Ashoka The Great- The Untapped History of India

by May 22, 2021

Hello everyone, today I am sharing the biography of Ashoka the Great. He is one really an interesting Emperor in the Indian history. The story of Emperor Ashoka was quite interesting as it contains both violence and peace.

Introduction to History of Ashoka the Great

Did you know that “Ashoka” means sorrow? This was the name his parents gave him. And as history might put it out, he was a ruthless ruler who always believed in war as the only way 0ot earn power and respect.

However, his attitude took a U-turn after starting a campaign against the Kalinga empire back in 260 BCE. This war was one of the greatest that resulted in many destruction and killings. This seemed to have tickled his sense of humor, and he immediately denounced war.

Ashoka converted to Buddhism and always dedicated his time to promoting peace and unity among his people and his enemies. His concept of “Dhamma” clearly exemplifies his devotion to peace and harmony.

Much about Ashoka is originally derived from the Buddhist texts that present him as an example of repentance and good behavior.

Ashoka the Great was the only king who gave up wars. Emperor Ashoka was the grandson of Samrat Chandragupta (founder of the Mauryan dynasty) and the son of Bindusara.

He ruled almost all over Hindustan (Indian Subcontinent). He ruled the largest land of Hindustan in ancient history.

Pataliputra was the main capital of his empire. To control such an extensive empire, he divided his region into provinces.

His empire had two provincial capitals, Taxila and Ujjain.

The Prosperous Kingdom of Kalinga

The present day Odisha and North of Andhra Pradesh region was previously known as Kalinga.

According to, the capital of Kalinga was Tosali, and it was very enriched. Kalinga was a democratic kingdom on the eastern side of the empire of Ashoka.

It was governed by Kalinga Raj, elected by the public in Kalinga. The people of
Kalinga had a strong unity, and they had the will to remain free.

Also, they had strong navy and enough forces to protect it from the enemy.

Chandragupta Maurya, Bindusara already tried to defeat Kalinga but failed to do so.

So, it was not easy to defeat such a prosperous kingdom.

Ashoka Before He Became an Emperor

Despite his name appearing in the Puranas, only a little about his life is concealed. The Buddhist texts primarily inscribed the deeper details of his childhood, acquiring power, conversion, and renunciation of war.

His birth date remains unknown up to date. The reason behind his unknown birthday is also a mystery. However, researchers believe it could be because many were in the family.

His father, Bindusara, had a hundred sons from different wives. Ashoka was just one of the hundred sons. According to some texts, he was the second son.

His biological mother, Subhadrangi, also presented as Dharma in other texts, is recounted as one of the minor wives. However, some texts still present her as the principal wife to Bindusara.

Ashoka was not the heir apparent to his father’s throne. However, he was always determined to ascent to it someday. He was well educated and conversant with court matters and Artha Shastra.

Ashoka understood and practiced martial arts and was over-qualified for the throne even though his father was still confined to having his elder brother ascent the throne.

Rise of Ashoka to Power

Ashoka was very valiant, but his father, Bindusara did not like him because of his ugliness. The father of Ashoka always wished his elder brother Susima to be the next Emperor.

In the reign of Bindusara, there were many revolts happened. Bindusara always sent Ashoka, to suppress and calm down that revolt.

According to one of the ancient texts, Bindusara portrayed hatred on Ashoka. At the age of 18, his father sent him to Taxila to curb a revolt. To his surprise, his father didn’t give him any weapon.

However, nature seemed to have had him as the chosen one. The weapons were later on provided mysteriously. This time he was merciful and forgave those who surrendered on his arrival.

In the War of succession, it is believed that he killed 6 of his 99 brothers to become an Emperor.

Radha Gupta was chief minister in court of Bindusara, and he was a student of Chanakya.

After the death of his father, he captured the throne with the help of Radha Gupta.

Obviously, Radha Gupta saw the necessary qualities in Ashoka to become the next king. Therefore, Radha Gupta supported Ashoka to become an Emperor.

According to some Buddhist scripts, Ashoka was described as very cruel when he became King. I don’t think; he was that cruel.

I think they had written such a contrast to influence people and help to spread Buddhism.

Importance of Kalinga Region

Kalinga was a very prosperous coastal region and important for importing and exporting goods.

It was a set of several provinces and presently corresponds to the better part of Odisha, Some parts of Madhya Pradesh, the North-Eastern Part of Andhra Pradesh and the North of Telangana.

One reason the Kalinga region is famous and unique is that it hosts two rivers stretching across. The region is said to have been fertile since the ancient ages, and even the poorest in the community could afford to harvest adequate food.

It was a democratic region, and they had a powerful army and naval base. For this reason, rivals were afraid of invading Kalinga.

War of Kalinga

The Kalinga was one of the most significant wars ever in ancient India. It was a battle between the ever-prosperous Kalinga state and Mauryan Empire of the Magadha.

Chandragupta and Bindusara had an enormous army, war elephants. Both tried several times to occupy Kalinga, but they could not succeed to do so.

When, Ashoka became emperor, at the start, he was very ambitious and encouraged for conquest campaign.

Chandragupta (Ashoka’s grandfather) had already occupied and spread his empire almost all over Hindustan, excluding some regions like Kalinga.

Therefore, Ashoka came forward to conquer Kalinga. However, it was after the battle that Kalinga renounced war. He walked across the action field looking over the fallen soldiers and thought that wars were just not worth it.

Ashoka Chose to renounce war and join Buddhism. However, the conversion was not as swift as most texts put it. It was a gradual process involving Buddha’s teachings. Some texts have that it is possible Ashoka was always aware of Buddha’s scriptures even before the Kalinga war but just chose to ignore them.

Why Ashoka Invaded the Karinga Region?

Around 261 BCE, the Mauryan Empire Ashok launched his mission of conquering the Karinga empire. Kalinga, presently known as Orissa, was then a powerful region. One of the main reasons Chandragupta Maurya, who had destroyed almost every kingdom in India, did not attempt to conquer Kalinga.

His Son, Samrat Bindusara, despite his fame as the enemy slayer, also terribly failed when he tried to invade the region.

However, Ashoka, Son of Bindusara, managed to defeat the Kalinga later after he inherited his father’s throne. But Why do you think Ashoka wanted to conquer Kalinga So desperately?

Despite his predecessors failing on the same mission, he took the drastic decision and emerged a winner.

I will share some reasons that pushed him into taking the risk.

The Kingdom of Kalinga was powerful

As one of the largest kingdoms in its times, Kalinga has always been on top of the list as the most powerful state in Ancient India. Its size and geographical features earned Kalinga the supremacy status.

Merchants found it easy to sail across the Indian ocean and execute businesses overseas in a maritime power state.

The lands were fertile

Since its humble beginnings, Kalinga has always been flourishing in agriculture. The land was fertile, and farmers could harvest enough to sustain them regardless.

Also, two rivers were flowing across the region, serving the area with adequate water. Who wouldn’t want to have prosperous and fertile land? Ashoka had no choice but to take the risk.

For Political Unification in India

His reason was not just for selfish desires. Ashoka had by then changed and was now advocating for peace and unity. His invasion into Kalinga was also inclined towards achieving a one-nation politics. He wanted to unite The Indians into a single political arena.

He saw Kalinga as a potential threat

Kalinga Was a mighty empire with regular troops. Kalinga saw this as a potential threat, and they could one-day act fast and take over the Mauryan kingdom. So avoiding such, they went ahead to strike first.

Kalinga was taking over the Bay of Bengal

Kalinga’s kingdom was robust and stable, giving them the privilege of dominating the Bay of Bengal. This made them dominate the overseas business, and Ashoka was no longer comfortable with it. He then decided to attack the Kalinga region and take control.

Missionary Activities of the Ashoka

Ashoka commenced his missionary activities after a decade in power. Many texts have recorded how successful Ashoka was with his missionary work.

He was devoted to work and making sure he propagated the religion that gave him peace and comfort.

Asoka took on a few measures for the spread of Buddhism. He went on visits to lecture Buddhism.

In the Rock Edict VIII, he referenced that he surrendered Vihara Yatra in the 10th year of his rule or voyages through delight and went on Dharma Yatra. He visited sacred spots of Buddhism and organized tough conversations.

Asoka took on the cleverest means to cause individuals to understand the tenets of Buddha, which was to etch them on rocks, columns, and caverns all through his immense domains.

Asoka attempted to prevail upon the altruism of individuals through magnanimous and big-hearted exercises.

He presented a progression of compassionate works. Even though he didn’t nullify the death penalty, he gave a finesse of three days to people denounced with death.

He requested the planting of obscure banyan attempts and mango forests. He asked for the burrowing of wells and the development of rest-houses by the side of the road for individuals.

Apart from spreading Buddha’s gospel, Ashoka also engaged himself in charity works and was entirely dedicated to serving his people and even people beyond his empire. He facilitated the establishment of water sources for both people and animals.

In addition, he arranged for medical checkups for the people and their animals. To achieve his treatment mission, he facilitated the planting of medicinal herbs within his empire.

Achievements of Samrat Ashoka

Like any other legend, Ashoka also made several achievements during his tenure.

Ashoka established over eighty thousand stupas to accommodate Buddha’s relics during his mission to spread Buddha’s gospel. He also intended to dedicate these stupas for meditation.

Ashoka had already established enough stupas for Buddhist monks across the south and central Asia when his reign ended.

The wheel of the Ashoka of righteousness, also known as Ashoka Chakra, is widely inscribed on several Mauryan emperors’ relics. In addition to that, the Ashoka Chakra was called to be included in the Indian flag.

The Ashok Stambha, also known as the pillar edicts, were erected along the boundaries of the Mauryan empire. They spread up to Nepal, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Even though only ten exist today, the legacy is still there.

He saw a statue comprising four lions known as Ashoka’s Lion Capital. Today this sculpture stands as India’s national emblem.

Ashoka administered the establishment of the intellectual hubs, also known as Viharas. These include Taxila University and the Nalanda university.

Ashoka ruled with diligence and great diplomacy. After he converted, he was a changed man. He was a different person who always wanted to treat people equally and respectfully.

Despite advocating for Buddhism, he equally allowed people to practice whatever religion they felt comfortable with.

Violence Incidences of the Ashoka after Conversion

Most texts do not put up any information about Ashoka’s incidences of violence after conversion. However, reliable sources reveal Ashoka was still involved in violent acts even after converting. For example:

  • Ashoka got involved in the slow torture of Chandagirika to death in his prison, “Ashoka’s Hell.”
  • Various texts report Ashoka to have given out orders to kill eighteen thousand heretics. This was after a mistake made by one of them. It was pure injustice punishing many people for a single person’s mistake.
  • Ashoka once ordered the launch of a massacre on the Jains. This led to the death of his brother, who was beheaded in heed of Ashoka’s orders.
  • The fact that Ashoka the great did all this doesn’t really mean he went back to his old ways. Some of his actions were intended to serve justice and maintain good behavior in the community.

Last Years of Samrat Ashoka

The Pillar Edict 4 only gives little information about Ashoka’s final years. However, the Buddhists legends present a lot about Ashoka’s last years.

According to the Sri Lankan tradition, Asandhamitta, Ashoka’s queen, passed on, and Tissarakkha, his wife, was made the queen.

History has that Ashoka was paying much attention to A bodhi tree more than he did to his queen, Tissarakkha. She got jealous and perceived the tree like a mistress to her husband.

Tissarakkha was too jealous that she went ahead to use sorcery on Bodhi, the tree. She had no idea that Bodhi was a tree. However, texts state that she paid someone to do the witchcraft.

Later on, Ashoka explained everything to her. She reversed the black magic, and the tree got healed. However, some texts have it that Tissarakkha destroyed the tree later.

On a different occasion, Tissarakkha attempted to seduce one of Ashoka’s Sons, Kunala. However, Kunala didn’t give in to her advances. So, when Ashoka was granted her kingship for seven days, she used the opportunity to torture Kunala.

She ended up blinding him. Mysteriously, Kunala regained sight later and begged his father to forgive Tissarakkha for her mistakes. However, Ashoka had her killed regardless.

Death of Samrat Ashoka

According to Ancient Indian historical records, Ashoka the great passed on the thirty-seventh year of his tenure, estimated around 232 BCE. His death has been linked to several illnesses. It is said that he fell sick on several occasions before he died.

At some point, Ashoka started using the state’s finances for donations to promote Buddhism. The council wasn’t happy about his actions, so they denied him access to the treasury.

After he couldn’t access the state’s finances, Ashoka was forced to use his property for donations. However, the council also banned him from using his possessions for contributions.

By the time Ashoka got to his sickbed, he had remained with a piece of myrobalan fruit which he also offered to Buddha as his final offering. Such generosity is rare and has always been rare. This act of Ashoka, the great to give selflessly, is unique and should be emulated.

According to Buddhist legend, Ashoka’s body burned for seven days during his cremation. This was a sign of greatness. Ashoka’s legacy is still with us. It’s been centuries since he died and still his bravery and legacy prevail.


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