The date pertaining to Asoka’s accession and the manner in which he achieved it have been subjects of controversy. Many literary sources, Buddhist sources in particular, mention the cruel acts the young Asoka committed in order to mount the throne.

The Mahavamsa and Dipavamsa mention Asoka as having killed his 99 brothers, born of different mothers. The Tibetan historian, Taranatha, states that Asoka put six of his brothers to death. A Ceylonese source states that Asoka killed 99 of his one hundred brothers.

The Buddhist sources state that Asoka earned the sobriquet ‘Chandasoka’ (Asoka, the cruel) when he put to death by fire his 500 concubines for criticising his physical features. However, Romila Thapar is of the view that depiction of Asoka as an extremely wicked man must have been a fabrication of the Buddhist writers.

“It naturally increased the value of his piety as a Buddhist if he could be described as a thoroughly unworthy man prior to his conversion.” Thus, Asoka’s slaying of his 99 brothers may also be an exaggeration.


It is pointed out that, in his fifth rock edict, Asoka mentions officers superintending the welfare of his brothers’ and sisters’ families and other relations. It must also be stated that this edict did not actually suggest that there were surviving brothers (spared by him).

There is, however, general on Aaoka not being the crown prince (it is obvious from the legends that he was not the rightful heir). A struggle among the princes for succession on the death of Bindusara or sometime before that event is noted.

This struggle involved Asoka and, in the course of this struggle, the eldest brother perished (Mahavamsa says Asoka caused his eldest brother to be slain).

Asoka had to remove those of his brothers who were opposing him. All this would have resulted in the four-year interregnum-“It was not until 269 bc when Asoka felt his position to be secure on the throne that he had himself formally crowned.”


Asoka seems to have continued the aggressive policy of the earlier kings. Campaigns added por­tions of the north-west, Kalinga, and an enclave to the south of the empire.

It is said that Asoka’s empire stretched from the land of the Kambojas and Gandharas in the north-west to the Andhra country in the Godavari-Krishna basin and district Isila (Ahara) to the north of Mysore.

It included Sopara (near Bombay, Maharashtra) and Girnar (Saurashtra region, Gujarat) in the west, to Jaugada (close to the east coast in Orissa) in the east. Edicts have been recovered from Shahbazgarhi and Mansehra in the north-west, Girnar and Sopara (west), Yerragudi (south), Dhauli and Jaugada (east).

According to tradition, Kashmir was part of the Mauryan Empire. Close connections existed with the modern Nepal region. Asoka seems to have been on friendly terms with his southern neighbours.


Close relations existed between the Mauryans and the people of Ceylon. Asoka’s son or brother, Mahendra, headed a Bud­dhist mission to Ceylon, and the king, Tissa, seems to have modelled himself after the Mauryan king.

The two most common tides used by Asoka are Devanampiya Piyadassi raja Asoka or just Devanampiya, whose etymological meaning is accepted as ‘dear to the gods’ (Huttzsch). The term occurs as an honorific in Jaina literature and also in Patanjali’s Mahabhasya. It is used to convey honour in a manner similar to those of bhavan, dirghayu and ayusman. The term also means ‘fool’, referred to by Kaiyata in his commen­tary on Patanjali.

The tide could also have been a royal title of the time. Piyadassi, meaning ‘he who regards amiably’ or ‘of gracious men’ may have been one of Asoka’s names. In Dipavamsa, Piyadassi is used for him in many places.