Ashoka was son of Bindusara. He is considered among greatest ruler of all times. He was first ruler to maintain direct contact with his subjects. Ge Ge rd for nearly 40 years. Most of information about the life of Ashoka cane be had from 50 edicts he placed throughout India. Most important of these edicts is the Rock Edict XIII(257-256BC). It offers account of the eight years of the Kalinga War. The destruction and the sorrow that he witnessed in the war transformed Ashoka from a warrior to a peace loving ruler. He started propagating Buddhism. Ashoka has been reffered to with names of Devanampriya or Priyadarshini throughout the edicts.
Ashoka’s empire covered the entire territory from Hindu Kush to Bengal and extended over Afghanistan, Baluchistan and whole of India with exception of a small area in the farthest south. Kashmir and the valleys of Nepal were also included. It was the biggest Indian empire and Ashoka was the first Indian king who ruled over almost the whole of India.
The Kalinga War:
Thus was an important war during Ashoka’s rule, which changed his attitude towards life. In 265BC, Ashoka invaded Kalinga (Orissa) and occupied it after widespread destruction and bloodshed. Kalinga was an important empire as it controlled the land and the sea routes to South India. This led Ashoka becoming a follower of Buddhism. His increased pre-occupation in the religion and emphasis non-violence led to the weakening of his administration, which slowly led to the decline of Mauryan Empire.
Ashoka’s policy of Dhamma:
The diverse nature of the vast empire under Ashoka was exposed to social tensions and sectarian conflicts. Ashoka devised the policy of Dhamma, which layer became famous, as it promoted a harmonious relationship between the diverse elements of the empire.
The word dhamma is a Prakrit spelling of the more familiar dharma, a concept difficult to translate but imbued with positives and idealised connotation in both orthodox Vedic literature and heterodox doctrines of Buddhists, Jains and Ajivikas. Invoking a natural order within which all manners of creation had its place and its role, it was something to which no one, weather Brahman or Buddhist, emperor or slave, could reasonably take exception.
Dhamma height tolerance, as its basis as aiming to bring out a peace loving life within the family and society. Religious and cultural meetings and festivals were banned; only state lead function were allowed.
Dhamma also emphasized nonviolence. Ashoka banned observance of useless rituals and ceremonies to cut down the influence of priest and religious leaders. He defined the court of Duty based on practical ideas like daya(Mercy), dana (charity), satya(truthfulness), namrata(gentleness) and souche(purity).
Ashoka attempted no philosophical justification of dhamma, nor was he given to rationalize to. It was neither a belief system nor a developed ideology, just a set of behavioral exhortations.
He established dharamshalas, hospitals and sarais throughout his kingdom. Dharma Mahapatras were appointed to preach the people. Buddhism was spread during his reign as a state religion and inscription of Buddhist principles were engraved on rocks. He organised a network of mercenaries to preach the doctrine, both in his Kingdom and beyond. Ashoka sent missionaries to Ceylon, Burma and other South East Asian regions notably Thailand to spread doctrine doctrine of Buddhism.
Ashoka as an administration:
- A devout Buddhist, Ashoka did not neglect public works or administration. Although he retained capital punishment for extreme offences, who devised a system of appeals to give every chance for a revised judgement that might replace execution with a fine.
- Hereformed that tax system so that each reason and village court appeal for relief when harvest and Commerce had decline.
- Reorganized bureaucracy and devised a new class of officials, the mahamatras, ‘literally meaning great in mmeasure’. They were established to monitor the operations of the government. Some were assigned to look after the Welfare of the Sangha, and they even travel outside the realm to do so. Other so to the well being of other religious sect. They reported directly to Ashoka, who took interest in the detail of his Empire.
- Ashoka established rest houses, dug wells, planted trees and founded hospitals along major roads.
- He promulgated rules to the protection of cows, forbade animal sacrifices and abolishing hunting for sport. He replaced the royal hunt with Royal pilgrimage and visited both gaya and other sacred sites.
Ashoka as Dharmraja:
Weather Ashoka was transformed all at once, or whether the impact of his conquest affected him over time, it had two radical consequences.
- Spiritually, he became a follower of Buddha dharma, the teachings of Buddha.
- Politically, he renounce war and conquest if acceptable methods for preserving the empire and salt to replace them with the inculcation of Dharma.
Hey synthesized these two commitments in a three-fold devotion to Dharmapalan, Dharmakarma and Dharmanushisthi. Rather than follow in the footsteps of his grandfather and renounce the world, his understanding of Dharma held him responsible for the Welfare of all his subjects, and he translated this general duty into an attempt to exemplify Dharmarajya, the rule of Dharma. Long after his specific policies and works for forgotten, Buddhist tradition reward him as the first and ideal Dharmaraja– the Buddhist counterpart of the Hindu idea of chakravartin and bestowed upon him the name of Dharmashoka.
The Stupa at Sanchi:
To honour Buddha, Ashoka had stupid (large hemispherical dome) built in Sanchi, which is a village 46 km from Bhopal in Madhya Pradesh. Stupid are Buddhist religious monuments believed to celta the relics of Buddha. The gateways or torans, to these stupas contain highly decorated scenes from the life of Buddha. In the second century BC, the Great Stupa was vandalised possibly by Pushyamitra Sunga. But it was continuously been rebuilt and decorated since then. Sir John Marshall let the restoration of the Stupa architecture from 1912 to 1919.
Ashoka’s Empire soon passed out of memory. However, the ideal he upheld as Arya-putra (prince) and Dharma-putra (son of Dharma) increased in lustre with each passing the epoch. Generations which could not be collect the Mauryans, nor point out the boundaries of their realm, nor even read the edicts, nonetheless remember the great king ‘beloved of gods’, who taught Dharma and lived what he espoused, who had set the standard against which subsequent rulers were measured and often found wanting, and who had promulgated a simple yet fundamental doctrine of tolerance and civility based upon respect for the spiritual inspiration of all people to adhere to the Dharma. They recalled that there had been a minor golden age and knew that it was possible for human beings to experience a golden age again.