Searching for Ashoka
Questing for a Buddhist King from India to Thailand
Reveals how the persona of India's most famous emperor was constantly reinvented in ancient times to suit a variety of social visions, political agendas, and moral purposes.
Blending travelogue, history, and archaeology, Searching for Ashoka unravels the various avatars of India's most famous emperor, revealing how he came to be remembered—and forgotten—in distinctive ways at particular points in time and in specific locations. Through personal journeys that take her across India and to various sites and cities in Sri Lanka, Myanmar, and Thailand, archaeologist Nayanjot Lahiri explores how Ashoka's visibility from antiquity to the modern era has been accompanied by a reinvention of his persona. Although the historical Ashoka spoke expansively of his ideas of governance and a new kind of morality, his afterlife is a jumble of stories and representations within various Buddhist imaginings. By remembering Ashoka selectively, Lahiri argues, ancient kings and chroniclers created an artifice, constantly appropriating and then remolding history to suit their own social visions, political agendas, and moral purposes.
Nayanjot Lahiri is Professor of History at Ashoka University. Her previous books include Finding Forgotten Cities: How the Indus Civilization was Discovered; Marshalling the Past: Ancient India and Its Modern Histories; and Ashoka in Ancient India, which was awarded the John F. Richards Prize in South Asian History in 2016.