According to Ven. S. “The protection of all religions, their promotion and the fostering of harmony between them, was also seen as one of the duties of the state. It even seems that something like a Department of Religious Affairs was established with officers called. Whose job it was to look after the affairs of various religious bodies and to encourage the practice of religion”. A?oka as an enterprising monarch for his spiritual, political as well as economic gain propagated the idea of patronage with greater sanctity than was hitherto unknown to previous and contemporary kings. His efforts of patronage was succeeded with his policies of Dhamma and Dhammay?t?s and he was successful in integrating the numerous heterogeneous population of the Indian sub-continent into harmonious society. Asoka (304 BC–232 BC) was a King, who ruled the Empire in present-day eastern India from 273 BC to 232 BC. After a number of military conquests, Asoka reigned over most of India, who later on convert to Buddhism, Asoka established monuments marking several significant sites in the life of Shakyamuni , and according to Buddhist tradition was closely involved in the preservation and transmission of Buddhism. The name “Ashoka” means “without sorrow” in Sanskrit. In his edicts he is referred to as “Dev?n?mpriya” or “The Beloved of the Gods”, and “Priyadarshi” or “He who regards everyone amiably”. Science fiction novelist H.G. Wells wrote of Ashoka: “In the history of the world there have been thousands of kings and emperors who called themselves ‘their highnesses,’ ‘their majesties,’ and ‘their exalted majesties’ and so on. They shone for a brief moment, and as quickly disappeared. But Ashoka shines and shines brightly like a bright star, even unto this day.”His legend is related in the 2nd century CE Ashokavadana (“Narrative of Ashoka”) and Divyavadana (“Divine narrative”).
In Buddhism, understanding plays the key role in one’s spiritual progress. So, for the intending pilgrim, it is imperative to understand that a pilgrimage is essentially a spiritual journey in veneration of the Blessed One. This act of veneration purifies one’s thoughts, speech and action and through it, many noble qualities. The idea of a pilgrimage came from the Buddha himself because at the time of his Mahaparinibbana, he advised his disciples to visit four places that may be for their inspiration when he was not there. The aim of this proposed research work is discuss about the benefits of undertaking a pilgrimage to Buddhist sacred places.
A?oka as a firm believer of the exhortation of the Buddha embarked upon the holy pilgrimages of Buddhism. He visited atthamahathanani (eight great places) i.e. the four sacred places related to life event of the Buddha-Lumbin?, Bodhgay?, S?rn?th and Ku?in?ra and four places of the Buddha’s miracles-S?vatth?, Sankissa, R?jagaha and Ve?al?. He also went for political y?t?s to know the countryside. His Dhammay?t?s were literally a landmark because where ever he went, he built st?pas, raised pillars generally with inscriptions to commemorate the aim of his y?t?s. These pillars are monolithic made of polished Chunar sandstone and surmounted with animal capital which has helped to a great extent to identify the exact location and purpose of his y?t?s. The age of A?oka started a new epoch in the history of Indian sub-continent. Besides, conquering states, suppressing revolts and acquiring new territories, he initiated a new political philosophy of statecraft truly inspired by the existing socio-political circumstances and harmonious co-existence of all religions. He was successful in bringing remarkable changes with help of his policy of Dhamma and Dhammay?t?s. Asoka’s Dhammay?t?s for Buddhist pilgrimage as well as polity played congenial role to subside the cultural conflicts of the bordering states and inculcated religious harmony in the Ganga valley. His religious teachings may be inspired by the Buddha who told Ananda in Mahaparinibb?na Sutta that every monk and lay follower must visit four places of Buddhist pilgrimages viz Lumbin?., Bodhgay?, S?rn?th and Ku?inara on the advice of Bhikkhu Upagupta.
The Pilgrimage of A?oka may have been influenced by the cakkavat? idea of Buddhism where the Buddha has been accepted as anagarika-ratana (ideal recluse) who possesses the mah?purusa lakkhana and satta ratana. His y?t?s helped to knit together the diverse population of the sub-continent into a single political unit and to visualize the trusteeship idea of sovereignty as mentioned in J?taka literature. This proposed research work is intended to examine the nature of his Pilgrimage (Dhammay?t?s) and the idea of patronage. The Dhammay?t? of A?oka was a mechanism whereby his policies, religious aptitude and its sanctity could be disseminated amongst the masses. Further in this research work I with the help of my supervisor try to highlight how King Asoka came to seek benevolence of the Buddha on the one hand and at the same time also consolidated his territorial unity by giving direct information to the masses which has made subjects obedient and loyal to the empire and the king.