Ashoka Maurya (Sanskrit: अशोक मौर्य; 304–232 BCE, commonly known as Ashoka or Ashoka the Great, was an Indian emperor of the Maurya Dynasty who ruled almost all of the Indian subcontinent from circa 269 BCE to 232 BCE. One of India's great emperors, Ashoka reigned over a realm that stretched from the Hindu Kush mountains and covered the entire Indian subcontinent except parts of present day Tamil, Nadu and Kerala. The empire's capital was Pataliputra with povincial capitals at Taxila and Ujjain.

In about 260 BCE, Ashoka waged a bitterly destructive war against the state of Kalinga. He conquered Kalinga, which none of his ancestors had done. He embraced Buddhism after witnessing the mass deaths of the Kalinga War, which he himself had waged out ofa  desire of conquest. Ashoka reflected on the war in Kalinga, which reportedly had resulted in more than 100,000 deaths and 150,000 deportations." Ashoka converted gradually to Buddhism beginning in about 263 BCE. He was later dedicated to the propogation of Buddhism across Asia, and established monuments marking several significant sites in the life of Gautama Buddha. Ashoka regarded Buddhism as a doctrine that could serve as a cultural foundation for political unity. Ashoka is now remembered as a philanthropic administrator. In the Kalinga edicts, he addressed his people as his children, and mentions that as a father he desires their good.

Ashoka is referred to as Samraat Chakravartin Ashoka the Emporer of Emporers Ahoka. He name Aśoka means painless, without sorrow in Sanskrit. In his edicts, he is referred to as Devānāmpriya and Priyadarśin. His fondness for his name's connection to the Saraca asoca tree, or the Ashoka tree is also referenced in the Ashokavadana.

HG. Wells wrote of Ashoka in his book The Outline of History: Amidst the tens of thousands of names of monarchs that crowd the columns of history, their majesties and graciousness and serenenties and royal hignesses and the like, the name Ashoka shines, and shines almonst alone, a star. Along with the Edicts of Ashoka, his legend is related in the 2nd-century Ashokavadana and in the Sri Lankan text Mahavamsa. The emblem of the modern Republic of India is an adaptation of the Lion Capital of Ashoka.

Biography[edit | edit source]

Ashoka's early life[edit | edit source]

Ashoka was born to the Muryan emporer Bindusara and a relatively lower ranked wife of his, Dharma. He was the grandson of Chandragupta Maurya, the founder of the Mauryan dynasty. The Avadana texts mention that his mother was queen Subhadrangi. Acccording to the Ashokavadana, she was the daughter of a Brahmin from the city of Champa.

Ashoka had several older siblings, all of whom were half-brothers of from other wives of Bindusara's. His fighting abilities were apparent form an early age and he was given royal military training. He was known as a fearsome hunter and, according to one legend, killed a lion with just a wooden rod.

Rise to power[edit | edit source]

The Buddhist text Divyavadana describes Ashoka putting down a revolt due to activities of wicked ministers. Bindusara's death in 272 BCE led to war over succession. Bindusara wanted his son Sushim to succeed him, but Ashoka was supported by his father's ministers, who thought Sushim was arrogant and disrespectful toward them. A minister named Radhagupta seems to have played an important role in Ashoka's rise to power. The coronation happened in 269 BCE, four years after his succession to the throne.


Early life as an emporer[edit | edit source]

Buddhist legends state that Ashoka was bad tempered and of a wicked nature. He built Ashoka's Hell, an elaborate torture chamber described as Paradisal Hell in contrast to its beautiful exterior and the acts carried out inside by the appointed executioner, Girikaa. Professor Charles Drekmeier cautions that Buddhist legends dramatise the change that Buddhism brought in him, and therefore exaggerate Ashoka's past wickedness and his piousness after the conversion.


Ascending the throne, Ashoka expanded his emprie over the next eight years, from the present day boundries Assam in the East to Iran in the West from the Pamir Knot in the north to the peninsula of southern India except for present day Tamil Nadu and Kerala, which were ruled by the three ancient Tamil kingdoms.

Conquest of Kalinga[edit | edit source]

While the early part of Ashoka's reign was apparently quite bloodthirsty, he became a follower of the Buddha's teachings after his conquest of Kalinga. The Kalinga War happened eight years after his coronation. From his 13th inscription, we come to know that the battle was a massive one and caused the deaths of 100,000 people over 150,000 were deported. When he was walking through the grounds of Kalinga after his conquest, rejoicing his victory, he was moved by the number of bodies trewn there and the wails of the kith and kin of the dead.

Buddhist converstion[edit | edit source]

Edict 13 on the Edicts of Ashoka Rock Inscriptions reflect the great remorse the king felt after observing the destruction of Kalinga.

The edict goes on to address the even greater degree of sorrow and regret resulting from Ashoka's understanding that the friends and families of deceased would suffer greatly, too.


Legend says that one day after the war was over, Ashoka ventured out to roam the city and all he could see were burnt houses and scattered corpses. This sight made him sick and he cried the famous monologue:

What have I done If this is a victory, what's a defeat then Is this a victory or a defeat Is this justice or injustice Is it gallantry or a rout Is it valor to kill innocent children and women Did I do it to widen the empire and for prosperity or to destroy the other's kingdom and splendor One has lost her husband, someone else a father, someone a child, someone an unborn infant. What's this debris of the corpses Are these marks of victory or defeat Are these vultures, crows, eagles the messengers of death or evil
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