Battle of Kalinga- Cruelty of War that changed Ashoka

by Jan 26, 2022

Hello friends, today I am back with another interesting part of Indian history. That is the battle of Kalinga which impacted indirectly on the entire India in the later period.

Introduction to Battle of Kalinga

It is said that “War does not benefit any parties.” Though is true in Indian history so many wars were fought. There are different reasons for every battle.

Some kingdoms fought just to satisfy their envious nature, some fought to gain sovereignty, some fought to expand their existing kingdom. There is one such war that happened in Ancient India to expand the largest kingdom at times.

That battle is evidence of cruelty, enslavement, bloodshed of innocent, and way to peace. That battle was the “War of Kalinga.” It happened on the bank of Daya River in the Dhauli hills of Dhauli.

Background History of Kalinga War

Kalinga was a very wealthy nation that was known to be peaceful and was full of artisans. The nation was under the governance of the Nanda Empire up to 321 BCE.

Kalinga was an indispensable nation in the Nanda Empire because it had a significant role in world trade. The nation had control over the Bay of Bengal.

This means that the major ports that were used for trade were under their control. For effective control, Kalinga also had a powerful navy that was up to the task.

The ruler of Kalinga, according to poet Kalidasa, is the lord of the ocean or Mahodadhi Pati. The Mauryan Empire saw the Kalinga as a threat since they were able to cut off connection between the Capital and the Empire’s Central Indian possessions.

As a result of this misunderstanding, the ruler of the Mauryan Empire, Emperor Ashoka, wanted to take control of the region. The king of Kalinga was not ready to surrender his leadership to another king.

The War of Kalinga was between one of the Kalinga states, Magadha, presently located near Odisha, and the Mauryan Empire. The result of this war was devastating, and it marked a change in the Mauryan Dynasty.

The unexpected result of the war made Emperor Ashoka question if its cost was worth the victory. Ashoka led the war, and it was his first and his last war, after which he resolved to enlightenment and focused on Buddhism.

Causes of Kalinga War

Different historians have diverse perspectives on what could have been the cause of this war that claimed the lives of nearly 250000 people and remained to be the deadliest war in Indian history. The leading cause of this war was control.

Ashoka, like past rulers of the Mauryan empire, wished to finish what his father, Bindusara, had started.

The dominance of the Nanda Emperor ended when they were defeated by Chandragupta Maurya. And as a result, it made Kalinga become an independent state.

Bindusara attempted to reclaim the region; however, he was unsuccessful. As a result, it was up to Ashoka to recover the throne.

During the leadership of Chandragupta Maurya, he formed various military units. Some of the units include Ceylon, Java, and Malay.

This was necessary to take control of the wealth that the nation had together with the power over the coastline. This power held by Kalinga fuelled the urge of Ashoka to continue with the raid to expand the emperor.

Forces Involved in the War When comparing the strengths of the warring forces, the Kalinga army had seven hundred elephants, a thousand cavalries, and 60000 infantry.

In addition, the Kalinga army is also comprised of a powerful naval army. According to the research done by a Greek ambassador Megasthenes, the Ashoka’s army was way more powerful.

On the Mauryan side, they had 60000 soldiers, a thousand elephants, and 1700 horses. The battle took place in 261 BC.

Even though Ashoka had a massive army, the peaceful people of Kalinga fought to their last breath to defend their freedom. On some occasions, the Kalinga seemed to have won the war.

However, they were overpowered, and the victory was on Ashoka’s side. As the war ended, there was a massive loss of men and materials resulting from the war.

After winning the way, Ashoka took around 150,000 soldiers to be his prisoners. The number of soldiers that died directly on the battlefield was more than 100,000.

Many more soldiers died later on due to the injuries from the battle. However, due to the resistance that was put forth by the Kalinga’s army, it is argued that nearly similar numbers of soldiers were killed on the Magadha side.

Even though Ashoka was set to his victory, he was not prepared for the outcome that the battle would bring forth. A heart-wrecking sight was what was left behind as the aftermath of the war.

Like any other war, the soldiers wounded during the war were left in dire pain. Away from the soldiers, their families counted their losses as various children were left without fathers and women left as widows.

Despair filled the Kalinga land, and the people looked listless and could not recover from what the war had brought into their lives.

Bloodstreams were seen all over the battlefield. Apart from the blood flood, there were corps, and animal carcasses from elephants to horses could be found on the battlefield.

Ashoka had conquered Kalinga to the ground; however, there were no more free men to live freely on that land. The remaining men were sent to slavery, and not being able to stay longer in the place, he led the army back to Pataliputra.

Some of the additional forces that helped Kalinga in their battles were their neighbors to the west, the Atavika Territories.

Ashoka occupied the coastal region, and the emperor gave up the idea of spreading his territories further through wars. He instead opted for a different approach to reaching the unconquered people of Atavika through love.

Under the new leadership of Ashoka, the nation became one of the administrative provisions in the Magadha empire. The new headquarters was at Kumara, which was situated at Tosali.

Tosali also had the headquarters for the highest judiciary authority of the Kalinga province. The second headquarters was in Samapa. This held the executive offices called Rajavachanika.

Significance and Impact of Kalinga War

Despite merging victorious from the war, Ashoka as a person felt dissatisfied. Rather than enjoying the value of victory, he was filled with much grief.

This is because he felt that his damage due to his selfish gain of power and leadership is irreplaceable. The soldiers that died as a result of the war could not be brought back to life.

The family that had lost their loved ones and breadwinners were left to languish in the streets. These images and thoughts going through his head made him change as a person.

Ashoka changing his ways and values regarding raiding and expanding the kingdom brought a significant change to him as a person.

As the head of state, he considered other options of relating with his neighbors in a more peaceful way. Ashoka also chose the path of being enlightened and resorting his sorrow and fear to Buddhism.

The Empire ended up reducing the expansion of the military. After the war, Ashoka never attempted to go again into any war.

It became his first and last war. The results of this war made the Empire adopt and put in place new policies. The Magadha Empire resorted to peace and a non-violence policy.

Ashoka gained control of entire India after the war of Kalinga. The only instances when he applied force were in extreme conditions, such as the Southern part of the Indian subcontinent.

Ashoka came up with Dhamma laws, the law of peace. The laws were engraved in rocks and stone pillars.

He tasked the missionary to reach out to the entire world to preach Buddhism and promote a peaceful way of life. His primary goal was to promote peace and love to as many people as he could reach out to.

The war convinced him that it is more important for people to live a peaceful life and resolve their differences in an amicable and non-violent way.

This means the spread of Buddhism to the entire world as we know it today was highly influenced by Ashoka. He ruled the Empire for 40 years spreading his core message of love but died later on in 232 BC.

Upon his death, his dynasty, together with the Empire, was dissolved. Through the Edicts that Ashoka made after the war, we could see the miseries of the Kalinga war and the impact it had on his life.

Specifically, Rock Edict XIII describes the events that unfolded and the people who perished due to the war. The figures might be exaggerated, but they can depict what could have transpired due to the war.

We can readily see that he was a Buddhist based on his edicts. He criticized several of the ceremonies and even outlawed Vedic animal sacrifice in some of his writings.

Before his demise, he took some steps and decisions to express his faith which was highly influenced by the war. Most of the edicts that Ashoka wrote were directly addressing the Buddhists.

He even went ahead and declared himself as ‘upasaka’ to show how he was with the Buddhist texts. Despite the fact that Ashoka tolerated various forms of religion at the period, including Jainism, Brahmanism, and Ajivikaism, he was a strong supporter of Buddhism.

This can be seen as he erected pillars to become a holy place of worship. Looking deeper into his Dhamma, there are some principles that Ashoka advocated for. Dhamma can be described as a moral code for a virtuous life.

This was a basic ideology that governed the day-to-day living of humanity away from those of religion. These principles included having control over passion and encouraging purity in daily life through control of innermost thoughts.

He also encouraged people to learn other religions as this broadens their understanding of other people. Treating other people well, especially the servants and slaves were among the teachings that he emphasized.

Adhering to his Dhamma, Ashoka gave up hunting animals. He also made numerous donations to various religions so as to show his support for different believes.

One of the most positive results of the Kalinga War was the unprecedented developments in arts, literature, and architecture throughout India.

The construction of stupas is one of the evidence of such development. The writing of edicts was done in the Pali language, and this, as a result, led to cultural unity within India.

During his reign, he also ensured that he developed infrastructures such as hospitals and schools. These, too, aided in the development of India.

The persistence that the people of Kalinga demonstrated during the war, made Ashoka desire to heal the nation. He decided to have a liberal and merciful administrator for Kalinga.

He decided to appoint a prince from royal blood as a viceroy to oversee the administration of Kalinga. He also devoted and put much effort into ensuring that the administration over there was running smoothly.

In order to achieve this, he appointed a council of ministers that were assisting and also giving advisory services to Kumara Viceroy of Kalinga. This enabled him to balance out his administrative power.

Apart from the ministers, Ashoka came up with a well-structured bureaucracy that would be able to assist the viceroy of Kalinga.

Some of the critical positions that were established during these times include the Antamahamtras, who were given ministry roles at the borders of the various provinces.

The Mahamatras in Samapa and those in Tosali also fall under the bureaucratic plan. Another responsibility that they were tasked with was to oversee the morality and spiritual welfare of the people of the newly formed Empire.

He appointed the Rajukas, whose role was to look into Janapadas’ welfare, and they had the power to give rewards as well as punishments. They also played a crucial role in the Kalinga administration.

The War of Kalinga is known to be one of the most devastating wars in Indian history, marked a turning point in India. It marked the change in leadership and the emergence of new policies that made India a better and productive place.

We could see various shifts taking place from a personal level to a nationwide transformation from the war.

Even though the war had a huge loss of life and properties, it also led to the birth of various forms of civilization that are witnessed today in India. As a result of the war, Ashoka, the leader, got transformed for the better.

He changed his belief system and take on religion changed after the war. He was solely responsible for the spread of religion, education, and unity within India and beyond.

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