The reign of Asoka constitutes one of the brightest chapters in the history of mankind. His own Inscriptions clearly reveal the chief stages in the history of his reign and the motives underlying his activities. After serving as Viceroy in Ujjaini and Taxila, Asoka succeeded Bindusara to the Mauryan throne.
The name Asoka (Sorrow-free) occurs only once in the Inscriptions in the Maski Edict. In the Puranas he is referred to as Asokavardhana. In the Girnar Inscription of Rudradaman (A.D. 150), he is mentioned as Asoka the Maurya.
In the Calcutta-Bhabru Inscription Asoka refers to himself as Piyadasi laja magadhe, i.e., Piyadasi, the king of Magadha. In his Edicts Asoka assumed two titles, Devanampiya and Piyadassi (full form of his title in Sanskrit, Devanampriyah Priyadarsi Raja).
On the early life of Asoka we have only traditional accounts. According to Buddhist accounts his mother was Janapada Kalyani or Subhadrangi. As a Prince he served as a Viceroy of Ujjaini and Taxila. During his Viceroyalty of Ujjaini he fell in love with the daughter of a merchant of Vidisa, referred to as Devi or Vedisa Mahadevi, whom he married.
Asoka's two other well-known queens were Karuvaki and Asandhimitra. The second queen, Karuvaki is mentioned in the Gueen's Edict inscribed on a pillar at Allahabad, in which her religious and charitable donations are referred to. She is described as the mother of Prince Tivara, the only son of Asoka to be mentioned by name in Inscriptions.
The first problem with the accession of Asoka is the year of his coronation. This problem is linked to an interval of four years between the death of Bindusara and the accession of Asoka. On the basis of Sri Lankan chronicles some scholars have explained this interval on account of a war of succession between Asoka and his 100 brothers.
The Sri Lankan chronicle Mahavamsa says that he seized the throne by killing 99 of his brothers and sparing only the youngest, namely, Tishya. There are also other stories in the Divyavadana of a similar nature and are not quite trustworthy. The alleged war of succession appears to be just a grotesque invention calculated to stress the wickedness of Asoka before he embraced Buddhism. Asoka in his Edicts speaks of his brothers and sisters and their families, many years after his coronation.
Although the so-called war of succession between Asoka and his brothers is not to be believed yet there is an unexplained interval between the death of Bindusara in 273-72 B.C. and the coronation of Asoka in 269-68 B.C. various explanations B.C. has been offered to explain this interval, but none of them is fully trustworthy.