3rd-century BCE Indian emperor and patron of Buddhism / From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
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Ashoka (/əˈʃoʊkə/, IAST: Aśoka; also Asoka; c. 304 – 232 BCE), popularly known as Ashoka the Great, was the third emperor of the Maurya Empire of the Indian subcontinent during c. 268 to 232 BCE. His empire covered a large part of the Indian subcontinent, stretching from present-day Afghanistan in the west to present-day Bangladesh in the east, with its capital at Pataliputra. A patron of Buddhism, he is credited with playing an important role in the spread of Buddhism across ancient Asia.
|Priyadarśin Devanapriya Chakravartin|
|3rd Mauryan Emperor|
|Reign||c. 268 – c. 232 BCE|
|Born||c. 304 BCE|
|Died||232 BCE (aged c. 71 – 72)|
|Father||Emperor Bindusara Maurya|
|Mother||Queen Subhadrangi or Dharma[note 1]|
Much of the information about Ashoka comes from his Brahmi edicts, which are among the earliest long inscriptions of ancient India, and the Buddhist legends written centuries after his death. Ashoka was the son of Bindusara, and the grandson of the dynasty's founder Chandragupta. During his father's reign, he served as the governor of Ujjain in central India. According to some Buddhist legends, he also suppressed a revolt in Takshashila as a prince, and after his father's death he killed his brothers to ascend the throne.
Ashoka's edicts state that during his eighth regnal year (c. 260 BCE), he conquered Kalinga after a brutal war, and the destruction caused by the war made him repent violence. This claim is omitted in his inscriptions found in the Kalinga region, possibly because Ashoka considered it politically inappropriate to admit his remorse before the people of Kalinga, or because the claims made in the edicts are not fully accurate and are meant to impress the people of other regions. Ashoka subsequently devoted himself to the propagation of "dhamma" or righteous conduct, the major theme of the edicts.
Ashoka's edicts suggest that a few years after the Kalinga War, he was gradually drawn towards Buddhism. The Buddhist legends do not mention the Kalinga War at all, and variously state that Ashoka converted to Buddhism after being dissatisfied with the leaders of the other faiths or after witnessing miracles performed by Buddhist leaders. They credit Ashoka with establishing a large number of stupas, patronising the Third Buddhist council, supporting Buddhist missionaries, making generous donations to the sangha, and even persecuting non-Buddhists. The historicity of these legends is debated among modern historians, as they are often inconsistent with the edicts and among themselves, contain mythological elements, and exaggerate Ashoka's wickedness before and his piousness after his conversion to Buddhism. Ashoka's own edicts suggest that he favoured Buddhism, but also patronised the other major contemporary faiths including Brahmanism, Jainism, and Ājīvikaism.
Ashoka's existence as a historical emperor had almost been forgotten, but this changed with the decipherment of the Brahmi script in the 19th century. Historians connected the titles Priyadasi and Devanampriya in his edicts to the Ashoka of Buddhist legends, and established Ashoka's reputation as one of the greatest Indian emperors. The emblem of the modern Republic of India is an adaptation of the Lion Capital of Ashoka. Ashoka's wheel, the Ashoka Chakra is adopted at the centre of the National Flag of India.