59 Facts About Ashoka


Information about Ashoka comes from his inscriptions; other inscriptions that mention him or are possibly from his reign; and ancient literature, especially Buddhist texts.

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So, for example, while Ashoka is often attributed with building many hospitals during his time, there is no clear evidence that any hospitals existed in ancient India during the 3rd century BC or that Ashoka was responsible for commissioning the construction of any.

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Much of the information about Ashoka comes from Buddhist legends, which present him as a great, ideal king.

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These legends appear in texts that are not contemporary to Ashoka and were composed by Buddhist authors, who used various stories to illustrate the impact of their faith on Ashoka.

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Buddhist legends about Ashoka exist in several languages, including Sanskrit, Pali, Tibetan, Chinese, Burmese, Sinhala, Thai, Lao, and Khotanese.

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The quality of the inscriptions of this Ashoka is significantly lower than the quality of the inscriptions of the earlier Piyadasi.

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Exact date of Ashoka's birth is not certain, as the extant contemporary Indian texts did not record such details.

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When minister Radhagupta saw Ashoka leaving the capital for the Garden, he offered to provide the prince with a royal elephant for the travel.

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Sometime later, Ashoka was similarly welcomed in the Khasa territory and the gods declared that he would go on to conquer the whole earth.

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Legends suggest that Ashoka was not the crown prince, and his ascension on the throne was disputed.

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However, the ministers told him that Ashoka was ill and suggested that he temporarily install Ashoka on the throne until Susmia's return from Takshashila.

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When Bindusara refused to do so, Ashoka declared that if the throne were rightfully his, the gods would crown him as the next king.

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At that instance, the gods did so, Bindusara died, and Ashoka's authority extended to the entire world, including the Yaksha territory located above the earth and the Naga territory located below the earth.

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When Susima returned to the capital, Ashoka's newly appointed prime minister Radhagupta tricked him into a pit of charcoal.

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Mahavamsa states that when Bindusara fell sick, Ashoka returned to Pataliputra from Ujjain and gained control of the capital.

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The text states that Ashoka killed ninety-nine of his half-brothers, including Sumana.

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Taranatha states that Ashoka, who was an illegitimate son of his predecessor, killed six legitimate princes to ascend the throne.

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The date of the Buddha's death is itself a matter of debate, and the North Indian tradition states that Ashoka ruled a hundred years after the Buddha's death, which has led to further debates about the date.

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The Mahavamsa states that Ashoka consecrated himself as the king four years after becoming a sovereign.

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Critics of this theory argue that if Ashoka were already a Buddhist, he would not have waged the violent Kalinga War.

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Some earlier writers believed that Ashoka dramatically converted to Buddhism after seeing the suffering caused by the war since his Major Rock Edict 13 states that he became closer to the dhamma after the annexation of Kalinga.

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However, even if Ashoka converted to Buddhism after the war, epigraphic evidence suggests that his conversion was a gradual process rather than a dramatic event.

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However, it is omitted in Ashoka's inscriptions found in the Kalinga region, where the Rock Edicts 13 and 14 have been replaced by two separate edicts that make no mention of Ashoka's remorse.

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The Samantapasadika states that Ashoka followed non-Buddhist sects during the first three years of his reign.

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The Sri Lankan texts add that Ashoka was not happy with the behaviour of the Brahmins who received his alms daily.

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Dipavamsa states that Ashoka invited several non-Buddhist religious leaders to his palace and bestowed great gifts upon them in the hope that they would answer a question posed by the king.

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One day, Ashoka saw a young Buddhist monk called Nigrodha, who was looking for alms on a road in Pataliputra.

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The legend suggests that Ashoka was not attracted to Buddhism because he was looking for such a faith, rather, for a competent spiritual teacher.

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Story in Divyavadana attributes Ashoka's conversion to the Buddhist monk Samudra, who was an ex-merchant from Shravasti.

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Mahavamsa states that Ashoka ordered construction of 84, 000 viharas rather than the stupas to house the relics.

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Edicts state that during his tenth–eleventh regnal years, Ashoka became closer to the Buddhist sangha, and went on a tour of the empire that lasted for at least 256 days.

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For example, in his Minor Rock Edict 3, Ashoka recommends the members of the Sangha to study certain texts.

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Rock Edict XIII states that Ashoka's won a "dhamma victory" by sending messengers to five kings and several other kingdoms.

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Indologist Etienne Lamotte argues that the "dhamma" missionaries mentioned in Ashoka's inscriptions were probably not Buddhist monks, as this "dhamma" was not same as "Buddhism".

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Frauwallner and Gombrich believe that Ashoka was directly responsible for the missions, since only a resourceful ruler could have sponsored such activities.

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The legend states that on complaint from a Buddhist devotee, Ashoka issued an order to arrest the non-Buddhist artist, and subsequently, another order to kill all the Ajivikas in Pundravardhana.

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Several reasons, scholars say, these stories of persecutions of rival sects by Ashoka appear to be clear fabrications arising out of sectarian propaganda.

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Subsequently, Ashoka granted Tissarakkha kingship for seven days, and during this period, she tortured and blinded Kunala.

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Kaurvaki is the only queen of Ashoka known from his own inscriptions: she is mentioned in an edict inscribed on a pillar at Allahabad.

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These texts narrate another story: one day, Ashoka mocked Asandhamitta was enjoying a tasty piece of sugarcane without having earned it through her karma.

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An impressed Ashoka makes her his favourite queen, and even offers to make her a sovereign ruler.

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Those who argue that Ashoka did not marry Devi argue that their theory is corroborated by the fact that Devi did not become Ashoka's chief queen in Pataliputra after his ascension.

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Various sources mention that one of Ashoka's brothers survived his ascension, and narrate stories about his role in the Buddhist community.

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Extent of the territory controlled by Ashoka's predecessors is not certain, but it is possible that the empire of his grandfather Chandragupta extended across northern India from the western coast to the eastern coast (Bay of Bengal), covering nearly two-thirds of the Indian subcontinent.

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The distribution of Ashoka's inscriptions suggests that his empire included almost the entire Indian subcontinent, except its southernmost parts.

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Buddhist legends state that Ashoka converted to Buddhism, although this has been debated by a section of scholars.

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The Minor Rock Edict 1 leaves no doubt that Ashoka was a follower of Buddhism.

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Legend in the Buddhist text Vamsatthapakasini states that an Ajivika ascetic invited to interpret a dream of Ashoka's mother had predicted that he would patronise Buddhism and destroy 96 heretical sects.

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Inscriptions suggest that for Ashoka, Dharma meant "a moral polity of active social concern, religious tolerance, ecological awareness, the observance of common ethical precepts, and the renunciation of war.

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Instead, the text claims that in another past life, Ashoka commissioned a large number of Buddha statues as a king, and this act of merit caused him to become a great emperor in the next life.

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Edicts of Ashoka are a collection of 33 inscriptions on the Pillars of Ashoka, as well as boulders and cave walls, issued during his reign.

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Nonetheless, it remains clear that Ashoka's Inscriptions represent the earliest corpus of royal inscriptions in the Indian subcontinent, and therefore prove to be a very important innovation in royal practices.

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Several of Ashoka's inscriptions appear to have been set up near towns, on important routes, and at places of religious significance.

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For example, the Minor Rock Edict 1 appears in several versions at multiple places: all the versions state that Ashoka issued the proclamation while on a tour, having spent 256 days on tour.

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Since then, the association of "Devanampriya Priyadarsin" with Ashoka was confirmed through various inscriptions, and especially confirmed in the Minor Rock Edict inscription discovered in Maski, directly associating Ashoka with his regnal title Devanampriya:.

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Use of Buddhist sources in reconstructing the life of Ashoka has had a strong influence on perceptions of Ashoka, as well as the interpretations of his Edicts.

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Furthermore, many edicts are expressed to Buddhists alone; in one, Ashoka declares himself to be an "upasaka", and in another he demonstrates a close familiarity with Buddhist texts.

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Much of the knowledge about Ashoka comes from the several inscriptions that he had carved on pillars and rocks throughout the empire.

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Some historians, such as H C Raychaudhuri, have argued that Ashoka's pacifism undermined the "military backbone" of the Maurya empire.

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