TM Krishna’s The Edict Project: Ashoka and the quest…

TM Krishna‘s (@tmkrishna) Edict Project, in collaboration with Ashoka University was released on 14th October, the day Babasaheb Ambedkar embraced Buddhism.

After the violent annexing of Kalinga, King Ashoka (268 BCE to 232 BCE) underwent a transformation and dharma became the pivot of his royal policy and personal belief. He disseminated these ideas through a novel medium: a series of inscriptions incised on natural rock-faces and on pillars cut: The Edicts of Ashoka. This project renders for the first time in musical form, these simple, brief, personal, and yet profound, abiding and universal Edicts of Ashoka. Sung in the original Prakrit, in a garland of raga-s drawn from the Karnatik Tradition, with English subtitles, they carry the philosopher-emperor’s vision of a humane society into the realm of the arts.

Aparna (@aparnamahiyaria) from the ICF team spoke to the artiste regarding his vision for this project, the process and challenges of undertaking this task, and what message it brings to our own turbulent times.


Aparna: Two of the nation’s iconic symbols, the chakra and the emblem, come from the most famous of Ashoka’s edicts, the pillar at Sarnath. These were used to represent tolerance, truth and non-violence — principles which seem to be long forgotten under the present regime. Can remembering Ashoka through his edicts, be seen as an act of protest, a reminder of why these symbols were chosen to define the nation?

TM Krishna (TMK): We live in turbulent times when hate and violence are dominating our physical and emotional spheres of living.  Rediscovering the edicts is no doubt a critique of the present and an act of questioning today’s socio-politics. But it also gives us an opportunity to come in contact with an ethical truth. And I do hope that this moves us enough to realise what we have become.

Aparna: These edicts are in text form and in archaic languages and scripts. Moreover, as you say, they are being rendered musically for the first time. Is there anything about them that lends itself readily for adaptation to the Karnatic music tradition? What were the challenges? Can you speak a bit about the process?

TMK: Philosophically and politically many edicts are in harmony with my own thoughts on personal and public life. But that alone is not enough to enable a musical interpretation. Prakrit is a language I did not know semantically and tonally. Therefore, I had to learn to pronounce and enunciate the text. Buddhist Monk Shravasti Dhammika and linguistic scholar Dr Naresh Keerthi helped me through this entire process of learning and understanding. Since the edicts have been written with variations in different places, Dr Keerthi helped edit them. It is also important that the lyrics must flow in music, so it took me about two months to create this musical interpretation for four edicts. I have composed them in ragas, but I do feel that they can be sung in many other musical styles.

Also see | TM Krishna sings Dama Dam Mast Qalandar

Aparna: While Ashoka turned to Buddhism as a ruler overcome by remorse, Ambedkar’s turn to Buddhism was quite different — it was an act of rejection of oppression by a Dalit, a move towards emancipation. You are bringing these two together by releasing the project on 14th October, the day Ambedkar converted to Buddhism. What connects these two for you?

TMK: Ashoka and Ambedkar are not only separated by time and place. They belonged to contrasting social contexts and had very different political directions. Yet, both sought a society where compassion, justice, equality and ethics are an everyday reality. And hence for me bringing them together through this project was natural.

Aparna: Can you share more about how you have arranged these edicts into distinct sets for release? Is there a thematic choice involved that goes into making the first and subsequent sets? What are the forthcoming sets going to be about? 

TMK: I am very glad that Ashoka University has agreed to collaborate on this project. The first release contains four edicts around the theme of justice/dharma. I do hope that through a period of time, we will be able to bring out most of the edicts, especially the ones that have profound social and political resonance. On what textual or musical form the rest of the edicts will take, I would like to remain flexible. The themes or structures that bring edicts together can be their similarity or contrast. This depends on the meaning and lyrical form of each edict.

Aparna: Thank you for talking to us about this very fascinating project. We look forward to any future releases.

Ayodhya: City of Faith, City of Discord

Ayodhya: City of Faith, City of Discord

Ayodhya: City of Faith, City of Discord, written by Valay Singh and published by Aleph last year, is a biography of the city of Ayodhya. Over thousands of years, the city has been a place of reverence for many faiths; but it has also been a place of violence, bloodshed and ill-will. Going back almost 3, 300 years to the time Ayodhya was first mentioned ever, Singh traces Ayodhya’s history, its transformation from an insignificant outpost to a place sought out by kings, fakirs, renouncers and reformers and, later, as the centre-stage of Indian politics and its political imaginations.

On November 9, 2019, a five-judge bench of the Supreme Court, in the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid land dispute, held that the area where the Masjid once stood was to be given to its Hindu claimants.

What is the history of Ayodhya? In June this year, a panel of speakers that included eminent historians Romila Thapar, Kunal Chakrabarti, political scientist Zoya Hasan, and the author Valay Singh himself, had discussed Ayodhya’s history and other questions at the book launch of “Ayodhya: City of Faith, City of Discord” in New Delhi.

The Indian Cultural Forum is republishing the videos of the three prominent speeches, each providing a different vantage point to look at the issue from, as we approach 27 years since the demolition of Babri Masjid on 6th December, 1992.

Image courtesy The Indian Express

History cannot be used to justify faith and vice versa: Romila Thapar

“The mixing of history and belief is a source of intense irritation to the historian”, said veteran historian and academic Romila Thapar. Thapar talks about the necessity of maintaining a sharp distinction between history and belief in her speech here, and says she believes that Singh’s book in fact makes the distinction between historical narrative and the narrative that emerges out of faith. Early on in the talk, she establishes that as a historian, she sees no cross-evidence for the historicity of the person of Ram, especially when compared to the cross-evidence found for the historicity of the Buddha, in terms of Ashokan pillars and the like.

Post the November 9th judgement, Thapar wrote, “The verdict is a political judgement and reflects a decision which could as well have been taken by the state years ago. Its focus is on the possession of land and the building of a new temple to replace the destroyed mosque. The problem was entangled in contemporary politics involving religious identities but also claimed to be based on historical evidence. This latter aspect has been invoked but subsequently set aside in the judgement”.

The cult of Ram was popularised post 16th century BC: Kunal Chakrabarti

Kunal Chakrabarti, professor at the Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, talked about how there is no conclusive archaeological evidence of a temple at the so-called “Ramjanmabhoomi”, the evolution of Ram in the many versions of Ramayana that have been introduced over the centuries and more.

The Hindu Right’s role in communalising politics and politicising religion: Zoya Hasan

Academic and political scientist Zoya Hasan talks about the politics of Hindutva, the Ayodhya dispute’s role in BJP’s rise to power, Hindutva’s vicious use of religious symbols, cultures, and institutions to construct a “Hindu vote bank” and the country’s rapid move towards the reality of a  majoritarian state.

Hasan argues here that the book stands out for three major reasons: it articulates the three major sides of the dispute, failure of the country’s political institutions and parties in resolving the dispute, and the role of the Hindu right and its affiliates in using religion to communalise politics and politicise religion”.

Hasan was also one of the 103 signatories to a statement issued by academics in the country that called for a review of the November 9th Ayodhya verdict.

A cow mania has been set in motion in…

In the second part of the Indian Writers Forum conversation with Githa Hariharan, eminent writer Nayantara Sahgal talks about the intolerance of Hindutva forces towards the minorities, the connection between the Hindu Mahasabha (the RSS’s ancestor) and the European fascist dictatorships, and how, for writers, there’s no avoiding the political.

In today’s India, a kind of cow mania has been set in motion by the ruling party, where gau rakshaks (cow vigilantes) are supposed to protect the holiness of the cow. The Dalits recently rose up in a big uprising, saying “If the cow is your mother, you look after her. We will not lift cow carcasses any more.” This would have delighted the hearts of Mahatma Gandhi and Ambedkar.