Ashoka was one of the greatest emperors of India. The probable date of his accession is 273 B. C. and that of his ceremonial coronation is four years later. He was the first king who conquered the sword by the spirit and thus became an unparalleled emperor not only in India but in the whole world. His name is remembered with great respect. He is ranked next to Gautam Buddha.
Ashoka was the grandson of Chandra Gupta, the founder of Maurya Empire. His father was Bindusar. He was brought up in Patliputra, the capital of Magadh. In the name of education he was taught things that would supply learning, culture and wealth.
He gained experience of administration during his father’s rule. So he had no problem in managing the state affairs when he ascended to the throne. ‘He had inherited a highly centralized form of Government at Patliputra and an empire divided into the viceroyalties of Taxila in the North and Ujjain in the Central India. Ashoka acted himself for a time as viceory at Taxila.
In the first years of his reign, Ashoka behaved much as was expected of ruler in those days. He kept splendid court and ruled as an autocrat. His favourite pastimes were hunting, feasting and war.
He had great desire to conquer the Kingdom of the Kalingas, now called Orissa. He was successful in his mission. He fought a bloody war. After a great slaughter of men, women and children, he conquered Kalinga. But the victory could not give him any pleasure. He was shocked at his wrong deed.
The effect of the slaughter on Ashoka’s mind was profound, causing a change of heart. He was deeply hurt and was filled with sorrow and regret. He recorded in the Rock Edict, ‘His majesty feels remorse on account of the conquest of the Kalingas.” Ashoka’s greatness in his acknowledgement with regard to Kalinga war is that only a few conquerors have the courage to admit public that what they did was wrong and express their remorse. Ashoka did it.
After the Kalinga war Ashoka joined the Buddhist community. Now he knew the value of love and peace. He started loving all forms of life. He dedicated rest of his life to the welfare of the public. He established a wide system of road communications throughout his empire, planting the sides of the roads with shady banyan trees. He built hospitals too for men and animals.
He banned animal sacrifice in his empire. He began to practise the law of piety, right living and morality. He travelled many countries like Tibet, China, Japan, Ceylon etc. and spread Buddhism there. He engraved the principles of law on rocks and pillars throughtout his empire in order to make his people happy. These principles teach the people to be honest, peace-loving, dutiful and truthful.
Ashoka is a matchless character. He renounced war and became an apostle of peace.