Mumbai: Is there an Indian who is not familiar with the decrees of the nation's most famous royal convert from savage violence to pacifism? Ashoka's edicts have inspired an exciting new initiative by TM Krishna who is renowned not just for his music and writing, but for interrogating caste and gender in art.
Previous projects spanned the gamut from the Bharatanatyam, Tamil folk dance and the mridangam crafted by Dalit Christians to performances with transgender musicians. Now, inspired by Ashoka’s reformed world view, Krishna has launched his latest musical endeavour, The Edict Project.
It is a collaborative venture with Ashoka University and the first phase premiered on Krishna's social media platforms on YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram (@tmkrishna) on October 14, the day, the Dalit architect of the Indian Constitution, Babasaheb Ambedkar embraced Buddhism.
For the Mauryan Emperor Ashoka, conversion to Buddhist pacifism was an act of atonement for the savage slaughters which marked much of his reign between 268 BC and 232 BC. And he disseminated this profound change of heart across his vast kingdom through inscriptions on rock faces, caves, boulders and pillars. Ashoka called them Dhamka Lipi, but we know them as Edicts.
For the opening phase, Krishna has rendered four edicts from the 30 plus total, many of which were discovered by James Prinsep, a British antiquarian in 1837. Each edict communicates profound messages on compassion, inter-religious and faith homilies, kingship, justice, social welfare and other aspects of communitarian living which strike a universal chord even today.
Krishna succeeds in tackling the challenge of transcreating the language of the edicts iinto rhythmic patterns and musicality, not the least of which is pronunciation — the edicts are composed in ancient Magadhi Prakrit.
To get the dialect, enunciation and pronunciation right, Krishna was assisted by Australian Buddhist scholar Shravasti Dhammika and Prakrit/Sanskrit scholar Naresh Keerthi. It is Krishna's firm belief that Ashoka's edicts have timeless appeal and will continue to resonate in these fractious times. "We live in times when empathy and justice seem to be slipping away. I do hope that by rediscovering Ashoka's words we can all find compassion within."
Expect, to be moved as I was, by Krishna's emotive performance. As he sings in pitch perfect tones, the original language, transliteration in Roman script and translation in English enhance the viewer/listener's experience. Hopefully, the edicts will be translated into several languages which Krishna can then sing as well.