Season 01 | Episode 08

Aśoka, a journey from monarch to monk

22 August 2020 / 13 mins 49 secs

Show summary

Topic: History of India - Ancient India.

Timeline: 265 BCE - 185 BCE

In this episode of Namaskar India, we will learn about Ashoka the Great, the third king of the Mauryan Empire. Best known for his renunciation of war, development of the concept of dhamma ,and promotion of Buddhism as well as his effective reign of a nearly pan-Indian political entity.

Ashoka is said to have been particularly ruthless early in his reign until he launched a campaign against the Kingdom of Kalinga which resulted in such carnage, destruction, and death that Ashoka renounced war and, in time, converted to Buddhism, devoting himself to peace as exemplified in his concept of dhamma. Dhamma derives from the concept, originally set down by Hinduism, of dharma duty which is one’s responsibility or purpose in life. Ashoka’s dhamma includes this understanding but expands it to mean general goodwill and beneficence to all as “right behavior” which promotes peace and understanding. The concept is equated with “mercy, charity, truthfulness, and purity”.

Ashoka converted his foreign policy from expansionism to that of coexistence and peace with his neighbors. He announced that he would now strive for conquest only in matters of the human spirit and the spread of "right conduct" among people. He embarked on pilgrimages to sites sacred to Buddha and began to disseminate his thoughts on dhamma. He ordered edicts, many referencing dhamma or explaining the concept fully, engraved in stone throughout his empire and sent Buddhist missionaries to other regions and nations.

After his death the later mauryas who ascended to the throne, were not as impactful and powerful and couldn't keep the empire intact. The rule of the Maurya family ended when an army commander-in-chief, Pushyamitra Shunga, murdered the last Maurya king during a parade of his troops.