Delhi: Ferozeshah Kotla

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Delhi: Ferozeshah Kotla

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Ashoka (Ashok) pillar

The Ashok pillar at Ferozeshah Kotla, eroded with time, as in 2016

Richi Verma, Kotla's Ashoka pillar, over 2,000 yrs old, suffers heavy damage, Dec 03 2016 : The Times of India

`Unaware' ASI Says Will Take Action

A valuable piece of India's ancient history in the heart of the nation's modern capital is being erased word by word, literally .

The Ashoka pillar in central Delhi's Ferozeshah Kotla, erected by the Mauryan emperor Ashoka originally in Haryana's Ambala area between circa 273 and 236 BCE, is showing clear signs of flaking and deterioration. The sad thing is that the monument's custodian, the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), seemed not to know of the damage. Not until TOI spoke to the ASI director general.

The Ashokan inscriptions on this exceptionally rare pillar are bearing the brunt of the damage. But no one knows yet whether they are being eroded by time, the elements, the human hand, or all three. A large part of the inscriptions has flaked off completely . The uniqueness of this pillar lies in the fact that it bears one more edict than the standard six on the other pillars.

The exact reason for the sudden flaking is unclear. “The question that needs to be asked is how is the pillar suddenly withering? It survived for more than 2,000 years. Has there been chemical cleaning or is there some other reason?“ said Intach convener Swapna Liddle, adding, “ASI has to investigate this because it's a very serious matter. This is not just any pillar, it's an Ashokan pillar and a large part of the original inscription has come off and cannot even be recreated.The loss is irreparable.“

There are two Ashoka pillars in Delhi -the one in Ferozeshah Kotla and another at the Delhi Ridge, opposite Bara Hindu Rao Hospital. The pillars were transported from their original sites in Meerut and Ambala during the reign of Sultan Feroz Shah Tughlaq in the 14th century CE. The pillar in the Kotla ruins is also referred to as the Delhi Topra pillar because it was discovered in a village called Topra, near Ambala. The Topra pillar was erected over Tughlaq's palace and is 43 feet high. It is said that Feroz Shah Tughlaq was so enthralled by Ashokan pillars in the mid-14th century that he had them moved to his palace in Delhi. Till then, the inscriptions, in the Brahmi script, were yet to be deciphered.

Noted historian Nayanjyot Lahiri, author of the book “Ashoka in Ancient India“, told TOI: “There are multiple histories connected to the Ashokan pillars. Each pillar has a set of edicts which are messages from Emperor Ashoka on various things, such as matters concerning the protection of all living beings.While all Ashokan pillars have a set of six edicts, the Topra pillar in Kotla is the only one with seven edicts. The seventh is a retrospective statement in which Ashoka sums up the work he has done and (imposes) moral restrictions on people. This pillar is especially unique for this reason and is the only one of its kind.“

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