Ashoka – Hindu Warriors


Ashoka was an Indian emperor of the Maurya Dynasty who ruled almost all of the Indian subcontinent from c. 268 to 232 BCE. One of India’s greatest emperors, Ashoka reigned over a realm that stretched from the Hindu Kush mountains in Afghanistan to the modern state of Bangladesh in the east. It covered the entire Indian subcontinent except parts of present-day Tamil Nadu and Kerala. The empire’s capital was Pataliputra (in Magadha, present-day Bihar), with provincial capitals at Taxila and Ujjain.

In about 260 BCE, Ashoka waged a bitterly destructive war against the state of Kalinga (modern Odisha). He conquered Kalinga, which none of his ancestors had done. He embraced Buddhism after witnessing the mass deaths of the Kalinga War, which he himself had waged out of a desire for conquest. “Ashoka reflected on the war in Kalinga, which reportedly had resulted in more than 100,000 deaths and 150,000 deportations, ending at around 200,000 deaths.”Ashoka converted gradually to Buddhism beginning about 263 BCE. He was later dedicated to the propagation of Buddhism across Asia, and established monuments marking several significant sites in the life of Gautama Buddha. “Ashoka regarded Buddhism as a doctrine that could serve as a cultural foundation for political unity.” Ashoka is now remembered as a philanthropic administrator. In the Kalinga edicts, he addresses his people as his “children”, and mentions that as a father he desires their good.

Ashoka’s name “Aśoka” means “painless, without sorrow” in Sanskrit (the a privativum and śoka “pain, distress”). In his edicts, he is referred to as Devānāmpriya (Pali Devānaṃpiya or “The Beloved of the Gods”), and Priyadarśin (Pali Piyadasī or “He who regards everyone with affection”). His fondness for his name’s connection to the Saraca asoca tree, or the “Ashoka tree” is also referenced in the Ashokavadana.

H.G. Wells wrote of Ashoka in his book The Outline of History: “Amidst the tens of thousands of names of monarchs that crowd the columns of history, their majesties and graciousnesses and serenities and royal highnesses and the like, the name of Ashoka shines, and shines, almost alone, a star.” Along with the Edicts of Ashoka, his legend is related in the 2nd-century CE Ashokavadana (“Narrative of Ashoka”, a part of Divyavadana), and in the Sri Lankan text Mahavamsa (“Great Chronicle”). The emblem of the modern Republic of India is an adaptation of the Lion Capital of Ashoka.

1.Ashoka’s early life
Ashoka was born to the Mauryan emperor, Bindusara and a relatively lower ranked wife of his, Dharmā (or Dhammā). He was the grandson of Chandragupta Maurya, founder of the Mauryan dynasty. The Avadana texts mention that his mother was queen Subhadrangī. According to the Ashokavadana, she was the daughter of a Brahmin from the city of Champa. Though a palace intrigue kept her away from the emperor, this eventually ended, and she bore a son. It is from her exclamation “I am now without sorrow”, that Ashoka got his name. The Divyāvadāna tells a similar story, but gives the name of the queen as Janapadakalyānī.

Ashoka had several elder siblings, all of whom were his half-brothers from the other wives of Bindusara. His fighting
qualities were apparent from an early age and he was given royal military training. He was known as a fearsome hunter, and according to a legend, killed a lion with just a wooden rod. Because of his reputation as a frightening warrior and a heartless general, he was sent to curb the riots in the Avanti province of the Mauryan empire.

2.Rise to power
Approximate extent of Maurya empire under Ashoka. The empire stretched from Afghanistan to Bengal to southern India. The Buddhist text Divyavadana describes Ashoka putting down a revolt due to activities of wicked ministers. This may have been an incident in Bindusara’s times. Taranatha’s account states that Acharya Chanakya, Bindusara’s chief advisor, destroyed the nobles and kings of 16 towns and made himself the master of all territory between the eastern and the western seas. Some historians consider this as an indication of Bindusara’s conquest of the Deccan while others consider it as suppression of a revolt. Following this, Ashoka was stationed at Ujjayini as governor.

3.Conquest of Kalinga
While the early part of Ashoka’s reign was apparently quite bloodthirsty, he became a follower of the Buddha’s teachings after his conquest of Kalinga on the east coast of India in the present-day states of Odisha and North Coastal Andhra Pradesh. Kalinga was a state that prided itself on its sovereignty and democracy. With its monarchical parliamentary democracy it was quite an exception in ancient Bharata where there existed the concept of Rajdharma. Rajdharma means the duty of the rulers, which was intrinsically entwined with the concept of bravery and dharma. The Kalinga War happened eight years after his coronation. From his 13th inscription, we come to know that the battle was a massive one and caused the deaths of more than 100,000 soldiers and many civilians who rose up in defence; over 150,000 were deported.When he was walking through the grounds of Kalinga after his conquest, rejoicing in his victory, he was moved by the number of bodies strewn there and the wails of the bereaved.

4.Death and legacy
Ashoka’s Major Rock Edict at Junagadh contains inscriptions by Ashoka (fourteen of the Edicts of Ashoka), Rudradamanna I and Skandagupta.Ashoka ruled for an estimated 36 years. Legend states that during his cremation, his body burned for seven days and nights.After his death, the Mauryan dynasty lasted just fifty more years until his empire stretched over almost all of the Indian subcontinent. Ashoka had many wives and children, but many of their names are lost to time. His chief consort (agramahisi) for the majority of his reign was his wife, Asandhimitra, who apparently bore him no children.

In his old age, he seems to have come under the spell of his youngest wife Tishyaraksha. It is said that she had got
Ashoka’s son Kunala, the regent in Takshashila and the heir presumptive to the throne, blinded by a wily stratagem. The official executioners spared Kunala and he became a wandering singer accompanied by his favourite wife Kanchanmala. In Pataliputra, Ashoka heard Kunala’s song, and realised that Kunala’s misfortune may have been a punishment for some past sin of the emperor himself. He condemned Tishyaraksha to death, restoring Kunala to the court. In the Ashokavadana, Kunala is portrayed as forgiving Tishyaraksha, having obtained enlightenment through Buddhist practice. While he urges Ashoka to forgive her as well, Ashoka does not respond with the same forgiveness. Kunala was succeeded by his son, Samprati, who ruled for 50 years until his death.

The reign of Ashoka Maurya might have disappeared into history as the ages passed by, had he not left behind records of his reign. These records are in the form of sculpted pillars and rocks inscribed with a variety of actions and teachings he wished to be published under his name. The language used for inscription was in one of the Prakrit “common” languages etched in a Brahmi script.

In the year 185 BCE, about fifty years after Ashoka’s death, the last Maurya ruler, Brihadratha, was assassinated by the commander-in-chief of the Mauryan armed forces, Pushyamitra Shunga, while he was taking the Guard of Honor of his forces. Pushyamitra Shunga founded the Shunga dynasty (185-75 BCE) and ruled just a fragmented part of the Mauryan Empire. Many of the northwestern territories of the Mauryan Empire (modern-day Afghanistan and Northern Pakistan) became the Indo-Greek Kingdom.

King Ashoka, the third monarch of the Indian Mauryan dynasty, is also considered as one of the most exemplary rulers who ever lived.

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