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A Mix of the Old and the New


Aloka Parasher-Sen

IDEAS AND MOVEMENTS IN THE AGE OF THE MAURYAS (WITH SPECIAL REFERENCE TO PALI AND ARDHA MAGADHI SOURCES)
By S.N. Dube
Indian Institute of Advanced Studies, Shimla, 2012, pp. 368, Rs. 650.00

VOLUME XXXVIII NUMBER 1 January 2014

The title of the book is inviting and indicates in an immediate sense that there would be something new to look forward to. An initial glance at the contents page, however, lends a picture that we are already familiar with. The book under review is thus marked by a terrain that is all too well-known to students of history. The special reference part of the title that the author intends to make as the new intervention into the interpretation of the Mauryan period of ancient Indian history is to bring to the forefront sources of study that he feels have been neglected from the perspective of their being particularly applicable to the Mauryan period. These are the Pali and Ardha Magadhi sources that, it must be stated at the outset, have been well exploited for the study of the Sramanic religions of early India.   The ten chapters in the book follow a rather conventional order, with an Introduction and Conclusion, identifying the sources used in the book, highlighting especially the Pali and Ardha Magadhi ones and providing the ‘intellectual and social background’ to the study. Here, the author sees what he calls ‘spiritual unrest’ and ‘intellectual ferment’ that defined the distinctive set of doctrines and social conduct that these so-called heterodox sects espoused. ‘Imperial Unification and Wider Horizons’ primarily deals with issues around the political configuration of the period. The way these aspects have been described is along lines that are rather traditional and well known but exaggerated claims that Chandragupta Maurya put India on the ‘political map of the world’ and that Kautilya provided a ‘conscientious’ administration is a line of interpretation that gives exceptional importance to the role of individuals in history. With an intriguing title, in the chapter ‘Benign Autocracy and its Legacies’ Dube finds Asoka’s rule unique in the ‘annals of world history’ (p. 10). He, however, finds the religious conviction of Asoka baffling but tries to suggest through this chapter how he closely borrowed his ideas on dhamma from what Lord Buddha had first articulated.   The other chapters shift gear and move exclusively into looking at the various dimensions of the study of Buddhism, its rise and early Buddhist sects, the ideas around it and their transformation and finally, we are provided a window into a discussion around ‘Other Ascetic Orders’. Whereas some of this textual information is well-known to scholars of early Buddhist studies, ...


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