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India's lost emperor Ashoka Maurya has a special place in history. In his quest to govern India by moral force alone Ashoka turned Buddhism from a minor sect into a world religion and set up a new yardstick for government which had huge implications for Asia. But his brave experiment ended in tragedy and his name was cleansed from the record so effectively that he was forgIndia's lost emperor Ashoka Maurya has a special place in history. In his quest to govern India by moral force alone Ashoka turned Buddhism from a minor sect into a world religion and set up a new yardstick for government which had huge implications for Asia. But his brave experiment ended in tragedy and his name was cleansed from the record so effectively that he was forgotten for almost two thousand years. But a few mysterious stone monuments and inscriptions survived, and the story of how these keystones to the past were discovered by British Orientalists and their mysterious lettering deciphered is every bit as remarkable as their author himself. Bit by bit, fragments of the Ashokan story were found and in the process India's ancient history was itself recovered. In a wide-ranging, multi-layered journey of discovery that is as much about Britain's entanglement with India as it as about India's distant past, Charles Allen tells the story of the man who was arguably the greatest ruler India has ever known....

Title : Ashoka: the Search for India's Lost Emperor
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ISBN : 9781408701966
Format Type : Hardcover
Number of Pages : 460 Pages
Status : Available For Download
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Ashoka: the Search for India's Lost Emperor Reviews

  • Nikki
    2018-12-20 05:47

    Ashoka was an emperor of India who, for around two thousand years, was virtually unknown. After war-like beginnings, he became a Buddhist and began to spread Buddhist values throughout his kingdom, with the hope of conquering neighbouring territories with moral force rather than military force. There’s a certain amount of idealism about this emperor and the good works he may or may not have done, but Allen’s book does show that he seems to have been dedicated to his vision.However, this book is less about Ashoka himself and more about the search for him — the India enthusiasts, often British people coming over to run the colonies, who hunted down the references, visited the ancient sites, and began to put things together. He’s relatively sympathetic toward those endeavours, with the attitude that if Britain did no other good for India, well, we had these clever people who helped them figure out their own history. I don’t have anything to set against that (although he does often mention local experts in languages and religion), but if you’re sceptical of a colonial narrative, I would say this verges on that territory.It is a fascinating story, though, and doubly so to me because I know so little of India in either time period. I did sometimes wish I was better at geography, so I could draw more of it together on a mental map, but alas, I couldn’t even sketch the shape of India. Ashoka’s story is definitely worth telling, and so too that of the people who reinstated his legacy, I think.Originally posted here.

  • Abhay Bora
    2018-12-27 06:56

    Amazing read. The history that had been dead and buried by human and natural forces was revealed due to the efforts of so many people for so long a time. East India company and the British Raj is often blamed, often rightly, for the excesses and the economic exploitation of India but not credited enough for the painstaking restoration of Indian history and creation of institutions that stand to this day that ensure the same. Buddhism flourished in India and abroad because of the patronage and the sustained royal patronage. What to me seems ironic that the very state patronage and more particularly King Ashoka that allowed buddhism to flourish became the cause of its obliteration in the land of the Buddha. Later rulers, Brahmins and the Muslim invaders saw Buddhism as a symbol of the state rather than a religion and hence destroyed and persecuted both relics and followers. Compare this with religion of Mahavira - Jainism. Jainism was never patronised by the state (However, Chandragupta abdigated his kingdom to become a Jain Monk). It was never seen as a threat and its temples never destroyed. The reason being it was not seen to challenge the Hindu belief system overtly(though it did). Another interesting question that arises in my mind, is that while certain individuals value knowledge and history, others seek to destroy it. Whereas the Greek king Alexander, although he was ruthless as a king, he had been tutored to love and seek out knowledge. We never heard of him destroying libraries or persecuting sages or scientists. Whereas invaders like Mahmud of Ghazni etc, destroyed temples, burnt Nalanda and Taxila universities which were known as the repository of knowledge in the ancient worlds. It is said that the university at Nalanda was burning for 3 continuous months. The British, comtemptuous as they were of Indian history (the majority were), did not seek to destroy the cultural history and in fact played a big hand in revealing it. Why is that?. Is it in the methodology of education that respect for knowledge is born or is it in the nature of the individual?. Can such a love of learning/knowledge be inculcated or is it inborn?.Also, we see for the first time a kingdom which is based on Principles rather than individual ambition / religious fervour. Although he promoted Buddhism, he never sought to proselytize the population as evidenced by his edicts. A kingdom based on Dharma . Maybe the first welfare state in the world. The first kingdom to recognize animal rights and which set up hospitals for injured animals. Maybe the first kingdom to use soft power (dharma) and non violence to spread his influence rather than military power. It is very sad to see that Indians have all but forgotten this great emperor who hold relevance even today.All in all a wonderful book.

  • Priyanka
    2018-12-23 05:49

    Patience and concentration was what I was lacking when I started reading this book. And that's why it took me so long to finish it. I didn't take so long because I wasn't liking, but because there was a lot to take in. Even if it had taken me another month to finish I would still have loved it. It would be a happy pun to call this book 'enlightening'.The mammoth research, rich detail and simple language blows you away. I would recommend it to not just every Indian but everyone.

  • S Ashok
    2018-12-20 10:38

    Ashoka the great king is hailed in our history books as the greatest king to have ruled India . People who feel that history is boring , usually refer that what is the purpose of knowing that King Ashoka planted trees.Its one of the many malice affecting or education system , lack of rigor in understanding our history . We just come to know about Ashoka through our books but rarely they say 'how' did we arrive at this point. Indian history is very tough landscape to traverse through because of two reasons , we had a gap of hundred years after the muslim invasion there had been tremendous damages suffered by the monuments , then next is the concept of writing authentic histories were very new our history was written in the puranic style . This lead to a curious phenomenon where the time of flourishing Budhdhism in India was all but lost to the memory of the people . But world over India had been the beacon of Budhdism , it is from here the religion has spread to different parts . This nations greatness was recorded in many travelogues importantly by Megsathenes , by Budhdhist monks coming to India from China . This book deals with how British Orientalists step by step uncovered the history of Ashoka from various sources . The British orientalists studied Hindu puranas which gives rough timeline of Indian kings including the Mauryan clan . The other sources being greek record of Alexander invasion of India which has a reference to Chandrakoptos(Chandragupta Maurya) , this lead to the establishment of a rough timeline of the start of Mauryan dynasty . As the British officers explored the Indian mainland finding curious structures which we call as Stupas today containing Pali inscriptions of the reign of Ashoka and his endeavor of spreading Budhdhism . This book is an amazing record of how we can analyse history based on various sources . It was fascinating as the riddle was solved step by step and how the historians travelled through various questions and arrived at amazing conclusions . I was wondering why could have Budhdhism declined so rapidly in India , after its spectacular rise under the reign of Ashoka . I feel that religions are patronised by Kings during feudal times hence once Budhdhism lost its man Ashoka the subsequent dynasty were not so enthusiastic about supporting it . Shankaracharya and the bhakthi movement gave a flip to Hinduisms revival . The Gupta period the next big kingdom after Mauryas were more supportive of Hinduism's revival. But the great heritage of Bhuddhism also got amalgamated into Hinduisms philosophical core Advaita vedhanta . These could be some reasons why Bhudhdism lost its sheen in India . The author is very much passionate about the heritage of Ashoka , how much of less information is known and how rarely he is appreciated . The fundamental aspect which inspires me of Ashoka is how much he is ahead of his time . Around 2300 years ago he was man who cared for his people , setting up a kind of a welfare state then . There were brutal wars fought between rival clans to capture power . Most of the kings including Ashoka were involved in terrible sibling rivalry killing their own brothers to capture power . For someone who is born in the twenty first century may fail to understand the greatness of the Rock Edicts that Ashoka placed in various places in and around India . It promotes equality of religions , welfare of people as the fundamental tenant of his rule .His last years we see an Ashoka obsessed with donations to the Budhdist Sangha . After his death there was again sibling rivalry , and violence among brothers . But after his legacy more and more kings were seen to be more welfare oriented . This was one of his enduring legacies in Indian history .

  • Vishvapani
    2019-01-14 08:54

    Very readable and informative. This isn't a biography of Ashoka: not enough is known for that. It's an account of his gradual discovery of by scholars and archaeologists during the Raja and pre-Raj periods. This the territory Allen has explored in The Buddha and the Sahibs and other books, and pretty well made his own. If that sounds dull, think of 'Longitude' - the bestselling account of ... horology. Allen is unfashionably sympathetic to the 'orientalist' project: a relief if you have read much Edward Said inspired polemic. However, I think there is more to say about why these men were so fascinated by Ashoka and India's Buddhist past, and how their work fitted in with the demands of the Empire and British rule. The figure of Ashoka emerges slowly as the scholars discover the pillars and rocks on which his words were recorded. That's the real interest of the book for me, and I felt that through this oblique account I met him more fully than I had before as well as getting to know the sources.

  • Akshay Hajare
    2019-01-03 06:40

    I wish Charles Allen was my history teacher! A history book presented as a suspense thriller, if you will. A very gripping account of the events, thoughtful researches, patient excavations by British Orientalists and Archeologists during British Raj. Their zeal to uncover and protect something that is so important and part of our culture is inimitable in India today. The book itself proceeds to solve a jigsaw puzzle, using account from various sources including from the ancient Chinese travelers to India, and brings back to life one of India's greatest emperor - Ashoka.

  • Suman
    2018-12-18 10:49

    Growing up in India during the 80s our introduction to Ashoka was textbook brief - he was a ruler who was transformed by the sight of bloody war whose symbols were on our flag and on our currency and who was a Buddhist. From time to time we had some reminders of this enigmatic king - in the form of that not so great movie or in reference to a TV Series - but nothing added to our knowledge of the man. So when I picked up the book and read in the introduction what appeared to be an apology for orientalism I was disappointed, perhaps this was a book that wanted to highlight the contributions of the British to Indian history. Frankly, if there was a story in this I was not ready to hear it. I was here to know the story of Ashoka and not that of his discovery by a few British men! Apprehensive, I started reading this 400 page book slowly. It was not a simplified narrative. It spoke of people like James Prinsep, Alexander Cunningham and John Marshall and through their contributions Charles Allen manages to take us on a tour of the expanse of geographical India (Ashoka's empire), its sources (Ashoka's mythology) and its relics (Ashoka's pillars and edicts). The Ashoka who emerged was a complex man - a man who lived more than 2300 years ago, who spoke only edicts and who was represented in stone by people who knew him less directly than indirectly. But in every discovery and every source there is an aspect of him that makes him human - the prince with bad skin, the young man who loved a merchant's daughter, a brother who killed for power, first a conquering ruler and then a humanist ruler who presides over religous schism. Allen's decision to not use a straight forward biographical narrative to explain these contradictions in Ashoka was working. Instead the use of the process of Ashoka's rediscovery as the thread that strings aspects of the king together made him emerge intact as a character. So by the time I got to the last chapter that finally gave biographical detail - I felt like I had discovered Ashoka together with everyone else in the preceding pages. This book is also a narrative of collective forgetfulness, of the sustained effort at discovery and the gradual illumination of aspects of Ashoka - itself a reflection of the individuals involved and their times. It is a wonderful way of telling a story - one that requires the reader to imagine on his own and respects his/her intelligence. For just that - this was a book well worth the time.

  • Kevin Kizer
    2019-01-07 08:44

    There are many mysteries about this ancient Indian emperor who helped transform Buddhism from a minor sect to a major world religion. Ashoka Maurya (Ashoka the Great) reigned around 250 BCE and his kingdom extended across the Indian continent reaching northwards through the Himalayas and westward towards Kandahar. His rise to power was filled with war and violence (as most rises to power tended to be back in the day). However, at what proved to be his last conquest he was overwhelmed by the loss of life and turned to Buddhism. As a result he sought to govern by moral force alone and he had an indelible impact on the Indian subcontinent. So why then is so little known about this great emperor? The primary reason is that those who came after him strove to erase his memory – and for the most part they did an admirable job. But many centuries later, archaeologists and curious locals began discovering mysterious lettering on large stones throughout the region from coast to coast, some hidden in plain sight while others were hidden in mountain passes; some have even been found in the last couple of years just off the roadside near Kandahar. What was first thought to be Greek or Aramaic turned out to be Magadhi, the language on which Sanskrit was founded. Once the language was deciphered it re-revealed the story of the life and rein of Ashoka, who became emperor 118 years after the death of Gotama Buddha. One of the inscriptions reads: And these are my instructionsTo protect with DharmaTo make happiness through Dharma And to guard with Dharma.Thanks to these discoveries, Charles Allen was able recreate the life and times of arguably the greatest emperor of the Indian subcontinent.

  • Rajendra Dave
    2019-01-17 06:56

    So little is known about India's early history, and so divided are the historians about it and that any book that deals with it with even a semblance of objectivity is welcome. Ashoka by Mr. Charles Allen comes quite close to it, though the author's prejudice especially against anything Hindu does show up occasionally, so Bhima is "accursed" and Kautilya always means "cow-like". As is the case with Mr. Allen's earlier book The Buddha and Dr Fuhrer, The Ashoka is a history of exploration of Indian pre-Islamic history by author's favorite "orientalist" gentlemen from England- Indian archeologists play only a minor role- as much as the history of emperor Ashoka. The author writes fascinating account of both with his characteristic thoroughness.But then the author attempts to place emperor Ashoka in the context of modern India. This is where his limited understanding of Indian complexities fails him. Hence his interpretation of Gandhi's Ram Rajya in therms of Hinduism and some such assertions including his implied claim that all of India's Dalits are Buddhists! As journalist Gillian Wright has rightly written in herreview of the book , this kind of strange comments, are unnecessary accretions to an otherwise informative and well-written book.

  • Jeffrey
    2019-01-11 07:45

    There's some great research here and a nice detective story, but Allen sometimes digresses for little reason, and there's a fascination with the ancient Greeks of the region which added lines where they should have been cut. It does help you understand the distinction between the Northern and Southern schools of Buddhism because the source material on Ashoka varies so much between the manuscripts. Reasonable conjecture based on existing sources make the last chapter particularly fascinating, but unless you're a devotee of the British in Indian, the sections that are dedicated to the history of the rediscovery of Ashoka will seem long.

  • Nikhil Gulati
    2019-01-11 09:04

    One of the better history books I've read. Not only does the book talk about who Ashoka was but it also chronicles the process of discovery historians undertook in the 19th and 20th centuries to find out all that we know about him. The finding of ancient sculptures and ruins to the translation of many ancient texts which provided pieces to the jigsaw puzzle to the deciphering of the Brahmi script etc are all interwoven to tell the story of Ashoka and his empire.

  • Dhruv Banerjee
    2019-01-08 10:52

    A very good histography of Ashoka without too much of a bias. The author does exactly what he tells us in the beginning and takes us through a journey of discovery, chronologically. Sometimes you just want to jump ahead, like a thriller. Things slowly unravel and you get to know possibly more about Ashoka than what you knew from standard history books.

  • Sujit
    2018-12-23 04:48

    One of the best Historical Books I have read. There are few minor errors, which no doubt will be corrected in the next edition. This book is like a detective story, once you start, you can not let it go. It also shows the works of the European Orientalist to uncover the lost history of India and they should be applauded for their work.

  • Advay
    2018-12-31 04:41

    Nice to know the KING whose symbols we use as national symbols.Sometimes the book get monotonous with similar information being communicated.Overall a very nice read.

  • Kavitha
    2018-12-27 02:39

    Just finished reading this book. I was impatient while reading the first few chapters because there was not much in them about Ashoka himself. My impatience grew so much after reading the chapter about Alexander that I decided to skip to the last chapter at once. So, I went straight to the final chapter of the book which has what I was looking for - Ashoka's story. My curiosity satisfied to some extent, I then came back to the chapter that I was reading and slowly/patiently finished the whole book including appendix and other interesting notes at the end of the book. I even went back and read a few pages for the second time.This book is filled with knowledge. Although I was impatient in the beginning, after having finished the entire book, now I realize that I learned more about Ashoka by reading about the efforts put in by people like Alexander Cunningham, James Princep and such to discover him than I would ever have learned by reading that final chapter alone. Chapter by chapter, the author reveals details related to the Ashokan era in a fascinating way until a full picture of Ashoka emerges in the end. The writing was very simple and to the point which I really liked. There are so many historical details in this book that I found myself reading the same paragraphs multiple times. This is not an easy read by any means. It required lot of patience and most importantly a keen interest in the subject.Among the many fascinating things that I learned from this book were a few facts about ancient Indian languages. Prakrit is an ancestor of Sanskrit and Brahmi is the Magadhan script for Prakrit. Kharoshti was another language that was spoken during the Mauryan rule in parts of Afghanistan. It was developed by the Gandharans and has links to Aramaic. Both Sanskrit and Pali were derived from Prakrit. Sanskrit became the root of all Indian languages and Pali became the root of Sinhalese which is spoken in SriLanka. It was interesting to read about the origins of these languages. It was exciting to see Brahmi letters and their translations on a few random pages.I also found the travel accounts of Chinese travelers quite fascinating. Xuanzang and Faxian traveled to India at separate times in search of authentic Buddhist artifacts as Buddhism started growing in China in the Fourth century B.C. They were not the first Chinese travelers who visited India but they were the first to record their travels. Their travel accounts proved very useful in later years to find the Ashokan rock and pillar edicts, stupas, etc. We all know that travel has great benefits. It opens up our minds to another culture, another way of living and helps us gain a valuable perspective on our ways of life. The fact that quite a few people in those ancient times traveled to unknown territories in pursuit of knowledge knowing very well that travel was risky in those days goes to say that a few great minds have an insatiable hunger for knowledge. These great minds existed for ever, helping civilizations to move forward.The author mentions Gandhi briefly in the final chapters of the book. He says that a couple of centuries after Ashoka, Gandhi used the same principles of morality and non violence to get independence for India from the British. However I see a stark contrast between these two popular leaders. Ashoka established a welfare state, built hospitals for people and animals, encouraged religious tolerance and employed Rajukkas and Mahamatras to ensure that his principles of Dharma and non violence are being followed everywhere in his kingdom. Ashokan edicts themselves did not reference any particular religion, except the first couple of them which were probably written when Ashoka did not gain all the wisdom that he seemed to have gained in his later years. Instead, they focused solely on the principles of morality. Gandhi (per this book) propagated the notion of a Rama Rajya rooted in tradition but devoid of caste and gender oppression. He envisioned a local council of elders for governance and a benevolent but distant government. I don't have much knowledge of Gandhi's ideas about governance but if what is said about them in this book is true, then Ashoka seems to have had more progressive and practical views on this matter even though his time was a couple of centuries before Gandhi's time. Gandhi, on the other hand, seemed to have regressive and idealistic views on this matter.They say pictures speak a thousand words. The pictures in this book certainly speak volumes about the times of Ashoka. The sculptures on the stupas reveal a lot of interesting details when observed closely. Finally about Ashoka himself - what a great man he was! His story needs to be told again and again. He truly grasped the meaning of religion. The fact that he was ruthless in the beginning, feels deep remorse after killing 100,000 people in the Kalinga war and turns to Buddhism to rule the kingdom with principles of morality and non violence makes him very human and very real. Despite being a devout Buddhist he did not use his power to enforce Buddhism on his people. He promoted religious tolerance in his edicts. The fact that he had the courage to carve his own ways of working at a time when kings were ruthless and often barbaric speaks volumes about his strength of character, integrity and overall personality. He single handedly revived a dying religion which later went on to become one of the largest religions in the world. He was also the first emperor to unify India and rule it all the way from north to south (leaving out parts of Tamilnadu and Kerala). It is a shame that he is not as widely acknowledged within India as he deserves to be.

  • Yash E
    2019-01-14 10:41

    I've bought this book with an immense curiosity to know about the greatest emperor and empire India has ever seen since the time of Mahabharata. I ended up with exactly the opposite feeling by the time I completed it! The author's writing style, though, is very interesting.First and foremost, this book isn't a historical biography of Ashoka Vardhana Maurya. Though it does tell the author's version of Ashoka, his family and empire, it's more a chronological order of the discoveries of ancient sites and historical references that lead to rediscovering the Emperor. A thriller genre meets history! The book is from the author,who is pro supporter of Aryan Invasion theory (which was proved baseless and orientalist non-sense), who leaves no stone unturned in discrediting anything good to the Indian heritage. The author very selectively took his source before arriving to any conclusion and hides nothing about his pro orientalist attitude, striking out any other source thats contradicts his ideas. He at times even sounds perverted! At many places he fails to explain why or how could such a thing be possible, but concludes that it is what would have happened! His theories about certain events are so baseless yet shocking!! All this is covered up stating the limited scope of this book but is conveniently repetitive about things. The Aryan invasion theory and its off shoots were put to test(most of them clearly failed) before 2012 i.e., the year this book was published. How could the other turn a blind eye on all those archaeological advances, is the the question only he can answer!? And to cover things up, he states Indians are "Nationalists" who cannot accept the truth !!This book was every bit excruciating and I was eagerly waiting for it to end. Its a series of hypothetical theories that has been conveniently mixed up with some truth and all lies.Here below are few points, I felt which were made me feel all those things I stated above. SPOILERS AHEAD! 1. "Puranas are religious texts chiefly concerned about the creational myths[sic]".On what basis did he conclude on that? Why were the other literary sources from Tibet and Sri Lanka and other Buddhist texts never questioned on this regard ?2. Every single time he describes a sculpture, he doesn't forget to describe the as "buxom", "beer bellied", "unrealistic", "unnatural dimensions". Clearly shows he has his own standards in beauty and doesn't respect any others'.3. Doesn't consider Sanskrit as an ancient language predating Bramhi but considers the vice-versa. Despite the religious history and mantras were transmitted through oral tradition Sanskrit before being penned down, he never cares to explain why he felt so? 4. The entire life and lifestyle of Mauryans, as supposed by the author, is inspired by the Greeks! Their clothing, sculpting, coinage, war strategies, etc. were all supposed to be gotten from Bactrian Greeks. The sculpting prowess of India before the arrival of Graeco-Bactrian neighbours is described as "clumsy"! From where did the magnificence of Somnath came from, which predates even the Bactrian Greeks?5. He even credits the Greeks to put the Mauryans in power and brands Chandragupta Maurya as a mercenary for Alexander! 6. His interpretation of the Vedas is somehow bizarre and states that by the duties of kingship stated in Vedas is against Dharma, when the very concept of Dharma originates from Vedas!7. There is continuous Bramhan bashing throughout the book, stating that Buddhism challenged their status quo in the court of Ashoka. No other substantial evidence! Every single historical uprising and revolt was ascribed to Bramhans directly or indirectly generalising them over all.8. Panini is known to simplify the Vedic Sanskrit, write grammar rules and form whats known as Classic Sanskrit. But the author has formulated a beautiful theory where Taxsila(or Takshasila), which had grown into a advanced knowledge centre under the Persian rule, is where the foundations of Sanskrit had its foundations from the "ancient" Aramaic language. Chanakya, the colleague of Panini, mysteriously took it upon him to spread this new found language to spread across India and to some extent saw Chandragupta Maurya as a platform to carry out this!

  • Muthuprakash Ravindran
    2019-01-09 04:53

    Charles Allen's 'Ashoka;India's lost emperor' reads like a detective novel. And a damn good one at that too.One of the reasons Charles Allen quotes for writing the book is to record the contributions of 'Orientalists' who are/were vilified mercilessly in the past decades. The reason for this primarily starts with Thomas Macaulay and those who followed in his foot steps. So, here Charles Allen sets out to set the record straight.We know a little about the Indophile employees of Raj who were here like nabobs immersed in the culture and land that is India.It it to their credit that most of the monuments of India's history still exists. They wielded power with a immense curiosity to learn, identify and protect.It is difficult to come out of the book without feeling a lot of respect for people like John Marshall, Princep, 'Hindoo' Stuart, Cunningham and a lot of others who for all their faults of being part of the evil East India Company (John Keay be damned!!), pursued their natural instinct to learn about the country they were destined to rule and the effort put forth by them in learning the archaic languages of India like Prakrit, Sanskrit, Brahmi and more. While reading the book, I was drawing a mental map of the landscapes they were traversing in horses, elephants and in Palkis relentlessly in their quest to uncover the secrets of India's past. From Kolkatta to Kandahar they travel, collect, put in crates and send. There are misguided attempts to break into the inscriptions, use the bricks of the stupas for construction but for every misguided attempt there is always one which forcefully preserves another.Ashoka probably is an under-appreciated ruler. Probably the only one of his kind to rule by moral force and put that in inscriptions across India, it is difficult to find a reason for not celebrating him as the icon of India. It might be something to do with the religion he was supporting as well. However, the story of Ashoka, even today invokes admiration and I was reminding myself of Einstein's quote about another human being which can equally apply to this great man as well. The uncovering of the Ashoka's story reads fascinating and the sheer number of people involved who contributed to this is staggering. There is the cavalry captain who takes an eye-copy of Dhauli inscription, one who puts a shaft into the Sanchi stupa, the one who uncovers Taxila in the Hindu Kush and Cunningham who connects all the dots and strides the stage like the colossal figure he was.That made me think, why there was no references to Ashoka in the 2000 years since he ruled in any of the Indian texts in between. May be along with Buddhism he was forgotten but oral tradition should've remained and it was a surprise that it did not. And for all our pride about being the most ancient, it also tells something about us, Indians. Non-curious and ignorant of our history, to this day (visit some of our old temples!), we tend to take pride and vandalize immediately without a thought. Hmm.t least the last 2 chapters of the book, if we are sensitive about the 'good' British, should be kept as part of curriculum for middle school students at least so that in the future, may be a few of them can grow up to be curious.

  • Himanshu Bhatnagar
    2018-12-28 04:00

    It's a rare book that I finish without having sketched out the outline of my review of it. Ashoka (the search for India's Lost Emperor) by Charles Allen falls into this category.Starting with one of the greater tragedies to befall this oft-blighted subcontinent - the destruction of Nalanda university by Muslim invaders - Allen takes us on a journey of discovery. Follow him as he meanders through the Tughlaqs to the Mughals, narrating discoveries of one strange artefact after another; each seeming to point to a past unknown but glorious, hinting at a forgotten history. Beginning with the European colonial rule, the journey picks up speed and despite bottlenecks it moves inexorably towards a re-discovery of a script, a language, a plethora of ruins, and a fabled king.And not merely a king, but an emperor who ruled over a greater tract of the Indian subcontinent than any monarch or government before or since.From weed-covered rocks to earth-entombed stupas, the story of Ashoka is written across India and Allen takes us on an almost detective-like hunt for the man behind the letters, behind the stories, behind the mists of time.And it is truly a story worth decoding and reading. On rocks, on sandstone pillars (still polished to a mirrored shine after 2 millennia of depredations), on stupas lie scattered fragments of a man far ahead of his time, whose message of peace, acceptance and understanding rings true even today. Two centuries before Christ, here was a king who talked of conquest through hearts and minds, victories of love and peace, and a rule of compassion, not fear. How remarkable Ashoka was, especially given the time he was born in, has to be read to be believed.Allen recounts the innumerable men whose efforts, targeted or accidental, brought out - piece by piece- the story of Ashoka. He lets the reader puzzle over Firoz Shah's pillar, with inscriptions no one can read; the musings of Jehangir who knows no better than to carve his name on another similar pillar; the passion and fervor of a handful of East India Company engineers and draughtsmen who keep finding mounds and caves and pillars and rock inscriptions till James Prinsep finally deciphered the script and for the first time in two thousand years, read out loud the words of Devanampriya Ashoka Priyadarshi Maurya.It is a fantastic read, and to a student of history almost as gripping as a murder mystery. The sheer number of people involved in rediscovering Ashoka, the extent and number of sites associated with his edicts, the geographical range of the textual material that fleshed out his story - all these are breathtaking in their scope. And all of these, taken together, showcase the exhaustive research Allen has undertaken for this book. It is a labour of love and gives forth the most pleasing fruit.The only thing missing was an inquiry into the causes and circumstances around the wholesale destruction (and occasional abandonment) of Ashokan edifices and how he came about to be forgotten by Indian history. Apart from this niggle, the book is almost flawless. Give it a read if you are interested in Indian history, you will not be disappointed.

  • Nanda Rajanala
    2018-12-30 08:55

    This book is interesting to read across all pages except for the final chapter wherein for the first time the author shares his own perspective on modern India. The narrative becomes suddenly out of place and merely toots the same discourse every Indian is so used to hearing on Hindu nationalism, casteism and political wisdom. The book deserves a three star and nothing beyond that also for the same reason that there is no meaningfully original contribution from the author himself on the history of Ashoka beyond documenting the exceptional work done by historians and archaeologists of the British East India company.What Charles Allen does really well is create that curiosity and excitement on the painstaking research done across centuries to bring the mysterious glory of Ashoka's history to light. Be it how the rock edicts and stupas were identified, how Pali and its script was deciphered and how the impression of Ashoka changed in his lifetime, every detail opens up like a mystery although many facts were derived accidentally by historians of the past who didn't benefit much from each other's work.The author himself doesn't stand out as an authority on any particular subject although he stands out as a good writer of history that could otherwise be disposed as boring. By calling everything that went against Ashoka as the work of Brahmanical forces, he merely repeats what European orientalist historians have been parroting for long. But how then did Ashoka and his dynasty rise under the same so-called Brahmanical power is brushed through without any analysis done. He also treads the same path that I've seen several historians take, which is that anything Buddhist is pacifist just because the Buddha was so. Hence, the destruction of Buddhist relics and monasteries is not given the political tone that it deserves and the reader may almost be made to believe that some evil force (Brahmanical) destroyed the greatness that was created. The author as a result fails to elucidate his own points raised in the book about how many of the powerful Buddhist converts were Brahmins too and also doesn't give much weight to what was the destruction and death created by Ashoka and his brother on the lands he conquered.This book is unfortunately not a history of Ashoka as much as it is about the wonderful work done by historians to recreate India's lost history during the Mauryan period. There is more work to be done to really build a better picture of Ashoka and I'm not talking about his physical appearance where the author takes special interest in and in a silly manner mentions the name of the Bollywood actor Shah Rukh Khan in a reference that was not worth mentioning in such an important book.Read it for the pleasure of knowing about the historical places in the Indian subcontinent that helped grow the Greek and Mauryan empires and the global spread of Buddhism with missionary zeal two hundred years after the demise of the great Buddha! Doesn't that teach a little about the nexus between religion and politics even in this modern day!?

  • Sajith Kumar
    2018-12-30 06:51

    Ashoka is India’s greatest monarch, ever. He unified India by integrating the numerous petty kingdoms in the post–Vedic period. Stung with remorse after a cruel battle against Kalingas, he followed the precepts of Buddhist Dharma (moral law) and renounced needless violence. His example continued to simulate great minds in conquering contemporary issues. Ahimsa (non–violence) carried forward by him helped mould the mode of protest of the Mahatma against the British. He presided over the seeding of a written script for Indian languages for the first time. The Brahmi script, in which Ashoka caused rock and pillar edicts to be written, developed into modern Indian scripts. In short, in whichever way you look towards him, the mark of nobility and greatness adorns the person of Emperor Ashoka. Curious it may seem that knowledge of this great emperor not at all existed in this country just 250 years before. Devastated by 700 years of Islamic rule, all traces of the country’s past had been obliterated in a tirade of destructive jihads. Charles Allen describes the thrilling story of tracing Ashoka and his legend through rocks, boulders and monastic remains scattered over jungle and country. It is also a tribute to those scholars in the British raj who maintained a benevolent and even admiring outlook towards the nation they were called upon to administer. The history of Ashoka was unearthed by these untiring savants who fought all odds – manmade as well as natural – to make the flower of knowledge blossom. Charles Allen is the right person to narrate this tale; in the delightful fashion of his many other books like Soldier Sahibs (reviewed earlier in this blog) and God’s Terrorists. With this book, Allen has proved that he is as responsive to Indian tastes and as enjoyable to read as William Dalrymple.

  • Appu
    2019-01-18 04:03

    This book is about how a bunch of amateur English historians and orientalists recovered the pre Islamic history of India. When the British came to India, India's ancient past was a complete mystery. Ashoka was unknown. India's Buddhist heritage was shrouded in obscurity. There was no independently verifiable chronicle of Ancient India. Under the guidance of the Asiatic Society, India studies were co-ordinated. Reports of strange looking rock inscriptions started coming from all corners of India. There turned out to be Ashokan rock edicts. James Princep deciphered the brahmi script in which it was written. This turned out to be break through in the rediscovery of Ashoka and India's Buddhist past. Archaeologist like Alexander Cunningham unearthed, Nalanda, Sarnath, Sanchi, and Pataliputra and other sites. Translation of the Srilankan and Chineese buddhist texts, 'mahavamso'and Faxian and Huanxang's travel writings respectively provided further boost to the study of Ancient India.In the nationalism suffused India of today, British legacy is not looked upon kindly. But to give credit where it is due, but for British orientalists, much of India's ancient past would have been lost or forgotten. This book is racily written and is an absolute pleasure to read. I cannot recommend this highly enough. My only concern is that this book shares much of its ground with John Keay's India Discovered written in the 1980s.

  • Bobby Thym
    2018-12-23 04:04

    In my old age, I am becoming fascinated by the idea of pacifism. Robert Pogue Harrison in a podcast from his radio show Entitled Opinions devoted a show towards investigating the relationship between religion and violence and the irony between the messages of the original founders of religions and the practices of later institutions. Go figure.I first learned of Ashoka in one of Michael Woods' documentaries on India, and I found myself wanting to learn more about this unique ruler who converted to Buddhism and who chiseled his message of pacifism into the stone pilars found in the Ganges river valley and other areas of the subcontinent. Charles Allen early on mentions how Edward Said in his book Orientalism said that many Western historians have viewed world history through the lens of dominant powers occupying the developing world and how, in particular, Said "calls out" the British historians who were studying India. In many ways, this book is a defense of those scholars trying to understand a new culture. I'll let you, poor reader of my tortured prose, come up with your own conclusions, but I found the stories of these British archeologists and students of Indian culture to be a fascinating read.

  • Sunil Sreenivasan
    2018-12-19 10:58

    What an amazing book...the book is about the rediscovery of the great emperor : Ashoka. It is truly mind bogling to learn what Ashoka espoused so many years back for his kingdom and people. I am not suprised when the book states what an impact Ashoka had on Nehru. Dharma as defined by Ashoka based on the RE and other sources could very well be adopted by any country now as a model for governance. That said as one reads through this book one also gets an insight into many facts that helps one to have a nuanced view of politics and religions in India today.Most importantly the book is very well researched for anyone who has seen the movie on Ashoka or the serial that comes on TV this book would be an eye opener. Based on facts and reserach we discover probably India's first great king.Ashoka's story is that of man who governed a vast kingdom through "Moral Force". The fact that he did this so many years back and so effectively is reason for him to be remembered and celeberated. Unfortuntaely for the current political dispensation with it's idological moorings in "Hindutva" Ashoka may not be the role model they want to emulate...

  • The Book Outline
    2019-01-15 05:03

    Woven using collected pieces of surviving rock edicts, sculptures, Buddhist stupas, accounts of Huen Tsang and Fa Hien, an accepted history is now established. Sadly however, story of Ashoka had remained buried for around two thousand years, the rediscovery coinciding only with retracing of the Buddhist past in India.Charles Allen in his book Ashoka -The Search for India's Lost Emperor meticulously presents these steps of retracing a grand era that had started with discovery of few mysterious monuments with inscriptions in an encoded script. Richly full of illustrative figures, this is a scholarly study of how historians and archaeologists had succeeded in mapping the historical clues to frame the forgotten epic of India's antiquity.Read the review of Ashoka - The Search for India's Lost Emperor at

  • Yasmin
    2019-01-02 08:59

    A thoroughly interesting and well detailed book about one of India's least known rulers. He returned to light during excavations by the Europeans who wrote many volumes on what they assumed the background to Ashoka was and what they could carry rushed to their museums. There is no way for the average Indian to appreciate this part of their history as they wouldn't be able to afford the airfare to the UK, hotel rooms and cost into the museums. Of course for a few rupees they could go see the Indian film about Ashoka, however, nothing remotely historically accurate. But if it gives people a sense of wonderment about their history they may take an interest that much further and bring Ashoka back to the ordinary people, a king of the people again. All in all a very worth while read and highly recommended.

  • Shreeja Keyal Kanoria
    2019-01-12 07:55

    "What constitutes Dhamma? .......little evil, much good, kindness, generosity, truthfulness and purity.....much self examination, much respect, much fear (of evil), and much enthusiasm."- Excerpt: Translation of Rock Edict 1, Beloved of the Gods, Piyadassi, 3rd century BCI loved this book, especially cause of it's approach. It doesn't just narrate the story of Ashoka and cite examples of the edicts and other things excavated,but it takes us on a journey of how this Great, Great emperor creeps back into our consciousness after centuries and centuries of neglect. I guess we'll always be grateful to the British for the role they played in his discovery. And can hope, that the Indian history text books and conscious mind will give Piodesses (as the Greeks called him)the respect due to him.

  • Naliniprasad
    2018-12-22 08:40

    Charles allen gives a historical chronicle of the people and events behind the discovery of life of Emperor Ashoka.This book is full of photographs of artefacts and relics.This is another book on Indian History written by yet another British writer.Even to unravel the mystery of ashoka, the british historians took the help of historical texts written by ancient chinese and srilankan monks.Similarly western writers continue to write informative accounts of India's Buddhist past.Charles Allen's Ashoka is an insightful book on Emperor Ashoka and the research that brought in to limelight his life and rule.It also includes some of the recent findings that are throwing up new clues to understand that Great King's life.

  • Sridevi Bp
    2018-12-21 09:53

    I think the title should be modified to the Englishman's search for Ashoka. Given that Buddhism was flourishing in a number of countries, though lost in India, the search for Ashoka and Buddha appears contrived and extremely insular. While the efforts of the people who discovered the actual sites are laudable, the biographies of the discoverers lean towards hagiography. And, though informative, there is precious little of Ashoka, most of it repetitive. John Keay does a much better job in this genre.

  • Manish
    2019-01-13 05:46

    Well researched and exhaustive account of how the history of Ashoka and Buddhism in India was rediscovered in the 1800s. Charles Allen has transformed the dry, historical account into an interesting journey by adopting a unique perspective of revealing only what the principal actors knew at the time. His personality sketches of the people as well as his commentary on Ashoka, Chandragupta make this a great read for anyone interested in Indian history.

  • Srikkanth
    2019-01-07 09:39

    I picked this book to understand about Ashoka and the factors that influenced him to change. The book is not a clear cut biography but a scholarly study on how Ashoka was discovered, the people behind it, the pillars and structure that she'd light to the story. The book is for students or scholars or historians who like to understand how the story of Ashoka came to light. The book is not for pass time readers, like me, who wants to read a biography of the King.