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Amir Amanullah Khan Award (Afghanistan)

Society & Philosophy

Samrat Ashok

Samrat Ashok
PART – 1





• Ashoka was born as Devanampriya Priyadarshi Samrat Ashoka, in 304 BC, in Pataliputra (close to modern-day Patna), to the second emperor of the Mauryan Dynasty Bindusara and Subhadrangī .He was the grandson of Chandragupta Maurya, founder of the Maurya dynasty and the builder of one of the largest empires in ancient India.

• His mother was queen Subhadrangī. She gave him the name Ashoka, meaning “one without sorrow”. Ashoka had several elder siblings, all of whom were his half-brothers from the other wives of his father Bindusara. Ashoka was given royal military training.

• Born into a royal family, he was good at fighting since childhood and received royal military training. Besides, he was also excellent at hunting, evident from his ability to kill a lion with only a wooden  rod.


• Considered a fearless and heartless military leader, he was deputed to curb the riots in the Avanti province of the empire.He was appointed the Viceroy of Avanti province in 286 BC after suppressing the uprising at Ujjain.

• Chanakya, Bindusara’s chief advisor, destroyed the nobles and kings of 16 towns and made himself the master of all territory between the eastern and the western seas. Bindusara’s death in 272 BCE led to a war over succession.

• Bindusara wanted his elder son Susima to succeed him but Ashoka was supported by his father’s ministers, who found Susima to be arrogant and disrespectful towards them.

• A minister named Radhagupta seems to have played an important role in Ashoka’s rise to the throne. Radhagupta, would later be appointed prime minister by Ashoka once he had gained the throne.


• The Dipavansa and Mahavansa refer to Ashoka’s killing 99 of his brothers, sparing only one, named Vitashoka or Tissa, although there is no clear proof about this incident .The coronation happened in 269 BCE, four years after his succession to the throne.

• Buddhist legends state that Ashoka was bad-tempered and of a wicked nature. He built Ashoka’s Hell, an elaborate torture chamber described as a “Paradisal Hell” due to the contrast between its beautiful exterior and the acts carried out within by his appointed executioner, Girikaa.

• Ascending the throne, Ashoka expanded his empire over the next eight years, from the present-day Assam in the East to Balochistan in the West; from the Pamir Knot in Afghanistan 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.


• Ashoka is believed to have had five wives. They were named Devi (or Vedisa-Mahadevi-Shakyakumari), the second queen, Karuvaki, Asandhimitra(designated agramahisī or “chief queen”), Padmavati, and Tishyarakshita.

• He is similarly believed to have had four sons and two daughters: Mahinda,Tivara , Kunala and Jalauka a daughter  and another daughter named Charumati.

• After Ashoka’s accession, Mahendra headed a Buddhist mission, sent probably under the auspices of the Emperor, to Sri Lanka.


• Even though the predecessors of Ashoka ruled over a vast empire, the kingdom of Kalinga on the northeast coast of India (present-day Odisha and North Coastal Andhra Pradesh) never came under the control of the Mauryan Empire. Ashoka wanted to change this and invaded Kalinga for the same.

• The reasons for invading Kalinga were both political and economic. Kalinga was a prosperous region consisting of peaceful and artistically skilled people. Known as the Utkala, Kalinga had important ports and a powerful navy. They had an open culture and used a uniform civil code.

• Kalinga was under the rule of the Nanda Empire until the empire’s fall in 321 BCE. Ashoka’s grandfather Chandragupta Maurya had previously attempted to conquer Kalinga, but had been repulsed. Ashoka set himself to the task of conquering the newly independent empire as soon as he felt he was securely established on the throne.


• He attacked Kalinga in 261 BC to further extend his Empire and conquered it successfully, only to be shocked to see the massive destruction caused in terms of both property and human lives.

• The bloody war at Kalinga left over 100,000 soldiers and civilians dead and more than 150,000 deported. This large-scale killing of humans sickened Ashoka so much that he vowed never to fight again and started practicing non-violence.

• 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 the Kalinga.

PART – 2

• 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 the Kalinga. Kalinga was a state that prided itself on its sovereignty and democracy.

• With its monarchical parliamentary democracy it was quite an exception in ancient Bharata where there existed the concept of Rajdharma. Rajdharma means the duty of the rulers, which was intrinsically entwined with the concept of bravery and dharma.

• From his 13th inscription, we come to know that the battle was a massive one and caused the deaths of more than 100,000 soldiers and many civilians who rose up in defence; over 150,000 were deported.

• Nevertheless, his patronage led to the expansion of Buddhism in the Mauryan empire and other kingdoms during his rule, and worldwide from about 250 BCE.


• Ashoka ruled for an estimated 36 years and died in 232 BCE.Legend states that during his cremation, his body burned for seven days and nights.After his death, the Mauryan dynasty lasted just fifty more years until his empire stretched over almost all of the Indian subcontinent.

• The reign of Ashoka Maurya might have disappeared into history as the ages passed by, had he not left behind records of his reign. These records are in the form of sculpted pillars and rocks inscribed with a variety of actions and teachings he wished to be published under his name. The language used for inscription was in one of the Prakrit “common” languages etched in a Brahmi script.

• In the year 185 BCE, about fifty years after Ashoka’s death, the last Maurya ruler, Brihadratha, was assassinated by the commander-in-chief of the Mauryan armed forces, Pushyamitra Shunga, while he was taking the Guard of Honor of his forces. Pushyamitra Shunga founded the Shunga dynasty (185-75 BCE) and ruled just a fragmented part of the Mauryan Empire.


• Ashoka had almost been forgotten, but in the 19th century James Prinsep contributed in the revelation of historical sources. After deciphering the Brahmi script, Prinsep had originally identified the “Priyadasi” of the inscriptions he found with the King of Ceylon Devanampiya Tissa.

• However, in 1837, George Turnour discovered an important Sri Lankan manuscript (Dipavamsa, or “Island Chronicle” ).

• In particular, the Sanskrit Ashokavadana (‘Story of Ashoka’), written in the 2nd century, and the two Pāli chronicles of Sri Lanka (the Dipavamsa and Mahavamsa) provide most of the currently known information about Ashoka.

• Additional information is contributed by the Edicts of Ashoka, whose authorship was finally attributed to the Ashoka.


• As a Buddhist emperor, Ashoka believed that Buddhism is beneficial for all human beings as well as animals and plants, so he built a number of stupas, Sangharama, viharas, chaitya, and residences for Buddhist monks all over South Asia and Central Asia.

• He ordered the construction of 84,000 stupas to house the Buddha’s relics. He sent his only daughter Sanghamitra and son Mahindra to spread Buddhism in Sri Lanka.

• At the end of the Third Buddhist Council, Ashoka sent Buddhist missionaries to nine parts of the world to propagate Buddhism. Ashoka helped to construct Sanchi and Mahabodhi Temple.


• Ashoka’s military power was strong, but after his conversion to Buddhism, he maintained friendly relations with three major Tamil kingdoms in the South—namely, Cheras, Cholas and Pandyas.

• Ashoka’s rock edicts declare that injuring living things is not good, and no animal should be sacrificed for slaughter. He imposed a ban on killing of “all four-footed creatures that are neither useful nor edible”, and of specific animal species including several birds, certain types of fish and bulls among others.

• He also banned killing of female goats, sheep and pigs that were nursing their young; as well as their young up to the age of six months. Ashoka also abolished the royal hunting of animals and restricted the slaying of animals for food in the royal residence.

• Ashoka has been described as “one of the very few instances in world history of a government treating its animals as citizens who are as deserving of its protection as the human residents”




• The Ashoka Chakra (the wheel of Ashoka) is a depiction of the Dharmachakra (the Wheel of Dharma). The wheel has 24 spokes which represent the 12 Laws of Dependent Origination and the 12 Laws of Dependent Termination.

• The Ashoka Chakra has been widely inscribed on many relics of the Mauryan Emperor, most prominent among which is the Lion Capital of Sarnath and The Ashoka Pillar.

• The most visible use of the Ashoka Chakra today is at the centre of the National flag of the Republic of India (adopted on 22 July 1947), where it is rendered in a Navy-blue color on a White background, by replacing the symbol of Charkha (Spinning wheel) of the pre-independence versions of the flag.

• The Ashoka Chakra can also been seen on the base of the Lion Capital of Ashoka which has been adopted as the National Emblem of India.


• The four animals in the Sarnath capital are believed to symbolise different steps of Lord Buddha’s life.

• The Elephant represents the Buddha’s idea in reference to the dream of Queen Maya of a white elephant entering her womb.

• The Bull represents desire during the life of the Buddha as a prince.

• The Horse represents Buddha’s departure from palatial life.

• The Lion represents the accomplishment of Buddha.



• Sanchi, Madhya Pradesh, India

• Dhamek Stupa, Sarnath, Uttar Pradesh, India

• Mahabodhi Temple, Bihar, India

• Barabar Caves, Bihar, India

• Nalanda Mahavihara (some portions like Sariputta Stupa), Bihar, India

• Taxila University (some portions like Dharmarajika Stupa and Kunala Stupa), Taxila, Pakistan

• Bhir Mound (reconstructed), Taxila, Pakistan • Bharhut stupa, Madhya Pradesh, India

• Deorkothar Stupa, Madhya Pradesh, India

• Butkara Stupa, Swat, Pakistan

• Sannati Stupa, Karnataka, India: the only known sculptural depiction of Ashoka

• Mir Rukun Stupa, Nawabshah, Pakistan