Ashoka’s son Kunala: Blinded and Cured

Huen Tsiang (629 AD) writes of a miraculous cure of the blindness of Prince Kunala in his travelogue in these words: “The prince Kunala was the son of the rightful queen. His person was graceful and his disposition loving and humane. When the queen-royal was dead, her successor (the step- Mother) was dissolute and unprincipled. Following her wild and foolish preference, she made proposals to the prince; he, when she solicited him, reproached her with tears, and departed, refusing to be guilty of such a crime.

  “The step- mother, seeing that he rejected her, was filled with wrath and hatred; waiting for an interval when she was with the king, she addressed him thus: “To whom should your majesty entrust the government of Takskasila but to your own son? The prince is renowned for his humanity and obedience; because of his attachment for the good his fame is in every mouth.”

  ‘’The king listening to her seducing words, agreed willingly with the vile plot, and forthwith gave orders to his eldest son in these words: “I have received my royal inheritance in succession, and I desire to hand it down to those who follow me; my only fear is least I should lose aught of it and so dishonor my ancestors. I now confide to you the government of Takskasila. The affairs of a country are of serious importance; the feelings of men are contradictory; undertake nothing rashly, so as to endanger your authority; verify the orders sent you; my seal is the impression of my teeth; here in my mouth is my seal. There can be no mistake. On this the prince, receiving his orders, went to establish order. And so months passed on, yet the stepmother’s hatred did but increased. Accordingly she wrote a dispatch and sealed it with red wax, and then, waiting till the king was asleep, she stamped it secretly with his tooth impression, and sent it off by a messenger with all dispatch as a letter of accusation. His ministers having read the letter, were confused, and looked at one another with dismay.

  “The prince then asked them what moved them so. They said, “The Maharaja has sent a dispatch accusing the prince, and ordering both his eyes to be put out, and that he be taken with his wife to the mountains, and there left to die.    Although this order has come, we dare not obey it; but we will ask afresh for directions, and keep you bound till the reply comes.”

  “The prince said, ‘My father, if he has ordered my death, must be obeyed; and the seal of his teeth is a sure sign of the truth of the order. There can be no error. Then he ordered a Chandala to pluck out his eyes; and having thus lost his sight, he wandered forth to beg for his daily support.

  “As he traveled on far away, he came to his father’s capital town. His wife said to him, “There is the royal city.” “Alas!” he said, “what pain I endure from hunger and cold. I was a prince; I am a beggar. Oh, that I could make myself known and get redress for the false charge formerly brought against me!” On this he contrived to enter the king’s inner bureau, and in the after part of the night he began to weep, and with a plaintive voice, accompanied with the sound of a lute, he sang a mournful song.

“The king, who was in an upper chamber, hearing these wonderful strains full of sadness and suffering, was surprised, and inquired,.”From the notes of the lute and the sound of the voice I take this to be my son; but why has he come here?”

  “He immediately said to his court attendant, “Who is that singing so?”

  “Forthwith he brought the blind man into his presence and placed him before the king.

  “The king, seeing the prince, overwhelmed with grief, exclaimed, ‘Who has thus injured you? Who has caused this misery, that my beloved son should be deprived of sight? Not one of all his people can he see. Alas! What an end to come to! 0 heavens! What a misfortune is this!’

  “The prince, yielding to his tears, thanked (his father) and replied, ‘In truth, for want of filial piety have I thus been punished by Heaven. In such a year and such a month and such a day suddenly there came a loving order (or an order from my Mother). Having no means of excusing myself, I dared not shrink from the punishment. The king’s heart, knowing that the second wife had committed this crime, without any further inquiry caused her to be put to death. At this time in the sangharama of the Bodhi tree (in Bodh Gaya) there was a great Arhat called Ghosha. He had the fourfold power of “explanation without any difficulties. He was completely versed in the “Trividyas”. The king taking to him his blind son, told him all the matter, and prayed that he would of his mercy restore him to sight. Then that Arhat, having received the king’s request, forthwith addressed to the people this order:

  “Tomorrow I desire to declare the mysterious principle (of the law), let each person come here with a vessel in his hands to hear the law and receive in it his tears.” “Accordingly, they came together from every side (far and wide), both men and women, in crowds. At this time the Arhat preached on the twelve Nidanas, and there was not one of those who heard the sermon but was moved to tears. The tears were collected in the vessels, and then, when his sermon was finished, he collected all these tears in one golden vessel, and then, with a strong affirmation, he said,

  “What I have said is gathered from the most mysterious of Buddha’s doctrines; if this is not true, if there be error in what I have said, and then let things remain as they are; but if it is otherwise, I desire that this blind man may recover his sight after washing his eyes with these tears.”After finishing this speech he washed his eyes with the water (tears), and lo! his sight was restored.

  “The king then accused the ministers (who had executed the order) and their associates. Some he degraded others he banished, others he removed, others he put to death. The common people (who had participated in the crime) he banished to the north-east side of the Snowy Mountains, to the middle of the sandy desert.”

  Samuel Beal puts a note at page 141 of the travelogue of Huen Tsiang thus:  “Kunala’s wife was called Kanchanmala; the stepmother’s name was Tishyarakshita and his mother’s name was Padmavati.”

Samuel Beal in a note to his translation of Huen Tsiang’s travelogue observes thus: “About fifty years after Alexander’s-campaign the people of Takshasila rebelled against Bindusara, king of Magadha, who sent his eldest son, Susima, to besiege the place. On his failure the siege was entrusted to Asoka, his younger son, to whom the people at once submitted. Here Asoka dwelt as viceroy of the Punjab during his father’s lifetime, and here on the occasion of another revolt he placed his son Kunala.”

 An interesting edict is found inscribed at four different places. These places are Shahbazgarhi in Yusufzai (in Afghanistan), Mansara in Hazara (in Pakistan), Kalsi near Dehradun (in India) and Girnar in Kathiawar (also in India). In the first two places the character employed by the edict is Karoshti, that is, the Baktrian Pali language. This inscription reads thus:


… yu Ichha shavabhu

Shayama shamachaliyam madava ti. Iyam vu mu

Devanam Piyesha ye dhammavijae she cha puna ladhe

Devanam Pi  Cha shaveshu cha ateshu a shashu pi yojanashateshu ata Atiyoge namaYona laja palam cha tena Amtiyogena chatali lajane Tulamaye nama Amtekine nama Maka na ma Aiikyashudale nama, nicham Choda-Pamdiya Avam Tambapamniya hevameva hevameva Hidalaja. Visa-Vaji- Yona-Kambijeshu Nabhake Nabhapamtishu Boja-Pitinikyeshu Adha-Puladeshu shavanta Devanam Piyasha dhammamanushathi anuvatamti.

  Translation of this edict is rendered thus:

  The following is considered of the highest importance by the God-beloved (that is, Ashoka), namely, Conquest by law; this conquest, however, is made by the God-beloved as well here (in his own kingdom) as among all his neighbors, even as far as six hundred yojanas (leagues), where the King of the Yonas (Greeks), Antiyoka by name, dwells; and beyond this Antiyoka where the four kings, Turamaya by name, Amtikina by name, Maka by name, Alikasudara by name (dwell further away) in the south, where the Chodas and Paindas (Pandyas) (dwell), as far as Tambapanini (Cylon) (where) the Hida king (dwells). Among the Visas, the Vajris (Vrijis), the Yonas (Greeks), the Kamboyas (Kabulis), in Nabhaka of the Nabhitis, among the Bhojas, the Pitinikas, the Andhras and the Puladas (Pulindas), the teaching of the law of the God-beloved is universally followed.

  The  character  employed  in the  other  two  inscriptions  is  the Indian Pali. By the God-beloved (Piyesha or Piyadasi) is meant Ashoka himself. The Grecian kings named in the inscription have already been identified, with the exception of Aliykyashudale, who is taken to be Alexander, King of Epeiros.

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