Ashoka The Great was an ancient Indian Emperor belonging to the Maurya dynasty. He ruled Indian sub-continent and known as one of India’s greatest emperors. The capital of his empire was Pataliputra, with provincial capitals at Ujjain and Taxila. SamratAshoka was the third ruler of the Indian Mauryan Empire (one of the world’s largest empires at that time). After serving as Victory in Ujjain and Taxila, Ashoka succeeded Bindusara on the Mauryan throne. The Ceylonese chronicle says that he seized the throne by killing ninety-nine of his brothers and sparing only the youngest, namely Tishya. Which was just a grotesque invention calculated to stress the wickedness of Ashoka chakravarthy before he embraced Buddhism.
Ashoka The Great – History
During his campaign against Kalinga Ashoka (also spelled as Asoka) personally witnessed the devastation it had caused with thousands of dead people resulting in untold misery due to the loss of husbands, young sons and bread winners. The sufferings he noticed melted his already compassionate heart. Samrat Ashoka put an end to war and returned to his capital as a completely changed man. His mind was overpowered by nonviolence (Ahimsa) universal peace, love towards all the livings beings, be it human beings or animals and humanitarian service. They were all Buddhist ethics of conduct. Samrat Ashok propagated these ethics not only in his empire but in the other countries too.
The earliest event of Ashoka’s reign recorded in his inscriptions is his conquest of Kalinga (Orissa and Ganjam). Ashoka chakravarthy vividly describes the horrors and miseries of this war. One hundred and fifty thousand carried away as captives, hundred thousand were saved and many times as many died. These are figures for Kalinga only and do not include casualties in the King’s army. It is said that soon after the Kalinga war Ashoka chakravarthy became a Buddhist. Whether his remorse at the enormous loss of Kalinga war was responsible for his conversion or his remorse was the result of conversion is a matter on which scholars differ.
Ashoka The Great Samrat
Image: Asian Art
King Ashoka Titles
He earned titles like “Devanampriya”, “Priya darshini” and “Viswasanthi Jyothi” (light of universal peace), “Ahimsa Murthy” and Vishwashanti Jyothi and Bharatmata gem of a son.” His name ‘Ashoka’ means ‘without sorrow in Sanskrit, (a=no/without, soka=sorrow or worry). Asoka was crowned as the emperor of Magadha amidst great pomp and gaiety in 273 B.C.!
Edicts of Ashoka
The thirteenth Major Rock Edict of Samrat Ashoka issued eight years after his consecration. They clearly describe the effect of the Kalinga war on Ashoka chakravarthy and clearly indicates the policy he pursued right through his life.
Emperor Ashoka turned as Buddhist, but he developed an active devotion to Buddhism only two and a half years after his conversion. He had great respect for other religions and was careful not to wound the susceptibilities of any. Later traveled from place to place ‘displaying energy’, visiting brahmanas and sramanas and holding discussions on dharma. Also issued a plea for kindness and consideration all round, replaced royal hunts and holiday excursions by edifying shows and pious conferences.He strove hard to promote the welfare of the whole world by means of hard work and quick despatch of business.
According to the northern tradition Upagupta of Mathura, son of Gupta, the perfumer of Benares, was the spiritual guide of Ashoka Samrat. Ashoka for the first time in the history of Buddhism seems to have been responsible for directing missionary activities both in and outside India. The first step towards this was to circulate instructions on dhamma (dharma) and inscribe them on rocks and pillars overlooking the high roads.
To whomsoever it might have been due, it seems clear that efforts to carry Buddhism to distant countries made after the re-organisation of the Buddhist Church under the patronage of Ashoka Samrat.
Ashoka The Great Emperor
For four years Ashoka’s reign went on uneventfully. Then Samrat Ashok wished to extend his empire. He conquered many neighboring kingdoms. Kalinga was a very affluent kingdom with great riches and culture. It was located between the rivers Godavari and Mahanadi. It had trade relations with several foreign countries. The entire land was very fertile. So, Ashoka chakravarthy was keen to conquer it and annex the kingdom. Ashoka Samrat had a grouse against the king of Kalinga. While all the kings around had attended his coronation and presented gifts, the Kalinga king had neither come nor at least sent any congratulatory message of felicitations. So, Asoka accompanied by lakhs of his soldiers, cavalry, elephant force and chariots invaded Kalinga in 261 B.C.
Samrat Ashoka Kalinga War
The war between the army of King Ashoka and the Kalinga army was very fierce. Ashoka won the war. Everybody was joyful at the victory. Ashoka, riding his royal elephant went around the warfield. What he saw there stunned him with unbearable sorrow. The entire ground was full of dead bodies of young soldiers. Thousands had died. Thousands of horses and hundreds of elephants had died. Windows and old mothers of those slain were wailing. Thousands had become homeless and destitute as most of the soldiers died were bread winners of those families. Ashoka was unable to bear the sorrow that filled his compassionate heart. He immediately took steps to rehabilitate those who had suffered on a account of the war. All the war prisoners released.
Emperor Ashoka and Buddhism
The brutality of the conquest of Kalinga led him to adopt Buddhism and he used his position to propagate the relatively new religion to new heights as far as ancient Rome and Egypt. He made Vibhajyavada school of Buddhism his state religion around 260 B.C. He propagated the Vibhajyavada school of Buddhism and preached it within his domain and worldwide about 250 B.C. Inscriptions depicting the public announcements and propaganda by Asoka have been found on the great rocks and some pillars throughout India. According to these inscriptions, Asoka asked his people to treat one another fairly and with compassion. He urged people to tolerate people of all beliefs. Not to harm human and animals. He sent Buddhist missionaries to Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) and several other countries.
Chakravartin Ashoka Samrat Quotes
Some of the moral codes propagated by Ashoka The Great
- Living beings are not to be hurt. Animal sacrifice during sacrificial rites, yagnas and fairs is to be ended.
- Be compassionate towards all living beings.
- Respect the parents, teachers and elders and be obedient to them.
- Householders ascetics, servants, friends, poor people and mendicants were treated with consideration.
- Don’t lie under any circumstances.
- Everybody should be compassionate towards all living beings, avoid waste, control senses, be honest and sincere, help others and be loyal.
- Never give room for obscenity during public processions and functions.
- Due to more number of poor people, charity for the spread of education is the greatest of all.
- Be chaste in your mind, word and work.
- Though one favors one’s own religion, one should be tolerant of other religions.
- Every person should keep count of his good actions during the day, review his own actions in the day and be good in action which will lead to salvation!
- No man should forget the good performed by him and doing good to your enemy is a good deed.
- Hunting for sport and games of animals like bulls and cocks and goats prohibited.
- All persons were service- minded, good mannered and treat one another as equals. Love all living beings and offer service. Service is the most excellent.
Asoka strictly followed these ethical codes and then asked his citizens to follow them.
King Ashoka’s Welfare Schemes
Samrat Ashoka undertook several welfare schemes and earned a name worthy of being written golden letters in the history of our country.
- Without discrimination he constructed choultries.
- For the convenience of travelers and pilgrims he built good roads and planted shade giving trees on either side of the roads.
- Arranged for wells and tanks along the highways.
- On the way, he also constructed guest houses.
- Encouraged the growth of medicinal trees and shrubs in villages.
- Built hospitals not only for human beings but also for the animals.
- Appointed spies to identify corrupt officials and punish them severely.
- Prohibited animal sacrifice except on very rare festivals.
- Declared killing of parrots, pigeons, cocks and other birds for food as an offense punishable with imprisonment or a fine of fifty coins.
Ashok Samrat Empire
Ashok Samrat travelled throughout his empire to know the conditions of his citizens in person. He gave liberal donations to the poor, old and infirm persons. During the annual celebrations of his coronation he used to release prisoners who sincerely repented for their crimes, built several tanks for agriculture and ports for carrying on trade with countries, constructed huge storehouses for storing food grains during famine or drought, and is also known as Ashoka The Greatand was also popular as Chakravarti Samrat Ashok.
Ashoka Chakra built during Ashoka’s reign. Chakra is a Sanskrit word which also means cycle or self-repeating process. The process Ashoka Chakra signifies is the cycle of time as how the world it signifies is the cycle of time as how the world changes with time. The horse means accuracy and speed while the bull means hard work.
A extensively held unofficial interpretation of the National Flag’s colors is that the saffron stands for spirituality and purity, white for truth and peace, green for prosperity and fertility and the wheel for justice/righteousness. The twenty-four spokes in this chakra/wheel represent twenty-four virtues, like patience, courage, love, goodness, kindness, peacefulness, faithfulness, selflessness, self-control, gentleness, righteousness, truthfulness, self-sacrifice, graciousness, justice, mercy, supreme moral, humility, empathy, sympathy, supreme wisdom, supreme knowledge, love for all beings and hope, faith or trust in the goodness of nature or God.
For some thirty years of his life Emperor Ashoka set himself to alter the faith of the world. He believed with a whole heart not in a ritual or dogma but in something which can best be described as the ‘Law of Piety’, which his edicts explain to be ‘mercy and charity, truth and purity, kindness and goodness’. The Last Rescripts of Ashoka’s reign belong to the twenty-seventh and twenty-eight years after the coronation. And known as the Seven Pillar Edicts. All of them were found in Delhi.
Emperor Ashoka’s reign lasted for 36 to37 years from his coronation. According to tradition his elder brother Sumana or Susima, a rival to the throne vanquished in a contest. The Ceylonese accounts mention Asandhimitra as the chief queen of Ashoka chakravarthy.
In fact we do not know how Ashoka’s reign ended or what followed after it. A Tibetan tradition affirms that he died at Taxila.
All historians have agreed that Emperor Ashoka was one of the greatest kings of history. Under him India reached the high-water mark of material progress and, in a sense, of moral progress too. His eminence lay in the practical and detailed application to the daily administration with highest principles of religion and morality.
Samrat Ashok’s message was one of peace on earth and goodwill among men. The glory and fame of a king do not rest upon the physical extent of his dominion, but upon the moral progress he can help his people to achieve (R.E.I.O). Samrat Ashoka lived up to his ideal.
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