The Arts

T.M. Krishna's 'The Edict Project' Breathes Musical Life Into Ashoka's Edicts

The Carnatic classical vocalist focuses on the ideas of equality, justice and governance in his musical rendition of the famous edicts inscribed by Emperor Ashoka centuries ago.

Nasti edisam danam yadisam dharma-danam
Yadisam dharma-danam, dharma-samstavo

(There is no gift like the gift of justice like the celebration of justice)

These thought provoking words feature in T.M. Krishna’s latest offering, ‘The Edict Project’, where the Carnatic classical vocalist delves into the idea of justice and equality espoused by King Ashoka, the third monarch of the Mauryan empire, in his famous edicts that were inscribed centuries ago on rocks and pillars.

The project was launched today in collaboration with Ashoka University, with the premiere of the first set of four edicts on Krishna’s various social media handles. The date of October 14 was chosen consciously as it happens to be the day Dr B.R. Ambedkar – the architect of the Indian constitution – embraced Buddhism.

Krishna recorded the edicts in musical form during the lockdown. 

King Ashoka, who is mostly remembered for the brutal invasion of Kalinga, which left thousands dead, engraved more than 30 inscriptions on pillars, rocks and caves across the Indian subcontinent during his reign (268-232 BCE). Through these edicts, Ashoka sought to share his views on governance, law, justice, dharma, religion, love compassion, equality and compassion. The minor rock edicts, minor pillar edicts, major rock edicts and major pillar edicts came up in Central and Eastern India, and also Bangladesh, Nepal Afghanistan and Pakistan. These edicts were written in Prakrit, Greek and Aramaic. 

As an artist, Krishna has never shied from expressing his feelings about the socio-political environment in the country.  

“As an artist, there are many ways you respond to what’s happening within you and around you,” the vocalist says. “For instance, did any of us read even one edict in school? No, we just know the edicts exist on some rock-faces and on pillars in Sarnath. The fact is that we also forget so many things that are so beautifully there in the past. All we know about Ashoka is Kalinga. For me, it was considering all the violence and hatred around us, the transformation of the individual and the messages that he gave to us for posterity. I felt a need to go back to it. I feel it is not just documenting them, but also reimagining them in our context, rediscovering them. So what do those words mean when you say ‘celebrate justice’? It means so much to us.”

“Ashoka’s edicts are opening for us to have more ethical and reflective conversations happening around us today,” says Krishna. 

The edicts have been sung in the original Magadhi Prakrit and rendered in Carnatic Tradition. For people to understand their meanings, the edicts were translated into English. The four edicts focused on Dharma or Dhamma as known in the Prakrit language.

Going forward, Krishna plans to work on other edicts. The edicts have a wide range of themes. There are more than 120 edicts out of which around 14 edicts repeat a few things. What we plan to do is to render as many edicts as possible that have relevance to our social and political life and also administrative life because there are also edicts on how a place should be administered,” says Krishna. 

The Edict Project can be watched on YouTube and on Instagram @tmkrishnaofficial.

Shailaja Tripathi is an independent journalist.