Biography of Ashoka the Great: Birth, Tenure, Religion, Empire, Conquest and Fall

Ashoka the Great (reigned 268–232 BCE), the third of the Maurya dynasty, was the greatest king of the Maurya Empire (322–185 BCE), known for his renunciation of war, the development of the concept of Dhamma (ethical social conduct), and the spread of Buddhism at home and abroad. He was known for promoting. as well as their vastly influential empire as an almost all-India political entity.




Biography of Ashoka the Great

At its height, under Ashoka, the Mauryan Empire extended from modern Iran to almost the entire Indian subcontinent. Ashoka was able to rule this vast empire initially through the teachings of a political treatise known as the Arthashastra, attributed to Prime Minister Chanakya (also known by two other names, Kautilya and Vishnugupta, 350–275 BCE) who served under Ashoka’s grandfather Chandragupta Maurya (r.c. 321 – c.297 BCE) who founded the vast Maurya Empire.

Ashoka name meaning

Ashoka means “one without sorrow” which was probably his given name. He is referred to in his inscriptions, which are carved in stone, as Devanampiya Piyadassi, which according to the scholar John Kaye (and agrees with the scholarly consensus) means “Beloved of the Gods” and “Graceful of Pisces”. “.

He is said to have been very cruelly bloodthirsty early in his reign until he launched a campaign against the Kalinga kingdom in 261 BCE, which resulted in such carnage, destruction, and death that Ashoka called the war Abandoned Niti forever and, over time, converted to Buddhism, devoting himself to peace, as exemplified in his concept of Dhamma.

Outside of his orders, much of what is known about him comes from Buddhist texts, which regard him as an exemplar of transformation and virtuous behavior.

The empire that he and his family built was destroyed only 50 years after his death. Although he was the greatest of kings of one of the largest and most powerful empires in ancient Indian history, his name was lost to history until he was identified in 1837 CE by the British scholar and orientalist James Prinsep (1799–1840 CE). was not done.

head 1 head 2
Name Emperor Ashoka
Birth 304 BC
Father’s name Bindusara
Mother’s name Subhadrangi
Grandfather’s Name Chandragupta Maurya 321 – c.297 BCE
Wife’s name Karuvaki and Vidisha-Mahadevi
Brother Susim and Vitashoka
Lineage Maurya dynasty
Capital Patiliputra
Reign 273 – 232 BCE
Coronation 269 BC
Major war Kalinga war 261 BC
Children Son Mahindra and daughter Sanghamitra
Death 232 BC
Previous Bindusara
Successor Samprati
Religion Bodha

Since then, Ashoka has been regarded as one of the most fascinating ancient kings for his decision to renounce warfare, his insistence on religious tolerance, and his peace efforts to establish Buddhism as a major world religion.

Early life and rise to power of Ashoka the Great

Although Ashoka’s name also appears in the Puranas (encyclopedic literature of India dealing with kings, heroes, legends, and deities), his name appears as Ashoka Vardhana, but there is a paucity of information about his life. The accounts of his youth, rise to power, and renunciation of violence after the Kalinga campaign comes from Buddhist sources, which are in many ways considered more historical works and more religious legends.

when was Ashoka born?

Ashoka was born in 304 CE in Pataliputra, and is said to have been one of the hundred sons of his father Bindusara (ruled 297–c. 273 BCE) by his wives. His mother’s name is given as Subhadrangi in one place but as Dharma in another. She is also portrayed as the daughter of a Brahmin (highest caste) and the principal wife of Bindusara in some texts, while in others as a woman of low status and a minor wife.

The story of Bindusara’s 100 sons is rejected by most scholars, who believe that Ashoka was the second of the four sons. His elder brother, Susim, was heir apparent and crown prince, and Ashoka’s chances of rising to power were slim and even impossible because his father disliked him.

  Description of Ashoka’s qualification

He was highly educated at court, trained in martial arts, and of course, he was instructed in the precepts of the arts—though he was not considered a worthy candidate for the throne—just as one of the royal sons.

Arthashastra is a treatise that covers many different topics related to society, but primarily it is a manual on political science that provides instructions on how to govern effectively. This is attributed to Chanakya, Chandragupta’s prime minister, who selected and trained Chandragupta to become the king. When Chandragupta abdicated in favor of Bindusara, the latter is said to have been trained in economics and so, almost certainly, would have been his son.

Ashoka’s reign as crown prince

When Ashoka was around the age of 18, he was sent from
Pataliputra to Takshashila (Takshashila) to quell a rebellion. According to a legend, Bindusara gave his son an army but no weapons; The weapons were later provided by supernatural means.

The same legend claims that Ashoka showed mercy to those who laid down their arms upon his arrival. No historical account of Ashoka’s campaign in Taxila has survived; This is accepted as a historical fact based on suggestions from inscriptions and place names but the details are unknown.


After succeeding at Taxila, Bindusara sent his son to rule the commercial center of Ujjain, in which he also succeeded. No details are available of how Ashoka performed his duties at Ujjain, as Kay notes, “What was deemed most noteworthy was Ashoka’s love affair with the daughter of a local merchant”. This woman is named the goddess of the city of Vidisha (also known as Vidisha-Mahadevi), who according to some traditions played an important role in Ashoka’s attraction to Buddhism.

      She was apparently not married to Ashoka nor was she destined to accompany him to Pataliputra and become one of his queens. Nevertheless, a son and a daughter were born to him. The son, Mahendra, would lead the Buddhist mission in Sri Lanka; And it may be that his mother was already a Buddhist, thus raising the possibility that Ashoka [at this time] was attracted to the Buddha’s teachings.

According to some legends, Devi was the first to introduce Ashoka to Buddhism, but it has also been suggested that Ashoka was already a nominal Buddhist when he came into contact with Devi and that he may have joined her. Share the teachings of Buddha.

Buddhism was a minor philosophical-religious sect in India at this time, one of several heretical schools of thought (along with Ajivika, Jainism, and Charvaka) within the orthodox belief system of Sanatana Dharma (“Brahmanical religion”). was Better known as Hinduism.

The focus of later chronicles on Ashoka’s association with the beautiful Buddhist goddess, rather than his administrative achievements, can be explained as an attempt to highlight the future king’s early association with the religion he would achieve fame.

Again the suppression of the rebellion in Takshashila

Ashoka was still in Ujjain when Taxila rebelled again and Bindusara sent Susim this time. Susim was still busy suppressing the rebellion when Bindusara fell ill and ordered his eldest son to be recalled.

However, the king’s ministers preferred Ashoka as the successor and so he was invited and crowned (or, according to some legends himself) to become the king after Bindusara’s death (273 BCE).
Ashoka, after gaining power, had Susim killed (or rather by his ministers) by throwing him into a charcoal pit where he burned to death. Legends also claim that he killed his other 99 brothers, but scholars say that he killed only two and that the youngest, Vitashoka, renounced all claims to rule and became a Buddhist monk. The coronation of Ashoka took place in 269 BC.

Kalinga war and Ashoka’s abdication

Once he took power, by all accounts, he established himself as a cruel and merciless despot who pursued pleasure at the expense of his subjects and took pleasure in torturing those he personally loved. Which were known as Ashoka’s Naraka or Hell-on-Earth. Kay, however, draws a discrepancy between Ashoka’s earlier association with Buddhism through the goddess and his portrayal of the new king as a bloody fiendish saint,

      Buddhist sources represent Ashoka’s pre-Buddhist lifestyle as one of indulgence steeped in cruelty. The conversion then became even more remarkable that with ‘right thinking’ even a demon of wickedness could be transformed into a model of compassion. The sutra, such as it was, precludes any admission of Ashoka’s early fascination with Buddhism and may explain his callous conduct of him at the time of Bindusara’s death.-Key

It most likely is, but at the same time, it might not be. His policy of brutality and ruthlessness was a historical fact, as evidenced by his edicts, especially his 13th major edict, which addresses the Kalinga War and laments the dead and lost.

The kingdom of Kalinga was on the coast to the south of Pataliputra and was very wealthy through trade. The Maurya Empire besieged Kalinga and apparently, the two kingdoms prospered commercially through interaction. What inspired the Kalinga campaign is unknown but, in 261 BCE, Ashoka invaded the kingdom, slaughtering 100,000 inhabitants, deporting 150,000, and leaving thousands of others to die of disease and famine.

It is said that afterward, Ashoka left the battlefield at the sight of death and destruction, and experienced a change of heart which he later recorded in his 13th Edict:

      On conquering Kalinga, the Beloved of the Gods [Ashoka] repented that when a free country is conquered, the slaughter, death, and exile of the people is extremely painful to the Beloved of the Gods and weighs heavily on his mind. falls … Even those who are fortunate enough to have survived, and whose love has not diminished, suffer from the misfortune of their friends, acquaintances, co-workers, and relatives … Today if one-hundredth of those Or the thousandth part that was slain or died or was exiled to Kalinga was captured, being similarly afflicted, it was a burden on the mind of the Beloved of the Gods. 


Ashoka then gave up war and embraced Buddhism but this was not the sudden change that is usually attributed to a gradual acceptance of the Buddha’s teachings, whether he was already familiar with them or not. It is entirely possible that Ashoka knew about the Buddha’s message before Kalinga and did not take it seriously, not allowing it to change his behavior in any way.

The same pattern is seen in the many people – famous kings and generals or those whose names will never be remembered – who claim to belong to a certain religion while routinely ignoring its most fundamental vision.

It is also possible that Ashoka’s knowledge of Buddhism was rudimentary and it was only after Kalinga and a spiritual journey through which he discovered peace and self-forgiveness, that he chose Buddhism among other options available. Either way, Ashoka would adopt the Buddha’s teachings as an emperor and established Buddhism as the dominant religious ideology.

Path of peace and criticism

According to accepted records, once Ashoka embraced Buddhism, he followed the path of peace and ruled with justice and kindness. While he had previously been engaged in hunting, he now went on pilgrimage and established vegetarianism, where hundreds of animals were slaughtered for feasts in the royal kitchens. He made himself available to his subjects at all times, addressed what he believed to be wrong, and upheld laws that benefited everyone, not just the upper class and the wealthy.

This understanding of Ashoka’s post-Kalinga reign is given by Buddhist texts (especially those from Sri Lanka) and their inscriptions. Modern-day scholars have questioned how accurate this depiction is, however, given that Ashoka did not return the kingdom to the survivors of the Kalinga campaign, nor is there any evidence that he recalled the 150,000 who had been exiled. I went. He made no attempt to disband the army, and there is evidence that the army continued to be used to put down rebellions and keep the peace.

All these observations are accurate interpretations of the evidence but ignore the main message of the Arthashastra, which must have been Ashoka’s training firsthand as it had been with his father and grandfather.

“The Arthashastra makes it clear that a strong state can only be maintained by a strong king. A weak king will indulge himself and his desires; a wise king will consider what is best for the greatest number of people.” What’s good.”

In following this principle, Ashoka could not fully implement Buddhism as a new government policy because, firstly, he needed to present a public image of strength and secondly, most of his subjects were not Buddhists. Was and will be opposed to that policy.

Ashoka may have expressed personal regret over the Kalinga campaign, had a genuine change of heart, and yet was unable to return Kalinga to its people or reverse his earlier exile policy as this would have made him appear weak and would have threatened other regions or Encourages foreign powers. acts of aggression. What was done was done, and the king learned from his mistake and became determined to be a better man and emperor.


Ashoka’s response to the war and the tragedy of Kalinga was the inspiration for the creation of the concept of Dhamma. Dhamma originally derives from the Hindu religion-set concept of dharma (duty), which is one’s responsibility or purpose in life, but more directly, from the Buddha’s use of dharma as a cosmic law and focus on what should go. Ashoka’s Dhamma includes this understanding but extends it to the general goodwill and benevolence for all in the form of “right behavior” that promotes peace and understanding. Kay notes that the concept is equivalent to “kindness, charity, truthfulness, and chastity” (95). It is also understood to mean “good conduct” or “decent behavior”.

After converting to Buddhism, Ashoka began pilgrimages to the holy places of the Buddha and began to spread his views on the Dhamma. He ordered edicts, many referencing the Dhamma or fully explaining the concept, to be carved in stone throughout his empire and sent Buddhist missionaries to other regions and countries, including modern Sri Lanka, China, Thailand, and Greece; In doing so, he established Buddhism as a major world religion.

  These missionaries spread the Buddha’s vision peacefully because, as Ashoka had commanded, no one should put his religion above anyone else’s; To do so devalued one’s own faith as superior to another’s and therefore lost the humility required of sacred subjects.


Biography of Ashoka the Great: Birth, Tenure, Religion, Empire, Conquest and Fall

Prior to the reign of Ashoka, the Buddha’s relics were placed in eight stupas (tumuli containing relics) across the country. Ashoka had the relics removed and is said to have ordered the construction of 84,000 stupas across the country, each containing some part of the Buddha’s relics.

In this way, he thought, the Buddhist message of peace and harmonious existence between people and the natural world would be further encouraged. The number of these stupas is considered an exaggeration, but there is no doubt that Ashoka ordered the construction of many of them, such as the famous work at Sanchi.

Ashoka died after ruling for about 40 years. His reign had expanded and strengthened the Mauryan Empire and yet it did not last even 50 years after his death. His name was eventually forgotten, his stupas were toppled, and his inscriptions carved on majestic pillars were covered with sand and buried.

When European scholars began researching Indian history in the 19th century, the British scholar and orientalist James Prinsep found an inscription in an unknown script on the Sanchi Stupa, which he eventually identified as referring to a king by the name of Devanampiya Piyadassi. did you understand. , as far as Prinsep knew, was not referenced elsewhere.

In time, and through Prinsep’s efforts in deciphering the Brahmi script as well as the script of other scholars, it was understood that Ashoka named in the Puranas as a Mauryan king was identical to this Devanampiya Piyadassi.

Prinsep published his work on Ashoka in 1837 AD, shortly before his death, and the great Mauryan king has attracted increasing interest around the world ever since; Most notably as the only empire-builder of the ancient world who, at the height of his power, eschewed war and conquest to pursue mutual understanding and harmonious existence, both as a form of domestic and foreign policy.

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