Inherited skills and empire
Chandragupta Maurya, the first ruler of the Maurayan Empire was
Ashoka’s grandfather. Ashoka’s father was Bindusara and his mother
was Shubhadrangi. Ashoka was an active and mischievous child and
immensely interested in all his father’s activities. He grew up
learning the skills required of a young prince with ease. He also
imbibed the skills of administration watching his father at work.
The first charge
An impressed and proud Bindusara made him in charge of the
kingdom of Avanti at a very early age. Ashoka managed his small
kingdom very well and while there he married Shakya Kumari. Two
children Mahendra and Sanghamitra were born to the royal couple.
Bindusara was faced with a revolt in Taxila; he used his trump card
and sent Ashoka to subdue the revolt. However, the citizens of
Taxila who had started the revolt welcomed him with open arms and
poured out their grievances against the administration. Such was the
affect of Ashoka on the people of his land. Ashoka settled matters
and returned home even more popular.
The emperor and his peaceful reign
Shortly after, Bindusara fell ill and his council of ministers
chose Ashoka over his elder brother as the successor to the throne.
Ashoka was duly crowned and the whole of Patliputra (modern Patna in
the East of India)
rejoiced. The kingdom prospered under Ashoka’s rule. Eight peaceful
The victorious war in which he lost his
peace of mind
Ashoka desired to extend his kingdom to encompass Kalinga (now
the state of Orissa in India) and so he led an army to conquer it. A bitter war was fought
and at the end of it, the Magadhan army emerged victorious. Kalinga
was his, but was Ashoka joyous? No he was overwhelmed with sorrow at
the destruction he had caused. A visit to the battlefield after one
‘victorious’ battle made him realize that he was on the wrong path.
The ‘victory’ held no value for him as he surveyed the devastation
that had brought him the victory. The pain and suffering of the
wounded and the heartrending cries of the mourners of the dead
affected him profoundly. He vowed to give up battles, to lead a
peaceful existence and more importantly to carry the message of
peace wherever he could. The amount of death, suffering and
devastation left in the wake of the war filled him with grief. The
experience made him resolve to shun violence and take to spreading
the message of peace. The scenes of pain and suffering that he had
been witness to, haunted him and robbed him of all peace of mind.
Buddham sharanam gachhami
It was at this point of his life that Ashoka was introduced
to the teachings of Buddha. He was initiated into Buddhism by
Upagupta, a disciple of Buddha. Buddhism changed him in many ways.
One of the major changes was that he gave up hunting, which was a
favorite sport with him and he also gave up eating meat.
In an effort to spread the message of
love and brotherhood and peace, Ashoka had inscriptions
written on stone and put up everywhere for people to read and
be enlightened. Such inscriptions known as edicts can be seen
even today in many places like in Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat,
Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Orissa, Andhra Pradesh and at
Siddapura of Chitradurga District, Koppala and Maski in
Raichur District of Karnataka. He had them placed in places
that are now outside India - Peshawar District in Pakistan,
near Khandahar in Afghanistan and on the borders of Nepal. The
edicts were written in Prakrit, Greek and Aramaic to ensure
maximum coverage, as his empire was vast. He went a step
further and appointed officers known as ‘Dharmamahamatras’ to
spread the ideas of truth and peace among people.
inscription at Girnar
Seeing that Buddhism was losing its
foothold Ashoka took it upon himself to popularize it and spared no
effort in doing so. He sent both his son and daughter to far off
lands to spread the message of Buddhism. Ashoka is believed to have
been the only emperor who took it upon himself to educate his people
on moral issues also.