Art of the Ancient World, C. 5000 B.c.e.–400 C.E.

Art of India and Southeast Asia

What were Ashoka’s pillars?

Ashoka was considered one of the greatest emperors of the Iron Age Maura Empire, located in the eastern portion of modern day India. Ashoka converted to Buddhism, formalized a legal code according to Buddhist principles, and spread Buddha’s teachings across his land by inscribing monolithic stones with his code. These stone pillars reached as high as forty feet tall and are said to symbolize the axis mundi or the “axis of the world.” The pillars mark the coming together of heaven and earth, as well as pilgrimage sites associated with the Buddha. The tops of the pillars were elaborately carved and often depict back-to-back open-mouthed lions, which proclaim Buddha’s message for all who will listen.


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