Saturday, May 10, 2014

Ashoka - Search for the Lost Emperor

Ashoka by Charles Allen.

This is the sort of book that makes you wonder what on earth Indian historians have been up to since 1947. Why is it that hardly any of them writes about our own history in a manner that is both engaging and scholarly?

We have all plodded through history in our school textbooks. We see Ashoka's royal insignia on every single coin and currency note we pass around, and yet, how many wonder about the kind of international effort that has gone in, to piece together the life and times of a king who ruled most of today's India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan and Afghanistan, 300 years before Christ was born?

Charles Allen weaves a wonderful narrative based on ancient texts recovered from Sri Lanka, China, Persia, Myanmar, and, of course, India. In the end, he notes:
‘It is striking - even downright disheartening - how the quintessentially Indian monarch still fails to be accorded a wholehearted welcome in the land of his birth more than a century after he first emerged as a subject fit for a biography... 
The nation that adores Rama - the mythical hero - but has very little time for the real thing: the man who first forged India into a single nation state, and thus the real claim to be its founding father; the first ruler with a distinctive, identifiable voice; the pre-Gandhian pioneer of non-violence, the first proponent of conquest by moral force alone, whose words remain absolutely, unequivocally unique among rulers as a statement of governing principles.
Amazing book.



* Review - Goodreads -

* Allen, Charles (2012): ASHOKA, Little Brown, UK  -- Google Books -

No comments: