Mauryan-era Ashoka pillar withers away

2,000-year-old historical monument rapidly depleting


December 5, 2016

/ By / New Delhi

The third ruler of the Mauryan dynasty, King Ashoka, during his reign, had erected several pillars deciphering some original Indian texts. These rare pillars are now scattered in various parts of India, and are under the care of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). But the ASI seems oblivious to the depletion of these informative art pieces form the past.



The pillar demands immediate attention of the ASI; parts of it which have withered away cannot be restored.

The Ashoka pillar which stands in the Indian capital, New Delhi’s Ferozeshah Kotla area, is apparently deteriorating due to natural causes and human ignorance.  As a result, a large part of the inscriptions on it are smudging away, rubbing away with it, its uniqueness. This pillar has one more edict on it apart from the standard six on all other Ashokan pillars.

“This is a matter of grave concern and we will inspect the monument at the earliest and take appropriate action,” said Rakesh Tewari, director general, ASI.



It has been reported that the ASI was clueless about the withering and only came in picture after the matter surfaced.

“ASI has to investigate this because it’s a very serious matter. This is not just any pillar, it’s an Ashokan pillar and a large part of the original inscription has come off and cannot even be recreated. The loss is irreparable,” said Swapna Liddle, convener, Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage.

“The question that needs to be asked is how is the pillar suddenly withering? It survived for more than 2,000 years. Has there been chemical cleaning or is there some other reason?” Liddle remarked on the reasons of the flaking being unclear.

Other than the Ashoka pillar at Ferozeshah Kotla, there is another one at the Delhi ridge. These two pillars were originally placed in Indian cities of Ambala and Meerut and were moved to Delhi during the 14th century CE. The pillar in Kotla comes from a village called Topra in Ambala and is hence also called the Delhi Topra pillar. Later, this 43 ft tall pillar was erected at the palace of another ruler, Feroz Shah Tughlaq as he was attracted by the creations.

“There are multiple histories connected to the Ashokan pillars. Each pillar has a set of edicts which are messages from Emperor Ashoka on various things, such as matters concerning the protection of all living beings. While all Ashokan pillars have a set of six edicts, the Topra pillar in Kotla is the only one with seven edicts. The seventh is a retrospective statement in which Ashoka sums up the work he has done and (imposes) moral restrictions on people. This pillar is especially unique for this reason and is the only one of its kind,” says Nayanjyot Lahiri, author of ‘Ashoka in Ancient India’.



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