By Purna N. Ranjitkar
Emperor Ashoka or Ashoka the Great ruled most of Indian subcontinent from 268 to 232 BC. Well known as India’s greatest emperor Ashoka expanded the MauryanEmpire to reigns over an extensive land mass stretching from present-day Afghanistan in the west to Bangladesh in the east. It covered the entire Indian subcontinent except for parts of present-day Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Kerala. The empire’s capital was Pataliputra (present-day Patna).Taxila and Ujjain were the provincial capitals of the empire.
Ashoka promoted the spread of Buddhism across ancient Asia. He waged a destructive war against the state of Kalinga (modern Odisha), which he conquered in around 260 BC.
Kalinga was a prosperous and wealthy nation with talented artists and peaceful people. Until 321 BC, it was ruled by the Nanda Empire. With important ports for trade and a strong navy, Kalinga controlled its coastline and played a crucial role in trading.
The Mauryan empire perceived Kalinga as a threat because they could interrupt communications between Patliputra, the Mauryan capital and its possessions in the central Indian peninsula. Hence, that is why Ashoka wanted to conquer Kalinga. But the Kalinga King refused to surrender which prompted Ashoka to wage a war against the empire.
According to an interpretation of his edicts, he converted to Buddhism,after witnessing the mass deaths of the Kalinga War, which he had waged out of a desire for conquest and which resulted in more than 100,000 deaths and 150,000 deportations.
Even after emerging triumphant, Ashoka the Great was dissatisfied and dejected. He was filled with grief and gloom as he witnessed Kalinga’s deteriorating condition, replete with blood, agony and tears all over him. Kalinga suffered an irreparable loss. Ashoka was drenched in self-centeredness and greed for power which had blinded him. But after witnessing the agony, deaths and bloodshed on the battleground, his cold heart melted and he amended his path for good.
Post the battle, Ashoka became a follower of Buddhism. He promised that he would never walk upon the path of violence. He ended the military expansion of the empire.
The empire adopted a new policy of peace and non-violence. Except for the extreme southern part of the Indian subcontinent, Ashoka controlled the entire Indian subcontinent after the Kalinga War.
His Dhamma laws were carved into rocks and stone pillars. Missionaries were sent to other countries to preach Buddhism and Dhamma so that more people could adapt to a non-violent way of life.
Actions and movements of Emperor Ashoka’s resulted the elevation of Buddhism from a sect in India to one of the great religions of the world affecting and becoming part of the course of history of Sri Lanka, Burma, Thailand, Japan and to a lesser extent, China.
Emperor Ashoka had visited Lumbini, the birth place of Gautama Buddha (in Nepal) in 249 BC. He erected a pillar in Lumbini to mark the birthplace Gautam Buddha and to commemorate his visit to the sacred place.Part of the pillar which bears historic value reads as “King Piyadasi (Ashoka) the beloved of the Gods, in the twentieth year of his reign, himself made a royal visit. Shakyamuni Buddha was born here, therefore the (birth spot) marker stone was worshipped and a stone pillar was erected.”
Ashoka sent his son Mahendra to Sri Lanka to spread the Buddhism. Similarly, he sent his daughter Shanghamitra to Nepal.
In Nepal, especially in the Kathmandu Valley, one can see there are some stupas built as Ashoka Stupa and the Chaitya at Chabahil in Kathmandu stand carrying the glory of the Ashokan milestones.
Moreover, the day Ashoka the Great left arms and followed non-violence was the day Hindus commonly celebrate Vijaya Dashami as a most important festival. As such the Vijaya Dashami is equally important for peace loving people commemorating the day Ashoka the Great left arms for cause of peace and compassion of human beings. This is equally relevant to the modern day conflict and tension filled life of people everywhere. Remarkably, a larger segment of global population silently support for ‘disarmament’ and global treaty on ‘Non-proliferation of arms’. Non-violence is not only changes in social behaviour or food habit that protects human being, animals and any type of creatures. But also it is an instrument for supporting eco-systems of the entire Earth. This can contribute to minimise climate change effects which has been the biggest threat that a person can imagine. Therefore, the way Ashoka the Great took may be followed by peace loving people for the better Earth for the future generations.