After his conversion the sorry plight of animals began to distress him. Having grown up watching animal sacrifices in Vedic rituals, he revolted against the cruelty to animals. He reflected, ‘How sad we cannot celebrate ours joys or sorrows without killing animals!’ The animals were also tortured and killed for sport and public entertainment on “Samaj” days when people assembled in large numbers on public grounds to watch the fights to death, or the slaying of animals by flamboyantly dressed, chest-puffing “brave” men, who were much applauded by the crowd and carried on shoulders after the killing.
In the Council, he proposed an immediate stop to all such killings. A violent debate erupted. Narad, a staunch Brahmin, vehemently defended animal sacrifices as sacred to the Vedic religion.
Asoka declared adamantly, ‘Whether for the gods or for pleasure and sport, all animal killings must be stopped forthwith. No one—certainly not religion–should tear asunder what God has created.’
Narad protested. ‘Wise King! This is a sacred Vedic practice going back to thousands of years.’
Surprised by Nard’s vehemence and his flushed red face, Asoka thought, when it comes to religion, all thinking vaporizes. We believe what we want to believe, regardless of its consequences. We shut our eyes close, and stick our fingers deep in both ears. As if, traditions were cast in stone.
‘I respect the Vedic religion,’ he told Narad, ‘but that does not make these killings less cruel or repulsive.’
Narad tried to salvage the situation. ‘King! We are not talking about human life!’
‘Life does not stop at humans!’ Asoka retorted. ‘Should compassion?’
He issued an Edict:
No animal should here be immolated and offered as a (religious) sacrifice; nor should any ‘Samaj’ be held, for King Piyadassi sees much evil in social festivals for celebratory and sporting events during which animals are killed.
Festivals that did not involve animal killings were not affected, and the slaughter of horned cattle and other animals for food continued.
He issued another Edict, which contained many prohibitions:
The killing of the following species of animals: parrots, mynahs, certain geese, swans, pigeons, flying foxes, female tortoises, boneless fish, skate, porcupines, hare-like squirrels, deer, twelve-antler stags, domesticated animals, rhinoceroses, and all quadrupeds which are of no utility and are not eaten. Also she-goats, ewes and sows which are with young or in milk, and their young up to six months of age. Cocks shall not be caponed. Chaff which contains living things must not be set on fire. Forests must not be burned in order to kill living things or without any reason. An animal must not be fed to another animal.
The catching, killing, selling and eating of fish was also banned on certain weekdays. To respect the sentiments of people in the northwest regions, oxen, cows and bulls– except stud bull– could still be killed.