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iXiGOers Jul 16 2013

What is the history of Indian ruler Ashoka?

Vaishali Singh Jul 16 2013
1 person found this answer useful Useful ?Yes

"On conquering Kalinga the beloved of the Gods felt remorse, for, when an independent country is conquered, the slaughter, death and deportation of the people is extremely grievous to the beloved of the Gods... This inscription of dhamma has been engraved so that any sons or great-grandsons that I may have... should only consider conquest by dhamma to be a true conquest....”

— from an Ashokan Rock Edict

Photo of an Ashokan Rock Edict

The king widely considered the greatest Indian monarch is not remembered most for his conquests or politics, but for his remorse at the suffering his war caused. And for his stated commitment to mending his ways. It is that most fascinating of dramas, the transformation of a human being, that has endured over two millennia.

Ashoka ruled in the 3rd century BCE, the third king of the Mauryan dynasty. The Mauryas ruled the most extensive empire among Indian dynasties, covering most of the Indian subcontinent. Son of Bindusara (who is believed to have ruled in the times of Gautam Buddha) and grandson of Chandragupta Maurya (whose confrontation with Alexander is a famous tale), Ashoka came to the throne of Magadha after a war of succession. The capital of the empire was in Pataliputra (modern Patna).

A portrait of Ashoka

The most important episode in Ashoka’s life came after his army’s victory over Kalinga (roughly today’s Orissa), when he was repelled by the suffering, announced that he renounced war and violence, embraced Buddhist precepts, committed himself to Dhamma, as expressed in many of his edicts found across the land, and greatly aided its spread. Academic opinion is divided about whether Ashoka’s promotion of Buddhist practices was a matter of heart or strategy. But his edicts do forbid animal sacrifice, emphasise a respect for life, tolerance, right conduct towards family, friends and slaves, and talk of Ashoka’s respect for all sects.

Ashoka’s edicts were either engraved in stone, on huge rock faces spread from Kandahar to Girnar, Bhubaneswar to Siddapur, or engraved on tall monolithic pillars made of smooth Chunar sandstone and topped by his emblem of a lion. His lion capital was chosen as the Indian state’s national emblem. There were 14 major rock edicts, eight minor ones, and seven major pillar edicts in all.

His edicts made Ashoka one of the earliest historical personalities to be intimately understood, when the British Orientalists were piecing together India’s history. In the 18th and 19th centuries, when interested officials of the East India Company like William Jones and members of the Asiatic Society were trying to discover India’s ancient history in the absence of written accounts, reports started coming in of pillars and rocks with undecipherable inscriptions from many parts of India. Finally in 1837, James Prinsep, master at the Calcutta mint, deciphered the Ashokan Brahmi script from inscriptions at the Sanchi stupa.

Photo of Sanchi Stupa

The king, in Prinsep’s translations of the edicts, called himself Devanampiya (beloved of the Gods) Piyadasi, and was identified as Ashoka through Sri Lankan Buddhist chronicles. The extent of his empire and his international contacts were eye-openers for the scholars.

Buddhist legends talk of how Ashoka fell in love with Devi, daughter of a Vidisha merchant. Their son Mahinda headed a Buddhist mission to Sri Lanka, one of many such emissaries. It is also believed that Ashoka sponsored the Third Buddhist Council at Pataliputra. Ashoka’s role in the spread of Buddhism became a lasting legacy of the beloved of the Gods.

0 people found this answer useful Useful ?Yes
The Paul of Buddhism.
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