Allahabad pillar

Allahabad Pillar

The Ashoka Pillar at Allahabad in c.1870 possibly sporting the lion capital fashioned by Captain Edward Smith in 1838.[1]
Coordinates 25°25′52″N 81°52′30″E / 25.43111°N 81.87500°E / 25.43111; 81.87500
Location Allahabad, Uttar Pradesh, India
Type Pillar
Material Sandstone
Width 35 inches (0.9 m)[2]
Height 35 feet (10.7 m)[2]
Completion date c.3rd century BCE

The Allahabad pillar is an Ashoka Stambha, one of the pillars of Ashoka, an emperor of the Maurya dynasty who reigned in the 3rd century BCE. While it is one of the few extant pillars that carry his edicts,[2]:3 it is particularly notable for containing later inscriptions attributed to the Gupta emperor, Samudragupta (4th century CE).[3] Also engraved on the stone are inscriptions by the Mughal emperor, Jahangir, from the 17th century.[2]

At some point of time, the pillar was moved from its original location and installed within Akbar's Allahabad Fort in Allahabad, Uttar Pradesh. As the fort is now occupied by the Indian Army, the public are only allowed limited access to the premises and special permission is required to view the pillar.[4][5]


Frieze of the lost capital of the Allahabad pillar, with two lotuses framing a "flame palmette" surrounded by small rosette flowers.
A quite similar frieze from Delphi incorporating lotuses with multiple calyxes.

The Allahabad Pillar is a single shaft of polished sandstone standing 35 feet (10.7 m) high. It has a lower diameter of 35 inches (0.9 m) and an upper diameter of 26 inches (0.7 m). The customary lotiform bell-shaped capital seen in the other Ashoka Pillars is lost as is whichever statue mounted it. However the abacus, adorned by a graceful scroll of alternate lotus and honeysuckle, that the statue must have rested upon, was found nearby. Cunningham believed that the capital must have been mounted by a single lion.[2][6] The abacus is almost identical to the one found on the pillar at Sankasya suggesting proximate erection dates.[6]

The pillar circa 1900.

The Ashokan inscriptions suggest that the pillar was first erected at Kaushambi, an ancient town some 30 kilometres west of its current location which was then the capital of the kingdom of Koshala. It was moved to Allahabad much later when the region came under Muslim rule.[1][2] The presence of another broken pillar at Kaushambi near the ruins of the Ghoshitarama monastery[7] has led some to believe that the Allahabad Pillar might have been one of a pair, not unlike the ones discovered at Rampurva.[6]

The Allahabad Pillar as seen by Joseph Tiefenthaler in the 18th century

The pillar has been taken down and re-erected a number of times since the 13th century and the "idol-breaking zeal of the Musalmans".[8]:968 It was once re-erected during the time of Jahangir in 1605,[2] albeit crowned by a globe surmounted by a cone, and was later sketched by the Jesuit missionary, Joseph Tiefenthaler, in the mid-18th century.[1] In 1838, Captain Edward Smith "of the Engineers" set up the pillar once again, this time with a new lion capital of his own design. Cunningham dismissed this effort at restoration as "a signal failure" as he thought the statue was "small and recumbent". He summed up the design with the following remark,[1]

Indeed, it looks to me not unlike a stuffed poodle stuck on the top of an inverted flower pot.


When James Prinsep of the Asiatic Society came across the broken pillar just inside the gates of the Allahabad Fort in c.1834, its inscriptions were being eroded by the rain and sun. He remarked,[9][10]

I could not see the highly curious column lying at Allahabad, falling to rapid decay, without wishing to preserve a complete copy of its several inscriptions …

There are three sets of inscriptions on the column from the three emperors, Ashoka Maurya, Samudragupta, and Jahangir. They are accompanied by some minor inscriptions by pilgrims and others, which are derided as a mass of modern scribblings by Cunningham. Some of these are, however, dated and coupled with the style of scripts used, are useful to establish the periods when the pillar was in an erect position, and when it was lying prone on the ground. An analysis by Prinsep and later by Cunningham indicated that the Allahabad Pillar was very likely erect from the time of Samudragupta until the mid-13th century CE.[3]

Ashoka inscriptions

Brahmi inscriptions by Ashoka

The Ashokan inscriptions on the Allahabad Pillar (along with inscriptions elsewhere) was pivotal to the decipherment of the Brahmi script by The Asiatic Society's James Prinsep. It led to the rediscovery of the Mauryan emperor and the unearthing of the full extent of his empire.[8][11][12]

The inscription is engraved in continuous lines around the column in Brahmi and contains the same six edicts that can be seen on the other pillars. However, much of the third and fourth edicts have been "ruthlessly destroyed by the cutting of the vain-glorious inscription of Jahangir, recording the names of his ancestors".[2] Besides the six edicts, the Allahabad pillar also includes what are known as the Schism edict and the Queen's edict.[2]

Schism edict

The Schism Edict, referred to as the Kaushambi edict by Cunningham, is a command from the emperor addressing the senior officials (Mahamatras) of Kaushambi[1] urging them to avoid dissension and stay united. The following is a conflation of various fragmented versions of the edict:

The Beloved of the Gods orders the officers of Kauśāmbī/Pāṭa[liputra] thus:

No one is to cause dissention in the Order. The Order of monks and nuns has been united, and this unity should last for as long as my sons and great grandsons, and the moon and the sun. Whoever creates a schism in the Order, whether monk or nun, is to be dressed in white garments, and to be put in a place not inhabited by monks or nuns. For it is my wish that the Order should remain united and endure for long. This is to be made known to the Order of monks and the Order of nuns. Thus says the Beloved of the Gods: You must keep one copy of this document and place it in your meeting hall, and give one copy to the laity. The laymen must come on every uposatha day [day of confession and penance] to endorse this order. The same applies to special officers who must also regularly attend the uposatha, and endorse this order, and make it known. Throughout your district you must circulate it exactly according to this text. You must also have this precise text circulated in all the fortress districts [under military control].[13]

Queen's edict

The Queen's Edict refers to the charitable deeds of Ashoka's queen, Karuvaki, the mother of Prince Tivala.[14][15]

On the order of the Beloved of the Gods, the officers everywhere are to be instructed that whatever may be the gift of the second queen, whether a mango-grove, a monastery, an institution for dispensing charity or any other donation, it is to be counted to the credit of that queen … the second queen, the mother of Tīvala, Kāruvākī.[13]

Samudragupta inscriptions

A later inscription, attributed to the 4th century CE Gupta emperor, Samudragupta, follows immediately below the edicts of Ashoka. It is considered "the most important historical document of the classical Gupta age".[3] It is in excellent Sanskrit,[3] written in the more refined Gupta script (a later version of Brahmi) by the poet and minister, Harishena.[16] The inscription is a panegyric praising Samudragupta and lists the political and military achievements of his reign including his expeditions to the south.[3][17] It provides a unique snapshot of the Gupta empire and its neighbours and is the source of much of what is known of the geopolitical landscape of that era.[3][16]

The following is from the translation of the inscription by D. R. Bhandarkar:[3][18][19]

  • (Verse 3) Whose mind is surcharged with happiness in consequence of his association with the wise, who is thus accustomed to retain the truth and purpose of (any) science . . . . . . fixed . . . . . . upraised . . . . . . who, removing impediments to the grace of good poetry through the very injunction (ājñā) of (poetic) excellence (guṇa) clustered together (guṇita) by the experts, enjoys, in the literate world, in an attractive fashion, sovereignty, in consequence of fame for copious lucid poetry.
  • (Verse 4) (Exclaiming) "Come, oh worthy (one)", and embracing (him) with hair standing on end and indicating (his) feeling, (his) father, perceiving (him) with the eye, overcome with affection, (and) laden with tears (of joy), (but) discerning the true state (of things) said to him "so protect (thou) the whole earth", while he was being looked up with sad faces by others of equal birth, (but) while the courtiers were breathing cheerfully.
  • (Verse 5) Beholding whose many super-human actions, some felt the thrill of marvel and burst into horripilation, some relishing with feeling . . . . . ., some afflicted with his prowess sought (whose) protection after performing obeisance;. . . . . .
  • (Verse 6) (Whose enemies), whose offence was always great, being conquered by his arm in battles . . . . . . day by day . . . . . . pride . . . . . . (develop) repentance with their minds filled with delight and expanding with much and evident pleasure and affection.
  • (Verse 7) By whom, with the impetuosity of the prowess of (his) arm, which grew to overflowing, having singly and in a moment uprooted Achyuta and Nāgāsēna and [Gaṇapati] come together in a battle (against him) thereafter, causing, indeed, the scion of the Kōta family to be captured by (his) forces, (while) amusing himself at (the city) named Pushpa, while the sun . . . . . . the banks . . . . . .
  • (Verse 8) (Being) the enclosing structure of Dharma (Sacred Law), (his) multifarious sprouting fame is as bright as the rays of the moon; (his) erudition pierces down to Truth . . . . . . quiescence . . . . . ., the course of (his) wise utterances is worthy of study; (his) again is poetry which outdistances the greatness of the genius of (other) poets. What excellence is there which does not belong to him ? So has he alone become a fit subject of contemplation with the learned.?
  • (Lines 17–18) Of him (who) was skilful in engaging in hundreds of battles of various kinds, whose only ally was valour (parākrama) through the might of his own arm, and who (has thus) the epithet Parākrama, whose body was most charming, being covered over with the plenteous beauty of the marks of hundreds of promiscuous scars, caused by battle-axes, arrows, spikes (śaṅku), spears (śakti), barbed darts (prāsa), swords, iron clubs (tōmara), javelins for throwing (bhindipāla), barbed arrows (nārācha), span-long arrows (vaitastika) and many other weapons.
  • (Lines 19–20) Whose magnanimity blended with valour was caused by (his) first capturing, and thereafter showing the favour of releasing, all the kings of Dakshiṇāpatha such as Mahēndra of Kōsala, Vyāghrarāja of Mahākāntāra, Maṇṭarāja of Kurāḷa, Mahēndragiri of Pishṭapura, Svāmidatta of Kōṭṭūra, Damana of Ēraṇḍapalla, Vishṇugōpa of Kāñchī, Nīlarāja of Avamukta, Hastivarman of Vēṅgī, Ugrasēna of Pālakka, Kubēra of Dēvarāshṭra, and Dhanañjaya of Kusthalapura.[16]:145
  • (Line 21) (Who) is great through the extraordinary valour, namely, the forcible extermination of many kings of Āryāvarta such as Rudradēva, Matila, Nāgadatta, Chandravarman, Gaṇapatināga, Nāgasēna, Āchyuta-Nandin and Balavarman; who has made all the kings of the forest regions to become his servants.
  • (Lines 22–23) (Whose) formidable rule was propitiated with the payment of all tributes, execution of orders and visits (to his court) for obeisance by such frontier rulers as those of Samataṭa, Ḍavāka, Kāmarūpa, Nēpāla, and Kartṛipura, and, by the Mālavas, Ārjunāyanas, Yaudhēyas, Mādrakas, Ābhīras, Prārjunas, Sanakānīkas, Kākas, Kharaparikas and other (tribes).[16]:142
  • (Line 23) (Whose) fame has tired itself with a journey over the whole world caused by the restoration of many fallen kingdoms and overthrown royal families.
A Samudragupta coin featuring the Garuda banner.
  • (Lines 23–24) The unimpeded flow (prasara) of the prowess of (whose) arm (was arrested) by an earth embankment (dharaṇi-bandha) put up by means of service through such measures as self-surrender, offering (their own) daughters in marriage and a request for the administration of their own districts and provinces through the Garuḍa badge, by the Dēvaputra-Shāhi-Shāhānushāhi and the Śaka lords and by (rulers) occupying all Island countries, such as Siṁhala[16]:149 and others.
  • (Lines 24–26) He was without an antagonist on earth; he, by the overflowing of the multitude of (his) many good qualities adorned by hundreds of good actions, has wiped off the fame of other kings with the soles of (his) feet; (he is) Purusha (Supreme Being), being the cause of the prosperity of the good and the destruction of the bad (he is) incomprehensible; (he is) one whose tender heart can be captured only by devotion and humility; (he is) possessed of compassion; (he is) the giver of many hundred-thousands of cows; (his) mind has received ceremonial initiation for the uplift of the miserable, the poor, the forlorn and the suffering; (he is) resplendent and embodied kindness to mankind; (he is) equal to (the gods) Kubēra, Varuṇa, Indra and Yama; (his) Āyukta officers are always engaged upon restoring wealth (titles, territories, etc.) to the many kings conquered by the might of his arms.
  • (Lines 27–28) (He) has put to shame Bṛihaspati by (his) sharp and polished intellect, as also Tumburu, Nārada and others by the graces of his musical performances; (his) title of "King of Poets" has been established through (his) many compositions in poetry which were a means of subsistence to the learned people; (his) many wonderful and noble deeds are fit to be praised for a very long time; (he is) a human being, only as far as he performs the rites and conventions of the world, (otherwise he is) God whose residence is (this) world.
A Samudragupta coin depicting his parents who are mentioned in the inscriptions.
  • (Lines 28–30) This lofty column, (is) the raised arm of the earth, proclaiming as it were, that the fame having pervaded the entire surface of the world with (its) rise caused by the conquest of the whole earth, has acquired an easy and graceful movement in that it has repaired from here (i.e. from this world) to the abode of (Indra) the lord of the gods—(the fame) of that prosperous Samudragupta the Mahārājādhirāja, son of the prosperous Chandragupta (I), the Mahārājādhirāja, born of the Mahādēvī Kumāradēvī, (and) daughter's son of the Lichchhavi, son's son of the prosperous Ghaṭōtkacha, the Mahārāja and the son of the son's son of the prosperous Gupta, the Mahārāja. Whose
  • (Verse 9) fame, ever ascending higher and higher masses, and travelling by many paths, (namely) by liberality, prowess of arm, sobriety and utterance of scriptural texts, purifies the three worlds, like the white water of the (holy river) Gaṅgā, dashing forth rapidly when liberated from the confinement in the inner hollow of the matted hair of Paśupati, (which rises up in ever higher and higher masses and flows through many paths).
  • (Lines 31–32) And may this poetic composition (kāvya) of Harishēṇa, the servant of the very same venerable Bhaṭṭāraka, whose mind has been enlightened through the favour of dwelling near (him), who is the Sāndhivigrahika, Kumārāmātya (and) Mahādaṇḍanāyaka, (and who is) a native of Khādyaṭapāka, and son of the Mahādaṇḍanāyaka Dhruvabhūti, lead to the welfare and happiness of all beings!
  • (Lines 33) and (it) was executed by the Mahādaṇḍanāyaka Tilabhaṭṭaka who meditates on the feet of the Paramabhaṭṭāraka.

Earlier translations, including one by J. F. Fleet,[20] also exist.

Jahangir inscriptions

A still later inscription in Persian traces the ancestry of the Mughal emperor Jahangir. It was carved by his favourite calligrapher, Mir Abdullah Mushkin Qalam, shortly before his accession to the throne when he was still Shah Salim.[21] However, much to the dismay of both Prinsep and Cunningham, the Jahangir inscription overwrites the much older Ashoka inscription.[2][10]

The Mughal-era inscription also records an earlier visit in c.1575 of Akbar's courtier, Birbal, on a pilgrimage to the Sangam, the confluence of the Ganga, Yamuna, and Sarasvati rivers, which is very close to the Allahabad Fort.[1]:698[2]

See also


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Krishnaswamy, C.S.; Ghosh, Amalananda (October 1935). "A Note on the Allahabad Pillar of Aśoka". The Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland. 4: 697–706. JSTOR 25201233.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 Cunningham, Alexander (1879). Corpus Inscriptionum Indicarum: Inscriptions of Ashoka. Office of the Superintendent of Government Printing. pp. 37–38. Retrieved 30 September 2014.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Kulke, Hermann; Rothermund, Dietmar (2010). "A History of India: Samudragupta: "a God whose residence is this world?"". Routledge. Retrieved 1 October 2014.
  4. Kumar, Arjun. "Allahabad's hidden treasure". Times of India. Retrieved 1 October 2014.
  5. "Indian Army, SCE Allahabad, Places of Interest". Indian Army. Retrieved 1 October 2014.
  6. 1 2 3 Le, Huu Phuoc (2010). Buddhist Architecture. Grafikol. p. 39. ISBN 0984404309.
  7. "Ashoka Pillar Kaushambi (Excavation site of ancient ruins)". Wikimapia. Retrieved 7 October 2014.
  8. 1 2 Prinsep, James (1832). "Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal". Open Library. pp. 566–609, 953–980. Retrieved 2 October 2014.
  9. Allen, Charles (2012). Ashoka: The Search for India's Lost Emperor. Hachette UK. ISBN 1408703882.
  10. 1 2 Prinsep, James (March 1834). "Note on Inscription on the Allahabad Column". Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal. 3: 114–123.
  11. Kang, Kanwarjit Singh (28 March 2010). "He deciphered India's past". The Tribune. Retrieved 2 October 2014.
  12. Charry, V Shankar (14 September 2003). "Re-discovering an Emperor". Deccan Herald. Retrieved 2 October 2014.
  13. 1 2 Thapar, Romila (2012). "Appendix V: A Translation of the Edicts of Aśoka". Aśoka and the Decline of the Mauryas (3rd ed.). New Delhi: Oxford University Press. pp. 388–390. ISBN 9780198077244. Retrieved 8 February 2016. (subscription required (help)).
  14. Bhandarkar, D. R. (1925). Ashoka. Asian Educational Services. p. 336. ISBN 8120613333. Retrieved 6 October 2014.
  15. Smith, Vincent Arthur (1920). Ashoka, the Buddhist Emperor of India. Asian Educational Services. pp. 215–219. ISBN 8120613031.
  16. 1 2 3 4 5 Majumdar, Ramesh Chandra; Altekar, Anant Sadashiv (1967). Vakataka - Gupta Age Circa 200-550 A.D. Motilal Banarsidass Publ. pp. 136–155.
  17. Singh, Upinder (2008). A History of Ancient and Early Medieval India: From the Stone Age to the 12th Century. Pearson Education India. pp. 477–478. ISBN 813171120X. Retrieved 6 October 2014.
  18. Bhandarkar, D. R.; Chhabra, B. C. (1981). Gai, G. S., ed. Corpus Inscriptionum Indicarum: Inscriptions of the early Gupta Kings. Archaeological Survey of India.
  19. Ganguly, Dilip Kumar (1987). The Imperial Guptas and Their Times. Abhinav Publications. pp. 63–64. ISBN 8170172225.
  20. Fleet, John F (1888). Corpus Inscriptionum Indicarum: Inscriptions of the Early Guptas. Vol. III. Government of India, Central Publications Branch, Calcutta. pp. 10–17.
  21. Asher, Catherine B. (1992). The New Cambridge History of India: Architecture of Mughal India, Part 1, Volume 4. Cambridge University Press. p. 102. ISBN 0521267285. Retrieved 1 October 2014.
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