Biography of Ashoka the Great, India's Mauryan Emperor

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Ashoka the Great (c. 304–232 BCE) was the emperor of India's Maurya Dynasty from 268 to 232 BCE and is remembered for his remarkable conversion to nonviolence and his merciful reign. In 265 BCE after witnessing the devastation of his own attack on the Kalinga region, he converted from being a brutal conqueror of a vast empire to a benevolent emperor who successfully ruled according to nonviolent principles. His edicts encouraged the protection of animals, mercy for criminals, and tolerance of other religions.

Fast Facts: Ashoka the Great

  • Known For : Ashoka was the ruler of India's Mauryan Empire; after an epiphany, he became a promoter of Buddhist non-violence.
  • Born : 304 BCE in Pataliputra, Mauryan Empire
  • Parents : Bindusara and Dharma
  • Died : 232 BCE in Pataliputra, Mauryan Empire
  • Spouse(s) : Devi, Kaurwaki confirmed; many others alleged
  • Children : Mahinda, Kunala, Tivala, Jalauka
  • Notable Quote : "Dharma is good. And what is Dharma? It is having few faults and many goods deeds, mercy, charity, truthfulness, and purity."

In 304 BCE, the second emperor of the Maurya Dynasty, Bindusara, welcomed a son named Ashoka Bindusara Maurya into the world. The boy's mother Dharma was only a commoner. She had several older children—half-brothers of Ashoka—so Ashoka seemed unlikely to ever ascend the throne.

Ashoka grew up to be a bold, troublesome, and cruel young man who was always extremely fond of hunting. According to legend, he killed a lion using only a wooden stick. His older half-brothers feared Ashoka and convinced his father to post him as a general to distant frontiers of the Mauryan Empire. Ashoka proved to be a competent general, putting down a rebellion in the Punjabi city of Taxshila.

Aware that his brothers viewed him as a rival for the throne, Ashoka went into exile for two years in the neighboring country of Kalinga. While he was there, he fell in love with and later married a commoner, a fisher-woman named Kaurwaki.

Introduction to Buddhism

Bindusara recalled his son to Maurya to help quell an uprising in Ujjain, the former capital of the Avanti Kingdom. Ashoka succeeded but was injured in the fighting. Buddhist monks tended to the wounded prince in secret so that his eldest brother, the heir-apparent Susima, would not learn of Ashoka's injuries.

At this time, Ashoka officially converted to Buddhism and began embracing its principles, though they were in direct conflict with his life as a general. He met and fell in love with a woman from Vidisha called Devi who also attended to his injuries during this period. The couple later married.

When Bindusara died in 275 BCE, a two-year war for the throne erupted between Ashoka and his half-brothers. The Vedic sources vary on how many of Ashoka's brothers died—one says that he killed them all while another states that he killed several of them. In either case, Ashoka prevailed and became the third ruler of the Mauryan Empire.

Imperial Rule

For the first eight years of his reign, Ashoka waged near-constant war on surrounding regions. He had inherited a sizable empire, but he expanded it to include most of the Indian subcontinent , as well as the area from the current-day borders of Iran and Afghanistan in the west to Bangladesh and Burma border in the east. Only the southern tip of India and Sri Lanka  and the kingdom of Kalinga on the northeast coast of India remained out of his reach.

In 265 BCE, Ashoka attacked Kalinga. Although it was the homeland of his second wife Kaurwaki and the king of Kalinga had sheltered Ashoka before his ascent to the throne, the Mauryan emperor gathered the largest invasion force in Indian history and launched his assault. Kalinga fought back bravely, but in the end it was defeated and all of its cities were sacked.

Ashoka had led the invasion in person, and he went out into the capital city of Kalinga the morning after his victory to survey the damage. The ruined houses and bloodied corpses of nearly 150,000 slain civilians and soldiers sickened the emperor, and he experienced a religious epiphany.

Although he had considered himself more or less a Buddhist prior to that day, the carnage at Kalinga led Ashoka to devote himself completely to Buddhism, and he vowed to practice ahimsa , or nonviolence ,  from that day forward.

Had Ashoka simply vowed to himself that he would live according to Buddhist principles, later ages would likely not remember his name. However, he published his intentions for the whole empire to read. Ashoka wrote out a series of edicts, explaining his policies and aspirations for the empire and urging others to follow his enlightened example.

The Edicts of King Ashoka were carved onto pillars of stone 40 to 50 feet high and set up all around the edges of the Mauryan Empire as well as in the heart of Ashoka's realm. Dozens of these pillars can still be found in India, Nepal , Pakistan , and Afghanistan .

In his edicts, Ashoka vowed to care for his people like a father and promised neighboring people that they need not fear him—that he would use only persuasion, not violence, to win people over. Ashoka noted that he had made available shade and fruit trees for the people as well as medical care for all people and animals.

His concern for living things also appeared in a ban on live sacrifices and sport hunting as well as a request for respect for all other creatures, including servants. Ashoka urged his people to follow a vegetarian diet  and banned the practice of burning forests or agricultural wastes that might harbor wild animals. A long list of animals appeared on his protected species list, including bulls, wild ducks, squirrels, deer, porcupines, and pigeons.

Ashoka also ruled with incredible accessibility. He noted that "I consider it best to meet with people personally." To that end, he went on frequent tours around his empire. He also advertised that he would stop whatever he was doing if a matter of imperial business needed attention, even if he was having dinner or sleeping.

In addition, Ashoka was very concerned with judicial matters. His attitude toward convicted criminals was quite merciful. He banned punishments such as torture, removing people's eyes, and the death penalty, and he urged pardons for the elderly, those with families to support, and those who were doing charitable work.

Finally, although Ashoka urged his people to practice Buddhist values, he fostered an atmosphere of respect for all religions. Within his empire, people followed not only the relatively new Buddhist faith but also Jainism, Zoroastrianism, Greek polytheism, and many other belief systems. Ashoka served as an example of tolerance for his subjects, and his religious affairs officers encouraged the practice of any religion.

Ashoka the Great ruled as a just and merciful king from his epiphany in 265 until his death at the age of 72 in 232 BCE. His body was given a royal cremation ceremony.

We do not know the names of most of Ashoka's wives and children, however, his twin children by his first wife, a boy called Mahindra and a girl named Sanghamitra, were instrumental in converting Sri Lanka to Buddhism.

After Ashoka's death, the Mauryan Empire continued to exist for 50 years before going into a gradual decline. The last Mauryan emperor was Brhadrata, who was assassinated in 185 BCE by one of his generals, Pusyamitra Sunga. Although his family did not rule for long after he was gone, Ashoka's principles and his examples lived on through the Vedas and his edicts, which can still be seen on pillars today.

  • Lahiri, Nayanjot. "Ashoka in Ancient India." Harvard University Press, 2015.
  • Trainor, Kevin. "Buddhism: the Illustrated Guide." Duncan Baird, 2004.
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  • Ashoka the Great

Did you know that before Ashoka the Great became a peace-loving monarch he was known as Chanda Ashoka, meaning ‘Cruel Ashoka’? Widely believed to be one of the kindest, strongest rulers of India Emperor Ashoka has a fascinating life history. Let us take a look.

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Ashoka the great.

The greatest ruler known to Indian history is  Ashoka The Great. His empire was founded by Chandragupta Maurya, who was a grandfather of Ashoka, more than 2300 years ago. Ashoka was greatly supported and lead by the famous man Chanakya, also known by Kautilya. The Maurya’s were comprised of three major rulers known for their attributes – Chandragupta, his son Bindusara and Bindusara’s son, Ashoka.

Ashoka was the third ruler of the Maurya dynasty and was one of the most powerful kings in ancient times. His reign between 273 BC and 232 B.C. in the history of India was one of the most prosperous periods. Ashoka was born to Mauryan King Bindusara and his queen Devi Dharma was the grandson of the founder emperor of the Maurya Dynasty, the great Chandragupta Maurya.

To a great extent, Ashoka the Great made justified contributions to the art as well as architecture . He built stupas at Sanchi, Sarnath, Deor, Bharhut, Butkara, Kothar, etc. He also made significant contributions to the Nalanda University and Mahabodhi temples. The main source of revenue in the empire was the taxes and tributes. With this, the government used to look after the maintenance for better revenues and transport .

Ashoka: The Unique Ruler

Ashoka was named to be a unique ruler as he was the first ruler who tried to take forward his message to people through inscriptions wherein he described his change in belief and thought after the Kalinga War. He is also one of the rulers who fought a war to conquer Kalinga, however, gave up conquest even after winning a war.

Ashoka also followed a religious policy wherein he formulated the policy of the Prakrit word, Dhamma coming from the Sanskrit term, Dharma. The excessive accumulation of Ashoka’s Dhamma consists of good teachings of different religions.

Ashoka the Great

Ashoka the Great was also troubled with numerous issues including the killing of animals, ill-treatment of slaves and servants, quarrels in families and amongst neighbors. He considered it his duty to solve these problems. For this, he appointed officials, commonly known as dhamma mahamatta who went to different places to teach people about dhamma.

Ashoka had made provisions in regard to medical facilities for both human and animals as well as worked for public welfare like making rest houses, digging wells. He has also strictly prohibited sacrificing animals.

Not only this, Ashoka the Great also sent messengers to other lands like Egypt, Syria, Greece and Sri Lanka focused specifically spread ideas about Dhamma. He also got his message inscribed on the rocks and pillars which later came to be known as Ashoka Pillars.

Ashoka Pillar

People perform a variety of rituals when they fall ill when their children get married, when children are born, or when they go on a journey. These rituals are not useful. If instead, people observe other practices, this would be more fruitful. What are these other practices?

These are: being gentle with slaves and servants. Respecting one’s elders. Treating all creatures with compassion. Giving gifts to Brahmins and monks. It is both wrong to praise one’s own religion or criticise another’s. Each one should respect the other’s religion. If one praises one’s own religion while criticizing another’s, one is actually doing greater harm to one’s own religion. Therefore, one should try to understand the main ideas of another’s religion and respect it.

Solved Question for You

Question: Why do we say that Ashoka the Great was a unique ruler?

Answer: Ashoka was the most famous Mauryan ruler and was a unique ruler because

  • He was the first ruler who tried to spread his message through inscriptions to the people.
  • Ashoka is the only king in the world’s history  who gave up the conquest even after winning a war.
  • He started to follow a religious policy of his own after the violence and bloodshed held in Kalinga war and formulated various policies of Dhamma.

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Ashoka The Great - Essay in English

Ashoka The Great – Essay in English

admin August 31, 2017 Essays in English 33,026 Views

King Ashoka is popularly known as Ashoka the Great. In his inscriptions he is called Devanampiya (beloved of the gods) and Piyadashi (one who looks to the welfare of his subjects).

The edicts of Mauryan Emperor Ashoka that were found in different parts of the country are the most dependable evidences of his reign. Besides these edicts, the Buddhist book Divyavadana and Ceylonese chronicles Mahavamsa and Dipavamsa also give important information about Ashoka and his reign.

Ashoka was born to Emperor Bindusara in 304 B.C. Ashoka had several brothers and sisters. He was an extremely brilliant and fearless child. He also got military training during his early life. When he was just 18 years old, he was appointed as the Viceroy of Avanti. He married Vedisa-Mahadevi Sakyakumari. Mahadevi gave birth to Mahendra (son) and Sanghamitra (daughter).

Meanwhile, a severe revolt broke at Taxila and situation was going beyond control. Ashoka was called, and there he displayed his skills while successfully suppressing the rebellion.

After the death of Bindusara, there is mention of a war of succession. Ashoka emerged as the winner and secured the throne with the help of Ramagupta (minister in the court of Bindusara). In may be noted that though succeeded to the throne in 273 B.C., his coronation ceremony took place in 269 B.C.

Ashoka pursued the policy of extension of the Magadha Empire following the ideal of his predecessors. In his eighth regnal year Ashoka invaded and conquered Kalinga after a bloody war. Ashoka attacked Kalinga which occupied a strategic position controlling the routes to south India by land and sea.

In his Rock Edict XIII Ashoka had referred to the conquest of Kalinga and the great loss of life. The Rock Edict reads, “One hundred and fifty thousand persons were captured, one hundred thousand were killed and many times that number perished”. The destructive nature of the Kalinga war created an emotional shock to Ashoka. He regretted that he had been responsible for so much suffering of the fellow human beings.

When he was in such a penitent mood, he met a Buddhist Monk Upagupta. The Buddhist teachings touched his heart and he became a convert to Buddhism, which preached non-violence. After the conversion he took the vow of serving all human beings. This change of heart of Ashoka found its reflection in his internal and foreign policies.

Indeed, Ashoka’s decision to abandon the policy of war made possible for some states in the south to maintain their independence. He, henceforth, pursued a policy of friendship to all nations of the known world.

Kalinga was the sole conquest made by Ashoka. But he had inherited a vast empire from his predecessors. The find spots of Ashokan edicts and some other evidences assist us in demarcating the borders of Ashoka’s Empire. From these evidences it appears that his empire covered an extensive territory from the Himalayas in the north to the river Pennar (north Mysore) in the south, from the Hindukush in the north-west to the Brahmaputra in the east. It also included Kabul, Kandahar, Herat, and some parts of Nepal and Kashmir.

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Ashoka (by Dharma, CC BY)

Ashoka Dharma (CC BY)

Ashoka the Great  (r. 268-232 BCE) was the third king of the  Mauryan Empire  (322-185 BCE) best known for his renunciation of  war , development of the concept of  dhamma  (pious social conduct), and promotion of  Buddhism  as well as his effective reign of a nearly  pan -Indian political entity. At its height, under  Ashoka , the Mauryan  Empire  stretched from modern-day Iran through almost the entirety of the Indian subcontinent. Ashoka was able to rule this vast empire initially through the precepts of the political treatise known as the  Arthashastra , attributed to the Prime Minister  Chanakya  (also known as  Kautilya  and Vishnugupta, l. c. 350-275 BCE) who served under Ashoka's grandfather  Chandragupta  (r. c. 321-c.297 BCE) who founded the empire.

Ashoka  means “without sorrow” which was most likely his given name. He is referred to in his edicts, carved in stone, as Devanampiya Piyadassi which, according to scholar John Keay (and agreed upon by scholarly consensus) means “Beloved of the Gods” and “gracious of mien” (89). He is said to have been particularly ruthless early in his reign until he launched a campaign against the Kingdom of Kalinga in c. 260 BCE which resulted in such carnage, destruction, and  death  that Ashoka renounced war and, in time, converted to Buddhism, devoting himself to peace as exemplified in his concept of  dhamma . Most of what is known of him, outside of his edicts, comes from  Buddhist  texts which treat him as a model of conversion and virtuous behavior.  

ASHOKA WALKED ACROSS THE KALINGA BATTLEFIELD, LOOKING UPON THE DEATH & DESTRUCTION, & EXPERIENCED A PROFOUND CHANGE OF HEART.

The empire he and his family built did not last even 50 years after his death. Although he was the greatest of the kings of one of the largest and most powerful empires in antiquity, his name was lost to history until he was identified by the British scholar and orientalist James Prinsep (l. 1799-1840 CE) in 1837 CE. Since then, Ashoka has come to be recognized as one of the most fascinating ancient monarchs for his decision to renounce war, his insistence on religious tolerance, and his peaceful efforts in establishing Buddhism as a major world  religion .  

Early Life & Rise to Power

Although Ashoka's name appears in the  Puranas  (encyclopedic  literature  of  India  dealing with kings, heroes, legends, and gods), no information on his life is given there. The details of his youth, rise to power, and renunciation of violence following the Kalinga campaign come from Buddhist sources which are considered, in many respects, more legendary than historical.

Greek and Aramaic inscriptions by king Ashoka

Greek and Aramaic inscriptions by king Ashoka World Imaging (Public Domain)

His birthdate is unknown, and he is said to have been one of a hundred sons of his father Bindusara's (r. 297-c.273 BCE) wives. His mother's name is given as Subhadrangi in one text but as Dharma in another. She is also depicted as the daughter of a Brahmin (the highest caste) and Bindusara's principal wife in some texts while a woman of lower status and minor wife in others. The story of the 100 sons of Bindusara is dismissed by most scholars who believe Ashoka was the second son of four. His older brother, Susima, was the heir apparent and crown prince and Ashoka's chances of ever assuming power were therefore slim and even slimmer because his father disliked him.

ACCORDING TO ONE LEGEND, BINDUSARA PROVIDED HIS SON ASHOKA WITH AN ARMY BUT NO WEAPONS; THE WEAPONS WERE PROVIDED LATER BY SUPERNATURAL MEANS.

He was highly educated at court, trained in martial arts, and was no doubt instructed in the precepts of the  Artashastra  – even if he was not considered a candidate for the throne – simply as one of the royal sons. The  Artashastra  is a treatise covering many different subjects related to society but, primarily, is a manual on political  science  providing instruction on how to rule effectively. It is attributed to Chanakya, Chandragupta's prime minister, who chose and trained Chandragupta to become king. When Chandragupta abdicated in favor of Bindusara, the latter is said to have been trained in the  Arthashastra  and so, almost certainly, would have been his sons.

When Ashoka was around the age of 18, he was sent from the capital  city  of Pataliputra to Takshashila ( Taxila ) to put down a revolt. According to one legend, Bindusara provided his son with an army but no weapons; the weapons were provided later by supernatural means. This same legend claims that Ashoka was merciful to the people who lay down their arms upon his arrival. No historical account survives of Ashoka's campaign at Taxila; it is accepted as historical fact based on suggestions from inscriptions and place names but the details are unknown.

Gandhara Buddha, Taxila

Gandhara Buddha, Taxila Mark Cartwright (CC BY-NC-SA)

Having succeeded at Taxila, Bindusara next sent his son to govern the commercial center of Ujjain which he also succeeded in. No details are available on how Ashoka performed his duties at Ujjain because, as Keay notes, “what was thought most worthy of note by Buddhist chroniclers was his love affair with the daughter of a local merchant” (90). This woman's name is given as  Devi  (also known as Vidisha-mahadevi) of the city of Vidisha who, according to some traditions, played a significant part in Ashoka's attraction to Buddhism. Keay comments:

She was not apparently married to Ashoka nor destined to accompany him to Pataliputra and become one of his queens. Yet she bore him a son and a daughter. The son, Mahinda, would head the Buddhist mission to Sri Lanka; and it may be that his mother was already a Buddhist, thus raising the possibility that Ashoka was drawn to the  Buddha 's teachings [at this time]. (90)

According to some legends, Devi first introduced Ashoka to Buddhism, but it has also been suggested that Ashoka was already a nominal Buddhist when he met Devi and may have shared the teachings with her. Buddhism was a minor philosophical-religious sect in India at this time, one of the many heterodox schools of thought (along with Ajivika,  Jainism , and  Charvaka ) vying for acceptance alongside the orthodox belief system of  Sanatan Dharma  (“Eternal Order”), better known as  Hinduism . The focus of the later chronicles on Ashoka's affair with the beautiful Buddhist Devi, rather than on his administrative accomplishments, can be explained as an effort to highlight the future king's early association with the religion he would make famous.

Ashoka was still at Ujjain when Taxila rebelled again and Bindusara this time sent Susima. Susima was still engaged in the campaign when Bindusara fell ill and ordered his eldest son's recall. The king's ministers, however, favored Ashoka as successor and so he was sent for and was crowned (or, according to some legends crowned himself) king upon Bindusara's death. Afterwards, he had Susima executed (or his ministers did) by throwing him into a charcoal pit where he burned to death. Legends also claim he then executed his other 99 brothers but scholars maintain he killed only two and that the youngest, one Vitashoka, renounced all claim to rule and became a Buddhist monk.

Ashoka's pillar

Ashoka's pillar Undisclosed (CC BY-SA)

The Kalinga War & Ashoka's Renunciation

Once he had assumed power, by all accounts, he established himself as a cruel and ruthless despot who pursued pleasure at his subjects' expense and delighted in personally torturing those who were sentenced to his prison known as Ashoka's Hell or Hell-on-Earth. Keay, however, notes a discrepancy between the earlier association of Ashoka with Buddhism through Devi and the depiction of the new king as a murderous fiend-turned-saint, commenting:

Buddhist sources tend to represent Ashoka's pre-Buddhist lifestyle as one of indulgence steeped in cruelty. Conversion then became all the more remarkable in that by `right thinking' even a monster of wickedness could be transformed into a model of compassion. The formula, such as it was, precluded any admission of Ashoka's early fascination with Buddhism and may explain the ruthless conduct attributed to him when Bindusara died. (90)

This is most likely true but, at the same time, may not be. That his policy of cruelty and ruthlessness was historical fact is borne out by his edicts, specifically his 13th Major Rock Edict, which addresses the Kalinga War and laments the dead and lost. The Kingdom of Kalinga was south of Pataliputra on the coast and enjoyed considerable wealth through  trade . The Mauryan Empire surrounded Kalinga and the two polities evidently prospered commercially from interaction. What prompted the Kalinga campaign is unknown but, in c. 260 BCE, Ashoka invaded the kingdom, slaughtering 100,000 inhabitants, deporting 150,000 more, and leaving thousands of others to die of disease and famine.

Afterwards, it is said, Ashoka walked across the battlefield, looking upon the death and destruction, and experienced a profound change of heart which he later recorded in his 13th Edict:

On conquering Kalinga, the Beloved of the Gods [Ashoka] felt remorse for, when an independent country is conquered, the slaughter, death, and deportation of the people is extremely grievous to the Beloved of the Gods and weighs heavily on his mind…Even those who are fortunate to have escaped, and whose love is undiminished, suffer from the misfortunes of their friends, acquaintances, colleagues, and relatives…Today, if a hundredth or a thousandth part of those people who were killed or died or were deported when Kalinga was annexed were to suffer similarly, it would weigh heavily on the mind of the Beloved of the Gods. (Keay, 91)

Ashoka then renounced war and embraced Buddhism but this was not the sudden conversion it is usually given as but rather a gradual acceptance of Buddha's teachings which he may, or may not, have already been acquainted with. It is entirely possible that Ashoka could have been aware of Buddha's message before Kalinga and simply not taken it to heart, not allowed it to in any way alter his behavior. This same paradigm has been seen in plenty of people – famous kings and generals or those whose names will never be remembered – who claim to belong to a certain faith while regularly ignoring its most fundamental vision.

Pillar of Ashoka Fragment

Pillar of Ashoka Fragment Unspecified (GNU FDL)

It is also possible that Ashoka's knowledge of Buddhism was rudimentary and that it was only after Kalinga, and a spiritual journey through which he sought peace and self-forgiveness, that he chose Buddhism from among the other options available. Whether the one or the other, Ashoka would embrace Buddha's teachings in so far as he could as a monarch and establish Buddhism as a prominent religious school of thought.  

The Path of Peace & Criticism

According to the accepted account, once Ashoka embraced Buddhism, he embarked on a path of peace and ruled with justice and mercy. Whereas he had earlier engaged in the hunt, he now went on pilgrimage and while formerly the royal kitchen slaughtered hundreds of animals for feasts, he now instituted vegetarianism. He made himself available to his subjects at all times, addressed what they considered wrongs, and upheld the laws which benefited all, not only the upper class and wealthy.

This understanding of Ashoka's post-Kalinga reign is given by the Buddhist texts (especially those from Sri Lanka) and his edicts. Modern-day scholars have questioned how accurate this depiction is, however, noting that Ashoka did not return the kingdom to the survivors of the Kalinga campaign nor is there any evidence he called back the 150,000 who had been deported. He made no effort at disbanding the military and there is evidence that military might continued to be used in putting down rebellions and maintaining the peace.

All of these observations are accurate interpretations of the evidence but ignore the central message of the  Artashastra , which would have essentially been Ashoka's training manual just as it had been his father's and grandfather's. The  Artashastra  makes clear that a strong State can only be maintained by a strong king. A weak king will indulge himself and his own desires; a wise king will consider what is best for the greatest number of people. In following this principle, Ashoka would not have been able to implement Buddhism fully as a new governmental policy because, first of all, he needed to continue to present a public image of strength and, secondly, most of his subjects were not Buddhist and would have resented that policy.

Ashoka could have personally regretted the Kalinga campaign, had a genuine change of heart, and yet still have been unable to return Kalinga to its people or reverse his earlier deportation policy because it would have made him appear weak and encouraged other regions or foreign powers toward acts of aggression. What was done, was done, and the king moved on having learned from his mistake and having determined to become a better man and monarch.

Ashoka's response to  warfare  and the tragedy of Kalinga was the inspiration for the formulation of the concept of  dhamma . Dhamma derives from the concept, originally set down by Hinduism, of  dharma  (duty) which is one's responsibility or purpose in life but, more directly, from Buddha's use of  dharma  as  cosmic  law   and  that which should be heeded . Ashoka's  dhamma  includes this understanding but expands it to mean general goodwill and beneficence to all as “right behavior” which promotes peace and understanding. Keay notes that the concept is equated with “mercy, charity, truthfulness, and purity” (95). It is also understood to mean “good conduct” or “decent behavior”.

After he had embraced Buddhism, Ashoka embarked on pilgrimages to sites sacred to Buddha and began to disseminate his thoughts on dhamma. He ordered edicts, many referencing dhamma or explaining the concept fully, engraved in stone throughout his empire and sent Buddhist missionaries to other regions and nations including modern-day Sri Lanka,  China , Thailand, and  Greece ; in so doing, he established Buddhism as a major world religion. These missionaries spread Buddha's vision peacefully since, as Ashoka had decreed, no one should elevate their own religion over anyone else's; to do so devalued one's own faith by supposing it to be better than another's and so lost the humility necessary in approaching sacred subjects.

Sanchi Stupa

Sanchi Stupa Elleen Delhi (CC BY-NC-SA)

Buddha's remains, before Ashoka's reign, had been placed in eight  stupas  (tumuli containing relics) around the country. Ashoka had the relics removed and is said to have decreed the construction of 84,000 stupas throughout the country, each to have some part of the Buddha's remains inside. In this way, he thought, the Buddhist message of peace and harmonious existence between people and the natural world would be encouraged further. The number of these stupas is considered an exaggeration but there is no doubt that Ashoka did order construction of a number of them, such as the famous work at Sanchi.

Ashoka died after reigning for nearly 40 years. His reign had enlarged and strengthened the Mauryan Empire and yet it would not endure for even 50 years after his death. His name was eventually forgotten, his stupas became overgrown, and his edicts, carved on majestic pillars, toppled and buried by the sands. When European scholars began exploring Indian history in the 19th century, the British scholar and orientalist James Prinsep came across an inscription on the Sanchi  stupa  in an unknown  script  which, eventually, he came to understand as referencing a king by the name of Devanampiya Piyadassi who, as far as Prinsep knew, was referenced nowhere else.

In time, and through the efforts of Prinsep in deciphering  Brahmi Script  as well as those of other scholars, it was understood that the Ashoka named as a Mauryan king in the Puranas was the same as this Devanampiya Piyadassi. Prinsep published his work on Ashoka in 1837 CE, shortly before he died, and the great Mauryan king has since attracted increasing interest around the world; most notably as the only empire-builder of the ancient world who, at the height of his power, renounced warfare and  conquest  to pursue mutual understanding and harmonious existence as both domestic and foreign policy.   

Bibliography

  • Baird, F.& Heimbeck, R. S.  Philosophic Classics: Asian Philosophy.  Routledge, 2005.
  • Chanakya Kautilya & Shamasastry, R. & Patel, C.  Arthashastra, or, The Playbook of Material Gain.  Independently published, 2019.
  • Keay, J.  India.  Grove Press, 2020.
  • Koller, J. M.  Asian Philosophies.  Prentice Hall, 2007.
  • Kulke, H. & Rothermund, D.  A History of India.  Barnes & Noble Books, 2006.
  • Long, J. D.  Historical Dictionary of Hinduism.  Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2020.
  • Stutley, M. & Stutley, J.  Harper's Dictionary of Hinduism.  Harper & Row, 1977.
  • Trautmann, T. R.  Arthashastra: The Science of Wealth.  Penguin/Portfolio, 2016.

Contributors and Attributions

Joshua J. Mark

A freelance writer and former part-time Professor of Philosophy at Marist College, New York, Joshua J. Mark has lived in Greece and Germany and traveled through Egypt. He has taught history, writing, literature, and philosophy at the college level.

The Life and Achievements of Ashoka

short essay on ashoka the great

  “Amidst the tens and thousands of names of monarchs that crowd the columns of history, their majesty’s graciousness, and serenities and royal highness and the like, the name of Asoka shines alone almost as a star”- H.G. Wells.

Devanampriya Priyadarsi Asoka ascended the throne of Magadha in 273 B.C.

He was the grandson of Chandragupta Maurya and son of Bindusara.

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He was one of the greatest monarchs of history. We are furnished with a lot of information about him from his inscriptions and Buddhist literature. According to Buddhist tradition, Bindusara had 101 sons. Susima was the eldest son while Asok was the second son. His mother’s name was Subhadrangi.

The Buddhist text Mahavamsa and the Divyavadana refer to a fratricidal struggle among the sons of Bindusara after his death. In this struggle Asoka is said to have killed ninety-nine of his brothers and only spared the life of Jisya, the youngest brother and waded through blood to the throne in 273 B.C. and for his ferocious nature he earned the title “Chandasoka”.

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But his coronation was delayed for four years and it took place in 269 B.C. According to Dr. Smith, those four years were, “one of the dark spaces in the spectrum of Indian History’s Vague speculation, unchecked by the salutary limitations of verified fact, is at the best, unprofitable.” But the story regarding the early life of Asoka is not accepted by Dr. Smith due to several reasons.

He points out that the inscriptions of Asoka even prove that in the 17th and 18th years of his reign all his brothers and sisters were alive. In the Rock Edict Asoka expresses his anxious care for the family establishments of his brothers existing in the capital and the countries. Inscriptional evidences even indirectly suggest that some of his brothers were appointed as viceroys in important places like Taxila, Tosali, Ujjayini and Suvarnagiri and were known as the Kumaras and Aryaputras.

According to Dr. Bhandarkar Buddhist texts only wanted to preach the greatness of Buddhism by the story of Asoka’s killing of his brothers and tried to show that how Chandasoka was converted into Dharmasoka under the influence of Buddhism.

Conquest of Kalinga:

The earliest event of Asoka’s reign of which we have reliable information, is his conquest of Kalinga in the 13th year of his reign in 261 B.C. The XIII Rock Edict of Asoka gives a vivid account of the conquest of Kalinga. The kingdom of Kalinga corresponds to modern Orissa and Ganjam. There were some causes for the invasion of Kalinga.

First, Kalinga was once a part of the Magadhan empire when it was ruled by the Nandas. It became independent when Chandragupta Maurya rebelled against the Nanda king. Due to his pre-occupation in Northern India, Chandragupta Maurya had no time to reconquering it. Hence Asoka after his accession wanted to annex Kalinga to the Mauryan empire.

Secondly, Kalinga posed a threat to Magadha as the Kalingan rulers considerably increased their military power from the time of Chandragupta to that of Asoka. According to Pliny, Kalingan army consisted of 60,000 infantry, 1000 cavalry and 700 war-elephants. The existence of such a big army was a source of danger to Asoka.

Thirdly, the material prosperity of Kalinga was enhanced by commercial relation with Malaya, Java and Ceylon. Thus the growing Military power along with material prosperity and hostile attitude of Kalinga towards Magadha made her a powerful enemy to the Mauryan empire.

Asoka felt the need of its subjugation and attacked Kalinga in the eighth year of his reign. It is not definitely known as to the name of the king and his dynasty then ruling over the kingdom of Kalinga because Asoka did not mention these facts in his inscription. According to scholars Kalinga might be at that time was like an oligarchical or republican state of the ancient type.

The R E. XIII, of Asoka gives an account of the occupation of Kalinga after a terrible fight in course of which 1, 50,000 persons were captured, 100,000 were killed, and many times that number perished. Numerous people also suffered from violence, separation and other evils of war which caused Asoka much grief and remorse.

So he abandoned the policy of conquest or “bherighosha” in favour of a policy of spiritual conquest or “dhammaghosa”. Thus the conquest of Kalinga gave a descent burial to the Magadhan imperialism and opened an era of peace and non-violent policy of inter-state relation. This Kalinga war converted Asoka as a Buddhist and missionary.

Asoka’s Religion:

The Kalinga war was a turning point in the life of Asoka. So far as his religion was concerned. After the Kalinga war he embraced Buddhism. It was sanyasi Upagupta who converted him and acted as his spiritual guru. According to Kalhana, the author of Rajatarangini, before his conversion Asoka was a patron of Brahmanical religion and Shiva was his favorite deity. But the feeling of remorse and misery led him to embrace Buddhism after the Kalinga war.

According to tradition Upagupta the Buddhist monk converted him to Buddhism and acted as his spiritual guide. In the Bhabru Edict, he declares his faith in the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha. He regarded Buddha as a Bhagabat and visited the holy places associated with the life of Buddha. He always kept himself in close contact with the Samgha. In spite of his patronage to Buddhism, Asoka was tolerant to all the religions of his time.

Asoka’s Dhamma or Law of piety contained the following fundamental principles:

1. Mastery of Senses or Samyam.

2. Purity of thought or Bhavasuddhi.

3. Gratitude or Knitajnata.

4. Stead fastness of devotion or Dridh-Bhakti.

5. Kindness or Dya.

6. Charity or Dana.

7. Purity or Saucha.

8. Truthful or Satya.

9. Service or Sushrusa.

10. Reverenee-Apichiti.

The inscriptions of Asoka give us a clear idea about his religion. In the second Minor Rock Edict, it is mentioned that, “Father and mother must be obeyed; similarly, respect for living creatures must be enforced, truth must be spoken. These are the virtues of Law of piety which must be practiced.” In the Second Pillar Edict, Asoka mentioned that Dhamma consisted in little impiety, many good deeds, compassion, liberality, truthfulness and purity.”

Missionary Activities of Asoka :

The missionary activities of Asoka started from the tenth year of his reign. The Minor Rock Edict I records his success as a missionary. He exerted himself strenuously to propagate the religion in which he found solace and comfort of his life. Asoka adopted several measures for the spread of Buddhism. He went on tours to preach Buddhism. In the Rock Edict VIII he mentioned that in the tenth year of his reign he gave up Vihara Yatra or tours of pleasure and went on Dharma Yatra. He visited holy places of Buddhism and arranged religious discussions.

He ordered his officers like the Yuktas, Rajukas, Purushas and Pradeshikas to go on tours and preach his Law of Piety to the people in addition to their official duties. He appointed a special class of officials called Dhamma Mahamatras whose sole duty was to propagate Dharma among the people. He also convoked the third Buddhist council at Pataliputra to settle internal disputes.

With the consort of this council Asoka deputed missionaries to the various parts of the world. Majjhantika was sent to Kashmir and Gandhara, Maharakshita to Greek Country, Majjhima to Himalaya Country, Dharmarakshita to Aparantaka, Mahadharmarakshita to Maharastra, Mahadeva to Mahishamandala or Mysore, Rakshita to Varanasi or North Kanara, Sona and Uttara to Suvarnabhumi or Pegu and Sanghamitra and Mahendra Rashtriyg, Uttriya, Sambala and Bliadrasara to Lanka or Ceylon. He also sent missions to Egypt, Macedonia, Cyrene and Epirus. The names of missionaries, whose sphere of work lay in India proper, are preserved in Ceylonese literature.

Asoka adopted the most novel means to make the people realize the doctrines of Buddha, was to engrave them on rocks, pillars and caves throughout his vast dominions. Fourteen Rock Edicts are to be found at Shahbazgarhi, Mansera, Kalsi, Sopara, Girnar, Dhauli, Jaugada, Chitaldmg, Rupnath, Sahsram, Bairat, Maski and Bhabru. The Pillar Edicts are to be found at Jopara, Meerut, Kausambi, Lauriya, Araraj, Lauriya Nandangarh, Rampurva, Sanchi, Rummindei, and Nigliva. The principles, Law of piety displayed on the Rock Edicts, Pillar Edicts and caves must have helped the spread of Buddhism in the country.

Asoka tried to win over the goodwill of the people through philanthropic and benevolent activities. He introduced a series of humanitarian works. Although he didn’t abolish capital punishment, he provided a grace of three days to persons condemned with death. He ordered the planting of shady banyan tries and mango groves. He ordered the digging of wells and construction of rest-houses by the road side for the people.

Watering places were established both for men and animals. He made arrangements for the treatment of men and animals. He also planted medicinal herbs for the treatment of people. He also issued a series of comprehensive legislations to check slaughter and injury to animals. In Pillar Edict V he mentioned a long list of animals and birds that were not to be killed. He also abolished Samajas where animals were killed for distributing meat to the people.

Results of Asoka’s Missionary Activities :

Asoka’s missionary activities had far-reaching consequences. His foreign policy was influenced by it. He told the rulers of the neighbouring states that they should not be afraid of him but trust him. He not only sent missionaries to foreign countries but also maintained friendly relations with Tamil neighbours like Cholas, Pandyas, Satyaputra, Keralputra. The message of dhamma spread to Burma also. Ultimately China, Japan and Tibet were brought within the folds of Buddhism.

Indian art and architecture were also influenced. He substituted stone for wood for the construction of Pillars. He popularised lithic style. He also constructed 84,000 stupas. Brahmi script and Pali language were used by Asoka for preaching Dhamma. Because of his effort, Pali became the state lanaugage and Bramhi was used as the national script all over the country except extreme north-west.

The political effects of Asoka’s missionary activities were not encouraging. He gave up the policy of conquest and followed a policy of non-violence in foreign relations. It has rightly been pointed out that a period of stagnation set in the history of India. The non-violence policy demoralized the army and the people.

By abandoning the aggressive imperial policy, Asoka weakened the very foundations of the empire. Hence after the death of Asoka, a decline started in Maurya body politic. However, one should remember the great saying of Thucydides that all mortal glory is doomed to destruction, but the memory of greatness lives forever.

Asoka occupies an important place in history for his policy of peace, non-violence and cultural conquest. He preached and practised the virtues of concord, toleration and non-violence. Thus in the words of H.G. Wells “Amidst the tens and thousands of names of monarchs that crowd the columns of history, their majesty’s graciousness, and serenities and royal highness and the like, the name of Asoka shines alone almost as a star.

From the Volga to Japan, his name is still honoured. China, Tibet and even India, though it has left his doctrine, preserve the tradition of his greatness. More living men cherish his memory today than have heard the names of constantine or Charlemanue. He was the living embodiment of his time and he comes before us as quite a modern figure.”

Related Articles:

  • The Achievements of Ashoka (Study Notes)
  • Ashoka’s Policy of Dhamma | History of India
  • Impact of the Kalinga War on Ashoka
  • Biography of Ashoka: Early Life, Kalinga War and Reforms

Essay on Ashoka the Great

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Short Essay on Ashoka

My favourite hero in history is Ashoka the Great. Many kings have lived and ceased to be; nobody remembers them, but Ashoka’s name will live till the world lasts.

He was a kind ruler. All his time was spent in thinking of the welfare of his subjects. He himself attended to even the minute details of his administration. His one desire was to make his subjects happy. His subjects could meet him at any time and in any place. No place, not even his private place, was forbidden to them. He had trees planted on either side of the roads; he had wells dug by the road-side; he had rest-houses and hospitals built for both men and animals. He, therefore, came to be known as Ashoka the Great. He was a wise and righteous ruler and was truly called the Father of the People.

Ashoka waged only one war early in his reign. He saw the horror of it; he vowed never to go to war again. He said, “I have seen the horror of victory. I shall not draw the sword again, except to defend my country against invasion. My dreams are broken and dead, but today I begin a new dream. Instead of battle, I will give my people safety; instead of war, I will give them peace.” And he kept his vow. His reign was a reign of peace. He gave his people lasting peace and made such laws for them as were just, wide and fair.

Ashoka became a Buddhist and sent out bands of missionaries to all parts of the country to preach Buddhism. He is famous for the pillars he set up in all parts of his kingdom, inscribed with his edicts. His aim in life was to establish in the hearts of his people Dharma or Righteousness. The chief principles of this Dharma were reverence to superiors, including animals; and truthfulness in thought, word and deed. He banned the killing of animals altogether, for either sport or meat-eating.

Ashoka was more of a saint than of a ruler. He was a saint because his main desire was to make his subjects virtuous and noble, wise and good. He cared more for their souls than for their bodies.

What greater tribute can Free India pay to the memory of this great and good king than this, that the National Flag .

Long Essay on Ashoka

In the annals of the world history, there have been many kings, but none greater than Ashoka. Popularly known as ‘Devanampriya Priyadarsi’ (He who is the beloved of the Gods and who regards everyone amiably), he reigned over most of India, South Asia and beyond. His story tells us that religion can act as a powerful force for the redemption of a human being. According to Buddhist traditions, Ashoka was born as the son of the Mauryan emperor Bindusara by a relatively lower ranked queen named Dharma. The Avadana texts mention that his mother was queen Subhadrangi. He was the grandson of another great king and the founder of the Mauryan dynasty, Chandragupta Maurya. But defying all odds, young Ashoka excelled in military and academic disciplines. There was a great deal of sibling rivalry, especially between Ashoka and his brother Sushim, both as warriors and as administrators.

An impeccable warrior general and a shrewd statesman, Ashoka was very popular. He was a fearsome hunter, and according to a legend, killed a lion with just a wooden rod. His growing popularity made his elder brothers wary of his chances of being favoured by Bindusara to become the next emperor. The eldest of them, Prince Sushim, persuaded Bindusara to send Ashoka to Takshashila to quell an uprising.

But as news of Ashoka’s visit with his army trickled in, he was welcomed by the revolting militias and the uprising ended without a fight. Some more incitements from Sushim led his father to send Ashoka into exile. So, he went to Kalinga and stayed there incognito for many years. Meanwhile, there was a violent uprising in Ujjain. Emperor Bindusara summoned Ashoka back. Ashoka went to Ujjain and was injured in the ensuing battle, but his generals continued the fight. Ashoka was treated in hiding by Buddhist monks and nuns. This is where he first learnt the teachings of Buddha. In the meantime, Ashoka’s father was taken ill. A clique of ministers lead by Radhagupta, summoned Ashoka to take the crown. As the Buddhist lore goes, in a fit of rage, Ashoka attacked Patliputra and killed all his brothers and threw their bodies into a well. At this stage, many called him ‘Chandashoka’ meaning murderer and heartless Ashoka.

Brave and full of valour, after ascending the throne, Ashoka expanded the boundaries of his empire. At this point, he was called ‘Chakravarti’ which means ‘he for whom the wheel of law turns’. However, the conquest of Kalinga turned the wheel of fortune for him. As the tale goes, Kalinga gave official refuge to Ashoka’s enemy (probably one of his brothers). This enraged Ashoka and he asked Kalinga’s royalty to submit before his supremacy. When they defied this dictat, Ashoka sent one of his generals to make Kalinga submit to his supremacy. However, Ashoka’s general and his forces were completely routed. Baffled by this defeat, Ashoka attacked with the greatest invasion ever recorded in the Indian history till then. The whole of Kalinga was plundered and destroyed. After this devastation, Ashoka was left speechless. While he was walking through the battlefields of Kalinga after his conquest, he saw thousands of dead bodies lying there and the wailing of people. He was constantly haunted by his deeds in Kalinga.

The repentance at the brutality of the conquest led him to embrace Buddhism. He undertook a 256-day pilgrimage to holy places of Buddhism in North India. From that point, Ashoka, who had been described as ‘the cruel Ashoka’ (Chandashoka) started to be described as ‘the pious Ashoka’ (Dharmashoka). He propagated the Vighajjavada School of Buddhism and preached it within his domain and worldwide from about 250 BC.

Emperor Ashoka, undoubtedly, has to be credited with the first serious attempt to develop a Buddhist policy. He built thousands of stupas and viharas for Buddhist followers (about 84,000 such monuments were built). The stupas of Sanchi are world famous and the stupa named Sanchi Stupa I was built by Emperor Ashoka. During the remaining period of Ashoka’s reign, he pursued an official policy of non-violence called ahimsa. The unnecessary slaughter of animals was immediately abolished. Moreover, rest houses were built throughout the empire to house travellers and pilgrims free of charge. Egalitarianism became a norm for the society. Slavery was non-existent in ancient India. Ashoka amalgamated Buddhism with material issues of concern, thus fulfilling Buddha’s wish of alleviation of people’s sufferings. To that effect, Ashoka had wells dug, irrigation canals and roads constructed. Other than rest houses, he also built hospitals, gardens and plantations of herbs.

To propagate his faith, the great Ashoka who believed in ‘dharma’, built many edicts. The Ashoka Pillar at Sarnath is the most popular relic left by him. Made of sandstone, it records the visit of the emperor to Sarnath in the 3rd century BC. It has a four-lion capital, which was adopted as the emblem of modern Indian republic. Ashoka ruled for an estimated 40 years, (273BC – 232 BC) and after his death, the Maurya dynasty lasted just 50 more years. But Ashoka’s greatest legacy is the first written language in India. Rather than Sanskrit, the language used for inscription was one of the current spoken form called Prakrit. One of his monument’s inscription read:

“All men are my children and I, the king, forgive what can be forgiven.”

He modified his foreign policy from that of expansionism to a peaceful co-existence with neighbours. He avoided any further conquests of territories and announced that conquests should be of human desires. He strived to spread ‘right conduct’ among his people. Ashoka’s loftiness and his prowess can be gauged from the fact that it was not until some 2,000 years later under Akbar and his great-grandson Aurangzeb, that a portion as large as the sub-continent could be again united under a single ruler. Science fiction novelist HG Wells rightly says:

“Amidst the tens of thousands of names of monarchs that crowd the columns of history, their majesties and graciousness and serenities and royal highnesses and the like, the name of Ashoka shines and shines, almost alone, a star.”

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Essay on Ashoka

Students are often asked to write an essay on Ashoka in their schools and colleges. And if you’re also looking for the same, we have created 100-word, 250-word, and 500-word essays on the topic.

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100 Words Essay on Ashoka

Introduction.

Ashoka was one of the most powerful kings of the Indian subcontinent. He ruled the Maurya Empire from 268 to 232 BCE.

Ashoka was born in 304 BCE. As a young prince, he was a brilliant commander and a fierce warrior.

After ascending the throne, Ashoka expanded his empire. However, the Kalinga war changed him. He embraced Buddhism and promoted peace.

Ashoka’s edicts, carved on pillars and rocks throughout the empire, show his dedication to non-violence, tolerance, and welfare of his subjects. His rule is considered a high point in Indian history.

250 Words Essay on Ashoka

Ashoka, also known as Ashoka the Great, was one of the most powerful and influential rulers in the history of India. Ascending the throne of the Maurya Empire in 269 BCE, Ashoka’s reign marked a significant turning point in Indian history.

Rule and Transformation

Initially, Ashoka was a fierce and ruthless ruler, expanding his empire through brutal wars. However, the Kalinga War marked a turning point. The war’s brutality and massive loss of life deeply affected Ashoka, leading to a transformation. He embraced Buddhism, renounced violence, and dedicated his life to peace and welfare of his people.

Legacy of Ashoka

Ashoka’s legacy is unique. He is remembered not for his military conquests, but for his transformative journey from a ruthless king to a benevolent ruler. He propagated the principles of Buddhism, not by force, but through inscriptions known as Ashoka’s Edicts. These edicts, carved on pillars and rocks throughout his empire, promoted moral and ethical norms, including respect for all life, non-violence, and tolerance.

Ashoka’s reign is a testament to the power of personal transformation and the potential for a ruler to use their power for the welfare of their people. His legacy, encapsulated in his edicts, continues to influence modern Indian ethos and values. Ashoka’s story is a powerful reminder of the impact one individual can have when they commit to principles of peace and compassion.

500 Words Essay on Ashoka

Ashoka, also known as Ashoka the Great, was an Indian emperor of the Maurya Dynasty who ruled almost the entire Indian subcontinent from 268 to 232 BCE. His reign is considered a significant period in Indian history due to his remarkable shift from warmonger to an advocate of non-violence and peace, following the bloodshed of the Kalinga War.

Early Life and Ascension to Power

Born in 304 BCE, Ashoka was the son of Mauryan Emperor Bindusara and one of his queens, Dharma. He ascended to the throne in 268 BCE, after a series of political maneuvers and battles. Initially, Ashoka continued the militaristic policies of his predecessors, expanding his empire through conquests.

The Kalinga War and Transformation

The turning point in Ashoka’s life was the Kalinga War in 261 BCE, a conflict marked by immense bloodshed and suffering. The brutality of the war, which resulted in the death of over 100,000 soldiers and civilians, deeply affected Ashoka. He experienced a profound transformation, embracing Buddhism and adopting a policy of non-violence or ‘Ahimsa’.

Ashoka’s Dhamma

Post his conversion, Ashoka propagated ‘Dhamma’, a system of ethical and moral duties. This was not merely a religious shift but a socio-political one. His Dhamma was a unique blend of moral teachings, administrative efficiency, and welfare schemes. He erected pillars and rock edicts across his empire, inscribing them with his policies and moral codes, promoting peace, compassion, and respect for all life forms.

Contributions to Buddhism

Ashoka’s conversion to Buddhism had a profound impact on the religion’s spread. He built numerous stupas and monasteries and sent missionaries to regions beyond his empire, including Sri Lanka, Nepal, and parts of West Asia and North Africa. His efforts played a crucial role in making Buddhism a world religion.

Ashoka’s Legacy

Ashoka’s reign marked a significant departure from the traditional ethos of kingship. His focus on moral and ethical governance, welfare policies, and propagation of peace and non-violence set him apart. Despite his early military conquests, he is remembered as a pacifist emperor, a unique figure in the annals of history.

Ashoka’s life and reign embody a fascinating narrative of transformation and moral leadership. His shift from a conqueror to a compassionate ruler, coupled with his efforts to spread Buddhism and his vision of Dhamma, make him a figure of historical significance. His legacy continues to resonate in modern times, reminding us of the potential for change and the power of ethical governance.

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Ashoka The Great

Ashoka the Great was emperor of the Maurya Dynasty who ruled the Indian subcontinent from 269 BC to 232 BC. His kingdom stretched from Pakistan and Afghanistan in the west to Bangaldesh and Assam in the east, and as far as Kerala and Andhra Pradesh in the East. Ashoka was headquartered in Magadha (Bihar).

Early Life of Asoka the Great

Ashoka in his younger days is said to have had a massive temper and was also very wicked and cruel. He once put his ministers through a loyalty test in which he killed 500 of them. He was also nicknamed Chand Ashoka which means ‘Ashoka the Fierce’ for having built a horrific torture chamber.

On ascending the throne, Ashoka expanded his empire to regions in Iran, Persia and Afghanistan over the next eight years. The battle of Kalinga would be the one that would change his life forever.

Kalinga was a rich and fertile land situated between the Godavari and Mahanadi rivers. This was the only land left to conquer. The people of Kalinga refused to bow down to Ashoka’s rule, however, they were also no match for Ashoka’s army. It is said that in this battle alone more than 100,000 soldiers lost their lives and many civilians who rose up in defence were deported.

After his conquest, Ashoka, while walking through the grounds, was moved by the number of bodies and the wails of the families of the dead. He saw burnt houses and scattered corpses which made him sick and he cried the famous monologue:

What have I done? If this is a victory, what’s a defeat then? Is this a victory or a defeat? Is this justice or injustice? Is it gallantry or a rout? Is it valor to kill innocent children and women? Do I do it to widen the empire and for prosperity or to destroy the other’s kingdom and splendor? One has lost her husband, someone else a father, someone a child, someone an unborn infant…. What’s this debris of corpses? Are these marks of victory or defeat? Are these vultures, crows, eagles the messengers of death or evil?

Why Ashoka the Great Adopted Buddhism?

Ashoka adopted Buddhism soon after and embraced the message of love, peace and kindness that Buddha taught. He made Buddhism his state religion, propagated it and preached it within his kingdom as well as in other parts of the world. He built thousands of stupas and viharas which can still be seen even today.

For the rest of his life, Ashoka pursued a policy of nonviolence (Ahimsa). Unnecessary slaughter of animals was abolished. Hunting was now limited. Ashoka also promoted the concept of vegetarianism.

Ashoka built many universities, water transit and irrigation systems for trade and agriculture. He treated his subjects as equals, regardless of their religion, politics and caste. He is also acclaimed for constructing hospitals for animals and renovating major roads throughout India.

This transformation led to people calling him Dhammashoka, meaning Ashoka, the follower of Dharma (duty or proper behavior). Ashoka defined dharma as nonviolence, tolerance of all sects and opinions, obedience to parents, respect for the Brahmans and other religious teachers and priests, liberality towards friends, humane treatment of servants, and generosity towards all.

The source of our knowledge about Ashoka is the many inscriptions he had carved on pillars and rocks throughout the empire. All his inscriptions show compassionate loving. He addressed all his people as his “children.”

After 40 years of rule, at the age of 72, in 232 BC, Ashoka breathed his last. He left behind a legacy as an able ruler, lawmaker, hero, monk and noble preacher of dharma. Ashoka was the last of the great kings of the Mauryan dynasty, which fell apart fifty years later.

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Hi maria ashoka was the greatest king in Indian history who ruled the Indian subcontinent and was a fierce warrior who transformed into a messenger of peace.and he expended his empire good did for his people which made him the greatest king inindianhistory

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Ashoka: essay on ashoka (700 words.

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Read this comprehensive essay on Ashoka the Great (268 B.C. – 233 B. C.)

Ashoka Vardhana, popularly known as Ashoka, succeeded his father emperor Bindusara in 273 BC. Before that he had been a very successful Viceroy first at Takhshila and then at Ujjain. He ruled over a vast and united kingdom of India for 41 years.

We know much about his kingdom and rein from his rock edicts and pillar inscriptions spread all over the country. The Kalinga war, which he waged to acquire and annexed the country of that name, was a very terrible war in which thousands of people died and many more were wounded and maimed.

It proved a turning point in his life. Filled with great remorse and repentance, he renounced war and violence forever and became a devout Buddhist. Earlier he was a Hindu and worshipper of Shiva. The Kalinga war made him realize that true conquest was in the conquest of the hearts of the people. Haunted by remorse, pity and repentance he sought refuge in Buddhism and engaged himself in the well being and happiness of his subjects. He used to say, “All people are my children.”

Ashoka

Patliputra (modern Patna) was his capital city. He further enlarged and consolidated his empire which spread to the Hindu Kush, Afghanistan in the north-west to Nepal in the north-east and from Kashmir in the north to Mysore and Madras in the south.

Baluchistan, Makran, Sindh, Cutch, Swat, including Kashmir and Nepal were parts of his huge empire. There were many small autonomous States as well which owed obedience to the Emperor and paid regular homage to him. The vast territory of the empire was ruled by 5-6 Viceroys. Takshila, Toshali, Ujjain and Suvarngiri were the chief centres of administration and governance.

After his initiation into Buddhism, Ashoka made a pilgrimage to the principal holy places and centres of Buddhism which included Lumbini Park, the birthplace of Siddhartha Gautam, Kushinagar where Buddha entered into final nirvana and Bodh Gaya were Buddha attained enlightenment.

He also became a monk temporarily and assumed the holy garb of a bhikku. He also raised grand holy monuments at centres of Buddhist pilgrimage. He gave up hunting, meat-eating and violence in their all forms and manifestations. The promotion of religion and the teaching of morals became his life’s mission. He prohibited the slaughter of animals and birds and urged and ordained his subjects to follow ahimsa or non-injury.

To spread Buddhism and the message of love, peace and non-violence he sent missions to various places outside his kingdom. One such mission to Ceylon was led by his son Mahindra. He also called the Great Buddhist council at Patliputra.

Ashoka ruled over his vast empire according to the Buddhist dharma and law. He has been called a great and the just king because of his piety, compassion and his mission to spread Buddhism. He was tolerant of other religions and religious sects.

In a pillar edict he had proclaimed that he had “Bunyan trees planted for shade to beasts and well dug and rest houses built-every nine miles.” Buddha wanted that kings should be protective and generous and Ashoka confirmed to this injunction both in letter and spirit.

Most of his inscriptions are in Prakrit dialects which were spoken in northern India, but in the far eastern regions in Afghanistan etc. they were in Greek. Ashoka’s column has four lion capital which symbolize both his imperial rule and the kingship of Buddha.

The famous Ashokan column’s famous lion capital is now preserved at Sarnath, near Varanasi. Ashokan column with four lions is the emblem of modern Indian State. A tradition would have us believe that Ashoka died at Takhshila but it is not known how he died.

He was succeeded by his two grandsons named Dasharatha in the eastern and Samprati in the western region. Perhaps Brihadratha was the last Mauryan king who was slain in 185 BC by his own commander-in-chief Pushpamitra Sung who established a new dynasty known as the Sunga Dynasty.

Related Articles:

  • The Decline of Buddhism in India (8 Factors)
  • The Historical Significance of Ashoka’s Inscriptions | History

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10 Major Achievements of Ashoka the Great

Chakravartin (universal ruler) Ashoka , more popularly known now as Ashoka the Great, was a prominent Emperor of Bharatvarsha (present day Indian Subcontinent) in 3rd century BCE . It is estimated that he was born in 304 BCE . Ashoka was the descendant of Chandragupta Maurya ; another prominent Indian monarch who had vanquished the Nanda Dynasty and established the Maurya Dynasty with the help of his guru Chanakya. Ashoka inherited vast territory from his father Bindusara, expanded his kingdom and ruled almost the entire Indian subcontinent from 268 BCE to 232 BCE . His reign over the vast empire would largely bring peace, harmony, and prosperity to the land , making him one of the most esteemed monarchs in noted history . Ashoka’s rule also saw the flourishing of art and architecture in his kingdom which saw the construction of numerous infrastructures and fabulous works, some of which stand to date. He is also known to have adopted several welfare measures for the public and is the first monarch known to have advocated conservation measures for wildlife . In the present context, Ashoka is mostly remembered for his transformation into a peaceful king and his active role in the spread of Buddhism across Ancient Asia . The founding fathers of the Modern Republic of India, more than 2 millennium later, would seek inspiration from his rule and adapt the Lion Capital of Ashoka as the National Emblem of the state . Here are the 10 most important accomplishments of Ashoka the Great.

#1 HE EXCELLED IN HIS RESPONSIBILITIES FROM AN EARLY AGE

According to the Ashokavandana (narrative of Ashoka) , the second Mauryan Emperor Bindusara disliked his ugly looking son Ashoka. While in his 20s, Ashoka was dispatched to the prominent city of Takshashila (presently located in Pakistan) by Bindusara to suppress a rebellion in the region. The city was approximately 1500 km from the Mauriyan capital of Patliputra (present day Patna in India), and Bindusara possibly wanted Ashoka to fail in this endeavor. However the young prince was quick to march on his fathers orders, took control of the situation and successfully excelled in his responsibility. The mention of the rebellion is however absent from preserved Sri Lankan texts like the Mahavamsa. According to them, Bindusara appointed Asoka as the Viceroy of the Ujjain Province ; an important administrative and commercial center in Central India, during that era. Ashoka excelled in this role and gave signs of being a capable administrator. Considering either or both of these sources, it may be noted that Ashoka was given important responsibilities in his early years , despite him being out of favor with his father.

Main Sources:- Ashokavandana: an Indian Sanskrit language text and part of the avandana literature which comprises of an anthology of Buddhist legends and narratives. Possibly written by Buddhist monks in and around the Mathura region (presently in Uttar Pradesh, India). Some versions date as early as 2nd Century CE, with oral origins estimated to go back to 2nd Century BCE. Mahavamsa: an ancient epic poem written in the Pali language and dated to 5th Century CE. Relates the history of the Island of Lanka from its legendary beginnings up till the reign of King Mahasena of Anuradhapur (5th Century CE). Strong, John S. (1989). “The Legend of King Aśoka: A Study and Translation of the Aśokāvadāna.” p 208. Motilal Banarsidass. Lahiri, Nayanjot (2015). “Ashoka in Ancient India” . p 89-90. Harvard University Press.

King Ashoka on his chariot

#2 THE MAURYA EMPIRE REACHED ITS GREATEST TERRITORIAL EXTENT UNDER ASHOKA

Evidence suggests that Ashoka was not the crown prince of the Mauryan empire. After the death of Bindusara, political struggles continued for some years, and Ashoka emerged to be officially crowned as emperor around 269 BCE . Ashokavandana recognizes Bindusara’s eldest son Sushima as the crown prince, and Ashoka as the usurper who, along with his supporters, eliminated Sushima and any other threats to his becoming the emperor . Mahavamsa suggests that Ashoka returned from Ujjain to Patliputra to claim the throne and eliminated his eldest brother in the event. It further states that Ashoka killed 99 of his half-brothers during his struggle for the ascension of the throne . Sri Lankan text Dipavamsa (“Chronicle of the Island”) puts the number at 100 while 16th century Tibetan monk Taranath puts it at 6 . Historians agree that numbers like 99 and 100 may be exaggerations to contrast Ashoka’s future transformation as a Buddhist, or simply a way of stating that Ashoka killed several of his brothers. Ashoka was officially crowned as the King at the age of 35 years . As a monarch he was ambitious and brutally aggressive in his early reign. He expanded the Maurya Empire further to reign over a realm stretching from present-day Afghanistan in the west to Bangladesh in the east . It covered the entire Indian subcontinent except for parts of present-day Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Kerala . The empire’s capital was Pataliputra (in Magadha, present-day Patna), with provincial capitals at Taxila and Ujjain . The Maurya Empire reached its greatest territorial extent during the reign of Ashoka.

Main Sources:- Lahiri, Nayanjot (2015). “Ashoka in Ancient India” . p 101-102. Harvard University Press. Guruge, Ananda W. P. (1993). “Aśoka, the Righteous: A Definitive Biography” . p 28. Central Cultural Fund.

Ashoka Empire map

#3 HE OVERSAW 40 YEARS OF PEACE AND PROSPERITY

There is agreement in both North Indian and Sri Lankan Buddhist traditions that Ashoka was a violent person in his early years as a prince and a king. The Ashokavadana refers to him as “ Chandashoka” (Ashoka the fierce) , and describes several of his cruel acts during his early reign.

Kalinga , located on the east coast of the Indian subcontinent, in the present-day state of Odisha and northern parts of Andhra Pradesh, was a prosperous region consisting of important ports and a powerful navy. In around 262 BCE and in the 8th year of his rule , Ashoka set his eyes on the kingdom. A large Mauryan Army marched to Kalinga and following a fierce battle, Ashoka was finally victorious . The bloody campaign however killed an estimated 100,000 soldiers and civilians , including over 10,000 of Ashoka’s own tribe . A further 150,000 were taken as prisoners while numerous others were adversely affected by hunger, destruction and the fallout of war . In popular perception Ashoka began feeling remorse and was deeply moved by the massacre in this war. This caused him to convert to Buddhism.

According to the Ashoka’s Major Edict 13 , the repentance of this massacre caused Ashoka to devote himself to the practice and propagation of dharma. Ashoka proclaims that he now considered the slaughter, death and deportation caused during the conquest of a country painful and deplorable ; and that he considered the suffering caused to the religious people and householders even more deplorable. However, it is also important to note that the edict which is found inscribed in several places across what was Ashoka’s empire, is missing in the Kalinga region . Moreover, the inscriptions found in the Kalinga area find no mention of any remorse . Also there is little evidence that links Ashoka’s conversation to Buddhism to the Kalinga war . The Sri Lankan texts date his conversion to his 4th regnal year , and note that he constructed 84,000 viharas during his 5th–7th regnal years . Also a minor rock edict issued in his 13th regnal year suggests that he had become a Buddhist around the same time .

Ashoka Edict in Lauriya Araraj

Ancient texts do not mention any other military activity of Ashoka. In his later reign the Emperor took to Dharma (Dhamma in Pali) and came to be known as Dhammashoka . His new policy of peace and non-violence in the realm of inter-state relation marked the beginning of an era of more than 40 years of relative peace, harmony and prosperity.

Main Sources:- Lahiri, Nayanjot (2015). “Ashoka in Ancient India” . P105,135. Harvard University Press. Sanyal, Sanjeev (Sep 13, 2016) “The truth about Ashoka” . Swarajyamag.com. Guruge, Ananda W. P. (1995). “Emperor Aśoka and Buddhism: Unresolved Discrepancies between Buddhist Tradition & Aśokan Inscriptions” . In Anuradha Seneviratna (ed.). King Aśoka and Buddhism: Historical and Literary Studies.

#4 HE PLAYED A KEY ROLE IN SPREADING BUDDHISM

Among the most powerful Emperors in history, Ashoka played a vital role in helping spread the message of Gautama Buddha around the world. He not only incorporated principles of Buddhism in his ruling practices but promoted Buddhist expansion by sending monks to surrounding territories including Greece, Burma, Nepal, Tibet, central Asia, China and Japan . According to the Sri Lankan tradition, Moggaliputta-Tissa (Buddhist monk from Patliputra) who was patronized by Ashoka sent out nine Buddhist missions to spread Buddhism in the “border areas” around 250 BCE . The Rock Edict XIII states that Ashoka’s won a “dhamma victory” by sending messengers to five kings and several other kingdoms. Furthermore, he also sent his only daughter, Sanghamitra , and son, Mahindra , to spread Buddhism in Sri Lanka , where it is still a major religion

Painting of Ashoka and Monk Moggaliputta-Tissa

Ashoka’s support and sponsorship of the Buddhist way of life had far reaching consequences , that may be observed through the religious and spiritual histories of several countries, especially in Asia. With time traditional practices and philosophies of Buddhism became redefined and regionally distinct. In his efforts to propagate Buddhism, Ashoka also built several shrines and monasteries and inscribed Buddhist teachings on rocks and pillars in many places .

It may also be noted that keeping in line with the Dharmic family of religions (Indic origins), despite Ashoka’s vigorous exertions of faith, there is little evidence of him being prejudiced against any other . Ashoka’s edicts, such as the Rock Edicts 6, 7, and 12, emphasize tolerance of all sects . In his Rock Edict 12, Ashoka honors people of all faiths. In his inscriptions, Ashoka dedicates caves to non-Buddhist ascetics, and repeatedly states that both Brahmins and shramanas deserved respect. The Ashokavandana however does mention few instances of violence in his later reign including some against the Jains .

Main Sources:- Gombrich, Richard (1995). “Aśoka – The Great Upāsaka”. In Anuradha Seneviratna (ed.). “King Aśoka and Buddhism: Historical and Literary Studies” . P10-11. Buddhist Publication Society. Strong, John S. (1995). “Images of Aśoka: Some Indian and Sri Lankan Legends and their Development”. In Anuradha Seneviratna (ed.). King Aśoka and Buddhism: Historical and Literary Studies . Buddhist Publication Society.

#5 HE ADOPTED MANY WELFARE MEASURES FOR PEOPLE

As per various inscriptions of Ashoka, he devoted himself to the propagation of Dhamma, or following of the teachings of Gautama Buddha. He pursued the path of peace and non-violence, adopted a humanitarian approach towards governance & policy and introduced a large number of social welfare measures . These included establishment of medical treatment facilities for humans and animals and plantation of medicinal herbs (Rock Edict 2). The Mauryan Emperor ordered that the roads in the kingdom should be equipped with trees, wells and inns for the convenience of the passer-by and travelers (Pillar Edict 7). Death punishment was abolished (Pillar Edict 4) and the king encouraged obedience to parents, generosity toward priests and ascetics , and frugality in spending . Ashoka also instituted administrative positions like the dhamma-mahamattas , people who were made responsible for the welfare of the aged, the women and children , and various religious sects . They were also sent on diplomatic missions to the Hellenistic kingdoms of west Asia , in order to propagate the dhamma.

Main Sources:- Strong, John S. (1989). “The Legend of King Aśoka: A Study and Translation of the Aśokāvadāna” . P3-4. Motilal Banarsidass. Singh, Upinder (2012). “Governing the State and the Self: Political Philosophy and Practice in the Edicts of Aśoka”. p 131. South Asian Studies. University of Delhi.

Asokan pillar at Vaishali

#6 ART AND ARCHITECTURE FLOURISHED DURING HIS REIGN

During the reign of Ashoka, art & architecture reached the highest level. Ashoka’s Pillars (Sthambhas) are the best surviving specimens of Mauryan Art . They were made out of single stones cut out from the grey Chunar. There are about 30 pillars installed at different places in the Indian subcontinent. Some of the more popular pillars exist at Rampurva, Lauriya, Nandangarh, Sarnath and Sanchi . Out of all the Mauryan Columns, the Sarnath Pillar (Lion Capital) is the most celebrated surviving monument of the Ashokan era . Carved with exquisite beauty, it has an inverted lotus with petals, and has the beautiful depiction of four Asiatic lions seated back to back . The lions are noted to symbolize power, courage, pride and confidence. The capital of one of the pillars erected by Ashoka features a carving of a spoked wheel , known as the Ashoka Chakra . This wheel represents the wheel of Dhamma set in motion by the Gautama Buddha . The period of Ashoka also witnessed the construction of 84,000 Buddhist stupas which were constructed all across the Indian subcontinent to celebrate the achievements of Gautama Buddha. Among the several Ashokan Stupas that survive today, the ones at Bharut and Sanchi hold immense popularity. The Great Sanchi Stupa , has also been declared as a World Heritage Site by UNECSO .

The Great Stupa at Sanchi

Apart from the Pillars & Stupas, the inscriptions of Ashoka hold valuable historical value as they are a very reliable source of the history of his reign. Ashokan Inscriptions located throughout the subcontinent fall under 3 Divisions: Rock Inscriptions, Pillar Inscriptions, and Cave Inscriptions . The edicts of Ashoka refer to a collection of 33 inscriptions on the Pillars of Ashoka . The inscriptions may be found from as far west as Afghanistan , and as far south as Andhra (Nellore District) . Ashoka’s edicts state his policies and accomplishments. Most of Ashoka’s inscriptions are written in a mixture of various Prakrit dialects, in the Brahmi Script. However Ashoka’s inscriptions have also been found in Greek and the Aramaic language of the First Persian Empire . The most famous ones include the Kandahar Bilingual Rock Inscription , written in Greek and Aramaic, the Kandahar Greek Edict of Ashoka , the KAI 273 in Takshashila and the Laghmann I inscription; the later two being written in Aramaic.

Main Sources:- Lahiri, Nayanjot (2015). “Ashoka in Ancient India” . P126. Harvard University Press. Saranya, V. “ Art and Architectural Grandeur under Emperor Ashoka the Great ”. Journal of Advances and Scholarly Researches in Allied Education. Singh, Upinder (2012). “Governing the State and the Self: Political Philosophy and Practice in the Edicts of Aśoka”. South Asian Studies. University of Delhi. Saxena, Saurabh (Apr 17, 2014). “ Edicts of Ashoka – Laghman Edicts ”. Puratattva.in.

#7 ASHOKA WAS THE FIRST RULER TO ADVOCATE CONSERVATION MEASURES

Ashoka is recognized by many historians as the first ruler in known history to advocate conservation measures for wildlife. After his embrace of Buddhism, he implemented principles of “Ahimsa” or non-violence by relinquishing the royal hunting practices and animal sacrifices . He is known to have restricted the killing of animals in the royal kitchen (Rock Edict 1); the number of animals killed was limited to two peacocks and a deer daily, and in future, even these animals were not to be killed. Ashoka banned the killing of female goats, sheep and pigs that were nursing their young . Slaughter of young animals, fishes and birds was also prohibited . Apart from that, Ashoka went on further to established free veterinary hospitals and dispensaries in Pataliputra . An act unmatched by even the most progressive modern states today .

Main Sources:- Gombrich, Richard (1995). “Aśoka – The Great Upāsaka”. In Anuradha Seneviratna (ed.). King Aśoka and Buddhism: Historical and Literary Studies . p 3. Buddhist Publication Society. Dhammika, Ven. S. (1993 Translations) “The Edicts of King Asoka” . Buddhist Publication Society. “Learn from Ashoka, it’s about animal welfare” . Economic Times.

#8 THE EMBLEM OF INDIA IS AN ADAPTATION OF THE LION CAPITAL OF ASHOKA

The National Emblem of the Modern Republic of India , is an adaptation of the Lion Capital of Ashoka . It was adopted on 26 January 1950 , as the State Emblem of India on the first Republic day of the country . One of the finest examples of Mauryan Sculpture, the capital has four Asiatic lions seated back to back, which symbolize power, courage, pride and confidence. It mounted on a circular base. At the bottom, there is a horse and a bull , and at its centre is a Wheel (Dharma Chakra) . The bull represents hard work and steadfastness , while the horse represents loyalty, speed and energy . The Emblem forms a part of the official letterhead of the Government of India and appears on all Indian currency and on Indian passports . The Ashoka Chakra taken from its base may also be seen at the center of the Indian National Flag . Also called the dharma chakra (wheel of duty) , it contains 24 spokes which denote the 24 gunas (qualities) in a human being. The usage of the emblem is regulated and restricted under State Emblem of India (Prohibition of Improper Use) Act, 2005 under which, no individual or private organization is permitted to use the emblem for official correspondence.

Main Source:- Singh, Hemant (Aug 14, 2020). “What is the meaning of 24 spokes of Ashok Chakra?” . Jagranjosh.com.

Lion Capital of Ashoka

#9 HE SERVES AS AN INSPIRATION FOR HIS REMARKABLE TRANSFORMATION

Ashoka was among the most prominent kings of the ancient world but his name was lost for several centuries. The puranas (ancient literature from India) did mention him but left out any other details. In 1837, British scholar and orientalist James Prinsep deciphered the Brahmi script , thus beginning the rediscovery of Ashoka . Prinsep had originally identified the “Priyadasi” of the inscriptions he found with the King of Ceylon Devanampiya Tissa . However, in 1837, George Turnour discovered an important Sri Lankan manuscript (Dipavamsa, or “Island Chronicle”), associating Piyadasi with Ashoka . It is since then that Ashoka has come to be recognized as one of the most fascinating ancient monarchs . Ashoka’s transformation from a despotic, ambitious and cruel ruler to the Emperor who embraced Buddhism and actively pursued its non violent path is exemplary. His decision to renounce war, his insistence on religious tolerance and his peaceful efforts in establishing Buddhism as a major world religion remain relevant and continue to be appreciated by many. Owing to his unique place in history, as an inspiring monarch who combined successful kingship with idealism and philosophy, Ashoka has been a subject of popular culture in several artworks, books and films. Some notable mentions include:-

  • A 1973 graphic novel published by Amar Chitra Katha , on the life of Ashoka
  • “Ashok ki Chinta” (Ashoka’s anxiety) , a poem composed by famous Hindi writer Jaishankar Prasad
  • In 2002 , American Folk-Pop Singer-Songwriter Mason Jennings released the song “Emperor Ashoka” , on the life of the monarch.
  • Asoka , a fictional Indian Historical Drama Film was released in 2001 , based on the early life of the Mauryan Emperor.

Main Sources:- Allen, Charles (2012). “Ashoka: The Search for India’s Lost Emperor” . Hachette. Mark, Joshua J, (Jun 24, 2020). “ Ashoka the Great .” ancient.eu.

Asoka movie poster

#10 HE SPONSORED THE CONSTRUCTION OF NUMEROUS INFRASTRUCTURE PROJECTS

Under the rule of Ashoka, there existed a separate administration/ department which was responsible for the revenue collection . Numerous Public Projects were funded, with proper budget allocation to enhance productivity. Construction of thousands of roads, waterways, canals, rest houses, hospitals, and other types of infrastructure took place . Due to such massive development, both domestic and international network expanded extensively , connecting key trading and political centers. Especially, international trade reached at a new level of prosperity , with Greek and Hellenic kingdoms as the trading partners. Trade also extended across South-East Asia . India’s exports included silk, textiles, spices and exotic foods .

Main Sources:- Express Web Desk (Feb 1, 2018). “ From the Mauryas to the British: Budget allocation, revenues and taxes in Indian history ”. Indian Express.

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Ashoka The Great: History of India’s Greatest Ruler, Ashoka Pillar, Example

The compilation of these Ashoka, the Emperor Who Gave Up War  Notes makes students exam preparation simpler and organised.

Ashoka The Great

Did you know that before Ashoka the Great became a peace-loving monarch he was known as Chanda Ashoka, meaning ‘Cruel Ashoka’? Widely believed to be one of the kindest, strongest rulers of India Emperor Ashoka has a fascinating life history. Let us take a look.

The greatest ruler known to Indian history is Ashoka The Great. His empire was founded by Chandragupta Maurya, who was a grandfather of Ashoka, more than 2300 years ago. Ashoka was greatly supported and lead by the famous man Chanakya, also known by Kautilya. The Maurya’s were comprised of three major rulers known for their attributes – Chandragupta, his son Bindusara and Bindusara’s son, Ashoka.

Ashoka was the third ruler of the Maurya dynasty and was one of the most powerful kings in ancient times. His reign between 273 BC and 232 B.C. in the history of India was one of the most prosperous periods. Ashoka was born to Mauryan King Bindusara and his queen Devi Dharma was the grandson of the founder emperor of the Maurya Dynasty, the great Chandragupta Maurya.

To a great extent, Ashoka the Great made justified contributions to art as well as architecture. He built stupas at Sanchi, Sarnath, Deor, Bharhut, Butkara, Kothar, etc. He also made significant contributions to the Nalanda University and Mahabodhi temples. The main source of revenue in the empire was taxes and tributes. With this, the government used to look after the maintenance for better revenues and transport.

Ashoka: The Unique Ruler

Ashoka was named to be a unique ruler as he was the first ruler who tried to take forward his message to people through inscriptions wherein he described his change in belief and thought after the Kalinga War. He is also one of the rulers who fought a war to conquer Kalinga, however, gave up conquest even after winning a war.

Ashoka also followed a religious policy wherein he formulated the policy of the Prakrit word, Dhamma coming from the Sanskrit term, Dharma. The excessive accumulation of Ashoka’s Dhamma consists of good teachings of different religions.

Ashoka The Great

Ashoka the Great was also troubled with numerous issues including the killing of animals, ill-treatment of slaves and servants, quarrels in families and amongst neighbors. He considered it his duty to solve these problems. For this, he appointed officials, commonly known as dhamma mahamatta who went to different places to teach people about dhamma.

Ashoka had made provisions in regard to medical facilities for both humans and animals as well as worked for public welfare like making rest houses, digging wells. He has also strictly prohibited sacrificing animals.

Not only this, but Ashoka the Great also sent messengers to other lands like Egypt, Syria, Greece and Sri Lanka focused specifically on spread ideas about Dhamma. He also got his message inscribed on the rocks and pillars which later came to be known as Ashoka Pillars.

Ashoka Pillar People perform a variety of rituals when they fall ill when their children get married when children are born, or when they go on a journey. These rituals are not useful. If instead, people observe other practices, this would be more fruitful. What are these other practices?

These are: being gentle with slaves and servants. Respecting one’s elders. Treating all creatures with compassion. Giving gifts to Brahmins and monks. It is both wrong to praise one’s own religion or criticize another’s. Each one should respect the other’s religion. If one praises one’s own religion while criticizing another’s, one is actually doing greater harm to one’s own religion. Therefore, one should try to understand the main ideas of another’s religion and respect them.

Question: Why do we say that Ashoka the Great was a unique ruler? Answer: Ashoka was the most famous Mauryan ruler and was a unique ruler because

  • He was the first ruler who tried to spread his message through inscriptions to the people.
  • Ashoka is the only king in the world’s history who gave up the conquest even after winning a war.
  • He started to follow a religious policy of his own after the violence and bloodshed held in the Kalinga war and formulated various policies of Dhamma.

550 words an essay on king Ashoka

short essay on ashoka the great

The Mauryans ruled India from 322 B.C., to 15 B.C. Chandragupta Maurya, the first king in the dynasty ruled from 322 B.C., to 298 B.C. Ashoka, who was the third in line ascended the throne at the very early age of 20 years in 273 B.C. and ruled for a long period of 41 years, till 232 B.C.

During the reign of Ashoka, the Mauryan empire extended from Hindukush and Kashmir in the North West to Bengal in the North East. Its southern border was Karnataka. The present Andhra Pradesh was completely under Ashoka’s rule. His forefathers had already left a good system of administration by appointing Viceroys to various parts of their empire. He carried on his administration smoothly with the nssistance of Viceroys. For the first seven years of his rule, there was nothing special about his administration. Later he wanted to expand his empire and declared war on Kalinga.

Ashoka fought the Kalinga War in 261 B.C. Though Ashoka won (lie war, it brought a revolutionary change in the attitude of the emperor. He saw, in the battle field, the flow of blood, thousands killed and many more wounded. Many became widows and orphans on account of his ambition to expand his empire. He was totally upset and deeply moved. During that period he came in contact with the Buddhist monk ‘Upagupta’ and was attracted towards Buddhism. He embraced Buddhism and decided not to fight any more battles thereafter, and follow the principle of truth and non-violence.

Ashoka declared Buddhism as the state religion, and took various measures to preach and propagate that religion. He implemented a number of welfare programmes for his people. Construction of tanks, dharmasalas, roads and planting of trees were taken up. Ashoka was a great builder. He built stupas, viharas and saw that the Buddhist principles were carved on rocks. They are called ‘edicts’. We find Ashoka’s stupas and pillars in many parts of India. The Sarnath Stupa is the most famous one.The Ashoka Dharma Chakra which we find in the centre of our National Flag, is taken from the Sarnath Pillar. We find rock edicts of Ashoka on the rocks of Pathikonda Taluq of Kurnool District, Andhra Pradesh, which was the southern most point of his empire.

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Ashoka not only spread Buddhism in his empire but also sent ambassadors to China, Japan, Sri Lanka and other countries to preach the religion. His own sister Sanghamitra went to Ceylon, now called Sri Lanka, to preach Buddhism.

Ashoka was perhaps, the one emperor, who could rule India, as a whole. His adherence to the principles of truth, non-violence and welfare of common man, still stands as a guiding principle to us. Ashoka, undoubtedly, was the one ideal monarch who ruled this beautiful land of ours.

Ashoka was praised highly by Pandit Nehru for his benevolent rule of the country. It was he who first established veterinary hospitals for the cattle and other animals. Ashoka was known as Priyadarsana (very handsome to look). He was also called Devanam Priyaha or the Beloved of the Gods.

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short essay on ashoka the great

Essay on Ashoka The Great in English For Students and Children

We are Sharing Essay on Ashoka The Great in English for students and children. In this article, we have tried our best to give an essay about Ashoka for Classes 5,6,7,8,9,10,11,12, and Graduation in 200, 300, 400, 500, 800 1000 words, a Short essay on Ashoka The Great.

Essay on Ashoka The Great in 500 words

Ashoka the Great is one of the bravest kings of the world. He is sometimes compared with Alexander the Great. Both the kings wanted to be Digvijayee (to conquer the world). Ashoka was considered the last emperor of the Mauryan dynasty. Not only his bravery but also his vigorous patronage’ of Buddhism made him a great king of the world.

Ashoka was the son of the Mauryan king, Bindusara. There are not many records about his family life. Ashoka’s own inscriptions witness two queens. But Buddhist legends mention that he had more queens. There is also no written evidence of his death. A Tibetan tradition mentions that he died at Taxila. His two grandsons, Dasaratha and Samprathi succeeded him and divided the empire. But within 50 years of his death, the dynasty came to an end.

He ascended the throne in 273 BC, but his coronation was held after four years, i.e. in 269 BC. Buddhist records speak that he captured the throne after killing his 99 brothers. But there is no supportive evidence of this record.

Ashoka was a great warrior. He wanted to conquer all the states and bring them under his reign. But the sea change came in his life after the `Kalinga War’. Kalinga (modern Orissa) was a powerful state on the east coast, the Bay of Bengal. Ashoka wished to annex Kalinga. This led to a bloody war on the bank of the river Daya (Kalinga). The water of Daya became red with, excessive bloodshed. On seeing this, Ashoka experienced a great transformation. After this change in his nature, he came to be known as Dhannashoka.

Ashoka conquered Kalinga in the eighth year of his reign. Immediately after the war, he denounced armed conquests. He adopted Buddhism and followed the policy of Dharma Vijaya (spreading righteousness in the world). He started practicing socio-moral virtues of honesty, truthfulness, compassion, mercifulness, benevolence2, non-violence, and good behaviour to all.

Ashoka gave respect to all religious sects. He guaranteed them full freedom to practice their own religion. He urged the people to exert’ themselves so that their inner worthiness might increase.

To practice and promote Dharma (Law of Piety), Ashoka toured the rural areas regularly. He ordered his officials to make necessary arrangements to give comfort to the common people. Ashoka himself used to visit people and relieve their sufferings.

To propagate Dharma, he appointed a special class of high officers. These officials were known as Dharma-Mahamatras. These officials had to see the work of dharma like: relieve sufferings wherever found, to see the special needs of women, of neighboring people, and of various religious communities. He ordered that matters related to public welfare should be immediately informed to him.

Among his other welfare activities, Ashoka established hospitals for men and animals. On highways, trees were planted; rest-houses were built, and wells were dug. A separate department was also opened to distribute charity to the poor.

For spreading Buddhism outside India, Ashoka sent people to Egypt, Syria, Macedonia, etc. He also sent his son Mahendra and daughter Sanghamitra to Ceylon as missionaries. Because of Ashoka’s patronage, Buddhism spread throughout India and abroad.

Ashoka’s attempts resulted in wide publicity of Buddhism. He engraved the teachings of Buddhism and his own work on the rocks and pillars. These inscriptions can be seen at Sarnath and many other places in India. The Pillar having four lions’ faces at Sarnath has become India’s national emblem. Ashoka’s Wheel is represented on the center of India’s national flag. The inscriptions on the Rock Edicts and Pillar Edicts give us an insight into the various works of his reign, his understandings, thoughts, and actions.

Ashoka built a number of stupas, monasteries, and pillars. In these, his understanding of religious doctrines is inscribed. He was the first Indian king to speak directly to the people through his inscriptions. His memories still survive for what he attempted to achieve and the high ideals he followed to do justice to the people.

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    May 17, 2021 by academictestguide We are Sharing Essay on Ashoka The Great in English for students and children. In this article, we have tried our best to give an essay about Ashoka for Classes 5,6,7,8,9,10,11,12, and Graduation in 200, 300, 400, 500, 800 1000 words, a Short essay on Ashoka The Great.

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