Samrat Ashoka History & Biography

Samrat Ashoka History & Biography

Horrified by the exactions of his wars of conquest, Samrat Ashoka converted to Buddhism around 260 BC. AD By renouncing violence to govern, he will become the sovereign model of the history of India.

Knig Ashoka Detailed Biography and History

Knig Ashoka is the third emperor of the dynasty Maurya, who, between IV th and II th  century BC. AD, dominated almost all of India, Pakistan and part of Afghanistan. Skillfully, and thanks to their military might, the Mauryas gradually expanded from Pataliputra, the capital of the kingdom located in the Ganges Valley, until Ashoka united all the territory of India for the first time ever in their history.

War of succession

An Indian legend, in Buddhist tradition, tells that Ashoka was the son of King Bindusara and one of his wives, Subhadrangi, the daughter of a Brahmin. 

After having been kept away from the king’s bed by a palace intrigue, Subhadrangi finally had access to her husband and gave him a son; she named him Ashoka, “the one who has no grief”, because by being born the baby put an end to his mother’s anguish.

Prince Ashoka still enjoys the trust of his father, who put him in charge of governing the provinces of Ujjain and Gandhara. 

When Bindusara died in 273 BC. AD, Ashoka took power and ordered to kill all his brothers – six according to one source, 99 according to others – and to subject all their supporters to torture. After four years of a bloody civil war, he finally established himself on the throne of Pataliputra.

The time of despotism

The beginning of his reign was characterized by cruel despotism. The chronicles indeed relate many episodes, perhaps legendary, which earned him the nickname of “Chanda Ashoka”, Ashoka the Cruel. 

When one day, it is said, the women of his harem despised him because of his unworthy behavior, he ordered 500 of them to be burnt. Likewise, the Chinese Buddhist pilgrim Faxian relates the tradition according to which Ashoka had built an earthly hell in the form of a garden surrounded by walls, in which the emperor attracted the curious to torture them in horrible ways. 

Legend has it that a Buddhist monk endured the ordeals and thus succeeded in converting the sovereign.

However, the most common account of Ashoka’s conversion relates to the conquering practice of the Mauryas. 

With Ashoka’s father, Bindusara, the Empire had asserted itself as the most powerful and the most extensive in Asia. 

The only thing that resisted the universal domination of the Mauryas was a prosperous kingdom located on the east coast of the Indian subcontinent, Kalinga, in the present state of Orissa. 

Around 262 BC. AD, eight years after his accession to the throne, Ashoka embarked on a successful military campaign to annex this territory.

According to the king’s own estimates, 150,000 people were deported, 100,000 more perished, and many more subsequently succumbed to their wounds. 

As he scanned the battlefield and saw with his own eyes the mountains of piled up corpses and the tears of the vanquished, Ashoka understood that conquering a kingdom meant death and destruction for all, friends or foes, and misfortune. for captives who found themselves far from their families and their lands.

A peaceful Buddhist

Kalinga’s experience gave birth to a new Ashoka, a ruler who, sincerely contrite, desired to purify his soul in the face of the desolation he had caused. 

This is how he expressed it in one of his edicts engraved on the stone: “The beloved of the gods felt remorse for the conquest of Kalinga, because when a country is conquered for the first time, the massacres, the death and the deportation of people are very sad for the darling of the gods and they weigh heavily on his soul. “

For a year and a half, Ashoka invited sages from all over the kingdom to participate with him in intense philosophical debates, seeking that peace that his life as a warrior had denied him. 

But this is Buddhism, appeared contemplative influential religion in northern India in the VI th  century BC. AD, which would allay his concerns. In the tenth year of her reign, Ashoka decided to go on a pilgrimage. 

For 256 days, the king and his retinue traveled on foot along the banks of the Ganges to Sarnath, in the vicinity of present-day Benares, where Buddha had given his first sermon.

Near the holy city of the Hindus was the locality of Bodhgaya, the place where the bodhi tree stood , under which Prince Siddhartha Gautama had become Buddha, “the Awakened”. 

Seeing the tree, Ashoka felt in him that enlightened serenity that he needed, and he erected a temple there. Henceforth he called himself “Dharma Ashoka”, Ashoka the Pious.

Subjects on an equal footing

Repudiating the glory gained by arms, Ashoka decided to devote her life to preaching her new faith: dharma , or the doctrine of godliness. 

He thus attempted to humanize a power which he had exercised in a ruthless manner until then, becoming the first ruler in history who expressly renounced conquest and violence. 

At least this is how the Indian historical tradition presents it, although historians recall that, despite her lamentations, Ashoka never renounced the conquered kingdom of Kalinga nor the use of force, albeit in a moderate way, against the rebellious peoples of the border.

Still, Ashoka’s message was revolutionary. The emperor treated all his subjects equally, which was in contrast to the doctrines of Brahmanism, in which belonging to a caste defines social position. 

One of his edicts read: “All men are my children, and just as I wish my children to be happy and prosperous, both in this world and in the next, this is what I wish for them. “

The fragile unification of the Empire

He made pacifism the principle of his reign. The sound of drums, which once heralded the march of soldiers to the battlefield, became what he called “the music of dharma “: the joyous announcement of theatrical performances that taught the new religion with fireworks and white elephants, symbols of Buddha’s purity and wisdom. 

He had his edicts engraved on pillars, with the details of his conversion and the doctrines of the Dharma , in the most frequented places of the Empire and the most traveled mountain passes.

Ashoka founded hundreds of monasteries and shrines, he improved the lines of communication between the main capitals, planted trees that provided shade for travelers and provided his empire with wells to quench their thirst.

He erected hospitals and places of rest to relieve those who entered his lands and went on pilgrimage to the holy places of India. Concerned about the international spread of Buddhism.

Ashoka sent his own son, Mahendra, to head a preaching mission in Sri Lanka and ambassadors to the distant courts of the West, such as that of King Ptolemy II Philadelphus in Alexandria. .

Ashoka’s pacifism has sometimes been accused of weakening the state and promoting its decline and dissolution, for after his death the Mauryan Empire soon fell apart. 

One tradition claims that in the last years of her reign Ashoka lost control of the kingdom. His grandson, Samprati, alarmed by Ashoka’s continual donations to the Buddhist order, forbade the Royal Treasury to give him any further funds, and ultimately dethroned his grandfather. Despite this, contemporary India still regards Ashoka as the most important king in its history. 

He was the unifier of the country and embodied the Buddhist ideal of chakravartin , the universal monarch, “a king who will reign over this world surrounded by seas without oppression, after having conquered it without violence, with his justice”.

Brief history of Samrat Ashoka

321 BC. AD
Chandragupta defeats the last king of the Nanda dynasty and founds the Maurya dynasty, whose capital is Pataliputra.
273 BC J.-C.
Ashoka, the grandson of Chandragupta, ascends the Maurya throne, after having exterminated his brothers and sisters.
262 BC J. –
C. Ashoka undertakes a war to annex the kingdom of Kalinga and to increase the power of the Empire maurya.
232 BC AD
When Ashoka died, two of his grandsons successively inherited the Maurya Empire: Dasaratha and Samprati.
185 BC AD
The last Maurya is assassinated by Pushyamitra, founder of the Sunga dynasty. India is fragmenting politically.

In Search of Peace of Mind

Ashoka repeatedly invoked in her edicts the concept of dharma, which can be defined as a force to be applied to every reflection, every act of obedience or interaction with others, and which involves self-control and the righteousness of one’s conduct. 

He himself set the example with his austere way of life, always keeping a serene and friendly face in front of all, including servants and slaves, and refraining from all forms of violence. 

So much so that, in one of his edicts, he prohibited the hunting and sacrifice of animals for the banquets formerly celebrated in the palace.

The capital of the empire

founded in the IVth century BC. AD, Pataliputra was the capital of the flourishing Mauryan Empire. Around 273 BC. AD, it already had 150,000 inhabitants and was one of the largest cities in the world. 

During the reign of Ashoka, a sumptuous palace was built there, decorated with columns of Persian inspiration.

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