Ashoka The Great


In many senses; Ashoka was a unique ruler. He was the only ruler who stopped the practice of expansion of empire after winning a war. He was the first ruler who began the practice of direct communication with his subjects.

The Kalinga War

During ancient times; the modern day coastal Orissa was known as Kalinga. In order to expand his territory; Ashoka attacked Kalinga and won the battle. In the Kalinga battle, more than a lakh people died, many more were taken as prisoners and a large number of people was badly affected. Ashoka was shocked at that incident. The large scale bloodshed changed Ashoka’s heart. He took a pledge of not waging a single war in the future.

Ashoka’s Dhamma

In the aftermath of the Kalinga war, Ashoka was inspired by the teachings of Buddha. Ashoka embraced a new Dhamma which was radical for his times. Ashoka’s Dhamma did not involve worship of a god. It did not involve ritual or sacrifice. If we view it from modern perspective, Ashoka’s religious ideologies were inclined towards secularism. Secularism treats all religions with equal respect.

Ashoka used messages and inscriptions to communicate with his subject. He advised people to respect other religions. He also advised them to desist from meaningless rituals.

Ashoka felt that a king should not lord over his subjects. He felt that it was his duty to serve people and solve their problems. He appointed dhamma mahamatta. The dhamma mahamatta used to go to the people to teach them about the dhamma.

Ashoka inscribed messages on stone pillars. This was done to ensure that people could read them. Officials were given instructions to read them for those who could not read. Messengers were sent to other countries to spread the message of his dhamma.

Ashoka did various works for the welfare of people. During his regime; roads and rest houses were built and wells were dug. Hospitals were made not only for humans but also for animals.

Most of the inscriptions were written in Prakrit language in the Brahmi script. At some places, inscriptions were also written in local languages. For example; Arabic was used for inscriptions at places which are in modern day Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Legacy of Ashoka

Ashoka had left a rich legacy. Many of his principles are still being followed. Many of our national symbols have been taken from his reign. The National Emblem has been taken from the Sarnath’s Ashoka pillar. The wheel in the National Flag has also been taken from the wheel symbol used by Ashoka on different installations and even on coins.

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