Ashoka – The Great (304–232 BC) was an Indian emperor of the Maurya Dynasty who ruled almost all of the Indian subcontinent from ca. 269 BC to 232 BC.
The son of Binder Sar and the grandson of Chander Gupta Maurya achieved greater name and fame than his father and grandfather. He is not only one of the greatest kings of India but also of the entire world.
After the death of his father, Binder Sar – the king of Patliputra, Ashok’s elder brother Suman contended for the throne. But most of the ministers and prime minister Radha Gupt, in particular were against Suman. They considered Ashoka more capable and discreet. Therefore they helped him attain the reins of powers.
Ashoka had already gained experience of administration during his father’s rule. Therefore, he had no difficulty in managing the state affairs when he ascended the throne. The first thing that he did was to restore peace in the kingdom. It took him full three years to do so. In fact the coronation ceremony was performed when he had established peace in his kingdom.
Ashoka was a great philanthropist. He used to take his meal after feeding many thousands of Brahmins. He had a very busy schedule of work, which started very early in the morning and went upto midnight. He remained very active and kept himself informed of the latest goings on in the land.
People were very honest during his reign. The incidents of theft were unheard of. People had religious bent of mind and were truthful. Science had also made a good progress. Technology, medicine and surgery had also developed appreciably.
Ashoka had a vast stretch of land under him to rule over. On the north side was snow-capped Himalayas, besides Nepal and Kashmir. His southern boundaries extended upto Mysore State. In the north-west were Baluchistan and Afghanistan. In the east flowed river Brahamputra, while in the west were Saurashtra and Junagarh, which formed part of his kingdom. In fact his empire was more extensive than the Moghals’, or the Britishers’. It was a vast empire and needed the capabilities of a person like Ashoka to rule over it.
Kalinga war brought great fame to Ashoka. It is, in fact, due to this war that he became Ashoka – the great. It was not so because he won the war, but because he gave up fighting after winning this war. It was because of the transformation that occurred in him. It was because of the reaction that war had on his mind.
Kalinga was a small kingdom between Godawari and Mahanadi near the Bay of Bengal. Its land was fertile and its people were prosperous. They were very brave and patriotic people. According to Magasthenese Kalinga had an infantry of 60000 men, 10000 horsemen and about 600 elephants. Its independence was an eyesore to Ashoka. In the eighth year of his rule Ashoka surrounded Kalinga on all the four sides. In fact on the three sides his territory was already protruding towards Kalinga, it was only on the fourth side that navy had to be sent to surrounded it fully.
The people of Kalinga refused to submit. They were ready to die but not prepared to lose their independence. At last the inevitable happened. A fierce battle ensued, which lasted for many days. Many persons were killed, wounded and crippled. Many women were widowed and many children were orphaned. About a lakh and a half were made prisoners of war. There were sorpses all around. Suddenly Ashoka’s conscience was jolted. A great transformation came in him. Now he was a different Ashoka. He started hating violence. Kalinga was the first and the last war waged by Ashoka.
Ashoka embraced Budhism. According to one version he got initiation from his sister – Anandiji, while according to an other version he got it from his nephew i.e. brother’s son. It brought him spiritual awakening and his entire course of life was changed. He contemplated welfare measures for the people. He was not a religious bigot. He was tolerant and wanted all religions to develop.
In his view, religion meant doing good needs and keeping away from sins. According to him kindness, charity, truth and purity constituted religion. By doing good deeds he meant serving parents, brahmins, saints and the aged and sick people, respecting and obeying teachers and treating lonely people with love and humility. It also meant observing norms of good conduct.
He propagated such principles of Budhism as were non-controversial. He got them engraved on the pillars throughout the length and breadth of his empire. These pillars were normally more then forty feet high and were very heavy. The language of these edicts is Prakrit. He wanted to raise the moral standard of the people through religious preaching. He sent religious teachers not only in the four corners of his kingdom but abroad also. It was mainly due to his efforts that Budhism spread in many Asian countries.
In tune with his religious fervour, he plunged himself in welfare measures for his people. He opened hospitals and dispensaries where the rich and the poor alike could get free treatment. Similarly there were dispensaries for birds and animals. Gardens and parks were laid out throughout the empire. Inns were constructed for the travelers; shady trees were planted alongside the roads. Walls and tanks were sunk for the benefit of the people, since he believed in non-violence, he banned animal sacrifice.
Though he hated violence and observed law of Piety i.e. Dharma in his personal life, yet it does not mean that he was lenient in administration. He was a hard task-master and never hesitated from awarding suitable punishment to the corrupt and guilty.
Ashoka has attained unprecedented fame not only in India but also in the whole world. He is truly a world figure. The government of India has rightly honoured his memory by adopting ‘Ashoka Chakra’ as national symbol.