Asoka

Ashokavardhana or Asoka was governor of Taxila and Ujjain during the reign of his father Bindusara. The Sri Lankan texts represent Asoka as “wading through a pool of Blood” quoting that he terminated all 99 of his brothers except his uterine brother Tisya.

  • This has been disputed by the scholars. For example, Rock Edict V of Asoka mentions about his brothers.
  • It may be a falsified version of his bravery by the Buddhist monks who might have been interested in dark background of Asoka, who became the gentlest king after his conversion.

Asoka’s Names & Titles

  1. Only inscriptions in the Maski edicts refer his name as Asoka.
  2. Puranas refer his name as Ashokavardhana
  3. Girnar Inscription of Rudradaman mentions him as Asoka Maurya.
  4. In Babhru Inscription he refers himself as Piyadassi laja Magadhe (Piyadassi, King of Magadha).
  5. He assumes two titles Devanampiya and Piyadassi in his inscriptions.

Devanampriya Priyadarsi, Dhammarakhit, Dharmarajika, Dhammarajika, Dhammaradnya, Chakravartin, Samrat, Radnyashreshtha, Magadhrajshretha, Magadharajan, Bhupatin, Mauryaraja, Aryashok, Dharmashok, Dhammashok, Asokvadhhan , Ashokavardhan, Prajapita,Dhammanayak, Dharmanayak all are his titles.

Family:

The Buddhist texts mention his mother’s name as Subhadrangi. His first wife was a princess of Ujjaini called Devi or Vedisa. His two other wives were Karuvaki and Asandhimitra. Asoka’s only son mentioned in inscriptions is Tivara, who was born to Karuvaki. The name of Karuvaki and Tivara are mentioned in Queen’s edict.

Conquest of Kalinga:

Conquest of Kalinga is mentioned in Inscriptions. Kalinga was modern Orissa. Asoka’s coronation took place in 269-68 BC and eight years after his coronation he campaigned for Kalinga.

  • Conquest of Kalinga took place in 9th year of Asoka’s reign.

Why Kalinga?

The Mauryan Empire was probably in friendly terms with the southern kings such as Cholas and Pandyas. Kalinga was strategically located in the heart of his territory and that is why his campaign to Kalinga was strategically important. Once Kalinga was won, there was no much need to win over further territories.

The Kalinga war was a horrifying event. It mentions that hundred and fifty thousand people were displaced, hundred thousand people were killed and many hundred thousands perished.

  • The vivid description of Kalinga war is given in 13th Rock Edict.

After the war of Kalinga Asoka realized the gravity of war and the event had a profound impact on his mind. He wowed to never wage such war and also directed his sons and grandsons.

  • The 13th Rock edict mentions Asoka’s remorse after the war and his changed attitude from Dig-vajay to Dhammavijay.

Asoka adopted Buddhism in 9th year of his reign after winning Kalinga. He was inspired by Nigrodha, a boy monk. Later, he came in contact with Moggaliputta Tissa. Later his brother Tissa, queen Karuvaki also adopted Buddhism.

Asoka and Third Buddhist Council:

Asoka sponsored the third Buddhist Council in 250 BC. This council was held at Pataliputra. It was presided by Moggaliputta Tissa. Abhidhamma Pitaka was established in this council.

 

Asoka & Buddhism: Dhammasoka

In the Bhabru edict Asoka says that he has full faith in Buddha, Sangha and Dhamma. But he never forced his ideal on people. The Pillar Edict II says:

Dhamma sadhu, kiyam cu dhamme ti? Apasinave, bahu kayane, daya, dane, sace, socaye.

The meaning is: Dhamma is good, but what constitutes Dhamma? (It includes) little evil, much good, kindness, generosity, truthfulness and purity. In his Pillar Edict VII, he says that all sects desire both self control and purity of mind. In the Major Rock Edict XII, he directed and determined request for tolerance among different religious sects. He says that he honors all sects and both laymen and monks. We can say that Asoka’s Dhamma is a moral code of ethics. Asoka propagated his Dhamma with zeal and earnestness of a missioanry. He mentions in Minor Rock Edict I that as a result of his efforts for 1 year (or more) “Human beings who were unmixed were cause to be mixed with Gods throughout Jambudweepa. This was because of his well planned measures such as celestial Chariots (Vimana), luminous balls of Fire (used for showing light in nights) and elephants. Asoka abandoned the pleasure tours (vihara yatras) and hunting.

 

Death of Asoka:

Asoka died in 232 BC after a reign of 40 years. His policy of ahimsa partially contributed to the decline of Maurya Empire. None of the successors of Asoka rose to his status. His only son who was named in edicts was Tivara and there is a possibility that he died before his father’s death as not much is heard about him later. Jaluka was one of his sons who is mentioned in Rajtarangini of Kalhana and became independent ruler of Kashmir. Kunala is said to have reigned for 8 years but in southern traditions he is mentioned as a blinded person. Ashokvadana says that Asoka was compelled to abdicate his throne in favor of his Grandson Samprati who was son of blind Kunala. Samprati was a great patron of Jainism with his seat was at Ujjain. Another grandson Dasaratha is mentioned in Vayupurana & Matsya purana, who has been testified by scholars. It is possible that the empire was partitioned into eastern and western parts, with Dasaratha getting eastern and Samprati getting western parts.

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