The source of much of our knowledge of Ashoka is the many
inscriptions he had carved on pillars and rocks throughout the empire.
All his inscriptions have the imperial touch and show compassionate
The compound Buddhist symbols: Shrivatsa within atriratana, over a Chakrawheel, on the Torana gate at Sanchi.
He addressed his people as his “children”. These inscriptions
promoted Buddhist morality and encouraged nonviolence and adherence to
Dharma (duty or proper behavior), and they talk of his fame and
conquered lands as well as the neighboring kingdoms holding up his
might. One also gets some primary information about the Kalinga War and
Ashoka’s allies plus some useful knowledge on the civil administration.
Carved decoration of the Northern gateway to the Great Stupa of Sanchi
The Ashoka Pillar at Sarnathis
the most popular of the relics left by Ashoka. Made of sandstone, this
pillar records the visit of the emperor to Sarnath, in the 3rd century
BC. It has a four-lion capital (four lions standing back to back) which
was adopted as the emblem of the modern Indian republic. The lion
symbolizes both Ashoka’s imperial rule and the kingship of the Buddha.
In translating these monuments, historians learn the bulk of what is
assumed to have been true fact of the Mauryan Empire. It is difficult to
determine whether or not some actual events ever happened, but the
stone etchings clearly depict how Ashoka wanted to be thought of and
Detail on the Sanchi stupa
Ashoka’s own words as known from his Edicts are:
“All men are my children. I am like a father to them. As every father
desires the good and the happiness of his children, I wish that all men
should be happy always.” Edward D’Cruz interprets the Ashokan dharma as a
“religion to be used as a symbol of a new imperial unity and a
cementing force to weld the diverse and heterogeneous elements of the
Also, in the Edicts, Ashoka mentions Hellenistic kings of the period
as converts to Buddhism, although no Hellenic historical record of this
The conquest by Dharma has been won here, on the borders, and even six hundred yojanas (5,400–9,600 km) away, where the Greek king Antiochos rules, beyond there where the four kings named Ptolemy, Antigonos, Magas andAlexander rule, likewise in the south among the Cholas, the Pandyas, and as far as Tambaparni (Sri Lanka).
Ashoka also claims that he encouraged the development of herbal medicine, for human and nonhuman animals, in their territories:
Everywhere within Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi’s [Ashoka’s] domain, and among the people beyond the borders, the Cholas, the Pandyas, the Satiyaputras, the Keralaputras, as far as Tamraparni and where the Greek king Antiochosrules,
and among the kings who are neighbors of Antiochos, everywhere has
Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi, made provision for two types of
medical treatment: medical treatment for humans and medical treatment
for animals. Wherever medical herbs suitable for humans or animals are
not available, I have had them imported and grown. Wherever medical
roots or fruits are not available I have had them imported and grown.
Along roads I have had wells dug and trees planted for the benefit of
humans and animals.
The Greeks in India even seem to have played an active role in the
propagation of Buddhism, as some of the emissaries of Ashoka, such as Dharmaraksita, are described in Pali sources as leading Greek (Yona) Buddhist monks, active in spreading Buddhism (theMahavamsa, XII)
Dhamek Stupa (also spelled Dhamekh and Dhamekha) is a massive stupalocated at Sarnath, 13 km away from Varanasi in the state of Uttar Pradesh,India.
The Dhamek Stupa was built in 500 CE to replace an earlier structure commissioned by the great Mauryan king Ashoka in
249 BCE, along with several other monuments, to commemorate the
Buddha’s activities in this location. Stupas originated as circular
mounds encircled by large stones. King Ashoka built stupas to enshrine small pieces of calcinated bone and other relics of Buddha and his disciples. An Ashoka pillar with an edict engraved on it stands near the site.
Dhamekh Stupa close-up, Sarnath
Dhamekh Stupa wall Close Up
Death and legacy
Ashoka ruled for an estimated forty years. After his death, the
Mauryan dynasty lasted just fifty more years. Ashoka had many wives and
children, but many of their names are lost to time. Mahindra and Sanghamitra were twins born by his first wife, Devi, in the city of Ujjain. He had entrusted to them the job of making his state religion, Buddhism, more popular across the known and the unknown world. Mahindra and Sanghamitra went into Sri Lankaand converted the King, the Queen and their people to Buddhism. They were naturally not handling state affairs after him.
In approximately 250 BCE, about 250 years after the Buddha attained Enlightenment, Buddhist EmperorAsoka visited
Bodh Gaya with the intention of establishing a monastery and shrine. As
part of the temple, he built the diamond throne (called the Vajrasana),
attempting to mark the exact spot of the Buddha’s enlightenment, was
established. Asoka is considered the founder of the Mahabodhi Temple.
The present temple dates from the 5th–6th century,although in the words
of one scholar it is.
In his old age, he seems to have come under the spell of his youngest wife Tishyaraksha. It is said that she had got his son Kunala, the regent in Takshashila, blinded by a wilystratagem. The official executioners spared Kunala and he became a wandering singer accompanied by his favourite wife Kanchanmala. In Pataliputra,
Ashoka hears Kunala’s song, and realizes that Kunala’s misfortune may
have been a punishment for some past sin of the emperor himself and
condemns Tishyaraksha to death, restoring Kunala to the court. Kunala
was succeeded by his son, Samprati, but his rule did not last long after Ashoka’s death.
The Junagadh rock contains inscriptions by Ashoka (fourteen of the Edicts of Ashoka), Rudradaman I and Skandagupta.
The reign of Ashoka Maurya could easily have disappeared into history
as the ages passed by, and would have had he not left behind a record
of his trials. The testimony of this wise king was discovered in the
form of magnificently sculpted pillars and boulders with a variety of
actions and teachings he wished to be published etched into the stone.
What Ashoka left behind was the first written language in India since
the ancient city of Harappa. The language used for inscription was the then current spoken form called Prakrit.
General view of cave temples in the Barabar Hills, (Bihar)
Barabar Hill contains four caves – Karan Chaupar, Lomas Rishi,
Sudama and Visva Zopri. Sudama and Lomas Rishi Caves are the earliest
examples of rock-cut architecture in India , with architectural
detailing, made in the Mauryan period, and became a trend the subsequent centuries , like the larger Buddhist Chaitya, that were found inMaharashtra, such as in Ajanta and Karla Caves, and greatly influenced the tradition ofSouth Asian rock-cut architecture
Mauryan architecture in the Barabar Mounts. Grotto of Lomas Rishi. 3rd century BCE.
Sudama and Lomas Rishi Caves at Barabar, Bihar, a 1870 photograph
In the year 185 BC, about fifty years after Ashoka’s death, the last Maurya ruler, Brhadrata, was assassinated by the commander-in-chief of the Mauryan armed forces, Pusyamitra Sunga, while he was taking the Guard of Honor of his forces. Pusyamitra Sunga founded the Sunga dynasty (185
BC-78 BC) and ruled just a fragmented part of the Mauryan Empire. Many
of the northwestern territories of the Mauryan Empire (modern-day Iran,
Afghanistan and Pakistan) became the Indo-Greek Kingdom.
In 1992, Ashoka was ranked #53 on Michael H. Hart‘s list of the most influential figures in history. In 2001, a semi-fictionalized portrayal of Ashoka’s life was produced as a motion picture under the title Asoka.
King Ashoka, the third monarch of the Indian Mauryan dynasty, has come
to be regarded as one of the most exemplary rulers in world history. The
British historian H.G. Wells has written: “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 Asoka shines, and shines, almost alone, a star.”
One of the more enduring legacies of Ashoka Maurya was the model that
he provided for the relationship between Buddhism and the state.
Throughout Theravada Southeastern Asia, the model of ruler ship embodied
by Ashoka replaced the notion of divine kingship that had previously
dominated (in the Angkor kingdom,
for instance). Under this model of ‘Buddhist kingship’, the king sought
to legitimize his rule not through descent from a divine source, but by
supporting and earning the approval of the Buddhist sangha.
Following Ashoka’s example, kings established monasteries, funded the
construction of stupas, and supported the ordination of monks in their
kingdom. Many rulers also took an active role in resolving disputes over
the status and regulation of the sangha, as Ashoka had in calling a
conclave to settle a number of contentious issues during his reign. This
development ultimately lead to a close association in many Southeast
Asian countries between the monarchy and the religious hierarchy, an
association that can still be seen today in the state-supported Buddhism of Thailand and
the traditional role of the Thai king as both a religious and secular
leader. Ashoka also said that all his courtiers were true to their self
and governed the people in a moral manner.
Ruins of Nalanda University :Nālandā (Hindi/Sanskrit/Pali: नालंदा) is the name of an ancient center of higher learning in Bihar, India. The site of Nalanda is located in the Indian state of Bihar, about 55 miles south east of Patna, and was a Buddhist center of learning from 427 to 1197 CE. It has been called “one of the first great universities in recorded history”. Some buildings were constructed by the Mauryan emperor Ashoka the Great (273–232 BCE) which is an indication of an early establishment of the Buddhist learning center Nalanda. The Gupta Empire also
patronized some monasteries. According to historians, Nalanda
flourished between the reign of the Gupta king Śakrāditya (also known as
Kumāragupta, reigned 415-55) and 1197 CE, supported by patronage from Buddhist emperors like Harsha as well as later emperors from the Pala Empire.The
complex was built with red bricks and its ruins occupy an area of 14
hectares. At its peak, the university attracted scholars and students
from as far away as China, Greece, and Persia. Nalanda was sacked by TurkicMuslim invaders under Bakhtiyar Khalji in 1193, a milestone in the decline of Buddhism in India.
The great library of Nalanda University was so vast that it is reported
to have burned for three months after the invaders set fire to it,
sacked and destroyed the monasteries, and drove the monks from the site.
In 2006, Singapore,China, India, Japan, and other nations, announced a proposed plan to restore and revive the ancient site as Nalanda International University.
Ashoka was almost forgotten by the historians of the early British India, but James Prinsep contributed in the revelation of historical sources. Another important historian was British archaeologist John Hubert Marshall who was director-General of the Archaeological Survey of India. His main interests were Sanchi and Sarnath besides Harappa and Mohenjodaro. Sir Alexander Cunningham, a British archaeologist and army engineer and often known as the father of the Archaeological Survey of India, unveiled heritage sites like theBharhut Stupa,
Sarnath, Sanchi, and the Mahabodhi Temple; thus, his contribution is
recognizable in realms of historical sources. [[Mortimer Wheeler], a British archaeologist, also exposed Ashokan historical sources, especially the Taxila.
The seal of Nalanda University set in terracottaon display in the ASI Museum in Nalanda
Main articles: Edicts of Ashoka, Ashokavadana, Mahavamsa, and Dipavamsa
Information about the life and reign of Ashoka primarily comes from a
relatively small number of Buddhist sources. In particular, the Sanskrit Ashokavadana (‘Story of Ashoka’), written in the 2nd century, and the two Pāli chronicles of Sri Lanka (the Dipavamsa andMahavamsa) provide most of the currently known information about Ashoka. Additional information is contributed by the Edicts of Asoka,
whose authorship was finally attributed to the Ashoka of Buddhist
legend after the discovery of dynastic lists that gave the name used in
the edicts (Priyadarsi – ‘favored by the Gods’) as a title or
additional name of Ashoka Mauriya. Architectural remains of his period
have been found at Kumhrar, Patna, which include an 80-pillar hypostyle hall.
As they stood, before the Nālandā University was excavated.
Edicts of Ashoka -The Edicts of Ashoka are a collection of 33 inscriptions on the Pillars of Ashoka,
as well as boulders and cave walls, made by the Emperor Ashoka of the
Mauryan dynasty during his reign from 272 to 231 BC. These inscriptions
are dispersed throughout the areas of modern-day Pakistan and India, and
represent the first tangible evidence of Buddhism. The edicts describe
in detail the first wide expansion of Buddhism through the sponsorship
of one of the most powerful kings of Indian history.It give more
information about Ashoka’s proselytism, Moral precepts, Religious
precepts, Social and animal welfare .
The Sariputta Stupa
The Ashokavadana is a 2nd century CE text related to the legend of the
Maurya Emperor Ashoka. The legend was translated into Chinese by Fa Hien in 300 CE.
Mahavamsa -The Mahavamsa (“Great Chronicle”) is a historical poem written in the Pali language, of the kings of Sri Lanka. It covers the period from the coming of King Vijaya of Kalinga (ancient
Orissa) in 543 BC to the reign of King Mahasena (334–361).As it often
refers to the royal dynasties of India, the Mahavamsa is also valuable
for historians who wish to date and relate contemporary royal dynasties
in the Indian subcontinent. It is very important in dating the consecration of the Maurya emperor Ashoka.
Bilingual inscription in (Greek andAramaic) by king Ashoka, from Kandahar(Shar-i-kuna). Kabul Museum.
Dipavamsa, or “Deepavamsa”, (i.e., Chronicle of the Island, in Pali) is
the oldest historical record of Sri Lanka. The chronicle is believe to
be compiled from Atthakatha and other sources around the 3–4th century, King Dhatusena (4th century CE) had ordered that the Dipavamsa be recited at the Mahinda (son to Ashoka) festival held annually in Anuradhapura.
Back side view of Sariputta Stupa
The use of Buddhist sources in reconstructing the life of Ashoka has
had a strong influence on perceptions of Ashoka, as well as the
interpretations of his edicts. Building on traditional accounts, early
scholars regarded Ashoka as a primarily Buddhist monarch who underwent a
conversion to Buddhism and was actively engaged in sponsoring and
supporting the Buddhist monastic institution. Some scholars have tended
to question this assessment. The only source of information not
attributable to Buddhist sources are the Ashokan edicts, and these do
not explicitly state that Ashoka was a Buddhist. In his edicts, Ashoka
expresses support for all the major religions of his time: Buddhism, Brahmanism, Jainism, and Ajivikaism,
and his edicts addressed to the population at large (there are some
addressed specifically to Buddhists; this is not the case for the other
religions) generally focus on moral themes members of all the religions
Front view of SariputtaStupa
However, there is strong evidence in the edicts alone that he was a
Buddhist. In one edict he belittles rituals, and he banned Vedic animal
sacrifices; these strongly suggest that he at least did not look to the
Vedic tradition for guidance. Furthermore, there are many edicts
expressed to Buddhists alone; in one, Ashoka declares himself to be an “upasaka“,
and in another he demonstrates a close familiarity with Buddhist texts.
He erected rock pillars at Buddhist holy sites, but did not do so for
the sites of other religions. He also used the word “dhamma” to
refer to qualities of the heart that underlie moral action; this was an
exclusively Buddhist use of the word. Finally, the ideals he promotes
correspond to the first three steps of the Buddha’s graduated discourse.
Temple and votive stūpas.
Global spread of Buddhism
Ashoka, now a Buddhist emperor, believed that Buddhism is beneficial for all human beings as well as animals and plants, so he built 84,000 stupas, Sangharama, viharas, Chaitya, and residences for Buddhist monks all over South Asia and Central Asia. He gave donations to viharas and mathas. He sent his only daughter Sanghamitta and son Mahindra to spread Buddhism in Sri Lanka (ancient name Tamraparni).
Interior of the Nālandā ruins.
Ashoka also sent many prominent Buddhist monks (bhikshus) Sthaviras like Madhyamik Sthavira to modernKashmir and Afghanistan; Maharaskshit Sthavira to Syria, Persia / Iran, Egypt, Greece, Italy and Turkey; Massim Sthavira to Nepal,Bhutan, China and Mongolia; Sohn Uttar Sthavira to modern Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar (old name Suvarnabhumi for Burma and Thailand), Thailand and Vietnam; Mahadhhamarakhhita stahvira to Maharashtra (old name Maharatthha); Maharakhhit Sthavira and Yavandhammarakhhita Sthavira to South India.
Avalokiteśvara Bodhisattva statue from Nālandā, 9th century CE.
Ashoka also invited Buddhists and non-Buddhists for religious
conferences. Ashoka inspired the Buddhist monks to compose the sacred
religious texts, and also gave all types of help to that end. Ashoka
also helped to develop viharas (intellectual hubs) such as Nalanda and Taxila. Ashoka helped to construct Sanchi and Mahabodhi Temple.
Avalokiteśvara Bodhisattva statue. Nālandā, 11th century CE.
Ashoka never tried to harm or to destroy non-Buddhist religions, and
indeed gave donations to non-Buddhists. As his reign continued his
even-handedness was replaced with special inclination towards
Buddhism. Ashoka helped and respected both Sramans (Buddhists monks) and
Brahmins (Vedic monks). Ashoka also helped to organize the Third Buddhist council (c. 250 BC) at Pataliputra (today’s Patna). It was conducted by the monk Moggaliputta-Tissa who was the spiritual teacher of the Mauryan Emperor Ashoka.
Mauryan ringstone, with standing goddess. Northwest Pakistan. third century BC. British Museum.
Ashoka’s military power was so strong that he was able to crush those
empires that went to war against him. Still, he was on friendly terms
with kingdoms in the South like Cholas, Pandya, Keralputra, the post Alexandrian empire, Tamraparni, andSuvarnabhumi who were strong enough to remain outside his empire and continued to profess Hinduism.
The Buddha teaching atDeer Park, Vārāṇasī. Nālandā.
According to his edicts we know that he provided humanitarian help including doctors, hospitals, inns, wells, medical herbs and engineers to
his neighboring countries. In neighboring countries, Ashoka helped
humans as well as animals. Ashoka also planted trees in his empire and
his neighboring countries. Ashoka was perhaps the first emperor in human
history to ban slavery, hunting,fishing and deforestation. Ashoka also banned the death sentence and asked the same for the neighboring countries.
Buddha descending fromTrāyastriṃśa Heaven. Nālandā.
Ashoka commanded his people to serve the orders of their elders parents and religious monks (shramana and Brahmin).
Ashoka also recommended his people study and respect all religions.
According to Ashoka, to harm another’s religion is a harm to one’s own
religion. Ashoka asserted his people to live with Dharmmacharana. Ashoka
asked people to live with harmony, peace, love and tolerance. Ashoka
called his people as his children, and they could call him when they
Mañjuśrī Bodhisattva on his lion. Nālandā.
He also asked people to save money and not to spend for immoral
causes. Ashoka also believed in dharmacharana (dhammacharana) and
dharmavijaya (dhammavijaya). According to many European and Asian
historians the age of Ashoka was the age of light and delightment. He
was the first emperor in human history who has taught the lesson of
unity, peace, equality and love. Ashoka’s aim was not to expand the
territories but the welfare of all of his subjects (sarvajansukhay). In
his vast empire there was no evidence of recognizable mutiny or civil
war. Ashoka was the true devotee of nonviolence, peace and love. This
made him different from other emperors. Ashoka also helped Buddhism as well as religions like Jainism, Hinduism, Hellenic polytheism and Ajivikas. Ashoka was against any discrimination among humans.
Avalokiteśvara Bodhisattva. Nālandā.
He helped students, the poor, orphans and the elderly with social,
political and economic help. According to Ashoka, hatred gives birth to
hatred and a feeling of love gives birth to love and mercy. According to
him the happiness of people is the happiness of the ruler. His opinion
was that the sword is not as powerful as love.
Ancient Buddhist Monastery at Jaulian, Taxila.
Hellenistic couple excavated in Taxila
Ashoka was also kind to prisoners, and respected animal life and tree
life. Ashoka allowed females to be educated. He also permitted females
to enter religious institutions. He allowed female Buddhist monastics
such as Bhikkhuni.
He combined in himself the complexity of a king and a simplicity of a
buddhist monk. Because of these reasons he is known as the emperor of
all ages and thus became a milestone in the History of the world.
A coin from 2nd century BCE Taxila.
The Indo-Greek kingAntialcidas ruled in Taxila around 100 BCE, according to theHeliodorus pillarinscription.
Jaulian, a World Heritage Site at Taxila.
The Dharmarajika stupa, Taxila.
Statuette excavated at the Dharmarajika stupa.
The Ashoka Chakra, “the wheel of Righteousness” (Dharma in Sanskrit or Dhamma in Pali)”
The Ashoka Chakra (the wheel of Ashoka) is a depiction of the Dharmachakra or Dhammachakka in Pali, the Wheel of Dharma (Sanskrit: Chakra means wheel). The wheel has 24 spokes. The Ashoka Chakra has been widely inscribed on many relics of theMauryan Emperor, most prominent among which is the Lion Capital of Sarnath and TheAshoka Pillar.
The most visible use of the Ashoka Chakra today is at the centre of the
National flag of the Republic of India (adopted on 22 July 1947), where
it is rendered in a Navy-blue color on a White background, by replacing
the symbol of Charkha (Spinning wheel) of the pre-independence versions
of the flag. Ashoka Chakra can also been seen on the base of Lion
Capital of Ashoka which has been adopted as the National Emblem of
A relief from Barhut.: Bharhut or Barhut (hindi: भरहुत Bharhut), is a location in Satna district in Madhya Pradesh, Central India, known for its famous Buddhist stupa. The Bharhut stupa may have been established by the Maurya king Asoka in the 3rd century BCE, but many works of art were apparently added during the Sunga period, with many friezes from
the 2nd century BCE. An epigraph on the gateway mention its erection
“during the supremacy of the Sungas” by Vatsiputra Dhanabhuti
Yakshi reliefs. Bharhut, 2nd century BCE.
Vedika pillar with Greek warrior. Bharhut, Madhya Pradesh, Sunga Period, c.100-80BC. Reddish brown sandstone.Indian Museum, Calcutta(drawing).
The Ashoka chakra was built by Ashoka during his reign. Chakra is a Sanskrit word
which also means cycle or self repeating process. The process it
signifies is the cycle of time as how the world changes with time.
A few days before India became independent on August 1947, the specially constitutedConstituent Assembly decided that the flag of India must
be acceptable to all parties and communities.A flag with three colours,
Saffron, White and Green with the Ashoka Chakra was selected.
Pillars of Ashoka (Ashokstambha)
The pillars of Ashoka are a series of columns dispersed throughout
the northern Indian subcontinent, and erected by Ashoka during his reign
in the 3rd century BC. Originally, there must have been many pillars of
Ashoka although only ten with inscriptions still survive. Averaging
between forty and fifty feet in height, and weighing up to fifty tons
each, all the pillars were quarried at Chunar, just south of Varanasi
and dragged, sometimes hundreds of miles, to where they were erected.
The first Pillar of Ashoka was found in the 16th century by Thomas
Coryat in the ruins of ancient Delhi. The wheel represents the sun time
and Buddhist law, while the swastika stands
for the cosmic dance around a fixed center and guards against evil.
There is no evidence of a swastika, or manji, on the pillars.
The Asokan pillar at Lumbini,Nepal
Lion Capital of Asoka (Ashokmudra)
The Lion capital of Ashoka is a sculpture of four “Indian lions” standing back to back. It was originally placed atop the Aśoka pillar at Sarnath, now in the state of Uttar Pradesh, India. The pillar, sometimes called the Aśoka Column is still in its original location, but the Lion Capital is now in the Sarnath Museum. This Lion Capital of Ashoka from Sarnath has been adopted as the National Emblem of India and the wheel “Ashoka Chakra” from its base was placed onto the center of the National Flag of India.
The capital contains four lions (Indian / Asiatic Lions), standing
back to back, mounted on an abacus, with a frieze carrying sculptures in
high relief of an elephant, a galloping horse, a bull, and a lion,
separated by intervening spoked chariot-wheels over a bell-shaped lotus.
Carved out of a single block of polished sandstone, the capital was
believed to be crowned by a ‘Wheel of Dharma’ (Dharmachakra popularly
known in India as the “Ashoka Chakra”).
The Ashoka Lion capital or the Sarnath lion capital is also known as
the national symbol of India. The Sarnath pillar bears one of the Edicts
of Ashoka, an inscription against division within the Buddhist
community, which reads, “No one shall cause division in the order of
monks”. The Sarnath pillar is a column surmounted by a capital, which
consists of a canopy representing an inverted bell-shaped lotus flower, a
short cylindrical abacus with four 24-spoked Dharma wheels with four
animals (anelephant, a bull, a horse, a lion).
The four animals in the Sarnath capital are believed to symbolize different steps of Lord Buddha‘s life.
- The Elephant represents the Buddha’s idea in reference to the dream of Queen Maya of a white elephant entering her womb.
- The Bull represents desire during the life of the Buddha as a prince.
- The Horse represents Buddha’s departure from palatial life.
- The Lion represents the accomplishment of Buddha.
Besides the religious interpretations, there are some non-religious
interpretations also about the symbolism of the Ashoka capital pillar at
Sarnath. According to them, the four lions symbolize Ashoka’s rule over
the four directions, the wheels as symbols of his enlightened rule
(Chakravartin) and the four animals as symbols of four adjoining
territories of India.
Constructions credited to Ashoka
- Sanchi, Madhya Pradesh, India
- Dhamek Stupa, Sarnath, Uttar Pradesh, India
- Mahabodhi Temple, Bihar, India
- Barabar Caves, Bihar, India
- Nalanda University (Vishwaviddyalaya), (some portions like Sariputta Stupa), Bihar, India
- Taxila University (Vishwaviddyalaya), (some portions like Dharmarajika Stupa and Kunala Stupa), Taxila, Pakistan
- Bhir Mound, (reconstructed), Taxila, Pakistan
- Bharhut stupa, Madhya Pradesh, India
- Deorkothar Stupa, Madhya Pradesh, India
- Butkara Stupa, Swat, Pakistan
- The Indo-Corinthian capital from Butkara Stupa under which a coin of Azes II was found. Dated to 20 BCE or earlier (Turin City Museum of Ancient Art).
Indo-Scythian devotee, Butkara I.
Head of the Buddha. Butkara I, 2nd century CE
Buddhist relief with warrior. Butkara I, 1st century CE.
In art, film and literature
- Asoka is a 2001 epic Bollywood historical drama. It is a largely fictional version of the life of the Indian emperor Ashoka. The film was directed by Santosh Sivan and stars Shahrukh Khan as Ashoka and Kareena Kapoor as
Kaurwaki, a princess of Kalinga.The film ends with Asoka renouncing the
sword and embracing Buddhism. The final narrative describes how Asoka
not only built a large empire, but spread Buddhism and the winds of
peace through it.
- One of the most famous figures in modern Hindi literature, Jaishankar Prasad, composed Ashoka ki chinta (in English: Anxiety of Ashoka), a famous Hindi verse. The poem portrays Ashoka’s heart during the war of Kalinga.
- Uttar-Priyadarshi (The Final Beatitude) a verse-play written by poet Agyeya, depicting his redemption, was adapted to stage in 1996 by theatre director, Ratan Thiyam and has since been performed in many parts of the world.
- In Piers Anthony’s series of space opera novels, the main character mentions Asoka as a model for administrators to strive for.
The Kalinga War (Sanskrit: कलिन्ग युध्धम्) was a war fought between theMauryan Empire under Ashoka the Great and the state of Kalinga, a feudalrepublic located on the coast of the present-day Indian state of Odisha. The Kalinga war is one of the major battles in the History of India.
Kalinga put up a stiff resistance, but they were no match for Ashoka’s
brutal strength. The bloodshed of this war is said to have prompted
Ashoka to adopt Buddhism.
Kalinga and Maurya Empire before invasion of Ashoka
The main reasons for invading Kalinga were both political and economic.Since the time of Ashoka’s father, King Bindusara, the Mauryan Empire based in Magadha was following a policy of territorial expansion. Kalinga was under Magadha control during the Nanda rule, but
regained independence with the beginning of the rule of the Mauryas.
That was considered a great setback for the traditional policy of
territorial expansion of the Magadhan emperors and was considered to be a
loss of political prestige for the Mauryas.
Possibly Kalinga was a thorn in the body-politic of his dominions. Andhra, which lay to the south of Kalinga and comprised inter alia the
modern Krishna and Godavari districts, was conquered by Bindusara. Thus
on one side of the Maurya kingdom was Chola and on the other Kalinga.
It is not unreasonable to suppose that in Bindusara’s war on Chola and
Pandya, Kalinga was an ally of the latter, attacked the Maurya forces
from the rear and was thus chiefly instrumental in its ending in
failure. It was therefore perhaps supremely imperative to reduce Kalinga
to complete subjection. To this task Ashoka must have set himself as
soon as he felt he was securely established on the throne.
The overseas activities of Kalinga threatened the economic and
commercial interest of Magadha. As Magadha was not an important sea
power she had to depend on other friendly states having overseas
commerce to sustain her own economic interest. She would face economic
collapse if the coasts would be blockaded against her. The hostile
attitude of the traders of Kalinga inflicted a serious damage on her
which is alluded to by Lama Taranatha. According to Taranatha, the
serpents of the eastern seas stole away the jewels of Ashoka at which
the emperor became angry and invaded their territory. Thus a war with
Kalinga was not only political but also of economic necessity.Observes,
Dr. R. P. Mohapatra.
The pretext for the start of the war is uncertain. One of Susima‘s
brothers might have fled to Kalinga and found official refuge there.
This enraged Ashoka immensely. He was advised by his ministers to attack
Kalinga for this act of treachery. Ashoka then asked Kalinga’s royalty
to submit before his supremacy. When they defied this diktat, Ashoka
sent one of his generals to Kalinga to make them submit.The general and
his forces were, however, completely routed through the skilled tact of
Kalinga’s commander-in-chief. Ashoka, baffled at this defeat, attacked
with the greatest invasion ever recorded in Indian history until then.
Course of the war
A view of the banks of the River Daya, also the supposed battlefield of Kalinga from atop Dhauli hills.
As Ramesh Prasad Mohapatra remarks,
“No war in the history of India as important either for its intensity
or for its results as the Kalinga war of Ashoka. No wars in the annals
of the human history has changed the heart of the victor from one of
wanton cruelty to that of an exemplary piety as this one. From its
fathomless womb the history of the world may find out only a few wars to
its credit which may be equal to this war and not a single one that
would be greater than this. The political history of mankind is really a
history of wars and no war has ended with so successful a mission of
the peace for the entire war-torn humanity as the war of Kalinga. The
war began in the 8th year of Ashoka‘s
reign, probably in 261 BC. Ashoka’s grandfather Chandragupta had
previously attempted to conquer Kalinga, but had been repulsed. After a
bloody battle for the throne after Bindusara’s death, Ashoka tried to
annex Kalinga. Ashoka was successful only after a savage war, whose
consequences changed Ashoka’s views on war and led him to pledge never
to wage a war. It is said that in the aftermath of the Battle of Kalinga the Daya River running
next to the battle field turned red with the blood of the slain; about
100,000 Kalinga civilians and more than 100,000 of Ashoka’s own warriors
were among those slain.
is presumed to be the area where the Kalinga War was fought. The
historically important Dhauli hills are located on the banks of the Daya River of Bhubaneswar in
Odisha (India). Dhauli hill, with a vast open space adjoining it, has
major Edicts of Ashoka engraved on a mass of rock by the side of the
road leading to the summit of the hill.
Ashoka had seen the bloodshed with his own eyes and felt that he was
the cause of the destruction. The whole of Kalinga was plundered and
destroyed. Ashoka’s later edicts state that about 100,000 people were
killed on the Kalinga side and 100,000 from Ashoka’s army. Thousands of
men and women were deported.
Ashoka’s response to the Kalinga War is recorded in the Edicts of Ashoka.
According to some of these (Rock Edict XIII and Minor Rock Edict I),
the Kalinga War prompted Ashoka, already a non-engaged Buddhist, to
devote the rest of his life to Ahimsa (non-violence) and to Dhamma-Vijaya (victory through Dhamma).
Following the conquest of Kalinga, Ashoka ended the military expansion
of the empire, and led the empire through more than 40 years of relative
peace, harmony and prosperity.
- “Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Priyadarsi, conquered the Kalingas eight
years after his coronation. One hundred and fifty thousand were
deported, one hundred thousand were killed and many more died (from
other causes). After the Kalingas had been conquered,
Beloved-of-the-Gods came to feel a strong inclination towards the
Dhamma, a love for the Dhamma and for instruction in Dhamma. Now
Beloved-of-the-Gods feels deep remorse for having conquered the
Kalingas.” Rock Edict No.13
Word-of-mouth stories passed down to us from our fore-fathers tells
us that after the war was over and Ashoka the Great saw the destruction
he had caused, a woman approached him and said, “Your actions have taken
from me my father, husband, and son. Now what will I have left to live
for?”. Moved by these words, it is said, that he accepted/adopted
Buddhism. He vowed to never take life again and became one of the most
just ruler India has ever seen.
In popular culture
The Kalinga War is depicted in Santosh Sivan‘s 2001 Bollywood epic Asoka, starring Shahrukh Khan, Ajith Kumar and Kareena Kapoor.
While the film was found to be lacking in authenticity, it did,
nevertheless, correctly incorporate many of the key historical elements
of the Kalinga War.