Ashoka Biography

Ashoka Vardhana (Pataliputra, India, 304 BC – ?, 232 BC). Political Leader, Noble and Third Emperor of the Maurya Dynasty, in India, who ruled between 269 and 232 BC.

He is recognized for having adopted Buddhism as his own religion and of the empire, being key to the extension of this faith through the Indian territory, which is why, for Buddhists, Ashoka occupies the second place of importance, after the Buddha itself.

His kingdom extended to present-day Afghanistan, Bengal, and Mysore, as well as to Iran in the West; regions he managed to take, not by the sword, but by the conquest of the dharma.

Early life

Very little is known about his life, since the data on this emperor have been retrieved from the numerous inscriptions, in different languages, such as magadhi, brahmi, Greek and Aramaic, which Ashoka himself had to engrave on rocks and pillars, throughout his empire, and which managed to be translated from 1837, being its first translator the philologist and archaeologist James Prinsep.

According to the information gathered from these inscriptions, Ashoka was to be born in 304 BC, in Pataliputra, India, within the Maruya dynasty, being the grandson of Chandragupta Maurya, founded of this dynasty, and son of Bindusara and Empress Subhadrang.

He is also believed to have other siblings, on the part of his father’s unite with another woman. From his youth he trained as a soldier, distinguishing himself as a great hunter and a reckless warrior. From an early age he was responsible for maintaining control of the provinces.

After his father’s death in 274 BC, a power struggle broke out between the various sons, who considered themselves heirs to the throne. According to an ancient legend, Ashoka killed his brothers and assumed power, and was finally crowned in 269 BC, after four arduous years of succession struggles.

Once crowned he devoted himself to extending the territories of his empire, coming to dominate much of the Indian continent, saving from his oppression only the areas far to the south, among which was the present territory of Sri Lanka.

Conversion to Buddhism

In the midst of his wars of conquest, he marched on the kingdom of Kalinga, located on the east coast of India, present-day area of Odisha and Andrha, ravaging its population, in a battle that claimed the lives of more than a hundred thousand people.

According to the inscriptions, when Ashoka entered the conquered city and saw the destruction for which he had been responsible, his victory became remorse. A Buddhist legend says that while Ashoka walked troubled in the midst of the remains of Kalinga, heard a Buddhist monk named Upagupta, who recited a mantra, asking Buddha for protection. Ashoka spoke to this monk, seeking comfort. Interested in learning more about Buddhism, he began his conversion to this religion.

Real reforms

He renounced his bloody practices and decided to live and reign under Buddhist precepts of compassion and non-violence towards men and animals. He abandoned the sword, and decided to implement the “conquest by the dharma”.

He gave up luxuries. He banned hunting, slaughtering livestock and the use of Vedic animals. He also vetoed the culinary use of meat in the kingdom. He opened schools and hospitals for men and animals throughout his domains. Through the paths of his kingdom he planted fig trees to shade walkers, and mango trees, to provide them with fruit.

He decreed the construction of wells, to guarantee water to travelers and rest houses were built for men and animals along the roads of the kingdom. He promulgated religious tolerance, maintaining good relations with other groups, especially hindus, believed to have also incorporated some precepts into his own philosophy.

He encouraged respect for the elderly, parents, teachers, and beggars, as well as kindness to servants and cargo animals.

He established the figure of the dharma mahamatras, officials dedicated to spreading morality, however over time he understood that virtue cannot be decreed by force, so he counseled his subjects to meditate, declaring them all as their children. He built several monasteries and stupas in honor of Buddha.

He also began the task of spreading his edicts and teachings throughhis kingdom, for which he decided to engrave them on pillars and rocks, in several languages, located in key sites, such as trade routes, religious centers, entrances of important cities, of way to make sure your message reached as many people as you can.

In them one could read the history of his reign, as well as messages about the importance of exercising piety.

Final years and legacy

Little is known about his personal life. According to the inscriptions it is believed that there were two queens, Vidisha Mahadevi, his first wife; and Shakyakumari Asanshimitra, with whom he had the twins, his son Mahindra and his daughter Sanghamitra, who according to some writings were key to the conversion of the populations located in the south of the continent, with special emphasis on Sri Lanka. Likewise, the inscriptions speak of three other children: Kunala, Yalauka and Tuara.

Similarly, the circumstances of his death are unknown. His kingdom survived him only for fifty years. However, his influence continues today in Indian culture.

Its creation, the “Ashoka Chakra” (Wheel of Justice) is part of the Indian flag, since its independence, obtained in 1947, while its seal the Lion of Ashoka, carved into the Sarnath pillar, became the hallmark of the current state of India, among other great influences of this emperor, first in history to gain power over other territories, through the conversion of his subjects, achieved on the basis of piety.

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Ashoka Biography
Source: Education  
July 31, 2019

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