The Mauryans ruled India from 322 B.C., to 15 B.C. Chandragupta Maurya, the first king in the dynasty ruled from 322 B.C., to 298 B.C. Ashoka, who was the third in line ascended the throne at the very early age of 20 years in 273 B.C. and ruled for a long period of 41 years, till 232 B.C.
During the reign of Ashoka, the Mauryan empire extended from Hindukush and Kashmir in the North West to Bengal in the North East. Its southern border was Karnataka. The present Andhra Pradesh was completely under Ashoka’s rule. His forefathers had already left a good system of administration by appointing Viceroys to various parts of their empire. He carried on his administration smoothly with the nssistance of Viceroys. For the first seven years of his rule, there was nothing special about his administration. Later he wanted to expand his empire and declared war on Kalinga.
Ashoka fought the Kalinga War in 261 B.C. Though Ashoka won (lie war, it brought a revolutionary change in the attitude of the emperor. He saw, in the battle field, the flow of blood, thousands killed and many more wounded. Many became widows and orphans on account of his ambition to expand his empire. He was totally upset and deeply moved. During that period he came in contact with the Buddhist monk ‘Upagupta’ and was attracted towards Buddhism. He embraced Buddhism and decided not to fight any more battles thereafter, and follow the principle of truth and non-violence.
Ashoka declared Buddhism as the state religion, and took various measures to preach and propagate that religion. He implemented a number of welfare programmes for his people. Construction of tanks, dharmasalas, roads and planting of trees were taken up. Ashoka was a great builder. He built stupas, viharas and saw that the Buddhist principles were carved on rocks. They are called ‘edicts’. We find Ashoka’s stupas and pillars in many parts of India. The Sarnath Stupa is the most famous one.The Ashoka Dharma Chakra which we find in the centre of our National Flag, is taken from the Sarnath Pillar. We find rock edicts of Ashoka on the rocks of Pathikonda Taluq of Kurnool District, Andhra Pradesh, which was the southern most point of his empire.
Ashoka not only spread Buddhism in his empire but also sent ambassadors to China, Japan, Sri Lanka and other countries to preach the religion. His own sister Sanghamitra went to Ceylon, now called Sri Lanka, to preach Buddhism.
Ashoka was perhaps, the one emperor, who could rule India, as a whole. His adherence to the principles of truth, non-violence and welfare of common man, still stands as a guiding principle to us. Ashoka, undoubtedly, was the one ideal monarch who ruled this beautiful land of ours.
Ashoka was praised highly by Pandit Nehru for his benevolent rule of the country. It was he who first established veterinary hospitals for the cattle and other animals. Ashoka was known as Priyadarsana (very handsome to look). He was also called Devanam Priyaha or the Beloved of the Gods.