Profile: King Ashoka

I’m in the midst of watching the visually-stunning PBS documentary The Story of India in which we’re told of the 3rd century BC King Ashoka and his progressive governing style. After pillaging the city of Kalinga he regrets his actions and turns to Buddhism. Ashoka’s edicts, which were posted throughout his empire on stone pillars, include notable sections on the protection of animals.

Twenty-six years after my coronation various animals were declared to be protected… parrots, mainas, //aruna//, ruddy geese, wild ducks, //nandimukhas, gelatas//, bats, queen ants [queen ants!!] … Those nanny goats, ewes and sows which are with young or giving milk to their young are protected, and so are young ones less than six months old. Cocks are not to be caponized, husks hiding living beings are not to be burnt and forests are not to be burnt either without reason or to kill creatures. One animal is not to be fed to another.

While Buddhism’s influence on India waned after Ashoka, his “trademark” symbol was chosen to grace the Indian national flag after independence in 1947. In addition, the first (and at the time, future) vice president, Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, announced that the green of the flag represents India’s “relation to (the) soil, our relation to the plant life here, on which all other life depends”.

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