Ashoka was an Indian emperor of the Maurya dynasty. He was known as Ashoka the Great. Ashoka was one of the greatest emperors of India. He ruled almost the entire Indian subcontinent from ca 269 BC to 232 BC. He is referred to in history as Samrat Chakravartin Ashoka- the Emperor of Emperors Ashoka. Ashoka was a messenger of peace, unity, love, equality, compassion. To Ashok the main principles of dharma were non violence, tolerance, respect for all religion etc. After the Kalinga war he embraced Buddhism. He built thousands of stupas, sangharama, chaitya, viharas and residence for the followers off Buddhism all over the south and central Asia. The Ashok Chakra built by king Ashoka is used in the centre of the National flag of the Republic of India. The Ashok Chakra is also seen on the base of the Lion Capital of Ashoka which has been adopted as the National Emblem of India.
Life of Ashoka
The exact dates of king Ashoka’s life are a matter of dispute among scholars, but he is believed to be born in about 304 BC and became the third king of Mauryan dynasty. Ashoka was the son of Bindusara and Dharma and the grandson of Chandragupta Maurya. The name “Asoka” in Sanskrit means painless or without sorrow. In his edicts Ashoka is referred to as “Devanampriya” (the beloved of the Gods) and “Priyadarsin” (he who regards everyone with affection). Ashoka was given the knowledge of royal military training. He was a hunter. Ashoka was very adventurous and a trained fighter and was trained in sword. Ashoka had ruled his kingdom for forty years. Ashoka had many wives and children. Ashoka died in 232 BC.
Ashoka as an Emperor
Ashoka was stationed at Ujjayini as a governor. He was coronated after the death of his father in 269 BC four years after his succession to the throne. During his early rise to power Ashoka was known as a bad tempered ruler. He was known for torturing his ministers. Ashoka was used to expand his empire. He reigned over most of the present day India after conquering a number of territories. His empire stretched from present day Pakistan and Afghanistan to Bangladesh and Assam and Andhra Pradesh and Kerala.
According to many historians the age of Ashoka was an era of light and enlightenment. Ashoka’s military had very strong powers. He had cordial terms with the kingdoms of Cholas, Pandya and Tamraparni etc. Ashoka was a messenger of peace, unity, love, equality, and respect among others. He worked for the welfare of his subjects. He was a helper of the poor, orphan and the needy. He was a promoter of female education. He built universities and hospitals. He renovated roads throughout India. He encouraged the development of herbal medicines and provided medical help to neighboring countries with doctors, hospitals, inns, wells. He also built hospitals. He planted trees in his empire and neighboring countries. He was one of the first emperors in history to ban slavery, fishing, hunting and deforestation and death sentence etc. He helped in the construction of Dhamek Stupa in Sarnath, Mahabodhi Temple, Barabar Caves and Nalanda University in Bihar, Taxila University, Bhir Mound and Butkara in Pakistan, among others.
The Kalinga war took place 8 years after his coronation. It was a massive battle. More than 100,000 soldiers and civilians died in the battle. Ashoka was, however, moved by the number of bodies and the wails of the kith and kins of the dead as he was walking through the grounds of Kalinga after his conquest, rejoicing in his victory.
Conversion and propagation of Buddhism
Ashoka became a follower of Buddhism after the conquest of Kalinga. He was moved by the number of bodies and the wails of the kith and kins of the dead after his victory in the war of Kalinga. He could not identify with his victory which he rather took as defeat after the death of several thousand people in the war. He embraced Buddhism as a consequence. Around 260 BC he made Buddhism his state religion. He propagated and preached the religion within his domain and also as far as ancient Rome and Egypt from 250 BC.He believed that Buddhism was essential for all human beings and animals and plants. He therefore built thousands of stupas, sangharama, charity, viharas and residence for the followers off Buddhism all over the south and central Asia. The Sanchi Stupa was but by Ashoka and the stupas of Sanchi is famous worldwide. His children Mahindra and Sanghamitra went to Sri Lanka to propagate Buddhism. He also sent many Buddhist monks to Afghanistan, Syria, Persia, Iran, Egypt, Greece, Italy, Turkey, Thailand, and Burma, to spread the message of Buddhism. He provided for the relationship between Buddhism and the state. Under the model of “Buddhist kingship” the king legitimized his rule through by earning the approval of the Buddhist sangha.
Ashoka pursued an official policy of non violence. The unnecessary slaughter of animals was abolished. Sport hunting and branding was prohibited. He also promoted the concept of non vegetarianism. During his early rise to power Ashoka was known as a bad tempered ruler. He was known for torturing his ministers. However during his later period of reign he showed mercy to prisoners. He treated as subjects as equals regardless of their religion and caste. He addressed his people as “children”.
After his transformation Ashoka was known as Dhammashoka which in Sanskrit means Ashoka, the follower of Dharma. To Ashok ate main principles of dharma was non violence, tolerance of all sects and opinion, obedience to parents, respect for the Brahmans and other religious teachers and priests, liberty towards friends , humane treatments of servants and generosity towards everyone.
Ashoka had carved many inscriptions on pillars and rocks throughout his empire. All his inscriptions show compassion and love. The significance of these inscriptions is that that promoted Buddhist morality. They encouraged non violence and adherence to Dharma. Information about the Kalinga war and his administration could also be known through the inscriptions.
The pillars of Ashoka are series of columns throughout the Northern Indian subcontinent. Ashoka erected the pillars during his reign in the 3rd century BC. Only ten of the many pillars survive now.
The most popular relics left by King Ashoka are the Ashoka Pillar at Sarnath. The pillar records the visit of the emperor to Sarnath in the 3rd century BC. The pillar is made of sandstone.
Ashok Chakra is a depiction of the Dharmachakra or Dhammachakka in Pali, the wheel of Dharma. The wheel has 24 spokes. This is inscribed in the Ashok Pillar among the others. It was built by Ashoka during his reign. “Chakra” is a Sanskrit word which means cycle or self repeating process. This signifies the cycle of time and as how the world changes with time. The Ashok Chakra is used in the centre of the National flag of the Republic of India. The Ashok Chakra is also seen on the base of the Lion Capital of Ashoka which has been adopted as the National Emblem of India.
Lion capital of Ashoka or Ashokmudra
The Lion Capital of Ashok is a sculpture of four Indian 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-wheel s over a bell shaped lotus. It is carved out of sandstone.
It was originally placed at the top of the Ashok Pillar at Sarnath. The Lion Capital is in the Sarnath Museum. This was adopted as the emblem of modern Indian republic. The lion symbolizes Ashoka’s imperial rule and the kingship of the Buddha. It is known as the national symbol of India.
Works on Ashoka
Many works have been done on the life and history of Ashoka. “Ashoka ki chinta” is a Hindi verse on Ashoka’s anxiety during the Kalinga war. “Uttar Priyadarshi” has also been written on Ashoka.
The film “Asoka” was made on Ashoka the emperor.