Ashokan Pillars in India, Mauryan Age

Ashokan Pillars Lions

Ashokan Pillars – By the 4th century BC, Mauryas established their power and by the 3rd century BC, a large part of India was under Mauryan(Ashokan) control. During the Mauryan period, sculpture and architecture has reached a developed and an imaginative stage. The Mauryan art of Popular Ashoka Pillars has been classified into two categories called as

  1. Court and Royal Art and
  2. Popular Art

Ashokan Pillars

1. Court and Royal art

This category of sculpture includes the architecture which was done under the royal patronage. Emperor Ashoka constructed pillar inscriptions all over his dynasty.These pillars consist of the images of different animals e.g. elephant, bull, lion etc. Different types of animals were engraved on the pillar and rock-cut sculpture of Dhauli (Odisha) and Sarnath(Varanasi).

Ashokas Pillar

Stone pillars are the most distinct achievement of Mauryan architecture.It is difficult to obtain exact count of this pillars. Fa-Hein estimated them to be in number,while Huan-Tsang observed a total of 15 such pillar.They can be classified in two categories

Pillars Of Ashokan Containing Dhamma Inscriptions

In this category, the pillars are: Delhi-Meerut, Delhi-Topra, Allahabad, Lauria Nandangarh, Lauria Areraj, Rampurva(Lion Capital), Sanchi, Sarnath, Lumbini etc.Allahabad pillar originally belonged to Kaushambi(Uttar Pradesh), which was later shifted by Samudragupta to Prayag, Allahabad. The inscriptions of Mughal Emperor Jehangir are also engraved on the pillar.

2. Secular Pillar Edicts

Rampurva(bull head), Basadh,Kosam pillar etc.

Basarah Bakhira

It is situated near Basar (ancient Vaishali). It is one of the best preserved Ashoka pillar. It represents an Asiatic lion, and has no written inscription.

Ashokan Pillars

Lauria Nandangarh

The Lauria Nandangarh Mathiah pillar in the Champaran district of North Bihar,resembles that a Bakhira in general design,but is lighter and less massive,and consequently very graceful.

Ashokan Pillars - Lauria Nandagarh Pillar, during Mouryan Age


Two damaged pillars have been found in Rampurwa village in Champaran district. One of them contains a Lion Capital,vigorously modeled and endowed with vitality and strength. While the second pillar contains a Bull Capital which is three dimensional but represent the lack of artistic sophistication.


It is the most famous of Ashokan edict, it contains the four-Lion Capital and was erected by the Emperor Ashoka and locals call it as Ashoka pillars. The lions probably originally supported a Dharmachakra wheel with 24 spokes.

Ashokan Pillars - Sarnath Pillar, Ashoka

This Lion Capital of Ashoka from Sarnath has been adapted as  the National Emblem of India and the wheel ‘Ashoka Chakra’ from its base was placed onto the centre of the flag of India.

Difference Between Iranian and Ashokan Pillar Edicts

Use of polish and inverted-bells prompts many historians to conclude the Ashokan pillar edicts are the copy of Iranian pillars. However it is not totally true. There are few fundamental differences between the Iranian pillars and those commissioned by Emperor Ashoka.

Ashokan Pillars, Mouryan Age

  1. The Ashokas pillar edicts are mainly monolithic i.e. cut out a single piece of stone, while the Persian pillars are made up of many stones.
  2. Ashokan pillars do not stand on base, while Persian pillars are based on the platforms.
  3. Persian pillars were raised in the grand palaces, while the Ashokas pillar were based independently.
  4. Ashokan pillars contain the animal capital on the top,while the Persian pillars have human figurine.
  5. Persian pillars have uneven surface, while Ashoka pillar is smooth. The animal capitals on the top of Ashokas pillar inscription have distinct culture relevance.
  6. The Ashokan pillars are ‘tapered’ in the bottom-to-top direction, however the Persian pillars have a uniform cross-section throughout.

Lumbini Pillar

It is situated in the Lumbini, the birthplace of Buddha. According to an inscription on the pillar, it was placed there by the people then in charge of the park to commemorate Asoka’s visit and gifts. An image of horse is carved on the pillar.

Ashokan Pillars - Lumbini pillar is famous for its art

Besnagar Pillar

This pillar was erected by the Greek ambassador Heliodorus. This pillar is an evidence of his conversion to Vaishnavism, and his self-proclamation of being ‘Bhagavata’.

Mathura Pillar

Two stone pillars are found near Mathura, which belong to the Kushana period.
One of these pillars is found in the Isapur village, while the other was erected in 2nd century AD.

Ashokan Pillars - Mathura Pillar, by Ashoka

Kahaum Pillar

Its inscription is situated in the Gorakhpur village of Uttar Pradesh. This pillar was erected by Skandagupta to commemorate his victory in a war.

Vishnu Dhwaj Pillar

This pillar was obtained from Eran, situated in Sagar Mandal of Madhya Pradesh.It belongs to 484-485 AD,and 43 feet tall.

Iron Pillar

It is situated in the Qutub Minar complex and notable for its rust-resistance composition.
An inscription in Brahmi script gives description about a ‘Chandra’ king, which probably associates it to with Chandragupta Maurya.

Mandsaur Pillar

Here two monolith pillars were erected by the King Yasodharman in 528 AD with inscription which describes the exploits including victory over Hunas.

Also Read:

The Age of Mauryas

Origin of Indian Caste System – Age of Aryans


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