James Prinsep and the Discovery of King Asoka

It might be difficult to imagine it today, but 180 years ago nobody really knew anything authentic about King Asoka. To explain what I mean it might be best to say that there are two king Asokas; the Asoka of legend and the Asoka of history. The first of these Asokas has of course been familiar to Buddhists for centuries. He is mentioned in the Dipavamsa, in the Mahavamsa and a Sanskrit work called the Asokavadana purports to be a biography of him. When the Chinese pilgrims Faxian and Xuanzang were in India in the 5th and 6th centuries respectively, the Buddhists they met told them numerous stories about the king.



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