Ashoka, actually spelled Asoka according to the Brahmi text followed during his time, in English became Ashoka. An Indian Emperor and was the heir of a great ruler, his grandfather, Chandragupta Maurya, who formed the Maurya Dynasty. It was indeed emperor Ashoka’s sheer grit that he inherited and expanded the reign of the Maurya Dynasty that covered the Indian subcontinent. He has fought relentlessly and leads an army for continuing the Mauryan Dynasty. Emperor Ashoka is still remembered as a great model and leader, because of his efforts to spread the teachings of Buddhism and Dharma. Ashoka spread this message through the means of Pillars and rock edicts and these historical records have stood the test of time. He is very deservingly called Ashoka -The Great.
Ashoka Birth- 304 BCE
Birthplace- Pataliputra in the Mauryan Empire reign, present-day, Patna, India
Empire- ruled for many years from 268 BCE- 232 BCE.
Works- Edicts of Buddhism across South Asia and European Subcontinent
Death- 232 BCE, Pataliputra, present-day Patna, India.
Who Was Ashoka?
Ashoka was the grandson of the founder and the first ruler of The Mauryan Dynasty, Chandragupta Maurya after he defeated Magadha. Father of Ashoka, Bindusara, and Mother Subhadrangi were blessed with a son in 304 BCE, in Pataliputra present-day Patna and his mother named him Ashoka, which in Sanskrit literally translates to “A-shoka” that is ‘painless or the one without sorrow.
Ashoka’s Birth is not actually dated back according to the present-day calculations, it was presumed to be this because of his own inscriptions, wherein he mentioned some of the rulers of the period whose date of birth is recorded.
Bindusara, the father of Ashoka was not very fond of him due to his inconspicuous appearance. And he would often counsel with his minister as to who would become his successor among his sons or princes. Despite not being pleased with Ashoka’s aesthetics he would trust him with responsibilities and in fact, sent him to suppress the rebellions on many occasions.
Ashoka had 5 children, 3 sons, Mahinda, Tivala, and Kunala. And 2 daughters, Charumathi and Sangamitra. Mahendra was the firstborn and the oldest son Of Ashoka. Son of Ashoka, Mahinda was very much involved in his Father’s mission to spread the teachings of Dhamma and Buddhism he was sent to Ceylon for the same.
Bindusara, father of Ashoka reigned the Mauryan empire his father Chandragupta had founded and built for 28 years. After his death in the 270s BCE, there was struggle and concern as to who among his sons would be his successor and Ashoka stepped up to take the throne in around 269BCE-268BC.
Ashoka was an ambitious monarch. And he suppressed and crushed many rebellions during his young age following his father’s advice and also waged many when he sat on the throne. Ashoka was always an excellent commander, and he took charge in suppressing the rebellion against his empire in Ujjain and Takshashila. He was relentlessly aggressive and reasserted his power in West and South India. Due to his strategic nature and valour, the Mauryan Empire was once again exerting superiority of reign in the Indian subcontinent. His strength was applauded and also referred to him as Ashoka Chakravarthy, Chakravarthy means King of Kings.
Many texts that are SriLankan and North Indian like the Ashokavadana suggest that he was a violent king referred to as Chandashoka- that means Ashoka The Fierce. One such incident is mentioned wherein Ashoka, beheaded 500 men who were his ministers after they failed to honour his command of cutting every fruit and flower-bearing tree and bringing it to him. The name Chandashoka truly captures his nature that performed such cruel acts.
The Kalinga War And The Aftermath
The pivotal and turning point in his reign, as well as his life, came to be when he waged war against Kalinga, that is present-day Odisha previously called Orissa. His conquest to project power over Kalinga but building fortifications was successful. With his troop of army and civilians, he was able to win and rule over Kalinga. It was the most devastating and destructive war of all time wherein 100,000 - 150,000 of them were killed. Among them, 10,000 were Ashoka’s men. The fury and fallout of the war threatened the lives of more people. Ashoka even after his win couldn’t fathom this level of destruction. He was a personal witness to all of this and as days gone by his feeling of remorse only grew.
It was during this unfathomable period of time that Ashoka embraced Buddhism. The suffering he witnessed changed him dramatically. The teachings of Buddhism completely changed his perspective and he became a different man. Instead of waging wars time and again, he adapted and practiced ‘ahimsa’ that preaches non-violence to any other living being. Animal hunting was also banned as he was following the path of dharma that taught noninjury to any animal.
Dharma, proclaimed by the Buddha, is the doctrine that is the ultimate universal truth applicable to all individuals at all times. Taking from his learnings he also documented them in the pillars, as edicts which is an official order issued by the authority or the one in power. The pillar today is called the Ashoka Pillar and the lion capital has become the national emblem of India. His edicts are a well-kept record of his life and the acts he performed that rung, to be frank, and sincere.
He went on to live his life with honesty, compassion, and mercy. His dealings with others no longer involved violence. He spoke of Buddhism only to those who practice the same
philosophy as him.
Ashoka became a man who now understood the sorrows of the common man and went to the rural parts to spread about Buddhism and relieve them from suffering. He even ordered his ministers and other administrators to do the same. He involved his sons too, Mahinda travelled extensively throughout the nation and outside for Buddhist missions. None of his sons were the successors to the throne. Tivala Maurya died before his time and Kunala was blinded hence was not considered a suitable successor. Ashoka’s reign was for 37 years, it changed after his 8th year when he attacked Kalinga the years after was only aimed at spreading Buddhism all around. His reign name, that many kings adopt that is different from their birth name, was Priyadasi which means ‘one who regards amicably.’
Death of Ashoka The Great
Ashoka in his final regnal years was ill and died in his 37th year of reign in Pataliputra, now Patna at the age of 72 like an Emperor who made a difference to people’s lives by donating and many philanthropic works via Buddhism. He wanted Mahinda to become his successor but he declined this to follow the path of Buddhism and lead a life as a monk. And Samprati, Kunala's son, was too young to be crowned. It was Ashoka’s Grandson Dasharatha Maurya who succeeded him.
Ashoka was truly the king that ruled for so many years and was instrumental in spreading the teachings of Buddhism and establishing it as a world religion. His contribution to commencing and sustaining the unification of the nation was truly extraordinary. He is still referred to as the great emperor, Ashoka The great. When he started his conquest by dharma practice following the deadliness of the Kalinga war the Mauryan Empire was truly thriving and the highest populated estimated to be 30 million among all dynasties.