Short Essay on the Administrative Terms & Officials mentioned in Asoka’s Edicts

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In Asoka’s Edicts we find a brief glimpse of his administration, including the administrative divisions and officials of the empire. Asoka must have continued the administrative system as he inherited from his father and grandfather, but he introduced certain administrative innovations and added a few new officials, such as Dhamma- Mahamatras. A brief account of his administra­tion based on his Inscriptions follows.

Centres of Provincial Administration:

Pataliputra (Patna) was the capital, as in the days of Asoka’s grandfather Chandragupta. Kosambi (near Al­lahabad, U.P.), Ujjaini (Madhya Pradesh), Suvar- nagiric perhaps modern Zonnagiri in the neighbourhood of Yerragudi, Andhra Pradesh) with Isila (Siddhapura) as a subordinate division, and Tosali (Dhauli) and Samapa (near Jaugada) in Kalinga (Orissa) were important centres of provincial administration that are expressly men­tioned. There might have been others. In the Junagarh Rock Inscription of Rudradaman of 150 A.D. one Yavanaraja Tushaspa is said to have represented Asoka’s authority in Saurashtra.

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The Viceroys of Tosali and Ujjaini are called Kumaras in separate Kalinga Edicts; and

Aryaputa (Aryaputra) is the term by which the Viceroy of Suvarnagiri is addressed in the Brah- magiri-Siddhapura Edicts. Tosali, Suvarnagiri, Ujjaini and Takshasila were each under a Prince of the royal family.

Officers:

Officers of various types are also men­tioned in the Edicts as under:

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1. Mahamahamatras and other officers of this category such as Dhamma-mahamatras, Amta-mahamatras and Stri-adhyaksha- mahamatras.

2. Rajukas and Rathikas

3. Pradesikas or Pradestras

4. Yuktas

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5. Prativedakas

6. Pulisas

7. Vachabhumikas

8. Nagala-Viyohalakas (Nagar Vyavaharikas).

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Mahamatras:

The term Mahamatra and Dham- ma- mahamatra indicated a definite high rank in the hierarchy of officials. They were posted in each great city and district of the empire. The Inscriptions mention the Mahamatras of Pataliputra, Kausambi, Tosali, Samapa, Suvar­nagiri and Isila. The duties that devolved on each were implied by more specific titles.

The office of the Dhamma-mahamatras was created by Asoka thirteen years after his corona­tion as he states in Rock Edict V which sets forth their duties in some detail. The seventh Pillar- Edict throws further light on their duties.

The Dhamma- mahamatras were to establish and promote Dhamma among all sects in the land and promote the happiness of people devoted to Dhamma. They reviewed all sentences awarded by courts and mitigated or remitted them after taking into account the particular circumstances of each case.

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The seventh Pillar Edict throwing further light on their activities mentions that they were also ordered “to look after the activities of the Buddhist Samgha and various other sects”.

The anta-mahamatras, who were the Warden of Marches posted on borders, preached Dham­ma among the tribes on the borders and else­where. The Ithijhaka-mahamatras (Stri-adhyaksha- mahamatras), the designation indicates that they had control of women, but the actual details of their duties are not forthcoming.

The Rajukas are found mentioned in the Rock Edict 111 and the Pillar Edicts I and IV. The Pillar Edict IV refers to the Rajukas as officers “set over many hundred thousand of people and charged with the duty of promoting the welfare of the Janapadas” to whom Asoka granted inde­pendence in the award of honours and penalties.

The reference to the award of penalties indicates that the Rajukas performed judicial duties. Asoka asked them to perform their duties confidently and fearlessly and desired that the care of these officers should resemble that of “an intelligent nurse for the child in her charge”.

The Yuktas mentioned in the Rock Edict III appear to have been subordinate officials and were entrusted with the secretarial work and ac­counting.

The Prativedakas, found mentioned in the Rock Edict VI and other Edicts, were special reporters of King or Central Government and they had direct access to the King.

The Pulisas, functioned in a similar way as modern Public Relations Officers. They were ac­quainted with public opinion which they reported to the King.

The Vachabhumikas were the Inspectors of cowpens charged with the superintendence of cat­tle-wealth.

In the Kalinga Edict certain Mahamatras were designated as the Nagala-Viyohalakas or’Nagar Vyavaharikas. They were appointed at Tosali and Samapa, and perhaps in other large cities else­where. They administered justice in the cities.

An Estimate of Asoka:

Asoka was one of the greatest monarchs in the history of mankind whose reign constitutes one of those “rare and lightning epochs” in the “annals of nations”. His greatness lay in his early and clear realisation of the values of human life, and in his endeavouring strenuously throughout his life to rouse India to listen to the call of moral life she realised through him. His eminence lay in the practical and detailed application of the principles he propagated.

He is the unique example of a supreme and aclivc humanist on the throne. His Rock Edict VI emphasises the responsibility of man to his fellow beings. One war was enough to turn his mind for ever against the use of arms and convince him that the true conquest was that of love and piety – Dhammavijaya.

He promoted mutual goodwill and respect among different religious sects and extended his patronage to various sects. Asoka possessed abundant courage to preach a system of morals and ethics, which may be regarded as the common property of mankind.

Asoka’s message was “one of peace on earth and goodwill among men. The glory and fame of a king do not rest upon the physical extent of his dominion, but upon the moral progress he can help his people to achieve. Asoka fully lived up to this ideal.”

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