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N. N. Wig

Department of Psychiatry, Postgraduate Institute of Medical Education and Retìm kiếm, Chandigarh, India

Department of Psychiatry, Postgraduate Institute of Medical Education & Retìm kiếm, Chandigarh, IndiaAddress for correspondence: Dr. N. N. Wig, 279, Sector 6, Panchkula - 134 109, Haryamãng cầu, India. E-mail: ni.oc.oohayThis is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative sầu Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alượt thích 3.0 Unported, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

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Emperor Ashoka is widely regarded as one of the greatest rulers of India. This paper mainly giao dịch with his medical condition as recorded in the Buddhist texts of Sri Lanka as well as in the Buddhist texts of North India & Nepal. These sources mention his skin disorder which is described as very rough and unpleasant lớn touch. He is also known to have sầu episodes of loss of consciousness at various times in his life. One of the earliest representations of Ashoka, about 100 years after his death at one of the gates of Sanđưa ra Stupage authority, shows Ashoka fainting when visiting the Bodhi tree and being held by his queens. In this sculpture, Emperor Ashoka is shown as a man of short height, large head and a paunchy abdomen. In this paper, it is speculated that Emperor Ashoka was probably suffering from von Recklinghausen disease (Neurofibromatosis Type 1), which could explain his skin condition, episodes of loss of consciousness (probably epilepsy) and other bodily deformities.

Keywords: Emperor Ashoka, fainting episodes, neurofibromatosis, skin disorder, von Recklinghausen disease


The purpose of this paper is to lớn consider the skin disorder và other illnesses of Emperor Ashoka & to suggest a possible medical diagnosis for his condition. Emperor Ashoka is generally regarded as one of the greachạy thử rulers of India who ruled about some 2250 years ago. His empire covered most of the countries except perhaps the Southern tip of India & also extended khổng lồ what is now Pakistung và Afghanischảy. Surprisingly most of what we currently know in the history about this great emperor has been put together relatively recently, during the last 200 years or so after the arrival of East India Company. Governor General Warren Hastings & Sir William Jones, a senior judge in Calcutta"s Supreme Court started the Asiatic Society of Bengal in 1784. Sir William Jones was a great scholar, and he is generally recognized as the “Father of Indian Studies.” Asiatic Society of Bengal soon became the center where in regular meetings various new discoveries about Indian history, especially of the pre Muslyên ổn period were presented and discussed. It also started a research journal, which recorded important findings of various historical sites, pillars, writings on Rocks, coins found in India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, etc., Records of the Asiatic Society of Bengal are a rich source of ancient history of India. It is a fascinating story how step by step various people collected information about Mauryan dynasty kings, Chandragupta, Bindusara, Ashoka & their successors. This is very well described in John Keay"s Book “India Discovered" (1981) and even more comprehensively covered in the recent book “Ashoka – The Search for the India"s Lost Emperor” by Charles Allen. These researches have unfolded a glorious chapter in the early history of our country. One may also mention in passing that even the full life history of Mahatma Buddha was not clearly known at that time, & some early scholars even suggested that he could be an “African” conqueror.


Historically the information about Emperor Ashoka has been collected from various sources. Most important source is of course, various writings (Edicts) engraved on Rocks and some stone pillars found in different parts of India và Pakistan at places as far as apart as Bihar, Odisha, Gujarat, Karnataka, North West Frontier Province in Pakisrã & even in Afghanistung. Some of the best known Roông xã Edicts are in Girnar (Junaragh District, Gujarat) và Ashoka pillars now at Ferozeshah Kotla Cricket Ground in Delhi (originally from Western U.P..) and in Allahabad (originally from Kausambhi). In these Edicts, Ashoka usually refers khổng lồ himself as Devam – Piya (Beloved of the Gods) and King Piyadamê mẩn (pleasant lớn behold).

Apart from these Rock và Pillar Edicts, there are two other main written sources about Ashoka"s life, one from Sri Lanka and one from Nepal-both Buddhist texts. The Sri Lankan reference is from the book “Mahavansha” or the Great Dynastic Chronicle, (earlier called Deepavansha – or a chronicle of the Island). This book contains detailed reference of King Ashoka, how he sent his son Mahinda and daughter Sanghamitta lớn propagate Buddhism in Sri Lanka, how he completely changed after battle of Kalinga and turned lớn Buddhism etc., The language of this book is Pali – variation of Prakrit, which was the spoken language in Magadh (Bihar) at that time.

The second source is the book Divyavadna, which is Mahayana or Northern Buddhist tradition. It is written in Sanskrit, – which was the language of elites. One of the 38 stories in this book is “Ashokavadana” or Legover of King Ashoka setout in nearly 10,000 verses.

Both these versions, Northern và Southern Buddhist accounts tell the story of King Ashoka with of course, significant differences as per religious traditions of North (Mahayana) & South (Theravada). Both groups of writings point out how Ashoka was a ruthless ruler before he turned Buddhist. He is known to have sầu killed almost all his hundred or so step brothers who could have sầu been possible claimants to lớn his throne. By his order, terrible tortures were inflicted on prisoners in his jail in Patliputra. Earlier in life he was often referred khổng lồ as Chandomain authority Ashoka or Ashoka – the Ferocious.” However, after becoming Buddhist he became known as “Dharma Ashoka.”

Numerous historians have sầu lavished exceptional praise about the later day Ashoka. His rule by “Dharma” or moral force and with “Ahimsa” or nonviolence as depicted in his Edicts is indeed a rare example in world history. As Wells in his famous book, “The Outline of History” has written “Ahy vọng the tens of thousands of names of monarchs that crowd the columns of history – the name of Ashoka shines & shines almost alone, a star. From the Volga to nhật bản his name is still honored.” To Ashoka must also go the credit of one of the earliest idea of a “Welfare State” in history when in his Edicts he says that he considers all his subjects as his children và their welfare is his responsibility.


As stated in the beginning, the main purpose of this article is to consider various medical illnesses of King Ashoka as described in historical records và which, to lớn best of our knowledge have not been medically analyzed or written about before. The bulk of the medical information about Ashoka as mentioned in this article has been obtained from recently published book “Ashoka – the tìm kiếm for India"s Lost Emperor” by Charles Allen (2013).

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The second very clear medical condition, which is described, are the episodes of fainting or unconsciousness at various time in his life. There are several such episodes described in Sri Lanka"s Great Dynastic Chronicle. For example, when on pilgrimage to various Buddhist places, at Kushinagra, Ashoka is so much overcome with emotions that he fainted and had khổng lồ be revived by attendants. Similar episode happened when he visited the Bodhi tree at Bodhgaya, where, he again fainted. This scene is depicted in one of the gates of Sanchi Stupage authority where Ashoka is shown fainting & being held by his queens (Photograph in Charles Allen"s book page 344).

The third reference to lớn his health condition is toward the kết thúc of his life when Ashoka is seriously ill & “an impure substance was oozing from his pores.” The queen Tishyarakshita ordered a search to lớn find a man with similar illness. A large worm was found in the belly of that man. After trying various remedies, the queen succeeded in killing the worm by onion juice. The onion was generally considered as unclean vegetable in religious belief, but the queen gave sầu onion treatment to king Ashoka & he was cured by that. It is also worth noting how the images of Ashoka have undergone changes in Indian sculpture. As Charlies Allen points out in his book, the sculpture at gates of Sanđưa ra Stupa are probably some of the earliest images, made His ugliness & frailties are all forgotten now.


Hence, we have the following available information about king Ashoka"s health:

He had a gross skin condition in which his skin was lượt thích crude dust or dirt. It was unpleasant to look at và unpleasant to touch

He had many episodes of loss of consciousness

His father Bindusara is also known lớn have “spots” on his skin as indicated by his name.


It is of course, very risky khổng lồ make a modern diagnosis of medical conditions of sometoàn thân who live more than 2000 years ago. All we have is the descriptions given in some Buddhist texts related lớn Ashoka"s life.

In our opinion, putting all the facts together, it seems likely that King Ashoka suffered from what we now Gọi, Neurofibromatosis Type 1 (von Recklinghausen"s disease) The well-known Harrison"s Principles of Internal Medicine describes von Recklinghausen"s disease as “characterized by cutaneous (skin) neurofibromas và pigmented lesions of skin called “Café-au lait spots.” Neurofibromas are benign peripheral nerve sầu tumors. They are present as multiple, palpable, rubbery, tumors in the skin. They are generally asymptomatic but at time many have sầu in addition hydrocephalus (large head), scoliosis, short stature, hypertension, epilepsy và mental retardation.

The description seems lớn fit in well with King Ashoka"s skin condition & the fainting fits may have been due khổng lồ epilepsy. One can also speculate about his short height probably due to scoliosis và his large head could be a sign of hydrocephalus. He certainly did not have mental retardation; on the other hand, he was exceptionally intelligent.

We are conscious of the speculative sầu nature of our medical interpretation, but his skin condition, and fainting episodes strongly point to this possibility. His short stature & large face further support this hypothesis. The name of Ashoka"s father – Bindusara (spotted one) also suggests the possibility of a hereditary character of the skin disorder, which is known in von Recklinghausen disease.

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We are grateful lớn Professor B. K. Sharma, former Professor of Medicine và Director, Postgraduate Institute, Chandigarh for his help & encouragement in writing of this paper.


Source of Support: Nil

Conflict of Interest: None declared


1. John K. England: Windward An imprint of W.H. Smith và Sons; 1981. India Discovered. 2. Allen C. London: Abacus, An imprint of Little, Brown Book Group; 2013. Ashoka – The search for India"s Lost Emperor. 3. Wells HG. London: Cassel và Company Ltd; 1930. The Outline of History. Popular Edition; p. 402. 4. Sagar SM, Israel MA. Neurofibromatosis type I, (von Recklinghausen diseases) In: Anthony S, Fauci, Euren Braunwald, Dennis L. Kasper, Stephen L. Hauser, Dan L. Longo, Larry J. Jameson, et al., editors. Harrison"s Principles of Internal Medicine. 17th ed. McGraw Hill, Medical, New York: 2008. p. 2607. Articles from Indian Journal of Psychiatry are provided here courtesy of Wolters Kluwer -- Medknow Publications