King Ashoka: From Conqueror to Spiritual Legacy
Posted on May 23rd, 2023

By Dr. Rajkumar Singh Courtesy Ceylon Today

Ashoka, the Great, was a prominent Mauryan emperor who ruled over a vast empire in India from 273 BCE to 232 BCE. After his famous military conquest of the Kalinga kingdom, he underwent a spiritual transformation and embraced Buddhism. His conversion to Buddhism led to a significant shift in his policy, from military conquest to non-violence and compassion.

Ashoka’s policy of non-violence was not only based on Buddhist teachings, but also on practical considerations. He realised that the expansion of his empire through war and violence had caused immense suffering and destruction, which he deeply regretted. He was convinced that the pursuit of peace and non-violence was the only way to achieve lasting stability and harmony in his empire. To promote his policy of non-violence, he introduced several administrative and social reforms.

He abolished the practice of capital punishment, except in rare cases of treason and murder. In line, he banned the killing of animals for food and ordered the establishment of hospitals and dispensaries for the welfare of people and animals. He promoted the growth of different faiths and granted religious freedom to his subjects, which was a remarkable departure from the religious intolerance of his predecessors. In addition, his policy of non-violence was also reflected in his foreign policy.

He encouraged peaceful relations with neighbouring kingdoms and established diplomatic ties with distant countries, such as Egypt and Syria. He sent envoys to different parts of the world to spread the message of peace and non-violence. Ashoka’s policy of non-violence had a profound impact on Indian history and inspired future generations of Indian leaders. Mahatma Gandhi, the famous Indian nationalist leader, was deeply influenced by Ashoka’s teachings and philosophy of non-violence. Gandhi believed that non-violence was a potent tool for social and political transformation and used it successfully during India’s struggle for independence from British rule.

Early life and learning

The famous King Ashoka was the son of Emperor Bindusara and a queen named Dharma. He was born in Pataliputra, the capital city of the Mauryan Empire, in 304 BCE and was the third son of Bindusara including Susima, Tissa, and Vitashoka. As a child, Ashoka received a comprehensive education in various subjects such as politics, religion, and warfare. As he was trained in the art of archery, sword fighting, and horse riding, he possessed intelligence, courage, and leadership skills, which impressed his father, Bindusara. After Bindusara’s death, Susima although, plotted to eliminate Ashoka and his other brothers to secure his position, but Ashoka was able to escape and seek refuge with the governor of Ujjain. Eventually, he was able to gain the support of the nobles and the army and launched a campaign to defeat Susima and become the emperor of the Mauryan Empire in 273 BCE. His early years as emperor were marked by military conquests as he expanded the boundaries of his empire through conquests and diplomacy. However, the conquest of Kalinga in 261 BCE was a turning point in Ashoka’s life and ultimately he embraced Buddhism, which became the guiding philosophy of his reign.

As a Buddhist ruler, Ashoka introduced several administrative and social reforms to promote the welfare of his subjects. He established hospitals, dispensaries, and rest houses for travellers and pilgrims. He also ordered the construction of roads, bridges, and water reservoirs to improve the infrastructure of his empire. Ashoka’s reign was characterised by a policy of religious tolerance, and he supported the growth of different faiths, including Jainism and Brahmanism. He promoted a culture of non-violence, and his edicts proclaimed the importance of compassion, respect for life, and social justice.

Spiritual transformation of Ashoka

Ashoka’s policy of non-violence had a profound impact on Indian history and inspired future generations of Indian leaders. Mahatma Gandhi, the famous Indian nationalist leader, was deeply influenced by Ashoka’s teachings and philosophy of non-violence. Ashoka’s policy of non-violence was a significant departure from the prevailing culture of violence and warfare in ancient India. He was convinced that peace and non-violence were the only way to achieve lasting stability and harmony in his empire. His policy of non-violence was reflected in his administrative and social reforms, foreign policy, and religious tolerance. He renounced his previous way of life and adopted a policy of non-violence, compassion, and respect for all living beings.

He became a patron of Buddhism and sponsored the construction of many stupas and monasteries across India. The legacy of King Ashoka is significant. He is remembered as a ruler who transformed from a ruthless conqueror to a compassionate and just emperor. He promoted religious tolerance and supported the welfare of his subjects, including women, children, and animals. His policy of non-violence influenced future generations of Indian leaders. To conclude, King Ashoka was a remarkable figure in Indian history whose life and legacy continue to inspire people around the world. His conversion to Buddhism and his policies of non-violence, compassion, and tolerance represent a model of ethical leadership that is still relevant today. His inscriptions, which contain his teachings and principles, provide a valuable source of knowledge and insight into ancient Indian civilisation.

Ashoka’s contribution to politics

King Ashoka ruled over a vast empire that extended from modern-day Afghanistan to Bangladesh, and his reign was marked by several significant contributions to politics. Firstly, Ashoka was known for his administrative and bureaucratic reforms, which helped to streamline the functioning of his empire. He divided his empire into provinces, each governed by a viceroy or governor, who was responsible for maintaining law and order, collecting taxes, and overseeing public works projects.

This decentralised form of governance helped to improve the efficiency of the administration and allowed for greater autonomy at the local level. Secondly, Ashoka was a patron of the arts and culture, and he encouraged the growth of literature, music, and dance in his empire. He also ordered the construction of several monuments, such as the famous Ashoka Pillars, which served as a symbol of his authority and helped to propagate his message of non-violence and compassion. Thirdly, Ashoka was a pioneer of social welfare programmes, and he introduced several measures to improve the quality of life of his subjects. Fourthly, Ashoka was a proponent of religious tolerance and encouraged the growth of different faiths in his empire. He respected the beliefs of his subjects and did not discriminate against anyone based on their religious affiliation. He even supported the growth of Buddhism, which became the dominant religion during his reign.

About the author:

Dr. Rajkumar Singh is a Youth Motivator, presently Professor of Political Science and Dean, Student’s Welfare (DSW), at B.N. Mandal University, Madhepura (Bihar), India. He has published 23 books in addition to 900 articles in national and international journals and daily newspapers in 25 foreign countries.

By Dr. Rajkumar Singh

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