Ashoka the Great, was an Indian emperor of the Maurya Dynasty, who ruled almost all of the Indian subcontinent from c. 268 to 232 BCE.
The grandson of the founder of the Maurya Dynasty, Chandragupta Maurya. He promoted the spread of Buddhism across ancient Asia.
Ashoka the Great Early Life
He was born in 304 to the Mauryan emperor, Bindusara and Subhadrangī (or Dharmā). He was the grandson of Chandragupta Maurya, founder of the Maurya dynasty.
She was the daughter of a Brahmin from the city of Champa. She gave him the name Ashoka, meaning “one without sorrow”. His parents gave Ashoka royal military training.
Ashoka, when he was heir-apparent and was journeying as Viceroy to Ujjain, is said to have halted at Vidisha (10 kilometers from Sanchi), and married the daughter of a local banker.
She was called Devi and later gave him two sons, Ujjeniya and Mahendra, and a daughter Sanghamitta.
After Ashoka’s accession, Mahendra headed a Buddhist mission, sent probably under the auspices of the Emperor, to Sri Lanka.
Bindusara’s death in 272 BCE led to a war over succession.
Later Bindusara wanted his elder son Susima to succeed him but his minister supported Ashoka, who found Susima to be arrogant and disrespectful towards them.
A minister named Radhagupta seems to have played an important role in Ashoka’s rise to the throne.
Radhagupta’s offering of an old royal elephant to Ashoka for him to ride to the Garden of the Gold Pavilion where King Bindusara would determine his successor.
Later he got rid of the legitimate heir to the throne by tricking him into entering a pit filled with live coals.
Later Radhagupta would later be appointed prime minister by Ashoka once he had gained the throne. The coronation happened in 269 BCE, four years after his succession to the throne.
Ascending the throne, he expanded his empire over the next eight years.
From the present-day Assam in the East to Balochistanin the West; from the Pamir Knot in Afghanistan in the north to the peninsula of southern India except for present day Tamil Nadu and Kerala.
Ashoka Kalinga War
Kalinga was the first and the last battle that he ever fought and serves as a watermark in his life as it changed the course of his life forever.
It was during this war that he earned the title, ‘Ashoka the Great’. Kalinga was a prosperous little kingdom lying between the river Godavari and Mahanadi, close to the Bay of Bengal.
Later he wanted to capture this fertile land, and so had it surrounded by his army men. But the brave and loyal people of Kalinga did not want to lose their independence.
A fierce battle followed, in which there were too many casualties.
There were more than a lakh prisoners of war. After the war, Ashoka ventured out to roam the city. All he could see were burnt houses and scattered corpses.
This was the consequence of his greed. A new light dawned on him, and he swore that he would never wage a war again.
Buddist initiated Ashoka into Buddhism, after which he completely transformed his life.
He religiously followed the principles of Buddhism – that of truth, charity, kindness, purity and goodness.
Later he did his bit towards the propagation of this religion by engraving its principles on pillars throughout his kingdom.
The Ashoka pillars, as they are now called, were over 40 feet high and extremely heavy.
He also attempted to spread this religion to Syria, Egypt and Macedonia, and sent his son, Mahendra and daughter, Sanghamitra to Sri Lanka for this purpose.
Soon he opened charitable hospitals and dispensaries for the welfare of the poor. Later he planted trees to provide shade and opened inns for the shelter of travellers.
He also laid out green parks and gardens to beautify his kingdom. Later he constructed Wells and tanks for the benefit of his people.
He believed in nonviolence and so he banned the sacrifice of animals. Besides this, he opened clinics for birds and animals too. His good works earned him the name of “Devanampriya Priyadarshi”.
He ruled for an estimated 36 years and died in 232 BCE.
In the year 185 BCE about fifty years after Ashoka’s death, the commander-in-chief of the Mauryan armed forces, Pushyamitra Shunga assassinated Brihadratha, the last Maurya ruler, 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.
To commemorate his rule and its implications, the Government of India has adopted the Ashoka Chakra as its national symbol.