Asoka

Posted: 16/07/2013 in Famous people

Asoka,

first of the great ruler of India to emerge, as a historical figure, from the mists of antiquity and legend, pillars and rocks throughout the length and breadth of India. They disclose a lover of justice and piety, of gentleness and humanitarianism,of charity and generosity. Asoka stands alone in history as having ruled a great empire successfully with scarcely a resort to force and with an unwavering respect for the sanctity of human life. The first Buddhist ruler, he impregnated his empire with all that is best in that faith and in doing so assured the spread thereof throughout the Eastern world.A man of deep wisdom, comparison and strength of character, he ranks among the great men of the world,not only by reason of what he did but of what he was.

Indian history in ancient and medieval times moved in a series of startling ups and downs. Great dynasties arose,held away over great parts of India, then rapidly collapsed, to be followed by long periods of uncertain anarchy, of which today we  know little or nothing. The first of these dynasties was the Maurya, the kings of which ruled from their capital, Pataliputra, in the third and part of the second centuries, and the most remarkable of these kings was Asoka.

Alexander the Great conquered North-Western India in 327 B.C and on his death in 323 B.C, that portion of his vast domination was taken over by one of his generals, Seleucus Nicator. His hold was effective, however only in the western fringe of what Alexander had conquered, the rest had reverted to the leading Indian kingdom of Magadha, now ruled by Chandragupta, the first of Mauryas.The origin of Asoka’s grandfather are obscure, but it is likely that he was the natural son of King Magadha by a low caste woman. It is certain anyway that soon after Alexander’s departure, Chandragupta overthrew the reigning dynasty and became himself King of Magadha and equally certain that within twenty years he had made himself master.He was suceeded by his son Bindhusara, who in a reign of about twenty-five years, held all that his father had left to him.

The prabable date of Asoka’s accession is 273 B.C and that of his ceremonial coronation is four years later.From the accounts of Megasthenes, Greek envoy at the court of Chandragupta, we know that Asoka inherited a highly centralized form of government at Pataliputra and an empire divided into the viceroyalties of Taxila in the north and Ujjain in central india.

In the first years of his reign, Asoka behaved much as he was expected of a ruler in those days.He kept splendid court and ruled as an autocrat, untrammelled by advice or probably scruples. His favourite pastimes were hunting, feasting and war. In warfare there was less opportunity, since little of India had been left unconquered by his grandfather, but about the nineth year of his reign he determined to conquer the kingdom of Kalingas, the centre of which the modern province of Orissa.He was successful, but the struggle was fierce, and the slaughter that accompanied it and the desease that followed it were appalling.Asoka records in one of the rock edicts that 100000 were slain and 150000 taken prisoners.

The effect of his slaughter on Asoka’s mind was profound, causing a change of heart only comparable in its suddenness and completeness to that caused in Saul by his vision on the road to Damascus. In the thriteenth Rock Edict he records that : ” His majesty on remorse on account of the conquest of the Kalingas, because during the subjection of a previously unconquered country, slaughter, death and taking of captive people necessarily occur, whereat his majesty feels profound sorrow and regret.”Asokavardhana was probably his full name, though in most of the inscriptions he called Priyadarsin ir the thoroughness with which he acted upon his newly found convictions.

Almost immedietely after the Kalingas was he joined the Buddhist community. For two years he was only a lay brother, and at first it seems that he was not over impressed by what he was taught, but early doubts were rapidly dispelled and around 260 B.C he became a monk, subscribing in full to the vowa of the order, not only that but he went further to impose them also upon the whole of his vast empire.

Buddhism since the days of its founder Gauthama Budha, had existed as branch of Hinduism but at the time of Maurya it rivalled neither Brahminism nor Jainism in the extent to which it was practised.From the rock edicts we can learn what to him dharma meant:

The law of piety  (You may view the Law of Piety that has been linked to Google; finding from another unknown author) to wit obedience to father and mother is good liberality to friends, acquaintance,relatives,and ascetics is good;respect for the sacredness of life is good;avoidance of violence and extravagance and violence of language is good”

Noticeable in this summary are the reference to the sacredness of life and to brahmins and ascetics. In place of the enormous provisions of anumal flesh allowed to the royal kitchens before the Kalinga War, there was now to be permitted only two peacocks and one deer each day. The rock edict dealing with the sacredness of life states:-

“Formaly in the kitchen of his majesty King Priyadarsin,each day many thousands of living creatures were slain to make curries.At the present moment when this pious edict is being written, only these three living creatures,namely two peacocks and one deer, are killed daily, and the deer not invariably.Even these creatures shall not be slaughtered in future”

Later he prohibited not only to himself but all his subjects, the killing of all quadrupeds neither useful nor edible;in fact there was to be no killing that was not purely for sport. In addition, no fish were to be caught on fifty-six special days in each year.This act has caused him to be hailed as a champion of religious tolerance. Perhaps he was, but it should be remembered that in Asoka’s day every sect subscribed fundamentally to the same philosophy of life;there was no such cleavage as later there was to be between Mohammedan and Hindu or even between Protestant and Catholics.

Asoka took practical steps to see that Dharma was inculcated into the minds of all his people, his most important innovations being the creation of Censors of Piety who should see that everywhere dharma was observed.Some little time earlier in his reign,governors of local districts had been ordered to hold assemblies every five or in some cases three years, in which dharma should be discussed and explained.Asoka himself set example by his charitable gifts,and a special royal almoner’s department was set up at Pataliputra to organize their distribution.Asoka was not content that Buddist principles should triumph in his dominions alone;he sent forth missionaries far and wide. They went to the independant Cholas and Pandyas in the far south of India and to Ceylon, Nepal, and Kashmir, whether or not they are part of Asoka’s empire, adopted the  Buddhist faith and Asoka’s emissaries preached dharma as far afield as Syria,Egypt and probably Macedonia and Epirus.

Where Alexander send generals to conquer men’s bodies, Asoka sent monks to conquer men’s mind.Having as his aim conversion rather than repression, he realized the importance of a high standard of behaviour among his provincial officers.He expected his subordinates to act upon the same principles as he laid down for himself.

Asoka reigned for about forty years, the probable date of his death being 232 B.C. Apart from Kalinga War they were years of internal and external peace. There is no record of any attempt at civil war, no hint of trouble with neighbouring states.Neither to the east nor west was there a ruler who could compare in power with the Maurya emporer.Conditions thus favoured Asoka’s great experiment the rule of the Law of Piety. It is unlikely that it would have stood the test of a war, but in peacetime, backed by the personality and the power of the emporer, it took deep hole on large sectionsof the races of the great Indian peninsula.

Asoka we have seen is no more theorist. Not only he appointed censors of Piety, he took practical steps to put into practice the rule that he laid down for himself :

“Work i must for the publict benefit”

He established a wide system of road communications throughout his empire, planting the sides of the roads with shady banyan trees,and establishing free rest houses at frequent intervals; and it seems likely that he instituted hospitals in many district.

Little is known of the emperor’s family life,though there is mention in the edicts of a wife Karuvaki, who is referred to as ‘the second queen’ a son Tivara,and a grandson,Dasaratha.

Wikipedia states :

 M.N. Das, Kaurwaki was a fisherman’s daughter who converted to Buddhism and became a sanyasini. Following Ashoka’s conversion to Buddhism, he married her and made her his queen.She had guided her husband, Ashoka, towards his religious leanings.Along with being religious, she took active part in philanthropy and was famous for her charity, and for her interest in Buddhist teachings.Kaurwaki’s religious and charitable donations were greatly admired by her husband, who commanded the Mahamatras (senior officials) that her donations should be regarded by all officials concerned as her act and deed, redounding to her accumulation of merit.Kaurwaki was immortalized in the Queen Edict (one of Ashoka’s many edicts carved on pillars throughout his empire), wherein the Mauryan emperor states that he was changing his lifestyle “on the advise of my queen Kaurwaki.”Ashoka further states that on her advise, he was embarking on a series of welfare measures for the people.The edict also identifies her as mother to their son, Prince Tivala (also referred to as Tivara). The inference being that, Kaurwaki, was the favourite and the mother of the prince who would’ve succeeded his father but who probably predeceased him.She is thus, the only queen of Ashoka, who holds the distinction of being mentioned in his inscriptions and edicts.

Within sixty years of the death of Asoka,the Maurya dynasty had crumbled,the empire has split up and India had re-entered a period of chaotic uncertainty. It was alleged that this was largely due to Asoka’s policy that though himself was great enough to carry it out, his successors were not,and that he had blunted for them the only weapon- autocrat force – that would enable them to hold the empire together.There is probably some truth in this assertion, but on the other hand the rapid fall of an empire in India has always been the rule rather than the exception.In any event it is hard to blame Asoka for having successors less great than himself.

Rather should we remember the extent of his achievement. The sites of the various pillars and rock inscriptions make it certain that he ruled over all the lands from the Hindu Kush mountains in the west to the Bramaputra river in the east, from the foothills of the Himalayas in the north to the line drawn west from  Madras in the south; and he certainly excercise some sort of control over Kashmir and Tibet. Throughout this vast empire (the size of Europe exclude Russia), there was peace and it is safe to say, since no single legend or tradition suggest otherwise, prosperity and contentment.Not even Akhbar or Aurangzeb controlled so much in India, and it is doubtfull whether,800 hundred years later,conditions of life was as good as Asoka’s day. Such was his acheivement in non-religious sphere.

But it is as the establisher of Buddhism that he will remain important for all time; in Buddhist eye he must rank next to Gauthama. Buddhism today is one of the world’s chief faiths. The precepts and commands that Asoka had inscribed on rocks and pillars were as vital to the acheivement of this position as was the pen of St. Paul to Christianity.

~ The End ~

Various sources searched from Wikipedia, Library of Odhams, other usefull resources.

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Comments
  1. sivaruthless says:

    Reblogged this on All For One, One For All and commented:
    Great thing t

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