This book spans the gap between travelogue, travel history, and historical memory in relation to the Emperor Ashoka. It explores how this most famous emperor of ancient India has been remembered and recast over time. Through several journeys in pursuit of mnemonic fragments, Nayanjot Lahiri unravels Ashoka’s various avatars across India, as well as in sites and cities associated with Buddhism in Sri Lanka, Myanmar, and Thailand.
Her travels show how Ashoka came to be remembered – and forgotten – in distinctive ways at particular points in time and in specific locations. Ashoka’s visibility from antiquity to the modern era, Lahiri argues, involved a reinvention of his persona. Unlike the historical emperor, who spoke expansively about humane governance, in his afterlife he is a jumble of representations within Buddhist reimaginings. Lahiri shows how, by remembering Ashoka selectively, later kings appropriated and remoulded history to suit their own social vision or political agenda.
This is the first book on the afterlife of Ashoka to highlight the considerable variety in historical memories of the emperor, even as it reveals the threads that bind the several remembrances.
Nayanjot Lahiri is Professor, History Department, Ashoka University. She has written scholarly monographs on ancient India as well as accessible books for larger audiences which have gained her a large following. Her acclaimed biography Ashoka in Ancient India (2015) fetched her the 2016 John F. Richards Prize in South Asian history. Finding Forgotten Cities (2005), Marshalling the Past (2012), and Time Pieces (2018) are among her best-known books.