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Archaeologies of power: materialization of imperial ideology on the Aśoka horizon

Graduate Seminars in Indic Religions
OCHS Library
Ken Ishikawa
Friday, 7 June 2013 - 4:00pm

Archaeologists have conceptualized power either as personal potency or something structural, but more comprehensively as nothing but the dialectical relationship between the two. Comparatively in Indic philosophy, both the normative knowledge of statecraft and personal experience of the ruler were considered as integral to the exercise of overlordship. I will thus archaeologically investigate the role of Aśoka the Great in exploiting sources of power especially (but not exclusively) ideology through the archaeological theory of materialization. It has been argued that ideology can be materialized: in ancient South Asia, ideology assumed its materialized forms as royal orders on permanent materials, monuments/monumental art, coins, rituals, distributions of imperial art/architecture/artifacts or settlement patterns/hierarchies.

The contents, contexts and locations of Aśokan edicts best manifest the modes of power of the Indic world. I will first challenge the discrepancy between Aśoka’s proselytization of Buddhism and religious tolerance as well as the long-held dichotomy of the Buddhist and Brahmanical models of his kingship. Secularization of certain technical terms in Aśokan edicts and their geopolitical locations rather support such imperial strategies as universal pacification and compartmentalization. The collective evidence of the royal orders of Aśoka, Khāravera, Rudradāman and Samudragupta will further illuminate the cakravartin kingship of the Indo-European origin. I will hypothesize that Aśoka as cakravartin materialized his power by marking his symbolic circumambulation of his empire with his Major and Minor Rock Edicts located on Mauryan borderlands.