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Friday, 9 November, 2001, 13:26 GMT
Asoka statues unearthed in India
Shahrukh Khan as Asoka in the new film
The statues may give an idea of what Asoka really looked like
By Nageshwar Patnaik in Orissa

Archaeologists in eastern India have discovered two rare statues of Asoka, one of India's best loved warrior kings.

Buddhist stupa in Bihar state
There are Buddhist stupas across eastern India
The sandstone relics - dating back to the third century BC - were unearthed in Langudi Hill, a historical site in the Jajpur district of Orissa state, about 85 kilometres from the state capital, Bhubaneswar.

The discovery, which may shed light on what the king actually looked like, follows the recent release of a Bollywood epic on Asoka's life.

'Auspicious hands'

One of the two finds is the first individual statue of Asoka bearing an inscription ever to be discovered in India.

Dr DR Pradhan, secretary of the state-run Institute of Maritime and South East Asian studies, told the BBC the ancient inscription translates as: "The statue was unveiled by the auspicious hands of Asoka".

Map showing location in Orissa
Dr Pradhan said the second statue, depicting the king with two of his queens, bore the simple inscription: "The King Asoka".

The statues are two of the earliest examples of sculpture ever found in Orissa, which was invaded by Asoka in the third century BC, when it was called Kalinga.

Asoka is believed to have been so horrified by the loss of life in that war that he renounced violence and vowed to spread the message of peace far and wide.

Archaeologists describe Langudi Hill as home to eastern India's oldest Asokan stupa - tombs constructed by Buddhists over the remains of Lord Buddha and his leading disciples.

The hill, which the institute has been excavating for many years, has since been recognised as one of the country's most important Buddhist sites.

Songs, fights and love

The latest film of the king's life, which has just gone on worldwide release, is a typical Bollywood epic packed with songs, fight sequences and emotive love scenes.

A battle scene from the film
Protesters allege the film misrepresents history
But members of a youth organisation affiliated to the state's governing Biju Janata Dal party have organised protests against the film.

The youth group, the Kalinga Sena, says the movie misrepresents history and fails to illustrate the central role of the Kalinga war in turning Ashoka to Buddhism.

See also:

30 Oct 01 | Reviews
Epic Asoka loses its way
06 Nov 01 | Film
Indian film rocks the world
04 Jul 01 | South Asia
India uncovers ancient Buddhist marvel
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