come naturally for it. For countless years, it remained just a boulder with scribbles, utterly ignored in the hinterland. Nobody cared nor knew its value for the message inscribed was in the lost Brahmi script.
Enter the knight in shining armour, James Princep. While he had a day job, the Calcutta mint, he was a regular Nancy Drew working to crack the code that looked like matchstick/pin figures drawn in a row. He proved to be the Rosetta Stone, the Google Translate, the man who deciphered the ancient writing and rescued the rock from obscurity.
The name throwing bit too turned out to be a blessing. Ashoka finally got a timeline, thanks to his contemporaries named in the inscription (remember the pharaoh). This was the priceless edict that did it.
As I trudged up the cobblestones on my way back, my mind was abuzz. Yes! I was impressed.
Long live King Ashoka! May your name continue to be spoken with the same reverence as that of long ago.
Also we need better direction signs to this place.
Stay tuned for Part Two- it’s a treasure hunt!