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The Life Of Ashoka Mauryan

In 324 BCE, Chandragupta, ruler of the Mauryan Empire set out to conquer the
weaker surrounding kingdoms to expand the territory of his people. As an explorer
by nature, Chandragupta would travel to other lands to determine weather or not
their defenses could put up much of a struggle. His military, while not
extraordinary, devastated the primitive neighbors and avoided those that could not
be won in a day. With cautious technique and determination the emperor spread his
boundaries in every direction. With the aid of a Brahman statesman named Kautilya,
who organized the political hierarchy of command, Chandragupta became the first to
rule over a unified India.

Chandragupta governed the land as best he knew until the century's end, then
entrusted the state to his son Bindusara. Nothing changed under the second
generation of the Mauryan Empire. The territory continued to increase, as did the
size of the military. Bindusara established a reign much the same as his fathers,
controlling a larger kingdom than ever before known. As time went on however, the
King became ill and speculation ran wild concerning which of his sons would
inherit the throne. Tradition would choose the eldest son but many advisors became
doubtful of his capabilities.

Oddly enough, soon after Bindusara addressed the public with his intent to stand
down, a silent sibling rivalry commenced. For some strange reason Bindusara's sons
became the victims of an assassin. One by one each man fell until only Ashoka
stood tall. He was the one of many to evade a murderer. It is the belief of many
historians that Ashoka and another of political influence thought it better if
Bindusara were elevated of his decision.

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Ashoka was anointed the new emperor in 274 BCE. Immediately he began instituting
his law of oppression by administering capital punishment for even the slightest
infractions. His cruel heart showed mercy upon no one. His people spoke so poorly
of the new king's antics, word went straight to the top by way of the spies Ashoka
had created to investigate public concern. Desiring to win rather than demand
acclaim, Ashoka decided to surpass the efforts of his predecessors by brutally
demolishing the kingdoms previously unscaved. The kingdom of Kalinga had with its
borders, long kept the Mauryan Empire from accessing much of the Ganges river.
This was enough of a reason to initiate an invasion. He led his military to
eventual victory but in the process lost as well.

Standing along the front lines, Ashoka witnessed first hand the massacre of
hundreds of thousands waged war on complete strangers. He knew so many had lost
their lives simply because, he, the king, had ordered them to do so. Women became
widows, children now orphans, Ashoka asked himself exactly what had his people won
in war.

Great changes in policy fell on India following the war. Ashoka relinquished all
intent in expanding his lands by military means. He had nothing to gain in battle
and no reason to fear outside invasion. Instead he turned all his attention to the
welfare of his subjects, and so began an era of peace and internal progression. By
example Ashoka taught and persuaded his people to love and respect all living
things. According to Dr. Munshi, "he insisted on the recognition of the sanctity
of all human life".

The unnecessary slaughter or mutilation of animals was immediately abolished.


Wildlife became protected by the king's law against sport hunting and branding.
Limited hunting was permitted for consumption reasons but the overwhelming
majority of Indians chose by their own free will to become vegetarians. Ashoka
also showed mercy to those imprisoned, allowing them leave for the outside a day
of the year. He attempted to raise the professional ambition of the common man by
building universities for study and water transit and irrigation systems for trade
and agriculture. He treated his subjects as equals regardless of their religion,
politics and cast. The kingdoms surrounding his, so easily overthrown, were
instead made to be well-respected allies.

Ashoka became an avid Buddhist practitioner, building 84,000 stupas across his
empire housing the sacred relics of Gotama. He sent his family on religious
pilgrimages to foreign lands and held massive assemblies so holy men from the
world over could converse upon philosophies of the day. More than even Buddhism
was Ashoka's deep involvement in the dharma. The dharma became the ultimate
personal conduct of moral and ethical standard he desired his subjects to live by.
The Dharma

Ashoka saw the dharma as a righteous path showing the utmost respect for life. The
dharma would bring harmony to India in the form of compassion. Serving as a
guiding light, a voice of conscious that is the dharma can lead one to be a
respectful, responsible human being. Edward D'cruz interprets the Ashokan dharma
as a "religion to be used as a symbol of a new imperial unity and a cementing
force to weld the diverse and heterogeneous elements of the empire". Ashoka's
intent was to instigate "a practice of social behavior so broad and benevolent in
its scope that no person, no matter what his religion, could reasonably object to
it".

The dream was to unify a nation so large that its people of one region share
little in common with those of another region. Diversity of religion, ethnicity
and many cultural aspects held citizens against each other, creating a social
block. The moral order of dharma could be agreed upon as beneficial and
progressive by all who could understand its merits, in fact the dharma had long
been a primary practice for members of Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism. Dharma
became the link between king and commoner, everyone lived by the same law of
moral, religious and civil obligation toward each other.
Legacy of Ashoka

The reign of Ashoka Mauryan could easily have disappeared into history as the ages
passed by, and would have, if hadn't he left behind a record of his trials. The
testimony of this king was discovered in the form of magnificently sculpted
pillars and boulders with the actions and teachings he wished to be published
etched into the stone. What Ashoka left behind was the first written language in
India since the ancient city of Harrapa. Rather than Sanskrit, the language used
for inscription was the current spoken form called Prakrita. In translating these
monuments, historians learn the bulk of what is assumed to have been true fact of
the Mauryan Empire. It is difficult to determine whether or not some actual events
ever happened but the etchings clearly depict how Ashoka wanted to be thought of
and remembered.
Ashokan collumn

The pillars, chiseled from stone, could weigh to fifty tons a piece. These would
habitually be topped off with the sculpture of a lion or bull and carry the word
of the king around its base. The transportation of each rock and pillar was a
major ordeal, it may take several hundreds to hoist the artifact into place or
onto a vessel capable of travel with such extreme weight. Each edict was sent to
the outstretches of the empire so all could read, or be read to, the royal dharma.
Most commonly the more elaborate works were sent to places of national importance
and spiritual recognition, such as the birth place of Gotama.
Pillar Edict II when translated describes the "middle path", the way to
enlightenment through dharma that the Buddha taught in his first sermon. Others
such as Pillar Edict VII, quote Ashoka as remarking "I consider the promotion of
my people's welfare my highest duty". Professor Tambiah, an anthropologist of the
University of Chicago translates Rock Edict XI as reading, "There is no gift that
can equal the gift of dharma, establishment of human relations in dharma, the
distribution of wealth through dharma, or the kinship in dharma". Many of the
etchings are complex and contradicting but those of the day got the message loud
and clear. years preaching the dharma in order to unify his people. Just as he
will never be forgotten, neither will his efforts to impose his great force of
dharma. This is why the people of modern India have taken his image of "the wheel
of dharma" from the sacred pillars and forever embedded it in the center of their
national flag. It's no wonder in all his achievements, Ashoka, the Buddhist King,
has inspired infinite cultures, multiple religions, and "One nation under god,
with liberty and justice for all".

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capitol

Unknowingly contributing to this page include;

D'cruz, Edward 1967, India The Quest For Nationhood, India Printing Works, Bombay,
India.

Dr. Munshi, K. M. 1968, The Age Of Imperial Unity, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Bombay,
India.

Tambiah, S. J. 1976, World Conqueror & World Renouncer, Cambridge University


Press, London.

more Ashoka
biography of Ashoka
edicts of Ashoka

For comments regarding this web page, e-mail me at, kgwold@ecst.csuchico.edu


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